South Bend Tribune. Dec. 6, 2020

Tackling a (leaf) burning issue in St. Joseph County

The St. Joseph County Council has taken an encouraging step toward addressing a burning issue in the midst of a respiratory pandemic.

Proposed changes to the county’s leaf-burning ban seek to stamp out lingering leaf burning. Leaf burning amnesty periods that have been offered in the fall and spring for many years would be eliminated, and enforcement to control unauthorized burning would be enhanced, with fines that could range from $10 to $1,000.

The council passed the proposed ordinance out of committee on Tuesday with a favorable recommendation, and the full council is expected to vote on it this month. If approved, it would then go to the Board of Commissioners for a vote.

Complaints about unauthorized leaf burning have been persistent, according to officials. The problem is the current leaf-burning ban lacks teeth and fails to deter residents from burning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the exposure to the air pollutants from leaf burning can worsen existing heart and lung conditions and have other harmful effects.

While the topic is obviously a public health issue, it’s also a matter of public safety, as leaf fires can get out of hand, threatening structures or setting a field aflame.

Council members said they liked the idea of making the county’s leaf-burning ban stronger for air quality, health and safety, and to be consistent with the cities of South Bend and Mishawaka, where leaf burning is prohibited.

Residents and health advocates have expressed concerns about leaf burning for years. The issue deserves the attention the council is giving it.

Council attorney Mike Trippel said the proposed changes would signal that “this is clearly and specifically a ban” and give officials the latitude “to issue a warning or a monetary fine.”

A ban should indeed come with some muscle, especially on issues related to health. That’s why, on another public health issue, we agreed with the recent move to allow fines for businesses that violate the county’s mask order.

In this case, the move toward strengthening the existing ordinance and eliminating leaf-burning amnesty periods are steps in the right direction.


Terre Haute Tribune Star. Dec. 4, 2020

Celebration or heartache — small sacrifices can make the difference

Autumn erased misconceptions that COVID-19 is a big-city problem.

The year-end holidays may fully reveal that the coronavirus is a dire small-town dilemma, too. Wabash Valley residents should rethink their Christmas, New Year’s and other seasonal plans, as a result.

This past week, America’s highest per-capita coronavirus hospitalization rates were found in South Dakota and, yes, Indiana, the Indianapolis Star reported Wednesday. Sixty-one of every 100,000 South Dakotans were in a hospital bed with the virus, according to research by the COVID Tracking Project. Fifty of every 100,000 Hoosiers were hospitalized with COVID-19.

The problem was perhaps more problematic in Indiana, because the state has 270 hospital beds for every 100,000 residents, compared to South Dakota’s 480 beds.

Especially vulnerable are rural hospitals, where any quarantine of exposed health-care workers particularly complicates operations. New COVID cases in rural communities are outpacing those in urban areas, the leader of the Indiana Rural Health Association told the Tribune-Star’s Sue Loughlin on Tuesday.

Hospitals in the outlying areas are near capacity, said Cara Veale, the association’s CEO.

Health care professionals at those facilities are “gravely concerned” about rural Hoosiers failing to take the safety measures recommended repeatedly by public health experts. A trait of independence common among many rural residents, admirable in other situations, “tends to intensify some of these risks” to those individuals and others they encounter in the pandemic, Veale said.

Face masking, keeping a distance of at least six feet, and avoiding large gatherings are imperative in slowing the pandemic’s spread. Folks who were nonchalant about the protocols before have contributed to the current surge. Rural hospitals, and the rest of Indiana’s small-town populations, desperately need them to abide by the guidelines and resist traditionally large holiday get-togethers.

Those hospitals typically function with lean staffs. The community spread of COVID-19 can infect and thus sideline doctors, nurses, technicians, EMTs, aides and others, or expose them to the disease and force them to quarantine. That puts further stress on a small hospital staff, impinging its ability to care for other coronavirus patients, not to mention putting those workers’ lives at risk.

And, when available beds have filled with COVID patients, people facing other serious ailments have avoided seeking care. That predicament is a concern at Union Hospital Clinton. Its service area includes Vermillion and Parke counties, which have state coronavirus ratings of Level 3 (red, the most serious) and Level 2.5 (orange, the second most serious), respectively. The region also has high rates of underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Stephanie Lewis, the Union Clinton administrator, urges residents to seek medical care for non-COVID ailments and maintain contact with their primary care physicians.

Rural hospital officials also remind residents that their adherence to public-safety protocols will affect others through this holiday season. Stacy Burris, administrator at Greene County General Hospital in Linton, praised the community’s support and offered a reminder.

“Everyone knows each other,” Burris said. “Chances are you know someone who works at the hospital. You want to protect them.”

Tough decisions must be made across Indiana this winter. Promising vaccines are coming, but widespread availability is months away. In the meantime, smaller, one-household observances of Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve are recommended. It is a sacrifice, but a short-term and considerate one. The choice could make the difference between heartaches this winter or celebrating with family and friends in 2021 and beyond.


The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. Dec. 5, 2020

Same-sex couples should keep full parental rights

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court wrongly arguing that it should reverse a federal appeals court’s ruling that allowed both members of same-sex couples in Indiana to be listed as parents on the birth certificates of their children.

Hill argues that someone is losing out on their biological parent rights when same-sex couples can both be listed on the birth certificate, but the current ruling places priority on the welfare of the child.

Hill argues that a birth mother’s wife cannot be the biological father of the child and that granting such a person presumptive parental status is to undermine the rights and obligations of the biological father.

While there is a valid concern for the rights and obligations of biological parents, no such concerns are expressed in the case of opposite-sex married couples.

When a child is born to a husband and wife, the child is said to be born in wedlock and both spouses are assumed to be the parents of the child. No paternity test is required.

If anyone outside the marriage is claiming parental rights, it is that person’s burden to make their case in court.

To deny this privilege to same-sex spouses is discriminatory to same-sex married couples. It is also detrimental to the welfare of the child to place legal obstacles in the way of each of the child’s married parents fulfilling every bit of their parental rights and duties.

If Hill is concerned for family values, he should respect the ties that bind families together that go beyond simple biology.