Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers
Posted 3:01 p.m. Tuesday
The (Munster) Times. April 13, 2017
Don't block study of courthouse consolidation
Illogical notions of turf protection frequently stand like barriers in the pathway of good Region government policies.
We applaud Lake County Councilman Eldon Strong for attempting to drive a figurative bulldozer over some of these barriers.
On Tuesday, Strong proposed a resolution, which passed the council on a 4-3 vote, to study consolidating Lake County's three satellite courthouses in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago.
It's a notion supported 10 years ago in the Good Government Initiative sponsored by the county's largest industrial taxpayers. The study concluded the county should explore closing the satellite courts — and consolidating them with the existing main court at the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point — to save money.
The time to act on this recommendation is long past due. Now the Lake County commissioners should move quickly to approve the council's resolution.
Shortsighted government parochialism and patronage no doubt will attempt to stand in the way.
Lake County Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, who represents Gary and Griffith, argued against the study Tuesday, saying her constituents would be inconvenienced if the county court in Gary closed.
Franklin's argument holds no more water than a perforated bucket. Parties to Lake County court cases receive random courthouse assignments, meaning many Gary, Hammond and East Chicago residents are required to attend court in Crown Point or other locations not in their hometowns.
Franklin also contended her constituents attend traffic court hearings in droves in Gary City Court.
The city court is a separate facility from the county's satellite courthouse in Gary and would not be affected by any consolidation. Franklin's use of this argument shows she either doesn't understand the difference between two separate facilities in her own district or is being disingenuous.
Other critics of consolidating the county's satellite courts argue it could cost $10 million or more to expand Crown Point courtrooms to accommodate a consolidation.
The real figure won't be known until a cost-benefit study is completed. But any expansion costs would be one-time expenses.
Meanwhile, the satellite courts collectively cost at least $5 million every year in maintenance, utility and repair work alone, not to mention the manpower working in each of the buildings.
Strong estimates a study of consolidating the courthouses would cost about $47,000, based on one quote of an outside consultant. Other council members believe the study could be done in-house for less.
It's a small investment to an ultimate move that could save the county several million dollars per year in perpetuity.
County taxpayers are tired of nonsensical government obstructing efficiency.
The ball now is in the court of commissioners Mike Repay, Kyle Allen and Jerry Tippy.
Commissioners must put aside any petty turf boundaries and allow this study to occur.
The entire county awaits a logical outcome.
The Indianapolis Star. April 14, 2017
Don't stop half way on road funding
The vast majority of the 150 members of the Indiana General Assembly are by nature reluctant to raise taxes — no matter the reason.
So the fact that both the House and the Senate have already signed off on tax and fee increases to improve streets and highways is a strong indication of how great the need is to invest significantly more money into Indiana's roads.
But with two significantly different versions of the road funding bill now in conference committee, it's critical that legislators not leave the job only partially done.
"This is a once in a generation opportunity to address infrastructure in our state," Matthew Greller, executive director of Accelerate Indiana Municipalities, said this week. "It's one of the easiest tax votes a legislator can make because repaving and repairing roads are evident improvements."
Greller and the local elected leaders his organization represents are concerned, however, that the General Assembly will skimp on funneling enough dollars to local roads to drive significant improvement.
The House version of the legislation would increase local road funding by 42 percent. But the Senate version would set aside less than half that amount.
Noblesville Republican Sen. Luke Kenley, chairman of the Appropriations Committe, and other senators argue that local governments already have the ability on their own to raise money to meet road maintenance needs.
But, as Greller points out, the distribution of needs and resources is not equal throughout the state. It's obvious in Indianapolis, for example, that far more money is needed to maintain streets and bridges. But Indy's elected leaders also must address increased public safety needs, crumbling sidewalks, neglected parks and other basic services. And they have to do so without pushing tax rates so high that more residents flee for suburban counties.
Gov. Eric Holcomb should press conference committee members to adopt the House version of the bill. When it comes to finally adopting an adequate plan for long-term road funding in Indiana, we can't afford to go half way.
(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. April 14, 2017
Doing what's right for public health
State Rep. Bruce Borders of Jasonville holds a seat in the supermajority caucus of the state legislature. That does not mean he shares all the views of his Republican colleagues. More importantly, not all of his colleagues share his views. For that, the people of Indiana can be truly thankful.
Borders used last Saturday's final legislative forum of the season in Terre Haute to spout the troubling and widely discredited view that vaccinations cause autism in young people.
He and his legislative colleagues had been asked about pending legislation designed to prevent cervical cancer. But Borders veered off topic to cite a recent documentary that alleged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covered up a purported link between the MMR vaccine and autism. He advocated that more studies should be done to explore the possible links.
"I have a grandson and he was meeting all his markers and after he got the childhood immunization vaccines he became deathly sick and nearly died and then all the sudden he began missing his markers, and to be quite frank about it, we believe he has become autistic as a result of that," Borders said.
"I know there are some folks sitting here laughing about that, but quite frankly I believe it to be true. There are some very legitimate studies based on that," Border continued. "I think we need to take a look at these vaccines that are being done on children, possibly with links to autism. My biggest concern is we're giving them too large of doses in too short a period of time."
We empathize with the circumstance Borders describes in his family. Autism Spectrum Disorders include a range of symptoms and behaviors and can pose difficult challenges for families of children affected.
While we understand his concern as a grandparent, we cannot be silent about his public endorsement of the myth that vaccines can cause autism.
We assure him no one is laughing about his comments. In fact, the ramifications of such comments can be deadly serious.
The source of Borders' statements is the debunked and fraudulent research from the late 1990s that claimed a link between autism and common childhood vaccines. It took a while for the hoax to be uncovered and revealed, but the myths that grew out of the incident remain in internet lore. Today, studies show that half of parents have concerns about the safety of vaccines, and 25 percent believe that vaccines cause autism.
Borders did acknowledge to his audience that the British researcher who promoted the autism-vaccines link had been discredited. But, he added, "just because he was discredited by the medical community doesn't mean that he wasn't correct."
Actually, Rep. Borders, it does.
Public health officials all over the planet continue to fight back against these pervasive myths, but it is a great disservice to communities everywhere when an elected official such as Borders repeats and supports the baseless autism-vaccine link.
Dr. Richard Feldman, an Indianapolis physician and former state health commissioner, has written extensively about immunizations and the threat to public safety posed by a decline in childhood vaccinations brought about by bogus claims of people such as Rep. Borders. He points out that vaccination myths were even advanced during the recent Republican Party presidential primary campaign by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, an ophthamologist, Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon, and none other than candidate Donald Trump. So Borders is far from alone spouting this particular conservative orthodoxy.
Feldman, whose column is published monthly in the Tribune-Star and other state newspapers, explains there have been more than 20 independent studies that show no link between autism and childhood vaccines. That's in addition to the work done on the issue by the CDC.
It's hard to battle misinformation. Feldman says we just have to hope that parents will keep an open mind and trust their health-care providers when it comes time for vaccinations.
Last year, Feldman wrote passionately about the public health benefits of immunizations and the potential adverse effects in communities if children are not vaccinated properly.
"I often wonder if anti-vaccine parents would risk not immunizing their children if Ebola became rampant in the U.S and a vaccine was actually available," Feldman wrote. "Would they vaccinate if polio returned to America? Of course, that situation is theoretically possible given outbreaks abroad and today's worldwide travel.
"Vaccines have saved millions of lives over the past century. Unfortunately, some cannot appreciate what they do not see and as a result put their communities at risk."
We encourage Borders to suspend his irrational fears and listen to facts and reason. If he refuses to do so, then we implore his constituents to ignore his rantings and make sure they do what's right, not only for their families, but for society.
South Bend Tribune. April 13, 2017
A warning about private meetings
An opinion this week by Indiana's public access counselor was as much of a warning as it was a vindication for some St. Joseph County officials.
True, the now-defunct St. Joseph County leaf task force did not violate state law when it met behind closed doors, Counselor Luke Britt said in an advisory opinion. But at the same time Britt said local government should be wary when forming private committees as a way to avoid public criticism.
Commissioner Deb Fleming formed the committee to talk about ways to improve the county's struggling leaf pickup program. It also was done, Fleming acknowledged, as a way to avoid potential attendees — including The Tribune — from influencing discussions about the program run by Niles-based Greenworld Environmental Management.
The committee was disbanded in March after other county officials decided to hold meetings to get public feedback.
Limiting public opinion on a program that impacts thousands of residents across the county is never a good idea, especially when those people could help provide solutions to the problem.
As Britt wrote, "I do caution the Board on using these groups sparingly and with great care. The press and members of the public not only have the absolute right to be informed of the actions of their government, but they also have the right to scrutinize (and criticize) ideas both good and bad of their representative officials."
And the leaf task force isn't the only example.
There also was considerable uproar over a work group that was formed to consider changes to the St. Joseph County animal ordinance.
Discussions can be unwieldy when they involve so many people with strong opinions. That's true when the talks are about animal control, the best way to pick up leaves or any other topic. But that is no excuse for excluding the public.
Officials should look for ways to meaningfully solicit public input, instead of simply meeting behind closed doors with a handpicked group.
Lack of proper public input only serves to destroy confidence in the end result.
Forming a task force or work group to discuss controversial issues outside the public shouldn't become routine, even if in the case of the leaf task force it was legal. It sets a bad precedent.___