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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.

 

Senate Bill Calling for Restrictions on Abortion

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An Indiana senate bill could place further restrictions on abortion in the state. Senate Bill 334 would make it illegal to perform an abortion if the decision is based on a fetus’s sex or disability. Writers of the bill say they are trying to prevent discriminatory abortions.

A healthcare provider could face wrongful death and medical malpractice charges if found knowingly performing an abortion for a woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy because of the fetus’ sex or a potential disability.Disabilities specifically mentioned in the bill include scoliosis, Dwarfism, albinism, amelia, Down syndrome and any type of physical or mental disease or disfigurement. Many abortions rights advocates say the bill is troubling.

Betty Cockrum, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said Senate Bill 334 interferes with the sacred doctor-patient relationship.

“It gets government into an arena where it shouldn’t be at all,” Cockrum said.

Cockrum also said that while abortions based on a fetus’s sex may be an issue overseas, it is not a concern in Indiana. But mental health and disabilities are. Cockrum says parents of children with disabilities need help, but she says government funding for disability services would help more than this proposed law.

“The services to families who have developmentally challenged children are underfunded, and if members of the legislature see it fit to impose government intrusion into this decision making, they sure ought to step up and fully fund services,” said Cockrum.

President of Indiana Right to Life, Mike Fichter, did not return a call for comment today. He supports the bill. Fichter was quoted in the Indianapolis Star, saying Indiana Right to Life doesn’t “believe an unborn child should be discriminated against based on disability or sex.” A Senate committee approved the bill last week and it now awaits a vote before the full Senate.

 

New teen services and digital creativity center

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The new teen services and digital creativity center at the Monroe County Public Library is set to open in a matter of days. Kevin MacDowell, the manager of the center, gave an update on the status of the center at a Library Board meeting yesterday. MacDowell said the space would be virtually ready for a Friends of the Library event on Saturday. He says the space will be all in place by this Saturday, and completely functional within the next week.

The center has been in the works for years and it has been a big part of the renovations happening at the Library in recent months. MacDowell actually started at the Library in May. He said much of his work so far has been establishing partnerships in the community. He said he also started a program called Drop In and Hang Out. He says this will give teens an opportunity to give their feedback on what they would like to see in this space.

The teen services and digital creativity center will be open to youth ages 12 to 19. MacDowell said much of his staff’s focus will be on establishing connections with the teens who use the center. He says mentors that visit with the teens will be able to give better feedback on what to include in the center.
There will be books in the teen center as well. MacDowell said other library patrons will be able to access those books.

40-acre subdivision construction delayed

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The Monroe County Plan Commission delayed a vote Tuesday on whether to allow a new 40-acre subdivision west of Bloomington. Jackie Scanlan, senior planner with the county, recommended the commission approve new zoning for the subdivision, despite what she acknowledged were concerns from neighbors about drainage issues on the property. The Monroe County Drainage Board also approved of the plan for the development, known as Stonechase Bend. Drainage engineer Todd Stevenson gave a detailed explanation of the watershed complications on the property, including karst features,numerous sinkholes and ecoli contamination due to the current use of the land as a cow pasture. The company Beazer Homes is looking to develop the subdivision. Beazer Homes has overseen other subdivisions in the area and new board member Bernard Guerrettaz asked about the relationship between the various developments.

“The common threat is its Beazer” says Bernard Gerates “Before StoneChase the Water was clean” says Todd Steveson

Board member Scott Wells brought up the controversial history of Beazer Homes, which was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for accounting fraud beginning in 2007. David Compton, the president of Beazer Homes Indiana, said that no one who was named in the investigation is still with the company.

Scott Wells says “We don’t own a mortgage company anymore” “We saw was a huge problem”

Board Member John Irvine talked about the impact on future development if the area is not rezoned and what it might mean for other subdivisions already approved in the county.

John Irvine says “We have 8- 10 years of supply out there called zombie subdivisions”

Compton said the particular lot in question already has the infrastructure needed to become a successful subdivision, including roadway access for fire safety, large water lines to support a public sewage system, and the benefit of being adjacent to amenities such as the karst farm greenway.

“They have to compete” “If they screwed up in their location, they will fail” says Compton

The petitioner asked for a continuance and a second hearing regarding the rezone proposal. Members of the public who were present to speak about the proposal agreed to return at a future meeting. Due to scheduling conflicts during the week of spring break in March, the hearing for the Stonechase Bend proposal was postposed to the Plan Commission Meeting on April 21st.

Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Financial Request Granted

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The Monroe County Storm Water Management Board allocated half of their yearly Stormwater Education budget during a meeting last week. The Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District was awarded twenty five thousand dollars last year and requested the same amount this year to put toward educational programing. Todd Stevenson, the drainage engineer for the Monroe County Highway department, submitted his recommended budget to the board, which reduced funds to the Soil and Water Conservation District to nine thousand dollars. Stevenson was not present at the meeting last week and a motion was made to table the discussion until next month when he could explain his concerns. Petitioner Jeff Bailey, chairmen of the Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District, expressed disappointment that the discussion has been repeatedly postponed.

Board member Patrick Stoffers stood up for the petitioners, saying the requested funds are available. He pointed out the board has approved other, more expensive projects without much debate. Board Member Julie Thomas said it wasn’t about the money, but that the board needed a clearer explanation of Stevenson’s concerns regarding the allocation of the educational funds.

The Storm Water Management District currently holds a cash balance of more than 2 million dollars and has yet to collect the storm water fee from residents this year. Stoffers made a motion to grant the Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District the full twenty five thousand dollars that it was requesting, The motion passed 3-1.

IU Professor David Baker To Be Honored With Black History Month Living Legend Award

A lifetime combining a love of music and public service has won an IU professor the 2015 Black History Month Living Legend award. David Baker has spent decades exploring and excelling in many facets of music. A gifted composer and musician, Baker has penned over 2,000 pieces and been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy, and has performed all over the world. As a conductor, Baker has been at the helm of several musical enterprises, and currently serves as the conductor and artistic director for the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks orchestra. As an educator, Baker is the president of the International Association of Jazz Educators, a distinguished professor of Jazz and Chairman of the Jazz Department at IU’s Jacobs School of Music. Baker’s long resume of public service also includes his roles as senior consultant for music programs at the Smithsonian, being a member of the National Council on the Arts and the American Symphony League Board of Directors. Some of Baker’s notable awards include a Lifetime Achievement Award, Jazz Educational Hall of Fame Award, and Downbeat Magazine’s New Star Award. Baker will be honored at the City of Bloomington’s Black History Month gala on February 28th at the Hilton Garden Inn at 245 N. College Ave.

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