- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The (Munster) Times. April 7, 2017

Legislative rail wins show strong resolve

The Indiana General Assembly hammered home two key spikes for the future growth of South Shore Line commuter rail expansion Thursday.

Our Region has strong, respected local leadership and a shared vision with state government leaders to thank for it.

The Republican-controlled Indiana Senate laid some game-changing tracks Thursday, approving $6 million in the state budget for double-tracking a portion of the commuter rail line and passing a bill to hasten development along planned rail expansions.

Both measures, already approved by the Indiana House, help drown out the din of a vocal minority who’ve remonstrated against Region rail expansion - and its promise of economic growth - in recent weeks.

One aspect of Thursday’s rail victories comes largely on the steam of state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, who sponsored the bill to create transit-oriented development districts along the planned double-tracking routes between Gary and Michigan City and the planned rail expansion from Hammond to Dyer.

The success of Slager’s bill, pending a signature from Gov. Eric Holcomb, will allow the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to capture tax revenues within designated half-mile districts along the commuter rail line.

This revenue will be used to pay debt accumulated by developing the districts.

It’s a self-sustaining financing tool enhancing the economic engine we expect the rail line to become.

Slager has become a respected Region leader in the Statehouse, in no small way because of his support of fiscally sound policy. He deserves major credit for this commuter rail funding victory.

Essential matching federal funds for Region commuter rail expansion may still be in question as the Trump administration and Congress feel their way through budgetary changes.

But the passage of these two key measures should send a resounding message to Washington: Planned expansions of commuter rail - which in turn spur population and economic growth by providing transportation options to Chicago jobs and other amenities - have the strong backing of state and Region leaders.

Thursday’s wins provide perspective on some of the low-brow attacks the rail projects have experienced - largely on social media - from people who would rather see our Region fester in a lack of growth and opportunity.

We’re confident Holcomb, a very public champion of South Shore Line expansion, will sign the transit district bill.

Now it’s time for state and Region leaders to continue this resolve by lobbying federal authorities for the next big piece of the equation.

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Evansville Courier & Press. April 3, 2017

Continue move away from coal

The “war on coal” may be over, as Vice President Mike Pence declared this past week, but it would be a costly mistake for Indiana’s elected leaders to ignore the nation’s ongoing move toward cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.

The Trump administration announced that it will end Obama-era regulations that increased penalties for burning coal to produce electricity, both as a way to reduce pollution and as a means to address climate change.

But it’s unlikely that the change in policy will actually alter the nation’s move away from coal.

In the past six years, more than 25,000 of the nation’s coal mining jobs - about 28 percent - have been lost. That’s occurred for the most part not because of federal regulations, but because of something even more powerful: the free market.

The surge in shale gas extraction has pushed down prices and made it the preferred energy source for generating electricity. That is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Jobs also have been on a decline for the past five decades because automated extraction required fewer miners.

Although Indiana has joined the rest of the nation in moving away from burning coal, it has done so at a much slower pace than most other states. And we’ve paid for that slowness in a way even more important than money: with our health.

Southwest Indiana is home to seven coal-fired power plants, four of which are among the worst polluters in the nation. Last year, the Center for Public Integrity found that in 2014, more pollution was pumped into the air in a 30-mile radius around Evansville than near any other city in the nation.

It’s not by coincidence that Vanderburgh County, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has a lower life expectancy and a higher rate of adults with fair-to-poor health than similar counties around the nation.

And the harm to Hoosiers’ health isn’t confined to Southern Indiana, as the pollution spreads across much of the state and to neighboring states, including Kentucky, where Henderson sits just across the Ohio River from Evansville.

Speeding up the move away from coal also is important for our economy. As the number of jobs in the coal industry has declined, employment in the clean energy sector has grown rapidly and should continue to do so.

Two questions then for Indiana’s leaders: Do you want the state’s economy to be tied to the future or to the past? Do you want to take a critical step toward improving health by reducing our reliance on coal?

The answers should be obvious.

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Kokomo Tribune. April 5, 2017

Civil Rights Act protects LGBT

When the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed more than half a century ago, the authors couldn’t have foreseen the exact consequences of their actions.

But, an 8-to-3 decision Tuesday by the full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago may have reframed the text to include protections for a previously unlisted group: LGBT employees.

“The case stems from a lawsuit by Indiana teacher Kimberly Hively alleging that the Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend didn’t hire her full time because she is a lesbian,” reported Associated Press Legal Affairs Writer Michael Tarm. “In an opinion concurring with the majority, Judge Richard Posner wrote that evolving norms call for a change in interpretation of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin or sex.”

This decision carries consequences far beyond the 7th Circuit because a three-judge panel in Atlanta ruled the opposite three weeks ago. Added to that, President Donald Trump’s administration declared in late January they would enforce an Obama administration order barring companies that do federal work from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. But in February, it revoked guidance on transgender students’ use of public school bathrooms, deferring to states.

As this case looks as if it may be headed to the Supreme Court, it’s important to note the dynamics at play in this ruling. Though late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and Posner were both nominated by President Ronald Reagan, these two jurists take very different views on this point. Posner’s ruling in this case takes a broader interpretation of the law to account for the world we live in now. Like Scalia, Neil Gorsuch - Trump’s nominee for the open SCOTUS seat - is a strict constructionist. This means interpreting law exactly as written and nothing else. We believe Posner and the majority ruled correctly in this case. We hope the nation’s highest court will follow the same logic if this case reaches their chambers.

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South Bend Tribune. April 6, 2017

Modest proposal the least state can do

It was a telling moment last week when Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb spoke out on the need to boost preschool funding - this after his $10 million funding hike was rebuffed by the Senate.

As an Associated Press story noted, his comments were among the first substantial ones he’s made in weeks on key issues.

They point to just how important the governor sees increasing the state’s investment in early childhood education is to Indiana’s future.

If only certain legislators understood that.

Consider Sen. Luke Kenley’s misguided comments about state-funded preschool programs. In a recent report, Kenley voiced deep philosophical opposition and said there are already many programs to help poor kids.

“Does the child belong to the family, or does the child belong to the government?” he said. “… Where on the continuum are (children) ready to go out? Where on the continuum does the parents’ responsibility start to diminish and we need outside help? Where on the continuum should the child still be developing family relationship types of activities?”

That’s the sort of thinking that has helped Indiana own the dubious distinction as one of just a handful of states without a thriving state-funded preschool program. High-quality preschool programs are not baby-sitting services and they’re not a luxury. They make a critical difference in the lives of at-risk children.

The state’s preschool pilot program, On My Way Pre-K, is available in five counties - Allen, Lake, Marion, Jackson and Vanderburgh. It was an encouraging start. But it helps only about 4 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds.

Holcomb’s remarks about pre-K funding come as the legislative session is entering its final weeks. The Senate proposal increases spending by just $3 million, with an additional $1 million for an online preschool program - a clear rejection of his $10 million funding hike, which would double the state’s investment. On Friday, he shifted his position, calling on lawmakers to find a way to double the number of students served by the program.

“How we get there, I’m willing to be open-minded about it,” he said, “but I think that doubling the pilot program that we have, in terms of number of students that will receive pre-K instruction, is of paramount importance.”

In fact, Holcomb’s modest request won’t meet the overwhelming demand in a state that has failed to make early education a priority. But it’s a small step forward - forward progress that’s desperately needed. Although lawmakers should be doing more, doubling the number of students in the state-funded preschool program is the least they should do.___

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