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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.

Audra McDonald Performing at Indiana University

Six time Tony Award winner, Audra McDonald will be performing at the Indiana University Auditorium next Thursday as part of her 32-city concert tour. McDonald has performed in numerous Broadway productions such as Porgy and Bess, Carousel and A Raisin In the Sun. She has also appeared in several operas, including City of Mahagonny, for which she won two Grammys.

McDonald recently made headlines for being one of the first celebrity figures to speak out against the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Governor Mike Pence signed the Act into law last week and many say it effectively legalizes discrimination.

McDonald voiced her concerns in Twitter messages directed at Pence. She wrote, “Some in my band are gay & we have 2 gigs in your state next month. Should we call ahead to make sure the hotel accepts us all?”

McDonald’s performance at the IU auditorium will include a number of Broadway pieces, popular standards, and songs from her most recent album, Go Back Home. More information is available on the IU Auditorium’s website.

Improvements Planned For Dangerous Area Of Old State Road 37

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A hazardous stretch of Old State Road 37 will soon be reconstructed with improved safety measures. On March 24th the Board of Public Works approved a project at the intersection of Dunn Street and Old State Road 37. Roy Aten, Senior Project Manager with the city’s Planning and Transportation Department, explained the required improvements to enhance the safety of the road.

Right now that stretch of Highway 37 has a series of curves and a flat shoulder. The construction project would even out the curve, widen and bank the shoulders of the road, and replace all guardrails along the curve. Public Works Director Susie Johnson told the Board this particular intersection has a deadly history.

The city will make offers to four private landowners in order to make the safety improvements. If a purchase price can not be agreed upon within 30 days the city may enter into eminent domain proceedings to seize the land.

Governor Pence Plans To Sign The Religious Freedom And Restoration Act As Many Call For Him To Veto The Bill

Thousands of Hoosiers and some high-powered business interests are calling for Indiana Governor Mike Pence to veto the so-called Religious Freedom & Restoration Act. If signed into law this bill would allow businesses to discriminate against anyone based on personal religious beliefs. Some fear the bill would also allow police officers and doctors to neglect their duties for the same reasons. The Governor is the only person in a position to stop this bill in it’s tracks. The Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest civil rights organization for the LGBT community, have supplied Pence with thousands of messages opposing the bill. Pence, however, has said he plans to sign it into law. In a statement he said QUOTE “The legislation, SB 101, is about respecting and reassuring Hoosiers that their religious freedoms are intact.” Local employers and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce have spoken out against the bill and called it bad for business. Those opposing the bill include the organizers of Gen Con Indiana’s annual gaming convention who said they will move the event if Pence signs the bill into law. The convention is estimated to have an economic impact of more than $50 Million annually.

Local Organizations Collecting Camping Gear for Homeless Residents

Local organizations have begun collecting camping gear for homeless residents who will soon be without access to a low-barrier shelter.

Next Wednesday, the Interfaith Winter Shelter will officially cease its operations for the season. Each year after the shelter closes, dozens of homeless residents are left to sleep outdoors, typically in camps that are technically illegal.

Forrest Gilmore, the executive director of the Shalom Community Center, said he is helping collect tents, sleeping bags, tarps, rain gear, flashlights and other camping equipment to distribute to residents who need them. Gilmore said anyone with gear to donate can bring it to the Shalom Center or to the Salvation Army in Bloomington.

In past summers, the Genesis Church operated a low-barrier shelter, but that ended in 2012 and no organization has filled the void. An organization known as the Ubuntu Group was once poised to open a replacement shelter but the Group never found an affordable location. City zoning places severe restrictions on where homeless shelters can be located.

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