- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Munster Times. Dec. 24, 2015

Let petty offenders go home

It’s an all-too common refrain in society: Lock away the accused offenders pending trial, but don’t spend too many tax dollars on housing jail inmates.

As in many cases, the best solution to this quandary is simple common sense. A downstate Indiana senator is proposing a very common-sense solution to reducing jail costs and overcrowding while keeping the real bad guys under lock and key.

Indiana Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said he plans to propose legislation calling for release of defendants, without the burden of posting a cash bond, if the alleged crimes are nonviolent and not sex crimes.



It’s called releasing defendants on their own recognizance, and the practice has worked in many states to alleviate burgeoning jail populations while still requiring higher hurdles for alleged violent offenders to get out of jail.

Steele has said his law targets the release of nonviolent offenders who sit in jail awaiting trial because they can’t afford cash bonds in place.

Steele’s proposal deserves the consideration and support of the General Assembly heading into the 2016 legislative session.

The plan provides a legislative mandate behind general concepts already being used in some Hoosier court jurisdictions, including the Region, to relieve pressure on jail capacity and save taxpayer money in the process.

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said his lockup, one of the biggest in the state, was just under its 1,050-inmate capacity when he took office in 2011.

At a cost per day of between $75 and $80 for housing each inmate, scores of tax dollars were at stake.

Today, Buncich said the jail population hovers between 650 and 675 inmates, a reduction of more than 30 percent within five years.

One of the biggest factors in slimming the inmate ranks has been working with the courts to reduce bond for alleged minor offenders and releasing some offenders on home arrest with security ankle bracelets, Buncich said.

“You have to take a look at each case and see what makes sense,” Buncich said. “Reducing bonds and using ankle bracelets have been very effective and make a lot of sense.”

We agree. Jail cells are for keeping danger locked away from law-abiding citizens, not for punishing minor alleged offenders before they’ve received fair trials.

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The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Dec. 22, 2015

Shifting priorities

Redirect settlement dollars to stop hike in smoking

North Dakota lawmakers clearly know what it means to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. They not only follow the federal recommendation for investing in tobacco prevention and cessation efforts, they exceed it by about a half-million dollars. Their state ranks No. 1 in meeting the recommendation on anti-tobacco spending.

And Indiana lawmakers? For the current fiscal year, they allocated only 8 percent of the recommended share of the federal tobacco lawsuit settlement dollars to helping smokers quit and to preventing young people from starting. It’s a costly mistake over the long haul. Hoosiers pay an estimated $2.93 billion in annual tobacco-related health care costs, or about $920 per household. North Dakota, by contrast, faces smoking-related costs of about $326 million a year, or $823 per household.

As The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly reported Sunday, Indiana is one of 21 states spending less than 10 percent of the federal recommendation on tobacco prevention programs. While North Dakota’s spending on tobacco prevention has tripled since 2008, Indiana’s has plunged from $16.2 million a year to $5.9 million, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The organization tracks states’ commitment to using money from the 1998 settlement of a lawsuit against the major tobacco companies for anti-smoking efforts.

“Unfortunately, there has been no oversight and no accountability to ensure that the settlement money goes for tobacco cessation and prevention programs,” Danielle Patterson, Indiana government relations director for the American Heart Association, told Kelly.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, defends Indiana’s spending record, noting that most of the $141 million budget allocation for settlement proceeds goes to health care-related programs and that Indiana’s tobacco use numbers are dropping.

“We don’t think the same levels of money are needed,” he told Kelly, adding that if the downward smoking trend reversed, he would reconsider the allocation to anti-tobacco programs.

It’s time. The just-released America’s Health Rankings, by United Health Foundation, shows the percentage of Indiana’s population of smokers age 18 and older ticked up from 21.9 percent in 2014 to 22.9 percent - for the seventh-highest smoking rate in the nation. North Dakota, with its aggressive stand against Big Tobacco, saw its smoking rate drop from 21.2 percent to 19.9 percent.

If Kenley and other lawmakers aren’t convinced by a reversal in Indiana’s rate, they should at least note what the respondent in the federal lawsuit is doing.

The tobacco industry will spend nearly $50 dollars to promote its products for every $1 Indiana spends on prevention and cessation. That’s an imbalance that will send Hoosiers’ long-term costs on smoking-related health care ever higher.

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South Bend Tribune. Dec. 22, 2015

A good result for a taxing problem

Indiana’s second tax amnesty program in the last decade is working better than expected, collecting nearly $50 million more than originally anticipated.

The Indiana Department of Revenue says individuals and businesses have paid nearly $138 million to satisfy overdue state tax liabilities. The agency said it has agreements for about $22 million in additional payments by next summer.

The original goal was $90 million in collections. Though the state counts the program a success, the actual collections don’t come close to the more than $500 million owed to the state by some 260,000 corporations, small businesses and individuals.

There are real benefits to those eligible for amnesty, which includes those with tax debts that accumulated through the end of 2012. Corporations, small businesses and individuals can arrange to pay the base tax liability they owe while freeing them of penalties, interest and collection fees.

That’s no small thing, since the collections process for those taxpayers has run its course and tax warrants have been issued. As Department of Revenue Commissioner Andrew Kossack said: “The collection process is not a pleasant experience.”

By forgiving penalties and collecting millions that otherwise might not be collected, the state benefits in a big way. Money from the amnesty is contributing to Gov. Mike Pence’s new Regional Cities program to the tune of $84 million. Regional Cities is aimed at encouraging counties and cities to collaborate on development projects.

St. Joseph, Elkhart and Marshall counties applied for funding through Regional Cities for 39 projects. Officials learned Tuesday that the region will receive $42 million from the initiative to help pay for those projects.

Collecting back taxes is never easy, but in this case Indiana’s amnesty program is working. It’s helping those who owe taxes avoid significant penalties and, in some cases, the loss of their properties through sheriff’s sales. And it’s helping pay for economic development programs that could benefit regions across the state. That’s about as good an outcome to be hoped for when it comes to dealing with the messy issue of taxes.

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Logansport Pharos-Tribune. Dec. 21, 2015

Another meth plan deserves support

Two years ago, Indiana lawmakers were urged to take steps against the state’s meth epidemic.

Lawmakers had other priorities.

Last year, Indiana lawmakers were again urged to find a way to help communities stem the tide against meth use.

Again, lawmakers had other priorities.

Perhaps the third time will be the charm. We hope so.

A proposal by two state senators aims to make it more difficult to purchase pseudoephedrine for illegal purposes. Critically, the plan avoids the previous plan of making it available by prescription only.

Although the prescription-only method had been found effective in other states, it had been rejected in Indiana as posing too much of a hardship on Hoosiers who simply wanted to ease their cold symptoms.

The new plan, known as the “pharmacist legitimization bill,” still puts pharmacists in the driver’s seat. It would require purchasers of pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used to make meth, to speak to a pharmacist before purchasing the OTC medication to treat colds and allergies. The pharmacist would glean enough information from the potential customer to determine that the person actually needs it.

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