- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The (Munster) Times. March 10, 2017

Celebrate Hoosier strength, address weakness

We’ve long seen the results of the Hoosier state’s zeal for fiscal responsibility.

Our state continues enjoying a triple-A bond rating on the strength of fiscal frugality and maintaining a $2 billion budget reserve.

Now we can celebrate a U.S. News and World Report ranking for Indiana as the most effective state government in the nation. But let’s also keep a steadfast focus on fixing our weaknesses.



The ranking, based on measured metrics from the McKinsey and Co. Leading States Index, came largely because of Indiana’s fiscal health, budget stability and spending transparency.

Meanwhile, neighboring Illinois ranked 47th out of 50 states for government effectiveness, largely because of its perennial financial struggles.

Our state and Region should continue to use such rankings as marketing strengths to lure more businesses and residents to friendlier fiscal confines.

On other key measures within the recent state rankings, Indiana also earned high marks for economic opportunity (ranked 4th), cost of living (8th) and elementary and high school education (11th).

We should be proud of all these recognized qualities but also use the strengths as motivation for improving our weaknesses.

Indiana ranked among the worst for household income (35th), obesity (36th), preschool enrollment (38th), health care (41st), infant mortality (42nd), entrepreneurship (44th) and higher education (47th).

Imagine the strength of our state if we made concerted efforts to improve these quality of life factors.

We’re fortunate to live in a state with a firm, responsible fiscal foothold. Let’s channel some of that acumen into seriously addressing our shortcomings, as well.

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The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. March 9, 2017

Needs of Hoosier children rising at alarming rate

More than one new child abuse case a day was opened in the Monroe County court system in February. That includes Saturdays and Sundays. Some days more than one case came to light.

There were 35 of them, according to statistics released by the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, which advocates for children going through the courts. That makes 63 new opened cases in the first two months of 2017.

The total number of children on the CASA caseload now is 511.

Some in Monroe County may not realize - or want to acknowledge - how common child abuse and neglect cases are in this county. That’s the reason The Herald-Times highlights the new numbers reported every month. It’s an issue that requires attention.

If you want more information about the CASA program or what you might be able to do to help one or more of these children, call 812-333-CASA (2272) or go to monroecountycasa.org.

This month, however, there’s more to the story of children in crisis.

Staff member Jon Streetman reported recently the number of children entering foster care in the state of Indiana is at an all-time high. The result is that more foster parents are needed by agencies around the state if these children are going to be cared for in a family environment.

Deborah Brewer of The Villages, the state’s largest not-for-profit child and family services agency, told Streetman she received many more calls from the Department of Child Services looking for foster homes than she had homes for placements. She acknowledged having to say no a lot. “This is what breaks my heart,” she said.

DCS’s resource family support supervisor, Jamie Lawrence-Nickels, said the need for more foster families is at “emergency level.” She said families already in the system are willing, but have no room to add more children.

How great is the need? The DCS Practice Indicator Report for January 2017 noted nearly 1,000 children in need of services in Monroe, Brown, Greene, Owen and Lawrence counties, with 461 of them in Monroe.

Drugs are a key reason for this spike in the need for children’s services, Lawrence-Nickels told Streetman.

“Any time there’s drugs in a home, that creates an unsafe environment for children to live in,” she said.

Informational sessions about how to become a foster parent are scheduled for 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. April 18, May 16 and June 20 at The Villages office at 2405 N. Smith Pike, Bloomington. Those interested in this commitment to helping kids can call 800-822-4888 or 800-874-6880 or go to www.villages.org to register.

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South Bend Tribune. March 9, 2017

Reversing the troubling trend of teen suicide

The statistics are startling.

Nineteen percent of Hoosier students contemplated suicide in the past 12 months. About 11 percent of teens attempted it, according to the Indiana Youth Institute. That’s slightly more than the national average.

Even more alarming is that suicide proved to be the second leading cause of death for Hoosiers ages 15 to 24 in 2014 and 2015.

St. Joseph County had one of the highest rates for suicide across all ages in 2015: a total of 45 suicides compared with 960 for all of Indiana.

Barbara Gulbranson, director of the Suicide Prevention Center, is working hard to change those numbers through programs like the Yellow Ribbon Suicide prevention program and Question, Persuade and Refer, programs that help teachers, parents and students to recognize potential suicide signs and get those people to the right place for help.

Indiana House Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, is sponsoring a bill that would require school employees to attend youth suicide awareness and prevention training. The bill passed the House and now has moved on to the Senate.

Gulbranson has been going regularly into schools in St. Joseph County to talk with kids about suicide and break down the stigma. Students receive a card that, if they contemplate killing themselves, can be given to almost anyone in the school who can find them help.

The statistics serve as a call to action. Recognizing the potential signs that someone may be contemplating suicide is the responsibility of the entire community. Gulbranson described it as the “most preventable form of death.”

A teen mentioning suicide should be taken seriously, not shrugged off. Learn the signs of depression and be prepared to act if you think a friend or family member is in trouble. It will take all of us to reverse this troubling trend.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. March 10, 2017

CAFO confusion

Indiana doesn’t need to make it easier to start or expand a controlled animal feeding operation. The state has about 2,000 such farms, where cattle, hogs, sheep or poultry are raised in close quarters. If not managed carefully, the enormous amounts of waste that those operations generate can cause significant air and water pollution and make life nearly unbearable for people living nearby.

So it’s good news that Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long has sidelined a bill that environmentalists say could undermine the public’s ability to have a say in the expansion of CAFOs. The Fort Wayne Republican told The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly this week that House Bill 1494 is “just bad legislation” and may remain parked in the Senate’s Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee for the rest of the legislative session.

The man who introduced HB 1494, Rep. Dave Wolkins, R-Warsaw, contends his bill is aimed at streamlining the state’s regulatory process.

“This basically came from IDEM (the Indiana Department of Environmental Management) and the pork producers” in an effort to reduce needless bureaucratic hurdles for those who want to make changes at a CAFO, he said in an interview Thursday. It fell to him to present the measure, Wolkins said, because “I’m the one who does all the cleanup bills.”

After hearing from the Hoosier Environmental Council and residents of areas with existing CAFOs, Wolkins said, he made two amendments to his bill. One would clarify that CAFOs could not begin operation without a state permit, and the other would specify when a CAFO has to apply for an amended permit to change its operation.

But the version of HB 1494 that passed the House last month still contains areas of concern. Kim Ferraro, senior attorney for the environmental council, contends the reworked bill eliminates a requirement that CAFOs notify residents and local governments when they plan an expansion. And rather than streamlining procedures, Ferraro said in an interview Thursday, the bill would add “confusion and lack of clarity” to the state regulatory process.

Wolkins contends the bill makes no changes in the notification process.

It’s too bad all the energy expended on HB 1494 wasn’t directed toward helping to ensure that CAFOs don’t nauseate neighbors or pollute the environment.

Wolkins agrees CAFOs should be prevented from causing air and water problems, but contends that job is best handled by county officials using local zoning laws.

State regulators, of course, are better equipped to deal with complex questions of how CAFOs are built and run to minimize pollution, odors and groundwater contamination. The key, environmentalists argue, is not simplifying Indiana’s weak existing regulations but toughening them.

The environmental council’s suggestions for strengthening Indiana’s regulation of CAFOs include giving IDEM authority to deny permits for health or environmental reasons; requiring such farms to locate further from residences, schools, businesses and churches, as well as lakes, streams and wetlands; and setting air pollution limits for chemicals that emanate from CAFOs such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and volatile fatty acids. Now, Ferraro said, there are no odor or air emission limits for such facilities.

Even Wolkins, who concedes he’s “basically been supportive of CAFOs,” said he doesn’t disagree more could be done to regulate CAFO pollution. “If they want to do a bill to address this, then go for it,” he said, promising such a bill would get a hearing next year.

Wolkins concedes environmentalists were shut out of the process that created HB 1494. Perhaps, if this murky bill is allowed to die, the Warsaw representative, the farm interests and groups like the Hoosier Environmental Council could sit together and fashion a bill for next session that would streamline those pesky processes and address the real problems CAFOs now create.

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