- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Evansville Courier & Press. Feb. 9, 2014.

Scooter legislation should pass without requiring insurance

Supporters of Indiana state legislation to regulate motorized scooters could make progress during the current legislative session, if they pass up attempting to insure the small bikes. The bill, which passed the House last week, would include registering and plating scooters, but not the key hurdle, insurance.

This is a particularly important issue in Evansville, where the police department is campaigning for the regulation of scooters, which require no identification.

Evansville police believe registration of scooters would help the department better deal with stolen scooters. Evansville Police Sgt. Jason Cullum, who has been lobbying for the legislature to regulate scooters, said the number of automobile and scooter thefts in the city is comparable.

Such legislation has failed in the past, but this year it is given a shot at passage without a provision for insurance. The bill is being carried by state Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, and requires drivers of motorized scooters to register and plate their bikes with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Cullum said the Evansville police support Wolkins bill as written, but hope it will lead to addressing other issues in the future, among them insurance.

(To her credit, this bill was written by Indiana State Auditor Suzanne Crouch over the summer while she was still a state representative.)

The bill puts the cost to register at $17.30 with a $10 annual excise tax charge. That could be an issue for low-income riders in that these scooters provide vital transportation for people who cannot afford other modes of transportation. The House bill also would require a state-issued identification card with a motor driven cycle endorsement. To gain the endorsement, the rider would need to pass a road signs test.

There is an issue also with the freedom to ride, especially in rural Indiana where people like to own and ride scooters without government regulation. This is why some opposition to the legislation will come from rural interests.

Hopes of the bill passing this year were heightened last week when an influential state lawmaker, State Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, made positive statements about the bill. Wyss is chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security, Transportation and Veterans Affairs Committee, where the legislation is likely to be assigned. Over the years, Wyss has been a positive force on a number of transportation issues in the Indiana Legislature.

What is clear is that this bill will not pass this session if anyone inserts an insurance requirement. Instead, lawmakers need to pass it this session with minimal requirements, and then see what happens in future sessions.

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The Republic, Columbus. Feb. 8, 2014.

Approval process for CAFOs fair to all parties

A proposed hog farm in northeastern Bartholomew County is raising a stink with some residents. But whether you like or dislike the idea, what you should be supportive of is an established process that is required for the approval of a confined animal feeding operation.

The process allows for creating or expanding a business but also permits public comment on the proposal and requires state and local agencies to examine the project and grant approval before construction can begin. Both sides get a chance to present their case.

At issue here is that William Gelfius of Hartsville wants to build two 80-by-400-foot swine buildings - one this year and the other later if market conditions are good - on his farm property along East County Road 200N. Each building would house 4,400 head of wean-to-finish swine, making it the largest-ever confined feeding operation for hogs in the county.

The thought of possibly 8,800 hogs being housed near Anderson Falls has some residents in the area concerned and taking action. About 135 people attended the Jan. 27 county Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, where Gelfius sought a zoning exception for his property, which is needed for the project to proceed. Of the 26 people who offered their thoughts to the board members, only six spoke in support of the project.

Residents raised concerns about water contamination, an increased risk of bacteria caused by hog manure, the smell of hog manure and a negative impact on property values and quality of life.

Gelfius and his son, Justin Gelfius, both had an opportunity to address the board and the concerns. They spoke about the state-of-the-art equipment and farming methods that would be used, plus buffering by trees.

The zoning exception sought by Gelfius is one of three approvals needed before constructing a new confined animal feeding operation.

Each county has different rules. In Bartholomew County, applicants are required to obtain approval for a storm water pollution prevention plan from the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District and zoning approval from the county Board of Zoning Appeals. Gelfius is seeking a conditional use of what is permitted on the land.

Also, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management must approve a permit for the project.

Things the agency considers in applications for confined animal feeding operations include manure handling and storage, storm water runoff, facility setbacks, and facility designs and construction. When an application is filed with IDEM, nearby residents are notified, and they have 30 days to comment at the state level.

A motion to approve Gelfius’ zoning request failed to receive a second; and ultimately the board voted to postpone a decision until Feb. 24, so its members could have more time to think about the proposal. They didn’t want to make a snap decision.

And the process requiring local and state approvals for confined animal feeding operations prevents an overly fast approval on something that could significantly impact an area and its residents. That’s how it should be.

If you want your voice to be heard, there’s still time. Show up at the Feb. 24 meeting and say what’s on your mind.

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Journal & Courier, Lafayette. Feb. 7, 2014.

Half-baked to full-bore on Purdue trimesters

The game on trimesters at Purdue University has changed considerably in recent weeks, with President Mitch Daniels going from calling the idea half-baked to going full-bore a year later.

Faculty and administrators have been asked to vet the concept - moving Purdue from two semesters to three to maximize campus facilities year-round - and determine whether it’s possible to roll it out by fall 2015.

In campus calendar-speak, that’s blazing speed.

Daniels’ pattern on trimesters has been a bit of a zigzag since former President France Córdova proposed the idea in 2012. As governor, Daniels was gung-ho with a plan that looked to fill the campus in the summer and find new ways to accelerate students toward a degree. Then, he got to campus as president and realized that what he had was more of a concept than an actual plan. Heaped onto that was the skepticism of faculty members who had all sorts of questions about teaching assignments, contracts, abandoning traditional academic schedules and whether students would buy into year-round school.

Not surprisingly, Daniels seems to have reconciled those matters for himself and sounds ready to get moving toward a balanced calendar that eventually could morph into true trimesters. That includes working on buy-in from faculty leaders who have been asked to research the administration’s plan before professors weigh in. (The faculty-dominated University Senate has much of the control here because it sets the academic calendar.)

The economics of the trimester, starting with trying to make good use of empty facilities for three months out of the year, plays just as well under Daniels as it did under Córdova.

The obstacles, beyond faculty reluctance, are evident, including the comfort level of possibly putting a larger number of 20-year-olds into the job market. Granted, just because year-round classes are available doesn’t mean students will go year-round and get degrees in three years. That likely won’t be the goal, either. But there’s a reason a four-year college schedule has endured; if not the same as fine wine, students are at least a high-end soup that needs time to simmer before it’s ready to serve.

News last week that Indiana University was ditching its summer session discount, instituted in 2012, because of a lack of interest speaks to how difficult it will be to persuade students used to an August-to-May model their entire lives to give up summers now.

That said, Daniels is right to push ahead on trimesters - to figure out what could work and then work toward making it happen. The potential upside - including that for the local economy - is too much to ignore.

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The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne. Feb. 6, 2014.

Legislature finds time for frivolities

The General Assembly is spending a lot of time this session on the really big issues - things such as the gay marriage debate, which would constitutionally enshrine a values point of view; tax-cut plans, which could help businesses but, some fear, hurt local governments; and school initiatives, which could strengthen early childhood education and make Common Core go away.

But our representatives and senators are still finding time for the frivolous issues they shouldn’t even be considering, bless their hearts. These wrongheaded bills don’t just risk putting bad or silly laws on the books. They take away the time and effort needed for those major initiatives, which legislators especially need in this every-other-year short session.

A good example is the so-called “Merry Christmas Bill,” which would “allow” holiday celebrations in schools. It would let schools decorate with Nativity scenes or menorahs if paired with another religious or secular symbol. The legislation would also permit lessons on the history of winter holidays and traditional holiday greetings such as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah.”

The bill’s author says it is needed because “Christmas is under attack” and something needs to be to stem the chilling effect lawsuits in other states have on holiday celebrations. But he notes only one case of a school clamping down on Christmas, and this really seems more like the umpteenth effort to sneak religion back into the classroom in a clever way the courts won’t catch on to.

Other examples abound:

- A proposal to bar programs under which some cities pay residents to turn in weapons that are later destroyed. Now, gun buybacks might be a silly way to combat crime - more symbolic than substantive - but is it really appropriate for the state to engage in this level of micromanaging?

- A proposal to keep those under 18 out of tanning beds. Is this the most serious health problem the state should address? Sunlight causes skin cancer, too. How about a bill requiring teens to stay indoors during summer?

- A proposal to require schools to teach cursive writing. What’s next - telling schools what to cut to make room for cursive writing?

Are you seeing a common theme emerge? The state is attempting to make decisions that other jurisdictions should be making. Let school districts decide what to teach, cities decide whether to have gun buybacks, boards of health rule on tanning. It’s not about whether these are good or bad ideas - some are one, some the other - but about which officials have the best knowledge on which to act.

The first question for any legislative proposal is, “Should we really be doing this?” Too often, the state skips right over it.

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