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Latest on Indiana’s HJR-3 Amendment

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A second reading of House Joint Resolution 3 on the Senate floor today was without incident. If the Senate adopts the resolution on its third reading next Monday, it will reconcile with the amended version that came out of the House, and provide that only marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana.

This matches current Indiana law, which also states that marriage is only legally recognized in heterosexual couples, but the proposed constitutional amendment would be a much more permanent statement forbidding gay marriage in Indiana.

The second reading of a proposed bill or resolution is the point when amendments can be made, and it was uncertain if republicans would offer an amendment trying to reinstate the second sentence of the original resolution that the house of representatives deleted earlier this year.

District 40 Senator Mark Stoops says he was confident that reinserting the second sentence would be defeated. However, there were other aspects to the reading that were surprising.

“The fact that they chose not to call the amendment at all was a real surprise,” Stoops says “It was a very strange session in that HJR-3 was called for the second reading and then there was silence. Everyone waited to hear if the amendment was going to be called and it wasn’t. That was the end.”

The 2014 legislative session has centered around HJR-3. Chambers of commerce, education institutions, and politicians statewide have joined civil rights advocates in voicing their dissent for the resolution.

“I’m sure what happened is that it became completely obvious to the Republican caucus that there were not enough votes for the second sentence,” Stoops says, “They didn’t want to get beaten up further on that bill. I think a lot of Republicans are pretty embarrassed that this bill is moving forward.”

Governor Mike Pence has supported the effort to amend the constitution in regards to marriage in Indiana, and called for it to be on the 2014 ballot. The soonest HJR3 would not be sent to referendum is 2016 – if the general assembly at the time adopts it exactly as it is stated now. Stoops speculates that Pence will try to avoid timing the ratification with his reelection.

“Governor Pence wanted this HJR-3 on the ballot in 2014 because he didn’t want it pushed until 2016 because he’s running for reelection that year,” Stoops says, “He knows that it’s a device of issue and that it will pull a lot of independents and democrats out to vote who might not normally have voted, which means he’d probably lose the reelection.”

Stoops predicted the third reading of HJR-3 will occur on Monday.

United Way of Monroe County Launch Free Community Tax Service

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United Way of Monroe County and the Financial Stability Alliance for South Central Indiana and partners have launched the Free Community Tax Service for this year in Monroe and Owen counties. Community Initiative Director, Ashley Hall says the program started four years ago.

“A lot of our sites in the community had been offering volunteer tax assistance many years before that, but they hadn’t come together as a cohesive program,” Hall says, “United Way came on board to bring together these people working on it and to bring on board people we had hoped to get involved.”

As the service continues to grow it has been able to provide help to more people in the community.

“The program expands every year we offer it,” Hall says, “There are more sites and options. Not only are there full-service, one-on-one options, there are self-service sites and an online option you can do anytime. We have continued to utilize more volunteers from the community, and we already have about 200 IRS-certified volunteers.”

Individuals can file their own taxes for free at a self-service site at WorkOne or online at MyFreeTaxes.com/Bloomington. A few locations that the Mobile sites will visit include Bloomington Housing Authority, LifeDesigns, Positive Link and Stone Belt. Hall says the purpose of the program is to offer free tax preparation and to make sure residents know they are eligible for valuable credits.

“The credit is important because we know that about 25 percent of people eligible don’t claim their credit,” Hall says.

For more information on the Free Community Tax Service you can visit MonroeUnitedWay.org/FreeTaxes.

Dean of IU’s SPEA Testified In Support of EPA ‘Secret Science’ Bill

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John D. Graham, dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and former senior official in President George W. Bush’s Office of Management and Budget, testified on Tuesday in support of a bill that prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, from using what backers of the legislation call ‘secret science.’

The bill, introduced by U.S. House Republicans, would prohibit the EPA from proposing new regulations based on science that is not transparent or reproducible.

“Most of the EPA-related studies that may not satisfy the reproducibility standard are in the air quality area,” Graham said, “The environmental epidemiology field does not yet have a strong position in favor of public access to data, which is necessary for reproducibility. The transparency standard is more widely accepted.”

The measure is sponsored by Subcommittee Chairman David Schweikert, a Republican from Arizona. In discussing the bill’s future, Graham said, “There is a mid-March meeting at the National Academy of Sciences where the reproducibility issue will be discussed in more detail by multiple stakeholders. Once that meeting occurs, it will become apparent whether the scientific community will support or oppose the bill.”

Bloomington Approves New Commercial Building At 3rd and Washington

On Feb. 10 the Bloomington Plan Commission approved a plan for a new building downtown that would include a convenience store. The four-story building would also contain three apartments and room for additional businesses.

The new structure is planned for the southwest corner of 3rd and Washington streets, on a site that has most recently been the location of a laundromat, CrossTown Cleaners. Doug Bruce, who has done architecture work on the project, said the owner’s idea is for the convenience store to serve people waiting for buses downtown.

The building is owned by Song Kim, who also owned the laundromat. It is just north of the current Bloomington Transit building, and it’s just east of the new Transit building under construction at 3rd and Walnut streets. Commission member Pat Williams asked how deliveries to the convenience store could affect nearby traffic.

The site is smaller than most downtown lots, and Bruce said there would be no room for large trucks to pull in. Williams said she is skeptical about the delivery plan.

Trish Sterling, who owns a commercial building just southeast of the proposed store, said she is also concerned about the building’s effects on traffic and parking. The plan for the four-story building includes seven parking spaces. Sterling said her building’s spaces are already used frequently by other businesses.

A lack of parking in the area caused the failure of a recent project just two blocks east of the proposed store. The owners of the Taste of India restaurant on 4th Street tried to relocate to 314 East 3rd Street, but the commission rejected the plan largely because there wasn’t enough parking. Commission member Chris Smith addressed Sterling’s concerns, but said the city would like to see the site developed and they have limited options.

The commission later voted to approve the building, including six different waivers from the city’s zoning rules.

 

Work Begins Soon On New I-69

Work will begin on the new interstate that will traverse Bloomington and Monroe County as soon as weather allows.

According to Cher Elliott, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesperson at its Vincennes regional office, contractors are to remove trees and other natural obstacles, with attendant remediation, on the right-of-way along section 5 of I-69 before March 31. The section 5 corridor runs from the south, where section 4 of I-69 will intersect with 37 at that road and Fullerton Pike, north to just south of the Highway 39 turn-off near Martinsville.

However, the current tree clearing contract is for the portion from the end of section 4 up to the Walnut Street and Old Highway 37 interchange. The construction phase is slated to begin during late summer of this year, with substantial completion of section 5 by late 2016.

Will Wingfield, at the head office of the Department of Transportation in Indianapolis, said the 21 miles of existing state road 37 will be updated to interstate standards.

“What these changes mean is that traffic entering or exiting will now be on ramps,” Wingfield says, “Four new interchanges will be built. In addition, to provide additional local access, there will be four new exchanges across the interstate.”

For properties that currently have direct access to Highway 37, the department will either purchase them outright or build some other means of vehicular access for them. Wingfield describes lane capacity along various parts of the highway, as it skirts around Bloomington’s west-side.

“There will be added lanes on what is now 37, at the south-end of the project near the Bloomington area based on the forecasted need in urban Bloomington,” Wingfield says

The department has already received proposals from four private sector consortia to design, build, operate, and maintain section 5 of I-69.

INDOT spokespeople have promised that this so-called public-private partnership, or P-3 arrangement for section 5, does not allow the private operator to establish tolls.

“It will generally follow the state road corridor,” Wingfield said, “We are hoping to extend the life of this corridor and road.”

During the construction phase, the route will remain open to public traffic, but with periodic lane closures, delays, and diversions. INDOT and the private sector group responsible for this sector will also be responsible for informing the public of these obstructions.

The Strike Mic – February 11, 2014

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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.

ERAC Looking To Fill Natural Resource Management Positions

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 Steele’s Proposed Hunting and Fishing Amendment Passes

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.

Registration to Rent Community Garden Plots Open

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.

League of Women Voters Held Open Forum With State Representatives

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.

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