HOLCOMB OPTS NOT TO TOLL ON INTERSTATES: Gov. Eric Holcomb will not take action to toll Indiana's interstate highways during his tenure in office, a decision that a key Region lawmaker believes betrays the goals of the state road funding plan Holcomb enacted last spring (Carden, NWI Times). The Republican chief executive on Thursday transmitted to the State Budget Committee an interstate tolling plan crafted by the Indiana Department of Transportation, as required by House Enrolled Act 1002 sponsored by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. The plan details how the state could collect approximately $15 billion for road improvements between 2024 and 2045 by imposing tolls of up to 7 cents per mile for cars, and up to 38 cents per mile for semi-trailer trucks, on Interstate 94 in Northwest Indiana and Interstates 65 and 70 across the length and width of the state. But in a letter to lawmakers accompanying the report, Holcomb said there currently is no need for interstate tolling, as the fuel tax and vehicle registration fee increases approved last year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly are enough to sustain the state's current road construction blitz. "Therefore, I will not move forward with a plan to toll Indiana's interstate highways," Holcomb said. At the same time, Holcomb urged lawmakers to keep the tolling plan handy, since "I do not want to foreclose a successor from considering tolling as an option for infrastructure improvements."

SOLIDAY ANGERED BY DECISION: State Rep. Ed Soliday, the former House Roads chairman, condemned Holcomb's decision to postpone a tolling start until potentially 2025, when a second Holcomb term would end, and suggested that "maybe he needs a successor sooner rather than later" (NWI Times). The former House Roads and Transportation Committee chairman explained that state fuel tax revenue is projected to decline significantly beginning in 2024 due to vehicle fuel efficiency improvements and electric vehicle adoption, and without a way to replace that money Indiana's road funding plan quickly falls apart. Specifically, Soliday said there will be no money to widen Interstates 65 and 70 to three lanes in each direction border-to-border, or any funds to completely rebuild large segments of both highways that have not been improved since their initial construction more than 50 years ago. "I am deeply disappointed in the governor," Soliday said. "You can't go preach that we have a 20-year, fully-funded infrastructure plan, the best in the nation, and then slowly but surely cut it away."

GREGG URGES EXPANDED VOTING ACCESS: Two-time Democratic gubernatorial nominee John Gregg is urging an expansion of voter access (Howey Politics Indiana). In a South Bend Tribune op-ed, Gregg said, "When Hoosiers have more opportunities to vote, more Hoosiers vote. That’s the not so surprising takeaway from the 2018 election. For years, Indiana has been at or near the bottom of the nation in terms of voter participation. There are many reasons for it. We have some of the shortest Election Day voting hours in the nation. Our voter registration process is cumbersome and ends just as many Hoosiers are beginning to pay attention to the upcoming election. If you want to vote by mail, it requires a signed affidavit. And, voting in person requires a state- approved identification and long waits in lines." Gregg said the 2018 elections were a "glimmer of hope" with large early voter turnout. "All Hoosiers, especially state lawmakers, should take note. It’s further proof that Hoosiers simply need more time and more options when it comes to casting their ballots." Gregg urged "commonsense reforms" including expanded voting hours to 8 or 9 p.m., automatic voter registration "for all eligible U.S. citizens who reside in Indiana." He added, "Finally, it’s time to create a permanent independent redistricting commission where nonpartisan delegates draw the electoral maps. It’s time for voters to pick their elected representatives again, rather than elected officials picking their voters." There is speculation that Gregg is a potential 2020 challenger to Gov. Eric Holcomb, though Gregg has declined opportunities to discuss potential political plans.

FARM BANKRUPTCIES GROWING ACROSS STATE: Farming bankruptcies have climbed to a 10-year high in Indiana, reaching levels not seen since 2000 (Slater, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). During the 12-month period that ended June 30, 15 Hoosier farming operations officially called it quits, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Roger Hadley, Allen County president of the Indiana Farm Bureau, said the struggle is real. His own operation doesn't generate enough money to support his family, so he supplements it as a Beck's Hybrids seed dealer. His wife, Vickie, also works full time as Purdue Extension's Allen County director to help make ends meet. “Farming is pretty stressful this year,” Hadley said. “Many, many farmers are saying that even record yields haven't been enough to pay the bills.” “I won't say they're close to bankruptcy,” he added, “but some have been operating on a shoestring the last two or three years.” David Oppedahl, an economic researcher for the Chicago Fed, painted a sobering picture in his November AgLetter. A survey of agricultural bankers found that 43 reported higher rates of loan renewals and extensions in the third quarter for non-real estate farm loans. Those include money for new equipment, constructing grain bins, buying livestock and general operating expenses, among other needs. More than half of the surveyed bankers – 57 percent – expect lower farm loan repayment rates over the next three to six months. Even more survey participants – 61 percent – expect an increase in forced sales of farm assets over the same period.

U.S., CHINA IN TRADE TALKS AHEAD OF SUMMIT: The U.S. and China, looking to defuse tensions and boost markets, are exploring a trade deal in which Washington would hold off on further tariffs through the spring in exchange for new talks looking at big changes in Chinese economic policy, said officials on both sides of the Pacific (New York Times). The talks have been conducted, via telephone, for several weeks, and are coming to a head shortly before President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet for dinner on Saturday at the end of the Group of 20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires. But it is far from clear whether the discussions will produce any agreement. New talks would focus on what both sides are calling trade “architecture,” a broad term that could encompass many issues the U.S. has wanted Beijing to address, including intellectual property protection, coerced technology transfer, subsidies to state-owned enterprises, and even non-trade issues such as cyberespionage. It isn’t clear what specifics the U.S. is asking for—or what Beijing is willing to entertain. One offer, according to Chinese officials: in return for the suspension of U.S. tariffs, Beijing would agree to lift restrictions on China’s purchases of U.S. farm and energy products.

HOOSIER FARMERS HOPEFUL OF DEAL: Throughout this year’s growing season, farmers held out hope they might see an end to U.S.-China trade tensions by harvest time (Taylor, CNHI). Now, with the harvest complete or nearly so, they’re still waiting, but some see a glimmer of hope. President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to meet during a summit of the world’s leading economic powers Friday and Saturday in Buenos Aires. In recent years, China had been the largest buyer of U.S. soybeans – to the tune of more than $12 billion in 2017. But the country has stopped purchasing U.S. beans amid tariffs imposed on a variety of products by Washington and Beijing. News of the Trump-Xi meeting sent markets higher last week only to see prices decline on Monday. “It’s funny,” said Vigo County farmer Brad Burbrink. “You watch the market and if there’s a little bit of talk we’ll get a 10- to 20-cent gain if there’s any positive news, but then that news fades and they take it back away. “If they could get something in place, I think we’d see a pretty big swing in the markets pretty quick.” Beans closed at $8.62 per bushel Monday on the Chicago Board of Trade, reflecting a one-day drop of more than 18 cents. While the price was above a July low of $8.14 it was well below the year’s high of $10.77 in March.

SPECULATION CASINO MIGHT MOVE TO TERRE HAUTE: Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson is a principle in a group that intends to acquire two Gary-based Indiana casinos, with the intent to move one to another Gary location and the other somewhere else in the state (Greninger, Terre Haute Tribune). Whether that second site might be Terre Haute remains unknown. Gibson is working with Rod Ratcliff, former Chairman and CEO of Centaur Gaming, are the principle owners of Spectacle Entertainment, formed on March 2. “Certainly, Terre Haute is home for me, and certainly having the option of moving a casino license to Vigo County appeals to me. Our community is at the heart of about every decision I make,” Gibson said. “That said, I really see this an opportunity to help Indiana’s overall economy. It sure doesn’t seem prudent to me to have two aging facilities operating side by side in Gary. It makes sense to move these licenses for the betterment of the entire state. In October, city of Gary officials told an Indiana General Assembly’s study committee that the city’s hopes of becoming a transportation and logistics hub hinge on the Majestic Star casinos being permitted to relocate from the lakefront to a new site, preferably adjacent to a Borman Expressway exit, the Times of Northwest Indiana reported. “We have to file a transfer application for each license. That is a pretty detailed process that we hope to complete by the end of next week,” Spectacle general counsel John Keeler said Thursday. Rod Ratcliff, Spectacle’s chairman and CEO, in a company release said the acquisition of the two gaming licenses located in Gary presents a tremendous economic opportunity “for the City of Gary as well as the state of Indiana. We welcome the prospect of working with Gary and the General Assembly to maximize the value of these two licenses by allowing Buffington Harbor to become part of an intermodal hub, creating additional employment and increasing state and local tax revenues.”

COHEN PLEADS GUILTY AS SCANDAL MOVES CLOSER TO TRUMP: President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday in New York to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that Trump and his company pursued at the same time he was running for president (Washington Post). In a nine-page filing, prosecutors laid out a litany of lies that Cohen admitted he told to congressional lawmakers about the Moscow project — an attempt, Cohen said, to minimize links between the proposed development and Trump as his presidential bid was well underway. Cohen made a surprise appearance Thursday morning before U.S. District Court judge Andrew L. Carter, Jr. who asked him to enter his plea. “Guilty, your honor,” Cohen replied. As part of the plea, Cohen described how he’d lied for the person listed in court documents as “Individual 1” — whom Cohen identified in court as Trump. “I was aware of Individual 1’s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, his repeated statements that investigations of such ties were politically motivated and without evidence, and that any contact with Russian nationals by Individual 1’s campaign or the Trump Organization had all terminated before the Iowa Caucus, which was on February 1 of 2016,” Cohen told the judge.

TRUMP EMERGES AS 'INDIVIDUAL 1' IN MUELLER PROBE: In two major developments this week, President Trump has been labeled in the parlance of criminal investigations as a major subject of interest, complete with an opaque legal code name: “Individual 1” (Washington Post). New evidence from two separate fronts of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation casts fresh doubts on Trump’s version of key events involving Russia, signaling potential political and legal peril for the president. Investigators have now publicly cast Trump as a central figure of their probe into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. Together, the documents show investigators have evidence that Trump was in close contact with his lieutenants as they made outreach to both Russia and WikiLeaks — and that they tried to conceal the extent of their activities. Legal experts said it’s still unclear how much peril the president might face as a result of the new evidence Mueller has gathered about the Moscow project and WikiLeaks, but his prominence in the prosecutors’ papers puts the president in an awkward starring role. “It’s deeply troubling. It’s not a place that anybody wants to be, or where you would want your friends or family to be,” former federal prosecutor Glen Kopp said. “And it’s certainly not a place that you would want your president to be.”

TRUMP WON'T MEET WITH PUTIN: President Donald Trump canceled a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 Nations summit Thursday, injecting fresh drama into what already promised to be a tense gathering of world leaders (Associated Press). Trump cited Russia's seizure of Ukrainian vessels as the reason, saying in a Tweet from Air Force One: "The ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia." He added: "I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!" Coming just hours after the Kremlin said the meeting was on track, the declaration was a departure from much of Trump's past dealings with Putin. Throughout his presidency, Trump has sought to improve relations despite tensions over election meddling, arms control and the war in Syria.

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: Gov. Holcomb and Indiana legislative leaders should be seriously considering moving one of the Gary casinos to Terre Haute for several reasons. First, original siting decisions were made in the early 1990s, a generation ago. To think that financial and demographic dynamics have remained static isn't realistic, particularly with the addition of casinos in nearby New Buffalo and South Bend. Expanding access to a city like Terre Haute, which has been under considerable financial duress and would benefit from casino revenue, is a no-brainer. Conversely, tormented Gary doesn't need two casinos. It needs the Buffington Harbor space for its intermodal hub. That would benefit Gary, Indiana exporters and Hoosier taxpayers. This should be a win-win-win. - Brian A. Howey


BUTTIGIEG POLITICAL DECISION BY YEARS END: An Iowa liberal political group announced Thursday that Mayor Pete Buttigieg will be one of several “potential presidential candidates” for 2020 keynoting a Dec. 20 event, but Buttigieg said Thursday he won’t likely reveal his plans for next year until the end of December (Parrott, South Bend Tribune). Buttigieg will speak at the sixth annual Progress Iowa Holiday Party in Des Moines, along with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California and Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur who has never held office and already has launched a campaign website. The Tribune on Thursday asked Buttigieg whether people should read anything into his decision to accept the group’s invitation. “Nope,” he said with a chuckle. “I did do a lot of thinking (over the Thanksgiving holiday) and have a lot of conversations within the last couple of weeks,” he said. “I’m continuing to have a lot of conversations with people in the community, people beyond the community, and also with Chasten, about what the right thing is for us and what the right thing is for the city. I certainly think by the time we get to the holidays I need to share a direction with the community.” The Indiana Election Division has set Jan. 9 through Feb. 8 as the filing period for major party candidates running in the May 7 municipal primary elections.

GOP GOVS WARN TRUMP: Republican governors are warning President Donald Trump that he and the GOP need to make a sharp course correction after their midterm shellacking to avoid losing again in 2020 (Politico). While the president has hailed the election as a “tremendous success” and a “big victory,” Republican governors, who will play a central role in overseeing the GOP’s state-by-state 2020 machinery, are taking stock of the party’s poor performance in the November elections and drawing up plans for major fixes. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said, “The Republican Party started to have problems before Trump ever arrived on the scene two years ago. Trump has exacerbated some of those issues and put a focus on” the shortcomings, he said. “But the party’s got to take a hard look at itself. If you’re going to be a majority party you’ve got to appeal to a majority of people.”

TERRE HAUTE COUNCILMAN NASSER TO RUN FOR MAYOR: Terre Haute City Councilman Karrum Nasser announced he’s running for the Democratic nomination for mayor in next year’s primary (Indiana Public Media). Nasser made a formal announcement Wednesday afternoon. He says Terre Haute needs a new voice, new vision, and a fresh start. “I’ve always been dumbfounded that our leadership struggles to admit faults, be afraid to ask for help," Nasser says. "I think that’s very humble coming from our leadership because everyone is human.” Nasser is serving his first term as Councilman of District 3. He also served one year as the City Council President. Terre Haute businessman Pat Goodwin announced his bid for mayor in January. He won’t seek a political party nomination. Republican Mayor Duke Bennett says he’ll make an announcement soon on whether he’ll run for reelection. Bennett won his third term for mayor by just more than 300 votes in 2015.

TAYLOR TO RUN FOR VALPO CLERK-TREASURER:  Holly Taylor, the city's deputy clerk treasurer, will run to become the city's next clerk-treasurer (NWI Times). Susan Emerson Swihart, the city's present clerk-treasurer, who is not seeking another term, is serving as Taylor's campaign chairwoman. "Holly is well qualified to be the next clerk-treasurer," said Swihart. "She has worked very hard to learn every aspect of the office as a six-year employee."


YOUNG STATEMENT ON YEMEN: Following their meeting today, U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), issued the following joint statement regarding the humanitarian crisis in Yemen (Howey Politics Indiana): “We continue to call for an end to hostilities associated with the civil war in Yemen and for all parties to the conflict to urgently engage in good faith negotiations led by the Special Envoy. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst the world has seen in many decades, and children have suffered the most. It is estimated that at least 6,000 children have been killed or seriously injured by the fighting and over 11 million require humanitarian assistance to survive. Governments should strongly support all efforts to achieve an immediate ceasefire and sustainable peace.”

BUCSHON RETURNS FROM AFGHANISTAN: Heavily guarded in war-torn Afghanistan, 8th District Rep. Larry Bucshon met elite fighters, traveled by Blackhawk helicopter and dined in a palace with the president (Langhorne, Evansville Courier & Press). The November trip with six other members of Congress had been kept secret for security reasons. Bucshon's office disclosed it late Monday afternoon, after he was back on U.S. soil. Security considerations, in fact, loomed over every move Bucshon made in Afghanistan. The seven-member bipartisan delegation — a small group is less likely to be a target, he said — returned home on Nov. 20. It was the same day a suicide bomber in Kabul killed 55 people at a gathering of Sunni Muslim scholars and clerics in the capital. On Tuesday, American forces suffered their worst loss in the country when three Special Forces soldiers were killed by a Taliban roadside bomb. Three more soldiers and an American contractor were wounded. "The biggest risk over there right now is ISIS, Al-Qaeda and, to a lesser extent honestly, the Taliban," said Bucshon, a Republican who was elected this month to a fifth two-year term. "We just can't talk about it until we're back."

FARM BILL SCRAPS SNAP CHANGES: Lawmakers have struck a final farm bill deal that scraps a plan — backed by House Republicans and President Trump — that would have added new work requirements on food stamp beneficiaries, according to a key GOP Senator (Washington Post). Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), chair of the Senate agriculture committee, confirmed Thursday that the farm bill deal does not include House GOP plans to add new work requirements for older food stamp recipients and for parents of children age 6 and older. The Senate and House had been at an impasse for months over the $400 billion farm bill, which allocates federal funds for farm subsidies, food stamps and conservation efforts. A bipartisan Senate version of the bill did not include the work requirements, which were opposed by the chamber’s Democrats.

DEMS BLOCK WALL FUNDING: Congressional Democrats said Thursday they’re prepared to reject a new GOP plan to get President Trump the money he’s demanding for his border wall — escalating the chances of a partial government shutdown next week (Washington Post). The new Republican plan would deliver $5 billion for Trump’s long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall by dividing the expenditure over two years — $2.5 billion in 2019 and $2.5 billion in 2020. But Democrats, who have rejected the idea of spending $5 billion on a wall Trump claimed Mexico would pay for, said splitting the money up over two years did not make it more palatable. “No matter how many years you spread it over, $5 billion for President Trump’s wasteful wall is too much money,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “While we are willing to negotiate on how best to secure our border, we will never support wasting tax dollars on a wall designed to gin up the Republican base.”

General Assembly

BOSMA, BRAY PLEASED ABOUT TOLLING DECISION: Legislative leaders expressed relief that Gov. Eric Holcomb will not pursue interstate tolling (Howey Politics Indiana).  House Speaker Brian C. Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said, “I appreciate the hard work that went into this strategic plan and support the governor’s assessment that additional tolling is not necessary in the foreseeable future. Last year, we passed a comprehensive and data-driven road funding plan, which significantly addresses state and local infrastructure needs. Our conservative approach is a model for other states, and positions Indiana to responsibly maintain and improve its infrastructure. While we have taken tremendous steps forward, we will continue to monitor future revenue projections and consider all options as our state’s needs change.” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said, “Infrastructure funding is critical to our economy and the quality of life for Hoosiers. At the Statehouse, lawmakers know how important it is to fund our roads both now and in the future, which is why we recently passed a 20-year road-funding plan that addresses our current and future needs. I’m grateful for the time and effort that went into compiling this report, and I agree with the governor’s position that tolling is not something we need to pursue.”

GIAQUINTA BACKS TOLLING DECISION: Indiana House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) released the following statement in the wake of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision not to advance a plan to provide more tolling on Indiana’s interstate highways (Howey Politics Indiana): “I suppose the easiest, simplest response to today’s announcement is ‘Good.’ “Considering that motorists statewide will have to deal with yearly gas tax increases that will continue to come until the middle of the next decade, I should think that most folks will be happy that they won’t have to pay any more money for improving our roads by traveling on more tolled highways. “However, while this report shuts out the prospect of additional tolling for the near future, it does not completely rule it out. I think it would take a lot of convincing to get the people of Indiana to accept tolling as a way of life in traveling on the major highways of this state.”

BOSMA ANNOUNCES CHAIRMANSHIPS, LEADERSHIP APPOINTMENTS: House Speaker Brian C. Bosma (R-Indianapolis) announced yesterday that he has released appointments for House standing committee chairmanships, leadership positions and select, key committees for the 121st General Assembly (Howey Politics Indiana). In all, there are eight committee chairmanship and six leadership changes, due in large part to the number of House Republican retirements this year. Bosma reappointed State Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) to chair Ways and Means, and selected State Rep. Todd Huston (R-Fishers) to serve as co-chair while Brown continues his recovery from a serious motorcycle crash. State Rep. Mike Karickhoff is the new speaker pro tem, replacing the retiring Bill Friend. In other leadership changes, Rep. Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville) will now chair the Courts and Criminal Code Committee, while Rep. Jerry Torr (R-Carmel) will lead House Judiciary. Neither are lawyers, unlike the previous chairs. Rep. Sharon Negele (R-Attica) is the new head of the Ethics Committee. That panel could investigate Speaker Brian Bosma in the coming session. That’s after Bosma used campaign dollars to hire an attorney who allegedly intimidated a former intern who says she had an affair with the GOP leader. House lawmakers will convene at 1:30 p.m. in the House Chamber on Jan. 3 for the first day of the legislative session. The full list is posted here.

SOLIDAY TO HEAD HOUSE UTILITIES: State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, will lead the House Utilities Committee next year after successfully enacting a sustainable state and local road funding program during his eight-year tenure as Roads and Transportation Committee chairman (Carden, NWI Times). In his new role, the seven-term lawmaker is expected to apply the same careful, evidence-based approach he used to identify and prioritize transportation spending as he begins tackling Indiana's multi-billion dollar water infrastructure issues. According to the Indiana Finance Authority, there is an "immediate" need for $2.3 billion in water system repairs, and another $815 million a year is required for additional maintenance to protect human health and stem the loss of some 50 billion gallons of water a year that never make it to a customer. "The gap between the money we have and the money needed is a very large number, and unless somebody has a friend that's a leprechaun we're going to have to find a way to set priorities, and do that in a constructive way so we can make progress," Soliday said at a Sept. 13 Water Infrastructure Task Force meeting.

CHYUNG DRAFTING GRIFFITH TOWNSHIP BILL: State Rep. Chris Chyung, D-Dyer, is drafting legislation to let Griffith control its own township services (Dolan, NWI Times). The newly elected 15th District House legislator said Thursday afternoon he wants to help Griffith, which seeks to reduce the cost of assistance to impoverished residents by shifting those services away from being administered by the Calumet Township trustee. Griffith Town Council President Rick Ryfa said he hopes to have bills sponsored in both the state House of Representatives and the Senate to let Griffith offer its own township services. "I talked with Rick a couple of weeks ago to request an LSA (Legislative Service Agency) draft for some legislation that would allow them to carry this through," Chyung said. Chyung said he has until early January to file such a bill before the General Assembly. "I'm trying to really cooperate with the Griffith Town Council to make this as smooth a transition as possible. I hope we can all get a solution that will accommodate everyone's views," Chyung said.

FEIGENBAUM SEES OBSTACLES IN CASINO MOVE: Indiana gaming analyst Ed Feigenbaum, editor of Indiana Gaming Insight, said having a potential option to move a second license “elsewhere is a huge thing” (Terre Haute Tribune-Star). “That second license in a different location could be worth many hundreds of millions of dollars to them over a period of time if they were to move that second license and operate with that second license — or if they are granted the ability to convey that license to a second operator — they could get a windfall up front from that second license,” Feigenbaum said. Feigenbaum said moving a Majestic Star Casino site would face obstacles, including opposition from some other casino operators and state representatives with casinos in their legislative districts. “Any kind of potential move to Terre Haute would probably be viewed askance by the legislators that are favorable toward the French Lick Casino… and opposition form Evansville,” Feigenbaum said. If the license is moved, legislators may determine the license should be up for bid, but that could lead to many other entities seeking change, he said. “Any time there is a change in the way you regulate and license the casinos ... it is almost like putting pressure on one part of a bicycle tire. You patch something up and it explodes somewhere else. Everyone wants something in exchange for giving up something,” Feigenbaum said.

MADISON PROSECUTOR SAYS SUPPORT GROWING FOR HATE CRIME LAW: A confrontation between two city employees and an Anderson resident last year quickly spiraled into what authorities are calling a hate crime (Miller, Kokomo Tribune). "There is no legislation for it," Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said. "That's a perfect case where a hate crime could have been charged, but it wasn't because there is no hate crime statute in Indiana." Cummings, who is on the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council legislative committee, said the committee has been in support of hate crime legislation for the last three years and "it's got no traction and gone nowhere in the state Senate."


GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB ELECTED RGA POLICY CHAIR - Gov. Eric Holcomb was elected the 2019 policy chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), an organization that works to elect Republican governors across the country (Howey Politics Indiana). "Over the past decade plus in Indiana, we've experienced the results of strong Republican leadership," said Governor Eric Holcomb. "We've got more Hoosiers working than ever before, and that's while we're balancing budgets, making record infrastructure investments, helping Hoosiers build job-ready skills and attacking the drug epidemic. As policy chairman of the RGA, I'm excited to help shine the spotlight on Indiana's results-driven approach and the proven policies that can be taken to states nationwide." Holcomb was elected policy chairman by his fellow Republican governors today while attending the RGA Annual Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB STATEMENT ON FRED FEHSENFELD: Gov. Eric J. Holcomb offered the following statement regarding Fred M. Fehsenfeld, Sr., who died this week (Howey Politics Indiana). Gov. Holcomb signed an executive order in October 2017 naming Interstate 865 after Fehsenfeld in recognition of his service and contributions to the State of Indiana and the nation as an entrepreneur, decorated military veteran, and community leader. “Fred was a rare visionary leader, a revolutionary builder, who had a giant heart for our state and nation. His lifetime of service and philanthropy will continue to impact the lives of Hoosiers for our next 200 years. Janet and I will miss his wit and thankfully carry with us his inspiration to always innovate and improve. We extend our sincere condolences to the entire Fehsenfeld family and ask Hoosiers across the state to join us.”

STATEHOUSE: HILL JOINS BIPARTISAN COALITION ON DRUG PRICES - Attorney General Curtis Hill this month joined a bipartisan coalition of 32 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting states’ rights to regulate and address the rising cost of prescription drugs (Howey Politics Indiana). In Rutledge v. Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, the attorneys general argue that in order to protect the well-being of consumers, states must retain the right to regulate pharmacy benefit managers, also known as PBMs. PBMs act as gate-keepers among pharmacies, drug manufacturers, health insurance plans and consumers for access to prescription drugs. The law was challenged by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which argued that the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) prevents the State of Arkansas from implementing the law. Arkansas has asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. “States must constantly safeguard their ability to act on behalf of their own citizens,” Attorney General Hill said. “Here in Indiana, we must step forward to protect policymaking prerogatives that rightfully rest with state government.”

LABOR: CHAMBER PROGRAM TO ADDRESS LABOR SHORTAGE - The Indiana Chamber of Commerce says concerning trends outlined in its 2018 employer survey has led to an effort to boost Indiana's workforce (Brown, Inside Indiana Business). The chamber has created the Institute for Workforce Excellence, which it says aims to help businesses throughout the state attract, develop and retain talent. According to the survey, 51 percent of respondents said they had jobs left unfilled in the past year because of underqualified applicants. It is the fifth consecutive increase and the first time the number has reached more than half.

ECONOMY: STEEL DYNAMICS TO INVEST $1.8B IN PLANT OUTSIDE STATE - Fort Wayne-based Steel Dynamics Inc. (Nasdaq: STLD) has announced plans to build a new organic flat roll steel mill in the U.S. (Brown, Inside Indiana Business) The company says it will invest up to $1.8 billion in the facility and create approximately 600 jobs. A specific location has not yet been determined, however Steel Dynamics says the mill will likely be built in the southwestern United States and construction could begin in 2020.

ECONOMY: DIP IN RV SHIPMENTS FORECAST - RV shipments will be down slightly in 2019, according to a new forecast prepared by longtime RV industry analyst Richard Curtin, a professor at the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center (Elkhart Truth). "Income, employment and household wealth will continue to exert a positive force on RV sales, though these factors are expected to be slightly less favorable in the year ahead," Curtin said in a news release issued Tuesday by the RV Industry Association.

I-65: NEW LANES TO OPEN SOON BETWEEN COLUMBUS-SEYMOUR - The Indiana Department of Transportation plans to open newly-paved lanes of Interstate 65 in Bartholomew and Jackson counties within a couple of weeks (Parker, Inside Indiana Business). The state's $143 million Columbus-to-Seymour 65 Next Level project will eliminate the southbound median crossover near the Walesboro exit on December 7. Southbound traffic will remain on the west side of I-65 and the new winter configuration will continue throughout the winter.

EDUCATION: BRAZILIAN AG TECH CO. MOVING HQ TO PURDUE - A Brazil-based digital agriculture company has big plans in West Lafayette (Ober, Inside Indiana Business). Solinftec says it will invest more than $50 million to establish its U.S. headquarters at the Purdue Research Park and create more than 300 jobs by 2022. The company provides Internet of Things-based technology to provide farmers with real-time data. Purdue President Mitch Daniels says the move is the latest evidence of the school "becoming a world center of precision agriculture."

EDUCATION: PURDUE BELL TOWER CLOCK SMASHED - In a video making its rounds across social media, one of the clock faces from the Purdue University Bell Tower came unattached from a crane and crashed to the ground on Tuesday (Ellison, Lafayette Journal & Courier). Before plummeting, the clock appears to bounce off the basket of a cherry picker lift holding two workers. The company said it will continue to work with Purdue to ensure 100 percent customer satisfaction by replacing the damaged clock.

MEDIA: FLYE TO LEAVE ANCHOR POST AT WRTV - After 18 years as a reporter and news anchor at WRTV-TV Channel 6, Ericka Flye has flown the coup. But station officials and Flye aren't saying what led to the departure (Schoettle, IBJ). WRTV and Flye confirmed the exit via social media last week. "I am grateful to RTV6 and I am blessed by the support of viewers who have watched me for many years," Flye said on WRTV's Facebook page.


WHITE HOUSE: QUESTIONS ABOUT TRUMP MOSCOW TOWER - There is no Trump Tower Moscow. But the quest to build one has become a legal flashpoint for the presidency of Donald Trump after his former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress to cover up his efforts to negotiate a real estate deal in Russia on Trump’s behalf (Associated Press). An hour after Cohen’s plea on Thursday, Trump denounced his former attorney as “weak” and “a liar” and vehemently denied that he had any inappropriate business dealings with Russia. The president said he was transparent about the possible Moscow project, but there is no record of him having mentioned it in 2015 or 2016. And his denials of business dealings with Moscow during the campaign all were cast in the present tense, gliding over any deals proposed in the past, an omission that left a misimpression. Questions about Trump’s relationship with Russia have shadowed his presidency and are part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Moscow’s interference with the 2016 presidential election. Cohen’s guilty plea came as part of his cooperation with Mueller.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP DEFENDS 'VERY COOL' MOSCOW DEAL - President Trump on Friday defended his pursuit of a real estate project in Russia at the same time he was securing the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, saying it was “very legal & very cool” (Washington Post). In a pair of tweets sent from Buenos Aires, where he is attending a Group of 20 summit, Trump mocked scrutiny of his Russian business exploration as a “Witch Hunt!” The president’s statement came after his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty Thursday in New York to lying to Congress about the Moscow project in an attempt to minimize links between the proposed development and Trump’s presidential campaign.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP MEETS ARGENTINA PRESIDENT - President Donald Trump is meeting Argentine President Mauricio Macri as he kicks off two days of diplomacy at the G-20 meeting (Associated Press). The leaders greeted each other warmly Friday as the annual meeting of leaders from rich and developing nations opened in Buenos Aires. Trump spoke about his longtime personal friendship with Macri and said they would discuss trade, military purchases and other issues. Macri is hosting his counterparts as he struggles with a raft of domestic issues, including trying to halt economic turmoil that has caused the steep depreciation of the Argentine peso. Trump and Macri enjoy a personal relationship dating back to their days as businessman.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP EYES DELRAHIM AS ATTORNEY GENERAL - President Donald Trump is considering tapping the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, Makan Delrahim, to become the next attorney general, multiple sources familiar with the matter tell CNN. Delrahim is one of several people under consideration for the job, and has close ties to the Trump White House. As a deputy to then-White House counsel Don McGahn, Delrahim helped shepherd the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, which Trump has touted as one of his signature accomplishments.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP PLEASED BY STEEL DYNAMICS - Wednesday started as just another day for Mark Millett ... and then it took a sharp left turn (Slater, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). The president and CEO of Steel Dynamic Inc. doesn't follow social media, so someone had to clue him in that SDI was trending, the subject of a tweet by President Donald Trump. Yes, the president of the United States shone his powerful spotlight on the local employer, tweeting, “Steel Dynamics announced that it will build a brand new 3 million ton steel mill in the Southwest that will create 600 good-paying U.S. JOBS. Steel JOBS are coming back to America, just like I predicted. Congratulations to Steel Dynamics!” The president was referring to an announcement the company made late Monday that it will invest $1.7 billion to $1.8 billion in a new state-of-the-art electric-arc-furnace flat roll steel mill in an as-yet-undecided Southwest state. “We welcome the president's congratulations. We welcome anyone's congratulations,” Millett said during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP PROCEEDS ON SPACE FORCE - President Donald Trump plans to go ahead with asking Congress to establish a Space Force as an independent branch of the military, according to a draft presidential directive obtained by POLITICO — committing to the biggest restructuring of the U.S. military in seven decades despite bipartisan skepticism on Capitol Hill (Politico). The draft, produced after months of internal review, outlines much-awaited details for what would be the first new military service since 1947. It indicates that Trump, who has championed the standalone Space Force, is still interested in pursuing an entirely new branch, despite criticism of the proposal on Capitol Hill and even initial opposition within the Pentagon.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP SCHEDULE - President Trump, who is in Buenos Aires for the G-20, will participate in a photo op with Argentine President Mauricio Macri this morning and then participate in a meeting with him. He will participate in the USMCA signing ceremony before taking part in the official G-20 welcome and family photo. Trump will attend the G-20 opening remarks and participate in a working lunch. He is scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Trump will also meet with Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is also scheduled to have a pull-aside meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

IMMIGRATION: MIGRANTS AT BORDER LOSING HOP - Many of the thousands of migrants waiting to claim asylum are realizing their dream to live in America may be a tougher road than they imagined, especially following Sunday's clash at the border, involving a group of migrants and U.S. officials (Welch, WRTV). Conditions are horrid in one camp in the border city of Tijuana, Mexico, where people have been living in tents for weeks in a lot that once was a baseball complex. Already worn out from the long journey, many of these migrants are now fearful of the US, scared of what could happen at the border, even if they apply for asylum the legal way.

AGRICULTURE: SOYBEANS RISE FOLLOWING TAX CREDIT PROPOSAL - Soybeans jumped 13 ¼ on the January contract Tuesday, in large part, because Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican and chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has introduced a bill to extend biodiesel tax credits (NAFB). The legislation would make technical corrections to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and extend several expired tax credits, including the biodiesel and renewable diesel tax incentive.

AGRICULTURE: ARGENTINA REPLACES CHINA AS TOP U.S. SOY CONSUMER - The trade war between the U.S. and China has made Argentina the top buyer of U.S. soybeans (NAFB News Service). Department of Agriculture Data shows that 1.3 million metric tons of U.S. soybeans have been inspected for export to Argentina from September 1 through November 22. That compares with none in the same year-ago period. China, previously the top buyer of U.S. soy, is seeking purchases elsewhere amid the tit-for-tat trade war with the United States.

MEDIA: SUNDAY TALK LINEUP – CBS "Face the Nation": Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) ... Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) ... Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). Panel: Seung Min Kim, Jerry Seib, David Nakamura and Jeff Goldberg. "Fox News Sunday" (live from the Reagan Library in California): Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) ... Jack Keane and Michèle Flournoy. Panel: Karl Rove, Juan Williams and Jennifer Griffin. CNN "State of the Union": Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). Panel: Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Mike Rogers, David Urban and Karen Finney. CNN "Inside Politics": Julie Pace, Toluse Olorunnipa, Sara Murray and Rachael Bade. NBC "Meet the Press": Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). Panel: Dan Balz, Pat McCrory, Heather McGhee and Andrea Mitchell. ABC "This Week": Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Roger Stone. Panel: Mary Bruce, Chris Christie, Matthew Dowd, Meghan McCain and Donna Brazile


CITIES: EPA ORDERS FRANKLIN SEWER CLEANUP - The Environmental Protection Agency plans to clean up contaminated soil underneath some sewers in Franklin just south of the old Amphenol industrial site. Some residents suspect contamination from the site is causing rare child cancers in the area (Indiana Public Media). The EPA found high levels of the cancer-causing chemicals TCE and PCE in the sewer bedding, soil, and groundwater surrounding sewers along parts of Forsythe Street and Hamilton Avenue. “We will be asking the Amphenol company to do something to make sure that contamination is remediated," says Joe Cisneros, chief of the corrective action program for EPA Region 5.

CITIES: DELTA QUEEN TO CRUISE IN MADISON AGAIN - The Delta Queen Steamboat Company hopes to have the Delta Queen cruising the inland waterways again in 2020 after action Tuesday by the U.S. House of Representatives (Hunt, Madison Courier). President and CEO of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company Cornel Martin said Wednesday the Queen will cruise the same route on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland, Kanawha and Arkansas rivers she did before her decade-long retirement, which includes making port in Madison.  “It’s fantastic,” said Madison Mayor Damon Welch of the news that Congress had passed the bill including the Queen’s exemption.

CITIES: QUINONES ADDRESS OPIOIDS IN MUNCIE - When journalist Sam Quinones pursued his first book on the opiate epidemic, he assumed it would be focused on the criminal aspect (Muncie Star-Press). But as he told the audience during Meridian Health Services' community speaker series event Thursday, he found that addiction spreads far beyond crime. He spent several years documenting these components for his book, Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic. What he learned during his research is that there's not just one reason for this epidemic, but several. Quinones spoke of the 1980s, when there was a change in the heroin market, drugs were cheaper and more potent and fentanyl became popularized. He also discussed how parents have coddled their children, keeping them from being fully capable of understanding pain, and how lack of communication has resulted in widespread isolation.

CITIES: TRANSPO CEO MISUSED CREDIT CARD - A special investigation report released Wednesday by the Indiana State Board of Accounts says Transpo’s former CEO used the organization’s credit card for personal expenses, and the public bus system lacked internal controls to catch it (South Bend Tribune). The state agency has forwarded the report to the Indiana Attorney General and St. Joseph County Prosecutor. The Tranpso board fired David Cangany in late December for verbally abusing staff and creating a toxic work environment in which employees feared retaliation if they reported his behavior to the board. He also had charged $2,597 to the credit card for personal items that included Apple Store purchases, shoes, unauthorized travel and other charges “of a personal nature,” the report states.

CITIES: FREELAND HORSE FARM AUCTIONED - Egyptian Arabian horses, including several national champions, once proudly pranced inside the heated, indoor show ring at Freeland Farm (Slater, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). After Thursday's sale of the 25-acre property, the next animals to strut their stuff there might be pigs. Perfectly groomed, expertly bred, pretty-as-a-picture ... pigs. The Roanoke property, formerly owned by the late Dick Freeland, local Pizza Hut franchise owner, sold at auction for $675,000. Business partners Travis Platt and Robert “Hue” Andrews and their wives placed the winning bid. They raise show pigs, which are sold nationwide to the parents of 4-H members, who raise and show them in hopes of winning scholarships and cash prizes.

CITIES: GRAMMY WINNING ARTIST LIVING IN MADISON - Madison seems to attract top-level professional musicians. The late Carroll DeCamp comes to mind, as well as Bill Lancton and Brook Reindollar (Rohlfing, Madison Courier). But few have reached the pinnacle of the music business quite like Robert Reynolds. Robert is a founding member of the country/Americana band The Mavericks. He’s a seven-time Grammy nominee and Grammy winner, plus winner of multiple CMA and ACM awards. The Mavericks have gone platinum, selling more than 7 million records worldwide. He’s also a professional composer, having scored 30 children’s films for the Scholastic company.  But ultimately, a 30-plus year touring career took its toll, and Robert sought a more peaceful and bucolic life outside the Nashville limelight. That search led him to Madison in 2014.  “I was still touring with the Mavericks in 2013, and just by chance in a crowded Indianapolis bar I met Michelle,” Robert said. Michelle Wind is a native of Switzerland County, a visual artist and Robert’s fiancé. “I moved here to start a new life with Michelle, and take a break from music. I did a lot of painting, and I did a lot of healing.”

COUNTIES: PORTER ELECTION OFFICIAL BAILED - In a December 2017 email, Kathy Kozuszek told officials running elections was "not our job" (Russell, NWI Times). "That email made it clear that the voter registration office would no longer be running the elections," said David Bengs, chairman of the Porter County Election Board. The election board soon after moved the responsibility of running elections from the Porter County Voter Registration office, where Kozuszek works, to the Porter County Clerk's office. In a federal lawsuit filed earlier this week, Kozuszek contends election responsibilities were removed from the voter registration to clerk's office in retaliation for her requesting overtime pay from the county. The request for overtime pay came after the employee status of Kozuszek, the Democrat director in the voter registration office, and Sundae Schoon, the Republican director, was changed from "non-exempt" to "exempt." The change denied the two payment of overtime.

COUNTIES: FORMER MIAMI DEPUTY CORONER CHARGED WITH COW THEFT - Investigators say a former Miami County deputy coroner stole a 1,095-pound calf from an educational program at Maconaquah School Corporation, in which he volunteered, and sold it to pay an outstanding bill (Kokomo Tribune). Todd Burns volunteered with the district’s Maconaquah Cattle Company, a program in which kids raise cattle housed at the school that are then turned into beef and served for school lunches. The 47-year-old checked on the cattle on weekends, according to a probable cause affidavit.