Times of Northwest Indiana

The Indiana General Assembly adjourned last Friday with some successes under its belt -- notably Senate Bill 382, which paves the way for construction of the Illiana Expressway. But it left some unfinished business, too.

Among the important tasks left undone:

* Smoking ban: State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, has been trying for years to get Indiana to ban smoking in public places. This year looked for a while like it finally might be the year Indiana would finally pass this important health initiative.

Senate Republicans blocked it, however, by suggesting the idea go to a summer study committee. That's a wilted olive branch; the findings would likely mirror a 2007 study committee that recommended Indiana implement an indoor smoking ban.

Anyone who has trouble breathing, or who knows someone who has trouble breathing, should see the wisdom of a statewide ban. With the government showing this leadership, no business owner has to worry about offending customers who smoke in order to protect the health of customers who don't.

Nearly one-quarter of Hoosier adults smoke. So why should their obstinance, abetted by the recalcitrant lawmakers, make the rest of Hoosiers less healthy?

* Education reform: Social promotions have kept students who can't read at grade level moving through the system with the rest of their class, falling further behind because they can't master the basics, let alone the advanced lessons that build on that knowledge.

If a student isn't reading at grade level in the third grade, that student should be held back until he or she is up to par. Obviously, this means putting more resources into making sure remedial education is provided in earlier years, but it will pay off with improved test scores and graduation rates.

Don't handicap students at the beginning of their school career by failing to make sure they can read adequately.

* Redistricting reform: A legislative district map shouldn't resemble an amoeba or a Rorschach inkblot test. It ought to be easy for a citizen to determine who represents him or her in the General Assembly, yet the gerrymandering so common in Indiana prevents this.

Secretary of State Todd Rokita offered a sensible starting point for rethinking redistricting, but the Legislature yet again punted the reforms down the road. This would have been the perfect year to act, in order to reduce the future tension when Census results arrive and new maps must be drawn for the legislative districts.

* Local government reform: The drive to eliminate township government stumbled this year on the question of whether to allow each township's voters to decide this question on a referendum. From the results we've seen so far on referendums of this nature in Indiana, a township-by-township referendum seems a bad idea.

A county could end up with township governments in some areas but not another. That's especially true in Northwest Indiana, where the referendums on eliminating township assessors in the largest townships brought mixed results.

There comes a point when elected officials must show leadership rather than deferring to the citizens. The reinvention of local government is one of those times.

Next year, after the election, try again to push these important proposals through the Legislature.