Indiana Wades into the Culture Wars

Indiana is hardly a state known for its intense culture wars and political battles. Mostly, it's known for one of the greatest sports movies of all time. But this year, Indiana is entering territory usually occupied by places like Kansas and Texas. The state legislature is not only about to pass a controversial bill to decrease union power; a measure to teach creationism has already passed out of the state Senate's Education Committee.

The right-to-work legislation is hurtling at lightning speed for Governor Mitch Daniels's desk. After a year of fighting, including recent boycotts from Democrats, the legislation passed the state's House last week, leaving little doubt that the measure, supported by the governor and most of the state Senate, will soon become law. Indiana will be the first state in the Rust Belt to pass such legislation, which prevents mandatory union membership and forbids unions from collecting fees from anyone who chooses to opt out. Proponents argue that the move will help bring jobs to the state. Such legislation, already in place in 23 states, has a crippling effect on union power. It's likely to have an especially big impact on Indiana, where the labor movement has deep roots. 

With Indianapolis hosting the Super Bowl, there's been much discussion of union workers striking and slowing down many of the event's auxiliary festivities. (The game itself is protected; the Super Bowl organizers have no-strike agreements with the relevant unions.) However, Republicans are hoping that the bill can hit the governor's desk as early as this Wednesday, making it law well before game time.

The law on creationism doesn't have the attention of right-to-work, but it's also headed to the Senate floor. Senators passed the bill out of the Education Committee by a vote of eight to two last week. The bill allows schools to teach "various theories concerning the origin of life." The bill's author—who coincidentally chairs the Education Committee—has argued that it gives power to local school districts. The state's American Civil Liberties Union, backed by a chorus of scientists, has argued that the measure is unconstitutional and points to the Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard, which struck down a similar law in Louisiana, determining that teaching creationism advances a religious viewpoint.

Indiana isn't the only state looking at such a measure; according to the National Center for Science Education, lawmakers in Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and Missouri have filed similar bills. But the situation is a bit ironic in the Hoosier State. After all, the creationism bill would send strong signals to the science world about how Indiana educates students. Meanwhile, the right-to-work legislation is meant to make the state more appealing to companies and get them to create more jobs for Indiana's workforce.

If the creationist bill passes, I'm guessing those new jobs may not be in biotech.