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OUCC Accepting Public Comments On Increased Utility Rates

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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.

Bloomington Wants Public Feedback on ADA Transition Plan

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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.

Medicaid Expansion Proposal Blocked

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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.

Residents Resist the Keystone XL Pipeline

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. 

League of Women Voters Offer Chance to Speak with State Legislators

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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.

Home Buyers Club Takes Place This Weekend To Educate New Home Owners

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The City of Bloomington’s Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development is hosting the Home Buyers Club, starting this weekend.

The workshops will help first-time home buyers learn about the home buying process.

“The Home Buyers Club is offered three or four times a year,” Assistant director of the department Marilyn Patterson, said, “It’s taught by people from the city and from our banking partners, home inspectors, appraisers, and people part of our community that do this every day.”

Patterson says the goal is to help people who have never had the opportunity to buy a house to understand the process. She also says the certificate may help students to gain access to different kinds of loans that they may not have had access to without homebuyer’s education.

The first two workshops will take place Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m, and Feb 8 from 9 a.m. to 2 .pm, at City Hall in the Showers Building. The workshops are free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. For more information on how to register contact HAND at 812-349-3401.

Cold Weather Creates Chilly Sitution For Utilities Department

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The Bloomington Utilities Department has dealt with an increase in water main breaks and customer service issues due to the cold weather in recent weeks. On January 27th Tom Axson, the department’s assistant director of transmission and distribution, told the Utilities Service Board there had been eight broken water mains reported in the previous ten days.

“We’ve also responded to a lot of customer calls about no water and broken pipes,” Axson said, “We’re going to keep doing what we do. In the meantime we’ve cleaned a lot of trucks and fixed a lot of equipment trying to stay ready.”

Utilities Department Director Patrick Murphy said the department purchased new equipment for the crews that do the repair work.

“We just made an additional equipment purchase, and by equipment I mean new Carhartt coats and boots, restocking our folks,” Murphy said, “One of the important things for the DND crews is rubber boots.”

Board member Jeff Ehman asked about the fact that the city has still not finished its annual leaf pick-up. The city planned to finish by December 19th.

Murphy said leaves can cause problems for the department, but that the situation is better than it was several months ago.

“They’ve done quite a bit and it’s not as much of an issue now,” Murphy asid.

Axson said that in the past, the city has used equipment to scrape frozen leaves off of the ground in order to haul them away.

New Bank Planned For South Liberty Drive

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On January 25 the Monroe County Commission heard a request to rezone a property on South Liberty Drive, to allow a new Owen County State Bank to be built there. The commission recommended approval of the project, but some members of that group voiced concerns about its effects on traffic. Commissioner Julie Thomas, who is also on the Plan Commission, explained why she opposes the project.

“The reason I voted no is because I believe Liberty Drive is way overdeveloped for the size of the street,” Thomas said, “I know a lot of people have been caught on Liberty Drive trying to get out or do something. It’s a street I avoid because of this. I don’t think we’re doing a service for people who live in that area by adding more congestions because of a new bank in the area.”

Thomas again voted against the project, but she was outvoted by the other two commissioners–Iris Kiesling and Patrick Stoffers. Neither Kiesling or Stoffers commented on the project or explained their votes.

City of Bloomington Open Tuesday, January 28

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The City of Bloomington Sanitation Division announced a three-hour delay for sanitation services, due to the National Weather Service’s Wind Chill Advisory. City administrators and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union representatives decided the best solution for the safety of workers and for sanitation services was to delay rather than to cancel. Services will begin tomorrow at 8 a.m. rather than 5 a.m. If the weather is still beyond safety guidelines at 8:00, a new decision will be made to further delay or cancel. Apart from the sanitation department delay, Communications Director for the City of Bloomington Adam Wason says that all city offices will be open and running during normal business hours.

“Bloomington will be up and running tomorrow, the sanitation department will be on a three-hour delay,” said Wason. “The first and foremost thing we always think about is the safety of our workers. If temperatures are at an unsafe level for them to perform their normal job duties, that’s when we make the call.”

Late this afternoon Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard announced that all government offices would be closed due to predictions of extreme cold, but Wason says that the local administration previewed tomorrow’s forecast and took the temperatures into consideration.

“Our understanding of the forecast is it looks like Indianapolis is going to be a bit colder than what Bloomington will be in the morning here tomorrow, so we will have all employees reporting to work tomorrow as a typical work day.”

MCCSC has not yet put out a notice regarding closings or delays for tomorrow, January 28th. Stay tuned to WFHB or go online to whfb.org for an updated list of closings and delays in our area.

Amended HJR-3 passes

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BREAKING: An amendment striking the second sentence of HJR3 is approved, and moves on to the Senate. It is dissimilar enough from HJR6 that a 2014 referendum is most likely off the table.

EARLIER:

Citizens are crowding the Indiana Statehouse today in anticipation of a second reading of House Joint Resolution Three, and a vote by the Indiana House of Representatives on the gay marriage ban. The House went into recess for the afternoon without the amendment reaching the floor, but a late session is expected this evening. If the resolution is passed as it currently stands, it will move forward in the second round of voting, required for any amendment to the Indiana Constitution. Right now the text of the resolution reads: “Marriage. Provides that only marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. Provides that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.” However, several amendments have been filed that would alter the text of the resolution, particularly the second half which addresses civil unions. If an amendment is adopted that changes this text, that will reset the two-cycle requirement for amending the state constitution. In a press conference on Friday, House Minority leader Scott Pelath says that in the years since the passing of what was then titled HJR-6, sentiment in the state has shifted.

“I remember what it was like in my beautiful community of Michigan City just a few years ago, and I surveyed my constituents, and you know what, they were pretty evenly divided about whether we should be doing this constitutional amendment or not,” said Pelath. “I surveyed them again this year, and while not scientific, it is instructive of how your likely voters are thinking about an issue. And this year, it was more than two to one: Let’s focus on other things.”

Pelath gave an example of a bill proposed in support of rape victims, which has been ignored this session while the legislature has focused on ratifying the state constitution to ban gay marriage and civil unions. Other examples of bills that have been set aside during the HJR-3 debate are a proposal to increase the state’s minimum wage from seven twenty-five to eight twenty-five per hour, and a bill which would prevent people and companies seeking taxpayer-funded incentives from making political contributions to candidates for statewide office or the Legislature.

“She had a simple bill that said, why don’t we delve into this problem that everyone agrees is a calamity for Indiana women, let’s figure out the root causes and identify some solutions,” said Pelath, “and she was told, ‘Look, we don’t have enough time to deal with this this year,’ by one of the committee chairs. This is an example of how we’re just being sapped of our ability to do good things for Indiana because of the specter that’s hovering over everyone.”

The staff of the Indianapolis star polled all one hundred members of the Indiana House, asking them how they intended to vote on HJR-3. Local representatives Bob Heaton and Eric Koch replied that they would vote in favor of the bill, Matt Pierce replied that he would vote against the bill, and Matt Ubelhor and Peggy Mayfield did not respond to the poll. As of this broadcast HJR-3 has not been called to the floor, and Speaker of the House Brian Bosma has ordered pizza to the House Chamber, expecting the session to go well past dinner this evening.

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