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A Dispute Over A Baseball Field In Kokomo Has Suspended Millions of Dollars To The State; Including Monroe County

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Monroe County is among many Indiana communities that have lost grant funds because of a dispute with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. The federal agency has suspended millions of dollars in grants that had been allocated to projects in Indiana. The move was spurred by a conflict between FEMA and the city of Kokomo, which is building a new baseball stadium. FEMA contends the city of Kokomo is violating an agreement about leaving open space on eight properties purchased with federal grants. Kokomo has appealed in court. In the meantime, FEMA has responded in a way that removed money from communities statewide. Monroe County was one of 15 counties planning to update its hazard mitigation plans this year before FEMA cut funding. Here’s Jim Comerford, the director of Emergency Management for Monroe County.

The funding from FEMA, Comerford says, would have helped Monroe County and the 14 others pay for an outside vendor to assist in the updating of our hazard mitigation plans.

Having an updated mitigation plan would become an issue if a disaster were to affect Monroe County. Comerford says FEMA requires an up-to-date plan before distributing disaster relief funds.

FEMA’s hazard mitigation grants and assistance will not be given to Indiana counties again until the 8 parcels of land that are currently part of Kokomo’s new baseball stadium return to open space, or until the matter is sorted out in court.

Anthem Data Breach Could Be Of Concern For The Employees Of Monroe County

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The recent data breach at Anthem Insurance may affect some residents who work for Monroe County. The Monroe County Council heard a presentation on the potential effects last week. Human Resources manager Nancy Panzarella and IT director Eric Evans presented information about the breach, which compromised the security of personal information of about 80 million people insured by Anthem. Anthem is the health care provider for county employees. Evans said it is hard to know exactly what information the hackers took because Anthem is not disclosing much information at this point.

Evans said the information obtained was enough to present concerns about identify theft. He said hackers may try to obtain even more information from the individuals whose data they obtained.

Council member Ryan Cobine asked about the effectiveness of recent training given to county employees. Cobine suggested testing the employees by creating a fake scam to see if they would fall for it. Evans asked Cobine about the suggestion. Evans said that it was an idea, but that he did not know if it would be appropriate for this situation. Cobine then expressed his concerns as the legality of the practice.

Panzarella said she had made several attempts to contact Anthem to find out more specifics regarding whose data had actually been stolen. She said the company has not told her anything more than what they have published on their website in response to the attack. Anthem has said it will make direct contact with individuals whose information has definitely been compromised.

A New Bill Has Passed The State Senate Which Aims To Better Protect Personal Data

Another bill that is still alive in the state legislature aims to protect residents’ financial and personal data from being stolen, disseminated, or being used without the consent of the data owner. The bill tightens restrictions on data collectors by dictating how the information may be collected stored and used. This bill aims to remedy the problem of online identity theft by having businesses delete information that is no longer required for business purposes and refrain from the selling of data that breaches users good faith. The bill passed the Senate unanimously last week and now awaits a final vote in the House.

IU Releases Updated Sexual Misconduct Policy

Indiana University released a new sexual misconduct policy Tuesday. The policy defines the term consent, explains the options available to victims of sexual assault, and lists a range of sanctions for those who are proven to have violated the rules.

IU spokesman Mark Land says the new policy combines aspects of the previous sexual harassment policy, human resources policies and legal compliance measures.

“We have a lot of rules and policeis in place but they’ve never been stitched together like this,” Land says.

Indiana University is among nine universities under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, for violating title nine protections against discrimination based on sex.

Land says the university takes issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence seriously and hopes that the updated policy will create a more supportive culture for victims seeking justice against their attackers.

“Obviously this issue is as important and as serious as it gets in the eyes of the University administration and community,” Land says.

A draft of the updated sexual misconduct policy was released to the public in the fall and more than one hundred and fifty comments were submitted.

A group of students, faculty, staff, and university administration then worked together to create the final version of the policy.

IU Increases Number Of Peace Corps Volunteers

For the second year in a row, IU Bloomington has increased its numbers of Peace Corp volunteers.

According to the Peace Corp’s annual list, IU is ranked 20th among large universities for producing volunteers.

It currently has 36 graduate students enrolled in the program, through the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the School of Education.

Peace Corps volunteers are stationed throughout the world and work on issues such as health, agriculture, environment and education. Most of the students enrolled through the School of Education teach English.

For most volunteers it’s their first experience in teaching. But as IU professor Faridah Pawan explains, they are still asked to take on the class as fully fledged teachers.

“They could be teaching any grade level according to the country’s needs,” Pawan says.

In order to face some of the challenges, the school of education has developed for the first time a fully online program. This allows for students to take their courses while onsite, but also is a means of support when problems arise in their teaching.

Pawan says volunteers know there is a person supporting them on the other side, only an email or a chat away.

“This is the first fully online program for the Peace Corps,” Pawan says, “We developed it to provide embedded and sustained support.”

The school of education has people currently stationed in Mongolia, Kyrgystan, Micronesia and Peru through the Peace Corps Program. Their first graduate, Joan Connors, did not fit the typical profile of a masters student. She came into the program at 60-years-old and graduated at 62. She helped teach English through the help of music.

According to Pawan, when they come back, many volunteers pursue careers in the same field in which they volunteered.

Opportunity to Hear Updates From Statehouse Representatives

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The next opportunity for local citizens to hear updates from their statehouse representatives will be this Saturday, March 7th in Bloomington’s City Hall. The League of Women Voters of Bloomington and Monroe County will host the panel discussion featuring state senators and representatives whose districts include Monroe County. This is the third in the series of legislative updates organized by the League of Women Voters throughout the time that the General Assembly is in session. Saturday’s discussion comes right after the legislative session “halftime,” when bills passed in the House and the Senate now must also be passed by the other half of the General Assembly.

Local Representative Eric Koch’s tax bill and Senator Mark Stoops transportation bill both made it out of their respective houses and remain “alive” this session. The General Assembly passes a two-year budget every-other year, and is also working this year to pass a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1st.

Teen Dating Awareness in Bloomington

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February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention month. Young people who experience dating violence are at a higher risk of substance abuse, depression, poor academic performance and future victimization. For the fourth consecutive year, organizations like Middle Way House in Bloomington, have reached out to teenagers to help them find the tools to build healthy relationships. Rene Llewellyn is a representative from Middle Way House.

“This month is set aside for discussion to try to encourage parents to talk to the teens, encourage educators, teachers to hold discussions on the topic,” says Llewellyn.

Llewellyn says Middle Way House has reached out to local teenagers in a variety of ways, from sending specialists to discuss the topic at schools to organizing meetings in the public library. She says that although culture, society and education play a role, the key to teaching health relationships lies at home, within the family. According to Llewellyn, parents should strive to be aware that sexual education is something that should not be ignored.

“An avoidance of the topic altogether can sometimes lead to the belief that an abusive relationship is a normal relationship,” Llewellyn also stated.

Llewellen says those parents who might be concerned about their childrens’ relationships can find advice from the US Department Health and Human Services website. As part of the activities organized my Middle Way House, a series of banners have been displayed around Bloomington. The banners convey messages proposed by teenagers. Llewellen says the banners were put together during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day activity.

“Our prevention team recruited over 40 teenagers.” She also says that the teens designed which messages should be put on the banners.

The banners were designed under the guidance of local artist Merridee LaMantia. They will be up until the first of March.

Debate Over How to Select Poll Members Ends Unresolved

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The Monroe County Election Board is debating how to recruit poll workers for local elections. Currently, recruitment is mostly up to representatives from the Republican and Democratic parties. The County Clerk’s Office takes over shortly before each election. But this system has resulted in Monroe County being consistently short-staffed leading up to elections. At a meeting last week County Clerk Linda Robbins and Republican Representative Bryan Lemonds advocated for the Clerk’s office to take over the responsibility of recruiting poll workers.

Once poll workers are recruited they work for the Election Board, not the individual parties. And Robbins said she hopes to recreate the work environment she first experienced when helping with elections. Robbins stated that the experience changed her life in the way that everyone worked together for a common goal.

Robbins had previously suggested that her office hire recruiters who would work under her supervision to find Democrat and Republican poll workers, but the Election Board at the time voted against that suggestion. Lemons was not on the Board the first time Robbins suggested the paid recruiting positions, and he said he would support that motion if she brought it up again. Democratic representative to the Election Board Lorraine Farrell said that she did not want to vote on the measure before consulting with the new chair of the local Democratic Party. Farrell says Democratic leadership has typically been opposed to in-house recruiting positions.

The Board agreed to table the issue and take it up the issue during their March meeting.

Increase In Water Rates Is Called For In Future Proposal

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Bloomington Utilities Director Pat Murphy says it’s time to increase water rates. During a staff report this week, Murphy told the Utilities Service Board it is time to look at the increase, even though a similar conversation stalled out last year. He said that they would be revisiting the research that has been done in the past to come forward with a proposal.

Five years ago water rates were increased more than 50 percent to accommodate a second water line to Bloomington’s water treatment plant.  Murphy says there are still infrastructure improvements needed and the profits from water bills will help fund the updates.

At the meeting the board also approved the 2014 interdepartmental agreement between the utility and the City of Bloomington, for the amount of one million five hundred, fourteen thousand dollars, a budget increase of five point five percent.

Prescription Drug Abuse Leads to a Southern Indiana HIV Outbreak

Today, State Health officials are warning of a rapidly spreading outbreak of HIV in the Southeastern portion of Indiana. Officials believe that prescription drug abuse of the injectable opioid Opana (oh-PAWN-uh) is responsible for the majority of 26 reported cases of HIV since mid-december.   According to State Health officials Opana is more potent per milligram than Oxycontin. Health Department Commissioner Jerome Adams issued a statement about the HIV outbreak and the steps being taken to address the problem. Adams said QUOTE “Because prescription drug abuse is at the heart of this outbreak, we are not only working to identify, contact and test individuals who may have been exposed, but also to connect community members to resources for substance abuse treatment and recovery.” To avoid dissemination of HIV, Health Officials recommend that Hoosiers get tested regularly for HIV and avoid high-risk behaviors such as sharing needles and having multiple sexual partners.

 

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