The (Munster) Times. December 29, 2017

Holcomb shows appropriate urgency on DCS front

Gov. Eric Holcomb is showing encouraging signs he's willing to do what it takes to improve state services provided to the most vulnerable Hoosiers.

On Thursday, Holcomb announced a new Department of Child Services director, Terry Stigdon, would assume the reins following the recent resignation of Region native and former Lake County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura from the DCS post.

On her way out, Bonaventura lamented a lack of state resources being channeled to the children, often in situations of abuse or other danger, who are served by DCS.

Though she clearly had differences with Holcomb, it's good to see Holcomb responding to the situation with urgency.

Stigdon, who will take over the agency Jan. 22, appears to have a pedigree of high-level service to children. Stigdon will be leaving a post as clinical director of operations for acclaimed Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health in Indianapolis to take on the DCS role.

At Riley, Stigdon reportedly oversaw strategy, finance, personnel, research and programs of the hospital's key divisions, including emergency, trauma and nursing, according to the governor's office.

Meanwhile, Holcomb also has directed the Indiana Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group to audit DCS funding and practices, including probing whether:

-systems are in place to assure children and families are healthy and safe.

-funding is being used in the best and most appropriate ways to serve children and taxpayers.

-staffing levels are appropriate for caseloads.

-the agency is reaching appropriate resolutions for children and families in need of the state's services.

Holcomb also is seeking empirical data to determine how Indiana DCS's caseload, costs and programs compare to other states and the nation.

This last point is crucial.

DCS has been plagued in recent years by climbing cases of abuse and child death in our state.

An empirical audit could be the best way of determining the optimum response and fixes for this problem.

In an editorial last week, we asked the governor to listen to the overtures of the departing Bonaventura, who we've known to be a dogged and perennial champion of children, regarding the state of programs and funding at DCS.

Holcomb's recent director appointment and call for an agency-wide review appear to be in keeping with that admonition.

It's time to gather the evidence and act appropriately on the findings.


The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. December 27, 2017

Some issues on agenda for 2017 saw progress, some left undone

It was instructive to review an editorial that appeared in the H-T on Jan. 3 of this year. It noted some key issues that would be on the community agenda in 2017 and offered some ideas about what would be good outcomes.

Addressing the heroin and opioid epidemic was one of the issues on the list. It was included in the middle of the editorial, not in the place of importance and urgency it would ultimately take during the year.

The problems grew; emergency officials responded to overdoses with regularity, and there were more overdose deaths than in previous years. However, the community did rise up with strategies to address the issues, namely through an Opioid Summit spearheaded by county government leaders, along with follow-up plans that are in the works.

Our editorial talked about the issue of homelessness, and how it was particularly affecting the downtown area. Homelessness was not the only cause of the crisis that resulted downtown this summer, but clearly many of the people who were spending their days and nights in Peoples Park and elsewhere downtown didn't have jobs to go to or stable living situations. Many of them also had mental health issues or drug abuse issues.

The result was rampant drug use, alcohol use, aggressive panhandling and a variety of other anti-social behaviors that alarmed downtown business owners and made the area along Kirkwood Avenue less-than-pleasant to visit.

A bright community spotlight, enhanced police presence and work by local agencies such as Shalom Community Center, Wheeler Mission and others helped tamp down the crisis in the heart of the city. Personal crises no doubt remain for individuals who were on the streets.

The first issue mentioned in the editorial was the Comprehensive Master Plan. We noted it had been in the works for "the last couple of years and this is the year it should be completed." It was not.

Instead, the plan commission and city council passed an interim ordinance change that will address one of the points we had made: slowing residential growth downtown. By that we meant dense, student complexes. While we have opposed that interim ordinance based largely on the process it underwent and the lack of predictability it will impose, the issue does need to be addressed in a long-term manner.

We also wrote in the Jan. 3 editorial: "Construction of Section 5 of Interstate 69 must be completed. The safety issues and disruptions to commerce along the corridor can't be allowed to continue past 2017. In addition, plans for Section 6 need to move forward."

That didn't happen, either, but there was a lot of activity on the road in 2017. The Indiana Department of Transportation, which took over the project from a private development group that had fallen almost two years behind schedule, is now targeting Aug. 31, 2018, for substantial completion unless bad weather prohibits it.

One story we forecast that went better than could have been imagined was the reuse of the General Electric plant on Curry Pike that was vacated in 2016 when GE shut down its Bloomington operation. "A creative, productive use of that space should be a goal for the year," we wrote.

Cook Group made that happen, purchasing the property for an expansion of its Cook Medical operations. The move is expected to result in 500 new jobs in the community.

We wrote that it would be interesting to watch the operation of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners with Amanda Barge replacing Iris Kiesling. The commissioners had a very productive year, and Barge was a big part of it with her leadership on the county's first Opioid Summit.

We pushed for the community to stay aggressive and active in providing pre-kindergarten opportunities for children, while hoping the state Legislature and administration of Gov. Eric Holcomb would do much more. Monroe County is one of 15 new pilot counties that is receiving state funding to expand high quality, low-cost child care. That's a good step forward.


The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. December 27, 2017

Compared to Pence, Gov. Holcomb off to good start

As the saying goes, a good act can be hard to follow. The opposite is also true, which is one reason why Eric Holcomb looked so good in his first year as Indiana's governor.

Holcomb followed fellow Republican Mike Pence, now our vice president.

As governor, Pence's approval ratings were historically low.

Among his many missteps was the promotion of a law - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - that would have enabled businesses to discriminate against consumers based on religious beliefs. Some major employers and event sponsors threatened to pull out of Indiana, forcing the law to be rewritten to avoid a major economic disaster for the state.

After Pence was tapped to be Donald Trump's running mate on the GOP's presidential card in 2016, Holcomb stepped up to take the party's candidacy for governor.

As the state's former Republican Party chairman, Holcomb, like Pence, is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. The similarities mostly end there.

Whereas Pence has a troubling tendency to force his religious and social agenda on his constituents, Holcomb avoids these landmines and instead focuses on the matters that most Hoosiers want their governor to tackle: the economy, infrastructure, education and health.

"You get a lot more done if you don't chase every issue of the day," Holcomb said in a recent article by The Associated Press.

In each of these areas, Holcomb, who took office Jan. 9, provided leadership and vision in 2017.

He parlayed the legislature's 10-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax hike and increases in Bureau of Motor Vehicle charges into a $4.7 billion, five-year plan to resurface 10,000 miles of roads and repair or replace 1,300 bridges across the state.

The governor expanded the state's pre-kindergarten program to 15 more counties, including Madison, for the 2018-19 school year.

His "Next Level Jobs" plan sets aside about $24 million in 2018 and '19 to encourage the training of, among others, welders, machinists, medical assistants and information technology specialists.

And he drafted a plan that would earmark about $100 million through various agencies to battle the state's opioid addiction epidemic. The plan includes the following:

. A partnership with Indiana University, which will bring to bear $50 million and other resources over five years.

. A prohibition of first-time prescriptions of more than seven days.

. An anticipated $10.9 million federal grant from the 21st Century Cures Act.

. A federal waiver that would enable the Healthy Indiana Plan to expand treatment services for addiction by as much as $65 million.

Holcomb's agenda has resonated with many Hoosiers. Fifty-three percent approve of his performance as governor, according to the Morning Consult's Governor Approval Rankings, conducted July 1 to Sept. 30. Twenty-one percent said they disapproved, and 26 percent said they weren't sure. Nineteen governors had higher approval ratings than Holcomb during that quarter.

A year earlier, the same poll service showed Pence's approval and disapproval ratings both standing at 45 percent.

While Holcomb is off to a good start, particularly compared to the record of his predecessor, there is much work to be done in the coming year.

Specifically, the governor will have to be bolder and provide more leadership on thorny issues, ranging from guns-rights legislation to alcohol sales to protections for Hoosiers who might face discrimination because of their race, sexual orientation or other factors.


The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. December 28, 2017

Unsettling trend. Equality survey finds nation has far to go.

When the U.S. Supreme Court rules sometime next year on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, some observers argue the decision will hinge on religious freedom rights. But a just-released national survey by Indiana University sociologists finds many Americans believe a business owner should be allowed to refuse service to some customers - and not just over religious objections. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said they support a business owner's right to refuse service to an interracial couple.

"The finding challenges the idea that denial of service to same-sex couples is all about religious freedom," Brian Powell, the James H. Rudy Professor of Sociology and lead author of the study, said in a news release. "People may oppose same-sex marriage because of their beliefs, but their views about denial of service have nothing to do with whether the denial is for religious reasons."

The survey results become a gut check for those who thought the Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision marked a turning point in the acceptance of same-sex marriage, but also a gut check for those insisting the Masterpiece Cakeshop case is about protection of First Amendment rights. When Jack C. Phillips refused to sell a wedding cake to Charlie Craig and David Mullins, he took a stand many people believe the business owner was entitled to take for any reason - not simply because Craig and Mullins are gay. The Colorado baker has said he would sell the couple anything in his store but a wedding cake because gay marriage is a violation of his faith.

While it's interesting to learn most Americans are more concerned with an individual business owner's rights than with any threat to religious freedom, the survey's findings are more troubling for what they say about views on race. Is it any wonder we still grapple with racial issues when 61 percent of those surveyed said a self-employed photographer should be allowed to refuse service to an interracial couple?

Sixty-one percent of the respondents also said they support gay marriage and 90 percent expressed support for interracial marriage, but the results found broad support for an individual business owner's right to deny public accommodation on both fronts. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin for more than a half-century, yet a majority of those surveyed support an individual business owner's right to discriminate.

The IU-Bloomington study, a representative sample of 2,000 Americans, was designed to determine public views on the conflict between anti-discrimination laws and protections for religion and free speech. Discussion of the pending Supreme Court case has brought welcome attention to those First Amendment rights. Views expressed in the survey, however, show the need for a refresher course in the importance of equality for all Americans.

In a June 1964 floor speech in support of the Civil Rights Act, Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen cited the landmark legislation as "an idea whose time has come."

"The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing in government, in education and in employment," said the Illinois Republican. "It will not be stayed or denied. It is here."

Or, maybe not.