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Friday, August 09, 2013 10:11 AM
When Dr. William VanNess became Indiana’s health commissioner in January, he found some disturbing trends (Vizza, Lafayette Journal & Courier). Nearly 31 percent of Hoosier adults are obese, 25.6 percent smoke and 29 percent lead a sedentary lifestyle. But most disturbing, VanNess said, was the high percentage of infants who die at birth or within the first 12 months of their lives. “In 2011, Indiana had 7.7 deaths per 1,000 live births,” VanNess told local nurses, physicians and health service providers in Lafayette on Thursday. “I was aghast to see that number.” Nationally the infant mortality rate is 6.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. Preliminary data indicated Indiana had the third highest infant mortality rate in the nation. Final data released Thursday showed Indiana has the fifth highest. Premature births and low birth weights are among the causes identified by the Indiana State Department of Health epidemiology staff… And, Indiana has a high rate of women who continue to use tobacco during pregnancy. According to the Indiana State Department of health, from 2007-2011: 17 percent of Indiana moms smoke while pregnant; 30 percent of Indiana moms who smoke while pregnant are on Medicaid; 9 percent of U.S. moms smoke while pregnant. “It is more of a rural problem in Indiana,” said Joe Haddix, ISDH maternal and child health epidemiology director. “In some rural counties we see more pregnant women smoking.”
  • There will be a well-funded battle over the marriage amendment. Megan Robertson managed campaigns have always had access to cash, including Rep. Luke Messer’s million dollar campaign in 2012 and a similar effort in 2011 for Mayor Ballard. An HPI Poll conducted by Bellwether Research’s Christine Matthews in April revealed 50% support the amendment, and 46% opposed. The Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll in October 2012 had 48% supporting the amendment and 45% opposed. So this issue will be the prime political battleground in Indiana next year. – Brian A. Howey
  • Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is traveling to New York to discuss the state's finances with bond rating agencies (Howey Politics Indiana). The governor's offices says Pence left Tuesday for New York, where he will meet with officials at the Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch agencies. Pence says he's making the trip because Indiana's credit rating is an important part of its fiscal planning and efforts to attract good-paying jobs to the state. State management and budget director Chris Atkins and others are joining Pence on the trip.
  • Tuesday, Gov. Mike Pence released the following statement regarding Heather Neal’s new position with Limestone Strategies (Howey Politics Indiana): “I have accepted Heather Neal’s resignation as Legislative Director and wish her every success in her new endeavor. Heather has served this administration with integrity and effectiveness, and she will be missed. During the early days of our administration, Heather Neal played a pivotal role in developing and enacting policies in our Roadmap for Indiana, and her tireless efforts made a difference for families, small businesses and family farms across the Hoosier state. With her departure, she brings to a close a chapter in her distinguished career serving five statewide elected officials in various leadership capacities. Karen and I express our heartfelt appreciation to Heather Neal and her family for her hard work and sacrifices on behalf of the people of Indiana.”
  • 3:00 p.m. Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann To visit the The Big Peach and discuss her day in Knox County, including discussions with elected officials and local business leaders. The Pig Peach, 7738 N. Old 41, Bruceville.
  • Construction of the section of Interstate 69 that runs from Bloomington to Martinsville is now expected to cost more than $100 million less than original estimates (McInerny, Indiana Public Media). INDOT officials say the 21 mile segment of the interstate that stretches from Bloomington to Martinsville, will cost about $394 million as outlined in the latest Environmental Impact Statement. INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield says that’s because the original budget of between $500 and $545 million assumed the department would have to build new roads throughout the entire section. “Where possible we’re reusing the existing pavement, bridges and right of ways to upgrade state road 37 to I-69 section 5,” he says. Wingfield says that means the state is saving money because it’s reducing the acreage it plans to purchase from homeowners and businesses by 9 percent. The state is also largely paving the additional lanes through the existing median. But Martinsville Mayor Phil Deckard says he wants to ensure the lower cost does not mean lower quality. “We have a certain amount of concerns about that, however until we see something or know what their plans are, we’re not getting alarmed or up in the air about it,” he says.
  • Dwayne Sawyer has been sworn in as the new state auditor (Network Indiana). Gov. Mike Pence named Sawyer last week to complete the term of Tim Berry, who stepped down to become state Republican Party chairman. Sawyer says he’s inherited a strong staff from Berry but wants to continue to improve Indiana’s fiscal health. “I will work hard to help drive technical efficiencies to save taxpayer dollars,” says Sawyer, whose professional background is in information technology. Sawyer was one of several Republicans who had begun campaigning to replace Berry, who would have been forced out of office by term limits at the end of next year if he hadn‘t resigned. Sawyer’s appointment is likely to clear the field at next year‘s party convention.
  • Indiana's school superintendent doesn't believe in giving letter grades to school, but that doesn't necessarily mean she can officially agree with two school districts who are no longer paying attention to the state's A-F system (Steele, WIBC). "Labeling of the schools is of concern to the school districts, and I myself have taken a position in opposition to the labeling of schools with A, B, C, D, or F," said State Superintendent Glenda Ritz prior to an appearance before the Anderson Rotary Club. School districts in South Bend and Fort Wayne have voted to not recognize the A-F grades while investigations continue into last year's changing of the grading formula by the staff of Ritz's predecessor, Tony Bennett…The state will still issue A-F grades eventually - Ritz says even though she opposes them, state law requires her department to deliver them.  Though the grades may not be ready, the superintendent's office says the delayed ISTEP scores will be out by the end of this month. "I will be releasing data to the schools shortly after the student reports are out from ISTEP to make sure schools can continue with school improvement pieces that they need to finish and teacher evaluations."
  • Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is reminding school districts about a new grant program designed to help fund school resource officer programs and improve the safety of students (Mikus, Post-Tribune). “I’ve always believed that the No. 1 priority of any level of government is public safety,” Zoeller said. “But we tend to skip over that, or take it for granted. But it’s something we need to remind ourselves. We don’t need another shooting in a school to remind us of the necessity.” Already visiting South Bend, Anderson, and media in Fort Wayne, Zoeller stopped in Wheatfield and met with reporters in Lake County on Tuesday to remind school administrators that the deadline for the grant is Sept. 30. The grant program has $10 million earmarked for two years, and allows school corporations to apply to up to $50,000 with matching funds. Zoeller hopes to see the grant included in the state budget during the next budget cycle.
  • Lawmakers will begin discussing the possibility and potential effects of allowing Indiana farm wineries to sell and ship directly to retailers and dealers on Wednesday morning (Banta, Statehouse File). The wine industry in Indiana is growing, but wineries can’t sell their own wine unless they have a micro wholesaler permit. Winery owners and industry representatives say that needs to change. The Interim Study Committee on Economic Development is required to study farm winery issues and other topics as a result of legislation passed during the most recent session of the General Assembly. Sen. Jim Buck, who chairs the committee, said it’s important for the committee to study the issue because wine is becoming a greater source of “revenue both at the local and state level.”…But while the industry is growing, wineries can’t self-distribute unless they have a micro wholesaler permit, which representatives of wineries say is often expensive to maintain and can mean splitting up a family business.
  • The national economy will determine how quickly Indiana’s business will bounce back, Gerry Dick, president and managing editor of Inside Indiana Business, told the Terre Haute Rotary Club on Tuesday (Greninger, Terre Haute Tribune-Star). “I think a big piece of it is the national economy. [In] Indiana, and in many other states, officials will tell you the local or state economies can’t grow until the national economy really gets moving,” Dick said. “There is a lot of uncertainty out there, be with it tax policy or health care reform or health care law now,” he said. Inside Indiana Business contracted for a survey of Indiana businesses on health care. “[In] the same survey a year ago, 34 percent of those responding said health care was a huge concern. This time around, it was 64 percent,” Dick said. “As much as anything else, business, I think in Indiana, just wants there to be some certainty and recovery” in the national economy, Dick said. “Generally speaking, Indiana is holding its own coming out of the recession. The big challenge [in the Wabash Valley] and around the state of Indiana is the economy is not recovering as quickly as many people would like it to. ... A part of that in Indiana is while we have some economic development wins, we’ve also had some job losses as well.”…The manufacturing sector is one area that is helping Indiana’s economy. “Advanced manufacturing, using technology to make things, is coming back in a big way. If you go to northern Indiana, the RV (Recreational Vehicle) industry which is very cyclical and [for] a few years was in the dumps, is coming back in a big way,” Dick said.
  • Supporters of an Amtrak passenger line that runs between Indianapolis and Chicago are putting a spotlight on Indiana's looming decision on whether to keep that line moving (WTHR-TV). State lawmakers and local mayors whose cities are stops along the Hoosier State line are hosting an "Amtrak Summit" Wednesday in Lafayette. Senator Brandt Hershman is scheduled to give the opening remarks, followed by comments by Amtrak's state government relations chief and a panel discussion. Indiana must decide by this fall whether to contribute $3 million annually for the Hoosier State line, which ferries passengers four days a week between Indianapolis and Chicago. The Hoosier State is in jeopardy because effective October 1 Congress has eliminated funding for lines like it in 19 states that are shorter than 750 miles.
  • Customers of Indiana’s six largest electricity providers will likely see lower utility bills this year (Wright, Indiana Public Media). Because the utilities did not use all of the money they collected from rate-payers last year to fund energy efficiency programs, the power companies are reimbursing electricity customers the money they didn’t spend. Last year, the state’s utility providers began adding a small charge to every customer’s electric bill. They used the money to hire a company that would help customers save energy or enable low-income residents to weatherize their homes. Indiana’s five largest investor-owned utility companies: Duke Energy, Indianapolis Power and Light, Indiana Michigan Power, NIPSCO, and Vectren took park, as did the Indiana Municipal Power Agency. But after collecting more than $74 million from rate-payers, the utilities only spent roughly $42 million. The energy efficiency program will continue for the next 10 years.
  • The Pence media office has a credibility problem. I made an inquiry on the employment fate of legislative director Heather Neal late Monday afternoon, and spokeswoman Christina Denault essentially repeated what Gov. Pence had said:  "As the governor said earlier today in a press scrum following the swearing in, Heather is a valued member of our staff, and we have nothing further to say about her status at this time." The problem is, this was not true. Neal was on her way out to a private strategy firm. Even if that deal hadn’t been consummated at the time of my inquiry, a candid press operation would have followed up with a phone call or an email. The Governor-elect sat in my office a few days prior to his inauguration and pleaded for a “do over” after my request for interviews during the summer and fall of 2012 had been ignored. But the same thing is happening again this year.  Press emails to Kara Brooks of the Pence press office are routed through Denault, which suggests an interesting information control dynamic. Gov. Pence does not appear prepared to candidly discuss issues of the day, some of which have multi-billion dollar consequences for the state and its citizens. Some friendly advice to the governor: As a congressman, you championed media access and shield issues. As a radio and TV talk show host, you thrived on access to lawmakers. As governor, your accessibility has been far below that of your predecessors. You probably should rethink that. – Brian A. Howey
  • Members of the new Indiana Career Council want to take a look at what community colleges across the nation are doing right when it comes economic development and job training (Banta, Statehouse File). The group – in its second meeting on Monday – passed a resolution to create a taskforce to study the best practices of community colleges. The task force, which will be led by council member Joe Loughrey of Indianapolis, will have four main tasks, all of which will be focused on determining how the state’s community college system and sub-baccalaureate programs can help address the workforce needs of key industries in Indiana. Loughrey said this taskforce is one way the state can step up its game and will give state leaders the “ability to be able to use our education system and to be able to produce more high quality graduates with diverse backgrounds at a lower cost.”…Members also discussed a first draft of the council’s strategic plan framework, which is due to the General Assembly by Dec. 1. The framework of the plan details the council’s four goals as required by the law that established the council. Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann said she would like to see the addition of a fifth goal focusing on “creating the high value jobs of the next generation.”…The Indiana Career Council will meet next at 11 a.m. Sept. 25 in Author’s Room 203 at the Indiana State Library.
  • Gov. Mike Pence’s legislative director will leave his office and join a political strategies company in the midst of an uproar about her former boss, the firm’s owners said Monday (Weidenbener, Statehouse File). Heather Willis Neal served as chief of staff to former state Superintendent Tony Bennett during the time he is accused of changing the state’s A-F grading system to benefit a charter school he had been touting. Neal participated in email exchanges that discussed making the controversial changes. After Bennett lost his reelection bid last year, Neal moved to the new Pence administration. Now, she’ll serve as president of the public affairs practice at Limestone Strategies, a firm co-founded by Cam Savage, who also worked for Bennett. “Heather is a tremendous addition to our company,” Savage said in a statement.
  • Monday, Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann released the following statement regarding the swearing-in of Indiana’s new State Auditor, Dwayne Sawyer (Howey Politics Indiana): “Sincere congratulations to Dwayne Sawyer as he begins his service to Indiana as state auditor,” said Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann. “Dwayne’s local leadership and financial systems experience will serve Hoosiers well as he steps into his new role at the state level, and I look forward to working with he and his team.”
  • A new report shows that some local schools directly benefited from the questionable changes former state Superintendent Tony Bennett reportedly made to the school grades system (WNDU-TV). NPR’s StateImpact Indiana division put out a list of 165 schools that were affected. At least a dozen in Michiana are included. It breaks down exactly how much each school's grade changed. Several schools went up one letter grade, largely because of a change to the grading equation that got rid of limits on the number of bonus points schools could receive for academic growth in a particular subject. Bennett is accused of altering the grading formula last year to raise the score of a campaign donor's charter school.
  • Indiana has one of the best water supplies in the nation but lacks a central management system to ensure it is used appropriately, experts told the Water Resources Study Committee on Monday (Covington, Statehouse File). “While other states are fighting over water, I think we’re in a position where we should be laying out a plan (so) we don’t allow our water advantage that we have today to go to waste,” said Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, who chairs the legislative study committee. Hydrologist Jack Wittman told the committee that while much of the western part of the country is facing a drought, Indiana is “in one of the better areas of the country” for water supply. But, portions of Indiana are still receiving less water than needed. Wittman said most water competition occurs in the High Plains, the Southwest, the Gulf Coast and metropolitan areas, so Indiana doesn’t face much competition. But, since Indiana doesn’t have any major rivers or lakes that provide drinking water, the state has to rely on underground aquifers for water. Most of the state’s aquifers and other water sources are in the north, but water is needed the most in the south. Wittman also said there are “barely adequate” supplies of water in central Indiana. “We have to be cognizant of the fact that water is a limited resource,” Charbonneau said…Legislators took some first steps to developing a water management plan by passing Senate Bill 132 in 2012, which requires water utility companies to submit an annual report detailing their water use to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. But, Commissioner Carolene Maystold the committee very few utilities submitted usable data.
  • A section of the Interstate 69 extension from just south of Bloomington to Martinsville is moving forward after Indiana received approval to use federal funds for the stretch, a state highway spokesman said Monday (Associated Press). The Federal Highway Administration approval granted on Friday will allow funds from the federal agency to be used to complete the design and acquire land for the approximately 21-mile Section 5, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield said. The section will upgrade the current Indiana 37 — a four-lane, divided highway — to interstate standards. Land must be acquired for the seven interchanges and five overpasses in the section, Wingfield said.
  • Supporters of maintaining daily Amtrak passenger service between Indianapolis and Chicago are looking to step up their lobbying push ahead of a state decision whether to annually contribute $3 million toward keeping it going (Associated Press). Greater Lafayette Commerce is hosting what it calls a statewide summit on Wednesday to focus attention on the possible loss this fall of the four-day-a-week Hoosier State route in October. That would leave only another Amtrak line that runs between the cities three days a week. One of the Hoosier State’s stops is in Crawfordsville, where Mayor Todd Barton said many people have told him they consider the train service important and he believes it is worth fighting to keep. “Businesses and industries interested in coming here look at things like train service,” Barton told the Journal Review. “Daily service is paramount to our economic health.” The Hoosier State route is in jeopardy as Congress eliminated funding for lines such as it that are shorter than 750 miles in 19 states effective Oct. 1.
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  • Rep. Brooks endorses Messer in GOP Senate race
    "Luke and I have been friends for a long time, and being his colleague and watching him work up close, I have no doubt he'll make a great U.S. Senator. We face tough issues as a nation and need Luke Messer in the Senate to meet those challenges and make Washington work better for Hoosiers. Luke is a proven conservative, but more than that, he is a respected and skillful leader who builds the relationships necessary to get our shared priorities enacted into law. His principles and strong communication skills have made him a go-to leader in the House, and those same attributes will enable Luke to deliver results when he arrives in the U. S. Senate. His record of fighting for school choice to create better education opportunities for tens of thousands of Indiana families and protecting veterans’ GI Bill benefits shows Hoosiers they can trust him to do the right thing and do it well.” - U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, endorsing U.S. Rep. Luke Messer for the 2018 Republican U.S. Senate nomination on Wednesday. Messer faces U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, attorney Mark Hurt, businessman Terry Henderson, State Rep. Mike Braun and educator Andrew Takami in the GOP primary.
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  • Mike and Hillary
    We’ve watched 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton make the rounds on her new book: “What Happened.” The reaction has been cringes from Democrats hoping to move on, a set-the-record mentality from some journalistic quarters, and taunts from Republicans. Vice President Pence has the best line of all, with this tweet Thursday morning: “The first book that has the question and the answer on the cover.” Good line, Mike, er … Mr. Vice President. It harkens back to those studio days near the Speedway and a retreat to Claude & Annies. - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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