This week on The Strike Mic, an anonymous source offers speculation on the recent news that Indiana University will no longer offer a summer tuition discount for its Bloomington campus.
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The City of Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department is looking for individuals to fill two Special Member seats to serve two-year terms on the Environmental Resources Advisory Council, or ERAC.
The ERAC acts in an advisory capacity to the Board of Park Commissioners, on policy matters pertaining to the operation of city-managed natural areas or facilities.
To fill these positions, the ERAC specifically needs people who have expertise in the field of outdoor recreation and environmental education programs, and people who have expertise in natural resources management. Special member applicants must reside or own property in Monroe County. More information about the positions is available online, at Bloomington.in.gov/parks
Senator Brent Steele’s proposal to amend Indiana’s constitution to guarantee residents the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife passed on a 43 to 4 vote by the full Senate on Monday.
Steele’s Joint Resolution 9 provides that the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife is a valued part of Indiana’s heritage, and should be preserved for the public good. SJR-9 states that hunting and fishing are the preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.
This constitutional amendment does not limit the application of any law relating to trespass or property rights. 17 other states over the past several years have added the constitutional right to hunt and fish.
The Indiana government, along with seven other states, is considering bills in 2014 that propose the creation of a state constitutional amendment to protect the same right.
SJR-9 now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
The City of Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department has opened registration for residents to rent garden plots in the Willie Streeter Community Gardens and the Butler Park Community Gardens. Community Gardening Program Manager Robin Hobson says the program began in 1984 and has grown to 184 plots at the Willie Streeter location. Some of the plots are raised beds for accessible gardening and there is a community garden in Butler Park with 39 plots.
Hobson says the Parks and Recreation Department provides water, composting facilities, fencing, communal tools, and other services to help maintain the gardens. The gardens have parking located nearby, and both are located on Bloomington Transit bus routes.
The department offers scholarships for those in need, which covers 85 percent of cost remission for the gardening program.
Hobson says that these gardens provide individuals a place to grow their own food and learn from other gardeners.
“The community benefits from these plots because people can supplement their tables with the food they grow, providing themselves with the freshest and most local produce possible,” Hobson says, “They can also share gardening activities with other gardeners and learn from other peoples’ techniques.”
Parks and Recreation partners with Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard Food Pantry at some gardening locations. Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard reaches out to community members by offering youth gardening education, gardening classes, and gardening activities. Individuals who have rented plots in 2013 can renew their plots from now until Feb. 14. New gardeners, and anyone who would like to move to another gardening location, can begin registering on Feb. 18.
State legislators representing the Monroe County area gave their views on more than a dozen pieces of proposed legislation at a forum last Saturday.
The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County, which holds monthly legislative updates when the state legislature is in session.
State Senator Mark Stoops, as well as representatives Bob Heaton, Peggy Mayfield, Matt Pierce, and Eric Koch participated. The group was asked first about HJR-3, the measure to ban same-sex marriage in the Indiana Constitution. The question came from Bloomington resident Trish Kerle, who is also a host on the WFHB program Interchange.
“It is illegal to destroy a gun in Indiana, but it’s not illegal to limit a woman’s right to choose, nor to limit the rights of two adults to marry if they are the same gender,” Kerle said, “My question is to the representatives who voted in favor of HJR-3. What specific evidence do you have that my marriage to my partner will be detrimental to you or any of your constituents?”
Like many other issues, the support for the marriage amendment broke down along party lines.
The three Republicans — Heaton, Mayfield and Koch — all voted for the amendment. Heaton said he only wants to give voters the chance to decide on the issue in a referendum, which is required before an amendment can pass.
“As far as with you and your partner, I don’t care what two individuals do in their home,” Heaton said, “I’m being consistent with my message in that I will let the people to vote for it, or not, come this fall.”
Kerle tried to press Heaton further, because he didn’t provide the evidence she asked for, but the moderator stopped her.
Koch and Mayfield also declined to answer the question, saying it didn’t apply to the current debate over HJR-3.
“This question is not what the debate surrounding HJR-3 is about,” Koch said, “We’ve had a definition of marriage since the 80’s, that’s current law. The discussion surrounding HJR-3 is whether the people of Indiana should be able to use a mechanism given to them in their constitution to prevent that law from being overturned by the judicial branch, by unelected judges. So, the policy has been in place since the 1980’s, and that’s not what this discussion is about.”
Mayfield added that the process the amendment is going through is the topic of the discussion, not its merits or lacktherof.
The marriage amendment has passed the House of Representatives, but a portion of the text was removed. Unless the Senate changes the language back to its original form, the measure won’t be on the ballot next year.
The legislators were also asked about a bill that would require drug testing for people receiving benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Pierce opposed the bill, and he said similar measures in other states have been expensive and have led to very little discovered drug use.
“The saddest thing for me, is that I think the bill is based on an attempt to drum up the worst stereotypes people have about those on public assistance,” Pierce said, “Most people on public assistance are working hard, and they are the exact people my Republican friends like because they are out working hard and not just waiting for a hand-out. They are trying to get ahead.”
Heaton defended his support for the bill, saying he recently surveyed his constituents about the issue.
“The question was, ‘Do you believe Indiana, like some other states, should submit random drug testing as a requirement in receiving government assistance,” Heaton said, “81 percent said yes, and I know you don’t like to hear that, but that’s just who I represent and who I vote on behalf of.”
Karen Green-Stone, from Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan, asked the group about Medicaid expansion. So far Indiana has declined federal funding offered through the Affordable Care Act, which would expand Medicaid coverage to approximately 350,000 people who have incomes too low to afford insurance through the federal exchange. Stoops said the state loses millions of dollars a day by refusing the expansion.
“In a state where we have high unemployment rates still, we are actually turning our back on 30,000 healthcare and other related jobs that this Medicaid expansion would have brought to Indiana,” Stoops said.
Mayfield did not say she was opposed to Medicaid expansion, but she said she supported Governor Mike Pence’s delay in accepting the funding.
“Governor Pence made that decision early on and I think that he has a cautious approach,” Mayfield said, “I think that there is something between the broad expansion of Medicaid and maybe a more limited expansion using just HIP, and honestly I think that’s what they’re investigating and I think they need to continue that.”
HIP is the Healthy Indiana Plan, which provides subsidies for some low-income residents to buy private insurance. There is a long waiting list for the program, but Pence has proposed expanding it to cover more people.
Pierce said there are problems with that approach, but he is willing to negotiate with conservatives on the issue.
“I said I think that there are a lot of politics involved with this is because it’s an Obama program and a lot of voters don’t like Obama or the program,” Pierce said, “I think that the Governor knows that something needs to change in order to get this done. I expect something will happen before the end of the year, which is unfortunate because people won’t have coverage. It’s not tenable to be an island of the uninsured.”
The next legislative update sponsored by the League of Women Voters is scheduled for March 1 at 9:30 a.m, in the Bloomington City Council chambers.
The Indiana office of utility consumer counselor is accepting public comment regarding a Vectren Energy request to increase utility rates for improvements in the transmission and storage of natural gas in Indiana. The OUCC is a separate agency from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission which oversees monopoly utilities in Indiana. When a regulated utility seeks a rate increase it brings its case to the IURC, which is required to balance utility interests with consumer interests. The OUCC has a team of attorneys economists and engineers to file testimony and make recommendations on behalf on consumers. Vectren has filed a request seeking approval of a seven year plan for infrastructure improvements and approval of rate adjustments every six months to reflect the costs of the project. OUCC spokesman
All consumer comments are reviewed by OUCC’s technical staff and attorneys, and the testimony of all public comments are filed into the formal case record as evidence. While government regulated utility companies do have the right under Indiana law to pass costs of infrastructure improvements on to the consumer, the IURC and the OUCC are tasked with making sure those rates remain fairly balanced.
Regulations on utility services began when nationwide railway networks were being developed. Utility companies are uniquely regulated because the unique nature of delivering their “product” typically ensures a monopoly on that service, and an opportunity for abusing that monopoly if the government does not ensure that prices remain fair.
Consumers can view Vectren utility’s full testimony and exhibits online on the OUCC website, under the heading “We are reviewing Vectren gas infrastructure plans.” Written comments can be submitted directly on the website, or by email, fax, and postal mail.
The City of Bloomington is seeking feedback from the public on a new update to its ADA Transition Plan, as part of a regular process to comply with the requirements and intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA requires public agencies with more than fifty employees to maintain an up-to-date Transition Plan, which they say should survey accessibility barriers in programs and services and provide a plan to remove them. Bloomington prepared its first ADA Transition Plan in 1990, and has updated it several times since.
Barbara McKinney, Director of Human Rights and Assistant City Attorney for Bloomington says sidewalks and curbs often become a focus, due in part to shifting requirements. Public feedback, she says, is helpful for many of the small details around town that those working on the update might miss.
When cities like Bloomington don’t reach compliance for ADA regulations, McKinney says, the Department of Justice handles the response.
A draft version of the update is available now on the City of Bloomington’s website, at Bloomington.in.gov/planning.
Public comments will be collected, via email or by mail, until February 28th.
As many as 400,00 Hoosiers will not be getting new Medicaid health care coverage, despite efforts from State Senator Karen Tallian to expand the program. Her proposal was turned down and blocked on a party line vote last Monday.
“We have proposed a compromise plan. It is a plan that’s been proposed by Republican states and approved by the Democratic administration, and it’s generally known as the Premium Assistance Plan. Very simply, it takes federal dollars and uses them to buy private insurance policies for people who are in the Medicaid eligibility range,” said Tallian.
Tallian began her proposal by mentioning the people of Indiana and their thoughts on Medicaid expansion. Expanding the program to include more Hoosiers, she said, should be one the most pressing issues to be considered by the Indiana General Assembly.
“Medicaid expansion means insurance for 400,000 people,” said Tallian. “Medicaid expansion means 30,000 jobs. And Medicaid expansion means bringing Indiana’s share of the federal tax dollars back to Indiana to be spent for healthcare for Hoosiers.”
Some other states, such as Arkansas and Iowa, have approved programs similar to the one Senator Tallian proposed.
Locals joined demonstrators nationwide to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. Participants held signs and listened as speakers led by Jack Brubaker warned of climate change and other environmental hazards of the tar sands process for extracting oil. The Bloomington Pledge of Resistance group that is spearheading action in protest of the pipeline has a Facebook group at Bloomington no kxl. You can hear the full report Tuesday, February 4th on the Daily Local News at 5:30pm.
The League of Women Voters will sponsor a free, public legislative update this Saturday in Bloomington.
“What we do is invite legislators to come and introduce what’s happening in state legislature right now,” President of the League, Doris Wittenberg, says, “They talk about the bills being brought forth and the interest of those particular legislators. They tell us what they think about what they’re sponsoring or what they think about what’s going on in state legislature. There will also be a question and answer session”
Wittenberg said that there is no topic, but that this event is an update on what’s been going on tin the legislature this month.
“It’s an opportunity for people to hear what the legislators have to say and what they’ve been working on,” Wittenberg says, “It gives the community an opportunity to ask questions about whatever issues the legislators should be addressing.”
The Legislative Update will take place Saturday, Feb. 1, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the Bloomington City Council Chambers Showers Building. The next update is scheduled to take place on March 1.