The (Munster) Times. June 6, 2020.

NWI mayors extend peaceful solidarity amid protests, unrest

Our nation was founded on the right of our populace to protest injustice.

It’s at the very heart of the freedom of speech protected by our Constitution’s First Amendment.

Fortunately, some key Region leaders have shown us in recent days that they understand and are willing to facilitate these rights in person.

The end result, in most cases, have been demonstrations that unfolded and ended peacefully, with voices being heard on important social issues in ways that didn’t jeopardize the lives or safety of others.

At the heart of these examples of sound leadership is an issue that is shaking our entire nation as the public reacts to the death, at the hands of Minneapolis police, of George Floyd last week.

A number of peaceful protests have resulted, but so have mindless violent street riots, death, looting and property destruction throughout our nation.

The first example of great Region leadership countering the worst possible outcomes emerged Saturday as protests unfolded in Hammond.

As protesters appeared to be prepared to march onto Interstate 80/94, one of the heaviest traveled transportation corridors in the country, police formed a barricade line at Calumet and 171st to stop it.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. could have just stayed safely home.

Instead, he was out on the scene with his officers. And he took an additional step, quite literally.

He stepped out into the crowd of protesters and began to speak with them. He listened to their concerns, acknowledged they had a right to be there and urged them to continue peacefully protesting without overtaking a major interstate and creating untold safety hazards for pedestrians and drivers.

McDermott’s interaction with the crowd was well documented on a number of private videos posted to social media.

What he did seemed to work.

Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez, whose SWAT officers assisted in forming the barricade, credits McDermott with helping to redirect the protesters, keeping their legitimate message alive in a productive light.

Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor showed the same style of leadership Sunday when protesters flocked to the Southlake Mall parking lot, with some beginning to face off with police, who formed a tactical line to protect a major mall entrance.

Snedecor emerged from the police line and spoke with the front lines of protesters, urging calm and expressing understanding.

His actions were widely photographed and observed by Times reporters and editors who also were on scene.

And on Monday, it was Crown Point Mayor David Uran’s turn.

A group of protesters rallied on Crown Point’s downtown square near the iconic Old Lake County Courthouse, protesting the police actions that ended in the death of Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.

Early in the demonstration, Uran approached the gathering, peacefully introduced himself and his police chief and welcomed the protesters to his city.

Uran pledged they were free to exercise their freedoms on his streets as long as they kept it peaceful.

The crowd responded with applause.

And when the gathering of protesters was determined to march north on Main Street to the Lake County Government Center, Uran had his police cordon off a lane of the road for them to safely do so, even physically walking with the group himself.

Solidarity in times of national anguish is a powerful force.

In a time of overwhelming unrest throughout our country, these three Region mayors deserve praise for stepping forth and extending a peaceful hand to those who seek to be heard on an important social issue.

__ (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. June 4, 2020.

Bridging state’s broadband gulf

When state Rep. Tonya Pfaff, a Terre Haute teacher, talked in May about the dizzying transition educators faced when schools were abruptly closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, she noted that being asked to suddenly teach remotely carried a variety challenges.

E-learning — a process in which teachers communicate with their students virtually using digital technology and the internet — is a relatively new and wonderful option for imparting educational instruction. It has been highly successful in many ways and carries tremendous potential for the future.

But, as Pfaff pointed out, the remote learning transition underscored a big problem that still awaits resolution. Not all areas of the state and nation have access to reliable internet services. No internet, no teaching. No teaching, no learning.

As a math teacher at North Vigo School, Pfaff had to navigate the obstacles posed by gaps in broadband internet access as she worked to teach her students during disruptive times. As a state representative, she saw firsthand the importance of investing in expanded broadband service to all regions of the state so that students in rural or underserved areas would not be deprived of the same educational opportunities afforded to everyone else.

Indiana, with leadership from Gov. Eric Holcomb and support from lawmakers such as Pfaff, broadband internet expansion is taking place. It should have happened sooner, of course, and it’s not coming at a pace we’d like to see. But it is coming, and more and more funds are being allocated to it.

This week, the governor announced it had received 72 applications requesting nearly $100 million in funding from the the Next Level Connections Broadband Grant program.

According to the governor’s office, the applications in this second round of the program came from 21 different service providers and cover more than 4,100 of the eligible census blocks in 47 counties. The first round awarded $28.4 million for 14 expansion programs across 18 counties.

Expanding internet connectivity is important in education and in so many other ways, including telehealth. Reliable broadband services is an issue related both to economic development and quality of life. Too many people still don’t have this essential service, and it is creating an inequality among the citizenry that must be eliminated.

Indiana’s broadband expansion program is making progress. It must continue to expand until there are no more digital deserts.


Kokomo Tribune. June 5, 2020.

Enforcement is important

Indiana legislators passed a law in 2010, aimed at cutting back on the number of motorists texting while driving. It didn’t work.

Two years after that law went into effect, we reported Kokomo police officers had written just five citations.

The problem, police say, is the law is nearly impossible to enforce. Other police departments have come to the same conclusion. According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, law enforcement issued 2,020 tickets for texting while driving between 2011 and 2015, The News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne reported. “That’s about 500 tickets a year for the whole state,” the newspaper said.

July 1 marks the date when drivers of motor vehicles can no longer use or hold a cellphone while operating a vehicle on Indiana roads and highways. And we have to ask, will this new law have an enforcement problem as well?

The law, signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb on March 18, is an important one. Adopted in the recent session of the state Legislature, the cellphone ban is bold but not revolutionary. Across the country, 21 states, including neighboring Illinois, already have laws banning the use of cellphones while driving.

In addition to banning talking or texting on a cellphone while driving, that means no checking the weather or the traffic map. No looking at photos. No videos. No quick look at the email inbox. No holding the phone in your hand. The only exception is making a call to 911 emergency services or when the vehicle is stopped.

A driver can still use some cellphone features under the new law if the device is mounted on a vehicle’s dashboard or in hands-free mode.

Violations could be costly — up to a $500 fine and possible loss of a driver’s license for repeat offenders. Hopefully that convinces drivers to take the law seriously.

Distracted driving is a major threat on roads and highways and cellphones have added to those dangers. Laws aimed at reducing distracted driving pose enforcement challenges and won’t eliminate the practice. But states that have attacked the problem aggressively through strict laws have found that crashes associated with the risky driving behavior have been reduced. More importantly, fatalities have gone down.

When the law goes into effect this summer, we encourage police officials to demonstrate their commitment to enforcement. Drivers need to know that the law is being taken seriously by traffic enforcers so that they will take it seriously as well.

Laws that won’t be enforced with consistency — or can’t be, as in the case of the texting law — aren’t really laws at all.