- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The (Munster) Times. March 16, 2016

Lawmakers register hits, misses in 2016 legislative session.

The 2016 Indiana General Assembly’s legislative session had much in common with the upcoming Major League Baseball season. Lawmakers exhibited a combination of hits, bunts, swings, misses and strikeouts.

Some efforts weren’t clearly in either the win or loss column, while others merely made up for past errors on the field.

Today we take a look at the good and bad of how some of the most pressing issues were handled, or not, in the legislative session, which ended March 10.



ROAD FUNDING

At least something passed for the future of better Hoosier roads, though the legislative effort more closely resembled a game of Kick the Can, once again.

The good news: The Legislature passed a $1 billion, 18-month road funding boost, with Indiana tapping its budget reserve for about $325 million in improvements to state roads and bridges and providing $250 million for local road work. It also created a task force to recommend strategies for Indiana to meet its infrastructure needs.

The bad news: Many needed fixes won’t occur unless local government units approve additional wheel or vehicle taxes. The Legislature had a plan on the table that would have created long-term funding sources, including freeing up more gasoline sales tax money for roads.

The real fix - a long-term, sustainable funding source - will now be the duty of future legislative assemblies.

CIVIL RIGHTS GUARANTEES

The good news: For the first time in three legislative sessions, neither gay marriage nor religious freedoms legislation seemed to occupy all of the legislative session. It was good to see important legislative business stay on track rather than being derailed by colossal social missteps.

The bad news: The Legislature missed an opportunity to pass, once and for all, civil rights protections for gay residents.

EDUCATION

The good news: Legislation passed holding school districts harmless for last year’s ISTEP debacle. The Legislature also created a scholarship fund to help lure new teachers to an Indiana pool that has grown rather shallow.

The bad news: These fixes were necessary because of past meddling by state officials and lawmakers. It’s never good when the scarce time of a legislative session must be occupied with fixes to past blunders.

The hold-harmless legislation, for example, became necessary because lawmakers, with a push from Gov. Mike Pence, previously meddled with the ISTEP format, altering state educational standards and causing more harm than good.

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The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. March 17, 2016

Court nominee deserves full hearing, vote.

With all due respect to Indiana’s two U.S. senators, Joe Donnelly is right and Dan Coats is wrong on filling the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Barack Obama has announced his nomination of federal appeals court judge Merrick Brian Garland to fill the court’s vacancy caused by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Donnelly said in a statement: “I will carefully review and consider the qualifications of Judge Garland. As I have said, we were elected as Senators to do a job for our nation, and that job includes considering, debating, and voting on nominees to the Supreme Court. We should do the job we were elected to do.”

Coats acknowledged the important responsibility he has to offer “advice and consent” on judicial nominees, but said he thought “the right thing to do is to give the American people a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. The next president, with input from voters in the upcoming election, should fill the current Supreme Court vacancy.”

Coats pointed to statements by Democrats Joe Biden in 1992, Sen. Harry Reid in 2005, and Sen. Chuck Schumer in 2007 in suggesting the nomination process should be delayed until a new president has been elected.

Biden, Reid and Schumer were wrong nine, 11 and 25 years ago, as Coats is now.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, is a former comedian who was quite serious when he spoke to his Senate colleagues recently. As Franken noted “the American people have spoken. Twice.” They elected Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“The Constitution does not set a time limit on the President’s ability to fulfill this duty. Nor, by my reading, does the Constitution set a date after which the President is no longer able to fulfill his duties as Commander in Chief, or to exercise his authority to, say, grant pardons or make treaties. It merely states that the President shall hold office for a term of four years,” Franken said on the Senate floor.

He noted that by the logic of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and by extension Coats, the 28 senators running for re-election and the six senators stepping down should no longer have a voice. That’s no less absurd than saying the president should not act with nearly 10 months to go in the year.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. March 17, 2016

Indiana Tech law program making big strides.

The provisional accreditation granted to Indiana Tech Law School is excellent news for the university, but also for Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana. The region’s efforts to raise educational attainment suffer without a full complement of professional offerings, including a legal education program.

In its brief tenure here, the Law School also has become an important partner in addressing community challenges.

. Through a state grant awarded to Indiana Legal Services, Law School interns were hired to help homeowners facing foreclosure or who have been taken advantage of by businesses falsely promising to solve their financial problems for a fee.

. The Law School and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, an adjunct professor at the school, last September co-sponsored a Civic Engagement Seminar aimed at improving civic health, including a discussion of ways to improve voter turnout.

. The school this month hosted the Criminal Justice Symposium, teaming up with Fort Wayne’s Cities United Initiative to consider ways to reduce violence among black males.

While Indiana Tech has been the target of much second-guessing for its decision to establish a fifth law school in the state, the provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association should quiet critics for now. Indiana Tech is required to maintain provisional accreditation for a minimum of two years before seeking full accreditation, but its new status allows its graduates to take the bar exam in any U.S. jurisdiction.

Zoeller cited the efforts of administrators, professors and students during the ABA review in helping the school obtain accreditation. In a column he wrote for The Journal Gazette late last year, he noted the unique approach the Law School has taken in its program.

“As a member of the board of advisers to Indiana Tech Law School, I have been impressed with the transformative approach the law school has taken over the past few years,” he wrote. “The school’s academic design focuses on experiential learning that goes beyond the traditional teaching of ‘thinking like a lawyer’ to a holistic approach that incorporates ethics, professional responsibility and teaching how to act like a lawyer and serve as an advocate and legal counselor.”

The Law School will graduate its first class this May. Inevitably, some of those graduates will remain in northeast Indiana and make their talents available to the region, strengthening its inventory of professionals trained in business, education, health and law.

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The Elkhart Truth. March 18, 2016

Notre Dame should have to release police reports.

A ruling by the Indiana Court of Appeals against the University of Notre Dame is one step, one small step, in the right direction.

The university has maintained that it shouldn’t have to release police records for student athletes. Though the university has its own police force, it’s claiming that that police force shouldn’t be held to the same standards as other police agencies at public universities or even cities and towns.

The Elkhart Police Department is legally required to release certain records.

Notre Dame’s Security Police Department hasn’t had to.

ESPN reporter Paula Lavigne has been comparing records for student athletes at major universities and sought the records from Notre Dame. The school declined to provide them. ESPN sued, lost in court, but won on appeal. The university now says that it will take the case to the Indiana Supreme Court if possible.

It’s a win, but it may be a small and one that doesn’t last. Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, told the South Bend Tribune this is a “short-lived victory.”

The Indiana General Assembly passed a bill that would exempt private colleges from having to make such records public. Notre Dame helped write the bill, according to the Tribune. State Rep. Patrick Bauer initially said college police records should be more open, but then introduced the bill that would make them harder to get. He’s also on the board of Independent Colleges of Indiana and said introducing the bill isn’t a conflict of interest. The Tribune and HSPA supported the lawsuit with legal briefs and were right to do so.

Gov. Mike Pence shouldn’t sign this bill, but if it becomes law on July 1, it would keep records private that should be public.

There are federal regulations protecting the privacy of students much as the HIPAA Privacy Rule protects medical patients’ privacy. But keeping police records hidden puts students at risk whether it’s at a private or public institution.

Notre Dame has made it clear it doesn’t like being challenged on sensitive issues. After the 2010 suicide of St. Mary’s College student Lizzy Seeberg, questions lingered whether a Notre Dame football player had sexually assaulted her. University officials have said little, but reporting by the National Catholic Reporter indicated even the Notre Dame Security Police struggle to investigate athletes because of how the athletic department intervenes.

Lavigne’s reporting has shown at other universities how athletes who run afoul of the law are treated is complicated and messy with schools often intervening on behalf the athletes. When a person breaks the law, the legal process should work for the offenders and victims the same way for everyone. We know that that’s not always the case in athletics, but being able to keep police reports private decreases accountability and makes it less likely that justice can occur.

The University of Notre Dame is wrong not to release police records. Fans of the Golden Dome would tell you that Notre Dame is a special place, but it’s not so special that it should be able to hide what should be public records.

Holding young people accountable and releasing the same information to the public that any other police agency would be required to do only makes sense. It makes our campuses safer. That makes young people safer and it shouldn’t matter whether a campus is private or supported by tax dollars for all of us to want that.

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