By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
---- — INDIANAPOLIS – Republican Sen. Brent Steele is the rock-ribbed, law-and-order chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but he’s no ordinary conservative. Two years ago, the small-town lawyer startled Statehouse colleagues when he suggested decriminalizing marijuana. He likened Indiana’s tough pot penalties to “smashing an ant with a sledgehammer.” He failed to convince fellow lawmakers. But, as a key player in the massive rewrite of Indiana’s criminal code, he has managed to soften the crime. As of July 1, most marijuana possession charges will morph from felonies into misdemeanors. Now Steele has another idea that may upset the tough-on-crime caucus: He wants to significantly slow the process of creating new crimes and penalties that send more people to prison. The idea, strongly backed by his counterpart, House Judiciary Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, would force lawmakers to justify any measure to crack down on crime that would alter the new criminal code. Their proposal would give a little known body, the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee, new power to vet proposed legislation. See Wednesday's Times Sentinel for the full story.