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Lotus Foundation Buys Old Fire Station For $1.00

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Last night the Bloomington Board of Public Works approved selling the old Rogers Street fire station to the Lotus Education and Arts Foundation for one dollar. Over the years, staff have consulted with other arts groups and artists interested in the building. The former fire station is at 105 South Rogers Street. Economic and Sustainable Development Director, Miah Michaelson noted Lotus will grow from being the sponsor of an annual weekend music festival to a year-round sponsor and venue for the arts in the community. The Board approved selling the station to the Lotus Foundation.

Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs Seeks Nominees

The Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs Awards is looking for nominees for their 5th annual awards ceremony. Viable candidates must be advocates in the Latino Community and exemplify leadership, initiative, advocacy, and dedication in Monroe county.There will be four categories of awards: The Latino Leader Award, Outstanding Latino High School Senior Award, Community Organization/Agency Award and The Latino Community Supporter Award.

Awards will be presented on September 15th at the Mathers Museum to kick off National Hispanic Heritage Month. Nominations must include name, address, telephone number, e-mail and the reason why the candidate merits the award. Nomination forms can be completed online at www.bloomington.in.gov/chla, or may be dropped off at Bloomington’s Community and Family Resources Department at City Hall. All submissions are due August 14th.

Board of Zoning Appeals Denies Brewer’s Request

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The control the city of Bloomington government exercises over housing near IU was demonstrated last week at a meeting of the city Board of Zoning Appeals. Local property owner Derk Brewer asked the Board for permission to have more than three unrelated adults live in his house on State Road 46. According to Planning and Transportation Director Tom Micuda, the request was unusual.

Brewer’s house is west of the commercial area at the intersection of State Road 46 and North Walnut, which is just northwest of the I.U. campus. Brewer plans to add two additional bedrooms to what is now a three bedroom house. It’s legal for Brewer to add on to the house, but Micuda says the city only allows three unrelated adults to live on properties with residential single family zoning.

The city asked Brewer to sign a commitment that he would not allow more than three unrelated adults to live in the house. The area has a history of houses being converted to student rentals. That was prior to the city’s introduction and enforcement of stricter zoning regulations. Brewer was also cited in 2011 for allowing too many people to live in other properties he owns. Assistant city attorney, Patty Mulvihill, says the city is within its rights to ask Brewer to sign the commitment.

The board voted unanimously to deny Brewer’s request. That means that in order to get a building permit, he will have to sign the commitment to allow no more than three unrelated adults to live in the house.

Fair Labor Initiative Gains Support of Local Restaurants

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The Bloomington Human Rights Commission is continuing to encourage fair labor practices in local restaurants. Since the Commission began the Fair Labor Initiative in December, the program has gained the support of more than 30 local eateries. Participating restaurants have pledged they will comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act, including minimum wage, overtime, tip-paying and record-keeping requirements. They also promise to work in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act by providing training, safety gear, and following poster requirements. Restaurants must also pledge to abide by equal employment laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment. And they must carry Unemployment insurance and comply with workers’ compensation requirements. The Director of Bloomington’s Human Rights Commission Barbara McKinney says recent efforts to get more restaurants signed up have included getting IU students involved.

The Fair Labor Initiative has decals for the fronts of establishments that participate. The decals are round with a yellow background and feature a knife, fork and spoon graphic, along with the words “This establishment affirms its compliance with fair labor practices.” The hope is that some customers will choose where to eat based on the presence of the decals.

Much of what the Fair Labor Initiative covers is already part of federal law. But McKinney says many of the laws are difficult to enforce in restaurants. She says that this program focuses on prevention and education. She says restaurants are better off learning to follow the law rather than deal with enforcement from federal regulators.

Any business interesting in learning more about the Fair Labor Initiative can contact Barbara McKinney at 812-349-3429.

Stafford Family Donates To Sycamore Land Trust

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Sycamore Land Trust has just announced a new addition to its more than eighty-four-hundred acres of preserved land in southern Indiana. The organization has been preserving land and providing environmental education for 25 years. Their most recent project is the “Stafford Family Preserve,” which is a 46 acre nature preserve next to Brown County State Park.

The land was donated by Jon Stafford and his family, who bought the land in 1985 and used it for weekend relaxation. Sycamore Land Trust communications director, Katrina Folsom, says the organization is thankful for the generosity of the Stafford family.  Folsom says the organization’s new property provides a good home for wildlife and a pleasant space for visitors.  The property will be open to the public once they have finished installing a new parking lot.

Experts Disagree On Effects of Fine Particles

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In other environmental news, a study conducted at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, or SPEA, is calling air pollution regulations into question. The study focuses on Fine Particles, also known as Particulate Matter, which is linked to asthma, lung cancer, and other respiratory impairments. Among the researchers for this study was John D. Graham, the dean of SPEA. Contrary to most research on particulate matter this new study suggests that fine particles do not cause premature deaths and that passing such regulations against this kind of pollution would be fiscally counterproductive. The researchers studied the effects of the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards as well as the Cross State Air Pollution Rule. They estimated that the lives saved from those regulations could be anywhere from zero to eighty thousand per year. None of the researchers responded to requests for comment from WFHB. American Lung Association administrator Angela Tin is taking issue with the study. She says research has proven that particulate matter does cause great harm to the heart and lungs.

Dean Graham’s research has been called into question in the past. He was formerly the Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under the George W. Bush administration. When he was being confirmed for that position, a group of 53 scholars published an open letter saying Graham’s methodology “discounts the real risks of well-documented pollutants such as dioxin and benzene, and makes use of extreme and highly-disputed economic assumptions” .

Gov. Pence Refuses To Comply With EPA

Earlier today Governor Mike Pence announced that Indiana would refuse to comply with the EPA’s proposed clean power plan. The Clean Power Plan calls for a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide levels across the country by 2030. Pence says that would mean the premature closure of coal-fired power plants in Indiana. Eighty percent of Indiana’s energy comes from coal, which is above the national average. 26,000 hoosiers work in the coal industry. Pence says Indiana reserves the right to use any legal means available to block the new rule from being implemented.

U.S. Senator Dan Coats, of Indiana, agrees with Pence. Coats claims the new proposal would drastically increase Hoosiers electricity rates and that the reduction in pollution is potentially negligible. The other U.S. senator from Indiana, Joe Donnelly, did not immediately issue a statement on the issue. Groups such as the Hoosier Environmental Council have advocated for the Clean Power Plan, saying Indiana is already experiencing some effects of climate change. The Council specifically mentions extended droughts, torrential rains, and extreme heat waves. The Council says that Indiana could be poised to be a major market for innovation in low-carbon technologies.

Public Continues Discussion of Kirkwood Criminal Activity in City Council Chambers

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A standing-room-only crowd gathered last night in the Bloomington City Council chambers to discuss recent concerns over crime on Kirkwood Avenue. The forum was a response to the owners of Nick’s English Hut and other downtown businesses who have complained about panhandling, drug use and other behaviors they say are bad for business. City Council member Steve Volan hosted the event. Volan says two different groups, students and the homeless, tend to be the subject of most complaints.

Volan invited Bloomington Human Rights Commission member Byron Bangert, Decarcerate Monroe County member Erin Marshall and Nick’s English Hut owner Susan Bright to speak. Bright is responsible for beginning the public discussion about downtown behavior last week. She sent a letter to local businesses titled “Bum Commerce” on Kirkwood. Last night, Bright apologized for using the word “bum”. But she suggested new legislation to target panhandlers.

Many at the forum said too much negative attention has been focused on homeless and impoverished residents. Marshall, from Decarcerate Monroe County, asked concerned citizens to examine what makes them fearful or upset about certain behaviors.

Several members of the audience made comments or asked questions of the panelists. Sam Frushour says he often walks around town because he is unable to drive.

Another speaker was a man named Rob, who says he is currently homeless. He had two suggestions for dealing with the issues downtown.

Volan told the group it would take more than simply the city government to address the issues businesspeople have mentioned. He pointed out that the County government, the state and Indiana University all set policies that affect downtown Bloomington.

New Marijuana Church To Test The Religious Freedom Act

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Indiana’s  First Church of Cannabis has found a home, despite marijuana use still being illegal in the state. The new church announced last night it is opening a location on the eastside of  Indianapolis at thirty-four-hundred South Rural Street. The church’s founder, cannabis enthusiast Bill Levin, refers to himself as the Minister of Love and Grand Pooba of the Church. Members of the church call themselves Cannataerians and say they follow The New Deity Dozen,  a list of twelve commandments Levin created.  Commandments include “don’t be an internet troll” and “cannabis, the healing plant, is our sacrament.” Levin says that his religion is not based on worshiping cannabis, rather it focuses on celebrating life, love, and good health.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act inspired Levin to create his church. He says he wanted to see what he could accomplish under the RFRA, which prohibits the government from infringing on certain religious practices. The Internal Revenue Service deemed the First Church of Cannabis  a nonprofit organization and granted the church tax-exempt status. Gifts to the church by donors can be deducted for tax purposes and the church itself is eligible for a property tax exemption in the state. The church has received considerable public support, and has received more than fifteen thousand dollars in donations on its Go Fund Me page.

The first service has been set for July first, the  same day that Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act becomes law. Levin says that the service will begin with a half-hour of music, followed by a thirty-five-minute service celebrating life. Levin says at the end of the service, worshippers will  “spark up”.  The church, which is expected to hold one-hundred-fifty to two-hundred members, is looking for volunteers to renovate the site.

Emily’s List And Glenda Ritz Are Out To Replace Mike Pence

The women’s political organization Emily’s List has announced that Governor Mike Pence is at the top of its twenty-sixteen election cycle targets.  Emily’s List seeks to get pro-choice Democratic women elected to office. The group has what it calls an On Notice list of sixteen incumbent Republicans at all levels of the government.  Pence is the first governor to be targeted in the upcoming election cycle. Emily’s List outlined several reasons for opposing Pence.  The organization disagrees with his signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Before it was amended, that bill would have effectively made it legal for businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. Pence also supported legislation to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding and he repeatedly opposed equal pay bills. Pence could have a female opponent in the twenty-sixteen election. State Superintendent for Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has announced she will seek the Democratic nomination for governor. If elected, Ritz would be the first woman governor of Indiana.

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