- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

South Bend Tribune. Jan. 25, 2015.

Bill’s aim: More open child protection system

If you follow but a handful of bills during the current session of the General Assembly, Senate Bill 364 should be one of them.

The legislation, written by state Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, takes a necessary step toward making the state’s child protection system more open and accountable to the public. Most significantly, the bill defines “near-fatality” in children. Currently, Indiana law provides for records to be released - minus certain identifying information - in a child’s “fatality or near-fatality,” but it doesn’t describe what a near-fatality is.

For its part, the Department of Child Services’ policy defines a near-fatality with such references as a child being on a ventilator or a condition “certified” as critical or serious.

The need for clarity in state law was brought home once again with the local tragedy involving 11-month-old Micahyah Crockett of South Bend, who was smothered and beaten in August. His mother, Nyesha Crockett, is accused of killing Micahyah and of critically injuring in February her then-14-month-old daughter, Alaiyah, who is now in a vegetative state. Information was released last month about Micahyah’s records, but not Alaiyah’s. A local magistrate ruled that because state law doesn’t adequately define a near-fatality, he couldn’t require the Department of Child Services to release the records.

Broden’s bill, which was sent to the Family and Children Services Committee, would include the definition of a near-fatality as “a severe childhood injury or condition that results in a child receiving critical care for at least 24 hours following the child’s admission to a critical care unit.” In a recent Tribune story, he explained that the language might be adjusted or further defined in the bill’s hearing stage.

Broden’s idea of language that broadens the DCS definition but still offers some confidentiality to the children involved sounds like the right balance.

Other lawmakers - including state Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, chairman of the DCS Oversight Committee - have expressed support for Broden’s efforts, but the success of this legislation is by no means guaranteed. One thing’s for sure: Indiana’s child protection system cries out for more transparency and accountability. Senate Bill 364 is a welcome attempt to address this problem. And if the well-being of the most vulnerable Hoosiers isn’t a priority this session, then shame on Indiana.

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Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. Jan. 23, 2015.

Making rules matter in the NFL

Let’s get straight to the bottom line in the furor over the New England Patriots reportedly deploying under-inflated footballs in their 45-7 romp over the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL’s rain-soaked AFC championship game.

The 1997 Jim Carrey movie, “Liar, Liar,” provides a model. In one scene, Carrey’s character - a lawyer placed under a spell by his young son that renders the man incapable of dishonesty - answers a call for help from a habitual offender client who’s just been arrested for robbing yet another ATM. “He needs your legal advice,” the lawyer’s secretary says, handing him the phone.

“Stop breaking the law (expletive deleted),” the attorney yells to the criminal.

A video parody of the Patriots’ episode uses a “deflated balls” pun for a faux Cialis commercial, skewering New England for artificially enhancing its chances of winning. Hilarious as it is, the ad’s final line hits the bull’s-eye, saying, “And stop (expletive deleted) cheating.”

The Patriots and their coach Bill Belichick possess three Super Bowl trophies. They could add a fourth Feb. 1 against the Seattle Seahawks, thanks to Sunday’s rout of the Colts. Yet, New England also carries a reputation for skirting the league’s rules. Belichick absorbed a fine totaling a half-million dollars in 2007 after the NFL found out the Patriots were illegally filming their opponents’ defensive signals.

Now America’s vast sea of pro football fans wonders whether the league’s strongest team broke the rules again to increase their dominance. Did the Patriots purposely under-inflate 11 of the 12 game balls they used against the Colts, increasing their ability to grip them? If the conclusion is, yes they did, most reasonable people will first ask, “Why?” and second, “What can the NFL do to make them stop (you know) cheating?”

A $500,000 fine to the head coach, Belichick, probably isn’t enough. According to the Wall Street Journal, Belichick earns $7.5 million a year. A suspension for the Super Bowl and next season may send a stronger message. After all, do fans really believe that NFL franchises no longer attempt to steal opposing teams’ defensive signals, thanks to the impact of New England’s 2007 fine?

If the league finds the Patriots guilty of this tactic, it needs to take a page from Major League Baseball - the MLB of the 1980s, that is. Big league baseball discovered in 1989 that Cincinnati Reds legend Pete Rose placed gambling bets on his team. The rule against gambling covers every clubhouse door. The league banned Rose for life, just as it did the 1919 White Sox who conspired to throw the World Series and hasn’t budged. Thus, gambling isn’t rampant in baseball. By contrast, the MLB looked the other way as players got unfair advantages by ingesting performance-enhancing drugs, beginning in the 1990s, and the pro game continues to suffer from suspicions and a tainted image.

The rules either matter or they don’t. It’s the NFL’s responsibility to stop the rules-breaking.

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Journal & Courier, Lafayette. Jan. 23, 2015.

A real education in Statehouse ethics

Just when Hoosiers figure that the citizen-legislators they send to Indianapolis have heard the warning shots about keeping a safe, ethical distance between their business lives and their positions of trust, another case pops up featuring another tone-deaf leader.

Even as the General Assembly works to clarify what is and what isn’t acceptable for lawmakers, news surfaced last week that that chairman of the Indiana House Education Committee had created a lobbying firm to represent education-related companies.

State Rep. Robert Behning, an Indianapolis Republican, told the Indianapolis Star’s Tom LoBianco that his new company, Berkshire Education Strategies, was lining up clients and work outside Indiana. He said he didn’t see a problem and that “there’s probably bigger conflicts in the legislature.”

How reassuring.

By the end of the week, Behning was backing off the lobbying plan.

But seeing as how Behning created his firm in June, the potential for questions couldn’t have been some abstract thing in this case.

That would have come on the heels of the trouble that dogged state Rep. Eric Turner, a Republican called out for lobbying behind closed doors against a bill that would have set a moratorium on nursing home construction. For Turner, the legislation was personal, seeing as how his business had millions of dollars riding on nursing home construction. Turner avoided sanctions, because he toed the letter of the law and didn’t vote on the bill.

The spirit of the law was an entirely different matter.

That case was a centerpiece that forced the General Assembly to consider legislation ethics reform to discourage instances of capitalizing on Statehouse connections to set up personal business.

So here’s the scorecard, marked in broad strokes: The same week that the J&C; highlighted the number of teachers who need to take second jobs to make ends meet, a key leader in an Indiana House committed to education reform and navigating new lines of testing and crucial school funding thought it would be OK to line up contracts to represent a testing firm - one that has a multi-million dollar contract in Indiana - in another state.

And that, Behning says, shouldn’t be seen as a conflict of interest. At least not until he got called out.

Spirit of the law? Whatever.

There really isn’t much hope for these guys if this is the end product in an era of ethics reform at the Statehouse.

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The Times, Munster. Jan. 21, 2015.

Indiana should gamble on land-based casinos

Since the casino industry began in Indiana, it has been the goose laying golden eggs. But lately, the industry has been, well, laying an egg. This goose needs special attention.

Overall Northwest Indiana casino revenues fell 7.3 percent in 2014, according to figures reported by the Indiana Gaming Commission.

LaPorte County officials are so addicted to casino revenues that they want the state to cover their gambling losses out of its $2 billion surplus. LaPorte County’s share of the wagering and admissions taxes from Blue Chip Casino have dropped from nearly $4 million in 2011 to about $2 million last year.

The state is similarly addicted to casino revenue. Indiana’s casinos generate about $702.6 million for state and local government, according to an economic impact study commissioned by the Casino Association of Indiana.

Competition in neighboring states is taking its toll on gaming operations in Indiana.

And don’t just think about other casinos. Think about gaming in general. In Illinois, there are slot machines in a variety of businesses, and there’s the perennial threat that a new casino might open downtown or in the south suburbs.

Indiana casino revenues overall have been sinking for several years, and Centaur Gaming, which owns Indiana’s two horse racing tracks, announced this month it is closing its off-track betting parlor in Merrillville because of slow business. Centaur Gaming president and chief operating officer Jim Brown said wagering at the site has fallen by more than 50 percent during the last 10 years.

In this environment of falling revenues, state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, has filed legislation aimed at protecting the state’s 10 existing casinos. Senate Bill 449 follows a legislative study committee’s recommendation that land-based casinos be allowed within the existing footprint of the riverboat casinos. SB 449 would counter any arguments about gambling expansion by limiting the land-based casinos to the same number of gaming positions as their existing floating counterparts.

Casinos that move to dry land would save money just by not having to hire crews for boats that float but don’t sail.

Allowing land-based casinos is a step toward stability in an industry that has proven volatile as competition outside Indiana steps up. That’s a sensible solution to help casinos invest in their properties, in the face of competition from surrounding states, without gaining an unfair advantage over their Indiana competitors.


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