Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

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Evansville Courier & Press. Feb. 24, 2014.

Honest to goodness, new slogan pleasant

As we remember it, once before Indiana leaders paid professionals to come up with a slogan they hoped would attract visitors to the Hoosiers state. The slogan was “Restart Your Engines,” although we believed it was a non-starter.

It was a takeoff on the Indianapolis 500 race and the famous instruction to “Start your engines.” At the time, we envisioned jumper cables and dead batteries, and wondered how that image might be received.

Anyway, we learned last week that Indiana now has another tourism slogan, this one designed to promote the state’s warm soul. It’s called a “consumer brand” and is titled “Honest to Goodness Indiana.”

According to The Associated Press, the new campaign comes as Indiana prepares for its statehood bicentennial in 2016, and is intended to emphasize that the people and experiences in Indiana are genuine.

Although we don’t expect this slogan to draw visitors who don’t already know about Indiana’s quiet nature, the slogan is kind of pleasant.

And the image it calls up is certainly more pleasant than a dead battery and jumper cables.

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Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. Feb. 23, 2014.

State’s next cash crop?

It’s historical. It was cultivated in Mesopotamia as early as 8000 B.C.

It’s resilient. It was widely used to make ships’ rigging, sails, tents, ropes, parachute webbing and military uniforms.

It’s patriotic. Betsy Ross is said to have used material made from it in the first U.S. flag from it.

It’s artistic. Rembrandt and Van Gogh painted on canvases made from it.

It’s newsmaking. The colonists printed our fledgling nation’s first newspapers on paper made from it - paper that can last hundreds of years without degrading.

It’s documented. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution on paper made from it.

It’s presidential. George Washington grew it and encouraged all citizens of his era to sow it widely.

It’s fuel-efficient. Rudolph Diesel is said to have extracted its oil to power his engines.

It’s environmental. Paper made from it can be recycled many more times than paper made from trees, and cultivating it for paper takes fewer toxic chemicals during manufacturing than does paper made from trees.

It’s all that.

And it’s banned in Indiana and 39 other states.

It’s hemp, a fast-growing, copiously spreading commodity that a reporter in our newspaper last week called “pot’s less potent cousin.”

The cousin connection is that hemp comes from the same species of plant, Cannabis sativa, as marijuana. But it lacks the drug effects that pot packs. The science of the matter says that hemp, compared with pot, contains much, much, much less THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical that induces a marijuana high. Hemp typically contains less than 0.33 percent THC, compared with 20 to 30 percent in marijuana.

Despite this significant difference, hemp was banned as part of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. That came after hemp had been widely cultivated and used for decades in the United States, including for many products, military and domestic, during World War II. During World War I, Indiana was among states growing hemp.

Now, as mellower perspectives are prevailing, 10 states have legalized hemp.

More states may soon follow suit, because the new federal farm bill, passed by Congress on Feb. 4 and signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 7, will let universities and state agriculture departments start industrial hemp research programs. But only in states in which hemp is legal.

Indiana needs to become state No. 11 to legalize hemp production - because of hemp’s amazing versatility as a source of a wide range of commodities, its ability to grow like a weed (because it is one) in all sorts of ground, and because there are millions of dollars for Hoosier farmers and businesses to cash in on from hemp sales.

An advocacy group called Vote Hemp estimates the U.S. market for hemp at $500 million in annual sales. Our southern neighbor, Kentucky, a hemp-legal state, appears ready to begin to tap into that market. Just last Monday its agriculture commissioner announced five state university projects to test whether planting hemp on sites formerly poisoned by industrial toxins - brownfields - can decontaminate the soil.

Hemp growth in our state and others could help meet a domestic need in which American-grown hemp could drastically cut into the $11.5 million in hemp products that our nation imported in 2011, according to The Associated Press.

In Indiana, it is legal to import hemp, as does an Elkhart County business that spends $1 million a year to import hemp for use inside auto doors and armrests. Yes, it is legal to import hemp to Indiana, but not to grow it.

That appears about to change. Advancing in the Indiana Legislature is a bill that would allow hemp to be grown as “an agricultural product . subject to regulation by the state.”

Under that bill, hemp growers and handlers would have to be licensed, the Indiana State Police would regularly visit hemp fields to test that they meet the agricultural definition, and other stringent standards would have to be achieved and maintained.

The bill passed the Indiana Senate, 48-0, on Feb. 3 and has been sent to the House of Representatives’ Agriculture and Rural Development committee. Fortunately, Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Seelyille, is vice chairman of that House committee, and Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, is a minority member. We hope both help advance the bill to the House floor and ultimately to the governor for his signature.

The bill seems to have wide bipartisan support, which it should, because it is not a partisan issue.

Hemp is not pot. Hemp is a cash crop with the potential to help Indiana’s farmers, its manufacturers, its workers, its economy, its ecology and its employment numbers.

Hemp should become legal in Indiana, so our state can join Kentucky and nine other states in sowing its seeds and reaping its benefits.

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The Times, Munster. Feb. 23, 2014.

Honor Clay, but choose another path

It’s nice to see the late Rudy Clay be honored by the Indiana Senate, with the potential to rename Fifth Avenue in Gary in honor of the longtime politician who was so passionate about his city. But perhaps there’s a better way to honor him.

Clay died June 4, 2013. He was 77. He packed a lot of public service into those years.

Clay was mayor from 2006 through 2011, leading Gary through the first stages of enforced austerity as state property tax caps, among other revenue restraints, forced the city to downsize government.

Prior to that, he served as Lake County commissioner, recorder, councilman and as an Indiana state senator.

He was the only African-American senator when he took office in 1973. He became the first African-American chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party in 2005.

Clay was asked by then-Gov. Otis Bowen to negotiate a hostage situation at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City in 1973. The siege ended after the inmates met with Clay.

He had many other accomplishments, too many to list here, and had a genuine passion for his city.

It’s understandable that members of the Indiana General Assembly, not just Gary officials, would want to honor Clay.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 24, authored by state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, is cosponsored by Reps. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, and Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. It urges the Indiana Department of Transportation to rename Fifth Avenue, or U.S. 20, in honor of Clay.

But Gary already has a Clay Street — named for a different Clay — so there’s a strong potential for confusion if Fifth Avenue is actually renamed for the late mayor.

But perhaps another tribute to Clay is in order. Rename a building for him, just as the Lake County Courthouse in Gary was named for Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert D. Rucker. Or erect a statue of him, paid for by a benefactor rather than limited city funds. Or find some other way to honor his memory.

Just don’t create confusion by giving Gary another Clay street.

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Journal & Courier, Lafayette. Feb. 21, 2014.

State can’t put off pre-K education

Coming off the initial good reports about Read to Succeed, a project that put volunteers into Greater Lafayette schools weekly to help kids meet state goals for reading by third grade, organizers looked even earlier in a student’s life.

By early 2013, the collaboration of Greater Lafayette Commerce, United Way of Greater Lafayette and the three largest school districts in Tippecanoe County had put together a four-page handbook: “Things Your Child Should be Exposed to Prior to Kindergarten.”

Among the expectations that would put kids - and their teachers - in the best position were being able to recite the alphabet, identify colors and shapes, to hold a pencil or crayon, and to sit through a story being read to them. The handbook also covered of necessary social skills.

In other words, the goal was to bring kids who were not absolute beginners when they hit the kindergarten classroom. Educators agree that the more prepared students are in kindergarten, the better off they are for the rest of their school days.

The question organizers faced - and still face, as they mull this part of the community learning project - is how to get those expectations to kids, short of having a formal and universal preschool program.

Carving inroads through community efforts is one thing, and certainly worth the time and sweat. But eventually Indiana will need to address just how far back it is falling behind other states when it comes to access to pre-kindergarten education.

Gov. Mike Pence made pre-K education one of his top goals, taking time to testify for House Bill 1004, which would create a limited preschool program. It was the first time the governor had testified in a General Assembly committee for a specific bill.

Last week, HB 1004 was stripped down in a Senate committee. Questions about long-term funding left senators with second thoughts, as they sent the preschool issue to a summer study committee.

Pence’s agenda for this legislative session included several wishes involving substantial amounts of money. That’s always a tall order in a non-budget year for the General Assembly. So the governor’s preschool goals seemed destined for a full vetting in the 2015 session, when the General Assembly will piece together the state’s next two-year budget.

There will be no excuse next year, though. The General Assembly can’t keep walking away from a commitment to pre-kindergarten education. Too many Hoosier kids are being cheated.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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