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Senators Donnelly and Coats join US Senate to pass Victims Protection Act

Yesterday Indiana Senators Joe Donnelly and Dan Coats joined the rest of the United States Senate in the unanimous passage of the Victims Protection Act of 2014.

The purpose of the bill is to provide for additional enhancements of the sexual assault prevention and response activities of the Armed Forces.

However, the provisions passed in yesterday’s vote only strengthen the already existent Victims Protection Act, whereas the Military Justice Improvement Act that fell five votes shy of passage late last week, specifically addressed the needs of sexual assault victims in the U.S. military.

Donnelly and Coats split their support for the Military Justice Improvement Act, with Donnelly supporting the bill authored by fellow democrat Kirsten Gillibrand of New york.

A significant difference between the two bills is the oversight of the prosecution of sexual assault cases. The Military Justice Improvement Act would remove the oversight from the army chain of command.

During Senate Armed Services Committee hearings this summer, Donnelly repeatedly expressed concern with the current system that tasks commanding officers with disciplining their own troops.

“What concerns me is that this is a personal violation of somebody,” Donnelly says, “It is a risk that could destroy a person’s soul and their emotional state. In some cases, that’s by a person who they look to as a leader, or a commander, and that they look to with a sacred trust.”

While the Victims Protection act of 2014 does not address the imbalance of power in sexual assault cases, steps such as eliminating the “good soldier” defense and increasing the victim’s council, did pass into law.

Indiana passes bill to increase local recycling effort

A bill that will increase recycling efforts in Indiana was passed on Tuesday. Indiana State Senator Mike Stoops, who has supported House Bill 1183, talks about what spurred its creation.

“The idea is to identify recycling that is being thrown away with trash,” Stoops says, “We had a study committee that identified a significant amount of recycling in Indiana being thrown into a landfill. There was a lot of discussion about the fact that Indiana was lagging behind other states to turn that material into useful resources.”

The bill will require Indiana businesses and recycling centers to report all recycling activity to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Recyclers of municipal waste can choose to report annually or quarterly, and non-municipal waste recyclers can be report voluntarily. This will be required starting in 2015. It establishes a goal for Indiana to reduce 50 percent of municipal waste by 2019.

“Indiana had a goal like this in the past,” Stoops says, “We didn’t take any steps to get to that goal then. A couple years ago they completely eliminated the recycling goal under Mitch Daniels.”

Senator Stoops says the specific types of products Indiana will be recycling aluminum cans, and that these are beneficial to aluminum companies as well, because they don’t need a lot of processing to recycle the aluminum, don’t need to spend money on mining aluminum ore, and that aluminum doesn’t degrade, so it is always recyclable.

Both Senator Stoops and Press Secretary of the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus Sean Mobley believe this bill will create thousands of jobs in Indiana.

“One estimate is that if we do a better job of getting the recycling out of the waste stream, we could be looking at 10,000 jobs,” Stoops says.

This bill will go into effect along with Senate Bill 324, which bans the disposal of mostly recyclable products.

Any product that is entirely, or almost entirely, made of paper, cardboard, glass, aluminum, or plastic is not to be disposed of in a final disposal facility. Both bills will go into effect on July 1.

Shallow lake fish affected by heavy ice and snow

As Spring approaches, owners of shallow ponds and lakes will have to watch out for fish kills due to the accumulation of snow and ice this winter. The lakes and ponds of Indiana are currently covered in up to twenty inches of thick ice. Neil Ledet, District Fisheries Biologist in northeastern Indiana, says this is a result of the long winter.

“This is a pretty unusual winter for us,” Ledet says, “We had early ice, a lot of snow, and with that ice thickness, there isn’t a lot of light penetration to get to the aquatic plants. We’ll see low oxygen levels in lakes and ponds. It could be a tough situation for shallow lakes and ponds”

Shoveling up snow will allow light to penetrate the ice, but Ledet says that once this becomes an issue there’s not much anyone can do about it. He explains what pond and lake owners CAN do if the same thing happens next winter.

“In the future, lake owners could make sure there aren’t a lot of weeds covering the lake before the winter comes,” Ledet says, “The important thing is that if people lose all of their pond, they’re going to want to start over with an appropriate pond stocking program. We have a pond management booklet to help that.”

Ledet says that fish kills occurred more often during the 1970’s and 80’s, when winters were a little more severe. If Lake residents and anglers discover fish kills on public waters they can contact their district fisheries biologist online at wildlife.in.gov.

“Not So Fast” Food: Mayor Attempts Limits on New Downtown Chain Restaurants

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Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan is planning another attempt to limit the number of chain restaurants downtown. The mayor says he wants the City Council and the Plan Commission to approve an ordinance that would require an applicant wanting to open a standardized restaurant in two districts of the downtown to seek conditional approval from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals. The city defines a standardized restaurant as one which is contractually required by a franchisor to offer standardized menus, ingredients, food preparation, uniforms, logos, or exterior design. Mayor Kruzan offers a hypothetical question to listeners, to justify his proposal.

There are eleven conditional use ordinance provisions for development standards that the Zoning Board can use to evaluate applications for such things as historic preservation, bed and breakfast businesses, some restaurants, and adult care and child care facilities, plus other regulations applying to signage, building height, density, and architectural standards. Mayor Kruzan says the homogenization of the character of downtown Bloomington is not in the community’s interests. He responds to anticipated critics of his proposal, and the expected argument that his proposal limits property owners rights and is an unwarranted intervention in the free market.

Mayor Kruzan says that most communities have development regulations that reflect the priorities of their respective community. Furthermore, the proposed regulations would only apply to two districts: courthouse square and restaurant row. The mayor acknowledges that the desire to make the downtown area and its restaurants unique is part of the larger promotion of the city’s art and entertainment offerings, reflected in the city’s recent designation of the downtown BEAD district. However, the proposed ordinance could not be applied to the BEAD, as it is not a legal district. Mayor Kruzan concluded by outlining the expected process and timeline for his proposal to become law.

The mayor says that there could be as many as six public hearings for the public to attend. The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce announced their opposition to the proposal today, stating that the ordinance would restrict ‘standardized’ restaurants from locating in some portions of the downtown.

‘Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense’ in Indiana Fight Bill That Would Allow Guns on School Property

The Indiana Chapter of an organization called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is fighting the passage of Senate Bill 229.

The bill would allow the carrying of firearms on school property, including in buses. It would also allow for firearms to be carried to off-campus school events such as graduation, prom, and field trips.

Nicki McNally, the Indiana chapter leader of the organization, believes that having more guns more places, especially where there are children, is not the right thing to do. She says it is extremely dangerous and will increase the risk of gun related incidents occurring.

The group also says the bill need some clarification, like whether or not a bus-driver would be allowed to carry a firearm while transporting students. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has a goal to create awareness and support for common sense gun reforms.

McNally advises fellow Hoosiers to send messages to Speaker Brian Bosma and the House Public Policy Committee in order to prevent the passage of this bill.

Habitat for Humanity Pushing to Develop on Controversial Land

The Bloomington Plan Commission voted February 24 to fast-track approval for a 35 home subdivision in what is currently an urban forest along the B-Line Trail.

Habitat for Humanity is seeking to develop the wooded area north of downtown between the B-Line and Reverend Ernest D. Butler Park.

Kerry Thompson, the president of Monroe County Habitat for Humanity, said her organization is running out of spaces to build in Bloomington.

“The largest obstacle for Habitat in recent years has been land,” Thompson said, “There simply are not enough infill lots remaining in the city of BLoomington to meet the needs of families. There is no affordable home ownership option close to the city center.”

The project would require the organization to cut down 64 percent of the trees in the area, which concerned many neighbors who attended the meeting. Some also questioned the high density of the proposed neighborhood and the revelation that soil is contaminated with lead, coal ash and other pollutants.

Marti Crouch, a biologist who lives near the site, said some might undervalue the wooded area in its current state.

“We have very little of that type of diverse native, urban forest in contiguous pieces in our city,” Crouch said, “I’m not sure what the definition of infill is, but I’m concerned that if the planning department thinks that every little green space needs to be turned into buildings and structures because that will somehow save outer areas from being developed, I’d like to see some facts on that.”

Crouch was referring to comments by local developer Matt Press, who described himself as a proponent of “good urban infill the right way.”

Press said denying Habitat this development would just force it to build houses on the outskirts of Bloomington.

“Nothing in the real world happens in a vacuum,” Press said, “The homeowners are already here in our community. If we say no to this project they will either continue to live in sub-standard housing or they will move into a new Habitat home, now likely built on a larger lot on the edge of town. That lot, in turn, would displace a market-rate home that will inevitably be built on yet a bigger piece of land on yet another former farm or forest.”

One major dispute involved Habitat’s request that the commission waive the requirement for a second hearing on the development.

Thompson said the organization wanted to speed up the city’s approval process so it could clear the forest by an April 1 deadline.

“Our request was made after we discovered that the Indiana bat could come to roost in the area,” Thompson said, “We had no intention to rush this process, in fact we have engaged pretty fully in the public comment process. We build by federal environmental regulations and unfortunately we have never encountered this stipulation for tree-clearing prior to April 1.”

Federal guidelines prohibit clearing trees from April through October to prevent disturbing roosting Indiana bats, which are endangered.

But several neighbors said they had just recently heard about Habitat’s plans, and they want more time to consider the implications of the new subdivision. Ruth Beasley was one of those neighbors.

“Finally, tonight, I’m getting bits and pieces of what I consider very complicated information,” Beasley said, “I want to read the documents for myself before I make a decision. I too have worked on Habitat houses. I love my Habitat neighbors. My daughter’s best friend has worked so hard to get her Habitat House. But I feel cheated in time to think, time to talk to my neighbors about what they think and I strongly urge you not to do away with the second hearing.”

Despite concerns from neighbors, the commission voted to waive the second hearing and forward the development to the City Council.

The council will hold two meetings on the issue before voting to approve to reject the proposal.

New Area Code Coming to Bloomington Area

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A new ten-digit area code system will be implemented for residents in Indiana’s 812 area code region on September 6, 2014.

On March 1, residents will still be able to use the 812 area code, but should start using 10 digits when they make a call.

Spokesman for the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor Anthony Swinger explains why a new area code change is being implemented.

“It’s important to keep in mind that 930 is just being added to the 812 area,” Swinger says, “Anyone with an 812 number right now will keep his or her number after the change. The 930 numbers are going to be added after October 6. The reason for the new area code is because the 812 area code, which has stayed unchanged since 1947, is close to running out of numbers. The industry projects that in the middle of 2015, 812 will no longer have any numbers for new phones and customers. So, it’s necessary to add the new area code so there’s a large enough pool of numbers.”

The dialing system will help usher in the new 930 area code, which will take effect in the fall.

The new area code is being added using what is called the overlay method. Swinger says this method has been used by 37 states in the U.S. for area code change-overs since 2008.

The discussion to use an overlay or a split method was a year-long case that the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission ordered in July 2013.

After the case closed, the IURC decided that the overlay method would be the least disruptive. Swinger explains how the new system will affect residents in the 812 region.

“The changes will affect everyone to one degree or another,” Swinger says, “The main way the changes will affect folks in Bloomington and south central Indiana will be the need for 10 digit dialing for local calls. Instead of just dialing 7 digits, it will be necessary to dial 812 than the seven digits. What begins Saturday is a six month period to adjust to 10 digit dialing. If the old habit comes up in this grace period, the number will still go through.”

On September 6, residents can continue to use the 812 area code but will have to use ten digits to make a call. When October 6 rolls around, residents will have to begin using the new 930 area code and continue to use ten digits to place a call.

IU Students Form ‘March Madness’ Volunteer Group to Spread Information on Obamacare

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The Indiana University and Ivy Tech students of the Affordable Care Act Volunteers of Monroe County are starting a new campus organization.

The group is launching a March healthcare campaign called “Madness” that will help students learn more about health insurance and the Affordable Care Act.

David Meyer, president of the ACA Volunteers of Monroe County, says this campaign will have campus-wide events, but want to focus on social media.

“We have a couple of students who are co-leads on the campaign,” Meyer says, “They divide up the responsibilities between social media and public events and direct outreach. Since so many students are deeply involved in social media, that’s a major way to provide them with information.  It’s still in the early stages, but we’re focused on getting this going right now because the deadline for signing up for coverage is March 31.”

Meyer says the cost of health insurance may be less expensive than the penalty students will have to pay if they do not get health insurance by March 31.

Students who are claimed as a dependent on their parents taxes will not have to pay the penalty, but their parents will.

Meyer says he hopes the campaign will help answer questions about the ACA that differ from questions that older adults may have about healthcare.

“We have a couple of students who are co-leads on the campaign,” Meyers says, “They divide up the responsibilities between social media and public events and direct outreach. Since so many students are deeply involved in social media, that’s a major way to provide them with information.  It’s still in the early stages, but we’re focused on getting this going right now because the deadline for signing up for coverage is March 31.”

The next event for the ACA Volunteers of Monroe County is the Health Insurance Community Fair. The fair is next Thursday, March 6 at the Monroe County Library from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Meyer says the event will give students and community members a chance to pair with trained volunteers that will help them answer questions they have concerning the ACA.

Aerial Photos of Bloomington Approved for Property Assessment

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The Monroe County Commission approved a $271,000 contract on February 21 with a company that plans to take aerial photographs of the entire County.

The company, Pictometry International Corporation, would fly over the area to take high-resolution pictures for the County Assessor’s office.

Assessor Judy Sharp said one way her staff uses images like these is to detect changes in properties, which can affect their assessed value and in turn their property taxes.

“This is the third time we’ve done this,” Sharp said, “We fly over every three years because Monroe County is such a fast-growing community. In three years, you have a lot of new product out there. This company can actually tell us the changes, good or bad, to a piece of property”

Sharp said the contract, which covers three years, includes a stipulation that prevents the public from accessing the photographs.

“It is strictly in the assessor’s office,” Sharp said, “The city police could use this, but it isn’t a tool just anyone use because it’s licensed. You can go online at our 39 degrees GIS website which does something very similar, but it isn’t what we use.”

The commission voted unanimously to approve the agreement.

Water Pumping Project Finishes $250,000 Under Budget

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The construction of a new water pumping station came in at about $260,000 under budget, according to officials at a Bloomington Utilities Service Board meeting on Feb. 24.

Michael Hicks, the Utilities Department’s capital projects manager, submitted a change order on the $6.5 million project.

“The project is complete and with the approval of this change order we can close out the project with our contractor,” Hicks said.

The construction was performed by the Orleans-based company Layne Incorporated, but the engineering was done by the Kansas-based company Black and Veatch.

Adam Westerman, from Black and Veatch, said the project did not cost as much as expected, in part because the contractor didn’t spend its full budget for items like office supplies, equipment, and furniture.

Board member Jason Banach asked Westerman about the city paying for a contractor’s supplies.

“Is this something we typically pay for, their pens and pencils?” Banach asked.

“We’ve handled it different ways historically, but for the past eight years we’ve taken on the cost of that,” Westerman said, “And anything left comes back to the city.”

The board later voted unanimously to approve the change order.

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