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April 9, 2014 HPI Daily Wire

PEW CITES 'DRAMATIC' INDIANA ELECTION STRIDES: Pew Charitable Trusts reported in a comprehensive national analysis that Indiana has improved its election processes in "dramatic" fashion between the 2008 and 2012 elections (Howey Politics Indiana). Indiana had a "dramatic 13-percentage-point improvement in its Election Process Index average between 2008 and 2012, the third-largest increase in the country," the report released Tuesday revealed. Major factors in this jump were a sharp drop in military and overseas ballots unreturned, the addition of online registration, and a decline in average wait time to vote. In 2008, Indiana had the second-highest rate of unreturned military and overseas ballots, but in 2012, it had the third-lowest rate. In 2008, it transmitted 15,420 military and overseas ballots, with 7,275 unreturned. In 2012, it transmitted only about half as many ballots, 8,194, but only 999 were unreturned. Indiana was also one of 11 states to add online voter registration between the 2008 and 2012 elections, and the state’s average wait time to vote fell by nearly 10 minutes, the fifth-largest decrease in the country. In a section called "Room for Improvement," Pew noted that Indiana did not report complete data on military and overseas ballots rejected in 2008, but in 2012 it had the highest rate in the nation. It rejected 1,481, or 20.6 percent, of the 7,195 military and overseas ballots returned for counting. Improved data collection to provide further detail on why these ballots were rejected could help the state identify the cause of this rate spike.

 

OBAMA SIGNS BROOKS’ PENSION REFORM BILL: Legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Susan W. Brooks freeing charitable and cooperative associations from burdensome federal pension requirements was signed into law by President Obama yesterday evening (Howey Politics Indiana). House Resolution 4275 – the Cooperative and Small Employer Charity Pension Flexibility Act – is predicted to benefit more than 1,500 Hoosiers working for several nonprofit employers. “This bipartisan pension reform ensures our rural electric cooperatives, private schools and organizations like the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana can continue to meet the needs of the communities they serve,” Brooks said. “I’m proud to have introduced legislation freeing these groups from burdensome federal pension requirements that fail to recognize the unique structure in which they operate. By making sure they are not forced to overfund their plans, we are preserving their ability to continue enhancing communities across the nation. I’m encouraged elected officials from both sides of the aisle listened to the concerns of local community organizations and worked together to make this happen.” The legislation ensures that charitable and cooperative associations using multiple employer pension plans are not swept into the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) funding rules. These rules would require certain charitable and cooperative associations to fund their pension plans at levels commonly associated with high risk plans even though plans operated by these groups contain virtually no risk of default.

 

TURNER STOPPED DISCLOSING COMPANY IN LAND DEAL: No one paid much attention when, in 2006, state Rep. Eric Turner stopped listing an obscure limited liability company on the financial disclosure forms lawmakers are required to file each year (Cook, Indianapolis Star). But then, few people knew the company was at the center of a lawsuit that accused the Turner family of enriching itself through a fraudulent land deal that helped win $3 million in state tax credits and grants for a nursing home project. The lawsuit, filed in Ripley Superior Court, alleged that a company controlled by the powerful Indiana lawmaker and his son secretly transferred a piece of land to another family member's nonprofit group without the knowledge of their fellow investors. Turner's company denied the accusation and the case was later settled out of court. But the lawsuit's accusation of fraud raises questions about how Turner and his family operated the nursing home business. Turner didn't respond to questions this week about the lawsuit, but his spokesman emphasized that the case was dismissed after it was resolved through mediation… Turner, the House's second highest ranking member, is already under fire for working behind the scenes to kill a measure that would have temporarily halted new nursing home construction. Some Republican lawmakers said they felt Turner's efforts represented a conflict of interest because his son and daughter led opposition to the measure. Turner has denied any wrongdoing.

 

HOUSE ETHICS COMMITTEE HEARING ON TURNER POSTPONED: These latest revelations come at a time when the House Ethics Committee is set to probe Turner's role in killing legislation last month that would have temporarily halted new nursing home construction (Cook, Indianapolis Star). Proponents believed the moratorium was necessary because of low occupancy rates and concerns about the quality of care for Medicaid patients. Turner's son and daughter, a Statehouse lobbyist, led opposition to the measure, arguing it would cost the state jobs. In public, Turner, R-Cicero, abstained from voting on the measure. But during closed-door Republican caucus meetings, he used his position as House speaker pro tempore to successfully urge its defeat, according to Republicans who spoke to The Star on the condition of anonymity. That prompted House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, to ask the ethics committee to look into the issue. Turner has said he broke no ethics rules. Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, chairman of the House ethics committee, said last week that the six-member, bipartisan panel would meet Thursday. On Tuesday afternoon, the House abruptly announced the hearing was postponed, with no new date scheduled (Howey Politics Indiana). The House Republican communications staff said, "At this point, a meeting date has not yet been set. The meeting will be posted online with ample notice to the public and press."

 

PENCE RENEWS TALKS OVER $2.1B POSEY FERTILIZER PLANT: Indiana economic development officials have renewed talks with developers who want to build a $2.1 billion fertilizer plant in southwestern Indiana, one year after the state withdrew its support for the project over national security concerns (Associated Press). The state withdrew financial support last May for the plant proposed by Midwest Fertilizer Co. after a military official raised the prospect of the company's involvement in the making of roadside bombs in Afghanistan. Midwest Fertilizer Co. is owned by the Fatima Group, a company based in Lahore, Pakistan, that already manufactures fertilizer in the south Asian country. But Gov. Mike Pence announced Tuesday that the state was renewing talks with the company after a review by the U.S. Department of Defense found the project's developers have been cooperating with the government. "Following Indiana's withdrawal of support for this project, U.S. officials have reported that the government of Pakistan and Fatima Group have provided an unprecedented level of cooperation and transparency in addressing the concerns that precipitated the withdrawal of our support," Pence said in a prepared statement Tuesday. Pentagon officials who spoke with Pence this week confirmed that an experimental fertilizer formula being developed by the Fatima Group would be harder to use in the construction of bombs, according to the statement. U.S. officials also told Pence the government of Pakistan and the Fatima Group are making it harder for terrorists and extremists to obtain the company's products. "This week, the state of Indiana was informed that our defense experts completed the second series of tests on the experimental formula and described Fatima Group's efforts to improve the safety of its fertilizer as 'commendable,'" Pence said in the statement.

 

FBI VISITS PORTER COUNTY’S AUDITOR AGAIN: FBI agents made yet another visit to Porter County government offices, stopping Tuesday at the auditor's office (Kasarda, NWI Times). Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski confirmed one agent was at his office about 1 p.m. Tuesday. Wichlinski said the agent requested and was given payroll records involving the Porter County Expo Center. Wichlinski said the agent was also asking about a long list of other records to determine whether they are public information. FBI agents have visited county government several times since last year, visiting numerous departments including information technologies, plan commission, highway, clerk of the courts and the county's insurance servicing agent.

 

UCONN COMPLETELY OVERPOWERS NOTRE DAME WOMEN 79-58: Unable to stop a taller Connecticut team inside, Notre Dame was left on the outside in its pursuit of perfection (Rallo, South Bend Tribune). Connecticut claimed a record ninth NCAA women’s basketball championship as the Huskies defeated Notre Dame, 79-58, Tuesday night at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Missing star 6-foot-3 post Natalie Achonwa, who suffered a torn ACL last Monday in the regional championship victory against Baylor, Notre Dame’s interior defense couldn’t stop 6-4 Breanna Stewart and 6-5 Stefanie Dolson. Taking advantage of Achonwa’s absence, Connecticut had a crushing 52-22 advantage in points in the paint against an Irish post rotation that was 6-1 (Ariel Braker), 6-2 (Markisha Wright) and 6-3 (Taya Reimer). “We knew we had a size advantage,” Dolson said. “Losing Achonwa was terrible, but we knew we could really get the ball in the paint, and that’s what we did.” The Huskies’ victory gives Connecticut a sweep of the men’s and women’s national championships. The only other time there has been a sweep of the basketball titles in the NCAA Division I tournament was when the Huskies accomplished the feat in 2004.

 

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: Howey Politics Indiana sat down with Gov. Mike Pence Tuesday morning to review the 2014 Indiana General Assembly session and what his future might hold. Look for our exclusive report in Thursday's weekly edition. - Brian A. Howey and Matthew Butler

 

Campaigns

 

2014: VOTER ROLLS SHRINK AHEAD OF MAY PRIMARY - Indiana appears likely to have fewer registered voters for next month's primary than it did four years ago. 31,000 new voters registered ahead of Monday's deadline (Howey Politics Indiana). But more than 43,000 duplicate or canceled registrations were removed from the rolls, for a net loss of nearly 13,000 names. Secretary of State Connie Lawson says the state has not conducted a purge of outdated registrations. She says the reductions reflect voters who canceled their own registration or moved from one county to another, prompting the deletion of their old registration. The last off-year primary, 2010, saw a net loss of about 200 names. The deletion total was roughly the same in both years, but new registrations were about 10,000 lower this year. Lawson says that may reflect a lack of compelling races, but she also cautions some county clerks may not have turned in their final numbers yet. The addition of last-minute registrations could narrow the gap. Just 10 counties have net increases in registered voters in the preliminary figures, with none adding more than 114 names. Just 10 counties have net increases in registered voters in the preliminary figures, with none adding more than 114 names.

 

2014: RAATZ FUNDRAISER IN INDY - A fundraiser has been planned for SD27 Republican candidate Jeff Raatz from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 16  at Scotty's Brewhouse in Indianapolis. The event will be hosted by the Indiana Manufacturers Association.

 

2014: LAKE SHERIFF CANDIDATES TALK PATRONAGE REFORM - Lake County Sheriff John Buncich took the opportunity at Tuesday’s Lake County sheriff’s candidate debate to deny that patronage jobs exist in his department (Masters, NWI Times). “We have a misconception that all non-law enforcement personnel on the Sheriff’s Department are patronage. They are not,” he told the audience at Indiana University Northwest’s Savannah Center. But that didn’t halt challengers from taking a swing over the notion of patronage, as they did at last week’s debate at Purdue University Calumet. “We need real reform in this department, and we need it from the top down,” said Republican Dan Bursac, a 24-year Sheriff’s Department veteran. Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Oscar Martinez said Lake County needs “a sheriff of today,” describing himself someone who understands modern policing techniques. Since Buncich took office for his third, non-consecutive term in January 2011, he has been addressing a U.S. Department of Justice mandate over various deficiencies in the administration and conditions of the jail, which occurred under his predecessor, Roy Dominguez. He said many benchmarks have been met but the work is not yet over. Entering the conversation on the jail issue, Richard Ligon, a retired federal agent and U.S. military officer, said he would implement new systems to ensure inmates are treated fairly. “I will make sure the jail is neat and clean and all jail personnel are screened and qualified to do their job,” Ligon said.

 

2014: LAKE SHERIFF CANDIDATES LARGELY AGREE ON TOPICS AT FORUM - A full panel of candidates for Lake County sheriff shared their views Tuesday on drugs and gangs, police hiring practices and the condition of the county jail among other topics (Napoleon, Post-Tribune). The five candidates for sheriff in the May 6 primary election met at a forum hosted by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence at Indiana University Northwest and moderated by Steve Walsh, host/producer at Lakeshore Public Media. Three Democrats — incumbent John Buncich and challengers Richard Ligon and Oscar Martinez Jr. — and the two Republicans, John Ramos Jr. and Dan Bursac, fielded written questions from the approximately 150 people who attended. The four challengers offered little innovation in how they would approach the issues facing the largest department in county government. On the topic of gangs and drugs, all candidates favor continued street sweeps and increased visibility of officers, including continuing the practice of officers taking home squad cars while off duty. Ramos said take-home cars last longer because they are not driven around the clock and can help police come to the aid of citizens when they are off duty. “We’re cops 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “It’s a known fact it’s a deterrent to crime. ... When you see a police vehicle in a neighborhood, it means a lot,” Buncich said, adding that he has worked to tighten the restrictions on who can take a police vehicle home.

 

2015: SHORT ON INDY MAYORAL LISTENING TOUR - One man who wants to be the Democratic nominee for Indianapolis Mayor in 2015 says he's currently on a "listening tour” (Corbin, WIBC). Former City-County Councilman Frank Short says he's getting input from city residents about what they want in their mayor. Back in February, Short officially filed paperwork to form a committee and raise campaign funds. He says a competitive campaign would likely run about $4 million. Short says $900,000 by year's end would be a good fundraising benchmark. He says public safety and crime are issues that can best be addressed by people "working together." Short currently heads up his own public policy consulting and business advising firm.

 

2016: WALKER TO COMPLETE DEGREE - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is looking to clear what could be a hurdle to a potential 2016 presidential run: His lack of a college degree (The Hill). Walker’s spokeswoman Laurel Patrick told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the governor is hoping to complete his degree via the University of Wisconsin-System's online classes. "Governor Walker would like to finish his degree through the UW FlexOption once they expand the degree offerings," she said. The governor attended Marquette University but left his senior year for a job with the American Red Cross.

 

General Assembly

 

LAWSON CONTINUES PUSH FOR EQUAL PAY, STUDY COMMISSION - Indiana Democrats say Indiana hasn’t done enough to close the wage gap (Smith, Indiana Public Media). They spoke out Tuesday along with equal pay advocates across the nation who are marking Equal Pay Day, the date when the average woman’s earnings catches up to what the average man earned last year. Hoosier women earn about 73 cents for every dollar men make for the same work, and the poverty rate for women and girls in Indiana is nearly 17 percent. Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, says she and other Democrats tried to remedy those issues this past legislative session when House Democrats offered an amendment creating a commission to study pay disparity. But it was blocked by Republicans. Lawson says the first step is studying the problem. “Start with state government and then you can ask others throughout the state of Indiana to also step up to the plate and do what’s necessary to make sure that the wage gap closes,” she says. Governor Mike Pence says he believes the way to address income disparity is to promote economic growth. “Creating an environment that encourages more investment, more job opportunities for Hoosiers is the best pathway forward toward increasing personal income for men and women in Indiana,” he says.

 

TURNER’S FAMILY LAND DEAL COLLECTED $3M IN STATE TAX CREDITS - Turner, the House's second highest ranking member, is already under fire for working behind the scenes to kill a measure that would have temporarily halted new nursing home construction. Some Republican lawmakers said they felt Turner's efforts represented a conflict of interest because his son and daughter led opposition to the measure (Cook, Indianapolis Star). Turner has denied any wrongdoing…The land transfer allowed the Turners and another relative to collect $3 million in state tax credits and grants — including a $650,000 "development fee" — that are set aside for nonprofit groups, without benefiting the company's other investors, according to a 2010 complaint filed as part of the lawsuit. The timing of the controversial land deal also coincides with the year Turner stopped listing the company on his annual House disclosure form in 2006 — an omission that could become the subject of an upcoming House Ethics Committee hearing. At the center of the disputed land deal is a company called Main & Batesville LLC. The Turners held a 44 percent stake in the company through two other entities: T3 Investments Corp. and Mainstreet Capital Partners. Mainstreet Capital Partners, whose only members were Turner and his son Zeke, managed the company, according to court records.

 

LAWSUIT ALLEGES TURNER’S SON SHIFTED LAND WITH FORGED SIGNATURES - In a 2010 complaint, other investors in Main & Batesville, accused Mainstreet of transferring 3½ acres of land owned by Main & Batesville to a nonprofit group operated by Zeke Turner's father-in-law, Charles Riggle — without telling the company's other investors (Cook, Indianapolis Star). To facilitate the transfer, the complaint alleges that Zeke Turner signed the names of nine Main & Batesville investors on an operating agreement without their authority. That agreement gave Mainstreet "sole authority to manage the business and affairs of the Company," though it required a vote by members owning 75 percent of the company to sell "substantially all of the assets of the company." Zeke Turner and Mainstreet indicate in court documents that a previous "Formation Agreement" granted him the power to sign the names of other investors by proxy. That agreement says each of the parties agree to the operating agreement and appoint Mainstreet proxy to execute the operating agreement on their behalf. The investors who filed the lawsuit, however, say that provision violated Indiana law, which only allows someone to sign an operating agreement on behalf of another through power of attorney. After the land transfer, the nonprofit operated by Zeke Turner's father-in-law, Emmanuel Nursery School & Day Care, used its nonprofit status to seek $3 million in state tax credits to construct a 33-unit, $4.2 million affordable senior housing and skilled nursing development on the property, according to the lawsuit. Emmanuel's nonprofit status allowed the project to qualify for tax credits the state sets aside each year for nonprofit developers. Under the deal, Mainstreet and Emmanuel were authorized to share a $650,000 development fee, "without any benefits flowing" to the other Main & Batesville investors, the lawsuit says. Batesville Investors LLC, a nursing home investment company managed by Fishers resident John Bartle and his wife, Rebecca, brought the lawsuit. Turner listed the company on his 2004 and 2005 disclosure forms as investments he held through T3 Investments Corporation, of which he is president. But in 2006, Turner stopped listing companies in which T3 Investments held a stake — including Main & Batesville.

 

State

 

GOVERNOR: PENCE ACCEPTS TAX AWARD - Gov. Mike Pence accepted the Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform award, presented by the Tax Foundation (Howey Politics Indiana). After receiving the award, the Governor committed to future tax reform by announcing the 2014 Indiana Tax Competitiveness Conference, which will bring together fiscal and economic development experts to find innovative solutions to simplify Hoosier tax laws and maintain Indiana’s competitive edge in the global market for jobs and investment. “I thank the Tax Foundation for recognizing the great strides Indiana has made in tax reform for the benefit of both Hoosier families and businesses,” said Pence. “In the years to come, we are committed to continuing to build on our progress to make Indiana an even better place to live and work.” The Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform award acknowledges Governor Pence’s achievement in attaining the largest income tax reduction in Indiana history while maintaining the state's scheduled reduction in corporate taxes and elimination of the inheritance tax. “Governor Pence has sought further business tax reforms, continued budget restraint, and a determination to make Indiana more attractive to investment and growth,” said Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge. “His work is extraordinary in advancing the cause of simpler, smarter tax policy.” Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge, Economist Scott Drenkard and Chairman of the Tax Foundation Board David Lewis presented the award in a Statehouse ceremony.

 

GOVERNOR: TAX SUMMIT IN JUNE - To continue Indiana’s progress, Governor Pence also announced the Indiana Tax Competitiveness Conference, which will take place on June 24 of this year (Howey Politics Indiana). It will bring together local and national tax experts, including representatives from the Tax Foundation, senior administration officials, and state legislators, with a focus on creating competitive business and individual tax structures in Indiana. “This conference will help us to examine all of our taxes, look at options across the board, and develop ideas and proposals that we can consider for the 2015 General Assembly,” said Pence.  “All good ideas are welcome as we strive to make Indiana even more competitive in attracting businesses and jobs for Hoosiers.” The conference will be a full-day event hosted by the Indiana Department of Revenue and the Office of Management and Budget at the Indiana Government Center in Indianapolis.

 

GOVERNOR: PENCE ADDRESSES INCOME EQUALITY - On “Equal Pay Day,” which called attention Tuesday to the so-called wage gap between what men and women earn for similar work, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said the way to address income inequality is by growing the state’s economy (Schneider, Evansville Courier & Press). Hoosier women make about 73 cents for every dollar men make in comparable jobs, ranking 46th in the nation and below the national average of 77 cents, according to a study by the American Association of University Women. Pence made the comments after receiving an award for the state’s tax reform efforts by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. “I want every Hoosier to make more money. I want Hoosier women to make every bit of as much money as Hoosier men do in similar positions,” Pence said. Pence said creating an environment to encourage more investment and job opportunity is the “best way forward in terms of increasing personal income of men and women in Indiana.”

 

GOVERNOR: PENCE’S SCHEDULE - 9:00 a.m. – Gov. Mike Pence will offer remarks at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) tomorrow. Expected to draw nearly 4,000 attendees, this is the 87th annual FDIC event, and the nineteenth of which to take place in Indianapolis. Indiana Convention Center, Sagamore Ballroom, 100 S. Capitol Avenue, Indianapolis.

 

GOVERNOR: FIRST LADY’S SCHEDULE - 7:30 a.m. – First Lady Karen Pence to address business, education and civic leaders at inaugural Project READS Champions for Children’s Education Awards Breakfast. University of Saint Francis, Performing Arts Center, 431 W. Berry Street, Fort Wayne. 9:45 a.m.– First Lady Karen Pence to visit students at Adams Central Elementary School. Adams Central Elementary School, 222 West Washington Street, Monroe.

 

LT. GOVERNOR: ELLSPERMAN MEETS SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS - Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann made a stop in downtown Goshen on Tuesday, April 8, as part of a tour to meet with local entrepreneurs and small business owners (Barbazon, Elkhart Truth). After visiting Muncie earlier this week and South Bend on Tuesday, Ellspermann and her team from the Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, a new state agency, checked out LaunchPad on the second floor of the Goshen Chamber of Commerce. Ellspermann told a group that gathered there that she was an at-home entrepreneur for 25 years. “I never had access to a place like this, but how appropriate it is for young entrepreneurs to be able to network together, to build those relationships and partnerships that help you grow,” she said. “This space is such a wonderful example of that.” The newly opened LaunchPad provides a space for startup companies and small businesses to get on their feet.

 

STATEHOUSE: ZOELLER LAUNCH ‘NO-CALL LAW ENFORCEMENT SUMMIT’ - Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster launched the first-ever national “No-Call Law Enforcement Summit” Tuesday (Howey Politics Indiana). Last year, the Indiana attorney general’s office received more than 14,000 Do Not Call complaints with more than 50 percent involving automated calls known as robocalls. The summit was held Tuesday in Indianapolis to help state and federal agencies identify best practices on how to stop unwanted calls and prosecute violators. “Consumers nationwide are fed up with receiving unwanted calls, and that’s why we have gathered our state and federal partners to identify solutions,” Zoeller said. “It’s important to recognize that many of these annoying calls stem from sources outside the U.S, which falls outside the states’ jurisdictions. States need assistance from the federal government, specifically the Federal Communications Commission, to do more in terms of regulating these types of calls.” Participants include representatives from more than 20 attorneys general offices, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Canadian Radio-Television Commission and others. The summit’s theme is, “Building a No-Call Case from the Ground Up,” and presenters will focus on new technologies, investigation and prosecution techniques, and interstate and federal cooperation.

 

CASINOS: NORTHWEST REGION CASINOS CONTINUE REVENUES SLIDE - Northwest Indiana’s five casinos saw a collective drop in revenue in March compared with the same month last year, marking their fourth month in a row with a year-over-year decline (Caffarini, Post-Tribune). On the positive side, the percent of the decline has gotten smaller with each month. The five casinos took in a total of $95.3 million last month, an 8.9 percent drop from the $104.3 million in revenue reported in March 2013, according to the monthly report issued Tuesday by the Indiana Gaming Commission. “On the surface, it looks like a disappointing month. But when you look at the trend over the last four months, we’re closing the gap,” Dan Nita, senior vice president and general manager of Horseshoe Hammond, said. “We’re chipping away at the shortfall we’ve experienced.” He said December’s revenue was down 18 percent from December 2012, January’s was down 17 percent year-over-year and February’s revenue slid 13 percent from a year before. “If this trend continues, I’ll feel better about the coming months,” Nita said. Comparatively, Illinois casinos in the Chicago area were down about 12 percent collectively, he said. Nita continued to blame a combination of bad weather and the weak economy for the declining revenue at the Northwest Indiana casinos.

 

CASINOS: NW REVENUE REPORT - The commission’s report says Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City had the smallest percentage decline at 3 percent, while Majestic Star II in Gary had the largest at 16.4 percent. Ameristar Casino in East Chicago took in $20.1 million in revenue last month compared with $22.8 million the previous March; Blue Chip $15 million compared with $15.6 million, Horseshoe Hammond $43.3 million compared with $47.4 million, Majestic Star I in Gary saw $9.8 million in revenue compared with $10.4 million and Majestic Star II took in $6.8 million compared with $8.1 million in March 2013.

 

EDUCATION: RITZ, SBOE TO DISCUSS NEW TEACHER EVALUATIONS - The State Board of Education on Wednesday is expected to examine the statewide teacher evaluation data released this week amid concerns that a patchwork of evaluation systems make it difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions (Weddle, Indianapolis Star). It will be the first public meeting at which Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz will have an opporuntity to address the results. The data shows that just 2 percent of educators — including teachers, counselors, principals and superintendents — needed improvement. Some experts, educators and reform advocates have questioned why so few teachers across the state were found to be ineffective. The 9 a.m. meeting is at the Indiana Government Center South auditorium. Proposed academic standards, high school remediation plans and takeover schools will also be discussed. In a statement Monday, Ritz said the data showed public schools throughout Indiana are filled with effective and highly effective teachers, yet schools that struggle have a higher percentage of educators who fall within the improvement necessary and ineffective categories. The board also is scheduled to discuss the controversial teacher licensing rules, that includes changes that would allow college graduates with a B-average to earn “adjunct” K-12 teaching licenses by passing one test, and reducing requirements for principals and superintendents.

 

EDUCATION: PURDUE HOSTING FORUM WITH 8 ASTRONAUT ALUMNI - Purdue University says free tickets are available for a forum Saturday evening among eight alumni who became astronauts (Associated Press). The astronauts expected to attend the forum are Eugene Cernan, Mark Brown, Andrew Feustel, Guy Gardner, Gary Payton, Loren Shriver, Scott Tingle and Charles Walker. A total of 23 Purdue graduates became astronauts, including the late Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon. Purdue President Mitch Daniels will moderate the 7 p.m. forum in the Elliott Hall of Music. Daniels is co-chairman of a National Research Council committee that is studying the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program.

 

EDUCATION: TAVIS SMILEY TO GET HOLLYWOOD STAR - Indiana University alumnus and Kokomo-area native Tavis Smiley is set to get a star on Hollywood’s acclaimed Walk of Fame (Associated Press). The university announced Tuesday that the late-night talk show host will be given a star April 24. Jay Leno and Larry King are set to speak during the ceremony. Smiley graduated from Maconaquah High School near Kokomo and went on to graduate with a degree from IU’s Bloomington campus. He is the host of his own late-night television show on PBS and “The Tavis Smiley Show” on Public Radio International. The broadcaster also has published several books, including the New York Times best seller “What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America.”

 

UTILITIES: REMC CHIEF CALLS FOR OPPOSITION TO EPA’S ‘WAR ON COAL’ - The Environmental Protection Agency "is trying to establish rules that will drive up costs of electricity to our homes, businesses and communities," Dennis Weiss warned a gathering Tuesday celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Kankakee Valley REMC (Laverty, NWI Times). Weiss, CEO of the rural electric cooperative, addressed the organization's annual meeting at the Porter County Expo Center, citing past successes and future obstacles. A looming challenge, or threat, is coming from environmentalists and the current governmental leadership, Weiss said. Environmental Protection Agency rules could effectively shut down coal generation plants which in Indiana are relied on for 93 percent of electricity generation. "Many refer to it as a war on coal," Weiss told some 1,200 members. The Kankakee Valley REMC is a member-owned rural electric cooperative established in 1939. "We need you, rural America to stand up and tell EPA to use some good old Midwest common sense in its rule making. ... We need you to contribute, just as those farmers did 75 years ago, we need you to contribute to the cooperative legacy," Weiss said.

 

ENVIRONMENT: INDIANA RECEIVES $17M FOR CONSERVATION PROJECTS - The state of Indiana is receiving $17 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for conservation and recreation projects (Associated Press). The money comes from excise taxes on fishermen, hunters and boaters. In recent years, funding from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program has supported restoration projects in Indiana including the Healthy Rivers Initiative, the National Archery in Schools Program, shooting ranges and public access sites for fishing and boating. Another program that could receive money from the funding is the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Go FishIN in the City program aimed at helping urban communities become connected to fishing opportunities. The program seeks to restore urban fishing sites.

 

Nation

 

WHITE HOUSE: HOLDER DEFENDS POT POLICIES - As states and cities move to liberalize marijuana laws, the administration looks at changes to federal policy and the No. 2 House Democrat reverses course on decriminalization, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. found himself in a charged congressional hearing on Tuesday (Roll Call). Pressed by members from both sides of the aisle to defend Justice Department practices in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, Holder insisted the Obama administration has not “retreated.” Holder also said the DOJ won’t scale back marijuana punishments by rescheduling the drug, as House Democrats have been pushing President Barack Obama to do, saying he was “satisfied” with what the department is doing. “The notion that somehow we have retreated from our enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act with regard to marijuana is not accurate,” Holder told the House Judiciary Committee. He reiterated a DOJ memo laying out eight areas of priority for pot prosecutions, including marketing to minors, driving under the influence and criminal cartels. “That’s not inconsistent with, I think, the way in which the Justice Department was acting before,” Holder continued in response to a question from Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C. “We remain committed to enforcement of marijuana laws that would involve those eight factors,” he added.

 

CONGRESS: RYAN BUDGET FACES GOP DEFECTIONS - More than 10 Republicans are expected to reject Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget blueprint, and many others remain undecided. House GOP leaders have expressed confidence they will pass the budget measure, but the scheduled vote on Thursday could go down to the wire. If every member votes and all Democrats — as expected — reject the Ryan plan, Republican leaders can only afford 16 defections to pass the controversial resolution. In 2013, 10 Republicans balked at Ryan’s budget resolution. But primary politics have made this vote tougher. The legislation, which calls for major Medicare reforms and $5.1 trillion in cuts, has attracted criticism from both the right and the left. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has called Ryan’s proposal “a joke,” saying it doesn’t cut enough.  Democrats say they plan to use the Ryan plan to mobilize their base voters in key races this fall. As of Tuesday, 13 GOP members appear to be “no” votes, with another nine still in play.

 

CONGRESS: ROKITA’S ‘STRENGTHENING EDUCATION RESEARCH ACT’ ADVANCES - Tuesday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a legislative markup of Rep. Rokita’s Strengthening Education through Research Act (Howey Politics Indiana). Rokita, as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, introduced the bill, along with the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY). The bill reauthorizes the Education Sciences Reform Act and makes it easier for states and school districts to access timely information on successful education practices. In addition to the passage of Rokita’s bill, the Committee also passed the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charters Act, a bill coauthored by Rokita.

 

CONGRESS: DONNELLY REQUESTS UPDATE ON MILITARY MENTAL HEALTH ASSESSMENTS - In a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, Sen. Joe Donnelly requested an update on the status of integrating enhanced mental health screening into Soldiers' annual health assessments (Howey Politics Indiana). Donnelly questioned General Raymond Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army, and General Frank Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. onnelly said, “I view the mental and behavioral fitness of our soldiers also as a readiness issue. I appreciate the Army’s leadership on implementing smart behavioral health screening policies. In particular, I want to highlight the leadership the Army has shown on implementing annual enhanced behavioral health assessments for all active duty soldiers, not just those in the deployment cycle, but for all active duty soldiers as part of their periodic health assessments."

 

CONGRESS: GREAT LAKES LAWMAKERS PUSH FOR MORE FUNDING - Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region are lobbying colleagues to continue funding a cleanup program for the inland seas (Associated Press). Forty-six House members from both parties recently sent a letter to leaders of a subcommittee that recommends spending on the environment. It requests $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The program usually gets about that much for projects dealing with threats such as toxic pollution and invasive species. President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget would cut it to $275 million. Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan says the program has done much to improve the lakes’ health and now isn’t the time to cut back. Members of the Senate’s Great Lakes task force also sent letters last week urging support for the program and others that benefit the lakes.

 

Local

 

CITIES: INDY AGREEMENT OVER FEDERAL PANHANDLER SUIT - Panhandlers will have to stick to the sidewalk under a new agreement with the city of Indianapolis that settles a federal lawsuit (Associated Press). The agreement settles a lawsuit filed last August in which panhandlers bucked Mayor Greg Ballard's high-profile effort to run them out of downtown Indianapolis. Four panhandlers represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana said city police had tried to drive them off sidewalks even though they were complying with existing ordinances. The ACLU said in its lawsuit that the crackdown violated panhandlers' First Amendment rights. Under the agreement filed in federal court Friday, begging along roadways and directed at passing motorists will not be allowed. Begging on the sidewalk is fine, as long as it's directed at pedestrians and it isn't aggressive. The city also agreed to drop or consider dismissing citations against several panhandlers. City officials had no immediate comment. Panhandling cost the city about $6.3 million in visitor spending annually, according to the mayor's office, because it turns off tourists and convention-goers.

 

CITIES: INDY HOSTING FIRE INSTRUCTORS - One of the largest conventions hosted yearly in Indianapolis has welcomed a larger crowd than in most recent years (Blair, WISH-TV). Starting on Monday, 30,000 fire service workers arrived in the city for the annual Firefighter Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) from around the world. The firefighters and instructors represented 53 nations. FDIC is the fourth most attended convention organized in Indianapolis. The overall economic impact expected for the city grew to an estimated $27 million according to information provided by the Indianapolis Fire Department. Of the attendees, 6,800 were scheduled to participate in hands on training classes at sites across the greater metro area.

 

CITIES: INDY IPS, TEACHERS DISCUSS CHARTER GROUND RULES - Indianapolis Public Schools leaders are trying to soothe the concerns of teachers over new legislation that allows the district to contract with charter companies or independent management teams to set the curriculum and hire teachers at some schools graded D or F (Weddle, Indianapolis Star). The draft of a memorandum of understanding about the law — between the School Board and Indianapolis Education Association, the union representing IPS teachers — was discussed at Tuesday's School Board operations briefing session. But association members said the law, HEA 1321, is so drastic that teachers need more promises than the few offered in the memorandum. The draft says district leaders and the association "may" meet more than once to discuss the law.

 

CITIES: INDY SWAMPED BY POTHOLE DAMAGE COMPLIANTS - The harsh winter and recent heavy rains have caused terrible problems on the roads (Milz, WTHR-TV). The city has received nearly 11,000 more pothole complaints so far this year than the same period last year, according to the Department of Public Works. The number of Tort claims for damage caused by potholes is also up dramatically, but Eyewitness News found that doesn't mean it's any easier to get reimbursed. We asked the city for a list of claims filed during the first three months of this year and for all of 2013. Documents showed the city has received 582 claims for pothole damage that occurred during the first three months of this year. That's nearly eight times the number of claims filed from January through March last year…But Eyewitness News found the odds of getting reimbursed for pothole damage is slim to none. In fact, just six of the 156 people who filed claims last year received money back and their average settlement was just over $400.

 

CITIES: INDY COUNCIL PRESIDENT PUSHING ANTI-VIOLENCE CAMPAIGN - Council President Maggie Lewis is like everyone in Indianapolis (Halvorson, WISH-TV). “I am so concerned that there’s not a value on life any more,” Lewis said. She sees the violence and wonders “what happened to ‘Every life matters’?” So, she said “we have to get back to understanding and respecting one another.” The Light of the World Christian Church offered a platform for that campaign, Tuesday night. Lewis invited concerned citizens to join police and local political leaders into small group discussions. They gathered at tables to identify problems and offer solutions…Organizers of the event said the young participants are the VIPs of the gathering.

 

CITIES: INDY ‘TEN POINT COALITION,’ PENSKE HOLDING JOB FAIR - Some Indiana ministers and a logistics firm are trying to address crime and unemployment (Corbin, WIBC). The Ten Point Coalition and Penske Logistics have teamed up for a job fair this Thursday at Barnes United Methodist Church on the city's near northwest side. The Coalition's Rev. Charles Ellis says Penske is seeking to fill about 100 manual labor-type jobs at its warehouse in Shelbyville. The jobs pay from $11 to $19 an hour. Ellis says unemployment remains a big component of the crime issue and the job fair attempts to address it. The latest figures show that so far this year, 90 percent of murder victims and suspects in Indy have prior criminal records. That's up from 75 percent from last year. Ellis says depending on the individual and circumstances, Penske will still consider those with criminal records.

 

CITIES: E-CIG USERS PETITIONING EXEMPTION FROM GREENFIELD SMOKING BAN - The debate about e-cigarettes is heating up again (WTHR-TV). There's a petition circulating in Greenfield asking that people be permitted to "vape" in restaurants. Under the current smoking ban in Hancock County, e-cigarettes are not allowed to be used inside public restaurants and businesses. "It's no different than going into a restaurant and having a pan of boiling water," said Gale Burke, of the vapor emitted by the devices. "Please don't take this away from us, we've finally found something that's helped us." Gale said vaping has stopped her from smoking cigarettes.

 

CITIES: REVAMPED HOTEL KEY TO MUNCIE MAYOR’S REVITALIZATION - The former Roberts Hotel in downtown Muncie has had more than a few lives since it was built in 1921 (Associated Press). It's been an old-school hotel, a decaying building, a reinvigorated downtown landmark after an addition was built in the 1980s and a dark and empty hulk after it closed in October 2006. But now the building looks new again. The Lofts at Roberts apartments, the result of a $17 million renovation project by Cincinnati developer Miller Valentine Group, is ready for another life. After more than a year of construction that saw the old structure gutted and 83 new apartments built, the Lofts at Roberts will reopen this month as housing for income-eligible people 55 and older. For anyone who hasn't seen the building in recent years, the difference will be startling. The familiar lobby looks much the same but has been repaired and painted. The second-floor ballroom, home to many meetings of Rotary Club and election night political gatherings, is a community room. Up through the seventh floor, the 120-plus hotel rooms are gone, replaced by 83 one- and two-bedroom apartments.

 

CITIES: CROWN POINT COUNCIL GUARDED ABOUT JAIL STAFF - The Lake County Jail's corrections staff could be growing again, even as the number of inmates shrinks (Dolan, NWI Times). Lake County Council members Tuesday debated a request by Lake Sheriff John Buncich to add 24 more corrections officers to the 197 other employees on the payroll. Two jobs are listed as vacant. If the officers are paid an average of $55,000 each in salary and benefits, the proposal would add $1.32 million to the jail's $14.2 million annual budget. "Where is the funding for this?" Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, asked. Councilman Jerome Prince, D-Gary, said they would have to find it in the same place they have had to find millions of other dollars in new Lake County Jail expenses driven by a federal mandate. The request for more corrections officers comes at a time when the average number of jail inmates has dropped to 690 this year from a high of 950 in 2007. 

 

CITIES: GOSHEN HOUSING AUTHORITY ALERTS LOCAL BOARD - Goshen Redevelopment Commission is working to correct a health concern at a home the board owns east of Shanklin Park after being cited by the Goshen Housing Authority (Barbazon, Elkhart Truth). Mark Brinson, Goshen’s community development director, told the redevelopment commission Tuesday, April 8, that the housing authority had alerted him about a concern related to lead-based paint at 617 S. Third St. The redevelopment commission owns the home, which is rented to a family that receives a voucher through the housing authority. Brinson said that most of the lead paint seems to be on the home’s porch, but the paint may have been used inside as well. Dust created by aging lead paint can be a health hazard for young children causing learning disabilities, hyperactivity and behavior problems, according to the Elkhart County Health Department.

 

CITIES: PLYMOUTH NAMES NEW CHAMBER DIRECTOR - Connie Holzwart has been in her new job only a little more than a week, but she is enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead of her (South Bend Tribune). Holzwart is the new executive director of the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, which has about 300 members and has served the community for more than 88 years. "The Chamber is vital to our community," Holzwart said. "I am thrilled to be part of it and look forward to helping our Chamber members in any way that we can."

 

COUNTIES: MASSILLAMANY PLEADS GUILTY TO DUI - A former deputy prosecutor and spokesman for former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi has pleaded guilty in a Hamilton County court to drunk driving charges made against him after he faced his third such arrest last July (Advance Indiana). Mario Massillamany, who is also the chairman of the Hamilton County Young Republicans, was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, along with a Class D felony drunk driving charge due to a prior conviction in the past five years. In 2010, Massillamany was sentenced by a Hamilton County court to 60 days in jail and his driver's license was suspended for 180 days as a result of his second drunk driving conviction. His first drunk driving arrest occurred in 2000. Massillamany is scheduled to be sentenced by Hamilton Superior Court Judge Wayne Sturtevant on May 19. A jury trial scheduled for April 10 was cancelled after Massillamany requested a change of plea hearing.

 

COUNTIES: 2014: PORTER COUNTY WON’T CUT POLL WORKERS FOR PRIMARY - The number of poll workers in Porter County for the May 6 primary election will be the same as it was for the primary two years ago, the county election board decided Tuesday (Lavalley, Post-Tribune). In a split vote, the board turned down a request by county Clerk Karen Martin, who is secretary of the board, to cut more than 120 poll workers to save money in light of an expected low voter turnout. Martin said the cutback would save the county $21,000, but board members J.J. Stankiewicz, a Democrat, and David Bengs, a Republican, voted against the idea. Fewer poll workers might inconvenience voters, Stankiewicz said, recalling a time several years ago when he was raced in a police car to polling places in Portage to deliver more ballots. It appeared that Martin was putting a price tag on votes, he said, adding that “efficiency doesn’t work with democracy.” Voter turnout during the presidential primary two years ago was 21 percent and has been as low as 17 percent for primaries in non-presidential years, Martin said.

 

COUNTIES: CHILD ABUSE CASES DECREASING IN ELKHART - While the number of child abuse cases in Elkhart County is decreasing, there is still work to be done (Pfund, Elkhart Truth). According to statistics from Child and Parent Services (CAPS) of Elkhart County, the number of child abuse cases reported in Elkhart County has dropped 37.4 percent since 2008. Statewide, the number of child abuse cases has fallen just 0.8 percent. CAPS celebrated this progress at the annual Pinwheels for Prevention Candlelight Celebration on Tuesday, April 8, at the Joy Rose Center. The event was one of several held across the state Tuesday evening by the Indiana Department of Child Services in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention month.

 

COUNTIES: ELKHART FOES OF SEWER PLANT CONTACTING WALORSKI - Foes of a planned sewage treatment plant that would discharge into Cobus Creek aren't letting up (Vandenack, Elkhart Truth). They've contacted U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder and Elkhart Community Schools leaders, among many others, hoping to drum up as much support as they can before Michigan state officials take action in the matter. They're also pounding the pavement in the neighborhoods in and around Cobus Creek, which winds south from Michigan and meanders along the west side of Elkhart County before emptying into the St. Joseph River. "Our biggest challenge right now is mobilization," Cyndy Herms, who lives with her family along the creek, said at a gathering here of neighbors last week, which drew about 100 people. The more vocal critics get about the Ontwa Township, Mich., proposal "the less attractive it becomes." Word of the sewer plant plans started trickling out to the broader public in February and organizing followed, first among the 150 or so families whose homes abut Cobus Creek, 130 in Indiana and 20 in Michigan. Efforts have expanded to neighbors further out and now, Herms, working through a group called Save Cobus Creek, said the focus is on coming up with scientific data to bolster the case that the plant's emissions would pose a danger.

 

COUNTIES: VANDERBURGH TO REPAIR PLAZA - Vanderburgh County plans to spend nearly $600,000 this year on improvement projects for the Old National Events Plaza, formerly The Centre (Evansville Courier & Press). The staff at SMG, the company that manages the plaza, presented the County Commissioners with a list last month of more than 50 items for improvement, some as small as replacing cutlery and some as large as replacing carpeting in the exhibition hall. “We approved a variety of things that the Old National Events Plaza needs to really keep it in tiptop condition,” Commissioners President Joe Kiefer said.

 

Sports

 

FORMER IU, DEPAUW, ISU BASKETBALL COACH WALTMAN DIES - Indiana University radio commentator for men’s basketball and former coach Royce Waltman died Monday at the age of 72 (Frazee, Indiana Public Media). Waltman had been battling cancer in recent years. He was an assistant coach on IU’s national championship team in 1987, before he moved to DePauw. “Coach Waltman had a great passion for the game of basketball and the players who play it. He was an incredibly fierce competitor, who always seemed to have teams whose sum was greater than their parts,” Bill Fenlon, who succeeded Waltman as DePauw’s coach in April 1992, said in a statement. “He was a demanding mentor and loyal friend to hundreds of players and coaches whose lives he touched.” Waltman coached at DePauw six years before moving on to UIndy. He also coached at Indiana State University from 1997 until 2007, when his contract was not renewed.