- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. September 1, 2016

Time to expand civil rights law.

It is far from an endearing trait of this state’s personality and character to continue denying fundamental human rights to people based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Yet this injustice goes on. And there is no sign that this state’s leaders are willing to do what needs to be done to correct it.

Hoosiers had reasons to be optimistic that this issue would be dealt with appropriately after the state became mired in national embarrassment after the fiasco of the 2014 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, also known as RFRA. That law, when passed by the super-majority Republican legislature and signed by Gov. Mike Pence, triggered widespread condemnation because it appeared to allow businesses to deny goods and services based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

From the outset, RFRA was an unnecessary and ill-conceived law designed to placate the religious wing of the Indiana GOP after its efforts to ban same-sex marriage by placing the prohibition in the state constitution were abandoned because of federal court rulings giving gays and lesbians the right to marry.



But RFRA backfired. Despite attempts to “fix” it, Indiana continues to pay for it through lost economic investment and a tarnished public image.

The state could have resolved its difficulties by simply repealing the law and expanding the state’s civil rights protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Republicans who have a lock on the legislature indicated they were willing to consider such an important step during its last session, but failed to take action. This week, it convened a study committee to gather public input on the issue.

Advocates for expanded civil rights protections want to make it illegal to deny housing, jobs or service because of sexual orientation or gender ID. Opponents object, saying that would curtail their religious rights by forcing them to condone same-sex marriage.

If legislators are looking for common ground on this issue, we doubt they’ll find it. Nor is it necessary. No one should have a right to discriminate against others on religious or any other grounds.

Unfortunately, this week’s meeting descended into a debate over use of public restrooms by transgender people, a diversionary issue that seeks to derail the overall purpose of the civil rights matter. And it appears to be working.

Bathroom facilities and how they’re used or by whom is not the issue. Fundamental human rights are the issue.

Hoosiers are solidly behind the idea of expanding civil rights protections and it’s time for legislators to listen. It’s an election year, a perfect time to raise the heat on those wanting to serve in the General Assembly.

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The Evansville Courier & Press. August 31, 2016

Statewide debates on tap.

This may be the most competitive election cycle we have seen in years in Indiana.

While most polls make it obvious that Donald Trump will pull in Indiana’s 11 electoral votes on Nov. 7, we are bearing down on two statewide elections - for governor and U.S. Senator - that could go either way.

Currently, according to internal polls, Democrat John Gregg and Republican Eric Holcomb are side-by-side in the race to replace Mike Pence for governor.

Gregg made the 2012 race closer than expected with Pence, who became a one-term governor when he accepted the GOP nomination for vice president. Gregg, a former Indiana Speaker of the House, has more name recognition than Holcomb, who was appointed lieutenant governor just last spring and has been a behind-the-scenes adviser to former U.S. Rep. John Hostettler, former Gov. Mitch Daniels, and soon-to-be-former Sen. Dan Coats.

After spirited primaries, the Senate race became much more interesting. On the Democratic side, Baron Hill withdrew after winning the primary to be replaced by former governor and senator Evan Bayh. On the Republican side, Todd Young had to slug it out in the primary with Marlin Stutzman, and now faces a tougher opponent than expected. Polls show Bayh with the lead.

We tell you all this because, as we’ve learned time and again, polls cannot predict voter turnout - and voters’ minds can be changed when they see candidates side-by-side on a stage.

Thanks to the Indiana Debate Commission, that is now in the planning stages.

Three candidates for governor - Gregg, Holcomb and Libertarian Rex Bell - have said they will participate in three debates, beginning Sept. 27 at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis. Two others will be held in October, with aspirations to land one in Evansville.

“We are encouraged that the candidates acknowledge our intention to present three debates so they can share directly with voters how they would work to help shape the future of Indiana,” Dan Byron, president of the debate commission (that includes Courier & Press editor Tim Ethridge), said in a statement. “We look forward to finalizing plans with them in the weeks ahead.”

The first debate, to be moderated by University of Indianapolis assistant professor of political science Laura Merrifield Albright, is intended partly as an educational event for students throughout Indiana. Candidates will meet in a town hall-style setting with high school students, teachers and administrators to discuss their positions on education issues, with some questions posed by students. To be held during school hours, it will be webcast live to schools throughout Indiana by WFYI-TV in Indianapolis. The video stream also will be made available to news organizations. In addition, the debate will be made available later for television broadcasting.

In a news release, Byron noted the significance of the debate date of Sept. 27 - National Voter Registration Day. It also is the day after the first scheduled presidential debate. “So voting and debates will be fresh on the minds of the public,” Byron said. “This is perfect timing for the first of our fall debates.”

The two October events are being planned as televised debates in the evening.

The debate commission also is working to schedule two televised debates with the three candidates for U.S senator: Bayh, Young and Libertarian Lucy Brenton.

Members of the public are invited to submit questions they would put to the candidates. Questions can be submitted to the IDC through its website at https://indianadebatecommission.com.

So submit questions. Watch. Vote.

The non-profit, independent debate commission’s motto is “Putting Voters First.” They are serving our citizens well.

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The South Bend Tribune. September 2, 2016

A solution to a longtime problem.

What seems like the best solution to making sure residents outside South Bend city limits maintain their property is finally taking shape.

City and county officials are working on a plan that would allow the county to contract the city’s code enforcement division to enforce property maintenance rules, such as prohibiting tall grass and unsafe buildings.

Homeowners and businesses outside the city have always occupied a kind of “no man’s land” when it comes to maintaining properties. It’s not that the county hasn’t heard complaints about tall weeds and discarded rusted refrigerators; it’s that an effective way to address the issues hasn’t existed.

The best the county could do was apply zoning laws to violations. The process often began with a letter and follow-up by limited staff. Property owners that made half-hearted efforts at cleaning up messes often earned a reprieve until the issue came to a head again. Only the most aberrant property owners would get hauled into Circuit Court and ordered to clean up their messes.

This latest proposal makes the most sense. It would cost the county about $150,000 in the first year for the city code enforcement department to set up two new inspectors. That amount would cover salaries, benefits, leasing a new truck for inspections, an iPad and gas. The earliest the county system could start would be June 2017.

County Council members have long received complaints about unsightly properties, but there was little that could be done. President Rafael Morton said he has “received many calls over the years from people in unincorporated areas of the county, who are basically totally baffled by why we don’t have code enforcement in the county.”

The county tried to come up with a new procedure for working with violators about six years ago, but it never really took hold. Part of the issue was the awkwardness of the zoning ordinance. For example, to get that rusted old refrigerator out of a neighbor’s yard, the property had to meet the definition of a junkyard, an operation that would not be permitted in residential zoning.

This is a solid plan that makes sense and addresses a need in the county. South Bend has the staff, expertise and years of experience dealing with code violations. That will serve the county well and save money, too, without the county having to create a separate department.

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Kokomo Tribune. September 2, 2016

Right to work unnecessary.

It has been a crime for Indiana employers to enter into labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues since Feb. 1, 2012 - the day then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed legislation making the Hoosier State a “right-to-work” state.

Despite Lake County Circuit Court Judge George Paras’ ruling in the summer of 2014 that right to work violates the state constitution by forcing unions to provide services to workers without payment, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld right to work that November.

After two years of Statehouse debate, after on-again-off-again walkouts by Indiana’s House Democrats that delayed adoption of right to work, the conflict appears to have been settled.

But right to work is so unnecessary, and that’s worth remembering this Labor Day weekend.

Daniels and the GOP sold right to work as a jobs bill. Jobs are returning, yet Hoosier incomes continue to fall.

Yes, Indiana’s unemployment rate was 4.6 percent in July, compared to a national average of 4.9 percent, the state Department of Workforce Development reports. But a Ball State University study in 2013 found Indiana’s per capita income plummeted from 30th in the U.S. to 40th overall and lowest in the Midwest.

In fact, wages in Miami County, Ball State researchers found, remain at a level the average American hasn’t seen since the 1970s.

In television ads ahead of legislative votes on right to work, Daniels told Hoosiers the state was “cut out of a third of all (employment) deals because we don’t provide workers the protection known as right to work.” He said the previous 22 states with right-to-work legislation were “adding jobs and income a lot faster than those that don’t.”

Hoosiers still await those higher incomes. And by now, they likely have guessed the legislation’s true and perhaps only purpose.

Indiana’s right-to-work law is nothing more than Republican retribution for labor’s financial and electoral support of Democrats.

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