- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The (Munster) Times. October 12, 2017

Compromise is key to our survival

It’s a valid, uncomfortable question we all should be asking.

How long can a vehemently divided nation - built on the principles of democratic self-governance - survive?

Regardless of how we individually answer that question, it’s healthy to reflect on the words of a retired Denver business professor who keynoted a Region luncheon last week.

Buie Seawell, recently retired from the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, wisely urged a banquet hall filled last Thursday with some 500 Northwest Indiana public, business and nonprofit officials to get back to the basics of our nation’s founding.

It’s a message we all should take to heart.

“The first freedom is the freedom to govern yourself and to participate in your government,” Seawell said during the address to members and guests of Northwest Indiana-based One Region. “If we lose the freedom of self-government, all others are in jeopardy.”

Students of history know our nation frequently finds itself in the throes of disagreement and factionalism. At least once in our history, a bloody 19th century war was fought because of it.

But Seawell noted America’s form of government survives when we find consensus.

“What has kept us alive for 241 years is that we finally come to agreement and move forward,” he said.

“Factions don’t work, in the end, in this country. A fractured nation is not a nation that will long survive.”

Members of One Region and other Northwest Indiana entities working to find consensus across geographic and political lines should be encouraged, though.

Consensus-building is alive and well in our state and Region in very pronounced ways.

Region officials, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and several federal Indiana lawmakers are unified in ushering in expansions and enhancements to South Shore Line commuter rail, for example.

Northwest Indiana police and emergency personnel regularly set the tone of cooperation through shared crime-fighting and emergency-response resources.

Democrats and Republicans have boarded the promise of train expansion in a very unified way.

Meanwhile, heavy doses of division continue along the partisan lines of many national issues, and the extremes of both sides appear to possess voices far louder than their true numbers show.

We don’t always have to agree, but at some point our nation must follow the example of those who have learned to come together for the greater good.

“Democracies are fragile. That’s their very nature,” Seawell added, speaking directly to the mission of One Region, which aims to build consensus on key Northwest Indiana policies and projects. “And ours is in a place in time where what you represent in this room and what you do together is priceless, is critical, is absolutely necessary.”

Our nation’s survival doesn’t depend on everyone agreeing. It does, however, depend on moving peaceably forward with the most achievable compromises we can live with.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. October 13, 2017

State of alarm: Indiana smokers in unwelcome company

An anti-tobacco group has come up with a dramatic way to illustrate the nation’s smoking problem - and Indiana is part of that problem.

Truth Initiative, a nonprofit public health organization, mapped the 12 states with the highest prevalence of adult smokers and found they fit neatly into a collection it calls “Tobacco Nation.” It’s not company Hoosiers should want to keep:

. Residents 18 years of age and older in Tobacco Nation are more likely to smoke than the average U.S. adult. Twenty-two percent of Tobacco Nation adults smoke, compared to 15 percent of adults in the rest of the U.S. Indiana’s adult smoking rate is 20.6 percent; Allen County’s rate is a shameful 23 percent.

. Youth in Tobacco Nation also smoke at higher rates - 12 percent versus 9 percent - compared with the U.S. overall. Twelve percent of Indiana high school students smoke.

If you compare Tobacco Nation with other countries, the distinction becomes even more troubling. Smoking rates in the member states are similar to the 10 low- and middle-income countries with the greatest number of smokers, including the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Brazil.

Non-smokers in Tobacco Nation, including those in Indiana, pay the costs. Average life expectancy is 76.6 years for residents in those states, compared with 79.3 years in the rest of the U.S.

“Tobacco Nation residents are far more likely to rely on hospital care, with 30 percent more preventable hospitalizations for ambulatory, care-sensitive conditions among Medicare enrollees in the region than the average number of residents in the rest of the U.S.,” according to the Truth Initiative report.

“The fact that Indiana is in the ‘Tobacco Nation’ is no accident,” wrote Nancy Cripe, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County, in an email. “We know how to combat tobacco use effectively. Other states, like California, New York and North Dakota, are doing it very well. Indiana simply isn’t putting the necessary shoulder to the wheel to get the job done. That we fall in the ‘Tobacco Nation’ should be a wake-up call to our legislators that we need to make fighting tobacco use one of our first priorities.”

How can Indiana escape Tobacco Nation? A tax increase is a possible route. The state’s 99.5 cents-per-pack excise tax is 14th lowest in the nation. A 2017 analysis found that tax hikes of 71 cents to $4.63 per pack could yield an 8 percent to 46 percent reduction in cigarette consumption, according to Truth Initiative. “This is, in part, because price increases, including tax increases, reduce initiation of tobacco use among young people and could make smoking more prohibitive for low-income smokers.”

Indiana also could spend more of the money it receives from the 1998 class-action lawsuit against cigarette companies. According to a November 2016 review by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Indiana spends just 8 percent of the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on smoking prevention and cessation. Of the state’s $579 million in total tobacco settlement revenue in fiscal year 2016, Indiana spent just $5.9 million to help smokers quit or prevent young people from smoking. That compares with an estimated $284.5 million spent by tobacco companies to advertise in Indiana.

“It is not a mystery how to combat tobacco use effectively,” Cripe wrote. “High taxes on tobacco products work, limiting accessibility and encouraging smokers to quit. Policies that restrict candy-like flavors and packaging that appeal to youth work - they’ve proven effective in other states and across the world. Truly robust funding of prevention and cessation programs works.”

Indiana’s political leaders boast of low tax rates, but they do Hoosiers a great disservice in ignoring our tobacco problem. Indiana’s estimated annual health care costs directly linked to smoking total $2.93 billion and 11,100 lives, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. That’s a steep tax for residents of Tobacco Nation.

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South Bend Tribune. October 10, 2017

E-filings would improve court access

Indiana courts are continuing their push toward adopting electronic filing systems intended to improve public access to court records.

A story in the Northwest Indiana Times reported courts in 55 of the state’s 92 counties have adopted mandatory electronic filing for most new criminal and civil lawsuits.

St. Joseph County Clerk Terri Rethlake said electronic filing in Superior and Circuit courts became mandatory on July 18. On Dec. 1, it will become mandatory is St. Joseph Probate Court.

Though e-filings are supposed to make the system more efficient, Rethlake said right now her staff is “working through some challenges.”

For years, courts have been generating reams of documents daily. In St. Joseph County alone, thousands of pages of documents bound in hardcover books have been stored in a basement vault of the St. Joseph County Courthouse.

The benefits of going paperless are many.

Trial court judges can check documents remotely and review filings as soon as they are entered into the system, saving a significant amount of time. Attorneys will no longer need to carry boxes of documents to and from the courthouse every day.

St. Joseph Circuit Court Judge John E. Broden, in a July Viewpoint on this page, said e-filing will allow litigants to track their own case online so they can see when their next hearing is scheduled or view important pleadings or notices in their case.

Most importantly, an electronic court filing system will improve access and transparency for the public. It will be easier for the public to check cases online without having to call the clerk’s office or come to the courthouse in person.

Courts statewide and locally still may be working through some of the kinks as they transition to an e-filing sytem. Eventually, though, the system should save money and increase convenience to the public.

That will move the state and the courts forward in achieving two important goals: ease of access to public records and making sure Indiana keeps pace in a changing digital age.

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The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. October 12, 2017

IU takes on another big challenge

Indiana University President Michael McRobbie has guided the university toward tackling the biggest problems plaguing society through the Grand Challenges Program. The announcement Tuesday of the next round of funding and work certainly stays on that path.

IU will invest $50 million and its intellectual and research expertise toward addressing the state’s opioid addiction crisis. The problem is one of five priority areas targeted by Gov. Eric Holcomb, and a multi-layered, life-and-death scenario illustrated well at the first South Central Opioid Summit that attracted 600 participants to Bloomington last month.

Opioid addiction is ravaging Hoosiers from all walks of life. It is having a devastating effect on families, as well affecting health care professionals, law enforcement officers, businesses, the overall economy, social service providers, educators - entire communities.

IU’s commitment will fund Responding to the Addictions Crisis, a collaboration with state government and community partners such as IU Health. It will involve all seven of IU’s campuses around the state, which is appropriate because every corner of Indiana is at risk in this crisis.

IU states the initiative “aims to implement a comprehensive plan to reduce deaths from addiction, ease the burden of drug addiction on Hoosier communities and improve health and economic outcomes.”

The goal is lofty and worthwhile. It is just the kind of multi-disciplinary, far-reaching, impactful problem Grand Challenges is set up to address.

The initiative will focus on five things, according to IU officials: ground-level data collection and analysis; training and education; policy analysis and development; addictions science; and community and workforce development.

One particular point made by Robin Newhouse, dean of the IU School of Nursing and principal investigator of the Responding to the Addictions Crisis initiative, illustrates the understanding that this crisis involves a disease that needs much more than a response of punishment. It talks about achieving “maximum impact toward the goal of more effectively treating patients and implementing preventative substance abuse programs.”

While the opioid crisis extends well beyond the Indiana state lines, there is evidence that the issue affects Hoosiers in a more severe way than in some other locales. Our state is one of four in which the death rate caused by drug overdoses has quadrupled since 1999.

Grand Challenges tackles the really hard stuff. The first project has a goal of curing at least one cancer and one childhood disease by 2020. If that’s not enough, it also wants to find a way to prevent one chronic illness and one neurodegenerative disease.

The second project is addressing multiple issues brought about by environmental change.

And the opioid addiction crisis is next.

By shooting for the stars, IU and its partners can make a huge difference for literally millions of people. Congratulations to McRobbie and the university for showing leadership in these areas of great importance.

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