Journal & Courier, Lafayette. May 27, 2014.
Indiana GOP places another bet on marriage
Give the traditional-marriage-over-all set in the Indiana Republican Party props for figuring out a way to pin down its delegation, drawing a familiar line in the sand after a rough go of it in the spring.
In early June, when delegates go to the state GOP convention, the party will consider a plank in the 2014 platform that affirms a one-man/one-woman definition of marriage. Considering the number of state lawmakers who seemed unafraid to say publicly that they wished a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage would have simply faded away, this can't be the greatest news.
Either way, they'll be on the campaign trail explaining this plank - there or absent - in the party platform, even as they try to talk through sometimes nuanced votes they had to take this year on House Joint Resolution 3.
HJR3 supporters don't seem ready to give up. "It's a matter of what should society promote and push," said Jim Bopp, a state GOP delegate, a key backer of HJR3, Indiana's proposed marriage amendment, and proponent of including the marriage issue in the party's campaign strategy.
What gets lost among the setbacks of HJR3 this spring is that the sentiment of the proposed party platform carried the final vote in the General Assembly.
HJR3 might have been changed enough to push a statewide referendum to 2016, instead of November this year, as lawmakers ditched a sentence that would have prohibited civil unions or anything else resembling marriage.
But the statement in the proposed constitutional amendment stands, at least by votes in the Indiana House and Senate, as follows: "Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana."
Compare that to the language proposed by Bopp: "We believe that strong families, based on marriage between a man and a woman, are the foundation of society."
The courts are figuring this one out, no matter how hard state legislatures trying to lock down a definition. The answer: Sticking bans into a state constitution doesn't necessarily make them constitutional.
That isn't stopping part of the Indiana Republican Party from trying to make a point. In June, Hoosiers will find out whether Republicans, with a supermajority in the House and Senate, say they've had enough or whether they're actually ready to press ahead on marriage discrimination.
Evansville Courier & Press. May 27, 2014.
Tea party influence seems to be cooling
Here in the Tri-State, the ultraconservative tea party has enjoyed several years of political influence. However, this year's primary elections have shown that the tea may be cooling. Early in May, incumbent 8th District Congressman Larry Bucshon, a Newburgh Republican seeking a third term, easily won a bid for another term.
Republican challenger Andrew McNeil argued that Bucshon was not conservative enough. It didn't work. Bucshon won easily, just as he took the 8th District seat in 2010 with 57 percent of the vote and retained it in 2012 with around 53 percent after defeating tea partier Kristi Risk in both primaries.
And now, over in Kentucky last Tuesday, we have incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell easily defeating tea party opponent Matt Bevin.
However, more than 30 percent of Republicans voted against McConnell.
The lesson in this and Bucshon's wins is that if conservative Republicans hope to have a chance against Democrats in the fall, they will need to decide if it's worth going against their fellow Republicans because they don't see them as being conservative enough.
They have plenty of time to think about it. Along that same line, tea partiers will have to decide if it is better to elect moderate Republicans or area Democrats.
South Bend Tribune. May 22, 2014.
How does Indiana get to where it should be?
Of all the truly terrible statistics regarding Hoosier health -- and there are plenty -- is there one that paints a more disgraceful picture of our collective priorities as a state than the infant mortality rate?
In Indiana, the rate is 7.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births; the national rate is 6.05. The rate for African-American babies, 12.4, is nearly twice the rate for white babies.
There's reason to be concerned, if not outraged, about the numbers, which Gov. Mike Pence has called "deplorable." But the general public seems disengaged from the issue. Members of the Editorial Board were stunned several years ago when the director of the area minority health coalition shared infant mortality figures for African-American babies in St. Joseph County. An Indiana State Department of Health report -- the most recent figures that were available at that time -- put the rate at 30.1 per 1,000 live births. Surely, the rate couldn't be that high? Surely there would be awareness among the general public around such a crisis?
Well, it was and there wasn't.
Local figures have improved since then -- the 2012 rate for African-American babies is 15.6 deaths per 1,000 births -- but, as St. Joseph County health officer Dr. Thomas Felger says, "We're still not where we should be ... the numbers still represent lost children."
How do this community and the state of Indiana get to where they should be?
There is some reason for hope -- most notably, a regional effort involving St. Joseph and Elkhart counties -- including Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, Memorial Hospital, Elkhart General, IU Goshen Health, the two county health departments, minority health coalitions and WIC offices and other agencies that provide prenatal services.
The group's comprehensive review of fetal deaths, which should be completed any day now, will shed light on the next step.
At the state level, Indiana Health Commissioner William C. VanNess says lowering the "horrible" Hoosier rate is one of his department's top priorities. His goal is to reduce the rate to 6.0 by 2020. Last year, he convened the first-ever state summit on the topic and offered up to $1 million in grants.
Another encouraging state initiative is the updating of perinatal guidelines for hospitals to help ensure that high-risk babies are delivered in hospitals that are prepared for them.
We agree with VanNess when he says that government isn't the ultimate solution to Indiana's infant mortality problem. But make no mistake: There is a role for government.
In the past we've been critical of the state's refusal to accept federally subsidized Medicaid expansion. Indiana has been negotiating with the federal government to expand the small, consumer-driven Healthy Indiana Plan. Last week, Pence unveiled "HIP 2.0," his compromise proposal for expanding health care for low-income adults. Many are optimistic that this alternative to Medicaid will be accepted by the feds.
For the sake of the 350,000 low-income Hoosiers without insurance -- which includes pregnant women in need of prenatal care -- we hope it is. In a state where a shameful number of babies die before their first birthday, expanding health insurance, though no cure-all, is a key part of the solution.
And it's time for Indiana to stop being hypocritical about tobacco. For years, the General Assembly has raided money intended for smoking cessation programs. All of this while the state spends millions on health costs for infants born to mothers who smoke.
Given that 17 percent of pregnant women in Indiana smoke, smoking cessation efforts should be a priority.
There's plenty of work to do to reverse the bleak numbers. But real progress seems within reach when you see and hear the commitment in the group of local health care professionals committed to finding answers. And perhaps the public will finally start paying attention.
The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne. May 21, 2014.
Politics prevent bigger investment in preschool
With a token investment in its youngest residents, Indiana can finally join the 40 states that recognize the invaluable connection between early learning and school success. The state's timid foray into preschool could, however, deliver a better return on investment if politics weren't standing in the way of a first-rate early learning program.
The meager pilot program approved by the General Assembly this year falls under control of the Family and Social Services Administration. It answers to Gov. Mike Pence, not the Indiana Department of Education, administered by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. The distinction might seem small, but the investment of tax dollars demands that best practices determine how the money is spent. States supporting effective preschool programs understand that requiring research-based standards in early learning yields the best return in school success.
For now, Indiana remains among just 10 states - most of them rural western states - without state-funded preschool, according to the "State of Preschool 2013," a survey by the National Institute for Early Education Research released last week. Only 15 percent of the state's 4-year-olds and 10 percent of its 3-year-olds were enrolled in a federally funded Head Start or school-based preschool program. Unless their parents paid tuition or their local school district picked up the cost, the rest of the state's 3- and 4-year-olds were out of luck.
Contrast those numbers to Georgia, where 58 percent of the state's 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool and another 8 percent were in Head Start or a federally funded special education preschool. Oklahoma, the pioneer in state-funded preschool, had 74 percent of its 4-year-olds enrolled in programs last year, with an investment of about $145 million.
Indiana's dismal record in supporting early learning has inevitably hampered its performance in K-12 education and in higher education attainment. Much research shows that children who start at a disadvantage are more likely to fall behind their classmates and drop out of school.
In spite of Indiana's history of lackluster efforts in building a birth- to third-grade learning continuum, some work is underway. Ritz met last week with dozens of early education professionals at Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast, where the Indiana Department of Education was host to one of a series of statewide early-learning summits. Ritz said the meetings are designed to gather input in building an early-learning infrastructure in Indiana, given that its request for federal Race To the Top early-learning funds was rejected because no such system exists.
"The pilot preschool program is really about putting an emphasis on just 1,000 children," she said. "What the (Department of Education) is interested in is getting an entire infrastructure system in place statewide, so that all children have a quality preschool program available, no matter where they live."
For Becky Saddlemire, one of the participants in last week's conference, the state could begin to show its commitment to early learning by requiring students to attend kindergarten. School enrollment isn't mandatory until a child reaches age 7.
"We just can't believe the expectations and the standards that are now in place for kindergarten, and enrollment isn't even mandatory. The idea that you can come to first grade with all of that information makes no sense," said Saddlemire, principal of North Miami Elementary School in Denver, Indiana. Her district offers preschool to all children, but she said her school could do more if the state financially supported early learning.
Indiana might lose its dubious distinction of offering no state-funded preschool in 2014. But it won't see real results until it puts politics aside to build a first-rate early learning system.