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Bloomington City Council Indicates Possible Significant Changes to Downtown Parking

The Bloomington City Council has indicated it may make significant changes to how it manages parking downtown. At a meeting last week there were two proposal packages. City Clerk Regina Moore summarized the first, from Council Member Steve Volan.

Moore summarizes, “This is to improve parking management in the downtown by imposing a maximum charge for on-street metered parking, setting forth actual times and fees in an amended schedule, providing a period of free parking in all garages, and establishing a fee discount and waiver program to be provided by a new parking commission.”

Volan says approximately two million dollars was collected from the new meters during the first year of their introduction. He says revenue was divided almost equally between cash versus credit card payments. Volan introduced his proposal by first framing it in what he called a mission statement for the City’s parking meter program.

Volan said, “I don’t think that we’ve actually defined what our goal is for our parking system so I have offered a few suggestions…we want to incentivise diversity and fairness for populations who use the downtown that have unique needs. And also consider that the excess revenue when we are not using it to pay for the cost of parking itself, to use it to increase the economic and social sustainability of the downtown.”

Volan’s proposal would change meter hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.. Currently the meters run from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. He also recommended keeping the dollar per hour charge for meters in the downtown core, while reducing the charge to fifty cents for meters on the periphery of the core. He suggested offering three hour free parking at the Morton Street Garage and allowing parking fee waivers for volunteers of non-profits. After considerable discussion on Volan’s proposal, Council member Darryl Neher introduced his proposal for changes in the city parking policy. City Clerk Moore summarized that proposal.

Moore explains, “This is in regard to shortening the hours of enforcement on street metered parking, eliminating the credit card convenience fee for meter use, authorizing the mayor to declare parking holidays, and extending hours of enforcement to Lot 9 which is the 4th street garage.”

Council member Volan pointed out that his proposal and the one from Council member Neher are complementary. A special session of the City Council has been scheduled for this Wednesday to discuss the parking issue further.

Increasing Number of HIV Cases in Southeastern Indiana

The reported number of HIV cases in Southeastern Indiana has increased to 106. That’s up from 89 declared cases just four days earlier.

Those numbers are all from the State Department of Health. The department has helped establish what it calls a One-Stop Shop in Scott County, where many of the cases have been discovered.

There is also a new clinic there as well as a public awareness program titled ‘You Are Not Alone.’ A 30-day needle exchange program opened in Scott County on April 4.

An Executive Order by Governor Mike Pence has suspended Indiana Code regarding needle exchange in Scott County, allowing clean needles to be freely given and dirty needles to be turned in. More than a thousand clean needles have already been distributed.

Construction on I-69 Starts Soon

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Construction of section 5 of I-69 on the west side of Bloomington will begin this month. In conjunction with this start, the Bloomington Board of Public Works was asked last week to grant a six-month noise permit to Isolux Corsan, for night-time work along Section 5 of the new interstate. Isolux Corsan is the lead contractor on the 21-mile section of the project, which runs from Rockport Road to just south of Martinsville.

“It would be a six month permit, however, it would be in effect on a monthly basis,” Corsan explains. “It would automatically renew, unless there were issues.”

The Board approved the noise permit subject to monthly reviews, a night-time ban on the use of jack hammers, pile drivers, and hoe rams, and minimization of vehicle back-up sounds. The permit will run from April 8th until October 8th. The spokesperson for the contractor noted that sound barriers between residences along the corridor and the construction zone would be built in conjunction with the road work.

Mayor Candidate John Hamilton Holds Fundraiser in D.C.

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The race for mayor of Bloomington took one candidate six hundred miles from City Hall last night.

John Hamilton, one of three Democratic candidates for mayor, held a fund raiser at Mandu Restaurant in Washington, D.C., about a mile from the U.S. Capitol building. The event was co-hosted by several prominent Democrats, including some high-profile lobbyists and public officials. Hamilton told WFHB that while the fundraiser was held far from Bloomington, the crowd had ties to Indiana.

“There is a regular group of Hoosiers who have transplanted to D.C….and welcome Hoosier candidates of many kinds to talk,” Hamilton said. “They asked whether I would do it and I said, ‘Sure.’”

Among the co-hosts listed for the event was Brad Queisser, a lobbyist with mCapitol Management in Washington. mCapitol did $2.6 million of lobbying work last year for unions, cities and companies. That included $100,000 of work for Crowe Horwath, an accounting and consulting firm that frequently contracts with the Bloomington city government.

Another co-host was Joel Riethmiller, a lobbyist whose firm did $220,000 of work last year for the Cook Group, a medical device company based in Bloomington.

When asked if he would accept campaign contributions from lobbyists, Hamilton reiterated his pledge not to accept money directly from corporations.

“I don’t accept any money from a corporation or a PAC (political action committee) which is focused on a particular issue,” Hamilton said. “As long as it’s a human being that is supporting my cause for progressive values and good jobs and strong public education…I’ll take support from that individual.”

Other co-hosts of the fund raiser last night included Anne Andrews, the U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica, and Ron Klain, an attorney who President Obama appointed as Ebola Response Coordinator amid the beginning of the disease outbreak last year.

So far, Hamilton is the only one of the three Democrats running for mayor to acknowledge holding a fund raiser outside Indiana. But he’s not the only one to accept out-of-state contributions to his campaign. Darryl Neher is another of the three candidates.

“I’ve accepted money from out of state, but its from close friends, people whom I have know for years,” Neher said.

Andy Downs, with the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, said it’s not unusual to see candidates for local office taking campaign money from far away.

“If, for example, you went to college outside of the state, you develop a network of friends who might want to support you when you’re running for office,” Downs explains. “What people begin to question is when you go to raise money outside the state, and you’re doing it in a lobbyist’s office or you’re doing it in a law firm…and then people start to think, ‘OK, wait a minute, those folks have obvious interests beyond their person interests in you as an individual, is this going to cause us a problem down the road?’”

The third candidate for mayor, John Linnemeier, says he has accepted no money from outside Indiana. Linnemeier says he’s only raised about $2,000 for his campaign so far. He says the candidates should not have to focus so much on money.

“I don’t even have a tab on my website that tells you how to donate,” Linnemeier said. “I mean, how many people are in Bloomington? We’re all pretty much one degree of separation from each other. I just think it’s absolutely unnecessary. And what’s worse than that is it has the possibility of corruption or the perception of it.”

So far, there are no publicly-available documents showing exactly how the mayoral candidates have been paying for their campaigns. That changes next week, when candidates are required to declare all of their campaign contributions and expenses.

A 30-Day Needle Exchange Program Is Established In Response To The HIV Outbreak In Scott County

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Health officials have accepted 300 used needles and tested 27 people for HIV as part ot the response to the HIV outbreak in southern Indiana. That’s according to the state’s Joint Information Center established after the outbreak was detected. There have been 89 new reported cases of HIV in Scott County and Governor Mike Pence has declared a public health emergency there. Pence also temporarily suspended state law to establish a 30-day needle exchange program. Beth Myerson, the co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS and STD Prevention at Indiana University,says the whole state of Indiana has something to learn from the recent outbreak in Scott County.

Scott County was lacking much of that public health system before the HIV outbreak was identified earlier this year. There has been no HIV testing facility in the county since a Planned Parenthood facility was closed there in 2013. That closure was blamed largely on funding cuts at the state level.

Myerson said the response to the recent crisis from the State Department of Health has mostly been good. She praised the efforts to test residents for HIV, provide them with medical records and enroll them in health coverage. But she said there are problems with the 30-day needle exchange program, questioning how the time period would be long enough to be effective.

Indiana law effectively makes it illegal to run a permanent needle exchange program. That’s because it is illegal for anyone to possess drug paraphernalia or trace amounts of drugs.

State-Ordered Needle Exchange Program Opened

A state-ordered needle exchange program opened in Scott County over the weekend in response to a public health emergency there. An HIV epidemic in southern Indiana led Gov. Mike Pence to authorize counties at risk of outbreak to start needle exchange programs. In just over a month, the number of cases in southern Indiana has shot up–in late February, about 30 cases had been confirmed. Now that number is up to about 90, according to the Indy Star. This 30-day order provides an exemption from state law, which otherwise restricts needle exchange programs. Scott County’s program is located in what is called a Community Outreach Center in Austin, Ind. The program is only for Scott County residents. Cody Keith of the Indiana Department of Health says each person in the exchange program will receive a week’s worth of clean needles. Once used, those will be exchanged for a new supply.

Keith states, “And as far as that specific amount per person is concerned that is going to be worked out with the representatives in the Community Outreach Center in Austin. So there might be a difference between each individual with how many they get for that week, but all of that counseling will be taking place in the Community Outreach Center in Austin.”

Although Governor Pence has temporarily legalized this particular program, he says he generally opposes these kinds of initiatives. Indiana is one of 23 states that effectively outlaw needle exchange programs. Daniel Raymond, the policy director at the Harm Reduction Coalition in New York City, says those prohibitions have negative effects on public health.

Raymond says, “Where we don’t have needle exchange programs, we don’t have that early intervention strategy to reach people who are at risk and get them help… in New York we have seen a 75% decline in HIV amongst drug injectors since we passed our law enabling needle exchange programs.”

Laws like Indiana’s date back to the beginning of the War On Drugs in the early 1970s. Raymond says Indiana is one of many states that outlawed possession of paraphernalia such as syringes.

He continues, “Way before anybody ever dreamed of needle exchange, states passed these laws to attempt to cut down drug use… They ended up with more HIV and Hepatitis C.”

In states that have legalized needle exchange, the programs often offer other public health services as well. Alisa Solberg is the executive director at the Point Defiance Aids Projects in Tacoma, Washington.

Solberg states, “We link people with health insurance, we connect people with medical coverage and care with legal services… I think it may be difficult in Indiana where this type of intervention has not been considered previously so it may be difficult to see that.”

Injection of the painkiller Opana has been cited as a potential cause of the epidemic in Scott County. The needle exchange program there is scheduled to expire April 25th unless the governor issues another executive order.

Bloomington City Council Takes a Stand Against New Indiana Bill

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The Bloomington city council took a stand against the Religion Freedom Restoration Act last night. The entire Council co-sponsored a resolution opposing the law. Council member Darryl Neher read the resolution aloud during the meeting. He called for it to be sent to state leaders, including Governor Pence and Indiana University President Michael McRobbie.

Michael Mcrobbie, reading the resolution, states that “The Bloomington City Council opposes and urges repeal of RFRA”.

The council also expressed concern that the law defines “individual” to include corporations and businesses. There are clauses in Bloomington’s human rights ordinance regarding sexual orientation and gender identity but no statewide protected class measures. Several citizens spoke during public comment to thank the council for the gesture. Melanie Davis said she recently moved to Bloomington with her daughter and appreciates the cultural acceptance she has found locally.

Melanie expressed her gratitude with the following statement, “I’d always heard what a wonderful this was,and its turning out to be just such a place and I want to say how proud I am of all of you and of the city and the people in it for their celebration and true inclusion of diverse groups people”

While Pence has been on the national news circuit to say that RFRA has a perception problem, Bloomington resident C.W. Poole said that he believes the law was intentionally discriminatory. Poole said it is right for the council to put pressure on the Governor to repeal the law.

“I think it was written exactly what they wanted to do” Poole expressed passionately. He continued by saying “The intent was to discriminate”.

Many of the Council members referred to the national media response to the law, saying it has shed an unfair negative light on the state. Councilmember Susan Sandberg scolded Hoosiers for their apparent apathy when it comes to electing their leaders.

“Its been embarrassing”, Susan Sandberg disdainfully exclaimed about the amount of negative light Indiana has been receiving in lieu of the new bill.

There was clapping throughout the council chambers as the resolution passed unanimously.

A Case Is Made For A New School Referendum Based On The Success Of The Past

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Property owners will again be asked to pay additional taxes to help support the Monroe County Community School Corporation. Last week the League of Women Voters hosted a talk by MCCSC Superintendent Judy DeMuth regarding the use of the funds received after voters passed the funding referendum in 2010. League President Doris Wittenburg said Monroe County students were fortunate, because those in other counties were more affected by drastic budget cuts under former Governor Mitch Daniels.

Superintendent Demuth gave a slideshow presentation summarizing how the referendum funds have been spent over the past several years. Then she made a case for a renewed referendum in 2016. The majority of the 2010 referendum operating funds were spent on salaries and benefits. A small amount went to services, supplies, and equipment. Demuth said she thought spending on employees was the best way to serve children in the school district.

Additionally, the cash balance of MCCSC is seven million dollars larger than it was in 2009, before the budget cuts. Teachers did not take a raise in 2010. However, a raise was programmed in and Demuth believes that this is important.

Demuth explained that spending of the extras funds was guided by the principles of: Restore, Replenish and Reform. Programs that were ended due to budget cuts were restored through the use of referendum funds, including alternative learning opportunities and experiential learning. One of which was the Bloomington Graduate School.

Demuth concluded her presentation by thanking those in attendance and those in the community for passing the 2010 referendum. The extra funding provided through this referendum will end this year. She said the corporation is still in the planning stages of proposing another referendum. She expected the request amount to be similar to that of 2010 referendum request.

Public Opinion Of Gay Marriage Continues To Grow In Favor

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The American public is growing more supportive of same-sex marriage. That’s according to Indiana University Sociologist Brian Powell, who published a paper recently about public opinion and gay marriage. Powell’s team interviewed and re-interviewed people around the country and found that overall Americans have become more and more accepting of gay marriage. And despite the fact that some lawmakers continue to advance laws that target LGBT people for discrimination, Powell says the majority of the public is no longer on board. He goes on to sat that in their interviews the majority of the public is more inclusive and that a clear majority are in favor of same sex marriage.

Powell’s group also studied what motivates those who oppose gay marriage. He says that, for the most part, opposition is based in some form of moral disapproval. And typically that disapproval is rooted in biblical teaching.

The study also found that a gay couple’s relationship was typically seen as more QUOTE “ legitimate” if the couple was married. People view married couples as constituting a family more than couples who live together and are not married. But that thinking changes, according to Powell, when married same-sex couples move to states where their marriages are not legally recognized. According to Powell’s research, people often confuse civil unions with gay marriages. Many believe civil unions afford the same rights as marriage. He says this is harmful because a civil union is legally different than a marriage, in many ways including social-security benefits which would be recognized for a married couple, but would not be the same with a civil union status.

Powell says his research does more than document a change in public opinion. He said it can also be used to show that moral disapproval is responsible for motivating gay marriage bans. This could be significant as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the issue of same-sex marriage. The opposition to gay marriage is expected to claim before the Court that gay marriage bans are purely a state interest and not rooted in animus.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor same-sex marriage, Powell says he plans to explore other questions, including how same-sex couples choose whether or not to marry.

An Appeal Fund Is Established For The Woman Convicted Of The Indiana Feticide Law

The family of a Northern Indiana woman has set up a crowd funding campaign to help appeal her 20-year prison sentence. Purvi Patel is the first woman to be convicted under Indiana’s feticide law, which makes it illegal to knowingly or intentionally terminate a pregnancy. The issue began in July of 2013, when Patel says she had a miscarriage. When she went to the hospital later for treatment of excessive bleeding, the doctor reported her to the authorities for neglect of a dependent. Patel directed police to a dumpster where she had placed the fetus. A jury found Patel guilty of child neglect as well as feticide. The National Advocates for Pregnant Women condemned the “cruel length of the sentence,” pointing out that it is the first time in the United States that a women has been convicted and sentenced for feticide. Women’s health groups nationwide have expressed concern that Indiana’s law will discourage pregnant women from seeking medical help for fear of being charged or jailed. The Purvi Patel Family Support Fund is hosted by the website RH Reality Check, a news source for reproductive health and justice issues. Patel’s case has drawn comparisons to Bei Bei Shuai, an Indianapolis woman who was charged with feticide when an unsuccessful suicide attempt resulted in the termination of her pregnancy. Both women were immigrants who were impregnated by married men. Shuai’s case ended in a plea agreement for a lesser charge in 2013.

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