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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

July 10, 2018

The (Munster) Times. July 4, 2018

Lake election officials fail voters, relinquish independence over precincts

Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson was elected to oversee statewide issues, not the drawing of Lake County voting district boundaries.

On this Independence Day, Lake County officials, particularly the party of power, deserve blame for relinquishing that power to a statewide authority.

It all started with a state law, which took effect in 2017. The law rightly compelled the county to come up with a plan for reducing voting precincts containing fewer than 600 voters.

At the time, some 282 Lake County precincts contained fewer than 600 voters, creating a wasteful and diluted hodgepodge of precincts and unneeded precinct committee members.

The county’s Democratic majority spent its time complaining the law was unfair, rather than coming up with a proposed plan by the deadline. A local Republican plan would have eliminated through mergers 154 small precincts of the county’s 523 total precincts.

But the political impasse, including a refusal to participate, meant the matter went to the state’s bipartisan election commission, which consists of two Democrats and two Republicans, for a consolidation plan.

That portion of the process also was deadlocked. A new law in March 2018 sent the matter to Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson.

Now Lawson has ultimate authority to redraw and consolidate Lake County’s precincts into a more sensible system, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2019. She also will have the authority to revisit the precincts, and potentially reconfigure them, every four years.

And now the Lake County election officials have lost local control.

The county’s electorate should keep this failure front and center when making decisions regarding future leadership.

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South Bend Tribune. July 5, 2018

BMV should pay Hoosier taxpayers what they’re owed

It’s time the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles paid what it owes Hoosier motorists for overcharging them for routine services over a period of years.

Agency officials have acknowledged overcharging drivers by at least $60 million for things such as licenses, vehicle registrations and other services since 2013.

The BMV was sued and ordered to refund millions of drivers between $1 and $50 each.

But an Indianapolis attorney representing many of those in a class-action settlement said the BMV has not turned over $4.5 million to the state’s unclaimed property fund, which is money owed to customers who have not collected their refunds, according to a recent report from the Indianapolis Star.

Irwin Levin, the attorney involved in the class-action lawsuit, cited one plaintiff who tried to collect her $8 refund but was notified by a letter that the money was not available. It’s been 13 months since the BMV was supposed to transfer the funds, according to the report.

An accounting firm was hired in 2014 to examine the agency’s operations.

The agency agreed to make changes after it was discovered that a former BMV commissioner and other top officials knew for years that residents were being overcharged for driver’s licenses and other fees, but did nothing to stop it until the class-action lawsuit was filed.

There’s no easy fix for the troubled BMV, which has ill-served Indiana residents and in the past has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted to do the right thing on its own.

State Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, who serves on the House Transportation Committee, told The Star, the BMV “is one agency that cannot be trusted to act on its own.”

We commented in 2015 that there should be independent oversight of the BMV, the second largest agency in the state.

These latest actions show that continues to be true.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. July 5, 2018

Lost confidence

Hill should resign in wake of groping allegations

After lawmakers approved legislation in 2017 authorizing the use of CBD oil in some circumstances, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill issued an advisory opinion declaring substances containing CBD as illegal to possess, make and sell under state and federal law.

CBD is a narcotic because it comes from the cannabis plant, he ruled.

“Simply put, cannabidoil is a Schedule 1 controlled substance because marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance,” Hill wrote. The law ”(does) not hinge on the degree or prevalence of the pharmacological effects on a person.”

The General Assembly acted quickly this year to explicitly legalize the sale and use of CBD oil, which has no hallucinogenic effects. The product is increasingly used for medical purposes, including epileptic seizures and pain relief, but Hill’s strict interpretation created confusion and frustration for retailers and consumers in the interim.

The attorney general appears not to apply so strict an interpretation to laws regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault. His insistence this week that he did not “touch anyone in an inappropriate manner” during a March 15 gathering at an Indianapolis bar sharply contradicts the accounts of four women, including a legislator and Republican and Democratic legislative staffers.

The lawmaker told legislative leaders the attorney general placed his hands on her back, put them under her clothing and grabbed her buttocks. He approached her a second time after she told him to “back off” and walked away, again reaching under her clothing and grabbing her buttocks. A legislative employee described similar behavior, with Hill groping her buttocks. There were witnesses to the interactions.

A law professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law told the Indianapolis Star that unwanted groping could have legal ramifications from Indiana criminal charges to civil litigation in federal court. Prosecutors typically decide whether the alleged battery was sexual in nature.

If not, a criminal charge would be a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a potential sentence of 180 days in a county jail and a fine up to $1,000, according to law professor Jennifer Drobac. A more severe penalty is possible, however, if the battery is sexual.

The latter example, a Level 6 felony, carries a potential sentence of six months to 21/2 years in state prison or a county jail and a fine up to $10,000.

Hill insisted Tuesday he will not resign.

“The people of the State of Indiana have given me the highest honor to have elected me with overwhelming support to the position of Attorney General. I will continue to honor my commitment to the citizens of this great state,” he said in a statement.

But Hill’s authority as top legal officer for the state is sorely compromised in light of the allegations, which raise serious questions about the attorney general’s judgment, character and allegiance to the letter of the law.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, who rightly insisted “no one should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances,” planned to review the situation when he returned late Wednesday from an out-of-state trip. In light of what’s been disclosed by the legislative memo, Hill’s position and the credibility of the accusers, the governor should demand Hill’s resignation.

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(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. July 6, 2018

Move ahead on food-drink tax

The Vigo County Council is now scheduled to vote on an ordinance that would create a 1 percent tax on food and beverages purchased at local restaurants in order to raise funds for the county’s Capital Improvement Board.

The vote will take place during a meeting at 4 p.m. Monday in the county annex.

The process has been awkward in the past week, with an initial public hearing on the proposed tax conducted July 2. The council initially thought it would vote on the tax the next day. But then the vote was moved to yesterday. When that didn’t appear to meet public notice requirements, it was rescheduled to Monday.

Hopefully that’s the last fumbling that will occur. It’s extremely important that county officials meet legal requirements of the tax process in a timely fashion so that this can move forward. The funds raised from the tax — expected at between $1.2 million and $2.1 million annually — will be used to support a downtown convention center which is in the planning stages.

The Indiana General Assembly granted Vigo County the opportunity to consider a food and beverage tax during its special session in May. Having access to this type of funding availability is seen as critical for the CIB’s efforts to operate and sustain a convention center.

Political and business leaders see a convention center as key to further developing downtown Terre Haute’s potential as a destination for conferences. With ISU’s Hulman Center in the process of undergoing renovations, it is a perfect time to upgrade and expand other facilities and infrastructure to help boost the community’s image and enhance opportunities for events and conventions.

As we’ve said before, the vision of a downtown convention center is sound and worth pursuing. A 1 percent tax on food and beverages purchased at restaurants won’t be burdensome to residents and will spread the burden to people visiting the county.

We urge the County Council to adopt the ordinance creating the tax. It’s the right step for the county for the right purpose at the right time.____

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