Political News

Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

Posted June 20

The (Munster) Times. June 15, 2017

County must push jail to compliance

Sometimes the most difficult moments when working toward a major benchmark are the final steps before success.

Lake County government, and particularly jail officials, must push hard to complete the final steps needed to untether cumbersome federal oversight that's costing the county some $6 million a year.

Unfortunately, this expensive challenge is one of the county's own making.

Since 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice has been overseeing mandated improvements at the jail following a series of inmate suicides, infectious disease outbreaks and inmate injuries.

Seven years ago, a federal civil rights investigation concluded the Lake County Jail didn't meet federal standards on several fronts.

Now the county lockup, which housed more than 14,000 inmates in 2016, appears to be on the verge of satisfying a settlement with the federal government for needed changes at the jail, county officials said.

The sooner the county can untether from this federal anchor the better.

County government is spending nearly $6 million per year to comply with health standards and other measures set forth in the federal agreement.

That's in addition to the $17 million in annual costs for feeding and guarding jail inmates in Crown Point.

The latest federal inspection, which occurred in March, found sustained compliance with standards for screening inmates for health needs within a timely fashion after intake.

It also found compliance with provisions for acute and chronic disorder care, dental care, infectious disease control and several other benchmarks.

However, the jail was downgraded to partial compliance in the mental health care area because the psychiatric nurse practitioner resigned in February and has yet to be replaced.

Four months have passed since that resignation and three months since the Justice Department inspection.

It's time for county leaders to provide the final compliance push and rectify the situation.

Delays will only continue an expensive and stifling period of oversight.

___

The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. June 15, 2017

Tunnel will be boon for cleanup of rivers

The deep rock tunnel dig that begins today is a big project to address a big problem.

Fort Wayne's sewage filtration plant works just fine, officials say - the treated water that goes back into our rivers is several times cleaner than the water that's taken out to become the city's drinking water. But much of Fort Wayne, like many cities, is underlain by combined sewer systems that often overflow when there's a sustained rainstorm. When that happens, water that includes untreated sewage ends up in the rivers and backs up into residents' basements.

In 2008, when the city began to implement its water-pollution-control consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there were more than 70 of those combined sewer overflows in an average year, releasing 11/2 billion gallons of untreated water. An additional billion gallons of water that was only partly treated was discharged from the city's two holding ponds.

Now the problem of overflow from the holding ponds has been solved, and last year, the city announced improvements have reduced overflows along the St. Joseph River to one or none per year.

When the tunnel project is completed in 2021, City Utilities says, the number of combined sewer overflows on the St. Marys and the Maumee will drop to four; the amount of untreated water entering the rivers will be reduced by more than 90 percent.

Some areas of town are being converted to separate stormwater and sewer systems. But the tunnel, which will be as deep as 240 feet, will run below existing pipes. That will allow the city to collect and treat hundreds of millions of gallons more of combined sewer water at half of what it would have cost to separate lines along its five-mile path from Foster Park through West Central and the north edge of downtown to the treatment plant.

Groundbreaking for the 5-mile tunnel will be at 11 a.m. today on treatment plant property at Glasgow and Dwenger avenues. One of those planning to attend is rivers advocate Dan Wire.

"I think the timing on this is phenomenal," said Wire, who is helping move key aspects of the riverfront project into reality this year. "We still have folks out there who say, 'Those rivers are cesspools.' " Noting that City Utilities has met or beaten all of its deadlines on the project to date, Wire said he believes the cleanup "is going to be here before we know it."

City Utilities Director Kumar Menon stresses that the tunnel project and other aspects of the city's cleanup effort can never reduce water pollution to zero. A series of rainfalls such as the ones earlier this month could still overwhelm the system, he said. "To build a tunnel of that capacity would be astronomical."

But, he said, the improvement in the city's ability to handle such situations will be substantial. And the effects,Menon said, go far beyond merely complying with the EPA's orders.

"It's obviously good for riverfront development. We have the capacity to increase production. We have the ability to attract people who want to come in and invest in our community." The cleanup project itself - the total cost is $240 million, of which $188 million is for the tunnel - is creating jobs and attracting environmentally trained experts to our community, Menon added.

The tunnel may not be the flashiest project to move off the drawing board. But as much as any development above ground, it will change this community for the better.

___

South Bend Tribune. June 18, 2017

Court of appeals upholds a duty to public

A Court of Appeals ruling earlier this month put another wrinkle in Indiana's process for lethal injection.

The court ruled that the state cannot execute prisoners with its chosen lethal injection cocktail, which has never been used in an execution in the United States. That's because it says that Indiana didn't follow proper procedures when it chose the drugs.

The decision has been called a win for death row prisoners who do not want to be executed with an experimental batch of drugs. But the ruling should also serve as a reminder that lethal injection must be carried out according to protocol and in the bright light of transparency. And this isn't about whether or not you support the death penalty. It's about the duty to the public that comes with carrying out this punishment.

The ruling comes at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain drugs used in executions.

Indiana Department of Correction spokesman Doug Garrison recently told the Indianapolis Star that many drugmakers fear being identified as the provider of an execution drug.

Such difficulties led to a last-minute provision, slipped into the state's proposed budget, that authorizes the state to purchase new lethal injection drugs used in executions, while preserving the anonymity of drug suppliers. The measure bars the release of information that could reveal the identity of a manufacturer or supplier. That prohibition also applies to attorneys seeking the information in civil and criminal trials.

Lawmakers shouldn't have adopted the measure without debate. This attempt to allow companies to supply drugs without fear of public criticism so far, according to a recent Indianapolis Star story, has not been successful in obtaining the drugs.

Before the state can carry out an execution it now has to either appeal the decision to the Indiana Supreme Court or go through a public hearing process to win approval for the drug cocktail it plans to use. And under the appeals court ruling, public officials would also have to seek input from the governor's office and the state attorney general before changing the drugs used for lethal injection.

The attorney general's office, which argues appeals for the state, said in a statement that it was "disappointed" with the decision.

But we see nothing disappointing in a ruling that makes the state accountable to Hoosiers for the executions it carries out in their name.

___

The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. June 16, 2017

County, kids will benefit from pre-K expansion

Setting children on the right course is crucial.

Madison, Grant and Delaware are among 15 counties that will now be included in On My Way Pre-K, which began as a pilot program for low-income families and is operated by the state.

The Indiana General Assembly voted earlier in the year to expand the program from five counties to 20. The program, administered by the Family and Social Services Administration's Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning, will see an increase in spending by $9 million. Local providers in the selected counties will be expected to enroll children in the program for the 2018-19 school year.

Evidence from a study from the Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning suggests that the children who participated in the program gained skills from fall to spring "at a higher rate than their peers." Several components of school readiness were gained in language comprehension, early literacy, executive functioning and a "reduction in behavior problems in the classroom" — with significant statistical differences.

Early evaluations reveal that children in the pre-K program "are some of the most educationally needy Hoosiers," the early childhood office said. Feedback also showed that the children entered their program in the fall with "lower skill levels than like their peers."

State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said in a statement that "kids who get quality preschool education do better in school, and they do better in life."

Lanane added that he believes including Madison and Delaware counties is a reward for the groundbreaking work the counties have done in early childhood education.

Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said she was delighted that Madison County was chosen, but added "the state needs to do more." Austin said she is concerned that the program contains too many strings in eligibility. Families are selected through a randomized computer lottery process.

While not every child will benefit, the state is on the right course. The potential to improve early learning skills, readiness for kindergarten and classroom behavior for low-income children is a win-win for all of the 20 counties. We can only hope that they will benefit from this expansion and help prepare them for K-12 experiences.

Children face so many challenges in their early years. Getting a good, quality education shouldn't be one of them.

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