INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Business Journal. Jan. 26, 2013.
If it's a priority, fund accordingly
Gov. Mike Pence followed his campaign playbook in his first State of the State address by keeping a lid on social issues and pushing economic proposals designed to play to the masses. Whether his primary plan for adding jobs can win approval — or is viable — remains to be seen.
Pence continues to push for a 10 percent, across-the-board cut in Indiana's personal income tax rate, a suggestion with obvious appeal to many Hoosiers. But one important group remains skeptical of the idea: Republican lawmakers.
The governor insists Indiana can cut taxes, maintain its strong financial position and fund its priorities and that the tax cut will stimulate spending and put businesses in a position to add jobs. Whether that's realistic depends to a great extent on how the state's priorities are defined and how much should be spent on them.
Certainly, leaving more money in the pockets of Hoosiers and small businesses could have a stimulative effect on the economy. But is that a wiser path to growth than funding pre-kindergarten and vocational education, or coming up with a long-term strategy to fund transportation? To suggest that the only responsible thing to do with the people's money is to give it back implies that it can't be invested on their behalf in a responsible, beneficial way.
We agree with the governor that pre-kindergarten education and vocational training should be a state priority, but neither of them will come close to achieving their full potential without significant resources invested in a strategic way. Imagine the revenue that could be generated, the jobs filled and the variety of costs avoided by putting more young Hoosiers in a position to succeed in their school and work lives.
It's time to move beyond platitudes and lay out a plan — and a budget — for making those priorities happen.
As for transportation, Pence recognizes the need to repair and upgrade the state's roads and bridges, but shifting $347 million out of the state's budget reserves doesn't strike us as a sustainable vision for our transportation infrastructure.
And it was disappointing that the governor didn't mention public transportation in his speech. It's not that public transit is a big idea or especially innovative — it's been around for more than a century, after all. The problem is that it's such an afterthought here.
Rather than continuing to view roads as the only mode of transportation worth investing in, the governor and some lawmakers need to acknowledge the potential economic advantages to Hoosiers and their employers of adding public transportation to the mix.
A spirited debate about what form that should take and how to fund it is welcome and is beginning to happen. We hope Pence will join the conversation about how, not if, Indiana can diversify its transportation options.
The governor is fond of saying that Indiana is poised to go from good to great. We don't disagree. The question is how to get there.
The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne. Jan. 25, 2012.
No favors for farms
Farming may fall somewhere near the ranks of apple pie and baseball in its importance to the American ethos, but ensuring all citizens have equal protection under the law should be far more important. Unfortunately, some state lawmakers want to enshrine special protections for farmers into the Indiana constitution.
House Joint Resolution 5 and Senate Joint Resolution 27, identical pieces of legislation making their way through the two chambers, seek to amend the Indiana Constitution to prevent any legislative body from adopting any rules regulating farming.
"It makes unconstitutional any law governing farming," said Kim Ferraro, an attorney and director of water and agricultural policy for the Hoosier Environmental Council. "It seems to elevate one profession over all others for constitutional protections."
The amendment, apparently, would prevent any rules regulating large industrial agricultural businesses such as confined animal feeding operations. It would also prevent any laws that protect public health and private property rights for Hoosiers who are not farmers. Even zoning laws could be challenged.
A resolution must be approved in two separately elected sessions and then win approval in a statewide referendum before the constitution is amended.
State legislators are also proposing a slew of bills that purport to promote the interests of agriculture and farming in Indiana, but as written would prohibit state and local governments from creating rules that protect communities from water pollution or other public health threats.
Senate Bill 571, authored by Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, requires the Indiana Board of Animal Health to develop standards for agricultural management practices. The problem is the proposed bill calls for the standards to be developed according to recommendations from livestock and farming organizations. The agricultural industry would be writing its own rules.
It's also unclear whether the animal health board is the right state agency to develop standards for all agricultural sectors.
The bill prohibits other political subdivisions from enacting any ordinances regulating agricultural operations without receiving the approval of the state animal health board. It violates the principle of home rule by preventing locally elected officials from creating legislation to address local issues.
It creates one-size-fits-all standards and ignores the fact that some communities - those with a high number of CAFOs, for example - are going to have different concerns from others.
The bill also provides additional immunity from lawsuits. As long as the farming operation conforms to the animal health board's standards, the agricultural operation could not be declared a public nuisance - even if the farm operations harm neighboring property owners or the community.
Opponents of CAFOs and other big farming operations could be dissuaded from filing legitimate legal challenges if bills to limit lawsuits are adopted.
Senate Bills 131 and 178 are nearly identical bills that seek to change state law so that the courts are required to award attorneys' fees to the prevailing party when a lawsuit is deemed groundless or frivolous. Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, authored SB 131, which is assigned to the Judiciary Committee. Sens. Banks and Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, authored SB 178, which is assigned to the civil law committee.
The bills are similar to a bill from last year that applied specifically to CAFO operations. It was authored by Rep. William Friend, a CAFO owner.
Senate Bill 88, authored by Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, also would require courts to make the losing party pay all legal fees, but it goes further in that it includes all civil lawsuits, not just those ruled frivolous.
If it passes, Indiana would be the first state in America to adopt a "loser pays" system.
State law already provides ample protection against frivolous lawsuits and allows courts the discretion to award attorneys' fees when appropriate.
All of the proposed legislation requires judges to punish anyone who attempts to seek redress through the legal system and loses. It would make it even more difficult for people of modest means with legitimate complaints to seek relief from the courts.
Daily Journal, Franklin. Jan. 23, 2013.
Cyberbullies get lesson from students, schools
A recent incident in Franklin is a sad reminder that bullying has not disappeared from our schools, but there are positive signs at the same time.
At least seven Franklin students were targets of cyberbullying, and police and school officials are investigating who posted the derogatory comments.
Pictures of the students were put on the social networking site Instagram, which lets users edit and post photos along with captions. A comment referred to one of the student's physical appearance; another demeaned a student for his accomplishments as an athlete.
Unlike bullying in the past, the immediacy of a social networking site demonstrates the immediate and pervasive power and harm that can come from just a few words on the Internet.
The incidents have dominated conversations among students at Franklin's middle school and high school during lunch and between classes, school officials said.
"That's the conversation middle school kids want to have, and so they will be talking about this a lot," middle school Principal Pamela Millikan said.
What took a second or two to post online has led school and police officials in Franklin to launch an investigation of who posted the insults anonymously.
But principals and police learned they have help with their probe.
At the high school, students emailed Principal Doug Harter, asking him to do whatever he could to find whoever uploaded the photos and wrote the comments. Some students offered screenshots they took of the photos in case those would help.
"It's almost created a complete backlash against the perpetrator. It's almost like people understand this is completely out of line," Harter said.
Students who know how hurtful those photos could be eager to talk, the principals said.
"People's feelings are involved here. That's where the students say they don't want people to be hurt," Millikan said.
Millikan is considering inviting a speaker to the middle school to speak with students about the pros and cons of social media.
Teachers in Franklin as well as school districts across the state and nation have been using the Internet and online learning more with students, showing them how helpful it can be with research. Students also need to know how harmful it can be to anonymously attack someone online, Millikan said.
This most recent issue shows that cyberbullying remains an issue for schools, and education efforts to combat it need to continue. There must be an ongoing and consistent message to students that actions such as these are totally unacceptable.
But the reaction of many students shows that previous messages about cyberbullying have gotten through. The students recognize the hurtfulness of the postings and were eager to help in the follow-up.
The reaction of the students to this incident shows that this message is being heard and, more importantly, appreciated. That they were willing to speak out against it is a most encouraging sign.
Cyberbullying is just the last manifestation of a generations-old problem. Teachers and administrators need to keep repeating the message about bullying, but the student reaction to the latest actions show that they are listening.
The Times, Munster. Jan. 20, 2013.
Driver's license is wrong turn on immigration
State Sen. Frank Mrvan's plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, like a similar plan in Illinois, opens a real can of worms.
Mrvan, D-Hammond, hopes the roads will be safer if illegal immigrants get driver's licenses and insurance. Getting a license means proving the ability to drive well. And insurance would protect other drivers.
Mrvan said having licenses available to the state's estimated 200,000 illegal immigrants would ensure all motorists on Indiana know the rules of the road and how to properly operate a vehicle.
"I personally can't see why anyone would vote against it," Mrvan said. "Of course, a certain population is going to go crazy, and I anticipate that."
But what person in the United States illegally -- whether overstaying a welcome after a visa expired or having entered without permission -- would eagerly identify himself as a criminal in order to get a government-issued photo ID?
We understand the many concerns associated with illegal immigration. There are complaints about people here illegally not paying their fair share for education, health care and other facets of everyday life in the United States. Ultimately, those complaints come down to a matter of fairness. There is also talk about how difficult it is to enter the United States. These are all arguments that should be heard and discussed.
But immigration isn't a problem that should be solved at the state level. It's a federal responsibility.
We recognize the political gridlock in Washington, D.C., makes it difficult to address major problems like this. The Dream Act, for example, would have created a path to citizenship for children whose parents brought them here illegally, but even that reform could not pass through a highly partisan Congress.
But Congress is where the solution lies. There must be a national solution to the immigration problem that continues to plague the United States. That probably includes use of E-Verify or a similar system for verifying the legal status of individuals applying for work in the United States as well as addressing the immigration quotas now in place.
All of this makes issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants the wrong approach.
Solve the immigration problem in Congress, not the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. And if Congress won't end the political gridlock, the voters have the solution in their own hands.