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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.

HJR-3 Advances Through The Indiana House

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This morning the Indiana House of Representatives adopted the committee report from yesterday’s Elections and Apportionment Committee meeting, during which House Joint Resolution 3 passed, 9 to 3.

The proposed amendment to the Indiana constitution, which explicitly states that same sex couples do not have the right to get married, may now continue through the legislative process, and is expected to have a second reading before the House on Monday.

District 61 Representative Matt Pierce spoke on the floor today during the adoption, warning that the unprecedented process in which the bill came to the house floor would set a precedent for future speakers of the house to rearrange the legislative process to get the outcome they are looking for, just as House Speaker Brian Bosma reassigned HJR-3 once it fell short in the Judiciary committee.

“I made the argument that what the speaker had done was unprecedented,” Pierce said, “It was like a golfer taking a mulligan when they get their resolution stuck in the sand trap. It created a system where you can just have a do-over until you get the result you want. What the speaker did that was so unique is that he actually had a bill in a judiciary committee, the public testimony was taken, the committee had been educated on the issue, they were at the point where a vote could be taken and they obviously delayed it because they knew it wasn’t going to come out the way they wanted it to. For the speaker to then take the bill away from the judiciary committee and put it into elections, where clearly he had counted his votes to know he’d get a good reaction, is what is unprecedented. I ask for the members in the house to reject the committee report to essentially say we don’t want to set the precedent of having these mulligans going on every time we have a controversial bill. It did not work.”

House Representative and Elections and Apportionment committee member Woody Burton, District 58 is quoted in the Indianapolis Star acknowledging that there is a divide between the younger and older Republican members of the house and their views towards marriage equality, but a sister bill introduced this month may be a way of modifying the original bill to retain the vote of the more tolerant Republicans.

House Bill 1153 explains away a sentence regarding civil unions in the original resolution without actually making changes that would force the process back to square one, because the amendment can only be sent to a referendum if it is passed twice with the exact same language by two different assemblies.

Pierce says the companion bill brought additional challenges, rather than solutions.

“That bill actually catalogued all the potential unintentional consequences of that amendment,” Pierce said, “I think they thought that by listing them, that would be kind of like a lifeboat that a lot of republicans could put themselves in and feel safe enough to go ahead and vote for the amendment as is. What I think what happened instead is that after they heard from some legal experts explaining how it was unprecedented, that backfired and caused some members of the judiciary committee to decide they wouldn’t vote for it.”

Similar bills in nearby states have been ruled unconstitutional–most recently a federal judge in Ohio ruled their gay marriage ban as such.

Pierce says that when issues of discrimination and legality come up, proponents of HJR-3 claim that the decision is not theirs to make.

“Oftentimes issues come up asking is this bill constitutional?” Pierce said, “The truth of the matter is that since it’s a joint resolution amending the constitution, it automatically becomes constitutional once it becomes part of the constitution. The real issue is whether or not it’s unconstitutional under the federal constitution. The attitude of most members when that comes up is that they can come up with their own ideas of what’s constitutional or not, and that I will decide what’s the best policy and it’s the job of the court to decide whether the ruling is unconstitutional.”

When HJR-3 is brought to the House Floor, most likely on Monday, any Representative can offer amendments to the bill.  Amendments must have a majority of favorable votes to become adopted but with Republicans holding a super majority it is unlikely that any amendment offered by a democratic representative would pass.

Additionally, if HJR-3 is made too dissimilar to 2011’s HJR-6, it would not qualify for referendum this year. Pierce says the democrats are working on their strategy over the weekend, and have until two hours prior to the House Chamber meeting to offer amendments to be read on the house floor on Monday.

New Cell Tower To Be Built Near Bloomington

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The Monroe County Plan Commission gave its approval January 21 to a company seeking to build a new cell tower southwest of Bloomington.

County Planner Jackie Scanlan told the commission there are no other towers near the proposed site, which is on East Lane, just west of State Road 37.

Scanlan responded to a question from commission member Scott Wells.

“The consultant report said that the closest is at least two miles away,” Scanlan said.

County zoning law does not allow cell towers to be built within a mile of another tower. The county ordinance also requires co-location, meaning a given tower should be made available to multiple companies to use.

Wells praised the county’s rules, saying that they limit the proliferation of towers throughout the county.

“What’s so good about our ordinance is that if you go up to Morgan county, right in the middle of the county you’ll see three separate towers, and I’m glad we have the potential to eliminate the clutter,” Wells said.

Jennifer Jones spoke on behalf of JB Towers, the company seeking to build the new 190 feet tower.

Jones said the county’s ordinance limits competition in the area, which will benefit her Fort Wayne-based company.

“Something unique about our company is that we don’t work specifically for any one cell phone company,” Jones said, “We own the tower ourselves and it’s our business plan to co-locate the towers.”

The project requires a variance from the county ordinance, because it is closer than 200 feet from the property line.

Commission member John Irvine said the county should rethink that part of its law, which is intended to prevent a tower from damaging another piece of property if it falls.

After the discussion, the commission voted unanimously, in support of rezoning the property to accommodate the new tower.

Tips To Safely Deal With Winter Weather

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The Indiana Department of Environmental Management, or IDEM, has issued a press release detailing ways to deal with winter weather while staying safe and environmentally friendly.

If you use chemical salts to melt ice off your sidewalk, be sure not to over apply or allow the salts to fall on your lawn or garden, since excess salts can be damaging to flora.

If you spread sand for traction, don’t overuse it either, as that excessive material can cause problems in storm water systems.

You can winterize your vehicle by checking your air filter and fluid levels, checking tires for tread wear and proper inflation, and checking the condition of your windshield wipers.

Ensuring your vehicle is ready for weather changes will reduce damage, which prevents waste from broken parts, and will keep you safe on the road.

Make sure your heating system is operating efficiently. It is a good idea to have a contractor perform a routine check-up and any necessary maintenance on the equipment before freezing weather drives up your energy bill.

Shooting at Purdue University leaves one dead and one suspect in custody

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Purdue University officials confirmed today that one man was fatally shot and one suspect was taken into custody following a shooting that occurred on campus around noon.

The suspect in custody has been identified as 23-year-old Cody Cousins and the shooting victim as 21-year-old Andrew Boldt, Purdue senior and teaching assistant. Police say Cousins had a prior criminal record.

Following initial reports of the incident, a “shelter in place” directive was issued for the West Lafayette campus.

The order was lifted by 1:15 pm. A university spokesperson confirmed that there were no other suspects.

Classes were then suspended for the remainder of the day as well as all day Wednesday.

Counselling services were also set up to be offered to students in the wake of a fatal shooting.

“Today’s shooting at Purdue University is a tragedy, and our heartfelt condolences go out to the family of the victim and to everyone in the Purdue community,” Gov. Mike Pence said in a statement. “I commend the professionalism of the West Lafayette Police Department in apprehending the suspect and bringing the situation to a swift conclusion. The Indiana State Police are on the scene and will continue to assist local law enforcement with the ongoing investigation.”

A candlelight vigil is scheduled for 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, near the Engineering Fountain.

Jury Selection Started for 2009 Little Nashville Opry House Arson

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Jury selection started today in the trial of the former manager of the Little Nashville Opry House, which burned down in 2009.

James Bowyer has been charged with arson in the case. He was the business and personal partner of Esther Hamilton who, with her late husband, opened the facility in 1974.

Brown County Prosecutor James Oliver and Defense Attorney John Boren were in court today in Nashville to choose the jury.

The nationally-known country music venue burned down on September 19 of 2009. The blaze did more than $3 million in damage to the facility. The state fire marshal was quickly brought into the investigation of the fire’s cause.

Shortly thereafter, it was revealed that the Little Opry did not have a state entertainment permit for 2009, which meant that it hadn’t had its annual inspection for this year.

Later it was revealed that there had been three fires with undetermined causes at other properties owned by Edith Hamilton, and two fires at properties owned by Jim Bowyer. Hamilton also owed $68,000 in business and property back taxes.

By this time, agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had also been brought into the investigation.

Investigators concluded that the Little Opry fire had been deliberately set. In late September of 2009, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which includes the State Fire Marshal’s office, offered a reward of $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for this arson.

Later, Indiana Insurance, the Little Opry’s insurer, announced that it was offering a total of $25,000 reward for information.

Finally, in March of 2012, Bowyer was arrested and charged with arson in the fire.

 

New Monroe County Recycling Facility Plans Still Uncertain

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The citizens advisory committee to the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District discussed plans last week for supporting a new recycling facility. The District’s Board of Directors has been split on the issue of whether to build a materials recovery facility, or MRF, to process recyclables.

But the advisory committee has supported the initiative, going so far as to form a separate working group for the project.

Stephen Hale, a member of the committee, will be leading the group.

“I really kind of see this group as getting up to speed and finding the history of past discussions with MRFs in the district,” Hale said, “When you change something in the system, a lot of things get impacted by those changes and finding where the potential impacts and connections are is a pretty good next step.”

Larry Barker, executive director of the District, told the committee that a bill working its way through the Indiana Statehouse could make the MRF project even more significant.

“This lays out some serious guidelines on how we will be recycling in the future,” Barker said, “One of the goals that the administration has is recycling 50% of the waste stream by 2019. Right now there is about 6.7 million tons of municipal solid waste going to landfills. That’s pulling out about 3.3 million tons of recycling. This is dramatic.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Hale asked Barker what he thought the group should do to support the MRF.

“We have to come up with some sort of outreach program that gets the community aware of what’s coming forward,” Barker said, “The last thing you want to do is spring something on the community when they aren’t aware of it.”

At a meeting in December, the District’s Board approved spending $42,000 to further explore the possibility of building a MRF.

But some board members objected to spending the money, and others have questioned the long-term feasibility of the project.

Monroe County Library Suffering From Paying Parking Meters

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Last week the Monroe County Public Library’s Board of Trustees discussed the negative effect parking meters are having on library patrons.

Board member Stephen Moberly referred to the library’s circulation numbers, which have declined since the downtown meters were installed in August.

“Looking at the chart, we had a slight decrease last year of half of one percent. This year, we had a 3.3% decrease,” Moberly said, “I think it’s attributed to one thing, though it may not be politically correct to say. The parking meters, I think, have been devastating to the library. You can come and see around the block that no cars are parked there, and there always were before because they were our patrons. Some retail merchants have closed and suffered because of the meters, but the library is suffering too.”

Board President Valerie Merriam says the library should tell the City Council and Mayor Mark Kruzan about what effect the meters have had. She says circulation hasn’t dropped this much in almost two decades.

“There is a general decline to everything that is related with coming in to the library,” Merriam said.

Moberly suggested that these are people that might not have the money to feed the meters, and that they should let city hall know about these concerns.

Library Director Sara Laughlin says she would convey those concerns to city officials. But Laughlin says she doesn’t have any short term solutions to reverse the effects.

“I think we’ve done what we can do in helping people find places to park,” Laughlin said, “In fact, I know that the parking finder page on our website is still one of the top pages on the site. Longer term, it would be great to have a second branch with lots of parking, otherwise we just can’t increase our parking capacity downtown.”

The library has also considered expanding hours on Sundays, when the city does not require drivers to pay the meters.

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