- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. July 15, 2016

Kids’ eyes and ears.

We all have a role in lowering abuse numbers

Two years of increases hardly make a trend, but the latest report on Indiana children dying as a result of abuse or neglect still demands attention. The 66 children who died between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, represent the largest group of victims since 2002, when 69 children died.

As the accompanying chart shows, the number of deaths has climbed almost steadily since 2010, when 25 deaths were recorded. But even 25 deaths is unacceptable if you consider none should have occurred. Each was the result of an adult’s failure to provide proper care or supervision, or the result of intentional harm.

Details of the 12 fatalities due to abuse are heartbreaking:

- A 2-year-old child was brought to the ER by her mother and stepfather. … The mother admitted to physically disciplining the child and that she would use an adult belt to strike her on the legs and around her private area. The mother stated that on the day of the incident the child had urinated on the floor and she grabbed her by the face. She stated that the child was crying and she was tired of her crying, so she held the child’s face down into a pillow until she stopped crying.

- A 1-year-old child died from blunt- force traumatic injury to the head sustained while in the care of the boyfriend of the child’s mother. After giving multiple accounts of what had occurred, the boyfriend admitted to having been frustrated with the child and then throwing the child into the pack and play with significant force.

- A 14-year-old child died from a gunshot wound to the head after being shot by his father. The father shot and killed himself after killing his child. The father picked the child up from school like he usually did and when the child was not returned to his mother’s home that evening, the police were called. The father’s vehicle was located in the park.

But the 54 deaths prescribed to neglect are no less troubling. Fourteen of the victims drowned. Nine were infants who suffocated in unsafe sleeping positions. A 4-year-old shot himself in the head with his parents’ handgun. A 6-year-old shot a 13-year-old sibling with the stepfather’s gun.

The state’s efforts to reduce the number of abuse and neglect incidents rightly focus on strengthening staffing in the Department of Child Services, but caseworkers alone won’t solve the problem. The report examines each incident for caregiver stress factors, revealing common threads of substance abuse and unemployment. The former places more pressure for a response to the growing opioid addiction crisis.

Another common thread is the involvement of adults who themselves were abused or neglected as children. That’s a chilling reminder of what a different set of statistics portends: In May alone, there were 2,592 substantiated reports of abuse and neglect in Indiana. That’s a lot of children who need help to ensure the cycle of abuse and neglect can be broken.

Rachel Tobin-Smith, executive director of SCAN, said the fatality report is particularly discouraging for those who work in the field of abuse and neglect prevention.

“The state is placing millions into prevention and truly believes in prevention,” she said. “We can’t do it without everybody being the eyes and ears of children in families that are struggling. All of the research shows that children who have eyes and ears on them on a regular basis get help and are prevented from abuse.”

All of us can be those eyes and ears in reporting, as well as in helping parents at risk of abusing or neglecting children. Supporting drug abuse programs or job-training efforts might ultimately save a child’s life.

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The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. July 14, 2016

Judge’s birth certificate ruling will help families of all stripes.

One of the injustices in Indiana’s approach to gay rights has been in denying same-sex couples full parental rights for their children.

That has changed, thanks to a federal court ruling on June 30 in Indianapolis.

Eight same-sex couples had sued the state of Indiana for the right to have both parents’ names on their children’s birth certificates. Indiana previously allowed only a mother and a father to be named. Only the birth mother, who carried the child, could be listed as a parent.

Indiana did not recognize two mothers, even in cases where they were legally wed, and in one case where one woman donated the egg that her wife eventually carried.

The couples wanted the previous law abolished. It could have prevented families from making medical decisions, registering a child in school, and filing insurance or tax papers, as the lawsuit claimed. Hoosiers should be growing tired of treating same-sex couples as second-class citizens.

The federal court judge made a practical move in helping same-sex couples move a bit closer to acceptance. But perhaps even more importantly, the ruling will help form the proper bonds needed to raise a family.

The debate is ongoing in other states as family-related laws undergo changes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June of last year, Obergefell v. Hodges. In a 5-4 vote, the high court struck down all laws in any of the states banning same-sex marriage.

The recent federal court ruling is an important step in strengthening the roles of parenthood for Hoosiers.

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The Evansville Courier and Press. July 15, 2016

Pence replacement better be up to the task.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is leaving Indiana politics for the national stage, heading to the campaign trail as Donald Trump’s running mate.

Pence’s departure creates a heck of a job opening: Who wants to run the state for the next few months, while working to convince voters they can handle the governor’s office for another four years? As you can imagine, the list is long and many of the names are power hitters in the state Republican Party.

Congressman Todd Rokita, Congresswoman Susan Brooks and Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, who took his job just a few weeks ago, all submitted paperwork Friday to be on the ballot for the governor’s race.

Then there’s Brian Bosma, speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives. Indiana Auditor Suzanne Crouch, a former state representative and Evansville native; and former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard are other names rumored to be interested in the job.

Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said earlier this month that he was giving “due consideration” to the governor’s office, but announced early Friday that he is not interested in the position.

Whoever lands on the Republican side of the gubernatorial ballot will face Democratic nominee John Gregg, himself a former speaker of the House in Indiana. But the biggest tests come not on the campaign trail or in $500-a-plate donor dinners in the post-Labor Day fracas.

While Indiana has enjoyed being in the political limelight the past few weeks, that attention shouldn’t distract from Hoosiers’ long-term needs.

The state is rushing to figure out a replacement for the ISTEP exam, which education officials used as a measure of student progress until administrative issues so badly damaged its credibility that it had to be discarded, finally killed by Pence and the Indiana Legislature earlier this year. A 23-member panel has been charged with making a recommendation to the state by Dec. 1 - less than five months from now.

Whatever new test is selected or developed will have its own challenges, logistical issues and, as anyone in the tech community will attest, more than a few bumps in rolling it out to school computers.

There’s also the question of jobs and wages. An IndyStar report in June noted that a survey found that two-thirds of Indiana residents say the state “offers a competitive and attractive climate for business” but only half of its residents say the “wages in Indiana are generally good and competitive with other states.”

One area where pay has certainly been a point of criticism: education. Fewer people are applying for teaching licenses in Indiana, and money is a major reason why.

There are other major areas of concern, too: More Hoosiers are becoming addicted to painkillers. The drug abuse led to an HIV outbreak in one Indiana county. But it took weeks of discussion before the Pence administration finally declared a public health emergency that helped establish a needle exchange in Scott County in March 2015.

A recent release of annual state child abuse/neglect fatality statistics showed a 94 percent increase in such deaths in Indiana, from 34 in Fiscal Year 2012 to 66 in Fiscal Year 2014, according to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.

The state is still addressing infrastructure issues and who knows how long fallout from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act will continue to plague both Indiana’s business community and the trust level between LGBT citizens and elected officials.

We mention all this not to cast a black cloud over the state, but to highlight that, as one Indiana leader leaves midstream, it’s imperative that Indiana’s 22-member Indiana Republican State Committee select a candidate who can bring to the table the kind of ideas and spirit that will lead to a meaningful showdown with John Gregg this fall.

Indiana voters deserve two candidates who are willing to engage the population - not just the part of it they agree with - on the campaign trail and, after November, in the governor’s office, to come up with solutions that improve our state.

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(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. July 13, 2016

A welcome re-entry into state politics.

The sharp rhetoric began flying quickly Monday night as news broke of an impending run for U.S. Senate by Evan Bayh. The barbs come as no surprise. They epitomize American culture today.

Politics deeply polarize us. A Pew Research Center survey released late last month revealed that Republicans and Democrats view each other more negatively than at any point in a quarter century. Thus, when former congressman Baron Hill withdrew Monday as the Democratic Party’s candidate for Indiana’s open U.S. Senate seat, clearing a presumed path for the more high-profile Bayh to run instead, the partisan cynicism flowed.

The campaign of Todd Young, the Republican seeking the Senate seat, labeled Bayh “a gold-plated lobbyist” who “cast the deciding vote for Obamacare.” Meanwhile, Bayh disenchanted the left by his criticisms of the Affordable Care Act and his own Democratic Party.

Such is the life of a centrist in Congress.

After serving two terms as Indiana’s governor, Bayh represented Hoosiers in the Senate from 1999 to 2011. He decided in 2010 to give up that seat - once held by his father, Birch Bayh - because, as he put it, “There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress; too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving.” Since then, Bayh has worked as an attorney for a Washington, D.C., law firm, a contributor on Fox News, a board member to several corporations and an adviser to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Now, it appears that Bayh will run for Senate against Young in November, with the winner replacing retiring Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican. If Bayh runs and wins, Indiana would have two Democratic senators for the first time since 1977, when progressives Vance Hartke and Birch Bayh served together. Evan Bayh would join Joe Donnelly, another centrist Democrat. Bayh’s candidacy also would improve the Democrats’ chances of regaining the Senate majority, lost in the 2014 election.

The political implications of a Bayh run for the Senate indeed are significant. Likewise, his choice to re-enter that world invites the partisan rhetoric, and Bayh should accept that 21st-century reality with eyes wide open.

Yet, all Hoosiers should welcome his candidacy. The 60-year-old whose family roots lie in Vigo County provides Indiana a solid choice in the race with Young, a conservative who once worked on former Sen. Richard Lugar’s staff. Aside from those cynics on the far right and left, Bayh remains a respected voice of reason in the view of many Hoosiers and Americans - a quality desperately needed in Congress. Bayh’s middle-of-the-road approach should positively influence the campaign and give that style of governing an overdue spotlight.

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