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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

May 14, 2019

Terre Haute () — Tribune-Star. May 9, 2019

Raise the age for tobacco

Tobacco use remains a significant public health scourge across the country. There are few places where the problem is more pronounced than Indiana.

U.S. Sen. Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, has joined forces with a bipartisan group of senators to attack the issue on a key front — by proposing a bill that would raise the federal minimum age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21.

It’s a good idea worthy of support. Our communities would benefit from having tobacco products more tightly controlled in this way.

In introducing the bill, Sen. Young contended that raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products is the best, more achievable step that can be taken to save lives and control the cost of health care.

“This is especially important in my home state of Indiana where tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death and disease,” Sen. Young said. “In fact, the state of Indiana ranks 45th in the country in terms of tobacco usage. I know we can improve on that. With the advent of e-cigarettes and the uptake of vaping, especially among young Americans, it’s essential we act now.”

Young has been joined in his legislative effort by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Hawaii Sen. Dick Schatz, both Democrats, and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican.

Their bill, the Tobacco to 21 Act, is supported by health organizations and advocates in Indiana and nationally.

Young cites compelling statistics in advocating his position.

“Indiana is ranked 45th in the nation in percentage of smokers, with a smoking rate of 21.8%. Taxpayers are paying the price for these health choices,” Young stated in launching his effort. “Smoking leads to approximately $2.93 billion in annual health care costs in Indiana and $170 billion nationally. The vast majority of these costs are bore by Medicaid and Medicare.”

What’s more, statistics show that e-cigarette usage by high school students increased by 900% between 2011 and 2015. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has declared vaping an “epidemic.”

The concept is not new. A similar legislative proposal failed in the recent session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Young is hoping attacking the issue on the federal level will have more success. We hope he’s right.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. May 12, 2019

Lawmakers leave schools ill-prepared on mental ills

Less than a year after a student shot a classmate and teacher at Noblesville Middle School, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a school safety bill incorporating recommendations from a task force formed after the shooting.

“Every student, teacher and staff member deserves a safe school,” Holcomb said in a news release. “This new law is key to ensuring our schools are better prepared.”

Better prepared, perhaps. But not best prepared. Bowing to pressure from powerful conservative groups, legislative leaders stripped language from the bill that would have allowed school safety grant dollars for mental health services. Advance America, a special-interest group, claimed in a post-session message to followers that the legislation “would have forced students to answer very personal and inappropriate questions from a federal government survey about their sexual activity - without prior written parental consent!”

In fact, the language reflected recommendations from the months-long work of the governor’s task force and referenced mental health more than 100 times. Task force members rightly observed that enhanced mental health services are key in preventing school violence - ahead of safety equipment, technology, tools and training.

But the outsize influence of a small group of powerful conservatives prompted lawmakers to ignore the counsel of educators and public health and law enforcement officials.

State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, speaking at Ivy Tech’s Coliseum campus last month, said her Department of Education staff had to “literally beg” to get references to social-emotional learning in any bill. It’s important because educators now recognize students’ success hinges on preparing them for real-world experiences - managing emotions, adapting to change, handling relationships and more.

“There is not an appetite for that,” she said. “Because when you have that conversation, it turns to those who are worried about student human sexuality. What are we going to talk about? What are we going to support?

“We are third in the nation for students who are contemplating suicide. We are second in the nation for students who actually have a plan,” McCormick said. “Our numbers in foster care and homelessness are exploding. Our poverty rate is still going up. We can ignore all that, or we can have an honest conversation about social-emotional learning.”

“There is no greater need in schools today than someone to help teachers, help our kids with mental health issues and social-emotional issues,” said Rep. Wendy McNamara, the author of the bill and a high school principal. “We can put all the locks on the doors ... but with those positive relationships we can often avert tragedy before it ever starts.”

The new law allows grants from the state’s safe schools fund to pay for training school personnel in “evidence-based practices that contribute to a positive school environment, including ... social-emotional learning.”

McCormick said legislators removed mental health language, with some insisting it’s a “home” issue.

“Well, some of our kids are homeless. Some of our kids don’t have that home support - many of our kids don’t have it,” said the Republican state schools chief.

Those are the students Indiana can’t overlook, not just in promoting school safety, but in ensuring all children - regardless of family background - have the chance to succeed.

A teacher-hero prevented the Noblesville 13-year-old from taking any lives last May. It’s too bad legislators didn’t have the courage to equip schools with the best tools for preventing violence.

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South Bend Tribune. May 12, 2019

A familiar story on primary day: Voter apathy

These pages regularly feature countless letters from residents expressing outrage, asserting their views on local policies and taking elected leaders to task.

We can’t help but wonder, Where were those folks on Tuesday?

We’re sure some fulfilled their civic duty and cast their ballots on primary day. But the numbers in South Bend tell a familiar, disappointing story: About 12,000 people voted citywide. While that’s up slightly from the nearly 11,000 who voted in the last mayoral primary in May 2015, this year featured the prospect of at least five new faces on the Common Council in addition to a wide-open mayor’s race with nine candidates.

So in the end, about 12,000 voters made momentous decisions for a city of 100,000-plus. This despite a number of enthusiastic, driven candidates for city offices actively campaigning for your vote, many of them going door-to-door and participating in public forums.

Despite widespread coverage of the races by the local media.

Despite the website full of information about the candidates and their positions on key issues provided by the League of Women Voters of the South Bend Area, in partnership with the American Democracy Project of Indiana University South Bend.

Of course, low turnout and voter apathy aren’t new problems. And they’re not limited to South Bend. It’s no secret that it’s the bigger races that draw people to the polls — president, U.S. senator or governor. It’s the local offices, though, that residents interact with the most and that impact their lives directly.

It’s local issues that can spur so many to write a letter to the editor. But not, it appears, to cast a vote.

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