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updated: 9/12/2017 12:01 PM

Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

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The (Munster) Times. September 7, 2017

Take heavy hand with payroll fraud

Fraud in its many varieties should be slapped with the heavy hand of state and federal law. Period.

It's the message government regulators and law enforcement must heed if businesses - especially in our crucial construction trades - are to compete on a level playing field.

The problem was detailed in Times business reporter Andrew Steele's front-page Sunday article.

To secure a significant competitive advantage, some building firms are classifying workers as independent contractors rather than as employees - even though many of these workers meet the definition of employees under federal law.

Unscrupulous businesses misclassify employees to circumvent payroll taxes, worker's compensation and unemployment insurance premiums.

It's bad enough that firms engaging in this practice bilk our government of tens of millions of dollars every year.

It's also giving cheaters an unfair advantage over law-abiding firms.

It's a problem throughout our country, and Northwest Indiana is no exception.

The Region carpenters' union recently succeeded in filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board regarding a LaPorte hotel construction project.

The complaint resulted in a settlement requiring the contractor to reclassify its workers as employees and to inform those employees of various federal rights.

Though it marked a victory against a bad business practice, local unions concluded the consequences for the business were a slap on the wrist.

Misclassification of employees often is referred to as payroll fraud.

In our state and federal court system, evidence of fraud leads to criminal charges, and those found guilty face prison and fines.

Serious consequences must be brought to bear in cases of payroll fraud, or unscrupulous companies will continue to use it for unfair competitive advantages.

It's not just a union issue. Employee misclassification hurts union and non-union firms that obey the law.

What message is sent to law-abiding firms if cheating businesses face little to no consequence for committing payroll fraud?

Doing little or nothing equates to tacit approval of the unfair practices - no doubt, leading to more fraud, lost revenue and Wild West business tactics.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. September 8, 2017

Indiana attorney general on wrong side of Supreme Court gerrymandering case

Amicus briefs filed in the U.S. Supreme Court case challenging gerrymandering draw a sharp distinction between those who see the practice as a threat to democracy and those who support the use of voting records in redistricting.

Arguing the practice is unconstitutional: Former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, Sen. John McCain, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 15 leading historians, attorneys general of 17 states and 65 current and former state lawmakers.

Arguing in favor of gerrymandering: The Republican National Committee and attorneys general of 15 states, including Indiana Attorney General Curtis T. Hill.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, Gill v. Whitford, on Oct. 3. The case challenges political maps in Wisconsin that gave Republicans an overwhelming advantage in state assembly districts.

"Wisconsin's gerrymander was one of the most aggressive of the decade, locking in a large and implausiblystable majority for Republicans in what is otherwise a battleground state," Thomas Wolf, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center forJustice, wrote when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. "It's a symptom of politics going haywire and something that we increasingly see when one party has sole control of the redistricting process."

Prominent Republican politicians warned of dire consequences in a brief filed Tuesday.

"(If) the Supreme Court does not stop partisan gerrymanders, partisan politicians will be emboldened to enact ever more egregious gerrymanders. ... That result would be devastating for our democracy," wrote Lugar, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating and 11 other GOP officeholders.

A bipartisan brief entered byMcCain, a Republican, and Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island offered a succinct and chilling assessment: "Partisan gerrymandering has become a tool for powerful interests to distort the democratic process."

For the other side, Hill and the attorneys general of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia, defend partisan redistricting.

"There is nothing invidious or irrational, under the Equal Protection Clause, about legislatures having partisan purposes when reapportioning legislative seats," according to their brief.

"Common Cause Indiana is disappointed that Attorney General Curtis Hill has decided to take a stand in support of partisan gerrymandering," wrote Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana in an email.

"Drawing districts to advantage individuals and partisan interests significantly undermines the democratic process and takes power away from voters. No Hoosier serving in elected office should endorse a system that allows politicians to choose their voters but with his involvement in this amicus, AG Hill is doing just that. Real statesmen like former Senator Richard Lugar rise above partisan politics and do what is right for all voters - this is a lesson that AG Hill has apparently not yet learned."

The Wisconsin case introduced the efficiency gap, a calculation to determine the "wasted votes" resulting from packing minority-party votes in a district or dividing them up among several districts. Gaps in Wisconsin, according to the formula, were 13.3 percent in 2012 and 9.6 percent in 2014. Plaintiffs argued gaps of more than 7 percent violated the Constitution.

A Stanford University report in 2015 identified Indiana among12 states in which 2012 and 2014 elections revealed efficiency gaps of more than 10 percent.

Legislative leaders in Indiana - and now Attorney General Hill - are steadfast in their defense of partisan redistricting, a practice that discourages competition, pushes moderates to political extremes and concentrates power in the hands of a few.

But the voices of respected statesmen on both sides of the political aisle should weigh heavily in the important decision before the Supreme Court.

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South Bend Tribune. September 6, 2017

Trial bail system could benefit county

A new program being tested in St. Joseph County could provide several benefits if proven successful, including reducing the jail's overall population and making sure poor inmates don't remain jailed for long periods simply because they can't afford bail.

St. Joseph was one of nine counties selected by the Indiana Supreme Court to test the program, which is scheduled to take effect statewide in 2020.

Scheduled to begin by the end of this month, the program will allow arrestees to leave jail without paying a bond if judges decide they don't pose a risk of reoffending or missing court appearances.

The jail currently has roughly 640 inmates. Of those, 75 are federal inmates and won't be impacted by the program. But of the remaining 565 inmates, more than half of them are arrestees who couldn't afford to post bond.

Implementing the program means many of those inmates could be released if they meet certain standards following a risk assessment.

St. Joseph County jail officials believe the jail's population could be reduced by "dozens" under the new program. That could translate into significant savings for the county, which pays $50 daily for each of those inmates based on food and staffing costs.

There are other benefits, too. Inmates who can't afford to bond out can miss payments on cars and child support they otherwise could have made.

Kate Williams, executive administrator of the St. Joseph County Community Corrections Advisory Board, said it's a matter of fairness. Two people could be charged with the same offense, but one can come up with $500 and one can't.

Most of the inmates to be released under the new assessment tool have more ties to the community and would likely be more responsible and show up for hearings.

Sheriffs across the state are looking for ways to reduce growing jail populations. This program could prove to be effective in doing that. It deserves the full support of the county during the trial period.

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The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. September 6, 2017

New office a step forward as IU continues to stop sexual violence

Indiana University has taken a good step toward addressing the issue of sexual violence on campus by opening an office dedicated to the problem.

The Office for Sexual Violence Prevention and Victim Advocacy, in the Division of Student Affairs, will focus on preventing sexual violence and providing resources to victims of sexual assaults when they occur.

As noted in a previous editorial, the problem is even more prevalent on campus during the first part of the school year, especially with younger students who are on their own for the first time. Excessive alcohol use is a contributing factor during what is often called the Red Zone - the period from the start of college to Thanksgiving break - to signify potential dangers for students.

That's part of what makes the tweet by Kilroy's Recess about still having "underaged girls" at its location so unconscionable - especially when its brother bar across the street, Kilroy's on Kirkwood, was joking about drinking until you black out.

Leslie Fasone is the office's director for wellness, prevention and victim advocacy. She told the H-T the office is a new approach to fighting an old problem.

"Sexual violence - especially sexual assault - has been a major issue on college campuses for decades," she said. "The creation of this office shows that prevention of sexual assault is a priority for IU and has been for years. This is one step, among many, of echoing that fact."

The university also has launched a new program called "It's On Us: Alcohol and Consent" that all first-year students are expected to attend. All returning students were also encouraged to attend.

The program relies on "bystander intervention," teaching students skills to help identify situations involving alcohol and drug use that could lead to sexual assault. It could help students recognize potentially predatory behavior and stop it.

Here are some campus phone numbers to call for help:

. 812-856-2469 for a confidential victim advocate.

. 812-855-8900 for 24-hour crisis line at IU Sexual Assault Crisis Services at the IU Health Center.

. 812-855-5711 to schedule an appointment with a counselor at IU Sexual Assault Crisis Services.

For more than three decades, Middle Way House in Bloomington has been a strong leader in addressing the issues of sexual assault and domestic violence. It has many services and is a safe, secure, helpful place for all women, including IU students, to go for help.

The 24-hour Crisis Line for Middle Way House is 812-336-0846.

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