Kokomo Tribune. March 18, 2021.
Editorial: GOP must stop ignoring the environment
Indiana ranks worst in the nation in toxic chemicals and pollution released per square mile, posing grave danger to the health of Hoosiers.
So you’d think the State Legislature would be determined to pass new laws to address such problems — along with a host of other environmental concerns.
You’d be wrong.
Exactly zero bills made it through the House Environmental Affairs Committee during the current session. In fact, the committee never even convened to consider legislation. It was the only House or Senate committee with assigned bills that never met.
The buck stopped with the committee chairman, Republican Doug Gutwein of Francesville, who in an email to the Indy Star cited neither a failure of communication nor a logistical snafu to explain the inactivity. Instead, he said the 13 bills sent to his committee were simply too complex.
Specifically, Gutwein wrote that pandemic protocols for committees dictated that “we’ve been more deliberate about hearing only legislation that is critically important to pass this year.”
The following bills that died in Gutwein’s environmental committee weren’t critically important?
• One requiring preschool and day care facilities to test for lead and address high levels.
• Another prohibiting utilities from dumping contaminating coal ash in unlined ponds where it leeches into groundwater.
• Another limiting the amount of “forever chemical” toxins in drinking water.
To Gutwein, they weren’t.
His failure to convene the environmental committee is a gross dereliction of responsibility at a time when protection of the environment and promotion of clean energy is so important to Indiana’s future.
The House environmental committee will look at three bills crossing over from the Senate, but none would have a major positive impact on the environment. In fact, one of them, SB 389, would compromise Indiana’s wetlands to the interests of home builders.
By some measures, Indiana is among the worst states for pollution. It’s high time for the Republican majority to pull its head out of the toxic waste cloud and do something about it.
KPC News. March 21, 2021.
Editorial: State officials should serve Hoosiers
New secretary should advance voter access
When Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Rep. Holli Sullivan as his pick for Indiana’s next secretary of state, he went with the status quo rather than reaching, shall we say, for the next level.
When she appeared before the media on Tuesday at a press conference to introduce her as the replacement for Secretary of State Connie Lawson, Sullivan appeared to follow the line of her predecessor and the Republican line that generally doesn’t make voting any easier or accessible than it is today.
During the 2020 elections that were shaped by the pandemic — including backing up the primary calendar by a month — Holcomb, Lawson and other Republican leaders allowed no-excuse mail-in voting in the primary. That was lifted in the general election, even though scaled back in-person voting remained the same as the primary, leading to long lines in some polling places, something that’s known to discourage voting. And at that time, the pandemic hadn’t been put to rest.
Sullivan seems to be of the same philosophy, saying on Tuesday that her top priority would be “free, fair, and secure elections, ensuring that all Hoosiers know that their vote counts.”
Sullivan didn’t cite any innovative changes she might institute in that vein. Nor did she say how she might work to improve Indiana’s consistently low voter turnout, which was 65% of registered voters last fall.
“I plan to continue to use the resources of the office to outreach and to ensure that Hoosiers of all backgrounds are encouraged to turn out, but more importantly that they have confidence that each of their votes will count,” Sullivan said.
There wasn’t any sign of people’s votes not counting in Indiana last fall or any other time in recent history. We need much more forward thinking than that in Indiana, particularly from our top election official.
Attorney general needs to focus on Indiana
It’s been three months and Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is proving he’ll be much of the same as former Attorney General Curtis Hill — someone more interested in fighting for his own political pursuits than fighting for Hoosiers.
In December, we urged Rokita to adopt an “Indiana-first” mentality toward the job unlike Hill, who spent most of his time filing paperwork in whatever political case he could find in just about any state outside of Indiana in an effort to try to build a resume.
Last week, Rokita filed a brief about an emissions case before a federal court... in California.
He dragged Indiana into a lawsuit about the Keystone XL Pipeline... which does not run in Indiana nor was ever planned to.
At the least, he filed a defense of the governor in a case filed by a BBQ owner over Indiana’s mask mandate... but then explained on Twitter that he’s only doing it because he has to defend the state in the case, not because he wants to.
Rokita is showing himself to be as self-serving as Hill, more interested in his next political job than the one he has now.
Vincennes Sun-Commercial. March 20, 2021.
Editorial: A space for all
We were saddened recently to watch the Knox County Commissioners vote to vacate their meeting room inside the courthouse.
It was a small, modest room — one whose limits grew increasingly more clear amid the COVID-19 pandemic — but still perfectly suitable for the smaller groups who regularly meet there, like the Unsafe Building, Invasive Species, Election and Public Defender boards, to name a few.
Public access there is easy, safe given the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by the county in recent years to make the building more secure and compliant with current Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
And it just seems odd to have a courthouse — a designated place to conduct county business — without a proper meeting space.
The county commissioners, as well as the Knox County Council, for months have been holding their public meetings at the Pantheon: A Business and Innovation Theatre at 428 Main St. The city and county jointly split the $2.4 million interior transformation from historic theater to co-working space and small business incubator.
Since it opened in December, governing bodies have opted to use the theater’s balcony lecture-style space for meetings, but in terms of public access, it leaves much to be desired.
We agree that the building is something for which the community can be immensely proud, and we believe in the innovation and entrepreneurs that will inevitably be nurtured within its walls.
We have been especially delighted to see the ways in which the Pantheon is working to connect those within Knox County’s largest industry — agriculture — with emerging technology that could make production easier and more profitable.
Great minds are leading those endeavors, and the Pantheon is indeed a jewel in Vincennes crown of historic downtown offerings.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean a theater balcony is the best place to conduct public business.
Nary a meeting there goes by when we don’t overhear someone complain about the many steps it takes to get up there, the many more steps one must take to get back down to where the elected officials are seated, the overall lack of handrails or — perhaps most important — the difficulty in hearing what is happening below.
We’ve seen people wobble and trip and pay far more attention to foot placement than should be necessary when attending a meeting of the minds whose very purpose is to work toward the the good of the overall community.
Yes, there is elevator access, but the visitor is left, somewhat abandoned, at the very top, some 40 feet away and unable to hear or participate in the public meeting at all.
That said, Pantheon officials are aware of some of these issues and are doing what they can to remedy them. There have been talks of sound panels to improve acoustics, and we know that additional hand rails are on the final punch list as interior renovations wrap up.
But we fear the overall obstacles to full public access will remain.
Most of our local elected officials pride themselves on transparency and being accessible to the public, so we know the decision to move the meetings to the Pantheon was never intended to exclude or create barriers. Rather, in wanting to take advantage of such a vast and beautiful space, we believe this was simple oversight — one we hope the commissioners will take into consideration.
We’re hopeful that as talks continue of an expansion to the Knox County Jail, the possibility of renovating the old jail on North Eighth Street, which currently houses the probation and community corrections departments, will be pursued.
We love the idea of transforming the space into a county multi-purpose building, complete with much-deserved offices for the commissioners themselves and an ADA-accessible meeting room for use by all county governing bodies, big and small.
Until then, there is always City Hall or, perhaps, a suitable space in the complex of buildings owned by the Knox County Public Library. Other options in the community, too, exist.
The bottom line is that we’ve watched public access to county meetings diminish. We’ve watched as communication suffered.
We’ve watched as other, smaller governing bodies were left to wonder where they will go to conduct business, knowing the Pantheon’s balcony likely isn’t appropriate for the elderly who so often attend.
So we ask — what greater responsibility do our county elected officials have than to offer their constituents a safe and easily-accessible space in which to participate in their own government?