- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The (Munster) Times. January 12, 2017

Don’t let anti-tax noise block road funding

Obstructionist arguments that would stand in the way of long-term, sustainable road funding are more pothole-laced than many Hoosier highways.

It’s time for the naysayers to get out of the way of plans for our state’s most vital infrastructure.

The contrarian echoes began almost as soon as Indiana legislative leaders - including top Republicans - heading into the 2017 legislative session began to acknowledge that some sort of tax increase or adjustment will be needed to sustain state road funding.

This should come as no surprise to any of us. State taxes on gasoline haven’t kept pace with inflation, and vehicles are more fuel-efficient these days, eating into past revenues for road funding.

Even more apparent is the age-old truth that good and sustainable products don’t come for free.

And our state roads are an incredibly important product to taxpayers. They link us with jobs, leisure and sustain all elements of our state’s commerce.

It’s what makes immediate attacks on pending road-funding plans so illogical.

In short-sighted salvos, critics of the proposed tax increases, some identifying with the Republican Party, have attacked the GOP authors of the road-funding plan.

How dare any Republican propose raising taxes to sustain roads?

After all, aren’t Republicans supposed to bear the torches of fiscal responsibility?

But fiscal responsibility is at the very heart of a needed plan to sustain road funding for our generations and those that will follow.

The state’s prosperity - both of individuals and businesses - relies on no greater element than that of transportation.

Our state roads network feeds every ounce of commerce we enjoy and rely upon as citizens.

Updating an outdated gasoline tax formula to account for inflation and other factors makes good fiscal sense. Creating fees for electric car users - who don’t pay much in gas taxes but still use Indiana roads - also makes sense.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. January 12, 2017

Judge holds Pence to open-records law

Monday, the day his term as Indiana’s 50th governor ended, Mike Pence got a going-away present from the Indiana Court of Appeals. But it came, thankfully, with some crucial qualifiers.

A long-running legal battle over the governor’s decision to deny a 2014 open-records request was resolved in Pence’s favor by a three-judge panel.

By a 2-1 vote, the court upheld a lower court’s ruling that Pence acted properly when he withheld some documents that had been sought by Indianapolis attorney William Groth under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. The court agreed with Pence’s argument that the documents, which related to Indiana’s decision to join the state of Texas in a legal challenge to an immigration order by President Barack Obama, were legal working papers that were exempt from public disclosure.

Judge Edward Najam wrote that one of the documents the governor decided to withhold, a “white paper” on legal strategy that was prepared by a Texas official, “is exactly the type of record that may be excluded from public access under APRA.” The court ruled that the governor’s decision to redact some information from legal invoices related to the decision was similarly within the law.

This is the way the law is supposed to work. The Indiana public access counselor, Luke Britt, and a superior court judge had previously come to the same conclusion.

But Pence’s legal team sought to go much further, citing an Indiana Supreme Court decision last year that has made the legislature virtually exempt from its own open-records requirements.

That case also involved a request by Groth. He had sought access to any communications that might have flowed between Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, then the chairman of the House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee, and utility executives regarding a bill Koch was writing that would have discouraged homeowners and other private entities from producing solar power.

Last April, the Indiana Supreme Court effectively washed its hands of ruling on Groth’s request, contending that though the open-records law applied to the legislature, the court should not be determining whether the lawmakers’ definition of a “work product” was appropriate because of the doctrine of separation of powers. (Legislators who profess to be in favor of open government still must address the problem that ruling has created.)

Pence’s attorneys argued that the high court’s concern with separation of powers meant that the governor should be making his own decisions about when and how the open-records law applies to him.

But in a powerfully written opinion, Najam rejected that argument.

“The governor’s argument would, in effect, render APRA meaningless as applied to him and his staff,” Najam wrote. “APRA does not provide for any such absolute privilege, and the separation of powers doctrine does not require it. We reject the Governor’s assertion that his ‘own determinations’ regarding whether to disclose public records are not subject to judicial review.”

Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, said the decision was a key one. “They didn’t buy the governor’s argument that this is a separation-of-powers issue,” he said Tuesday.

Pence’s attempt to claim exemption from the open-records law was puzzling; he has generally been a strong champion of open government. In any case, new Gov. Eric Holcomb has an opportunity to reset the clock by indicating he accepts the court’s decision and intends to live within the letter and spirit of Indiana’s open-records law.

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South Bend Tribune. January 13, 2017

Follow suit on South Bend smoking ban

If there was an appropriate time for Mishawaka and St. Joseph County to pass their own smoking bans, now is it.

The South Bend Common Council passed a smoking ban in March that took effect earlier this month. Despite pressure from some local bar owners to kill the proposal, or it would kill their business, supporters on the council persisted and passed the ordinance.

Gavin Ferlic, who sponsored the South Bend measure, recognized the strength of a countywide ban and tried to get other local councils to pass their own ordinances. Despite Ferlic’s efforts, there was little appetite then among the Mishawaka and St. Joseph County councils to move ahead with similar bans.

It was a missed opportunity then and it will be missed opportunity now if other councils don’t reconsider.

Yes, such bans are controversial but less so as more and more communities come to adopt no smoking laws.

Supporters have pointed to studies that show smoking bans have little effect on business revenue and that the economic impact is typically neutral and in some cases even positive.

Take Mulligan’s Bar and Grill, for example. The owners were among the most vocal critics of the ban originally and even threatened legal action. But the owners renovated the bar and reopened smoke-free. Although they lost some customers, many of their regulars stayed and they gained some new customers. The result has not been the crippling loss of business that those who oppose smoking bans predicted.

The experience of a local bar such as Mulligan’s carries far more weight than any statistics or economic figures drawn from other cities.

The Mishawaka and St. Joseph County councils still don’t seem in any hurry to piggyback on South Bend’s ordinance. They offer a litany of reasons. Some say the choice of smoking or nonsmoking should be left to the business. Others say there are plenty of nonsmoking options now for people. Some say the issue simply isn’t a priority right now.

It should be a priority if one of the arguments in support of smoke-free air includes the health and safety of employees and patrons. By that measure, there is no reason to exclude businesses anywhere in St. Joseph County.

It’s great that South Bend passed a smoking ban for the entire city, but to truly have an impact on public health, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County should follow suit.

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The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. January 13, 2017

Editorial roundup

Cookie time is coming

Samoas. Thin Mints. Do-Si-Dos. All of the favorite cookies are back and for a few bucks a box. A new treat is being introduced - the Girl Scout S’mores - to celebrate this year’s milestone of 100 years of cookie sales. Profits from the cookie sales help fund charitable causes and local service efforts of the Girl Scouts.

If you can’t find a cookie sign-up sheet in your office, area troops are hosting a Scouts Cookie Rally Saturday afternoon in the Bloomington High School South cafeteria.

So thank you, Girl Scouts. Thank you for sweetening up these winter months with the return of cookies.

A better option

Thank goodness motorists traveling east on West Third Street won’t have to contend with people backing their cars into traffic from a new development at Patterson Drive.

Common sense trumped “New Urbanism” this week at the Area Plan Commission, which opted to allow developers to create a “parking boulevard” to separate project traffic from Third Street traffic.

West Third Street at Patterson Drive is not a neighborhood street. It’s a major east-west arterial that’s just a short hop from a primary interchange of Interstate 69.

A partial median is a much safer option than turning motorists into human “traffic calming devices” by making them back onto a busy thoroughfare.

One step forward .

The much-maligned ISTEP exam will be vexing school children and teachers a while longer, it seems, after leaders at the Indiana Legislature decided to take more time to devise a replacement test.

This was supposed to be the last year of ISTEP, but state lawmakers said they need another year or two - at least - to develop an alternative. In the meantime, a flawed exam no one likes will continue to be administered.

And it poses an interesting question: Which do you think will be replaced first - ISTEP or Obamacare? Let the race begin.

Check the calendar

Much has been said and written that many Americans were ready to see a turbulent 2016 come to a close so today’s day jumped out on the calendar.

It’s Friday the 13th.

Yep, we’re starting off the year with what many consider an unlucky “holiday.” We don’t see it as an omen, just an unusual way to kick off 2017.

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