INQUIRY FINDS CIA SPIED ON SENATE INTEL PANEL: An internal investigation by the C.I.A. has found that its officers penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its damning report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program (New York Times). The report by the agency’s inspector general also found that C.I.A. officers read the emails of the Senate investigators and sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department based on false information, according to a summary of findings made public on Thursday. According to one official with knowledge of the report’s conclusions, the investigation also discovered that the officers created a false online identity to gain access on more than one occasion to computers used by the committee staff. The inspector general’s account of how the C.I.A. secretly monitored a congressional committee charged with supervising its activities touched off angry criticism from members of the Senate and amounted to vindication for Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s Democratic chairwoman, who excoriated the C.I.A. in March when the agency’s monitoring of committee investigators became public...But anger among lawmakers grew throughout the day. Leaving a nearly three-hour briefing about the report in a Senate conference room, members of both parties called for the C.I.A. officers to be held accountable, and some said they had lost confidence in Mr. Brennan’s leadership. “This is a serious situation and there are serious violations,” said Mr. Chambliss, generally a staunch ally of the intelligence community. He called for the C.I.A. employees to be “dealt with very harshly.” Committee Democrats have spent more than five years working on a report about the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program during the Bush administration, which employed brutal interrogation methods like waterboarding. Parts of that report, which concluded that the techniques yielded little valuable information and that C.I.A. officials consistently misled the White House and Congress about the efficacy of the techniques, are expected to be made public some time this month. Committee Republicans withdrew from the investigation, saying that it was a partisan smear and without credibility because it was based solely on documents and that there were no plans to interview C.I.A. officers who ran the program. According to David B. Buckley, the C.I.A. inspector general, three of the agency’s information technology officers and two of its lawyers “improperly accessed or caused access” to a computer network designated for members of the committee’s staff working on the report to sift through millions of documents at a C.I.A. site in Northern Virginia. The names of those involved are unavailable because the full report has not yet been made public...The dispute brought relations between the spy agency and lawmakers to a new low, as the two sides traded a host of accusations — from computer hacking to violating constitutional principles of separation of powers.
BAYH WILL CHAIR CIA ACCOUNTABILITY BOARD: Former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh will lead a board that will recommend steps the CIA should take after an internal investigation found agency employees improperly accessed Senate computers, the agency announced Thursday (Groppe, Indianapolis Star)...CIA Director John Brennan apologized to the heads of the Senate intelligence committee. “The director is committed to correcting any shortcomings related to this matter,” Boyd said. That includes creating a “special accountability board” that will be lead by Bayh. Bayh, who already serves on a CIA advisory board, is a former member of the Senate intelligence panel. The accountability board will review the inspector general’s findings and may conduct its own interviews. The board will also make recommendations to Brennan that could include disciplinary action or steps to address “systemic issues,”, Boyd said. Bayh could not be reached for comment...Bayh, who served two terms in the Senate before deciding not to seek re-election in 2010, is a partner at a Washington law firm, a senior adviser to a private equity firm, a contributor to Fox News, and he serves on the board of directors for five companies.
BORDER SECURITY BILL EMBARRASSES HOUSE LEADERSHIP, MAY DELAY RECESS: House Republicans are poised to delay their August recess by one day, as they frantically scramble to pass a border security bill (POLITICO). After a chaotic afternoon, which saw the GOP leadership suddenly pull their legislation from the House floor because of flagging support, lawmakers planned a Friday morning meeting at 9 a.m. to try to plot a path forward. Plans are in flux, and subject to change at any minute, aides and lawmakers warned. In a Thursday afternoon meeting, Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) heard from a number of Republicans who did not want to leave Washington until a package passed the House — a sentiment reflected by nearly every lawmaker who emerged after the meeting ended...But all day Thursday, the votes in support of the original $659 million border bill faded away, and it’s unclear if Scalise will be able to recapture votes in support of the package. Thursday was his first day as whip. Lawmakers were supposed to be heading home Thursday to begin a five-week recess. But the House schedule was in such flux that members walked off the floor canceling and rebooking flights to go home. After the bill was pulled, Boehner (R-Ohio) was surrounded on the House floor by a dozen colleagues while incoming McCarthy (R-Calif.) was also talking to fellow lawmakers...The GOP legislation, which was rewritten twice to attract support, had trouble getting off the ground, and if the House doesn’t vote, lawmakers will head back to their districts to hear from voters with a crisis raging at the border. The turmoil is stunning considering how far to the right the GOP leadership pulled this bill. Boehner, McCarthy and Scalise, the new GOP whip, crafted a process that would have given the House a vote on legislation to stop the Obama administration from expanding its deferred deportation program. But even that wasn’t enough. The episode is most embarrassing for Scalise, whose allies crowed this week about running a more effective whip organization than McCarthy, the longtime Republican vote counter who will now be the majority leader. The political impact of this decision is not clear, but if the House doesn’t vote, Democrats will be able to say that the GOP left Washington for an entire month without passing legislation to address the influx of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border. The challenges facing the House bill were evident earlier Thursday, when hard-right conservatives indicated that they still weren’t appeased by the last-minute offer of a vote on the immigration deferral program — known as DACA — in exchange for moving forward on the border funding bill. This bloc demanded tougher border-security and immigration provisions in the supplemental package while also pressing for the language rolling back DACA to be included in the funding bill.
STATE'S NCLB WAIVER APPEARS IN GREATER JEOPARDY: Indiana was not one of the five states awarded a waiver extension Thursday from strict federal rules administered by the U.S. Department of Education (Weddle, Indianapolis Star). Federal officials appear to still be contemplating whether Indiana will receive another year reprieve from requirements of the No Child Left Behind law or face further scrutiny for a series of ill-implemented reforms the state agreed to enforce. Without the waiver, school corporations lose flexibility in how to spend some of the $230 million annually in federal funding they receive and face strict education benchmarks for students and schools. It is possible Indiana could lose its waiver or be placed on a "high risk" status, according to education policy experts. A U.S. DOE spokeswoman said today there is no timeline for when a decision about Indiana will be announced. In May federal monitors placed the state's waiver on a conditional status because of "significant issues" found last fall, including not providing support to failing schools and lax oversight of teacher evaluation systems at school districts. The Indiana Department of Education submitted proposed fixes for the waiver on June 30 but came under criticism by members of the State Board of Education and Gov. Mike Pence's education office. Both said Glenda Ritz, state superintendent of public instruction, did not give them time to review the waiver amendments before they were submitted. In addition, Claire Fiddian-Green, Pence's education innovation special assistant, filed a 28-page "feedback" document with the U.S. DOE that, at times, called into question the department's ability to carry out plans in the application. At the time, Ritz said the document jeopardizes approval of the waiver. Thursday, the Obama administration announced Delaware, Georgia, Minnesota, New York and South Carolina had received a one-year waiver extension from portions of the No Child Left Behind law. Each of the states "implemented education reforms that go far beyond" the requirements, according to a U.S. DOE press release. Indiana is the only state with a condition placed on its waiver from the law as a result of a monitoring inspection. Other states with conditions received those when they were granted the waiver, according to the U.S. DOE.
WITH MORE INSURED, HEALTH SPENDING DOWN WHILE HOSPITALS MAKE MORE: Even as Obamacare continues to be attacked by foes and challenged in court, hospital chains and insurers are making more money, more patients using ERs are paying for their care, and the country as a whole is enjoying slower growth in its health-care spending (Bloomberg News). HCA Holdings Inc. (HCA), the largest for-profit hospital chain, yesterday raised its forecast and reported a 6.6 percent drop in uninsured patients at its 165 hospitals, a reduction that grows to 48 percent in four states that expanded Medicaid, a top initiative of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. WellPoint Inc. (WLP), which made the biggest commitment of any publicly traded insurer to the Obamacare markets, raised its guidance today after handily beating analyst estimates for the quarter on rising membership linked to the overhaul. Taxpayers too may be benefiting from the law approved in 2010. Medicare spending rose by just $1 per beneficiary in 2013, the fourth year in a row that saw a slowdown, the government reported yesterday...Still, it’s early in the life of the law, which just began enrolling Americans into insurance plans last year. Longer term, questions remain on whether whether the slowdown seen recently in health-care costs can be definitively tied to Obamacare or whether it was the result of a slow recovery from the 2008-2009 recession...Recent polls indicate that more Americans remain opposed to the health-care law than support it, although that includes people who think it isn’t liberal enough. "In the election campaign Democrats are going to really make a good case that things are not as bad people said, and in fact they’re getting better,” Blendon said in a telephone interview. “If you watch the trend lines, there’s a significant share of people who feel over the long term this isn’t going to work out well and they’re not affected by daily news.” Costs are a top concern, as insurers and state regulators decide premiums for 2015. If rates rise too much in the future, people who don’t receive U.S. subsidies to help with the bill may drop coverage, undercutting the act’s intent to have everyone insured....About 8 million Americans signed up for private plans offered through the health law’s insurance exchanges by April, and another 6 million were added to Medicaid, the state-federal program for low-income people, according to the Obama administration. The proportion of the U.S. population without insurance has fallen 3.7 percentage points to 13.4 percent since the end of the 2013, according to Gallup Inc., the lowest rate since the firm began surveys of coverage in 2008.
GAZA CEASEFIRE FAILS AGAIN AS ISRAEL CALLS UP MORE RESERVES: A cease-fire in Gaza unraveled Friday only hours after it took effect, with both sides accusing each other of violating the fledgling truce and the Israeli military saying one of its soldiers possibly was kidnapped (CNN). Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said an Israeli attack on Rafah in southern Gaza killed at least 27 people and wounded more than 100. The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said assault involved Israeli artillery shelling, calling it a "violation of the cease-fire." Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan told CNN that the latest cease-fire attempt between Israel and Hamas made it clear that there was to be no military action whatsoever, and Israel violated it by attacking houses in Rafah. Hamas is still committed to the cease-fire, but will protect itself, he said. Israeli forces were attacked in a "brutal incident" in the Rafah area that required them to defend themselves, Israeli spokesman Mark Regev told CNN. At the same time, rockets were launched into southern Israel from Gaza, he said. "This clearly is Hamas violating this U.N.-sponsored cease-fire," he said...The humanitarian truce had been announced Thursday by the United Nations and United States, after weeks of fighting and more than 1,500 deaths in Gaza, most of them civilians. It came into effect at 8 a.m. Friday in Gaza (1 a.m. ET). U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, said the halt to hostilities was planned to last for 72 hours and provide an opportunity to seek a more lasting solution to the conflict...Hours before the truce was announced, Mr. Netanyahu said his military was making gains in plugging up Hamas's underground tunnel network and would continue the operation "with or without a cease-fire (Wall Street Journal)." Israel called up 16,000 reservists Thursday in addition to 70,000 who had previously been called. In Gaza, fighting raged for a 24th day. Militants fired 99 rockets toward Israel, the Israeli military said, and a mortar attack hit an army staging area near the border, wounding several soldiers. Israeli strikes hit about 100 targets in Gaza, it said. Two senior U.N. officials portrayed a dire humanitarian emergency with 220,000 displaced in U.N. shelters. Thirty-one people have been killed in strikes on two shelters, Gaza's health ministry said. "The reality of Gaza today is that no place is safe," Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian affairs chief, told the U.N. Security Council. Gaza's health ministry said 1,428 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict began on July 8. Ms. Amos said more than 80% were civilians. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed, according to the military, and three civilians have been killed by rockets fired into Israel. The number of displaced in Gaza is four times higher than the peak in Israel's conflict with Hamas in 2008-09, according to Pierre Krahenbuhl, head of the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees.
HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: Revelations that a group of CIA personnel actively spied on a Senate panel specifically tasked with oversight of the agency during what appears to have been a number of years, spanning both the Bush and Obama Administrations, should deeply appall everyone. This chilling violation of the separation of powers puts in stark relief the rotating scandals and outrages du jour this past year. The flap over the IRS delaying non-profit status and Speaker Boehner’s lawsuit over delaying ACA mandates almost everyone wanted pale in comparison to the CIA’s activities of actively snooping and breaching the legislative branch. With Evan Bayh sitting on the newly created CIA accountability board, the theory that ex-governor, former senator is angling for a high-level cabinet position in 2017 appears more likely than a return to Hoosier electoral politics. No matter what, this new role keeps the Bayh name in the headlines. Have a safe and wonderful weekend! -Matthew Butler
2014: LAKE CO. DEMS SUE TO STOP PRECINCT CONSOLIDATIONS: A judge temporarily halted a Republican-inspired law that could have eliminated dozens of Lake County's big-city Democratic precinct committeemen next week (Dolan, NWI Times). Lake Circuit Court Judge George Paras signed a 10-day restraining order Thursday sought by Sheriff John Buncich, the county's Democratic party chairman, preventing the Lake County elections board from implementing SB 385, a new law requiring election officials to identify and merge as many precincts containing fewer than 500 registered voters as possible. Buncich said he had to act Thursday to stop election officials, set to meet, from putting into effect a plan the sheriff said is rumored to cut between 40 and 80 precincts. "They would have been cut in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago. It's very unfair," Buncich said after the court hearing. Buncich said the law was designed to suppress the vote in Lake County's Democratic strongholds as well as minority voters and deprive Democrats of precinct committeemen who are the party's most active members and who have official duties to fill county office vacancies as they occur. Buncich said the law only applies to Lake County, despite the fact counties with strong Republican voter support are excluded from reductions. He said 17 percent of downstate Hamilton County precincts and 29 percent of Bartholomew County have fewer than 500 registered voters. The suit is filed against the five-member elections board and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller. Their attorneys were present for the court hearing to argue for or against the injunction...Indiana House Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, said earlier this week the law isn't discriminatory against Democrats. He said the law was passed "because Lake County is so dramatically askew with the rest of the state. (Indianapolis') Marion County went through this process and have an average voter per precinct of 1,100. Lake County is about 435. There is a big variance there."
2014: 2ND C.D. LIBERTARIAN HOPEFUL DROPPING OUT - Jeff Petermann has suspended his third-party bid for the U.S. House and he’s dropped out of the Libertarian Party (Vandenack, Elkhart Truth). "I have completely pulled away from the Libertarian Party as of yesterday,“ he said Thursday, July 31. That turns the race for the 2nd District U.S. House spot into a two-way contest, between Republican incumbent Jackie Walorski, seeking her second term, and Democrat Joe Bock. Libertarians ran for the post in 2010 and 2012, garnering less than 5 percent of the vote each time, though some say the 2010 candidate, Mark Vogel, helped sway the vote for the Democratic contender and eventual victor that year, Joe Donnelly. Dan Drexler, chairman of the Indiana Libertarian Party, expressed disappointment over Petermann’s move. The Walorski and Bock campaigns, he added, are probably relieved. ”I certainly enjoyed the idea of having a candidate in an important race like this,“ Drexler said. Petermann’s name will still appear on the Nov. 4 ballot because the deadline for candidates to formally remove their names, July 15, has passed. But the Elkhart man, who initially announced his bid last March, is no longer campaigning, nor pursuing election to the U.S. House. Petermann cited lack of financial and volunteer support, even from people who had previously promised backing for his bid. ”People just kind of dropped the ball,“ he said. He also expressed a heavy dose of disillusionment with the Libertarian Party, which factored in his move. He dubs himself a ”constitutional conservative“ and said some of his views ran afoul with others in the party, which, broadly, touts a socially moderate and fiscally conservative agenda. More specifically, Petermann cited his opposition to abortion and his Christianity and creationist beliefs, contrary to the views of some Libertarian Party elements...Petermann also stepped down as chairman of the Elkhart County Libertarian Party. Rick Bowen, currently the vice chairman of the party here and a former chairman, will be elevated to acting chair, Drexler said. With the July 15 deadline past, it’s too late to tab another Libertarian hopeful for the 2nd District race. Vogel, the 2010 candidate, vied last April for the candidacy this go-round at the Indiana Libertarian Party convention, but lost out to Petermann, according to Drexler.
GOP SENATORS BLOCK BORDER CRISIS EMERGENCY BILL: Senate Republicans blocked a $2.7 billion border spending bill Thursday in a 50-44 vote (The Hill). The Senate voted against waiving a budget point of order on the measure, which would have provided funding for authorities to handle a wave of child immigrants crossing the border. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted against the bill. Every Republican voted against proceeding. Landrieu faces a tough reelection in November. Democrats decried Republicans for not allowing the bill to pass, while Republicans slammed Democrats for not allowing them to offer amendments. “We’re no longer the greatest deliberative body, we’re the greatest delaying body in the world,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said. “We’re facing a really serious problem in our country. … Certainly we can deal with 60,000 children.” “I say shame on you for failing to let senators from the states most affected to offer amendments,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said ahead of the vote. “Not a single one.” The House may still approve legislation on Friday responding to the border, but Congress is not going to send legislation to President Obama's desk despite his request for a $3.7 billion bill. The Senate border bill included $615 million in emergency funding to combat wildfires in the west and $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system, bringing the total cost of the legislation to more than $3.57 billion. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) then tried to pass emergency funding bills just for wildfires and the Iron Dome through unanimous consent, but Republicans still objected. Republicans wanted to offer immigration reform amendments to the bill, including amending a 2008 human trafficking law to make it easier to deport Central American children crossing the border.
COATS VOTES AGAINST BORDER CRISIS SUPPLEMENTAL BILL: Senator Dan Coats, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, voted against the Senate majority’s $3.57 billion supplemental appropriations bill Thursday to address the crisis on the southern border of the United States (Howey Politics Indiana). “The wrong solution to our border crisis is to throw money at the problem without addressing the policies that created this situation,” said Coats. “This proposal will fail to stem the tide of children making the dangerous trek to the United States. The best way to stop this humanitarian crisis is to reunite children who have come to America with their families in their home countries. Taking this action will send a message and deter children from even starting the difficult journey to the United States.” Coats supported the Protecting Children and America’s Homeland Act, an alternative proposal introduced by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to address the border crisis. The bill would make several changes to current immigration law to allow quicker repatriation of unaccompanied alien children while ensuring due process for asylum claims. The bill also would prevent the president from any expansion of the deferred action program and provide funding for border security, law enforcement and humanitarian assistance activities. The cost of the legislation would be fully offset. “I am committed to solving our border crisis because we cannot sit back and let this situation grow worse, as it does day by day,” said Coats. “Our proposal is a reasonable approach that will address this problem more effectively than the classic Washington response of spending money in hopes of fixing a problem. I am disappointed that Harry Reid, once again, refused to allow consideration of any Republican ideas.”...Senator Coats says, “We cannot, as a country, just keep open borders and accept everybody who wants to come across without some kind of legal process (WNDU-TV). We are a nation of immigrants. We've always been inviting people to come here on a legal basis, but what is happening down here on the Texas border is overwhelming the systems, the schools, the hospitals.”
DONNELLY STRESSES NEED TO FOLLOW IMMIGRATION LAW, PROCEDURES: NewsCenter 16 caught up with both Indiana senators to talk about the on-going immigration crisis (WNDU-TV). Both Senators Coats and Donnelly believe we must follow the law and safely return the children that dangerously cross the border every day...Senator Donnelly says, “What we're trying to do is make sure we can handle the children as quickly as possible. We have a hearing. There were laws set up back when President Bush was president. So we have a hearing for them, they go through the hearing process, then in almost every case we return them home to their home country.”
SENATE PASSES VA REFORM 91-3, HEADS TO OBAMA: The Senate on Thursday easily adopted a $17 billion bill meant to revamp the troubled Veterans Affairs (VA) Department (The Hill). Senators voted 91-3 in favor of a conference agreement that provides $10 billion in funding to pay for veterans to get healthcare at private facilities and another $5 billion to allow the VA to hire more doctors, nurses and other medical staff. The House backed the proposal in a 420-5 vote on Wednesday. The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature.
COATS VOTES FOR VA REFORM BILL: Senator Dan Coats voted in favor of bipartisan legislation that would implement key changes to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities (Howey Politics Indiana). “This compromise legislation will bring several much-needed reforms to the VA,” said Coats. “Increasing accountability and providing veterans facing unacceptable waits for VA medical care with the option to receive private-sector treatment are positive steps. The legislation also includes a number of provisions that will provide needed reforms to the VA health care system. Passing this legislation and confirming a new VA secretary marks a turning point and a chance for a fresh start. We need to keep the promises our country has made to its veterans.”
DONNELLY VOTES FOR VA REFORM BILL: “This commonsense, bipartisan legislation should help ensure Hoosier veterans can receive timely access to the quality health care they deserve,” said Indiana Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly (Associated Press). “Reforming the VA and changing the culture at VA facilities won’t happen overnight; however this bill will begin to address the problems revealed at too many VA health facilities. This legislation should help improve veterans’ access to care, provide VA facilities with more resources to meet the needs of our heroes, and increase accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
SENATE PASSES HIGHWAY BILL 81-13, HEADS TO OBAMA: After the House rejected Senate changes, senators held their noses Thursday and voted 81-13 for a $10.9 billion bill to fund highway projects through May 2015 (The Hill). Earlier in the week, the Senate voted to amend the House-passed Highway Trust Fund bill, changing the length of the extension to December to pressure lawmakers to come up with a long-term solution after the midterm elections. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said it would have been “legislative malpractice” for the Senate to simply accept the House version without attempting to put its own stamp on the bill, but in the end there were enough senators to pass the House bill as is. “Congress needs to act immediately to prevent a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund … Thousands of jobs are at stake here,” ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said ahead of the vote. “The only viable solution is for the Senate to take up the House bill and pass it. … We don’t have any other options if we want to get this done before the recess.” The bill now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature. The White House has said it will accept the House legislation but would have preferred a $302 billion four-year extension of highway funding...The trust fund gets its money from the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax, which has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure spending. Some lawmakers have proposed raising the gas tax — which hasn’t been increased in more than 20 years — in a six-year funding bill in order to avoid more shortfalls in the future.
EMERGENCY AID TO ISRAEL BLOCKED IN SENATE: In the end, the Senate couldn’t even agree to deliver emergency aid to one of the United States’ closest allies (POLITICO). A last-ditch effort to deliver aid to Israel during its war with Hamas died on the Senate floor, as Republicans blocked the proposal over concerns that it would increase the debt. After Senate Republicans blocked Democrats’ $2.7 billion border aid package, which also included $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and $615 million to fight Western wildfires, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to split off the Israel and wildfire money as a standalone bill, hoping to put aside the dispute over border funding and appeal to Republicans’ deep ties to Israel...The stumble on delivering $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which is used to shoot down rockets aimed at Israel, infuriated GOP hawks who’d been pushing Reid to break the Israel funding from the border bill.
DONNELLY, COATS URGE ACTION ON ASIAN CARP: Thursday, U.S. Senators Joe Donnelly, Dan Coats, and Mark Kirk (R-IL), along with Great Lakes Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) sent a letter to White House Council on Environmental Quality Asian Carp Director John Goss expressing their continued commitment to practical, immediate solutions to the threat of Asian carp and other invasive species to the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basin (Howey Politics Indiana). The Senators wrote, “While disagreements about prevention measures remain, the Asian carp threat persists, and urgent action is needed. The immediate path forward should include a set of short- and medium-term actions, which should be able to garner regional consensus more readily to strengthen protection for the Great Lakes…As the Asian Carp Director, we ask for your leadership to help guide a productive dialogue among all impacted stakeholders that includes a focus on practical, immediate solutions with broad support across all impacted stakeholders.” The Great Lakes Senators also requested Director Goss’s assistance in urging the Chicago Area Waterway System Advisory Committee to make recommendations for short-, medium-, and long-term solutions to safeguard the Great Lakes from Asian carp and other invasive species as soon as possible.
DONNELLY ENCOURAGES USE OF NATURAL GAS VEHICLES: Thursday, U.S. Senators Joe Donnellyand James Inhofe (R-OK) introduced bipartisan legislation that would create a more level playing field for American companies transporting freight in natural gas-powered vehicles across the country (Howey Politics Indiana). The Natural Gas Long Haul Truck Competitiveness Act of 2014 (S. 2721) would establish a uniform federal standard for all natural gas-powered vehicles carrying freight across the country, eliminating a significant barrier that currently exists for many businesses that rely on natural gas powered vehicles. Donnelly said, “Supporting natural gas-powered vehicles is a part of the all-in approach to American energy that we need. While the standards in this bill are currently in place in Indiana, we need to expand them across the country so more companies are encouraged to make the investment in natural gas-powered vehicles. I am pleased to join my colleague, Senator Inhofe, in introducing this bipartisan legislation that would encourage businesses to use natural gas when transporting their freight and products.”
DONNELLY ANNOUNCES SHADOWING EVENTS IN ELKHART, PERU: Senator Joe Donnelly announced Thursday he will be launching “Donnelly Days,” an ongoing series of events where he will shadow Hoosiers in a variety of jobs and professions in communities across Indiana. He will kick off these “Donnelly Days” events on Monday, August 4, in Elkhart and Peru (Howey Politics Indiana). Donnelly said, “There’s no better way to understand the most pressing issues and challenges facing Hoosiers than to shadow them at their jobs, work alongside them, and walk a mile in their shoes. ‘Donnelly Days’ will provide me with a unique opportunity to roll up my sleeves and get a new perspective on the challenges Hoosiers experience every day and how we can help address them.” On Monday morning, Donnelly will visit Thor Industries in Elkhart and work on the final finish line installing awnings onto motorhomes. Headquartered in Elkhart, Thor Industries ranked one of the 50 best U.S. manufacturers last year by Industry Week and employs 8,300 full-time employees in the United States. Donnelly will then visit Dean Baldwin Painting in Peru on Monday afternoon to shadow workers in the aircraft strip and paint services industry. Dean Baldwin Painting is a small business that opened its first full service facility in Indiana last year.
BROOKS COSPONSORS CAMPUS SAFETY ACT: A bipartisan coalition of 18 House members Thursday introduced the House version of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (Howey Politics Indiana). The legislation mirrors a bill introduced in the Senate yesterday, which takes aim at sexual assaults on college and university campuses by protecting and empowering students, strengthening accountability and transparency for institutions and establishing stiff penalties for non-compliance with the legislation’s new standards for training, data and best practices. The House effort is being championed by a bipartisan coalition led by Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Patrick Meehan (R-PA), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Ted Poe (R-TX), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Susan Brooks (R-IN), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Tom Reed (R-NY), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Kristi Noem (R-SD), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), David Joyce (OH-14), Annie Kuster (D-NH), and Gary Peters (D-MI). “It’s vital that universities have the resources and information necessary to adequately address the issue of sexual assault on college campuses,” Congresswoman Susan W. Brooks said. “This legislation represents a concerted effort to ensure our schools have helpful guidance and useful standards enabling them to effectively counsel victims in a confidential manner and implement adequate disciplinary proceedings. I’m especially pleased that those who oversee sexual assault cases will be provided specialized training that reflects current best practices. I look forward to continuing to work on this very important issue in a bipartisan manner to ensure safety and protection for victims of sexual assault and clarity to universities on how best to address this issue. I’d like to thank Representative’s Maloney and Meehan for their leadership on this legislation.”
CANTOR TO RESIGN FROM HOUSE SEAT: Rep. Eric Cantor will resign from Congress effective Aug. 18, he said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch posted at midnight (Roll Call). The Virginia Republican, newly deposed as House majority leader after losing his primary to Dave Brat, said he has asked Gov. Terry McAuliffe to call a special election on Nov. 4, ensuring that the district will be represented in the lame duck.
GOVERNOR: PENCE TALKS IMMIGRATION CRISIS ON FOX NEWS - Governor Mike Pence continues to take part in the ongoing national debate over the flood of children arriving in the US from Central America (Shella, WISH-TV). Two days after sending a letter to President Obama to object to the placement of 245 immigrant children in Indiana without notice, Pence was on Fox News. “Spiriting people around the country and not informing state governments and local officials about their placement and long term placement with private individuals or institutions is not the answer,” Pence said. Among those defending the Pence position is GOP Senator Dan Coats. “You’ve gotta give us some notice on this and we’ve got to work together,” he said. “We can’t just dump them in a community and say ‘here, put them in your schools, put them in your hospitals, put them in your welfare system.'” Indiana Democrats went after the governor even though they agree that the state should be informed about immigrant placement.
State Democratic Chairman John Zody says Pence has one motivation. “Politics. He is trying to raise his profile again for whatever he might want to do here in a couple of years in 2016,” Zody said. “And this is not an issue that should be a part of his political aspirations,” said state Representative Charlie Brown (D-Gary.) “I mean these are young kids that obviously are looking for a better life.”
GOVERNOR: PENCE'S SCHEDULE - 6:30 a.m. – Governor, First Lady to attend 2014 Indiana Pork Producers Ham Breakfast; Governor Pence will offer remarks. Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum, 1202 E. 38th Street, Indianapolis. 8:00 a.m. – Governor, First Lady to attend Indiana State Fair Opening Ceremony; Governor Pence will offer remarks. Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum, 1202 E. 38th Street, Indianapolis.
STATEHOUSE: ZOELLER PROMOTES TWO TOP DEPUTIES - Thursday, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced two promotions within his office (Howey Politics Indiana). Chief Deputy Attorney General Gary Secrest will assume the new role of assistant attorney general, while Deputy Attorney General Matt Light will succeed Secrest as the new chief deputy attorney general. Gary Secrest has served in the Attorney General’s Office since 2001 and became chief deputy AG in 2010. Matt Light will assume the chief deputy AG position as Secrest becomes assistant AG. Since 2011, Light has served as chief counsel of the AG’s Advisory and Alternative Dispute Resolution Services and will continue to supervise that division. In his new role as chief deputy, Light also will be liaison to the Governor’s newly named deputy chiefs of staff to coordinate communications between the Governor’s Office and AG’s Office. For six of the last seven legislative sessions, Light has served as one of the AG’s liaisons to state legislators and he will continue in that role to develop and implement the AG’s legislative agenda.
STATEHOUSE: IG REPORT CLEARS INDOT CHIEF-OF-STAFF - Based on an investigation by Indiana's top ethics policeman, local and federal prosecutors declined to seek charges against former Indiana Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Troy Woodruff (Sabalow, Indianapolis Star). Woodruff, who resigned Thursday, faced a host of ethics questions about land sales to INDOT, possible nepotism and his involvement in a bridge project that benefited his relatives. But following a 19-month investigation, Inspector General David Thomas concluded that Woodruff's conduct "gives rise to the appearance of impropriety" and "diminishes public trust" — but does not amount to criminal or civil violations. In a report obtained by The Indianapolis Star Thursday, Thomas called for changes in state law to tighten controls on public officials who do business with the state, specifically those whose land is acquired under the threat of eminent domain, as Woodruff's was. Thomas also advised INDOT to adopt policies that expressly forbid employees from working on matters involving their family members, and chided Woodruff for doing so, and INDOT for allowing it. Moreover, Thomas urged INDOT not to allow Woodruff not to come back to work for the agency or "to profit" as contractor for a year. INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said Gov. Mike Pence's office directed INDOT to implement Thomas' recommendations. Pence ordered the probe early last year following an Indianapolis Star investigation into Woodruff's involvement in the I-69 project. Woodruff didn't respond to a request for comment made this week though INDOT's press office.
STATEHOUSE: IG REPORT OUTLINES ETHICS CONCERNS WITH INDOT - Thomas' report revealed for the first time that INDOT's own ethics officer Tiffany Mulligan had advised Woodruff in 2009 to disclose his land sales with the State Ethics Commission, but Woodruff had declined due to concerns about "drawing further attention to the matter (Sabalow, Indianapolis Star)." Woodruff, a former lawmaker, had been criticised after he and his wife received state jobs. Some alleged the unadvertised jobs were a political reward for Woodruff's support of Daylight Saving Time, one of former Gov. Mitch Daniels signature legislative initiatives. Woodruff had broken a campaign promise with his vote, outraging voters in the district, who kicked him out of office. Thomas bristled that Woodruff's decision not to seek an ethics opinion resulted in a cascade of questions from the public and work by his office, the Marion County Prosecutor, a Daviess County Special Prosecutor, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office. "This demonstrates the critical importance of an Ethics Officer to a state agency," Thomas wrote. "It further reveals the dramatic consequences that can result from failure to follow the advice of an agency Ethics Officer." Instead of seeking an ethics opinion, Woodruff made three vague land ownership statements on financial disclosure forms filed from 2009 to 2011. What the forms did not say was that Woodruff and his immediate relatives sold roughly 3 acres of land INDOT, his employer. Woodruff's uncle and cousins also had sold $1.8 million in land to INDOT. Those relatives then purchased the remaining 30 acres of Woodruff's land for nearly twice what he and his family had paid. Thomas said in his report that the payouts were in line with what other families had gotten in the area and a Federal Highway Administration review of I-69 purchases found no problems with any of the I-69 payments. He also said they found no evidence that Woodruff had influenced the prices INDOT paid his family...Thomas' report also concluded that there was nothing illegal about Woodruff's involvement in a $770,444 bridge replacement project, though it again raised concerns about the appearance of a conflict. In reports leaked to The Star last year, construction manager Tom Brummett described top INDOT officials ordering the replacement of approaches an overpass as the "Troy Woodruff Re-do."...While intervention in the bridge project wasn't illegal, Thomas wrote, Woodruff shouldn't have done it.
TRANSPORTATION: 'HOOSIER STATE' RAIL LINE FUNDING UNCERTAIN - Governor Mike Pence is noncommittal on whether Indiana will support the future of the Hoosier State Passenger Rail Line with state dollars (Smith, Indiana Public Media). Pence is shifting responsibility to local communities along the line that runs between Chicago and Indianapolis. Federal funding for the Hoosier State Rail Line was cut off last year. The state and local communities along the line reached a temporary funding agreement that keeps the route running through October. But Indianapolis has announced it will no longer contribute funds. Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton says even if the legislature approves new money in the budget it will create next session, there will be a gap in time when the line will have to shut down unless the state steps up. Governor Pence says the state will operate in good faith. “But it’s going to take an ongoing partnership with all of the communities along the line to be able to do that and I think the communities that stand to benefit from the Hoosier Rail Line should participate in supporting that line,” Pence says. Barton doesn’t disagree, saying it’s difficult for the communities currently helping fund the line to provide more dollars when some aren’t chipping in at all: “We have the city of Beech Grove not really participating and they’re not on the route, but they benefit with all the jobs,” Barton says. “And unfortunately we have the city of Dyer not participating and still have a stop. So that makes it tough for us to sell it at home.” The state is replacing Amtrak, which currently runs the line with a private management company who is expected to help improve the line and make it more cost-effective. Barton says that will help encourage local communities to invest. But, without the state and Indianapolis, he thinks the line will likely die.
HEALTH: $500K AWARDED TO TWO HEALTH CARE CENTERS - The federal government has awarded $500,000 to two Indiana health care providers to expand behavioral health services (Associated Press). The Times of Munster reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the funding Thursday for North Shore Health Centers based in Portage and Maple City Health Care Center in Goshen. HHS says the funding will be used to establish or expand behavioral health services for roughly 1,600 people. North Shore Health Centers CEO Jan Wilson says the center plans to hire a licensed social worker at its Hammond and Merrillville locations. HHS says the grants are part of $54.6 million in Affordable Care Act behavioral health funds awarded nationally. It says Indiana health centers saw more than 19,000 behavioral health patients in 2013.
MEDIA: SCRIPPS MERGES WITH OTHER FIRM - Journal Communications Inc. of Milwaukee and E.W. Scripps Co. of Cincinnati have an agreement to merge broadcasting operations while spinning off newspaper holdings into a separate public entity, the companies announced late Wednesday (Indianapolis Business Journal). Scripps is the parent company WRTV Channel 6, the ABC-TV affiliate in Indianapolis, and the Evansville Courier & Press. Earlier this year, Scripps said it was building a multimillion-dollar master control facility at its WRTV-TV that will control all 19 of Scripps’ U.S. television stations. The newspaper component of the deal, Journal Media Group, will be headquartered in Milwaukee and operate in 14 markets, according to news releases from the companies. It will combine Journal Communications' Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, community publications and digital products with Scripps' daily newspapers, including the Memphis Commercial Appeal, plus community and digital products. Meanwhile, Journal Communications' broadcast assets will be folded into Scripps, with headquarters remaining in Cincinnati. The company will own and operate TV and radio stations serving 27 markets, making it the fifth-largest independent TV group in the country, according to the releases.
VIRGINIA: EX-GOV. MCDONNELL'S CORRUPTION TRIAL PROGRESSES - Jonnie Williams Sr. wasn’t looking for friends (Richmond Times-Dispatch). He was looking for “credibility.” The CEO of Star Scientific wanted the kind of credibility that could come from the endorsement of the governor of Virginia, or his wife — and the doors that would open for research studies and sales for a company that was pinning its hopes on a tobacco-derived dietary supplement. Williams, in his second day of immunized testimony on Day 4 of the federal corruption trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell, said he believed that to achieve his goal, he needed to spend wads of money on the former first family. He said the spending — in golf trips, vacations, free flights, dresses, handbags, a Rolex watch, and more than $145,000 in cash gifts and loans — was not a token of friendship, but the cost of doing business. “The McDonnells were not my personal friends,” Williams said on the witness stand, just a few steps away from the former governor and his wife. Asked by federal prosecutor Michael Dry why he gave the gifts to the McDonnells, Williams responded: “I thought it was good for my company.” Williams also said his business overtures did not include a romantic relationship with Maureen McDonnell, whom defense attorneys had suggested had a crush on the smooth-talking, free-spending millionaire that contributed to the disintegration of the McDonnell marriage. Williams added that she didn’t consider the relationship a romance, either. But Williams said indulging the first family’s luxury wants and financial needs was the reason he received Executive Mansion access for his product, Anatabloc, and access to the first couple and executive branch officials. “Are you 100 percent sure that Bob McDonnell agreed to help your company because of the loans and gifts?” defense lawyer William Burck asked Williams during cross-examination Thursday. “I am 100 percent sure,” Williams replied. That contention could be vigorously challenged today when cross-examination of the government’s star witness resumes in federal court in Richmond. Prosecutors on Thursday painted a portrait of a first family that greedily gobbled up anything Williams offered, and wasn’t shy about asking for more — including loans to bail it out of financial trouble on its real estate investments. Williams told the jury that at one point he had to say no. It was when he received a call from the McDonnells’ daughter Cailin, who, prompted by her mother, said she had picked out a car for Williams to buy for her. “I told her I just couldn’t buy a car,” Williams said he told Maureen McDonnell in a subsequent phone call. “I just couldn’t do anything like that.” Asked why, Williams said: “It’s too visible.” But on other occasions, the Star Scientific CEO said yes — such as to Maureen McDonnell’s request for a $6,000-plus Rolex watch to give her husband.
ECONOMY: JULY JOBS REPORT DUE FRIDAY, UNEMPLOYMENT 6.1% - The U.S. unemployment rate has plunged since the start of last year to a five-year low of 6.1 percent. And the July jobs report being released Friday will likely show a sixth straight month of healthy 200,000-plus gains (Associated Press). Yet, for Douglas Hunter and millions like him, happy days aren't quite here again. Hunter earned $14 an hour cleaning oil drums before the Great Recession seized the economy and his job was axed. At 53, Hunter now works three days a week for $9.25 an hour, mopping floors and fixing fryers at two McDonald's restaurants in Chicago. "If the economy is getting better, I'm not sure for whom," he said. "It certainly hasn't trickled down to me." The Gallup Organization has found that consumers' view of the economy is the glummest it's been in seven months. As the economic recovery enters its sixth year, a number of factors help explain why many Americans don't feel better off: Income hasn't rebounded. Millions are working part time even though they want full-time jobs. It's taking longer to find work. People are still struggling with mortgage debt. Some feel down about the economy because of their political views. And most people don't feel free to spend as much as they used to.
ECONOMY: MINNESOTA RAISES MINIMUM WAGE TO $9.50 - Minnesota is seeing its first minimum wage increase in nearly a decade (Twin Cities Pioneer Press).
Starting Friday, most of the state's lowest paid workers will receive $8 an hour. It's the first of three annual increases that will push
Minnesota's wage floor from $6.15 an hour -- among the lowest in the
country -- to $9.50 -- the second highest in the country -- by 2016.
Beginning in 2018, it will be indexed to inflation. The Legislature passed the wage hike in April, but it didn't
happen easily. A months-long political fight ended with votes more or
less along party lines in the state Senate and the House of
EBOLA: STRICKEN U.S. AID WORKER RETURNING FOR TREATMENT - A U.S. aid worker who was infected with the deadly Ebola virus while working in West Africa will be flown to the United States to be treated in a high-security ward at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, hospital officials said on Thursday (Reuters). The aid worker, whose name has not been released, will be moved in the next several days to a special isolation unit at Emory. The unit was set up in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said her agency was working with the U.S. State Department to facilitate the transfer. Reynolds said the CDC was not aware of any Ebola patient ever being treated in the United States, but five people in the past decade have entered the country with either Lassa Fever or Marburg Fever, hemorrhagic fevers similar to Ebola. News of the transfer follows reports of the declining health of two infected U.S. aid workers, Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol, who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia on behalf of North Carolina-based Christian relief groups Samaritan's Purse and SIM. CNN and ABC News reported that a second American infected with Ebola was to be flown to the United States. CNN identified the U.S.-bound patients as Brantly and Writebol. Reuters could not independently confirm the reports.
CITIES: MIXED REACTIONS TO BALLARD'S PROPOSED ANTI-CRIME TAX - Mayor Greg Ballard's crime-fighting plan is stirring debate. On Wednesday, the mayor proposed hiring 360 more officers over the next three years, funding a voluntary preschool program for low-income kids, expanding the teen curfew and pushing for harsher penalties for drug crimes (Milz, WTHR-TV). But some question his funding plan for adding officers and preschool as it includes two tax hikes. Paul Battles is an Indianapolis truck driver. "I am concerned about paying more in taxes. We're already paying so much in taxes now," he said. The mayor wants to max out the public safety tax, raising it from 0.35% to 0.5%. That would raise a total of $27 million a year, with $15 million of that going to the City of Indianapolis and the rest to the county and excluded towns. It would cost an Indianapolis resident making $50,000 a year an extra $75 a year in taxes. The mayor also wants to eliminate the homestead tax credit (which is different from the $45,000 state homestead deduction taken off the assessed value of a person's primary residence.) It would raise $7.5 million a year. According to the mayor's office, 60% of homeowners would be effected by eliminating the credit, paying an average of $1.84 a month more in taxes, or about $22 a year. "That's under $10 a month, seems reasonable," said Stephanie Mann. Mann, an IPS teacher, said she particularly likes the preschool program since "we know the younger we reach (kids), the better." But Teresa McMahon, who's part of a single-income family, said as much as she worries about crime, every penny counts...The City-County Council needs to approve both funding changes. A mayoral spokesman said they will be introduced separately from the budget and if approved this year, would take effect January 1, 2015.
CITIES: BALLARD'S ARGUMENT, DETAILS ON PRE-K PLAN - Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard unveiled a new initiative Wednesday that will fund preschool for children from low-income families, as well as boost the quality of local providers (Morello, StateImpact Indiana). Ballard introduced the five-year program as part of a new plan to curb violence in the city. He said efforts to fight crime start with “prevention,” making sure at-risk kids have access to quality early childhood education programs. “We, as society, can no longer keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results,” Ballard said in a statement. “The institutions that support the family have not kept up with changes in family structure and the culture. And the crime that cities across America are experiencing today is a direct result of it.” Ballard argues that high-quality early preschool not only makes the city safer, but also improves academic, socioeconomic, behavioral and health outcomes for children living in poverty. The mayor’s plan calls for the city of Indianapolis to invest $25 million in tax dollars over the next five years, coordinated through the United Way of Central Indiana...To pay for the scholarship program specifically, the mayor wants to eliminate the local homestead tax credit, which would cost the average homeowner about $22 per year. Combined with other state, federal, and private investments, an estimated $50 million will go toward early childhood education in the city by 2020. Ballard expects that will pay for about 1,300 kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch to attend preschool each year. Scholarships could become available to students as early as the fall of 2015. Ballard’s initiative is similar to, but separate from the state’s new pre-k pilot program. Marion County was one of the five counties selected to participate in that program, which is also scheduled to launch during the 2015-16 school year. Another education component of the mayor’s plan: a study to better understand factors that push kids out of school: expulsion, suspension, and dropouts. The proposal also includes an earlier curfew for teens on the weekends, harsher punishment for gun offenders and adding 280 police officers to the city’s force by 2018. Ballard plans to present his proposal to the City-County Council on August 18.
CITIES: INDY COUNCIL PREZ IN TWITTER BATTLE OVER CRIME PLAN - City and community leaders got into a heated debate on how to stop the violence in Indianapolis on Thursday. But it wasn’t behind closed doors or even in a public meeting (Wagner, WISH-TV). To see it and even chime in yourself, you simply had to pull out your smart phone. It all started when Mayor Greg Ballard unveiled his plan to curb crime in the city on Wednesday. It’s been the big story not only in newsrooms, but on Twitter. And it’s on that public forum where one particular debate had everyone wondering what each side would tweet next. On one side, there’s Reverend Charles Harrison, leader of the Ten Point Coalition, an organization focused on grass roots efforts to stop crime and violence. On the other was Maggie Lewis, City County Council President for Indianapolis. On Thursday, the two community leaders had two differing opinions. “I have one I put it out there, Councilman Lewis had one, she put it out there,” said Harrison. “We just went back and forth this morning talking about crime in our community,” said Lewis. Filling feeds across the Twitter world, the pair let loose how they felt about Mayor Ballard’s plan to stop the violence. “In four years we will have the largest number of IMPD officers in department history,” proclaimed Mayor Ballard during a news conference outlining his plan Wednesday. “I tend to agree with IMPD. They say that they need 500 officers on the street,” said Lewis. But Harrison disagreed saying that isn’t the only solution. The amount of officers wasn’t the only number they disagree on. Funding for crime prevention and incarceration heated up as well and the rest of the world was taking notice. “I found it interesting when people started texting me and emailing me talking about ‘Hey I’m following what’s going between you and pastor. I agree with you on this, I disagree with you on that,'” said Lewis. “We want to hear the different viewpoints and opinions that people have,” added Harrison. It seemed to be the one thing both could agree on. Not just stopping the violence, but making sure everyone has a say in how. “It doesn’t matter where it happens. If it happens on social media, if it happens at the barber shop, beauty shop, as long as that conversation is going,” said Lewis. Lewis and Harrison were excited to see others chiming in on their debate, and both wanted 24 Hour News 8 to remind people that they’re always willing have those conversations with people on Twitter and Facebook.
CITIES: FBI WIDENS PROBE INTO PORTAGE MAYOR - The FBI has widened its investigation into Portage Mayor James Snyder to include plane tickets and travel expenses he funded through the city and/or its utility department from campaign funds (Kasarda, NWI Times). The federal investigators served members of the Utility Service Board with subpoenas earlier this week seeking documents related to Snyder writing checks to pay back the debt, said department Secretary/Treasurer Sherry Smolar. Smolar said she was working Thursday to fulfill the request. Snyder said in a written statement the reimbursement was for plane tickets and other expenses related to a city economic development trip to Europe. "We reimbursed them in the time allotted by the state board of accounts. The PAC and Campaign chose to reimburse the entire trip instead of the normal half as businesses contributed more money than we expected to raise for the express purpose of the trip, so the City incurred no expense for the City trip we took to promote Portage and visit the world headquarters (in Austria) for Portage-based Fronius. We also attended the world Intersolar convention in Munich, Germany as a guest of Fronius, who introduced Portage to a dozen or more potential new Portage businesses," according to the statement. The request for documents from the utility department comes one week after FBI agents appeared at the Porter County Administration Center seeking copies of campaign records for Snyder. Sundae Schoon, the Republican director at the Porter County voter registration office, said the FBI agents requested his campaign finance records and records from his political action committee Portage Mayor Elect 2011. Snyder responded in an email last week that he has done nothing wrong. "I have been advised that government agents have asked to review my campaign-finance records," he said in the email. "These records are now, and have always been, available to the public on the Internet. In fact, to my knowledge, I was the first public official in Porter County to post such records in a public forum. My campaign has done nothing wrong, and we look forward to this matter being wrapped up as expeditiously as possible," the message stated. Andre Joseph, who is the City Council's appointment to the Utility Service Board, said FBI agents interviewed him at his home last week. He said in a prepared statement Thursday, "The Portage Utility Service Board has profited from the growth and enthusiasm of Mayor Snyder. We would have gladly paid for his share of the trip, but he showed great initiative by raising all of the money himself. I believe in the importance of Mayors from cities like ours taking advantage of the global economy. We need jobs, and this Mayor understands that, and I'm proud to serve with him."
CITIES: TERRE HAUTE COUNCILORS SAY CITY OVERSPENDING - Two Terre Haute councilmen told the Taxpayers Association of Vigo County Thursday they think the city is overspending, but they gave no solutions to reduce expenses (Greninger, Terre Haute Tribune Star). “We have overspent the city budget since Jim Jenkins was mayor. That is a fact,” said councilman Norm Loudermilk. “What we do is we always rob Peter to pay Paul. A municipal budget is set up on an 18-month cycle, which is hard for business folks to understand. It is 18 months worth of anticipated revenue versus 12 months of expenditures. “Recently, we have tried to look at this in a business framework where we take 12 months of expenditures versus 12 months of expenditures, that’s why, at least on paper, we are always in the negative. It didn’t help that the property tax caps came in and reduced 23 percent of our revenue. We are the seventh-hardest hit city in the state. It also didn’t help that our lower assessed value dropped $2 million in revenue from the city,” Loudermilk said. Councilman Neil Garrison said the Taxpayers Association “has been trained, as is the [city] council, to look at the general fund, which is where the operating expenses are and that has been negative for some time. “The new trend seems to be taking some of those expenses out into other accounts, so now those accounts are also dropping,” Garrison said. Terre Haute’s general fund was in the red by $1.8 million on June 30, even after receiving the first of two semi-annual property tax payments. The city borrowed $5 million this year, costing $100,000 in interest, to keep a cash flow. That measure, Loudermilk said, enabled the city to keep 100 people employed. “If we did not take that loan out, we would [have] had to cut jobs,” he said. “If we had to cut jobs, you would not lose jobs of people with 20 years making $50,000 a year, you will lose the lower paid people first before you move up the seniority list” of union employees, Loudermilk said. “If 80 percent of your budget is salaries and benefits, and 80 percent of that money is public safety, you know where the money will come from — police and fire,” Loudermilk said. “Nobody has the guts — me, Neil [Garrison], the mayor, anybody — to make the bold step and say, ‘I make a motion to reduce the fire department budget by $1 million.’ If you do, you know where the money will come from, it is salaries,” Loudermilk said. He said the city has to look to replace lost revenue. He referred to Indianapolis, where some officials are seeking to increase a public safety tax. “We don’t even have a public safety tax,” Loudermilk said.
COUNTIES: HAMILTON ENJOYING TOURISM BOOM - Hotel business is booming in Hamilton County, with mid-year occupancy up 9 percent from the first half of 2013 (Davis, Indianapolis Business Journal). The March opening of Westfield’s massive Grand Park Sports Campus has been a factor, but officials said area hotels are seeing strength across the board. “It’s been a good summer,” said Gary Miller, general manager of the Staybridge Suites extended-stay hotel in Fishers. He credits improving economic conditions for boosting corporate and leisure travel. "The economy in general is starting to move,” Miller said. “It’s coming back up.” Indeed, business trips, sporting events and concerts at Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville continue to drive business, said Brenda Myers, executive director of Hamilton County Tourism Inc., which works to attract visitors. The ’burbs also are seeing more spillover from big events in Indianapolis, like the National Rifle Association convention in April. “It’s a beautiful thing when you have this many layers,” Myers said. “It makes you a little more resilient” to the ups and downs of the hospitality industry. Hotel occupancy in the county for the first six months of the year hit 67.9 percent, according to data provided by Hamilton County Tourism Inc. That represented a 9-percent improvement over 62.3 percent in the first six months of 2013. Although most suburban hotels don’t break down guest data for the tourism agency, teams participating in events at Grand Park are required to book their stays through a central housing bureau. In April, about 10 percent of the 64,000-plus room nights sold in Hamilton County came from Grand Park, Myers said. The 400-acre complex has attracted about 600,000 visitors since its debut this year, and organizers expect that number to reach 1.5 million when the park is operating at full capacity.