CALLS FOR BIPARTISANSHIP AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Legislative leaders of both parties kicked off the new session Thursday with messages of bipartisanship. But it’s also clear where some of 2019’s dividing lines will be (Smith, Indiana Public Media). The first day of session is traditionally reserved for the House Minority Leader to lay out their caucus’s vision for the session. And some of new Democratic leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta’s (D-Fort Wayne) agenda isn’t popular on the other side of the aisle. That includes pre-existing health condition protections, redistricting reform, and more money for pre-K education. “We must embark on a bold expansion of the program to give all children across this state access to pre-education,” GiaQuinta says. But Republican floor leader Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne) says there are significant areas GiaQuinta cited that will have bipartisan support. “Teacher pay – pushing money down to the teachers – is a priority of ours, as is fixing DCS,” Lehman says.

PENCE SWEARS IN SEN. BRAUN: Three new federal lawmakers from Indiana took their oaths of office Thursday as the 116th Congress got underway (Francisco, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). Republican Sen. Mike Braun of Jasper and Republican Reps. Jim Baird of Greencastle and Greg Pence of Columbus – brother of Vice President and former House member Mike Pence – were sworn in along with other legislators elected last year. The vice president, in his role as president of the Senate, administered the oath to Braun, who unseated first-term Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., in the Nov. 6 general election. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., escorted Braun on the Senate floor. Braun wore a gray suit, white shirt and mostly maroon necktie – a departure from his campaign uniform of blue shirt and no jacket or tie. Senate dress codes require business professional attire. In an interview broadcast by Fort Wayne TV station WANE, Braun said, “I spent 15 months in the process of getting here, so it's neat that the day has finally come where you're going to start your career as a senator.”

PELOSI REGAINS SPEAKERSHIP: California Democrat Nancy Pelosi was elected speaker of the House of Representatives on Thursday, making her the first person to reclaim the gavel since 1955 (Wall Street Journal). Mrs. Pelosi picked up the majority of votes needed to win the speaker’s gavel and lead the House in an era of divided government. She will take the reins of an ideologically diverse Democratic caucus into the 2020 presidential race. She won 220 votes to 192 for Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy of California. Eighteen members voted for other candidates and three members voted present. The 116th Congress convened at noon with Democrats newly in control of the House of Representatives and Republicans still leading the Senate, the first time in modern history a new session of Congress opened during a partial government shutdown. Mrs. Pelosi, 78 years old, was first chosen to lead the House Democratic caucus in 2002 and served as the first female speaker from 2007 to 2011. The Baltimore-born daughter of a congressman, she rose through California party politics, starting as a campaign volunteer, and was first elected to Congress in 1987. “This House will be for the people,” Mrs. Pelosi said in prepared opening remarks. She said she wanted to work “to lower health costs and prescription drugs prices, and protect people with pre-existing conditions; to increase paychecks by rebuilding America with green and modern infrastructure—from sea to shining sea.” In the Senate, Republicans hold a 53-47 majority. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who has led his party in the Senate since 2007, has two more seats than before last year’s midterm elections.

PELOSI DECLINES TO RULE OUT IMPEACHMENT: Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday declined to rule out the possibility that President Donald Trump could be indicted while in office, saying there is "an open discussion" on whether such an indictment would be legal even though Justice Department guidance states it would not be (Politico). In an interview on NBC’s “Today" show, Pelosi (D-Calif.) acknowledged the long-standing precedent but noted that "it's not the law.” “Everything indicates that a president can be indicted after he is no longer president of the United States,” she told "Today" anchor Savannah Guthrie, who asked whether she thought special counsel Robert Mueller could “legally” return an indictment on the president as a result of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. “I think that is an open discussion. I think that is an open discussion in terms of the law,” Pelosi said.

HOUSE PASSES BILL TO REOPEN GOVERNMENT: House Democrats passed a spending package aimed at reopening the federal government, defying President Trump’s demands for border-wall funding on their first day in power (Wall Street Journal). With a partial government shutdown approaching two full weeks, the House voted, 241-190, on Thursday night to approve a package that included six uncontroversial spending bills crafted in the Senate that would fund most of the government through September. To separate the feud over the border wall, Democrats also passed a stopgap spending bill funding the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the wall, through Feb. 8. “What we are asking President Trump and Senate Republicans to do is take yes for an answer,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) told reporters Thursday evening. “The president cannot hold public employees hostage because he wants to have a wall.” Mr. Trump has already notified Congress that he would veto the House Democratic approach. His opposition had prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to decline consideration of the House package. “I would call it political theater; not productive lawmaking,” Mr. McConnell said of the package, which Democrats presented on their first day in power at the House.

TRUMP WASHES HANDS OF ACCEPTING SHUTDOWN MANTLE: President Donald Trump again sought to wash his hands of responsibility for the partial government shutdown on Thursday, dismissing it as a ploy by Democrats to take the presidency in 2020 (Politico). "The Shutdown is only because of the 2020 Presidential Election. The Democrats know they can’t win based on all of the achievements of 'Trump,' so they are going all out on the desperately needed Wall and Border Security — and Presidential Harassment. For them, strictly politics!" Trump wrote on Twitter. President Trump and the White House are seeking to shift blame for the partial government shutdown after Trump said last month he would be proud to own a shutdown in order to secure funding he has demanded to build a southern border wall. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway argued that President Trump no longer bears responsibility for the current stalemate (ABC News). “He doesn't own the shutdown any longer,” Conway said when asked if the president regrets his past statement willingly taking the blame.

INDIANA AMONG LEAST AFFECTED STATES BY SHUTDOWN: The partial shutdown of the federal government has largely spared Hoosiers, according to a report issued Thursday by personal-finance website WalletHub (Francisco, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). WalletHub found that Indiana is the fifth least affected state in the shutdown, which began Dec. 22. Indiana ranks in the 40s among states for share of federal jobs, federal contract dollars per capita and real estate as a percentage of gross state product, and it ranks 50th for access to national parks. The real estate category considers state-level mortgage processing affected by staffing shortages in the IRS, the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Indiana's highest ranking among five metrics examined by WalletHub is 30th, for percentage of families receiving aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

TRUMP SIGNS YOUNG/WARREN BILL: President Trump signed U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) bipartisan legislation to increase oversight of taxpayer dollars spent by federal agencies into law (Howey Politics Indiana). The Good Accounting Obligation in Government (GAO-IG) Act requires federal agencies to report on open and unimplemented recommendations from the Office of Inspector General (IG) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). “I’m proud that the President signed my bipartisan bill into law today to increase accountability within our federal government to protect Hoosiers back home and taxpayers across our country,” said Sen. Young. “The bipartisan GAO-IG Act creates a new set of tools to identify and fix problems all over the federal government, so it can work better for all Americans. I was glad to work with Senator Young to get this done,” said Senator Warren.

U.S. ADDED 271K JOBS IN DECEMBER: U.S. businesses added a robust 271,000 jobs in December (AP). Payroll processor ADP said Thursday that last month's job gains marked a sharp upturn from November's gain of 157,000. The gains, if backed up by government numbers due Friday, could be strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate. ADP reported a solid 37,000 increase in construction jobs. But the services sector was particularly strong with gains of 66,000 in the professional and business sector, 61,000 in education and health care and 39,000 in leisure and hospitality. Economists forecast that the Labor Department will report Friday that employers added 180,000 jobs, with the unemployment rate holding at a five-decade low of 3.7 percent.

AUTOMAKERS DEFY EXPECTATIONS FOR 2018: Auto makers finished 2018 with mixed U.S. sales results while defying expectations for a down year. The industry’s sales for last year are expected to hit about 17.2 million vehicles when December and full-year results are tallied later Thursday, which would be in line with the total from 2017. That would mark a record fourth straight year of at least 17 million vehicles sold, a resilient showing for an industry prone to boom-and-bust cycles (Wall Street Journal). Still, auto executives remain wary of a market slowdown in the U.S., as rising interest rates on car loans and lofty new-vehicle prices make it more difficult for American buyers to afford new wheels. General Motors Co., the largest U.S. auto maker by sales, on Thursday said its fourth-quarter sales totaled 785,229 vehicles, down 2.7%. GM last year moved to quarterly sales reporting, from monthly. Ford Motor Co. on Thursday said it would follow GM by switching to quarterly sales reports. Ford said sales dropped 8.8% to 219,632 vehicles in December, and Toyota Motor Corp. posted flat sales with 220,910 vehicles. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles  and Nissan Motor Co. NSANY 0.06% both had strong months, with Fiat Chrysler selling 196,520 vehicles, a 14% increase, and Nissan posting a 7.6% increase to 148,720 units for the month. Analysts again foresee a decline in U.S. sales this year. The dealer association predicts 16.8 million vehicle sales for 2019.

VARVEL BOWS OUT AT INDYSTAR: IndyStar cartoonist Gary Varvel published his final cartoon for the newspaper that is steadily withdrawing from the public space (Howey Politics Indiana). "After 24 years as IndyStar’s cartoonist, I've drawn nearly 8,000 cartoons, including those of Bill Clinton’s boxers, George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s ears and Donald Trump’s hair. Today's will be my last," Varvel said in a note to the newspaper's dwindling readership. "I have chosen to take Gannett’s early retirement offer. The Bible says in Proverbs 16:9, 'In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.'" Varvel, who has taken a buyout from Gannett. He will continue to draw for Creators Syndicate. His departure continues an editorial pullback by the Star, which now only publishes two op-ed sections a week while it continues to cut back on its news staff.

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: As Speaker Nancy Pelosi retakes the helm of the U.S. House, she said earlier in the day that she would not rule out the impeachment of President Trump. Some thoughts: Any impeachment of a president is an American tragedy. They don't turn out well. We went more than 110 years between the first in 1868 involving President Andrew Johnson to the probable case against President Nixon in 1974, and then just 25 years with the 1999 attempt against President Clinton. If we become a nation which impeaches presidents once in a generation, the American experiment is doomed. Having said that, we await a report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller and a determination of whether there is a case for high crimes and misdemeanors. Wise Americans will weigh this information and then determine how to act, including the prospect of a collapse of political support for President Trump, which is what happened with Nixon and Senate Republicans in 1974. But the best way to determine the fate of a president is the ballot box. That should be the first option. - Brian A. Howey



Campaigns

ELWOOD MAYOR JONES ANNOUNCES FOR REELECTION: Mayor Todd Jones announced on Thursday his expected candidacy for a second term as mayor (Anderson Herald-Bulletin). He made his announcement with City Court Judge Kyle Noone, who is seeking his fifth term, and Clerk-Treasurer Alison Roby, who is seeking her third term. “We have a lot of things we need to finish. We have a lot of positive momentum in the city right now, and we want to keep it going in a positive direction,” he said. The candidates will have from Jan. 9 through Feb. 8 to file for office. Several prominent officials, including Sheriff Scott C. Mellinger, new Madison County Coroner Danielle Dunnichay-Noone and Atwood’s father, Elwood City Council President Tim Roby, were in attendance to support the Pipe Creek Democrats.

4 SOUTH BEND COUNCIL MEMBERS TO RETIRE: There will be at least four new faces on the city’s nine-member common council next year (Parrott, South Bend Tribune). Democratic at-large members Gavin Ferlic and John Voorde, and 4th District Democrat Jo Broden have confirmed they won’t seek re-election to four-year terms that begin in 2020, and 6th District Democratic member Oliver Davis can’t run again because he’s running for mayor instead.

SPREAD THE VOTE COMES TO INDIANA: Spread The Vote, a national non-profit organization committed to helping people get government issued IDs so they can vote, apply for jobs, get housing, receive medical care and more, is opening its doors in Indiana (Howey Politics Indiana). Spread the Vote’s launch in Indiana is part of the group’s seven state expansion to combat tough voter ID laws across the country. "We are combating voter ID at its source. We have seen real results from our work in Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, and Texas. The midterm elections may be over, but our work is far from done. I’m so excited that we are able to open our doors in Indiana and make a real difference in communities across the state,” said Spread The Vote Founder Kat Calvin. “Indiana has strict photo ID laws that make it difficult for any eligible voters without photo ID to vote. But IDs are about so much more than voting. Our clients use their IDs to get jobs, housing, medical care, food at food banks, nights at shelters, and so much more. Our new staff on the ground in Indiana today begins building the infrastructure that will allow us to get the IDs that our clients need to change their lives, and to vote in each and every election."

O'MALLEY ENDORSES O'ROURKE: Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who ran for president in 2016, says in a Des Moines Register op-ed and a letter to supporters that he won’t run for president again in 2020. Instead, he hopes that Beto O’Rourke will (Bloomberg News). O’Malley says O’Rourke, the former congressman from El Paso who nearly toppled Republican Ted Cruz in his bid for the U.S. Senate in Texas, is “raw, authentic and real," a candidate who fits the political moment and can defeat President Donald Trump.

FEINSTEIN TO BACK BIDEN IF HE RUNS: Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s California colleague Kamala Harris may run for president. But Feinstein already has her preferred candidate in mind: Joe Biden (Politico). The Democratic senator, fresh off reelection to a fifth term, told a pair of reporters on Thursday morning that the former vice president and Delaware senator is the ideal choice to run against President Donald Trump. This despite the fact that more than a half-dozen Senate Democrats, including Harris, are considering running for president in 2020. “Joe was chairman of the Judiciary [Committee] when he came to this place. I’ve watched him as vice president, I’ve seen him operate, I’ve seen him perform,” Feinstein said. “He brings a level of experience and seniority which I think is really important.”

General Assembly

TEACHER PAY RISING AS KEY ISSUE: Tightening agency budget requests may help provide funding this year for teacher salaries, House Speaker Brian Bosma said on Thursday, the opening day of the 2019 Indiana General Assembly (Miley, CNHI). “We’ll find money for it. It will be a tight budget year,” Bosma said after a half-hour session of the House. “We’re finding some ability to right-size some of the agency budgets that have planned reversions in them and get them down to a more workable, realistic level and free some money up that way.” Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said a more detailed plan, which is being arranged with teacher organizations, would be presented next week. When legislative agendas were first discussed in December, teacher salary increases were not on the table, with some officials saying salary boosts would take at least two budget cycles. The current session will set up a two-year budget cycle, but focus is expected on funding the Department of Child Services, which wants more funding for caseworkers, and coverage for the Medicaid health care program for low-income families. But teachers cannot wait up to four years for salary increases, House Democrat Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said. “We must raise education funding to allow for an increase in teacher pay,” GiaQuinta said. “We should not pass the buck to local districts. We control the funding, not them. It is our responsibility to address this crisis and we need to do it now.” House Republicans hold a 67-33 majority. “Let’s be candid. We know how to count,” said GiaQuinta. “You have the votes to ignore us. You have the raw numerical power to pass legislation that reflects that power. We hope you won’t, because regardless of how the votes are divided in this chamber there are hundreds of thousands of Hoosier citizens who are depending on our caucus to ensure that their voices are heard.”

PLEDGES OF BIPARTISANSHIP: For today, at least, the Indiana House is pledging bipartisanship as the four-month General Assembly session begins in earnest (Berman, WIBC). Republicans and Democrats say they share a goal of raising teacher pay -- House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) says to expect details sometime next week. And House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) says Democrats will back up Governor Holcomb's push to strengthen the Department of Child Services. He says after years of reports and reviews gathering dust, he believes Holcomb is serious about reforming the agency. The opening-day atmosphere was slightly testier in the Senate, where new President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) said Republicans will work to improve school safety and job training, in addition to boosting teachers, schools, and DCS. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) scoffs at that platform as "rehashing old talking points." He and GiaQuinta are both calling for redistricting reform, easier access to voting, protection for Hoosiers with preexisting conditions, and statewide preschool. And Senate Democrats are pushing for legalization of medical marijuana.

WOMEN OUT NUMBER MEN WITH HOUSE DEMS: There are four new senators and 17 new representatives, including Mishawaka Democrat Ross Deal, a late addition after South Bend Rep. Joe Taylor resigned. Eight of those new House members are women, including seven Democrats. Women now outnumber men among the 33 House Democrats -- the first time that's happened in either party in either chamber (WIBC).

BRAY UNVEILS SENATE AGENDA: Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) announced Indiana Senate Republicans’ legislative priorities for the 2019 session (Howey Politics Indiana). “This session, my colleagues and I will be prioritizing efforts to maintain a balanced budget, protect our most vulnerable children, support education, improve school safety, and help Hoosiers find good jobs,” Bray said. “Given the revenue forecast and the budget needs of the Department of Child Services (DCS), there’s no question that we have many challenges before us. Nevertheless, Senate Republicans stand ready to do the hard work that needs to be done in order to advance the Hoosier state, and we look forward to the session ahead.” In the 2019 legislative session, Senate Republicans will prioritize the following initiatives:

Maintain an honestly balanced budget: Like all hardworking Hoosiers that balance their checkbooks, Senate Republicans know that responsible government means making tough choices and spending within your means, and will work to pass a two-year state budget that funds priorities and protects reserves.

Protect vulnerable children: Due in part to the drug epidemic, DCS staff and resources are being stretched too thin when it comes to protecting children. Senate Republicans will support operational reforms and the appropriate level of new funding for DCS.

Support education: With more than half of the state’s General Fund devoted to K-12 education, Indiana spends a higher percentage of its budget on education than all but two other states. Senate Republicans will maintain that strong commitment to students, teachers and schools in the next budget.

Improve school safety: Protecting schools from violence takes vigilance on the part of every Hoosier. At the Statehouse, Senate Republicans will work on school-safety improvements based on the recommendations made to Gov. Holcomb last year, including allowing Secured School Safety Grants to be used for mental and behavioral health services.

Advance workforce development: To address Indiana’s long-term skills gap, the General Assembly has implemented many workforce-development reforms in recent years. In 2019, Senate Republicans will focus on changes to ensure our existing training programs result in meaningful career paths for all Hoosiers.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT POLICY IN THE WORKS:  Legislators are still piecing together a sexual harassment policy for the General Assembly (Berman, WIBC). Legislative leaders approved the outline of a policy last fall, but left it to the House and Senate Ethics Committees to fill in the details. Those committees started that process behind closed doors for what House Ethics Chair Sharon Negele (R-Attica) describes as an informational meeting. Six of the 12 members, including Negele, are new to the ethics panels, and only three are attorneys. Negele says the two-hour session was a necessary step to get everyone up to speed on the legal terms and definitions involved in employment law, and on the hazards legislators will have to navigate in crafting a policy. She says a still-unscheduled public session will follow. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) says he's hopeful a policy can be finalized by the end of this week, but says that may be too tight a timeline. Legislators have hired Indianapolis employment attorney Susan Zoeller to advise them during the process. Negele and Vice Chair Sue Errington (D-Muncie) say one early guideline is to keep the definition of unacceptable conduct broad, to avoid situations in which misbehavior doesn't fit neatly into what the law spells out. Negele says legislators may specifically address legislative internships and the setting of acceptable boundaries in legislators' interactions with interns. Governor Holcomb and Chief Justice Loretta Rush announced sexual-harassment policies for the executive and judicial branches last March.

CHAMBER TO PUSH CIG TAX: As things currently stand, legislators won’t have much wiggle room in the next state budget – with most of the money earmarked to adequately fund increased Department of Child Services and K-12 education demands. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce hopes that such a tight squeeze may make a cigarette tax hike more appealing to legislative leaders and the Governor (Howey Politics Indiana). “We will certainly be making the case for it. There is nothing else the state could do to infuse the revenue stream that would have the impact of increasing the cigarette tax by $2 per pack,” declares Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar. “While we agree with what Gov. Holcomb has said in past years that funds collected should go to related health care programs – to cover smoking cessation and Medicaid costs – we also believe any additional money could go to where the state has the greatest needs.”

HOUSE TO WORK WITH SALVATION ARMY ON HUNGER: The Indiana House of Representatives and the Indiana Division of The Salvation Army are teaming up this legislative session to increase awareness about child hunger (Howey Politics Indiana). House Speaker Brian C. Bosma (R-Indianapolis) and House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) joined officials from The Salvation Army today at the Statehouse to launch a food and backpack donation drive. “Some school children don’t want to leave school on Fridays because they don’t know where their next meal will come from,” Bosma said. “By joining forces with The Salvation Army, we hope to raise awareness about child hunger while providing backpacks filled with kid-friendly meals for students to take home for the weekend.” Hoosiers can drop off donations outside of the House Chamber on the third floor of the Statehouse in Indianapolis through March 5, or make a monetary donation by contacting Susan Solmon at Susan_Solmon@usc.salvationarmy.org.

GIAQUINTA UNVEILS DEM AGENDA:  In his first major speech as Leader of an Indiana House Democratic Caucus that he called the most diverse in state history, State Rep. Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) called today for lawmakers to take immediate action on a variety of issues to improve the quality of life for Hoosiers (Howey Politics Indiana). That action should include passage of legislation to improve teacher pay, expand pre-K throughout the state, enact a hate crimes law, protect the health care of people with pre-existing medical conditions, make it easier for Hoosiers to vote, and provide a nonpartisan drawing of legislative and congressional districts. Speaking to House members as they returned to the Statehouse for the 2019 legislative session, GiaQuinta took a moment to note the skills being brought to the table by a 33-member House Democratic caucus that, for the first time in state history, is made up of a majority of women. It includes African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and for the first time in caucus history, an Asian-American. It ranges from a 26-year old lawmaker to a representative that will have served 50 years in the Indiana House when his current term finishes. “The Indiana House Democrats now seated in this chamber represent the most diverse caucus ever in the history of this state,” said GiaQuinta, who noted that such diversity will allow House Democrats to “better advocate for the resolution of some of our state’s most pressing issues, which have been set aside for too long.” Those include a need to increase pay for teachers in Indiana, as well as expand pre-K throughout the state. “We must raise education funding to allow for an increase in teacher pay,” GiaQuinta said. “It is our responsibility to address this crisis. And we need to do it now. We do not need to discuss the issue for another year…or two years…or three years.”

LANANE SAYS SUPER MAJORITIES BREED COMPLACENCY: Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane said Thursday that the Republican super majorities are "breeding complacency" (Howey Politics Indiana)." In November, the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus outlined our legislative goals for 2019: increase teacher pay, protect insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions and legalize medical marijuana. A vision of a future in which hundreds of thousands of Hoosier lives would be drastically improved," Lanane said. "Today, several months later, Senate Republicans finally shared their own agenda. And frankly, I am surprised at my colleagues in the supermajority for their lack of a vision for our state. It seems supermajorities breed complacency. The announcement of nothing visionary keeps our state behind our neighbors in teacher pay and leaves additional treatment for medical struggles off the table. Maintain an honestly balanced budget? This a constitutional requirement that doesn’t need to be a legislative priority. Instead of standing up for the real needs of Hoosiers, the supermajority is rehashing old speaking points."

NE INDIANA LEADERS WANT TO BE HEARD: A group of northeast Indiana government leaders is looking for more local control as it outlines its agenda for this year's legislative session (Inside Indiana Business). The Mayors and Commissioners Caucus of Northeast Indiana is focusing on areas including local decision authority on various taxes, increased transportation and bridge funding and more support for public health and safety. Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters, who is president of the caucus, says the organization has hired its first lobbyist as it looks to prevent state government from "nibbling around the edges" of local resources. The caucus says its three policy priorities are: Home rule and local control in areas including tax increment financing, business personal property tax, 911 fees, food and beverage tax, inkeepers tax and community mental health center designations. Initiatives to increase transportation and bridge funding including restoring local motor vehicle highway and local road and street distribution to 2016 levels, boosting and relaxing restrictions on the Community Crossings program and increasing the maximum threshold on the wheel tax and surtax. Public health and safety initiatives including repealing mandating level 6 felony offenders to stay in local communities if sentenced to jail, increasing criminal justice funding, increase Recovery Works funding, supporting enforcement of CBD oil guidelines, adding approved opioid treatment locations and boosting funding for regional mental health facilities.

FORMER REP. COCHRAN DIES: William C. Cochran, a New Albany native who served 34 years as a state representative, died early Thursday morning after a sudden illness, according to Floyd County Democratic Party Chairman Adam Dickey. He was 84 (Morris, News & Tribune). Cochran was active in local politics most of his life. He was a 1952 graduate of New Albany High School and is a member of the school's hall of fame. Cochran served District 72 during his three-plus decades in the state Legislature, and helped secure funding for the development of the Indiana University Southeast campus. He received a Distinguished Service Medal from IUS. "Bill genuinely cared for those he served and worked to make our community a better place," Dickey said in a news release. "As a state representative for 34 years he played an enormous roll in guiding our state and served on the State House Ways & Means Committee, Judiciary Committee and Public Policy Committee."



Congress

INDIANA DELEGATION SWORN IN: Sworn in Thursday were seven re-elected House members from Indiana: Republican Reps. Jim Banks of Columbia City, Jackie Walorski of suburban Elkhart, Susan Brooks of Carmel, Larry Bucshon of Newburgh and Trey Hollingsworth of New Albany, and Democratic Reps. Pete Visclosky of Gary and Andre Carson of Indianapolis (Francisco, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). In the vote for House speaker, all seven Republicans from Indiana voted for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and both Democrats from the state supported the winner, former Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “Putting Nancy Pelosi back in the speaker's chair, for me as a conservative, it goes against every fiber within me of what I believe in,” Banks said in an interview with Fort Wayne radio station WOWO. Democrats have a 235-199 advantage in the House. Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate. Earlier in the day, Vice President Pence attended the Indiana congressional delegation's breakfast at the Capitol. “Looking forward to working with them as we strive to serve Indiana & advance @POTUS' America FIRST agenda. Let's get to work!” Pence tweeted, mentioning President Donald Trump's Twitter account.

BAIRD SWORN IN TO HOUSE: U.S. Rep. Jim Baird was sworn in as a Member of the 116th United States Congress (Howey Politics Indiana). “It is an honor to represent all Hoosiers from Indiana’s Fourth Congressional District,” said Congressman Baird. “I will continue to work hard every day to champion the causes of freedom and good government, so that Hoosiers can continue to build better lives for their families.”

BUCSHON SWORN IN: U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, M.D. (IN-08) released the following statement after being sworn in for a fifth term as the United States Representative for Indiana’s Eight Congressional District on the opening day of the 116th Congress (Howey Politics Indiana): “I am humbled and honored to have the privilege of serving Hoosiers in Southwest Indiana. The Eighth Congressional district and the state of Indiana have roared back to life over the last few years thanks to pro-growth, Republican policies and leadership. Over the past two years, I am proud to have supported the biggest tax reform in a generation, full funding for our military, and a historic rollback of unnecessary Washington red tape. In the coming Congress, it is imperative that we continue building on this record of success and do the jobs we were sent here to do – to legislate on behalf of the American people. While Republicans and Democrats may not agree on everything, what I hope we can agree on is the need to put political careers and self-interests aside and make the tough decisions so we can continue moving America forward.”

12 DEMOCRATS DON'T VOTE FOR PELOSI: Nancy Pelosi was just elected speaker of the House, garnering 220 votes from her colleagues (CNN). Twelve Democrats, however, didn't vote for her. Here's who they voted for instead: Jason Crow of Colorado and Max Rose of New York voted for Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois; Jared Golden of Maine, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey voted for Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois; Anthony Brindisi of New York voted for former Vice President Joe Biden; Ben McAdams of Utah voted for Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida; Ron Kind of Wisconsin voted for Rep. John Lewis of Georgia; Conor Lamb voted for Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts; Kathleen Rice of New York voted for Stacey Abrams, who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Georgia. Kurt Schrader of Oregon voted for Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio.

ROMNEY SEEKS 'TRUSTING RELATIONSHIP' WITH TRUMP: Before being sworn in as Utah's junior senator, Mitt Romney said he looks forward to building a "trusting relationship" with President Trump, despite strong disagreements between the two (CBS News). "I look forward to being able to have a trusting relationship with the president and others despite differences from time to time," Romney told reporters on Thursday outside his temporary office. In a scathing New Year's Day editorial for the Washington Post, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee accused Mr. Trump of not rising "to the mantle of the office" and questioned the president's character as America's commander-in-chief.

SEN. GARDNER CALLS FOR END TO SHUT DOWN: Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who faces a potentially tough re-election in 2020, says Congress should re-open the federal government, even without a deal on funding President Trump’s border wall (The Hill). Gardner is the first Senate Republican to call for ending the partial shutdown even without a deal on President Trump’s demand for $5 billion to fund a border wall.

McCONNELL UNDER PRESSURE FROM GOP TO STEP UP: For weeks, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has remained conspicuously on the sidelines, insisting that it was up to President Trump and Democrats to negotiate an end to the partial shutdown of the federal government (New York Times). But with the shutdown soon to enter its third week, and Mr. Trump dug in on his demand for $5 billion to build a border wall, Mr. McConnell for the first time is facing pressure from members of his own party to step in to resolve the stalemate that has left 800,000 federal workers either furloughed or working without pay. By absenting himself, Mr. McConnell had hoped to push the blame for a prolonged shutdown onto Democrats while protecting Republicans running for re-election in 2020 — including himself. Much as Democrats did in 2018, Republicans will face a difficult map in 2020, with a handful of incumbent senators facing re-election in swing states or states won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. But on Thursday, as a new era of divided government opened in Washington, perhaps the most vulnerable Republican, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, broke ranks to become the first member of his party to call for an end to the shutdown — with or without Mr. Trump’s wall funding.

BARR CONFIRMATION HEARING SET: The hearing dates are set for William Barr, President Trump's nominee for attorney general (CBS News). Barr will field questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, soon to be controlled by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, on Jan. 15 and Jan. 16, the committee announced. If the panel approves him after those two days of hearings, he will then face a floor vote from the Republican-controlled Senate.

LUGAR CENTER APPOINTS MEACHAM: The Lugar Center is pleased to announce the newest member of its Board of Directors, Mr. Carl Meacham (Howey Politics Indiana). The addition to the Board was made unanimously on December 11, 2018. An expert in Latin American issues with decades of government, private sector, and scholastic experience, Mr. Meacham will contribute his extensive knowledge and diverse skills to The Lugar Center's Board.  We look forward to his leadership in the coming years. Meacham joins The Lugar Center's Board of Directors with decades of foreign policy experience and Latin American expertise. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and an Associate Vice President in the advocacy division of Pharmacy Research and Manufacturers of America, he recently worked as the leader of government affairs for Uber in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay.



State

GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB VOWS TO PUSH HATE CRIMES LAW - Gov. Eric Holcomb asserted Thursday that he’ll be in the middle of the legislature’s potentially contentious debate over adopting a state hate crimes law (Davies, AP). The Republican governor told reporters just before state lawmakers gathered in the Statehouse to start their 2019 session that he was hopeful a bill would pass after conservatives blocked similar proposals in recent years. When asked how active he would be in lobbying the GOP-dominated Legislature for the bill, Holcomb replied “uber.” Indiana is one of just five states without laws specifically against crimes fueled by biases regarding race, religion and sexual orientation. Holcomb repeated his stance that adopting a law is “the right thing to do,” but emphasized the situation was hurting Indiana’s attempts to recruit businesses to the state. “There’s no reason why we can’t be on the same list as our competitors like Florida and Tennessee and Virginia and Texas,” he said. “We need to get on the right list and off the list that’s holding us potentially back.”

GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB TO ADDRESS CHAMBER DINNER - Gov. Eric J. Holcomb will join author and featured speaker Arthur C. Brooks at the 2019 Chamber Day Dinner taking place March 12 at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. 

GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB SCHEDULE - Gov. Eric J. Holcomb’s public schedule for January 4: DS Smith Jobs Announcement and Groundbreaking, Gov. Holcomb, Indiana Secretary of Commerce Jim Schellinger, President and CEO of DS Smith Jim Morgan, Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry, 10 a.m., Friday, Lebanon Business Park, 800 Edwards Rd.

STATEHOUSE: CANNABIS CHURCH DENIED EXEMPTION - The end of 2018 brought bad news for the “First Church of Cannabis,” a group of marijuana enthusiasts who have spent much of the past three years arguing for the right to use pot as a matter of religious liberty (Howey Politics Indiana). Once again, Attorney General Curtis Hill has prevailed in turning back this group’s efforts to be exempted from Indiana’s anti-marijuana statutes. On Friday Dec. 28, the Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed with prejudice the appeal of this “church,” explaining that the appellants failed to pay a transcript fee as ordered by the court. Further, the court stated, "Appellants have failed to show cause why this appeal should not be dismissed." “Laws against the possession, sale and use of marijuana are designed to protect the health, safety and well-being of Hoosiers statewide,” Attorney General Hill said. “Our courts have repeatedly upheld their validity. The devout worshippers of the First Church of Cannabis may find more fertile ground in another state to legally consume their favorite sacrament, but they won't be lighting up in Indiana.”

STATEHOUSE: HILL ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT ON FOR-PROFIT COLLEGE - For-profit education company Career Education Corp. (CEC) has agreed to reform its recruiting and enrollment practices and forgo collecting more than $556.5 million in debts owed by 195,136 students nationally (Howey Politics Indiana). This agreement is part of a settlement with Attorney General Curtis Hill and 48 other attorneys general. The Assurance of Voluntary Compliance filed Wednesday caps a five-year investigation. “Protecting Indiana students from fraud is a top priority,” Attorney General Hill said. “Institutions of higher learning must follow the rules and will be held accountable when they don’t. My commitment to protecting Hoosiers from unscrupulous business practices is unwavering.” CEC agrees to forgo any and all efforts to collect amounts owed by former students living in the states participating in the agreement. In Indiana, 2,702 students will get relief totaling $5,622,489. Nationally, the average individual debt relief will be about $2,852. CEC has also agreed to pay $5 million to the states. Indiana’s share will be $2,750. CEC is based in Schaumburg, Ill., and currently offers primarily online courses through American InterContinental University and Colorado Technical University. 

ISP: MAN KILLED BY TROOPER HAD PREVIOUS INCIDENT - The man who was shot and killed by an Indiana State Police trooper Friday night near Crawfordsville had a previous roadside incident with a state trooper (WTHR-TV). Police say 56-year-old Glenn Rightsell reached for a gun when he was shot by Trooper Daniel Organ December 28 around 6:35 p.m. Organ says Rightsell failed to comply with directions and grabbed the gun on his waist. Rightsell was working on his daughter’s broken-down SUV on U.S. 231 just south of Linden when Organ arrived to investigate. Friends and family of Rightsell find it hard to believe what state police are telling them about the incident. But some 13 years ago, Rightsell pleaded guilty in another roadside incident with state police. Court records say that on December 18, 2005, Rightsell was stopped north of Linden on U.S. 231 driving a Chevrolet GEO with no registration and a plate belonging to someone else. When a state trooper told him the vehicle would be impounded, Rightsell sped off and drove to his nearby home in Linden. Parked in his front yard, Rightsell refused to exit the vehicle. When two troopers opened a door, he allegedly kicked them and had to be pepper sprayed and still continued to resist arrest. When taken to jail, Rightsell allegedly became verbally aggressive with another inmate.

 

DOC: LAST FEMALE DEATH ROW INMATE SPARED - A 56-year-old woman who was Indiana's sole female death row inmate will not be executed for her role in the murder of a 7-year-old girl in Gary in 1984 (IndyStar). Last month, the Lake County prosecutor and the Indiana Attorney General’s Office signed an agreement withdrawing a demand for the execution Debra Denise Brown because of mental disability. It is an appeal Brown's attorneys have made multiple times since she was sentenced to death in June 1986 alongside co-defendant Alton Coleman. Together, the couple was convicted of carrying out a 53-day crime spree across multiple Midwestern states that resulted in eight killings, seven rapes, three kidnappings and 14 armed robberies. It is still unlikely that Brown will ever be freed from prison. She faces two consecutive life sentences in Ohio, plus an additional 140 years in Indiana.

SUPREME COURT: WOMAN'S DRUG SENTENCE REVISED - Indiana's Supreme Court recently revised the drug-related sentence of a woman who started a recovery home for women after multiple arrests (Indiana Public Media). An Orange County judge sentenced Lisa Livingston in March to 30 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to dealing meth and other charges stemming from a 2013 arrest. In an opinion issued last week, the state’s highest court revised her sentence to a mandatory 23 years in community corrections. Stating the case was “exceptional” the court relied on an appellate review statute to lessen the sentence. Livingston's attorney, Jennifer Culotta, says the court revising a sentence like that is rare. "We are ecstatic. This is the right decision," she says. "It’s the right result. Lisa is, and was, an extraordinary person."

DNR: DRIVING TOUR FOR LAKE MONROE BALD EAGLES - See bald eagles in the wild during a driving tour at Monroe Lake Saturday, Jan. 26. The tour is self-guided and runs from 1 to 3 p.m. It will have six outdoor shoreline stops, each staffed by experienced birders who will assist attendees in viewing eagles and other birds through spotting scopes. Tour attendees can also get an up-close look at a bald eagle and several other raptors at a bonus indoor tour stop featuring live education birds from Hardy Lake. Advance registration is $5 for adults ($3 for children) and is available through Jan. 24 by calling 812-837-9546 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Walk-up registration is $7 for adults ($4 for children) at the Paynetown Activity Center on Jan. 26 beginning at 12:30 p.m. All attendees must check in at the Paynetown Activity Center to pick up a tour map and get their event badges, which must be worn in a visible location while visiting tour stops.

MEDIA: CNHI SOLD TO ALABAMA COMPANY - CNHI, LLC has been acquired by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, it was announced today (Kokomo Tribune). CNHI is made up of more than 100 local newspapers and websites in 22 states, including 68 dailies and more than 40 non-dailies. CNHI previously operated with RSA as its creditor, and details of the acquisition were not disclosed. Donna Barrett, president and CEO of CNHI, said, “We are very excited about working with RSA again because of its dedication to the crucial role of newspapers in keeping the public informed on what is happening in their communities and beyond. “We believe this acquisition will provide stability for CNHI as we continue to transform our business for future success.”

Nation

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP CONGRATULATES PELOSI IN BRIEFING ROOM - President Trump opened his first White House briefing room appearance by congratulating Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying: "Hopefully, we're going to have a lot of things we can get done together."

WHITE HOUSE: PENCE SAYS NO WALL, NO DEAL - If there's no wall, there's no deal. Vice President Mike Pence told Fox's Tucker Carlson that in an interview Thursday evening at the White House (WIBC). The partial government shutdown is on day 14. Democrats introduced a bill to reopen government, but without funding for a border wall. The president is not likely to consider it. "We really are prepared to negotiate. We're prepared to talk. We're prepared to listen, and ultimately it begins with the facts," said Pence. He did not say where the room to negotiate lies, but reiterated that no matter where the negotiations go, a wall must be part of the settlement. "I want the American people to know that this is a real crisis at our border. We made progress last year and it probably was the result of the fact that the American people elected a new president who delivered a very strong message about confronting illegal immigration." The former Indiana governor said there was a decline in the number of people coming across or trying to come across the border. "But, in the last 12 months, we've literally seen a dramatic increase-2,000 people a day apprehended at our border or found to be inadmissible trying to enter our country," he said.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP STRANGELY INACTIVE - The government shutdown now in its 14th days has been a really remarkably quiet period for President Trump (Blake, Washington Post). Sure, it’s a period that overlapped with the holidays, during which there isn’t a whole lot going on anyway. At the end of 2017, Trump spent days playing golf in Mar-a-Lago, not exactly burning the midnight oil poring over briefing documents. But that was a time when there was no shutdown — and when he didn’t specifically stay in Washington to deal with the “too important” subject of funding. A compilation of Trump’s daily schedule since his inauguration shows how empty his official calendar has been of late. There was the trip to Iraq shortly after Christmas, but since then not a lot. The White House didn’t release public schedules for many of the days that the government has been shut down, but pool reports indicate that not much was going on. A dinner with Vice President Pence last Friday was one of the few exceptions. He’s not even tweeting that much. There’s this idea that, on days when he’s unoccupied, he tweets a lot, but that’s not really true. Since July 1, 2018, he has tweeted, on average, 11.1 times a day. Over the past week, he has tweeted an average of 8.4 times a day.

WHITE HOUSE: MULVANEY EGGING TRUMP ON - President Donald Trump’s new acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, is already putting his stamp on the West Wing after just a few days on the job (Politico). While his recently departed predecessor, Gen. John Kelly, often tried to restrain President Donald Trump, Mulvaney — who has said he won’t seek to be a check on the impulsive president — has been egging on the president in his confrontation with congressional Democrats over a border wall. Mulvaney is among the top officials counseling Trump to reject any short-term funding bill to re-open the Department of Homeland Security, the agency responsible for constructing the president’s long-desired border wall, said one source close to Mulvaney and one administration official. That position has made many congressional Republican leaders nervous even as it thrills Trump’s conservative base.

WHITE HOUSE: FORMER SEN. WEBB COURTED FOR DOD - The Trump administration is considering Jim Webb, a former Democratic senator and Reagan-era secretary of the Navy, to be the next defense secretary, according to three officials, potentially bypassing more hawkish Republicans whose names have been floated to replace Jim Mattis (New York Times). Mr. Webb, an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, is being considered as President Trump seeks to carry out campaign promises to withdraw American troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Those two decisions prompted Mr. Mattis to resign late last month, putting the deputy defense secretary, Patrick M. Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, in the top role in an acting capacity. Representatives for Vice President Mike Pence and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, have reached out to Mr. Webb, one of the three officials said. Separately, a senior Defense Department official confirmed that Mr. Webb’s name had been circulating at the White House.

WHITE HOUSE: AFGHANISTAN DENOUNCES TRUMP - Afghan officials on Thursday denounced President Trump’s praise of the 1979 Soviet invasion and occupation of their country, which he described this week as a fight against terrorism, breaking with decades of Republican anti-communist tenets (Washington Post). According to the revisionist historical account Trump delivered during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, “the reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia.” He added: “They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight.” A statement from President Ashraf Ghani’s office described the battle against the Soviets as a “national uprising for gaining freedom” and noted that the Soviet invasion was condemned by the United Nations and the United States at the time. “All presidents of America not only denounced this invasion but remained supporters of this holy jihad of the Afghans,” read the statement, which added that the government would be seeking clarity from the United States.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP SCHEDULE - President Trump will meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at 3 p.m. in the Oval Office.

DOJ: ZINKE UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR LYING - The Justice Dept. is investigating whether former interior secretary Ryan Zinke lied during ethics probes, a potential criminal act Zinke, who submitted his resignation last month and left the Trump administration Wednesday, was facing two inspector general inquiries tied to his real estate dealings in his home state of Montana and his involvement in reviewing a proposed casino project by Native American tribes in Connecticut (Washington Post). In the course of that work, inspector general investigators came to believe Zinke had lied to them, and they referred the matter to the Justice Department to consider whether any laws were violated, according to three people familiar with the matter. A spokesman for Zinke said that he voluntarily participated in two inspector general interviews about the Connecticut tribal matter and “to the best of his knowledge answered all questions truthfully.”

ECONOMY: STOCKS RALLY WITH NEWS OF CHINA TRADE TALKS - Global stocks climbed Friday, staging a partial rebound from Thursday’s steep losses after China confirmed a two-day meeting with U.S. representatives to work to resolve the countries’ trade dispute (Wall Street Journal). The Stoxx Europe 600 climbed 0.9% in opening trading, buoyed by natural-resources and energy sectors, up 2% and 1.7%, respectively. Natural-resources stocks have been among those worst hit by trade disputes between the U.S. and China. Meanwhile, oil prices continued the rise that began earlier this week when production cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies came into effect. Brent crude oil was up 1.4% at $56.71 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate futures were up 1.6% at $47.82 a barrel.

RUSSIA: WHELAN INDICTED FOR SPYING - An American arrested in Russia has been formally charged with espionage, a Russian news agency reported Thursday, moving the case into Russia’s justice system and possibly deepening the diplomatic tensions with the United States (Washington Post). The Interfax news agency report on Paul Whelan’s status could not be independently verified. “An indictment has been presented. Whelan dismisses it,” Interfax reported, citing a person familiar with the situation.

MEDIA: SUNDAY TALK - CBS "Face the Nation": Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)  A panel of new Democratic House members: Reps. Max Rose (N.Y.), Colin Allred (Texas), Mikie Sherrill (N.J.) and Jahana Hayes (Conn.). Correspondents panel: Dan Balz, Shannon Pettypiece, Mark Landler and Ed O'Keefe. CNN "State of the Union": Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), David Urban, Patti Solis Doyle and Bill Kristol. CNN "Inside Politics": Manu Raju, Maggie Haberman, Eliana Johnson and Lisa Lerer. "Fox News Sunday": Panel: Jason Chaffetz, Marie Harf, Jonah Goldberg and Mo Elleithee. NBC "Meet the Press": Panel: David Brooks, Matthew Continetti, Donna Edwards and Kasie Hunt.

ILLINOIS: CHICAGO ALDERMAN BURKE INDICTED - Longtime Ald. Edward Burke, one of Chicago’s most powerful figures and a vestige of the city’s old Democratic machine, will turn himself in Thursday on corruption charges alleging he used his political office for personal gain (Chicago Tribune). The criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court comes five weeks after the FBI carried out a stunning raid on Burke’s City Hall office.

ILLINOIS: MAYOR EMANUEL SEEKS TO REMOVE BURKE FROM FINANCE - Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants Ald. Edward Burke (14th) out as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee now that federal corruption charges have been filed against Chicago’s most powerful and longest-serving alderman, a top mayoral aide said Thursday (Chicago Sun-Times). “Based on what we’ve seen in the complaint, the mayor believe it is unacceptable for him to continue as chairman of the Finance Committee,” a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Chicago Sun-Times just minutes after reading the 37-page complaint filed against Burke.

Local

CITIES: MICHIGAN CITY INSTALLS DIGITAL WARNING SIGN AT LIGHTHOUSE - Washington Park is known throughout the Region for its picturesque lighthouse and sandy beach front. However, it's also known as a potentially treacherous destination when high waves go unheeded (NWI Times). Michigan City officials installed a digital sign warning beach visitors of dangerous conditions, which was activated on Thursday, Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer said. On Dec. 21, two men were swept up by high waves into Lake Michigan while walking on the Michigan City Lighthouse breakwall at Washington Park. One man was able to swim back to the breakwall, however his friend, Slater Harkleroad, 20, of Union Mills, died. “We're trying to be as proactive as possible,” Meer said. “It happens every season. It's not a chronic problem but every year we have a case or two of people on the pier who get swept in or fall into the lake.” From high waves, thunderstorms, undertows to shelf ice, lakeside hazards will pop up on the light-up digital screen, Meer said.

COUNTIES: PORTER COURTHOUSE RENOVATION AT HALFWAY POINT - A major renovation project at the downtown Porter County Courthouse is about halfway complete and has been free of any major problems so far, according to Porter County Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North (Kasarda, NWI Times). The work is part of a wider $30 million effort to improve several county-owned buildings and repair three of the county's worst bridges. "Everything's going as planned," Biggs said. The work has aimed, in part, at addressing a long-standing problem of water being wicked up by the stone building, which has caused problems in the interior of the structure, he said.

COUNTIES: NEW PORTER PROSECUTOR TAKES OFFICE - Newly elected Porter County Prosecutor Gary Germann hit the ground running during his first day in office this week with staff changes and plans to join his deputies in the courtroom (Kasarda, NWI Times). "I have forgotten how much fun this job is," he said. While he has been in private practice for the past 36 years, Germann began working at the prosecutor's office in 1973 and headed up the office from 1978 to 1982. He returned to the office Tuesday with several new faces, including his new Chief Deputy Armando Salinas, who had been working for the U.S. attorney's office.

COUNTIES: LAWSUIT IN NOBLE INMATE DEATH - A northeastern Indiana county faces a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that a gay inmate killed himself in its jail after being denied mental health treatment and enduring harassment over his sexuality. Markus Middleton’s partner is suing Noble County’s sheriff, jail commander and jail staff. The Kendallville News-Sun reports the federal lawsuit alleges that Middleton was 23 when he hanged himself in October 2017 after spending 23 days in the jail following his arrest on misdemeanor false informing and resisting law enforcement charges.

COUNTIES: DYKES RESIGNS AS MADISON ADMINISTRATOR - Uncertain about his future as Madison County administrator, Dan Dykes resigned from the position Thursday, effective immediately (de la Bastide, Anderson Herald-Bulletin). Dykes, a retired Anderson firefighter, has been working as the county administrator since February 2013 but decided to resign when Commissioners Kelly Gaskill and Mike Phipps didn’t rename him to the position during a Wednesday meeting. Commissioner John Richwine was out of town. Gaskill and Phipps named Beatrice Ramey as director of human resources but didn’t reappoint nine other county department heads. Dykes said Thursday he believed he would be reappointed at the meeting. His 2019 salary was budgeted at $47,951. “I’ve been here for almost six years and was told on Monday that I was being kept in the position,” he said. “When I wasn’t reappointed I had to wonder what kind of message that was being sent.”