Anderson Herald Bulletin. May 26, 2021.
Editorial: Setting an example on redistricting
Groups such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters have been working for years to take politics out of the once-a-decade redistricting process.
In 2016, a bipartisan panel of legislators and citizens recommended the General Assembly pass a law to create a nine-member commission to complete the process.
The next year, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Rep. Jerry Torr sponsored legislation based on the committee’s recommendation, but the bill died in committee. A year later, a similar bill won overwhelming support in the Senate but couldn’t get a hearing in the House.
Such measures failed again in 2019 and 2020.
Finally, advocates decided to go it alone. If they couldn’t get the legislature to set up an independent commission, they decided, they’d do it themselves. The goal was to set an example for lawmakers to follow.
Thus, in January, after an application process that yielded nearly 300 candidates, the All IN for Democracy coalition formed an Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission made up of three Republicans, three Democrats and three independents.
In the months since, that commission has conducted a series of public hearings, and it has submitted a list of recommendations based on the feedback it gathered.
The report calls on legislators to create an open process that encourages public participation.
At the top of the commission’s wish list is to establish more districts where both parties have a shot at winning. A lack of such districts, the commission said, was the leading complaint voiced by those participating in the various hearings.
Way too many of Indiana’s legislative and congressional districts are stacked in favor of one political party. That leads to elections that are effectively over in the primary, and it results in lawmakers who worry a lot more about the base than the average voter. Voters grow apathetic, and turnout suffers.
Reform advocates cite the example of 2014 when Indiana’s voter turnout was 28%, lowest in the nation. Part of the problem, perhaps, was that more than a third of candidates for the Indiana General Assembly that year had no opponent in the general election.
Surely, the maps this time around can be better.
The commission is now offering training on its mapping website, and it will be putting together mapping workshops in some urban communities. It’s also working to set up meetings with legislative leaders to discuss its recommendations.
In the end, the commission wants a process where the voters choose their representatives rather than the other way around.
That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
KPC News. May 28, 2021.
Editorial: Effort to block COVID-19 vaccine at IU is political pursuit
This past week, a group of 19 Indiana House members — including local Rep. Denny Zent, R-Angola — signed on to a letter asking Gov. Eric Holcomb to use executive action to ban Indiana University from requiring students be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the start of the 2021-22 school year.
Ignoring the irony of 19 Republican lawmakers who worked this past session to strip the governor of executive power to respond to a public health pandemic now asking him to use executive action to impose their will, the effort appears to land more in the realm of political pandering than genuine concern about the health and safety of college students.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita issued his own advisory opinion agreeing that IU is in violation of a new law passed by Hoosier Republican that banned use of “vaccine passports,” documentation to prove someone has been vaccinated.
“HEA1405 only prohibits public universities from requiring proof of the COVID-19 vaccine; it does not prohibit them from requiring the vaccination itself,” Rokita wrote.
Talk about semantics to the absurd. That’s akin to saying we don’t prohibit schools from issuing grades to students, we just prohibit them from using report cards to document those grades.
Rokita notes that, although Purdue University would also require proof of vaccination among immunized students similar to IU, it may not violate the law because it also provides the option for students to not get vaccinated, although they would then have to submit to regular monitoring and testing for COVID-19 instead.
The legislators make the argument, too, that the vaccine can’t be mandated because it’s not received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration yet, although Pfizer has applied just this month for full FDA approval of its vaccine, a process that, at its quickest, could potentially be complete by the end of this year.
“Nobody is disputing COVID-19 is real, or dismissing the the contributions of healthcare professionals over the last year; however, enforcing a mandate that students and faculty accept a vaccine that does not have full FDA approval is unconscionable,” the lawmakers wrote.
That argument might feel more genuine except for the fact that many of the lawmakers who signed onto the letter have spent the last year dismissing, or at least diluting, the contributions of healthcare professionals in fighting COVID-19.
They overrode a veto to hack the governor’s power to enact executive action in a public health emergency based on the counsel he receives from his health advisors, a matter now headed to court. They overrode a veto to undermine the ability of local health departments to enact public health orders, as well as the ability for local counties to effectively disregard a state order by allowing them to pass less restrictive measures, a power not available to local governments on literally any other topic of administrative or codified law.
Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, one of the signatories, notoriously stated earlier this year while pitching an anti-COVID-restriction bill, “in reality we really aren’t sure masks work,” running afoul of more than a year of consensus opinion from health officials the world over.
Beyond all of that, it’s not like requiring vaccines at school is new territory in Indiana.
To enter kindergarten in Indiana, students must be vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B; diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; polio; measles, mumps and rubella; and varicella, more commonly known as chickenpox.
Students are also required to have a meningitis vaccine upon entering middle school, and 11 Indiana colleges require students to also get an additional meningitis B vaccine. Five of those 11 universities added that requirement in 2019, less than a year before the COVID-19 outbreak and there was no outrage to be had then.
We strongly suspect many of these lawmakers would continue to oppose vaccine requirements even after a full FDA approval. If not, why else would they pass a law trying to ban proof of vaccination at universities in the first place?
The vaccines work well, evidenced by sharp declines in cases, hospitalizations and deaths seen among inoculated populations.
They’re safe, as evidenced by extremely low rates of serious side effects.
Schools have a prerogative to protect to their students from disease, as evidenced by long-standing statutes requiring vaccination of students ranging from kindergarten through college against other communicable diseases.
IU is duty-bound to maintain the health and safety of its students and staff members. It has a compelling purpose to shield its campus from disease.
If that is “unconscionable” to some, no one is mandated to attend IU.
South Bend Tribune. May 30, 2021.
Editorial: Another large project in St. Joseph County, another communication fail
The recent news about St. Joseph County development in the New Carlisle area has that old, familiar feeling.
Last week, The Tribune’s Christian Sheckler reported that a project is in the works that would build a massive solar energy farm. It would also set up a new special taxing district that could be used to funnel money toward tax incentives for the company and St. Joseph County’s development efforts in the “Indiana Enterprise Center” industrial zone.
The farm, nicknamed “Project Honeysuckle,” would be on up to 1,900 acres of farmland bounded roughly by U.S. 20 and Spruce, Tamarack and Darden roads. County officials are working with renewable energy company RES to build it. Last week, the company confirmed the plan, which had been presented to members of the St. Joseph County Council, Redevelopment Commission and Board of Commissioners during a closed-door meeting in April, according to a slideshow presentation obtained by The Tribune. The developer of the project for RES said Tuesday the Honeysuckle solar farm had been in the works for more than a year.
County officials this week had yet to publicly disclose the proposed solar farm or details of the new tax-increment financing district that would be created for the project. County Commissioners President Andy Kostielney, economic development director Bill Schalliol and County Council member Mark Telloyan, who represents the New Carlisle area, either declined or did not respond to interview requests about the project.
It’s those details that have that familiar feeling, one that we’ve commented upon numerous times specifically in relation to the county’s IEC plans. Since its inception, the Indiana Enterprise Center, the industrial “mega park” also being developed in the New Carlisle area, has been plagued by the communication and public relations missteps of county officials. That project is opposed by a vocal coalition that includes farmers and environmental activists.
The solar farm project’s creation of a new tax-increment financing district will likely spark debate. Chris Cobb, a member of the Open Spaces and Agricultural Alliance, a group that has organized against the IEC, said he supported the general idea of a solar farm, but not a project that relies on TIF.
“If what was being proposed was simply a 1,900-acre solar farm on that land, full stop, we would not be opposed to that,” Cobb said. “What we’re opposed to is the expansion of the TIF district as part of the design of the project because of all the negative effects of a TIF.”
In a 2019 comment, we urged county officials to change their strategy for engaging residents about the industrial park, that they’ve opened themselves up to criticism with their haphazard and spotty communication. We pointed out that the county had spent millions on consultant fees for planning and studies, “yet there is a feeling among residents that officials aren’t being forthright about the plans.”
The secrecy surrounding the solar farm project provides yet another example of the lack of transparency surrounding St. Joseph County development. That’s an old, familiar feeling, and not a good one.
Columbus Republic. May 28, 2021.
Editorial: Locals step up to help veterans
The original editorial planned for today’s Republic never materialized — the community stepped up far before our call to action could make print.
This past Sunday, we published a story on how local veterans have found it increasingly difficult to get round-trip rides to the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis for medical appointments.
Volunteers have driven a county-owned, 12-passenger van over the years, but due to COVID-19 the number of volunteers shrank from 14 to fewer than five in recent months. In addition, due to an increased number of in-person visits, the wait times have increased for patients at the VA; making it tougher for many volunteers to dedicate their time to helping.
A significant number of local veterans regularly use the service to receive a variety of treatments.
Last month, the Veteran Services office transported 22 veterans to the VA medical facility while younger veterans tended to visit Wakeman VA Clinic at Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh. While Wakeman is a shorter drive, some procedures such as therapy treatments and X-rays can only take place at Roudebush.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for citizens to mobilize and solve the issue.
By Monday morning, a plan was put together to make sure that no veteran would miss an appointment anytime soon.
Toyota Material Handling North America has offered to provide drivers for the trip, and dozens of volunteers have also called asking how they can help, Veteran Services Officer Larry Garrity reported Monday during the county commissioners meeting.
It’s heartening to see both big corporations and everyday citizens willing to work together to help our veterans.