HOLCOMB SEES 'OPPORTUNITY' AS HOSPITALS ARE SLAMMED: With Hoosiers dying while awaiting Intensive Care Unit beds and hospitalizations at an all-time high, Gov. Eric Holcomb scanned what he called the "horizon" and saw "opportunity" during his sixth State of the State address Tuesday evening (Howey Politics Indiana). Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” Holcomb began his second State of the State address of this lethal COVID-19 pandemic that has killed 19,000 Hoosiers. "Ladies and gentlemen, color me an optimist, because there has never been a more opportune time to realize our true potential than right now. Even as we’re contending with the challenges of a global pandemic, we’re simultaneously strengthening our economy, reskilling our workforce, building out our infrastructure, and enhancing our quality of life. And now, because we’re ready and able, we’re revitalizing and connecting our communities across the state like never before." It wasn't until the end of his statewide televised address that he talked about the pandemic that earlier in the day the Indiana State Department of Health Indiana said breaks its 13-month-old record for COVID hospitalizations with 3,467, up 85 from Monday. Of those, 776 are in ICU, leaving the entire state with just 204 open ICU beds, the sixth-fewest ever. "Finally, I couldn’t give a State of the State Address without giving an update on COVID-19 and the extraordinary personal toll it’s had on our families," Holcomb said nearly 20 minutes into the address. "To date, more than 19,000 Hoosier lives have been lost — more than live in Huntington, or Crawfordsville or Jasper. Hospitals are diverting patients in search of available beds. The number of ICU beds in use is almost at an all-time high, and it’s difficult to find one around the state.

 

GOVERNOR APPEALS TO THE UNVACCINATED: "I want to thank over 3.5 million Hoosiers who are vaccinated and those getting boosted. You are a big reason our hospital network hasn’t collapsed," Gov. Holcomb said at a time when numerous medical sources describe that network in crisis, with Hoosiers literally dying while awaiting emergency room access (Howey Politics Indiana). "We know that people who are getting vaccinated and boosted overwhelmingly stay out of the hospital, stay out of the ICU, and don’t die," he said. Holcomb once again made a pitch to those 48% who remain unvaccinated. "If you haven’t been vaccinated, I encourage — I plead — I even beg you to speak to your doctor and do so. I say this, even if you’ve disagreed with every position I’ve taken. I just want us both to be around to continue to have those disagreements. And a special thank you to all of those who are putting others above themselves to continue the battle against COVID-19. Our hospitals have been under siege. Our healthcare providers are exhausted, physically and mentally, as are those taking care of our nursing home residents, and students in our schools, and our own State Health Department quarterbacking it all, and everyone supporting them."

 

'OVERWHELMED' INDIANA HOSPITALS REACH NEW PEAK: COVID-19 hospitalizations have hit an all-time high, according to the latest numbers reported Tuesday by the Indiana State Department of Health. The health department said COVID hospitalizations climbed to 3,467 on Monday, topping the previous pandemic peak of 3,460, reached on Nov. 30, 2020 (IBJ). Hospitalizations related to COVID have risen 22% over the past month and 167% over the past two months. COVID patients occupy 38.4% of Indiana’s intensive care unit beds. The state has 10.6% of its ICU beds available overall. “Indiana hospitals are overwhelmed with the highest number of patients on record and have reached a state of crisis with dwindling capacity left to care for patients,” Indiana Hospital Association President Brian Tabor said in a statement. “Our emergency departments are seeing 8,500-10,000 visits per day, and at any given point there are several hundred patients boarding in emergency departments around the state awaiting open beds.” Tabor said hospital patient volumes are expected to climb for the next couple of weeks. He also urged Hoosiers to seek COVID-19 tests at primary care sites including physician offices and urgent care centers and not at hospital emergency rooms. The state health department also reported 110 new deaths from COVID, increasing the cumulative death toll to 19,194. The seven-day moving average of deaths was 32 per day.

 

HOUSE PASSES CONSTITUTIONAL CARRY BILL 63-29: Indiana once again is halfway to becoming the 22nd state to allow handgun owners to carry their weapons in public without needing to obtain a state license. The Republican-controlled House voted 63-29 Tuesday to advance to the Senate House Bill 1077 (Carden, NWI Times). It repeals the state's existing licensing requirement to carry a handgun in public, allows Hoosiers wanting a license for out-of-state reciprocity purposes to continue to get one at no cost, and makes firearm theft a Level 5 felony punishable by up to six years in prison, instead of a Level 6 felony. State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, the sponsor, said he believes it's wrong for Indiana to condition the constitutional right to keep and bear arms on an "incredibly burdensome" requirement that lawful gun owners get permission from the state before carrying a handgun in public. He said criminals, by their very nature, are not taking the time to get a carry license, so why should "Mr. and Mrs. Hoosier" have to jump through a bunch of hoops to be able to defend themselves from those criminals? "Indiana isn't the first to go in this direction in siding with the law-abiding. Twenty-one states have already done this," Smaltz said.

 

BRAY OPPOSED SIMILAR BILL IN 2021: Senate Republicans killed a similar measure last year (IndyStar). "Law enforcement believes being able to access this information in the middle of the night during a traffic stop is important and thus, so do I," Senate President Rodric Bray said in a 2021 Facebook post. "The bottom line is law enforcement's ability to determine who is prohibited from carrying a concealed weapon is important and this bill does not achieve that." State police opposition last year was enough to spur Bray into stopping a similar House-approved proposal, House Bill 1369, from advancing through the Senate (NWI Times). Bray so far has yet to comment on whether this year's measure will meet a similar fate, or if he'll be overruled by more strident gun rights activists in the Senate Republican caucus.

 

SEN. MRVAN ABRUPTLY RETIRES: After 43 years of service in the General Assembly, State Sen. Frank Mrvan (D-Hammond) has officially announced his retirement. He released the following statement (Howey Politics Indiana): "Today I notified Indiana State Senate Majority Leader Rodric Bray that I am retiring effective January 11, 2022. This journey into public service would not have been possible without the support of my lovely wife Jean and countless others over the years who have allowed me to be the most effective leader I could be for the constituents of Northwest Indiana. No one could have imagined after my first successful campaign to serve as the City Councilman for the Sixth District of the City of Hammond in 1972 that the citizens would support me to continue a career in public service for five decades. Holding the public trust in elected office is an incredible honor and responsibility. Throughout my career, I have always placed a value on being able to listen to the concerns of constituents and be their voice in our state’s Capitol." Records show Mrvan, 88, missed significant chunks of the 2019 and 2021 legislative sessions due to unspecified health issues, and the Republican-controlled General Assembly currently is employing no COVID-19 prevention measures during this year's 10-week session that began Jan. 4 (NWI Times).

 

COLBERT ROASTS SEN. BALDWIN IN 'LATE SHOW': Talk show host Stephen Colbert roasted an Indiana lawmaker for nearly three minutes during his "Late Show" monologue Monday evening, saying Indiana state Sen. Scott Baldwin's proposed limits on teaching would "leave shop class and six hours of dodgeball" as the only things taught in Indiana schools (Appleton, IndyStar). During a Wednesday committee hearing for Senate Bill 167, which would limit instruction on race, ethnicity, political ideology and a host over other topics as part of a nationwide Republican movement against purported critical race theory in schools, Baldwin suggested to history teacher Matt Bockenfeld teachers should remain neutral on fascism, Nazism and Marxism. The comments, which he has since walked back in a statement to IndyStar, drew national news coverage and went viral on social media. "Baldwin's bill has been getting a lot of blowback for not letting teachers — teach," Colbert said. Colbert's audience let out a slightly delayed chorus of boos when shown video of the exchange between Baldwin and Bockenfeld. He then showed a scene from World War II epic "Saving Private Ryan," in which Capt. John H. Miller's (Tom Hanks' character) audio is doctored to say "don't shoot, let's hear the Nazis out" during a battle.

 

CHAPLIN DESCRIBES INDIANA ICU: Rabbi Mike Harvey, a resident chaplain at IU Health, has gained attention for his tweets about what it's like inside the ICU (DeMentri, WRTV). He works at University Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children through his residency. On Saturday, he posted several tweets about his experiences. "I've held my tongue a lot when it comes to #COVID19 and the emotional strain it puts on staff, but I feel like tonight is a good night to speak on it," he wrote. He wrote the unit he works in is a unit where the "sickest of the sick" come and many ICU patients other hospitals in the state can't handle. "So what is it like walking down the halls of the pods of the ICU," he wrote. "It's cold, it's dark, and it's quiet. Why? Because these folks are all intubated, hooked up to massive amounts of equipment, machines breathing for them, and feeding them through tubes. Heavy blankets cover their bodies, or machines so big cover them and you can't even see anything but their legs. Family isn't around much." Harvey wrote healthcare workers and nurses are overworked and understaffed. Some in the ICU are covering two to three patients when it's typically less. He said the "numbers don't lie" and hospitals are "swarmed with the unvaccinated."

 

SCIENTISTS BELIEVE OMICRON WAVE IS ABOUT TO PEAK: Scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19′s alarming omicron wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the U.S., at which point cases may start dropping off dramatically (AP). The reason: The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect, just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa. “It’s going to come down as fast as it went up,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. At the same time, experts warn that much is still uncertain about how the next phase of the pandemic might unfold. The plateauing or ebbing in the two countries is not happening everywhere at the same time or at the same pace. And weeks or months of misery still lie ahead for patients and overwhelmed hospitals even if the drop-off comes to pass.

 

IU, PURDUE JOIN FORCES IN 'BRAIN GAIN': Indiana’s top two public research universities are joining forces to keep more graduates in the state and fill the Hoosier talent pipeline with highly skilled workers (Howey Politics Indiana). Purdue University and Indiana University have partnered with Ascend Indiana, the talent and workforce initiative of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. Through the Ascend Network, the initiative’s online job matching platform, Purdue and IU will be able to more effectively connect students with Indiana career opportunities that match their skill sets and interests, as well as offer increased one-on-one career guidance and job search support. This partnership provides Indiana’s leading employers with a unique platform for hiring the state’s college students for internships and jobs.

 

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: In Thursday's weekly edition of Howey Politics Indiana, we'll do a deep dive into Gov. Holcomb's State of the State address; I'll explore one of the bloodiest year in Hoosier history; and Mark Souder revisits the Quayle era of campaigns. Look for it around 9 a.m. Thursday. - Brian A. Howey

 

Campaigns

 

HUPFER ON HOLCOMB ADDRESS: Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer released the following statement on Governor Eric Holcomb’s 2022 State of the State Address (Howey Politics Indiana): “With plenty of momentum behind him, tonight, Governor Holcomb outlined his bold plan to keep Indiana moving forward. Now in his sixth year in office, he reminded us of what’s possible under strong Republican leadership, and what it truly means to Build One Indiana for All. Indiana’s future is bright.”

 

SCHMUHL RESPONDS TO STATE OF STATE: Indiana Democratic Chairman Mike Schmuhl (Howey Politics Indiana): "Between the constant dismissal of the life-saving vaccine to questioning the state’s figures on cases, hospitalizations, and even deaths, Republicans have shown that their effort to score political points comes before the public health of Hoosiers. To start, the American Rescue Plan is the central reason why Indiana has a brighter future, and it was only Democrats who delivered this for Hoosiers. Whether it's the state’s READI program, handing teachers a pay raise, funding public schools at levels not seen in a decade, or bringing transformational broadband investments to families – the Rescue Plan made it possible. Gov. Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, and Indiana Republicans can do everything in their power to ignore these facts, but the truth always prevails and Democrats are confident Hoosiers will see through the Indiana Republican Party’s hollow partisanship on the economy."

 

YOUNG CAMPAIGN BEGINS TV ADS:  In a signal that his re-election campaign is strong and flush with cash, Republican Sen. Todd Young is up with his first statewide television and digital ads of 2022—months ahead of Indiana’s May 3 primary and the November general election (Importantville). A person familiar said the ad buy is $250,000 and added the campaign exceeded its $1.5 million fourth-quarter fundraising goal ahead of the Jan. 30 deadline. The ads, which focus on border security, tout Young’s visit last year to the U.S.-Mexico border near Yuma, Ariz., where he served when he was in the Marine Corps.

 

ELLINGTON FILES FOR HD45: Indiana Rep. Jeff Ellington (R-Bloomfield) filed Tuesday for re-election in HD45 (Indiana Public Media). He’ll run against Rep. Bruce Borders (R-Jasonville) in the Republican primary for House District 45.  Ellington has represented House District 62 since 2016. After the state completed redistricting last year, he announced he would run for the District 45 seat. Greene County, which makes up a majority of Ellington’s District 62, will be incorporated into District 45 once the new district maps go into effect this November. Ellington wrote in a statement that his campaign would focus on defending the Second Amendment, expanding property rights, increasing economic development in southwest Indiana, improving roads and bridges, supporting pro-life legislation, and protecting Indiana coal from “the Indianapolis-Bloomington Democrats, the Biden-Harris administration and other regulators.” “I also vow to go to Indianapolis again to protect Greene, Sullivan, Daviess, Knox and Vigo counties from the Indianapolis-Carmel elites, the establishment types in both parties,” Ellington said.

 

ABERNATHY FILES FOR HD25: Retired Army Colonel Kent Abernathy has filed paperwork to become the Republican nominee for HD25 (Howey Politics Indiana). A native Hoosier, and graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Abernathy has dedicated his life to service. His military service included active duty in Korea and with the 82nd Airborne division, before transitioning to the National Guard. Kent worked in the commercial banking field before he felt the call to return to active military service after 9/11. He took various leadership roles within the Pentagon and Iraq, where he earned the Bronze Star medal. Following his retirement from the military, Abernathy served in the administrations of Governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence, including as Commissioner of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) under Governor Pence. “Throughout my life, I have been blessed with tremendous opportunities, and have been honored to serve,” said Abernathy. “My experience in the military and business, and in all levels of government from local, to state and federal, has uniquely positioned me to serve as a member of the General Assembly, and I’m proud to seek election to House District 25. Serving our local communities and working on your behalf to make them even better would be the honor of a lifetime.”

 

INDEMS ON GUN BILL ADVANCING:  The Indiana Democratic Party issued the following statement by Chairman Mike Schmuhl after the Indiana House of Representatives passed House Bill 1077, an extreme and partisan bill to eliminate state firearm permits – creating a public safety crisis across Indiana (Howey Politics Indiana): “This is what the Indiana Democratic Party meant when it said Republicans will put their partisanship before anything else. If the Indiana GOP get their way and sign House Bill 1077 into law, they will ignore the will of voters and state and municipal law enforcement who worry about public safety - all to fulfill an extreme agenda. Whether it’s handing firearms to bad actors, discrediting COVID-19 vaccines, or politicizing classrooms, Indiana Republicans would rather divide families and communities with their partisan culture wars than actually create a better future for Hoosiers.”

 

ARP DELIVERED READI GRANTS SAYS INDEMS: The Indiana Democratic Party celebrated how the American Rescue Plan has “anchored” Indiana’s economic future via the state’s READI program (Howey Politics Indiana). Governor Eric Holcomb is expected to tout READI and its $500 million economic investment in tonight’s State of the State Address. But here’s the thing: the Democrats’ Rescue Plan paid for all of it, and these projects will transform towns and counties in all regions because Democrats - not Republicans - showed up when it mattered most. And the Indiana GOP? Every Indiana Republican opposed the Rescue Plan – including Governor Holcomb himself. “The American Rescue Plan and Indiana’s READI program are prime examples of what happens when bipartisan ideas create a better future for all Hoosiers. Thanks to the Rescue Plan, READI’s $500 million will bring transformational change for communities in all areas of the state -- despite all Indiana Republicans voting ‘NO’ and describing the program as ‘socialism’,” said Chairman Mike Schmuhl.

 

NRSC RAISES BIG BUCKS:  The NRSC is raking in the cash, hauling in $104.8 million last year after raising $28.6 million in the final quarter (Politico Playbook). The overall total, the committee announced at 6 a.m. this morning, is an “off-year record for both the NRSC and DSCC.” “This NRSC team has smashed fundraising records all cycle, and we have Chuck Schumer and the radical Senate Democrats to thank,” NRSC Chair Rick Scott (Fla.) boasts in the press release.

 

State

 

GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB TALKS ABOUT 'OPPORTUNITY' - On his "optimistic" front, Gov. Eric Holcomb noted in his State of the State address last night (Howey Politics Indiana): On the economy: "Our GDP has grown from $353 billion in 2017 to now $415 billion, at a rate outpacing Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Kentucky. We rank No. 1 among those states in personal income growth from 2015 to 2020 as well. And our unemployment rate – 3% – is our lowest in 21 years and lower than every state we touch. Today, 73,000 more Hoosiers are working compared to just before the pandemic hit. In another measure of our growth and vitality, more people are choosing to live in Indiana." On state coffers: "We closed the 2021 fiscal year with $3.9 billion in reserves, so we put an extra $1.1 billion toward our obligation to our teachers’ pension fund. And we’re sending $545 million back to Hoosier taxpayers in the form of an automatic taxpayer refund."  On state investment: "Last year, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. set all-time records in three key categories: $8.7 billion in new capital investment, more than $1.8 billion in new payroll and 31,000 jobs created with average wages over $28 an hour."?On teacher pay: "More than 85% of school corporations raised teacher base salaries by an average of nearly $1,800 in the 2020-2021 school year, and 99% are expected to raise salaries in the current school year. The state’s goal for new teacher salaries is $40,000 by July 1. Some 80% of schools will have achieved that goal."

 

GOVERNOR: CROUCH STATEMENT ON STATE OF STATE - Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch offered the following statement following Gov. Eric Holcomb's 2022 State of the State address (Howey Politics Indiana): "Our state's fiscally responsible investments continue to make Indiana a leader in the Midwest and nation for families and businesses. Our incredible growth has taken us to a low unemployment rate that we haven't experienced in more than 20 years, and Indiana is reaping the benefits that our neighboring states envy. I applaud Governor Eric Holcomb for his vision to navigate these unprecedented times. I look forward to another year of investing in our infrastructure, recruiting talent for our businesses and keeping Indiana a low tax state."

 

STATE: SEC. SULLIVAN ON HOLCOMB ADDRESS - Indiana Secretary of Education Dr. Katie Jenner released this statement commending Governor Eric J. Holcomb's 2022 State of the State address (Howey Politics Indiana): “As we continue to blur the lines between early learning, K-12, higher education, and the workforce, Governor Holcomb is demonstrating Indiana’s commitment to learner-centered, future-focused education. This means ensuring that every student has access to pathways and opportunities for lifelong success. Through this commitment, Indiana is currently making a record investment in education, with $1.9 billion in new state funding over the biennium. With these funds, schools are raising teacher pay across the state, and are working to strategically accelerate student learning alongside families and community partners. Indiana is committed to bringing Hoosiers together to develop strategies to expand access to quality early learning by launching the Office of Kindergarten Readiness within the Department of Education. The state is also working to better connect Indiana’s educators with high-need roles in areas such as STEM and special education through a statewide supply-and-demand marketplace.

 

COVID: IHA TELLS HOOSIERS TO AVOID ERs - The Indiana Hospital Association asked Hoosiers to avoid visiting the emergency room for COVID-19 testing as hospitals have reached what the group described as "a state of crisis" (WTHR-TV) “Indiana hospitals are overwhelmed with the highest number of patients on record and have reached a state of crisis with dwindling capacity left to care for patients," IHA said in a statement. The group said hospital emergency departments are seeing 8,500-10,000 visits per day, and at any point there are several hundred patients in emergency departments waiting for open beds. Hospitals are required to conduct medical screens for every patient that visits the ER. "Consequently, individuals seeking COVID-19 testing in the emergency room take much needed staff and resources away from those in need of emergency medical care during this surge," IHA said.

 

NATURAL RESOURCES: COMMISSION TO MEET JAN. 18 - The Indiana Natural Resources Commission will conduct its next bimonthly meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18, at Fort Harrison State Park (Howey Politics Indiana). The meeting begins at 10 a.m. (ET) at the park’s Garrison Ballroom, 6002 North Post Road, Indianapolis. The agenda and downloadable related materials are posted at nrc.IN.gov/meetings-and-minutes/current-meeting-agenda.

 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: AWARDS $2M IN SEX ASSAULT VICTIM GRANTS - The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI) announced that more than $2 million in grant funding has been awarded to 20 organizations across the state to support sexual assault victims. The funding was provided through two programs administered by the agency: the Sexual Assault Victim Assistance Fund (SAVAF) and the Sexual Assault Services Project (Howey Politics Indiana). “This funding is about making sure that survivors of sexual assault have meaningful access to services,” said Devon McDonald, ICJI Executive Director. “These grants will broaden Indiana’s support network and provide critical resources to those who need it the most.” This year, a total of $1.6 million was awarded to 11 organizations through the program – a 50 percent increase from 2021. Some of the projects funded this grant cycle will help to provide safe shelter, counseling, crisis lines, advocacy support, referrals and prevention services.

 

PURDUE: COVID OUTBREAK POSTPONES ALUMNI FISH FRY - The annual Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry, originally set for Feb. 4, has been postponed until April 30 due to safety concerns surrounding the current COVID-19 Omicron variant surge in Indiana (Hoosier Ag Today). Danica Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Purdue Ag Alumni Association, spoke about the difficult decision made by the event planning team. “We became concerned that we could not produce this event safely,” Kirkpatrick said. “We will return to the Indiana State Fairgrounds and will have a wonderful celebration this spring.”

 

General Assembly

 

HUSTON STATEMENT ON STATE OF STATE: House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) provided the following statement today in response to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s State of the State address (Howey Politics Indiana): "Governor Holcomb did an outstanding job telling Indiana's incredible success story while laying out his vision for the future. Our state is on a roll – whether it's attracting new investments at a record pace, growing our top-ranked economy, creating upward mobility for working Hoosiers or preparing to play a lead role in industries of the future. We'll continue working with Governor Holcomb to take our shared priorities across the finish line, including making sure Hoosiers keep more of their hard earned money through responsible tax cuts."

 

BRAY STATEMENT OF STATE OF STATE: Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) made the following statement today in response to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s 2022 State of the State address (Howey Politics Indiana): "Thanks to more than a decade of conservative fiscal leadership, Indiana is in a strong position as we look toward the future. With the governor's help, we will continue our push to make Indiana the most competitive and prosperous state it can be. I sincerely appreciate Gov. Holcomb's practical approach to leading our state, and I look forward to working with him and the lieutenant governor as we tackle the challenges in front of us."

 

GiaQUINTA STATEMENT OF STATE OF STATE: House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) today issued a statement following Governor Eric Holcomb’s 2022 State of the State address (Howey Politics Indiana): “Governor Holcomb's address was a stark contrast from his colleagues in the legislature,” GiaQuinta said. “I appreciate his willingness to focus on issues important to Hoosiers, not political games and divisive, hyper-partisan agendas. I’m proud of Indiana’s resiliency and better than expected economic position given the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic. Our state was given unique opportunities for critical quality-of-life investments thanks to the ‘Biden Boom.’ Federal Democrats’ passage of the American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act helped increase teacher pay, provided funding for READI grants, and invested in roads and crucial infrastructure in all 92 Hoosier counties. However, there is still work to be done. While billions remain in the state surplus the household debt of average Hoosiers ballooned by over $8 billion. Indiana is often in the national spotlight for poor public health outcomes, environment and other quality-of-life rankings. It was concerning to hear Holcomb’s desire to put off critical financial investments for another year despite a $5 billion surplus. Hoosiers can’t wait for another budget session, nor should they have to. The people’s money should be invested in a way that improves their lives and our state. It would be a mistake to take our foot off the gas while Hoosiers continue to struggle.”

 

JD FORD STATEMENT ON STATE OF STATE: State Senator JD Ford (D-Indianapolis) released the following statement (Howey Politics Indiana): “I appreciate Governor Holcomb’s address tonight and the progress our state has made over the last year. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, Indiana’s economy is growing, school funding and teacher pay are up, and we have a growing surplus. I also want to compliment the Governor on being the sane one in his party when it comes to COVID-19, although I believe we need to be doing more to combat the current uptick in cases. There is room for bipartisan support for parts of the Governor's agenda, however, given our state’s growing surplus, we must do more to invest in Hoosier families. If we can open the budget for business tax cuts we can open it to invest in Hoosiers and their quality of life. In recent polling, 80 to 90% of Americans said they believe that our country is in the middle of a mental health crisis. This session we ought to pass my SB 174 to address student mental health needs and work together to pass the biggest investment in mental health services in our state’s history."

 

TAYLOR STATEMENT ON STATE OF STATE: Democratic Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) released the following statement on the Governor’s speech (Howey Politics Indiana): “Once again, the Governor’s rosy picture of our state does not pair with the actual state of Indiana as it concerns everyday Hoosiers,” Sen. Taylor said. “While our state’s economy is prospering thanks to assistance from the American Rescue Plan, that’s only a small part of the picture. The bigger picture is that many, many Hoosiers are struggling. They’re struggling to access quality childcare and well-paying jobs that allow them to make ends meet. They’re fighting to stay healthy and protect their families as we see COVID-19 cases rise across the state. They’re struggling to make their rent and utility payments on time to stay in their homes. While I was glad to hear about the Governor's plans to invest in projects around our state, his address was alarmingly silent about many of the everyday issues currently impacting Hoosiers. We cannot address the problems affecting Hoosiers if the Governor of our state consistently fails to acknowledge those problems."

 

BRAY STATEMENT ON SEN. MRVAN: Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) made the following statement today regarding State Sen. Frank Mrvan (D-Hammond)'s decision to retire (Howey Politics Indiana): "Sen. Mrvan has been a faithful public servant for the people of Northwest Indiana for many years, and I am truly grateful to have served alongside him here in the Indiana Senate. Always a gentleman, Sen. Mrvan conducted himself with integrity and kindness, and though we will miss him, we certainly wish him all the best in his retirement."

 

SCHOOL BOARDS PUSH BACK ON CURRICULUM BILL: School board members from across Indiana voiced opposition Tuesday to a Republican-backed proposal that would add political party identifications to what are now nonpartisan school board elections throughout the state (IBJ). The bill’s author, Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, said the impetus of the bill stemmed from voter demands for more transparency from school board members. He contended during a bill hearing at the Indiana Statehouse on Tuesday that knowing a candidate’s party affiliation will help voters know where a school board candidate stands “on the political spectrum” and how they view national issues. Political party chairs will also help recruit more candidates and lead to more engagement in the election process, Prescott said. “School boards handle one of the largest budgets with our local elected office,” Prescott said. “When I look at Republicans or Democrats, I think you can tell a difference between financial responsibility and moral character in some cases.” Candidates running for school boards would be required to identify as a Republican, Democrat or Independent, according to the legislation. More than a dozen school board members from districts across Indiana pushed back on the plan, however, arguing that such steps would needlessly further insert politics into local school decisions. Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, said politics may compromise the ability of school boards “to put kids first” and make school board members “feel conflicted about where their allegiances lie.”

 

OPPOSITION TO PARTISAN SCHOOL BOARD BILL: School board candidates would be forced to declare a political party under legislation Indiana lawmakers are considering, but everyone who testified at the bill's first hearing Tuesday opposed the bill (Lindsay, Indiana Public Media). House Bill 1182 would require school board candidates to identify with a political party and include that designation on the ballot. Candidates would be able to list themselves as "Independent" if they don't identify as either a Republican or Democrat. The bill does not limit the number of candidates from each party who could be included in those races. The bill's author, Rep. J.D. Prescott (R-Union City) said he believes the change would give voters more insight into candidates' beliefs and character. "When I look at Republicans or Democrats I think you can tell the difference between financial responsibility and moral character in some cases," he said. But public comment from school board members, education lobbying groups and other Hoosiers from across the state pushed back on that idea. The Indiana School Boards Association suggested if communities want that change, they should make that decision locally. ISBA and others said party affiliation could actually reduce voters' desire or willingness to learn more about candidates and engage with school board races at the ballot box.

 

ISTA'S GAMBILL WARNS ON CURRICULUM BILL: The union representing Indiana’s teachers has come out against two controversial bills that Republicans say would increase transparency around school curricula (Bradley, WRTV). Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said Tuesday that educators are concerned about the additional burdens and responsibilities Senate Bill 167 and House Bill 1134 would place upon them. The union posted a petition to its website asking Hoosiers to oppose the two bills. The nearly identical bills would require teachers to post school curricula online to be vetted by parent review committees. They would also ban schools from implementing concepts like critical race theory, which examines the role of systemic racism in American society and is not taught in K-12 schools, but has become a catch-all phrase for topics dealing in race. The bills would also allow parents to issue objections about lesson plans, which would then require teachers to create individualized lessons for students. Gambill said how and why objections could be made is not spelled out. Gambill told WRTV that teachers worry, especially at the high school level, about having to “guard every single word that they say” while teaching classes such as social studies and those that cover current events.

 

BARTLETT, McNAMARA OFFER RESOLUTION ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING: State Reps. John L. Bartlett (D-Indianapolis) and Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville) presented a resolution to honor human trafficking survivors and raise awareness on modern-day slavery by recognizing January 2022 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Indiana.

 

LAWMAKERS SEEK TO CLOSE RAPE LAW LOOPHOLE: This legislative session Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica, is pursuing a bill with Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, and Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel, to fix what they see as a glaring loophole in Indiana’s rape law (IndyStar). Indiana law states that intercourse is only considered rape if its done by force or if it occurs with someone who is mentally incapacitated or unaware that it’s happening. But what happens when the case, such as Stewart’s, appears less clear cut to prosecutors or juries. Negele’s bill, House Bill 1079, would clarify that someone commits rape if there is a “lack of consent, expressed through words or conduct.” A person, for example, pulling up their clothes could demonstrate a lack of consent, Negele said. So could verbal phrases, such as "stop." That bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Courts and Criminal Code committee on Wednesday. "Typically there has to be some kind of proof of damage to the individual,” Negele told IndyStar. “And we know that rape doesn't always occur like that.”

 

Congress

 

REP. MRVAN COMMENTS ON FATHER'S RETIREMENT: Congressman Mrvan said his father always has been his model of a dedicated public servant (Carden, NWI Times). "His legislative approach and value of bipartisanship and pragmatism will continue to guide me and all those with whom he worked during his career," the congressman said.

 

McCONNELL SAYS ROUNDS TOLD TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday expressed his support for GOP Sen. Mike Rounds (S.D.), who earlier this week was attacked by former President Trump after saying the 2020 presidential election was fair (The Hill). "I think Sen. Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election," McConnell told CNN. "And I agree with him." While appearing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Rounds shot down Trump's claims that the presidential election was affected by voter fraud, saying President Biden's victory was legitimate. "While there were some irregularities, there were none of the irregularities which would have risen to the point where they would have changed the vote outcome in a single state," said Rounds. "We simply did not win the election as Republicans for the presidency."

 

YOUNG DENOUNCES BIDEN FILIBUSTER DECISION: U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) delivered a speech on the Senate floor condemning the Democrats’ plans to change the Senate rules in order to seize control of America’s elections (Howey Politics Indiana). “If you want to end gridlock, do the difficult work of actually building coalitions of support, introduce bills to be referred to the committees of jurisdiction that Republicans can actually vote for, allow for an open amendment process, as we did with the China bill. Now this is the entire point of the 60-vote threshold. It’s a forcing mechanism, during fraught times like these. It gives the minority a say in the process. It forces majorities to find ways to compromise. It incentivizes bipartisan collaboration among senators representing diverse parts of our nation with differing values, differing priorities. Americans want us to go through the hard work of finding common ground. I said it in my first speech on this floor … and I will repeat it until my last speech: We are, above all else, the custodians of the common good. The common good. Remember that colleagues before you take a hammer to one of the Senate’s signature means of advancing it,” said Senator Young during his speech.

 

JAN. 6 COMMITTEE NEARING PENCE DECISION: The Jan. 6 committee is facing a major judgment call on how aggressively lawmakers should pursue information from both their own GOP colleagues and former Vice President Mike Pence (Politico). As House investigators race to capture as much evidence as possible — at breakneck speed — about Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election, the way they move forward could have drastic consequences to their legacy. They have to decide what lines they're willing to cross in order to get direct testimony from Pence, who fled rioters inflamed by Trump, as well as from Republican lawmakers who have already declined to speak with the panel. Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Tuesday both matters are high on the committee’s to-do list as it embarks on the most important phase of its probe and prepares to begin presenting some of its evidence publicly.

 

The SENATE is in. The Foreign Relations Committee will hold a markup at 9 a.m. to vote on nominations including Amy Guttman as ambassador to Germany, and a hearing at 9:30 a.m. on nominations including Eric Garcetti as ambassador to India. The HELP Committee will hold a markup at 10 a.m. to vote on nominations including Robert Califf as FDA commissioner.

 

The HOUSE is in.

 

Nation

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN SUPPORTS CHANGING FILIBUSTER RULE - With less than 10 months until the 2022 midterm elections, President Joe Biden was in Georgia on Tuesday making his biggest push yet for national voting rights bills and calling for changes to the Senate filibuster rule in order to get them passed (ABC News). "Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world's greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self. It gives me no satisfaction in saying that as an institutionalist, as a man was honored to serve in the Senate. But as an institutionalist, I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote, let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules including getting rid of the filibuster for this," Biden said.

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN NEEDS PANDEMIC RESET - President Joe Biden is urging schools to stay open, but there’s a widespread Covid testing shortage (NBC News). He calls it the “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” but that has only confused boosted Americans home sick with the omicron variant. And the administration hasn’t changed its guidance to urge high-filtration masks despite calls from the medical community, while recent isolation guidance has only added to the uncertainty. The White House’s stay-the-course strategy on Covid is increasingly colliding with the realities of a roaring pandemic that is forcing schools and businesses to close. A half dozen former health policy makers, including some members of Biden’s transition team, told NBC News that the Biden administration needs an urgent reset on its Covid strategy or the White House could rapidly lose credibility with the public. “Biden was elected president, in large part, based on a message of ‘I’m competent, I’m capable, I will tell you the truth and I will get a handle on Covid in a way my predecessor could not and refused to do,’ and that continues to be the No. 1 issue for most people,” said Kathleen Sebelius, who served as Health and Human Services secretary in the Obama administration.

 

WHITE HOUSE: $308B FOR HUMANITARIAN AFGHAN AID - The White House has announced $308 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, offering new aid to the country as it edges toward a humanitarian crisis since the Taliban takeover nearly five months ago (AP). White House spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement Tuesday that the new aid from the U.S. Agency for International Development will flow through independent humanitarian organizations and will be used to provide shelter, health care, winterization assistance, emergency food aid, water, sanitation and hygiene services. The country’s long-troubled economy has been in a tailspin since the Taliban takeover. Nearly 80% of Afghanistan’s previous government’s budget came from the international community. That money, now cut off, financed hospitals, schools, factories and government ministries.

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN SCHEDULE - President Biden's schedule — 10:20 a.m.: The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief. — 12:45 p.m.: Biden and first lady Jill Biden will attend the funeral of Gen. Raymond Odierno at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia, where the president will deliver remarks. VP Harris — The VP and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend a congressional tribute ceremony for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at 11 a.m. as he lies in state at the Capitol. The White House Covid-19 response team and public health officials will brief at 11 a.m. Press secretary JEN PSAKI will brief at 3 p.m.

 

NATO: ENGAGES WITH RUSS OVER UKRAINE - Senior NATO and Russian officials were meeting Wednesday to try to bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences over the future of Ukraine, amid deep skepticism that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security proposals for easing tensions are genuine (AP). The talks comes during a week of high-stakes diplomacy and a U.S.-led effort to prevent preparations for what Washington believes could be a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Moscow denies it is planning an attack. Still, its history of military action in Ukraine and Georgia worries NATO. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko and Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin were stern-faced as they posed for the media before the NATO-Russia Council. There was no public handshake, although the Russian delegation fist-bumped officials from the 30 NATO member countries inside the meeting venue. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman led the U.S. team at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

 

ILLINOIS: LIGHTFOOT HAS COVID - Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday that she tested positive for Covid-19, less than 24 hours after announcing a deal to bring teachers and students back to classrooms this week during an Omicron surge (Politico). “I am experiencing cold-like symptoms but otherwise feel fine which I credit to being vaccinated and boosted,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “I will continue to work from home while following the CDC guidelines for isolation. This is an urgent reminder for folks to get vaccinated and boosted as it's the only way to beat this pandemic.”

 

Local

 

FORT WAYNE: HENRY FRUSTRATED BY RED RIVER - The City of Fort Wayne continues to experience delays with the collection of garbage and recycling materials (Howey Politics Indiana). There have been a number of positive COVID-19 cases with Red River drivers and City of Fort Wayne Street Department employees who assist with after-hours collections. This is resulting in slower collections and residents not getting materials collected on their scheduled day. Residents should continue to set out materials on the normal collection day. We’re working diligently to get as many materials collected as soon as possible. Currently, collections are a day and a half to two days behind. We anticipate those delays could last for the next few weeks. We continue to ask for patience from the public. Mayor Tom Henry and the City of Fort Wayne Solid Waste Department understand and share the frustrations that residents and neighborhoods have over the collection process. Plans are being worked on to try to get the current challenges corrected in light of the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings involving Red River and the ongoing labor shortage. Efforts are also being made to get Indiana law changed that would enable the City to not have to take the lowest bid on future garbage and recycling contracts.

 

WEST LAFAYETTE: MAYOR DENNIS SAYS PANDEMIC TAKES TOLL - West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis has one goal in mind for 2022, and that's ending the pandemic (WLFI-TV). "That's a real top priority for me," he said. "In order for the government to work well, in order for elected officials to be able to interact with our population, it's imperative that we play by the rules, and the number one rule is to get vaccinated and get your boosters." He said the pandemic entering its second year is taking a toll on everyone. "We're not going to get through this just because of willpower," Dennis explained. "We need to make sure that we're all pulling on the same side of the rope, getting vaccinated, wearing masks, keeping our distances, and trying to get closer to a sense of normalcy with those mild restrictions put on us."

 

INDIANAPOLIS: SNIDER TO HEAD INDY PRIDE - Indy Pride announced Shelly Snider has officially taken over as the organization's executive director on Monday (WRTV). Born and raised in Indianapolis, Snider previously served as the assistant director of career services at the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at the Indiana University Purdue University of Indianapolis (IUPUI). She worked in this role for nearly ten years.

 

SOUTH BEND: CITY, SCHOOLS EYE FREE WIFI FOR STUDENTS - Since the fall of 2020, the city of South Bend, the South Bend Community School Corporation and local nonprofit enFocus have partnered to provide qualifying students with free internet access for e-learning. Now, eligibility for the program is expanding (WVPE). Census data shows about 30 percent of South Bend residents don’t have adequate broadband access, which comes out to about 3,500 students who may struggle to participate in e-learning. The city received $1.8 million to distribute internet equipment through the Governors Emergency Education Relief Grant.

 

COLUMBUS: MAYOR LIENHOOP STATEMENT ON RACIST DOCUMENT - Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop released the following statement after a two-page racist message was scattered along sidewalks and in parking lots around Columbus (Columbus Republic). “Earlier today, concerned City of Columbus residents shared disturbing images of a flyer found throughout local neighborhoods that purported itself to be the truth. In reality, this vitriol was disseminated in an attempt to intimidate, harass, and bully our local teachers, business owners, and city officials. Law enforcement were alerted, and are doing all they can to obtain relevant information concerning this incident, and are reaching out to those directly targeted to ensure their physical safety. Let me be clear — the views espoused in this flyer are antithetical to the American values that we cherish and defend, and they hold no regard in the City of Columbus. In our city, we continue to welcome persons of all faiths, races, ancestry, and backgrounds."

 

MUNCIE: COUNCILWOMAN DAVIS RESIGNS - Muncie City Council member Anitra Davis announced Monday that she was stepping down from her seat representing the city's Sixth District because she has accepted a new job. Her resignation was effective Tuesday (Muncie Star Press). She was first elected in 2019.

 

MICHIGAN CITY: TO INVEST IN PARKS — The draft master plan for the city’s parks includes major projects and lots of advice from the public (Ross, NWI Times). The city has 25 parks covering just under 700 acres and almost 10 miles of trails. Rather than adding neighborhood parks, the focus is on renovating and improving the existing properties. In 2016, the Parks and Recreation Department hired Hitchcock Design Group to create a master plan for Washington Park, the city’s crown jewel on the lakefront. “While the master plan lays out our future goals for Washington Park, none of the phases have been funded,” the new report says. In the short term, concerns include updating the main parking lots, restrooms at Fedder’s Alley and signage to direct visitors to the public restrooms and restaurant at North Pointe Pavilion. “Concerns regarding the homeless population in Washington Park need to be addressed, including sleeping in shelters, living in the dunes and using the fountain in Millennium Plaza to do laundry,” the report said.

 

MICHIGAN CITY: HIRING LIFE GUARDS FOR SUMMER - Are you already thinking about a summer job? Michigan City is looking to hire lifeguards for Washington Park Beach (WNDU-TV). There is a free waterfront lifeguarding course starting March 14. It will be held at the Michigan City Fire Department’s Administration Building, which is located at 2510 E. Michigan Boulevard. Positions start at $25 per hour. Applicants must pass a fitness test consisting of swimming long distances, reading water, and other objectives. You must be at least 16 years old to apply.

 

SANTA CLAUS: EXEC DIRECTOR REMOVED DUE TO AUDIT - An organization in Santa Claus, Indiana, has let go their executive director, and the VP of their board confirms they are doing an internal audit. The organization is Santa Claus Haus (WFIE-TV). They work to make sure Santa is available to serve the community year-round. Their mission statement shows they support other charities, especially those that have to do with children’s health and welfare. In a Facebook post, the organization said they place a high priority on professional conduct and financial responsibility. It says the board determined that the actions, conduct, and decisions of its executive director did not align well with the organization’s goals and approach.

 

STEUBEN COUNTY: CRESS TO SEEK COUNCIL SEAT -  Christina Cress, Fremont, is making her first run for public office (KPC News). Cress is running for the Republican nomination for the First District seat on the Steuben County Council, which is being vacated by Jim Getz, who is running for the Republican nomination for the North District seat on the Steuben County Board of Commissioners. Also running is Andy Laughlin. Cress filed her candidacy with the Steuben County Clerk’s Office on Monday.

 

LaPORTE COUNTY: STATE DESIGNATES BROADBAND READY - The state of Indiana has named LaPorte County a Broadband Ready Community, a designation meant to encourage the development of more high-speed internet there (Pete, NWI Times). The Indiana Broadband Office granted the county's request for the designation as evidence the community has paved the way for investment in new broadband infrastructure investment. “Congratulations to the LaPorte County Board of Commissioners on this significant milestone and for taking the steps to prioritize broadband investment,” Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch said in Tuesday's announcement of the designation. “This past year proved great success for the Broadband Ready Community Program and we anticipate another great year in 2022.”

 

LAKE COUNTY: COUNCIL REMOVES BERM FROM SHOOTING ORDINANCE -  The Lake County Council has preliminarily agreed to repeal a 2018 ordinance aimed at preventing rural residents engaged in target shooting from sending stray bullets onto their neighbors' properties or into their homes (Carden, NWI Times). The Democratic-led council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to scrap requirements that target shooters fire only into well-constructed berms, ensure no bullet or projectile leaves the shooting range property, practice target shooting only between 10 a.m. and dusk, and not shoot within 300 feet of any residence.

 

VANDERBURGH COUNTY: HATFIELD TO HEAD COMMISSIONERS - A ceremonial changing of seats took place Tuesday afternoon for the Vanderburgh County Commissioners (WFIE-TV). Jeff Hatifield becomes president of Vanderburgh County of Commissioners for 2022. “Commissioner Musgraves? ‘Yes.’ Commissioner Shoulders? ‘Yes.’ President Hatifield? ‘Yes.’ I am a yes as well. So on that note, thank you again. We will switch seats now, and Commissioner Hatifield will now be sitting in this middle seat.” Commissioner Ben Shoulders will now serve as vice president. This comes just one day after a change in leadership on the Evansville City Council.