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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

September 25, 2018

The (Munster) Times. September 20, 2018

Texting while driving must be taken seriously; lives are on the line

Texting while driving often takes a driver’s eyes off the road for five seconds or more.

At 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with one’s eyes closed.

People are dying at an untold rate from vehicle crashes caused by distracted driving, including texting while driving.

Until our government leaders, laws and drivers themselves take it seriously, the problem will only get worse.

One of the most crucial findings of our recent special investigative report, “The Region’s Deadliest Roads,” actually was a non-finding.

The incidence of distracted driving, particularly caused by texting, during fatal accidents is poorly recorded by law enforcement.

It’s not the fault of the officers or police departments, necessarily.

But there’s no strong onus yet on documenting such cases.

So we weren’t able to quantify how many of the Region’s 373 fatal crashes that killed 404 people over five years involved texting while driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that distracted driving claimed 3,450 lives in 2016.

We suspect that number is actually higher given reporting flaws.

To get a better handle on the problem, we need better required documentation.

We also need laws that take the matter seriously.

Indiana law prohibits drivers from texting or emailing while driving, but any other use of the electronic devices while driving is permitted.

In 2016, a federal appeals judge asserted Indiana’s texting law is essentially useless.

Among the legal uses of cellphones while driving are “making and receiving calls, inputting addresses, reading driving directions and maps with GPS applications, reading news and weather programs, retrieving and playing music or audio books, surfing the Internet, playing video games — even watching movies or television,” Judge Richard Posner wrote in the 2016 ruling.

Any one of those legal cellphone uses enumerated by Posner could distract a driver long enough to cause a fatal accident.

A recent AAA study found that more than 70 percent of Americans support a ban on handheld devices while driving.

Short of such laws taking hold, individual drivers must weigh the gravity of risking human life against the use of handheld electronic devices while driving.

We all need to take responsibility for our own actions.

Lives are on the line. Common sense must prevail.

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South Bend Tribune. September 20, 2018

IDEM proposal bad for the public

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management looks poised to adopt a terrible idea that would make accessing public information more difficult for Hoosiers.

This despite clear public opposition to the plan.

IDEM’s proposal, to replace publication of Air Quality Permit ads in newspapers with electronic postings on its website, will get a vote by the Environmental Rules Board on Nov. 14.

IDEM says that doing so would enable authorities to communicate “more quickly and efficiently” with the public. That claim contradicts surveys showing that a majority of Hoosiers read public notice advertising in their newspapers, and 85 percent support government continuing to publish notices in newspapers.

But IDEM needn’t look to surveys to gauge public opinion. On two occasions, it invited Hoosiers to submit their comments to the agency on the proposed changes. The Hoosier State Press Association obtained copies of the emails. During the first comment period, 551 of 553 disagreed with the proposal; during the second comment period, 52 out of 54 disagreed.

IDEM”s board, chaired by former state senator Beverly Gard, held its public hearing on the rule last month. The only public member to speak on the proposed rule change was Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel.

In his testimony, Key noted that all 50 states use newspapers to publish public notices, and that Indiana has done so since it became a state in 1815. He said that posting notices on a government website leaves it up to the foxes to protect the henhouse.

What’s clear is that IDEM’s proposal isn’t about efficient and quick communication with the public about a nearby industrial facility seeking permission to emit air pollutants. It’s not even about the savings IDEM says would come from eliminating the advertising costs in local newspapers: Originally, the savings figure cited by IDEM was $17,000; now it says $59,595 out of a yearly budget of $12.8 million. That seems a small price — yes, one paid to Hoosier newspapers — for transparency.

And transparency is what’s at stake here. IDEM’s proposed change would make it harder for the public to access information they have a right to receive. And that’s why the Environmental Rules Board should reject it.____

The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. September 11, 2018

The first step

There are four dozen newly registered voters in Allen County this week, thanks to the Fort Wayne Area League of Women Voters. Students at five high schools in the East Allen County Schools district had the opportunity to register over their lunch break Friday. Encouraging them to follow through and vote is the next step: In 2016, nearly 6 million people ages 18 to 29 were registered but did not vote, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Early registration is key in Indiana, where the deadline to register for the November election is just four weeks from today. If you aren’t yet registered, take the lead from the students who stepped up last week.

Sarah Kindinger, who coordinated the voter drive for the League of Women Voters, registered students at New Haven High School, where a dozen students were so eager to sign up that they approached her table at the start of the lunch hour. She’s coordinating another registration event at South Side High School on Sept. 25 and hopes to schedule one at Northrop High School. Last spring, students at Wayne, New Tech and Canterbury had the chance to register through a League-sponsored event. Homestead High School has a well-established registration program, thanks to a recent graduate.

At New Haven, Kindinger said she advised the first-time voters the midterm ballot is long, with offices for federal, state, county, township and school board contests, as well as judicial retention questions and a statewide referendum requiring a balanced budget.

“It can be intimidating to adults,” she said. “I tell younger people, ‘Relax - we don’t expect you to vote for everything.’ If you haven’t researched it, don’t vote for it.”

She acknowledged most young voters will be tuned into congressional races, given the high profile of the U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican challenger Mike Braun.

“That’s the one they are hearing about. But there are so many online resources to help prepare,” she said. “There are websites for young voters to see who their views align with. As a nonpartisan representative for the League, I don’t want to influence them. It’s unfortunate Indiana is still one of the few states where you have to declare a party in the primary election.”

The general election requires no such declaration, of course. While Indiana allows voters to cast a straight-party ticket in November, a provision in effect since 2016 requires voters to mark candidates in multi-candidate races.

That will affect votes cast for township board members, where a straight-party vote for Democrats or Republicans won’t count without votes cast specifically for township candidates.

Indiana’s registration policies are strict compared with other states, some of which allow for same-day registration or automatically register voters when issuing a driver’s license. But Indiana has stepped up in making it easy to register or update an existing registration online.

The key is to make sure you are registered by Oct. 9.

____

The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. September 20, 2018

Madison appears to have the experience, perspective to be new R-BB leader

Travis Madison has been announced as a new leader on issues of education in Monroe County. He is expected to become superintendent of the Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp. in October after a vote of the school board Sept. 26.

Being a school superintendent in 2018 has a wide range of responsibility and duties. Most important, of course, is to make sure every student who attends every school in the corporation is offered a meaningful educational experience.

Madison brings experience to the school district from his position of superintendent at Barr-Reeve Community Schools in southeastern Daviess County. The corporation has achieved academic success under his leadership. The middle-senior high school has received multiple state awards and the school system has received “A″ grades from the Indiana Department of Education in recent years.

With seven years experience as a superintendent, he’s well aware of all the things besides academic performance that he will be overseeing. He’s also had to deal with the administrative complexities that come from legislative decisions and laws about public education in Indiana.

He told H-T education reporter Brittani Howell that school district finances are among his highest priorities. He is committed to keeping financial matters clear to the public and rebuilding trust lost with the R-BB public when an error caused taxes to rise unexpectedly for corporation patrons.

That’s a good place for Madison to start.

Another area that’s become more and more important in recent years is student safety. While that’s always been the case at some level, high-profile school shootings of recent years have put the issue more in the spotlight.

He’ll have to overcome disappointment in one corner of the district because of the closure earlier this year of Stinesville Elementary School.

Then there will be the issues of transportation, food service, building maintenance, curriculum, counseling and mental health needs and all the rest to occupy his time.

It’s a strong sign that he’s spoken out on statewide issues and says “part of our job description now as educational leaders” involves being advocates for students, schools and communities.

His view that he wants to develop trust between himself and those who work for him also is on point.

Assuming all goes smoothly and he receives board support next week, Madison appears to be a good choice to lead R-BB.

___

The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. September 21, 2018

Right to earn

Indiana’s 38th-place ranking among U.S. states for per-capita income is troubling enough. But for more than half of the state’s population, the story gets worse: Indiana ranks 49th for its gender pay gap, with Hoosier women earning just 73 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn.

The American Association of University Women’s analysis of Census data breaks down the gender gap by state and congressional district to determine the effect of equal pay protections on paychecks earned by women and men. One such provision is the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Ledbetter, who spoke in Fort Wayne earlier this year as part of the IPFW Omnibus Lecture Series, was a 19-year supervisor at Goodyear Tire & Rubber in Alabama when she learned from an anonymous tipster she was making $6,500 a year less than her male colleagues. She filed a discrimination suit, but lost in a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, based on the fact that the discriminatory practice occurred more than 180 days before she filed. The 2009 law named for Ledbetter’s struggle addressed the restrictive time limit for future plaintiffs.

As the analysis notes, a partisan divide quickly emerges when looking at support for policies aimed at erasing pay inequity. Support for the 2009 Fair Pay Act broke on mostly party lines in Indiana’s all-male congressional delegation. Republican Sen. Richard Lugar supported the bill, as did Sen. Evan Bayh and the five Democratic members of Indiana’s House delegation. But then-Congressman Mike Pence was among the four Indiana Republican House members who voted no, as did 3rd District Congressman Mark Souder.

Today, Indiana has only two members among the 199 House co-sponsors of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which establishes procedures to close the wage gap. Democrats Andre Carson and Pete Visclosky signed on in support, and Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.

In the absence of federal support for strong equal-pay laws, other states have adopted policies to ensure women are paid what they rightfully earn. In 2017, median annual earnings for women in Indiana were $37,167. Indiana men earned a median annual wage of $50,782.

Many claim the pay gap is the result of career choices women make, but there are policies elected officials can enact to close the gap. One is prohibiting retaliation or discrimination for discussing or disclosing wages - a restriction that might have allowed Lilly Ledbetter to find out she was the victim of discrimination before the time limit on her claim passed.

Another effective policy would be to prohibit employers from using salary history in hiring, so women can begin to make wage gains on men. As economic development officials increasingly turn their attention to the workforce shortage and push for ways to retain and attract professional and skilled workers, Indiana can’t afford to short half of the talent pool. We need political leaders determined to close the state’s alarming wage gap.

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