U.S., IRAN DE-ESCALATE … FOR NOW: President Trump moved Wednesday to de-escalate hostilities with Iran, signaling no new U.S. military strikes following an Iranian missile barrage on Iraqi bases housing American and allied military forces that resulted in no casualties (Wall Street Journal). “Iran appears to be standing down,” Mr. Trump said in a televised address on Wednesday, his first public reaction beyond a tweet Tuesday evening after missiles were fired from Iran. Hours after Mr. Trump spoke, Iraqi security officials said two rockets landed in Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions are located. They said they caused no casualties, and it wasn’t clear who had fired them. While the president signaled an ease in tensions that had been building toward military confrontation, he nonetheless maintained a stern tone in his nearly 10-minute speech. He vowed to maintain efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and said new sanctions would be imposed against Iran. He again defended the targeted killing last week of a top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, calling him a “ruthless terrorist.”

IRAN DIDN'T USE SOPHISTICATED MISSILES: American military and intelligence officials were stunned at the precision, scale and sheer boldness of what they later concluded was an Iranian attack. Four months ago, a swarm of low-flying armed drones and cruise missiles struck oil tanks in the central hub of the Saudi petroleum industry, catching Washington by surprise and temporarily knocking out 5 percent of the world’s oil supply (New York Times). Almost no country in the region — Israel may be the exception — could have defended against it. The Iranian attack on American military posts in Iraq early Wednesday — the only direct attack on the United States or its allies claimed by Iran since the seizure of the American Embassy in 1979 — relied on ballistic missiles and inflicted little damage. But with tensions between the United States and Iran at the highest level in four decades, the unexpected success of the September strike on the Saudi oil facilities is a stark reminder that Tehran has an array of stealthier weapons in its arsenal that could pose far greater threats if the hostilities escalate.

COATS SAID TIMING 'SPARED' HIM ON WHISTLEBLOWER REPORT: Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats insisted he was unaware of a forthcoming watchdog report regarding a whistleblower complaint involving President Donald Trump when he resigned last summer — but said his exit nevertheless “spared” him from the political fallout that culminated in Trump’s impeachment (Politico). Asked during an interview on “The World and Everything in It” podcast whether he was glad he left the administration when he did in August 2019, Coats said: “Well, yes, although I didn’t know the inspector general’s report was coming, but this was a date that the president had announced earlier would be my last day.” Soon after Coats’ resignation last August, the intelligence community’s inspector general forwarded a whistleblower complaint lodged by an anonymous intelligence official to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. That complaint detailed Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and alleged efforts by White House officials to “lock down” records of the conversation.“I felt bad for the new interim director of national intelligence. I hired him to be head of our counterterrorism organization,” Coats said of Maguire. “But here the poor guy ends up now interim director of national intelligence, and then that inspector general’s report came across his desk, and I felt bad that he was put in that position.”He added: “I had no idea that this would happen, but I guess I was spared, and he was the one that had to go before the Congress in a difficult time and deal with this issue.”

HOUSE PANEL PASSES SMOKING AGE BILL: A House committee easily approved legislation Wednesday to raise the age to smoke and vape from 18 to 21 (Smith, Indiana Public Media). But despite the bill’s widespread support, not everyone who testified likes every provision. The bill imposes penalties on retailers who sell smoking or vaping products to anyone under 21. But it eliminates existing fines for anyone underage from possessing those products. Grocery and convenience store lobbyist Joe Lackey says that doesn’t make sense. “It’s like saying somebody has cocaine, it’s legal to have the cocaine but it’s illegal to sell it,” Lackey says. But American Heart Association lobbyist Danielle Patterson says there’s little evidence fining kids for underage smoking helps treat their addiction.

BUTTIGIEG LANDS 1ST BLACK ENDORSEMENT: Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg received his first endorsement from a member of the Congressional Black Caucus on Thursday when former Maryland lieutenant governor Anthony G. Brown announced his support for the outgoing mayor of South Bend (Washington Post). “I firmly believe that Pete Buttigieg is the guy to lead our nation after we defeat Donald Trump and have to pick up the pieces and repair the damage of the last four years,” Brown said in an interview. “He’s well-versed and studied and really diligent about the issues from a policy standpoint.” As Buttigieg has vaulted to the top tier of the Democratic field, he has struggled to attract support from African American voters and leaders. Brown will serve as a national campaign co-chairman, the first endorser the campaign has named to that position.

LATEST BUTTIGIEG TV AD FEATURES SOUTH BEND RESIDENTS: Pete Buttigieg released a new TV ad in South Carolina Monday highlighting positive relationships with black residents in South Bend, as he tries to connect with black Democrats ahead of the state’s February primary (Politico). The ad is one of four new television spots that will start running Tuesday in each of the four early Democratic primary and caucus states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. But the ad in South Carolina — where Buttigieg has been on the air since early December with an aggressive ad campaign, weeks ahead of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — is particularly striking given the former South Bend mayor’s struggles to break in with black voters, amid concerns about his record on race in his city and his newcomer status in the 2020 presidential race. In the new spot, several black South Bend residents laud Buttigieg’s leadership in the town during a time of economic downturn. “He listened to the community,” one resident says. Others describe their former mayor as “accessible” and “light-years ahead of some people who have been in politics for many, many years.”

BIG DECLINE IN U.S. CANCER DEATHS: The cancer death rate in the United States fell 2.2 percent from 2016 to 2017 — the largest single-year decline in cancer mortality ever reported, the American Cancer Society reported on Wednesday. Since 1991 the rate has dropped 29 percent, which translates to approximately 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths than would have occurred if the mortality rate had remained constant (New York Times). “Every year that we see a decline in cancer mortality rate, it’s very good news,” said Rebecca Siegel, director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the organization’s report, which was published online in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Experts attributed the decline to the reduced smoking rates and to advances in lung cancer treatment. New therapies for melanoma of the skin have also helped extend life for many people with metastatic disease, or cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Progress has slowed for colorectal, breast and prostate cancers, however.

O'HARE INSTALLS MARIJUANA AMNESTY BOXES: Chicago's O’Hare and Midway international airports have added boxes where travelers can dispose of recreational marijuana before they board their flights (AP). The cannabis amnesty boxes, as they’re called, were installed at each airport last week, just as legal marijuana sales began in Illinois. The boxes are located just past the airports' Transportation Security Administration checkpoints, the Chicago Tribune reported. Although police aren't targeting travelers with cannabis, and it’s not illegal to have it at the airport, possessing marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and air space is regulated by the federal government, Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Maggie Huynh said. The boxes give people an opportunity to ensure that they’re not breaking federal law and won’t run into an issue when they land at their destination, she said. “We’re not encouraging people to bring cannabis through the airports at all,” Huynh said. “But if for some reason you have it on you, we have those amnesty boxes out there so that you can dispose of it prior to getting on the airplane.”

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS IMPACTED BY TAX CAPS: Faced with revenue decreases due to property tax caps introduced in 2008, Indiana local governments cut spending and employment while raising additional revenue through local income taxes, says a new report from Ball State University (Howey Politics Indiana). “The opening decades of the 21st century have been a turbulent time for local governments in Indiana,” said Dagney Faulk, research director for Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) and co-author of the study. “A court-ordered reassessment exposed fundamental problems with Indiana’s property tax system that ultimately led to calls for numerous property tax reforms and included an organized effort for total property tax repeal.” “Municipal officials implemented budget and staff reductions for both services perceived as essential, such as public safety, and services perceived as less essential such as parks and recreation. At the same time, a majority of the municipalities adapted to lower property tax revenue by increasing local option income tax (LOIT) rates.” “Local Government Responses to Property Tax Rate Caps: An Analysis of Indiana Municipal Governments,” examined how 28 communities made changes in total local government employment and reduced employment in fire protection, police, administration, highways, and parks and recreation —services commonly provided by municipal governments.

OLADIPO TO RETURN TO PACERS JAN. 29: The Indiana Pacers are getting their all-star back this month. Victor Oladipo says he is planning on making his season debut on Wednesday, January 29. The Pacers host the Chicago Bulls that night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (WIBC). "It's been a long 12 months, a long journey, but I've learned a lot about myself and I'm going to continue to keep growing because of it," Oladipo said.

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: We should all breathe a sigh of relief that President Trump and Iranian leaders have opted for the "off ramp" on this potential hot war, where they would have been no winners. - Brian A. Howey



Campaigns

WEINZAPFEL POSTS $604K: The Jonathan Weinzapfel for Indiana Attorney General campaign reported $604.321.31 in campaign funds in its end-of-year report (Howey Politics Indiana). Weinzapfel, who launched his bid on December 10, 2019, raised $124,100 in the 21 days before the reporting period ended. The remaining funds were transferred from his previous election campaigns, where Weinzapfel first proved himself to be a formidable fundraiser with a wide breadth of statewide support. “We are thrilled that the campaign is off to such a strong start,” said Ann Bochnowski, campaign chair. “It’s a testament to Jonathan’s record of leadership, the network of supporters he has built across the state and his vision for what he’ll do as Indiana’s next attorney general.” 

SPARTZ EYES 5TH CD RUN: Indiana State Sen. Victoria Spartz, R-Noblesville, announced Wednesday that she was considering entering the crowded race for U.S. Congress in the 5th District (IBJ). Spartz defeated six other candidates in a caucus vote in September 2017 to fill former Sen. Luke Kenley’s seat in Senate District 20. Her term ends in 2020, but she has been running for another term. She said Wednesday she was “suspending her race for state Senate to explore her run for Congress.” Six other Republicans have entered the race to replace Susan Brooks, who has represented the district since 2013 and announced in June that she would not seek re-election in 2020. Former Bureau of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Kent Abernathy, retired Riley Hospital for Children doctor Chuck Dietzen, Indiana State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, Noblesville pastor Micah Beckwith, Concise Capital Management fund accountant Danny Niederberger and farmer Beth Henderson also are running. Republican Steve Braun suspended his campaign for the seat in October due to an unspecified health issue. “I look forward to serving the great people of Hamilton County for the rest of my term in the state Senate and meeting more people in the 5th District in the next few weeks to make a decision on my run for Congress,” Spartz said in a written statement.

BALDWIN TO RUN IN SD20: Noblesville native, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and entrepreneur Scott Baldwin plans to run in the Republican primary for SD20 in the seat of Sen. Victoria Spartz (Howey Politics Indiana). SD 20 encompasses all of Noblesville and Westfield as well as portions of Carmel, Fishers and unincorporated Hamilton County. Scott Baldwin is a Marine veteran with more than 25 years of military and law enforcement experience. He was deployed as a Marine during Operation Desert Storm. After his Marine service, he served as an officer with the Indiana Department of Corrections and then as a patrol officer and detective supervisor with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) where he earned two Medals of Bravery and a Medal of Valor. He also volunteered time a reserve detective with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. Scott is a successful entrepreneur and business owner who has owned or helped grow dozens of companies in the IT, real estate, construction and security sectors. Scott is the owner of Envoy, Inc., a construction and real estate development firm.

MITCHELL LAUDS TRUMP ON IRAN: Treasirer Kelly Mitchell, candidate for the Republican 5th CD, issued the following statement on President Trump's Address to the Nation on Iran (Howey Politics Indiana): "Today, the President spoke with clarity and assertiveness: Iran must end its support for terrorism and must never gain access to a nuclear weapon. I applaud President Trump’s decisiveness, leadership, and restraint to bring in the international community to help set a course of peace and diplomacy. It is my hope that Iran will come to the table with our international partners, agree on a deal that ends their support of terror across the world, and ensures the safety of all Americans and furthers stability efforts in the Middle East. Make no mistake about it, the brave men and women of our Armed Forces are always at the ready, but any military action should be used as a last resort."

9TH CD CANDIDATE TO TAKE ON RACIST FLIERS: 9th District U.S. Congressional candidate Rev. Mark J. Powell (D-IN) is organizing a “Prayerful Protest” this Saturday, January 11, 2020 at 1pm at the Lawrence County Courthouse rotunda in Bedford. The event will give political and faith leaders a platform to gather and lead the community in united opposition to numerous Nazi pamphlets distributed in Bedford last week (Howey Politics Indiana). Pastor Powell stated, “I saw the WTHR Channel 13 story Friday morning and I thought to myself if I was the Congressman today what would I do?  I immediately called Bedford Mayor Sam Craig and with his assistance along with Lawrence County Auditor Jody Edwards we were able to secure the County Courthouse in Bedford for our gathering place with security attending the event.



General Assembly

HOUSE PANEL PASSES RETAILER PENALTIES BILL: Indiana lawmakers are looking to toughen the penalties stores face for selling tobacco products to underaged customers as they raise the state’s minimum age for smoking and vaping from 18 to 21 to conform with the new federal law (AP). A proposal backed by anti-smoking advocates would also eliminate the possible fines against minors caught with tobacco or electronic cigarettes, saying those aren’t fair to youths who may have become addicted. Proposals to raise Indiana’s smoking age have failed to advance among lawmakers for several years, but Congress’ decision last month to raise the legal age to 21 has made opposing it on a state level moot, and Republican leaders of the Indiana House and Senate are endorsing proposals with tougher penalties. The House Public Health Committee voted 12-1 Wednesday to advance to the full House a bill that would boost the fine against a retailer for a first violation from a $200 maximum to a minimum of $500. The penalties would increase until a third violation within three years, which would carry a minimum $1,000 fine and a three-year loss of the store’s tobacco sales certificate. It also would prohibit new tobacco sales outlets from opening within 1,000 feet of a school. A separate Senate bill would increase the fines against violators but doesn’t include the sales license revocations.

PANEL ALLOCATES $291M IN SURPLUS FUNDS: An Indiana House committee adopted House Bill 1007 Tuesday, which allocates $291 million of the state’s budget surplus to six state university systems, including Indiana University (Atkinson, Indiana Public Media). This came after the committee rejected a Democratic proposal that would have directed that money toward one-time teacher pay bonuses. The proposal would've resulted in bonuses of more than $4,000 per teacher, whose average 2017-18 salary of about $50,600 was the lower than teachers in any of Indiana's neighboring states, according to the National Education Association. According to the bill’s fiscal impact statement, IU will receive $62 million to go toward its “bicentennial repair and rehabilitation plan” between July 2020 and June 2021. IU spokesperson Chuck Carney says that plan funds the renovations of the Mathers Museum, Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology and the McCalla School at IU Bloomington and the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Dunlap Drug Discovery Lab, the Bryce Building and the Ott Building at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

BSU PROJECT DRAWN INTO TEACHER PAY FIGHT:  Ball State University, which is hosting Ball State Day at the Statehouse on Thursday, is seeing its Cooper Science Complex capital project being drawn into a controversy over school teacher pay (Slabaugh, Muncie Star Press). In an interview on Monday, Becca Polcz Rice, BSU's vice president for governmental relations, identified House Bill 1007 as an important piece of legislation for the university in the 2020 session of the Indiana General Assembly. It appropriates $291 million from the state's general fund for capital projects at Indiana, Purdue, Indiana State and Ball State universities as well as Ivy Tech Community College and University of Southern Indiana. The bill earmarks $59.9 million for the Ball State project — demolition of 131,000 square feet of the outdated Cooper building and renovation of 162,000 feet of the structure.

HOUSE PANEL CONSIDERS ALL-PAYER CLAIMS PORTAL: Employers, health insurers, health care providers and state lawmakers all say they interested in finding ways to slow the rising cost of health care. Creating an online pricing transparency portal could be one step they take in that effort (Erdody, IBJ). The Indiana House Public Health Committee on Wednesday discussed legislation that would create an all-payer claims database and require health care providers to give patients a “good faith” cost estimate of non-emergency procedures in advance, if requested by the patient. Author of House Bill 1005, Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel, said there is increasing frustration about high health care costs, and an all-payer claims database could help inform future policy decisions and enhance transparency. “The goal of this legislation is to make sure the billing process is very clear,” Schaibley said. The Indiana Department of Insurance would be responsible for issuing a request for proposals to find a third party to establish the database, which would have to be in place by 2022, according to the bill.

TEACHERS KEEP UP PRESSURE FOR PAY:  Three days into Indiana's legislative session, education is one of the top issues lawmakers are tackling (Hocker, WRTV). That's welcome news for the thousands of teachers from across Indiana who rallied at the Statehouse less than two months ago. Ben Yoder was one of the more prominent teachers at November's Red For Ed rally at the Statehouse when they asked legislators for policies they said will help them be better teachers. "We're continuing to try and put pressure on the legislators and keep that momentum going," Yoder said.

MUCH SUPPORT FOR INFB HEALTH CARE PROPOSALS: Indiana Farm Bureau hosted state legislators Wednesday in downtown Indy to discuss policy priorities for the new legislative session that opened on Monday. The top priority this year is healthcare. Legislation is being proposed that will allow for sole proprietors to have options for more affordable health coverage (Pfeiffer, Hoosier Ag Today). “How affordable that will be that remains to be seen,” said INFB Vice President Kendell Culp, a Rensselaer farmer. “That kind of depends on who gets approved for that…you know, what their medical conditions are, but what we’ve seen in other states that have sponsored this type of legislation, that have offered it, that it saves a significant amount, is what they’re telling us, in premium.”

Congress

PELOSI SCHEDULES WAR POWERS VOTE TODAY: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scheduled a vote for Thursday aimed at curbing President Trump’s ability to use military force against Iran, as Democrats and some Republicans skewered what they described as a lack of detail provided to Congress in classified briefings about the threat from Tehran (Wall Street Journal). Some lawmakers said they were particularly upset over what they viewed as Trump administration officials’ lack of regard for Congress’s powers to conduct oversight and declare war.

BANKS CRITICAL OF WAR POWERS VOTE: Rep. Jim Banks is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and member of the House Armed Services Committee and criticized the today's scheduled war powers vote (Howey Politics Indiana). “Having been deployed myself, I can imagine how betrayed our service-members abroad feel right now knowing Democrats in Congress are working to strip @realDonaldTrump of his ability to ensure their safety. @SpeakerPelosi’s War Powers resolution is a disgrace!”

SENS. LEE, PAUL RIP BRIEFING: GOP Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) ripped the administration over a closed-door briefing on Iran on Wednesday, announcing they will now support a resolution reining in President Trump's military powers (The Hill). Lee, speaking to reporters after a roughly hourlong closed-door meeting with administration officials, characterized it as "the worst briefing I've seen, at least on a military issue." Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley were dispatched to brief both the House and Senate on Wednesday amid days of concerns from lawmakers that Trump was on a path to war with Iran, which on Tuesday night launched missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. Lee said the officials warned that Congress would "embolden" Iran if lawmakers debated Trump's war powers. "I find this insulting and demeaning ... to the office that each of the 100 senators in this building happens to hold. I find it insulting and demeaning to the Constitution of the United States," Lee said.

BRAUN, COONS START ALS CAUCUS: U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) today launched the first Senate ALS Caucus to better advocate for ALS patients and families and find a cure for this devastating disease (Howey Politics Indiana). “There are things we can do right now to help the thousands fighting for their lives every day against ALS,” said Senator Braun. “I’m proud to join Senator Chris Coons to create a Senate ALS Caucus to do everything we can to provide faster access to meaningful treatments and give hope to those struggling with this terrible disease.”

BUCSHON, BANKS COMMENT ON IRAN MISSILE STRIKES: Iran's decision to fire missiles at bases in Iraq may actually lead to de-escalation of military action action, said Rep. Larry Bucshon, a Republican who represents southwest Indiana in Washington. He believes Iran's response was a matter of necessity (WIBC). "The Iranians last night, had to respond. to save face They had pretty much ramped up their rhetoric in their own country on state-sponsored television and radio and their social media outlets," said Bucshon. "The rockets that they sent didn't hit anything substantial. Rep. Jim Banks (R-3rd District), who represents the Ft. Wayne area, said he believes the president has acted with wisdom and restraint. Both men support the president's actions in last week's air strike. "Iran is trying to save face and praying we don't respond. The Iranian military is no match for the American armed forces," Banks tweeted. "Iran knows better than to push the U.S. towards full escalation. Our annual defense budget is 37 times larger than Iran's. We enjoy incomparable advantages."

MAYOR HATCHER HONORED IN HOUSE:  Congress honored late Gary Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher Wednesday on the U.S. House of Representatives floor (Ortiz, NWI Times). U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., hosted a “Special-Order Hour” honoring the memory of Hatcher. Hatcher died at age 86 on Dec. 13 and is remembered as a visionary leader by those who knew him. “Richard Hatcher, along with Cleveland’s Carl Stokes, would be the first African-American to lead a major American city when he was elected mayor of Gary in November of 1967,” a news release from Rush's office said. “Hatcher would go onto serve the people of Gary for two decades, all while fearlessly fighting for civil rights throughout his tenure there.” The period of remembrance was streamed on C-Span and included Rush, Congressman Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., Congressman André Carson, D-Ind. and Congressman Danny Davis, D-Ill.

State

GOVERNOR: CROUCH ANNOUNCES OCRA GRANTS - Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs announced that 21 rural Hoosier communities will receive more than $12.3 million in federal grant funding (Howey Politics Indiana). “I’m thrilled to kick off the new year by awarding these 21 rural communities with over $12 million in grant funding that will take them to even greater levels,” said Lt. Governor Crouch. “This funding will support projects that are crucial to their continued economic development efforts, and will ultimately improve the quality of life for residents throughout the community.” The state of Indiana distributes Community Development Block Grant funds to rural communities to assist units of local government with various community projects such as: infrastructure improvement, downtown revitalization, public facilities and economic development.

ATTORNEY GENERAL: HILL OPPOSES CONVICTED KILLER'S RELEASE - The state is appealing a federal judge's ruling that the sentence for John Myers II should be overturned. Myers is the man convicted of raping and killing Jill Behrman, a 19-year-old IU student, in the spring of 2000. Her remains were discovered three years later in a rural part of Morgan County and Myers was eventually sentenced to 65-years in prison in 2006 (WIBC). That sentence was tossed out by a federal judge last year, who said Myers' defense attorneys were so ineffective that it was not a fair trial. Attorney General Curtis Hill argues the opposite saying: Myers' trial counsel did not prejudice Myers by making a misleading opening statement because the statement did not harm his defense. Bloodhound evidence supported the defense's theory of a different suspect, so Myers' counsel made a reasonable strategic decision to not object to the evidence. Myers was not prejudiced when his counsel did not object to the pathologist's opinion that Jill had been raped because the evidence did not make it more likely that Myers murdered Behrman. That a claim that Myers counsel was ineffective because of a cumulation of errors is not available on federal habeas review.

IDEM: STEEL FIRM FOCUSED ON CONCEALMENT - A recently released IDEM report on violations at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor in November shows the steelmaker remains focused on attempting to conceal problems rather than fixing them, and underscores the need for reform of the state's self-reporting system, environmental groups said Tuesday (Reese, NWI Times). IDEM inspectors visited ArcelorMittal on Nov. 7, 8 and 27 because of ongoing concerns that the steelmaker is releasing cyanide and ammonia from an unpermitted outfall that drains into Lake Michigan, according to a Jan. 6 letter released by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management letter. The facility spilled higher-than-permitted levels of cyanide and ammonia into the East Branch of the Little Calumet River on Aug. 5 and Aug. 11 to 16, causing the death of more than 3,000 fish and keeping visitors away from the newly designated Indiana Dunes National Park for more than a week. In the Jan. 6 letter, IDEM Deputy Director Rick Massoels wrote inspectors gave the facility an unsatisfactory rating for how it handles laboratory analysis of samples. ArcelorMittal has established a practice of reanalyzing samples that indicate a permit exceedance and using the recalculations to replace results, including those already reported to IDEM, the letter states.

INDOT: AWARDS I-69 CONTRACT - The Indiana Department of Transportation has awarded Walsh Construction Co. II LLC a $165 million contract to transform six miles of State Road 37 in Martinsville into Interstate 69 (Mills, Inside Indiana Business). INDOT says Walsh’s bid was the lowest of the four it received. The state says Walsh’s bid is nearly $8 million below the state's project estimate. The I-69 Finish Line, as this project is named, will upgrade the existing state highway into interstate standards between Martinsville and Indianapolis. It is the final section of the Interstate 69 connection between Evansville and Indianapolis. In 2021, SR 37 will be completely closed in Martinsville between SR 39 and Morgan Road to allow for safe construction.

IMS: PENSKE TO INVEST MILLIONS -  If you thought Roger Penske would take a wait and see attitude with respect to changes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, think again. Penske Entertainment Corp. closed on the sale of IMS, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions Monday (Inside Indiana Business). Tuesday evening, at an event welcoming Penske to Indy, he said fans can expect visible changes for this year’s Indianapolis 500. Penske says “several million dollars” will be invested in advance of this year’s race, focused on the “guest experience.” Penske says details on the investment and projects will be announced 100 days out from the race.

Nation

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP SCHEDULE - President Trump will announce proposed environmental regulations at 11 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room. Trump will receive his intel briefing at 2 p.m. in the Oval Office. He will leave the White House at 4:15 p.m. en route to Toledo, Ohio. He will arrive at the Huntington Center at 6:35 p.m. and deliver remarks at a political rally at 7 p.m. Afterward, he will return to Washington.

TRANSPORTATION: IRAN CRASH NEW CRISIS FOR BOEING - As investigators scramble to determine what caused a Boeing 737-800 to crash early Wednesday, the embattled plane maker finds itself grappling with another catastrophe as it continues to reel from its 737 Max crisis (Washington Post). The Ukraine-bound plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s main international airport, killing all 176 on board. Early reports from Iranian state media attributed the crash to engine failure. Ukraine’s embassy in Iran at first concurred, issuing a statement ruling out terrorism, but then took it down without explanation. A later statement from the embassy said that a panel has launched an investigation and that “any statements about the causes of the accident before the decision of the commission are not official.” The disaster comes as Boeing struggles to rehabilitate its image after two fatal crashes within five months led to the global grounding of the its 737 MAX in 2019. That crisis has cost Boeing more than $9 billion and led to the firing of chief executive Dennis Muilenberg two weeks ago.

Local

GRIFFITH: TOWN STILL SEEKING A TOWNSHIP -  With no luck, so far, in gaining membership to North Township or St. John Township, Griffith is presenting a bill to the state legislature that would let the town go it alone (Haber, NWI Times). After being rejected by two townships in 2018, town officials had been hoping for one of them to reconsider before the start of this year. "We are still working to find a home in a township," said Council President Rick Ryfa, R-3rd.

INDIANAPOLIS: HEALTH CENTER FOR BROAD RIPPLE PARK -  Some major changes could soon be coming to Broad Ripple Park, but some residents say they have  serious concerns (CBS4). Indy Parks officials are hoping to enter into partnership with Community Health Network to build a new family center, which would include a health care clinic. The partnership would allow the parks department to build a new $19 million facility, which parks leaders say they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. "We're very grateful, and we get a lot done with the dollars we are allocated, but to do a large capital project like this really requires us to think creatively how to finance it,” explained Director of Indy Parks Linda Broadfoot.

GARY: MAYOR PRINCE MAKES COUNCIL HOMECOMING -  Jerome Prince returned Tuesday night to the Common Council as mayor (Cross, NWI Times). “It is definitely an honor to be here,” Prince said, recalling his previous service on the municipal legislative body. Prince, born in Gary and graduated from Gary's Lew Wallace High, first won election to the Gary Common Council in 2000 after a stint in the U.S. Marines. He left the city council in 2008 to become one of Gary’s representatives on the Lake County Council. Then, in 2014, he successfully ran for county assessor, overseeing the taxation of real estate across the county. He left that office last year to score an upset victory over former Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson in the Democratic primary and win election as Gary mayor last fall.

SPENCER: RACIST FLIERS CIRCULATED - Last week’s report of plastic baggies containing rocks and white power notes with swastikas being tossed onto three properties in Bedford has been echoed in Spencer, where information and evidence gathered by local police have helped the FBI identify a possible suspect (Bloomington Herald-Times). A suspicious vehicle report sent officers to the Patriot Inn in Spencer last week. The three people in the vehicle said they were just there to get a room and denied causing any trouble.

LAPORTE: MAYOR DERMODY'S ACTIVE START - The new mayor of LaPorte didn’t wait long to start his effort to further a sense of community and pride that he said is key to cleaning up the city and ushering in a brighter future (Maddux, NWI Times). The day after Mayor Tom Dermody was sworn in, he helped gather information from neighbors used by police to arrest a suspected drug dealer at Ohio and Norton streets. On Monday, Dermody and other members of his administration inspected an apartment building and spoke to the owner about their concerns in an effort to start the process of bringing the building into compliance.

LAKE STATION: NEW PD CHIEF NAMED - The city’s new top cop isn’t wasting time to implement his plan to address crime in the community (Reilly, NWI Times). Mayor Bill Carroll has selected James Richardson to serve as Lake Station’s police chief. Richardson said he has placed a priority on increasing patrols in the community, and he is bulking up the city’s reserve officer program to accomplish that goal.

LAKE COUNTY: NO SETTLEMENT IN PAY DISPUTE -  A former police officer said this week he is ready to put Lake County officials on trial over their refusal to grant higher pension benefits for disabled cops (Dolan, NWI Times). Thomas Ostrowski, Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay and a bevy of lawyers met this week in U.S. District Court, but failed to reach a compromise over Ostrowski’s lawsuit on behalf of 16 former county police officers now on disability. Court records indicate lawyers for Ostrowski and Repay conferred separately Tuesday with U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge John E. Martin, who was mediating the dispute. The magistrate concluded the meeting with this statement for the record, “Settlement negotiations undertaken. Case does not settle.” “We were prepared to negotiate,” said Ostrowski, who is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

VANDERBURGH COUNTY: COUNCIL OKs ACQUATICS CENTER FUNDS -  Ground is already broken at the Deaconess Aquatic Center site, but the Vanderburgh County Council on Wednesday formally approved a slice of the project's funding (Martin, Evansville Courier & Press). The County Council's 7-0 vote steered $750,000 in Evansville Convention & Visitors Bureau funds to the project. Convention & Visitors Bureau revenues come from taxes on hotel rooms. The Deaconess Aquatic Center's total budget is about $28.4 million. Completion in summer 2020 is expected. The center will replace Lloyd Pool on First Avenue, which opened in the 1970s and is outdated.

MIAMI COUNTY: CAFO CHANGES PROPOSED - A study committee is considering whether to recommend changes to Miami County’s ordinance regulating large-scale animal farms after some residents expressed concerns about a new operation that will house over 4,600 pigs (Gerber, Kokomo Tribune). The Miami County Plan Commission last year formed the study committee following push-back on the construction of the hog barn near the intersection of 100 East and 500 North. According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the facility has the capacity to store over 1.8 million gallons of manure and wastewater. The county’s ordinance regulating confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) says farms must be built at least 1,000 feet away from the nearest residence and be located on at least 10 acres of land that are zoned as agriculture. Miami County currently has 54 CAFOs.