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Bill moved in senate to expand bus services

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Earlier today a committee in the Indiana Senate moved forward a bill that could expand bus service in Monroe County. The bill would give the Monroe County Council the option to raise taxes and expand the reach of Bloomington Transit, which currently serves only the city of Bloomington. Senator Mark Stoops from Bloomington is sponsoring the legislation. Monroe County already has a Rural Transit Service. But in a statement issued today, Stoops said that service has been hit with budget cuts and “has to turn down thousands of rides every year.” The bill now moves to the full Senate, where any member can amend it.

Employees hired to manage invasive vegetation

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The city of Bloomington has hired two full-time employees to manage the increasing problem of invasive vegetation. Dave Williams, the operations director for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, made the announcement last week before the Board of Parks Commissioners.

“This has become a huge issue for any land-holding agency as well as private property owners,” Williams said. “It’s become a challenge for us to restore the natural habitat in areas like Lower Cascades Park, Griffy Lake…and neighborhood parks.”

Jon Behrman has been hired full time to oversee native vegetation management and native planting initiatives. A second position filled by Haskell Smith will expressly work to combat invasive plant species.

“The latest and greatest pest is the emerald ash borer,” Williams said. “What we find ourselves doing is getting more into the (tree) removal business than the planting business. We have long since walked away from our ability to do much more than occasional contractual pruning of trees, which over the life of the tree, if you do it young, can save you tons of dollars.”

The Board praised the hires. Williams said climate change will continue to necessitate management of invasive vegetation.

“The (emerald ash borer) isn’t the end of it,” Williams said. “There are other potential threats to maple trees…There will always be something to fight and combat and control.”

Also at the meeting the board approved ongoing partnerships between the City of Bloomington and the Indiana University School of Public Health.

Mike Pence Controversy for State-Run News Plan

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This afternoon Governor Mike Pence axed his plans for a state-run news service. Pence became the subject of controversy earlier this week when the Indianapolis Star reported on his plans to establish a government run news service called Just IN. Just IN was supposed to launch this February.

In a news release today, Pence said he would not approve of any state-run media and that the proposal, authored by his communications staff, was not what he expected. The project has since been completely shut down. Instead, Pence said, the current public calendar website will be updated and adapted.

Documents of the proposal show the Just IN site would have featured breaking news stories and have been overseen by a Government-paid managing editor. Just IN was intended both for a general audience and media.

Much of the backlash against the plan came from journalists who found the idea of a state-run news agency unethical. Matthew Tully, a writer for the IndyStar, argued against Just IN, citing the American tradition of an independent press as well as the fact the agency would be funded by taxpayers.

IU Journalism Professor Gerry Lanosga has blogged and tweeted about the Just IN controversy. And to Lanosga, the outrage was unwarranted.

He says that he does not see it as an ethical issue for the government, but could possibly be an ethical issue for the journalists involved.

Over the past couple days, many critics suggested the Just In service would spin stories to benefit the Pence administration. But Lanosga argues the focus should be on how the press gets its information in the first place.

He states that we need to think about how reliant the press is right now on government information. He also states that it is a big concern that a large portion of the press’ information come directly from government sources.

The documents that allowed the IndyStar reporter to break the story on Just IN came from a government source. Mike Pence is in his first term as the 50th governor of Indiana and has served since 2013. There is wide speculation Pence is considering a run for president in 2016. So far he has not made those plans public.

New Area Code Added to Southern Indiana Starting Next Saturday

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, or IURC, has announced that, starting next Saturday, all local calls made in the 812 area must be placed using the complete ten-digit telephone number—that is, the area code plus the seven-digit number. This is because a new “930” area code will be added to the region covering the southern third of the state to provide an additional supply of needed phone numbers. The IURC emphasizes that residents’ current phone numbers will not change, but new phone customers may be assigned a number with the 930 code. They also say the price of a call, coverage areas, or other rates and services will not be changed, and callers still must dial a “1” plus area code and 7-digit telephone number for all long distance calls. Callers can still access emergency services with three digits—911—and can also continue to use three digits to reach 211 and 811, as well as 311 and 511, where available.

Ellettsville Will Soon Begin the Building of a Pedestrian Trail

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Ellettsville is finally be ready to build the first phase of its pedestrian trail. Darla Brown, the town attorney, told the Town Council last week that the Town has purchased all the land it needs for the Heritage Trail project. The Town has been working on the trail for more than a decade and a half.
Brown says that all the necessary land for the project has been purchased and the building will begin weather permitting.
The first phase of the Heritage Trail will run for several blocks between Vine Street and Main Street in downtown Ellettsville. The second phase is planned to connect to McNeely Street.

Indiana University Opens New Campus Shuttle Service from Bloomington to Indianapolis

Indiana University says its new campus shuttle service aims to promote sustainability for people commuting between Bloomington and Indianapolis. Indiana University announced this week the creation of Campus Commute, a bus service for IU faculty, students, and the general public. A press release from the university describes the bus system as low-cost and environmentally friendly. Campus Commute will make four daily trips every weekday, with stops at the Indiana Memorial Union, Indiana Memorial Stadium, IUPUI Campus Center, and the Indiana Statehouse. The intercampus shuttle offers Wi-Fi, wheelchair accessibility, reclining seats, electrical outlets, DirecTV and lavatory. The bus service will also offer DoubleMap, an app with real-time tracking of each bus on an interactive map for users. In the press release, IUPUI Vice Chancellor Dawn Rhode states that she hopes this alternative commuting option will encourage the reduction of CO2 emissions for frequent travelers between the two campuses.

Pay Raises for Lowest Paid Monroe County Public Library Employees Recommended to Board of Trustees

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The lowest paid employees at the Monroe County Public Library may soon get a raise. The Library’s executive director, Sara Laughlin, recommended raising the minimum pay rate to $8.25 an hour, up from the current minimum of $7.66. Laughlin told the Library’s Board of Trustees the increase is partly the result of changes in the market. She made the comments at a Board work session last week. Laughlin stated that the first reason for proposed increase was due to Indiana University raising their own minimum wage rate and the subsequent loss of employees seeking higher pay. This has had a negative impact in creating more orientation, and training time due to employee turnovers.

Besides the lowest paid workers, the next two levels up on the pay scale will also be bumped up. Laughlin said the increased wages are also meant to reflect changes the Library is making in the responsibilities of some staff. She stated that the service model will involve increased responsibilities that will merit the higher pay.

The Library is expected to spend about $65,000 more this year to pay for the raises. Kyle Wickemeyer-Hardy, the Library’s human resources manager, said she consulted with other local employers before recommending the new pay rates. After checking with Bloomingfoods and Indiana University Wickemeyer-Hardy believes the wages to be competitive for comparative employment.
The Board does not vote on items at work sessions. They are expected to hold a vote on the new wages at their meeting, which began at 5 o’clock today.

Local Activists Turn Out to Oppose The Keystone Pipeline

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Bloomington residents stood on the corner of Kirkwood and Walnut as the sun set yesterday evening, waving signs that said “no keystone XL” as part of a national day of action against the controversial pipeline.

Jack Brubaker (BRUE-bay-ker), a local activist who helped organize the event, told WFHB he wants to keep the issue in the public eye, especially because of recent misleading reports that President Obama has resolved not to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. In fact, the Obama administration announced that he would veto a current proposal for the development due to a procedural hang up. Obama believes the matter should be decided by the state department, not determined through the current legislation. He has not said whether he would veto the project if the state department approves the construction.
Proponents of the pipeline often refer to job creation in the United States, and reduced dependence on foreign oil. Brubaker points out the United States won’t see most of the economic benefits of the project.
Even if the state department approves of the pipeline and Obama signs off on it, it is not a guarantee that the pipeline would be built. A recent drop in the price of oil worldwide means that currently, Alberta tar sand production is operating at a loss, and may not find investors to participate in refining the tar sands.
Brubaker is most troubled by the environmental risks of the pipeline.

Governor Pence’s State of the State Address Receives Criticism

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Governor Mike Pence opened his half-hour State of the State speech last night by saying Indiana has never been stronger. For more on this story, we go to WFHB News Director Alycin Bektesh.

Schools, Schools, Schools – a look at the language of the State of the State Address

State of the State 2013-2015
WFHB inserted the text of Governor Mike Pence’s 3 State of the State Addresses into a word-cloud generator – notice any themes?
The full report, tonight on WFHB’s Daily Local news at 5:30pm.

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