- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Terre-Haute Tribune-Star. Dec. 16, 2020.

Editorial: A shot in the arm. Vaccine only as good as the number of people who take it

It’s been difficult to find sustained joy during this bleak year, so it’s OK to feel a twinge of relief this week as the coronavirus vaccine begins to slowly make its way through our beleaguered society.



The vaccine itself is a marvel of modern science, purported to provide recipients a high level of protection - 90 percent or more - from COVID-19, the disease that stems from infection by the novel coronavirus first detected a year ago in China. Pfizer was first to gain FDA approval for its vaccine last weekend, and Moderna’s should be on the market soon as well. Others remain under development or in testing.

Historically, creation of vaccines to bring immunity from serious diseases to humans have been a long and painstaking process. It has been known to take years to deliver a viable vaccine to the public. Having the COVID-19 vaccine approved and put into use in just 10 months is a spectacular scientific and medical achievement.

With doses of vaccine now being delivered around the country, the important next step is turning vaccines into vaccinations. That won’t be easy. A large segment of the population is eager to be vaccinated. But public opinion surveys indicate more than 30 percent of people are reluctant or taking a wait-and-see approach. Some even say they will never take the vaccine.

The challenge for public health officials and political leaders is to instill confidence in the public that the vaccine is safe. There must also be a widespread understanding among people that knocking down the disease is crucial to economic recovery and the restoration of community businesses and institutions.

Results of an informal survey conducted by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce show that business leaders view COVID-19 vaccines as a “primary ingredient” in the state’s economic recovery. This is undoubtedly true nationwide as well.

More than 60 percent of Hoosier business leaders surveyed indicated they plan to encourage their employees to get vaccinated.

Indiana Chamber president and CEO Kevin Brinegar sees good news in the survey results.

“The tremendous efforts to bring these highly effective vaccines to market so quickly will be mitigated if the majority of Hoosiers are not vaccinated,” Brinegar said in a press release. “It is promising to see so many business leaders willing to support and encourage the vaccines. Our ultimate business revival is dependent on this next step. Our economy will not be able to resume its full operations until the coronavirus is under control.”

Public health officials say it will take several months for the vaccine to be widely available across the state and nation. Front-line medical staff and essential workers are first in line, followed by vulnerable populations.

When it does arrive, we urge people to step forward and participate when their time comes. The little shot in the arm you receive will help provide a huge shot in the arm for our businesses and communities. Help yourselves, your families and everyone around you. This is the first and most important step toward recovery from an unrelenting virus.

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Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Dec. 18, 2020.

Editorial: The civil thing to do. Asset forfeiture remains inherently inequitable

Tyson Timbs is one of the lucky ones.

In April, a Grant County judge ordered Timbs’ SUV returned. The $35,000 Land Rover he bought with an inheritance was seized by police when he was accused in 2013 of selling about $500 worth of heroin.

Legal wrangling over the vehicle lasted nearly a decade and took Timbs and his lawyers from courtrooms in northeast Indiana to the U.S. Supreme Court and back again. The SUV was returned after civil forfeiture laws were challenged and the high court ruled the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines extends to the states.

It’s one of the few positives in a system that allows police to take money and property from people facing criminal charges. Indiana’s civil forfeiture laws are among the worst in the country, according to a new report, and state lawmakers should take note.

The state earned a D for its laws in a study this week from the Institute for Justice, the libertarian public interest law firm that represented Timbs.

Researchers found nearly $69 billion has been forfeited in the U.S. since 2000. That’s not comprehensive because not all states provided data; report authors say the figure “drastically undercounts property taken from people through forfeiture.”

Indiana prosecutors and police netted more than $14 million from forfeiture in just three years, 2016 to 2019, according to the report.

“Most laws – including Indiana’s – still stack the deck against property owners and give law enforcement perverse financial incentives to pursue property over justice,” Lisa Knepper, co-author and Institute for Justice senior director of strategic research, said in a statement.

State and federal law allows police to seize property if they suspect it is related to criminal activity, and they don’t need to prove a crime has been committed. In Indiana, some of the money seized goes to schools through a state funding mechanism, but not enough.

The report, “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” says “police, prosecutors and government-contracted contingency-fee lawyers” have kept up to 93% of proceeds since 2018.

“It’s happening everywhere,” co-author Jennifer McDonald, Institute for Justice senior research analyst, said in an interview Thursday.

Law enforcement agencies can seize property using state and federal procedures. Indiana’s method was tightened in recent years and requires that police prove items were used in a drug crime or “criminal enterprise.”

The federal method allows agencies to take property, turn it over to the government and get back about 80% of the proceeds, researchers reported. That happens a lot in Indiana, and the state ranks high among states “for its disproportionate use of the federal program.”

In Fort Wayne, police this year seized nearly $219,000. About $141,500 came through federal asset seizures. A vehicle seizure is pending.

New Mexico eliminated civil forfeiture in 2015 and earned the report’s only A rating.

McDonald said civil forfeiture does little to combat big-time criminals, a point Timbs made in challenging the laws.

Data from 21 states in the report show half of all currency forfeitures are worth less than $1,300.

That’s often far less than it would cost to hire a lawyer to fight in court to get the money back.

“A lot of people end up walking away,” McDonald said. “They never get their day in court.”

Capt. Kevin Hunter of the Fort Wayne Police Department said money from forfeitures can be sent to the city’s coffers or used to pay for things such as training and vehicles.

Those items are surely needed and helpful, but they should be secured through state and local funding, not civil forfeiture.

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South Bend Tribune. Dec. 20, 2020.

Editorial: Mishawaka’s timing on book fees was terrible, but Indiana needs to fix its policy

It might sound a bit like something out of a Dickensian novel: In the midst of a pandemic, with people losing their jobs and families struggling to cope, a school district continues suing parents for unpaid textbook fees.

But this isn’t fiction. In July, School City of Mishawaka filed 202 lawsuits against parents, with 80 more in August. All told, court records show the district has filed 294 cases since late March, which represents about 5% of its enrollment of about 5,300 students in the 2019-20 school year.

That’s in contrast to several Indiana school districts, including Penn-Harris-Madison, that have backed off from such lawsuits. The South Bend Community School Corp., which filed lawsuits against nearly 800 families in 2019 and more than 1,000 in 2018, filed none this year.

As detailed in a Tribune report co-published with ProPublica, the Mishawaka lawsuits came as pandemic relief measures, including expanded unemployment benefits, began to expire around the country. According to School City of Mishawaka officials, the district decided to file the suits because the fees dated to the fall of 2019 and were originally due in November of last year, before the pandemic.

The reasoning may have made sense, but the timing was terrible, as the pandemic was surging again by the summer.

Alex Newman, chief financial officer of School City of Mishawaka, noted that collecting unpaid fees is a necessity to keep the district’s textbook fund in the black and ensure it doesn’t have to compensate by using money earmarked for other priorities. And he says there’s an obligation to the parents who do pay their fees to collect from those who don’t but appear to have the means to do so.

And that points to another larger issue, one that goes beyond the decision whether to legally pursue parents during a public health crisis: Indiana’s dubious distinction as one of a handful of states that allows parents to be charged for books and other curricular fees. The state reimburses districts for textbook rental and materials fees only for those who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals. Otherwise, parents must pay.

Over the years, attempts to pass legislation to provide funding for textbooks for all have failed.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, chairman of the House Education Committee for the past six years, said textbooks for all would cost $70 million a year, and that teacher pay is a bigger issue.

But Indiana should find a way to make both investments in education. It should join the majority of states that provides funding for textbooks. The state should do so to shift the burden from families - and to stop forcing school districts to act as bill collectors.

END

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