- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The (Munster) Times. January 27, 2017

Towns should rethink restrictive posture

Fiscal success depends on nurturing and encouraging economic development, not placing undue restrictions and building bureaucratic walls.

With that premise in mind, two Region municipalities should think long and hard before unduly restricting future development.

The cases in question are separated by about 14 miles.

In one case, the Munster Town Council is considering an ordinance that could severely limit franchise businesses, such as fast-food restaurants, from establishing new locations within town limits.

In the other case, some Crown Point City Council members are quibbling over the site design of a proposed new hospital because it doesn’t look “colonial” enough.

It’s quite simple, really.

Municipalities shouldn’t cut off their noses to spite their fiscal faces by being overly petty, restrictive or flat-out snooty about the types of businesses they’ll accept and how they should look on the outside.

In the case of the Munster ordinance, small business owners who appreciate the success and stability franchise ownership can bring could be shut out from such endeavors.

Munster’s proposed Formula Business Ordinance effectively would block out businesses that use logos, trademarks, service or any other identifying name or symbol shared by 15 or more commercial businesses.

All such businesses would have to apply for special-use permits from the town, a condition of which would be that franchises not have another branch within 15 miles of a proposed location.

That’s roughly the driving distance between Munster and Crown Point.

The ordinance, which is slated for second and third readings in February and March, should be scrapped.

Meanwhile, Crown Point council members should ponder how restrictive they truly want to be on the “Williamsburg Broadway” corridor developments.

Crown Point officials recently reviewed renderings of a planned Community Stroke and Rehabilitation Hospital planned for that corridor at 10215 Broadway Ave.

The four-story, multi-use hospital would specialize in stroke patient care and rehab and represents an important development that would bring jobs and further vibrancy to the growing corridor.

When reviewing the plans at a recent meeting, Crown Point Councilwoman Laura Sauerman criticized the hospital for looking like “a big box.”

“It’s not timeless looking,” she said. “Just rectangle after rectangle is disappointing.”

Several plan commission members seemed to want to take on the role of architectural decorators, concluding that a “timeless” look means making it look more like Colonial Williamsburg.

Crown Point has compelled that look for the Broadway corridor, and it is attractive.

“I just think it’s woefully inadequate for the Williamsburg Broadway architectural design standards,” Crown Point plan commission member Dan Rohaley said of the hospital design.

But Rohaley and other city leaders should avoid being too controlling regarding a hospital design based on early colonial America, which isn’t really timeless at all.

There’s a difference between managing development and completely controlling or restricting it.

Munster and Crown Point, in their own respective ways, are striking the wrong balance.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. January 26, 2017

Limiting access to public data calls for vigilance

Freedom of information generated and collected by government is one of the cornerstones of democracy. There are occasions when that value - now often referred to as “transparency” - comes into conflict with other rights and values.

Under a procedure approved Friday by the Allen County commissioners, a domestic abuse victim, anyone who holds or has held elected office within the previous four years, or anyone who is or has been a judge, a police, conservation or corrections officer or a prosecutor, can arrange to have his or her name blocked from linkage with an address or other information in the county’s Public Access Tax Information system. Domestic abuse victims would not be charged for this service; others would pay a $50 fee.

Property tax records are traditionally open, for reasons that are fundamental to our system of government. Think of how often such information is used in real estate and other financial transactions, for instance. Without access to such records, how could citizens be assured that they are being taxed fairly and equitably? How could they be certain their representatives are living in the districts they represent, or that current or former officials aren’t profiting from a development deal?

And in an age when every type of information is gravitating to the digital universe, it only seems to make sense to move those records online.

“We created PATI about six years ago to ease access to public records,” Allen County Treasurer William Royce said in an interview Monday. But soon, there was concern from law enforcement and the judiciary.

“They felt it was too easy to find out where they lived,” Royce said. “The attempt was to not give the criminals an easy tool.”

There are a couple of key points that should be made about the county’s policy, which codifies a practice already allowed under state law.

One is that the information being blocked online is still public record, available on request from the county auditor’s office. Another is The Journal Gazette and other traditional media don’t typically report the names or addresses of sexual assault victims or the addresses of public servants or officials. It’s one thing to allow information to reside in the public record, but it’s quite another to call attention to it or make it instantly available to someone bent on threats, harassment or violence.

Weighed against those arguments is the fact that we are in a world and a century in which the line between digital, instant information and traditional information is rapidly disappearing. A separate standard for online information will be increasingly difficult to enforce. Comprehensive lists of individual addresses, for instance, are already available through many private sites online.

The Journal Gazette’s Ron Shawgo reported Saturday that county courts face a similar dilemma as they change over to a statewide paperless system for filing and accessing legal documents. Judge Craig Bobay told Shawgo the state is trying to figure out how to deal with sensitive records, such as information about children in divorce decrees, that could become instantly accessible on the web.

Now, Bobay said, “you have to come down to the courthouse and know to look up that file, and you have to spend the time to read through all that. I think they call it something like practical obscurity.”

Procedures such as those adopted Friday by the commissioners are defensible, but they could become steps down the slippery slope of restricting public information.

Royce acknowledged the concern about the provision for blocking names even as he explained the rationale for it Monday.

“From the standpoint of safety, I absolutely understand it,” he said. But “at what point does it look like we’re not protecting, we’re hiding?”

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South Bend Tribune. January 26, 2017

Where there’s smoke. There’s a need to act

It should come as no surprise that smoking made the list of key health policy issues recently outlined by Indiana’s health commissioner.

The Hoosier state has the nation’s 12th highest smoking rate, with tobacco claiming 11,000 lives per year. According to a 2015 report from the Tobacco-Free Kids, 151,000 kids now under 18 and alive in Indiana will ultimately die prematurely from smoking. And the annual health care costs in Indiana directly caused by smoking is $2.93 million.

Dr. Jerome Adams, state health commissioner, says, “For every pack of cigarettes sold in Indiana, the state spends $15.90 in health care costs, lost productivity and premature death.”

If that’s not enough, smoking is one of the contributing factors in Indiana’s shameful infant mortality rates, the country’s 10th worse.

In a state where 22 percent of adults smoke (the national rate is 18 percent), perhaps the biggest challenge is preventing youth from picking up this lethal habit in the first place.

To that end, Dr. Richard Feldman, in a column on these pages last week, made the case for raising the smoking age in Indiana from 18 to 21. Among the points made by Feldman, a former state health commissioner: Eighty percent of smokers begin daily smoking before age 19, 95 percent initiate smoking by age 21 and four out of five smokers become daily smokers before age 21.

For those who find such a step too drastic for Indiana, there’s another option for legislators to consider to combat this legitimate public health issue. It’s a simple solution that’s hardly controversial: Legislators should commit to making a greater investment in tobacco prevention and cessation programs. These programs have proven effective and are well worth the price. Even better, you don’t have to look far for funding such programs. After all, the money collected by the states after settling their lawsuits against the major tobacco companies in November 1998 was intended to help fight the public health issues created by tobacco use.

Unfortunately, here in Indiana, the General Assembly has over the years raided money intended to pay for smoking cessation efforts and public initiatives aimed at helping smokers kick the habit. Last year, the state spent $5.9 million on tobacco prevention programs. As recently as 2008, the state spent $16 million on such initiatives. The $5.9 million figure represents just 8 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation.

In facing one of the state’s major health challenges, legislators have options, including making critical investments in tobacco prevention programs and/or raising the smoking age. What the state can’t afford to do is fail to act.

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Kokomo Tribune. Jan 26, 2017

Let’s all talk about cancer

Maybe nobody feels comfortable talking about sexually transmitted diseases with their kids.

As a society, we look to parents to have these conversations, to talk to young people about the consequences of their choices. Maybe parents think talking should be enough, but let’s be realistic.

If there was a series of three shots you could get for your children that would prevent cancer later in life, wouldn’t you do that for them? So why are we so resistant to vaccinating our children against the human papillomavirus, a leading cause of cervical and other types of cancer?

On Monday, the journal Cancer published a study that found death rates of a highly preventable form of the disease - cervical cancer - might be significantly higher than estimated. Actual death rates are 77 percent higher among African-American women and 47 percent higher among whites, the study said.

“We have a vaccine which can eliminate cervical cancer, like polio, that is currently available, and only 40 percent of girls age 13 to 17 have been vaccinated,” Dr. John Farley, a practicing gynecologic oncologist and professor at Creighton University School of Medicine at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Arizona, told CNN. “This is an epic failure of our health care system in taking care of women in general and minorities specifically.”

The HPV vaccine has been around for 11 years, but as we reported over the summer of 2014, the vaccination rates in Indiana and elsewhere remain remarkably low. Public health officials are looking to physicians to talk about the vaccine with parents and get more 11- and 12-year-old boys and girls protected.

Studies have shown vaccinated children are no more likely to engage in promiscuous activity than unvaccinated ones. Even better, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the vaccine has nearly 100 percent effectiveness and has reduced HPV infection rates in teens by 56 percent - even with the low participation rate.

There are people who are concerned with the safety of vaccines in general. Since the HPV vaccine was released in 2006, the CDC reports safety studies and monitoring have been conducted, with no safety concerns arising.We don’t need to make the HPV vaccine mandatory. We simply need more education so parents understand the HPV vaccine isn’t permission to engage in sexual activity. If health care providers recommend administration of the HPV vaccine at the same time as Tdap, a required vaccination for middle-school entry, as many as 93 percent of youth would get at least the first dose.

This is and it isn’t a conversation about sex. It’s really a conversation about health. If the vaccine prevented another type of cancer, would it still be as uncomfortable?

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