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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

March 19, 2019

The Munster Times. March 14, 2019

Valpo girl’s championship pose has Birch Bayh written all over it

A young Valparaiso girl’s smiling face and victory pose have a rich Hoosier legacy written all over them.

The individual story of Rianne Murphy, 13, is compelling in its own right.

The seventh-grader at St. Paul Catholic School in Valparaiso pinned down two state wrestling championship titles Sunday at the Indiana State Wrestling Association Folkstyle State Finals.

She wrestled in 11 tournament matches that day, in the end capturing both the girls and boys state titles for her 87-pound weight class.

“I simply enjoy wrestling. It doesn’t matter who’s on the mat with me,” Rianne told The Times earlier this week.

Her beaming smile with a championship trophy in the foreground speaks volumes.

But it becomes even more meaningful when considering the death Thursday of a former Hoosier lawmaker who pioneered federal laws that serve as the prologue for stories like Rianne’s.

On the same day we reported Rianne’s incredible story in our print editions, word came that former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., died at his home at age 91.

Bayh was the leading proponent of the landmark 1972 law prohibiting gender discrimination in education — known as Title IX for its section in the Higher Education Act. The law’s passage came at a time when women earned fewer than 10 percent of all medical and law degrees and fewer than 300,000 high school girls — one in 27 — played sports.

Bayh argued the law gave girls and young women a better shot at higher-paying jobs and equal footing on fields and in arenas then socially dominated by men.

Now, The Associated Press reports women make up more than half of those receiving bachelor’s and graduate degrees, and more than 3 million high school girls — one in two — play sports.

Tennis great Billie Jean King, who worked with Bayh on women’s rights issues, called Bayh “one of the most important Americans of the 20th century” upon his death Thursday.

“You simply cannot look at the evolution of equality in our nation without acknowledging the contributions and the commitment Sen. Bayh made to securing equal rights and opportunities for every American,” she said.

We have no doubt Bayh’s face would form his signature grin viewing the accomplishments of Rianne this past Sunday, besting both boys and girls wrestlers on a mat of competition laid by his groundbreaking work.

Meanwhile, the parallel timing of his death, the legacy Bayh leaves behind and Rianne’s weekend victory can embolden all champions of equal playing fields.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. March 14, 2019

Smoke rings

Surely it can’t be true that Illinois legislators care more about young people’s health than Indiana legislators.

Yet, by a bipartisan, 82-31 vote, the Illinois House just passed a bill to raise the legal age for purchasing cigarettes and vaping products. The bill is similar to one passed by both houses last year but vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who said he thought the bill would encourage younger-than-21 smokers to buy unlicensed cigarettes on the streets or cross the border and buy them in places such as Indiana. An attempt to override Rauner’s veto passed the Senate but died in the House in November.

Illinois’ new governor, J.B. Pritzker, has been sending strong signals that he would sign the bill if it were passed by the Senate.

Meanwhile, halfway through Indiana’s legislative session, the drive to raise the tax and legal age for cigarette and vaping purchases has gone almost nowhere, despite an unprecedented year-long campaign by the business and medical communities.

It’s too late for a bill on either proposal to move through the normal committee process. Anti-tobacco activists are being told the House is more amenable to the proposals, Nancy Cripe, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County, said Wednesday. “Now the big thrust is trying to persuade the Senate,” which still could add a cigarette tax hike to its budget bill, she said.

Polls show a majority of Hoosiers favor both a sizable tax increase on cigarettes - the Raise it For Health campaign has proposed $2 more per pack - and raising the purchase age for nicotine products. Combined with a stepped-up anti-smoking informational campaign, those measures could save lives and reduce public and private health care costs.

But public sentiment and sensible policy arguments don’t always move our legislators to action. Is it lobbying by the tobacco and vaping companies? Is it knee-jerk anti-tax sentiment? Wrongheaded sentiment, ably refuted by veterans’ groups, about the moral imperative of letting our youngest soldiers buy smokes? Willful ignorance about the price we all pay for nicotine addiction?

Whatever you want to call it, Indiana’s reluctance to help curb cigarettes and vaping can’t be dismissed as just inertia.

While other states are doing what they can to snuff the cigarette habit, Indiana puffs away in a swift race to the bottom.

By the percentage of the state’s population hooked on smoking, Cripe said, “we’re well on the road to 50th. ... We were 39th (worst) in 2016. We were 41st in 2017, and 44th in 2018.”

Wait till next year, as they used to say in Illinois about the Cubs. But every year Indiana waits wastes lives and drains money from our overstressed health care system.

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South Bend Tribune. March 13, 2019

Doing ‘better than nothing’ on redistricting reform in Indiana

Hoosiers looking for more open and fair elections will find small comfort in the redistricting bill recently passed by the Indiana Senate.

The legislation, Senate Bill 105, has been described as “better than nothing,” an indication of just how difficult it’s been to get traction on the issue of redistricting reform.

It’s not hard to figure out why. Over the years, legislators (of both parties) have been loath to change the status quo that gives them an advantage. Under the current system, the legislature is responsible for drawing its own legislative and congressional districts. This has resulted in maps that make it easy for incumbents to get re-elected and nearly impossible for challengers to be competitive.

Small wonder that the nonpartisan nonprofit FairVote, a champion of electoral reform, calls redistricting a “blood sport” that allows incumbent politicians to “choose their voters before the voters choose them.”

SB 105 makes a start in changing the process. Under the bill, legislators would continue drawing Indiana’s legislative and congressional district maps for the foreseeable future, according to an Indianapolis Star report. But the bill would require legislators to create geographically compact districts and avoid dividing places like cities or school districts. Lawmakers also would be banned from considering where incumbents live and would be required to provide reasons behind any deviation.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, says the provisions help add accountability and make the process more transparent.

What’s needed is an independent commission to move redistricting out of the legislature, away from the political party in power. Other states have done this — including Michigan, which in last year’s midterm elections, passed Proposal 18-2, amending the state constitution and creating a citizen commission that will redraw the congressional district lines every 10 years.

Julia Vaughn, of the political watchdog group Common Cause Indiana, holds out hope that the bill could be strengthened yet. “Indiana voters can do the same thing. “Redistricting reform is a two-part equation: Who draws the maps, and how do they draw them? We’d like to have at least one of those things,” she said.

The bill faces an uncertain future and has one month to get a hearing in the House. As lacking as it is, Senate Bill 105 is a step in the right direction. And in the quest for electoral reform, that’s “better than nothing.”

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