- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The (Munster) Times. January 19, 2018

U.S. attorney keeps corrupt leaders quaking

Somewhat dulled by the roar of former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich’s massive prison sentence and related scandals this week was a firm promise by the U.S. attorney to doggedly pursue more Region public corruption cases.

It’s just the sort of news that should keep nervous fires burning in the guts of any guilty, but not yet indicted, parties.

Just days after his ceremonial investiture into office, new Hammond-based U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirsch II sat through Buncich’s six-hour sentencing hearing Tuesday.

Immediately following Judge James Moody handing down a 15-plus-year prison sentence to Buncich, Kirsch called a press conference relating welcome news to anyone who thirsts for clean and honest government.

In his press conference, Kirsch noted he was establishing a task force in his office - no doubt comprised of both prosecutors and federal agents - to continue a longstanding tradition of weeding out public corruption.

On Wednesday, we told readers the Buncich prison sentence - one of the longest in a generation for Region public corruption defendants - should carry an appropriate level of deterrence.

Though we don’t know all the details, Kirsch’s task force promise should carry equal weight of deterrence for any Region elected officials bent on furthering crimes of personal enrichment through their offices.

In the Buncich bribery case alone, court testimony and statements from federal prosecutors indicate more parties remain under the federal microscope in potentially related bribery scandals.

Former Merrillville Town Councilman Tom Goralczyk was mentioned during testimony in Buncich’s August criminal trial as being connected to the federal bribery probe.

In November, we learned Goralczyk was indicted and signed a plea agreement, admitting to felony guilt in the matter.

Any other public officials - named and yet unnamed - in the bribery case should be very worried.

And taxpayers should take solace in a U.S. attorney’s office that continues to prove an insatiable desire to clean up what stains our Region political scene.

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The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. January 18, 2018

Year starts well, but challenges still remain

The year 2018 has started out on an upbeat note for Bloomington, Monroe County and Indiana University.

Recognizing the bicentennial year of the city and the county is worthy of celebration. The work that’s gone into 200 years of building a welcoming and attractive community deserves a year-long party.

The announcement during the first week of 2018 that the City of Bloomington has agreed to purchase the current IU Health Bloomington Hospital property appears to solve a major looming problem: what to do with the 24-acre property after the hospital moves to its new location on the Ind. 45/46 Bypass. City leaders decided to take responsibility for the property, while IU Health agreed to “scrape” the site of unusable buildings. This agreement, when finalized, will eliminate the possibility that an empty, hulking, structure would be left in a prominent location in the city to fall into disrepair and attract problems. It provides city leaders and residents the opportunity to consider options for using this valuable land.

The official groundbreaking this week of the new IU Health Regional Academic Health Center, the co-location of the new 620,000-square-foot hospital and the 115,000-square-foot IU Academic Health Sciences building, was more good news.

The partnership between the separate entities of IU Health and Indiana University will spark a new era for regional health care by placing education, research and clinical services in one place on IU’s Bloomington campus. The announcement was hailed as transformational and indeed it has that potential in areas of taking care of patients, training medical professionals and discovering new kinds of treatment.

At the annual meeting of the Bloomington Economic Development Corp. Wednesday, organization President Lynn Coyne noted “our future is bright” and “the potential is enormous.”

Potential is not a given, however. Coyne, who leads the community’s efforts to attract and retain high-quality employers, pointed to some issues that require attention for the community to reach the highest levels of prosperity and economic vitality for all.

He noted the community does not have the buildings to attract larger businesses that might want to move here.

He said the community doesn’t have the office space available for technology start-ups that might want to move here, or for tech companies that want to expand and need space to be able to stay here.

He said the community does not have enough housing. Mayor John Hamilton has focused on the need for affordable housing, and that need is real. There’s also the need for housing in the downtown area for young entrepreneurs - not what is typically considered “affordable housing,” but also not market rate apartments being gobbled up by college students.

Coyne also noted the growing negative effects of the opioid epidemic.

All the positive news is definitely worth noting and celebrating, while keeping eyes forward on the challenges that remain.

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South Bend Tribune. January 18, 2018

A battle to save the youngest Hoosiers

Tucked into Gov. Eric Holcomb’s State of the State address was a depressingly familiar issue.

Indiana’s shameful infant mortality rate, the number of children who die before their first birthdays.

That rate is 7.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. A report released last year puts the overall infant mortality rate in the United States at 5.9 deaths per 1,000, a 15 percent drop from 2005 to 2014.

“Six-hundred twenty-three babies didn’t live past the age of 1 in Indiana in 2016 - 623,” Holcomb said in his Jan. 9 address. “We can and will save more of them.”

To that end, the governor noted the importance of implementing a Levels of Care program to ensure that the highest-risk babies are delivered at hospitals with the facilities to meet the needs of the mother and the baby.

He said that Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, and FSSA secretary Dr. Jennifer Walthall would be “leading the charge.” Box is an Indianapolis doctor of obstetrics and Walthall previously served as the Division Chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and, according to Holcomb, “still works a shift a week at Riley Hospital for Children in addition to her day job.”

Finally, Holcomb set the a goal of becoming the best state in the Midwest for curbing infant mortality by 2024. That won’t be easy, given that Indiana’s rate lags behind the average of the states surrounding it.

Reaching Holcomb’s goal and ensuring that more Indiana babies live to see their first birthdays and beyond will take a comprehensive effort and focus that’s been lacking in the past. The governor has announced his intention to change that. We look forward to hearing the details of his plan. Because Indiana can’t afford to lose this battle for the youngest Hoosiers.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. January 18, 2018

Excising cigarettes

Legislation that would increase a tax rate and limit personal liberties might sound like a non-starter in the Indiana General Assembly, but House Bill 1380 is just as much about common sense and the state’s economic viability. A proposal to raise the minimum age for buying cigarettes, as well as increase the cigarette excise tax by $1.50 a pack, has attracted the support of both health and business leaders.

Indiana’s disturbingly high rate of smoking - more than 20 percent of all Hoosier adults - combined with the $2.92 billion annual expense to treat smoking-related illnesses makes support for the bill a no-brainer. House Bill 1381, which would outlaw smoking at casinos, bars and other places where exemptions are now allowed, and Senate Bill 23, which would overturn a state ban on employer screening of job candidates for tobacco use, also deserve serious consideration this year.

Tobacco Free Allen County supports the measures.

“This is something that our legislators should be laser-focused on changing if they want our state to be healthy and economically competitive,” wrote Nancy Cripe, executive director. “We know from research, the (Centers for Disease Control’s) Best Practices recommendations, and observation of other states that a steep increase in the cigarette tax will be followed by a marked decrease in the number of smokers and a drop in youth experimentation.”

Bryan Hannon, chairman of Tobacco Free Indiana, said the excise tax increase is the campaign’s top priority this year.

“The excise tax is the thing that’s going to have the biggest impact and the most immediate,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “We know it’s the best thing we can do to decrease smoking rates and to discourage young people from starting.”

Bill sponsor Charlie Brown, a Gary Democrat, is seeking a $2 per-pack increase in the tax rate, but Hannon said his coalition would be satisfied with $1.50 per pack.

An unsuccessful effort to increase the tax last year got caught up in an effort to steer excise-tax revenue to roads, while Brown’s proposal is to dedicate the additional revenue to tobacco prevention and cessation efforts, as well as to the Medical Residency Education Fund.

“Indiana cigarettes are among the cheapest in the nation, making them highly accessible to adults and youth alike,” Cripe wrote. “Tobacco 21, which increases the age of legal purchase and possession of tobacco from 18 to 21, is about protecting our future generations and is very worthy policy. If the tax increase has the biggest immediate impact in the short-term, Tobacco 21 is a wonderful long-term solution to reduce our high rates of smoking. The longer we can delay addiction, the better.”

If the measure is approved, Indiana would become the sixth state to increase the legal age for purchase.

Bellwether Research & Consulting’s survey of 30 business leaders across the state found strong support for a cigarette-tax increase. Many respondents expressed concern that health problems are holding the state back.

“The health of the Indiana workforce directly impacts our business because of health care costs which are sky-rocketing,” wrote one.

Alliance for Healthier Indiana, whose supporters include the Indiana Hospital Association and Indiana Chamber of Commerce, also supports SB 23, authored by Sen. Liz Brown. The bill would “give employers the ability to manage their employees and their insurance costs without the state carving out a special class for protection,” according to the Fort Wayne Republican.

Tobacco Free Indiana’s Hannon said supporters realize this is a short session, but they also know tobacco use is becoming a major economic issue for the state.

“The problem is too big to go silent,” he said.

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