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Farm-to-table & Food Deserts: Ag Committee conducts first meeting of the year

The Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources met on Tuesday to discuss a growing number of issues related to the way Indiana’s farming, food safety, and dining cultures work together.

The emergence of what is commonly referred to as “Farm-to-Table” dining has created a number of new challenges for the state’s food industry, all of which the committee noted as a good problem to have.  Tuesday’s meeting initiated an interim-long discussion as to how to encourage this new movement while remaining vigilant and maintaining high food-safety standards.

Representatives from the Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana Egg Board, Indiana Department of Agriculture, Indiana Department of Health, and Purdue Extension Office gave testimony on the topic, along with a number of local farmers and food providers.

The committee also addressed concerns with statewide food accessibility. Presenting on the need for healthy food access and financing, State Representative Robin Shackleford (D-Indianapolis) advocated for legislation to reduce the rising number of food deserts in the state.

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Click here for an interactive map of Indiana’s food deserts.

Food deserts are known as communities that experience both low income and low access to nutritious, fresh foods. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Low Income Communities are those with a poverty rate of 20% or greater, or a median family income of 80% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) or less. A family of four making 80% of FPL has an annual income of just under $20,000.

Similarly, Low Access Communities are defined by the USDA as a community whose census tract has a population where at least 33% of people live more than one mile from a supermarket (or ten miles in a rural area).

Tying into the local foods portion of the meeting, Rep. Shackleford highlighted her proposed legislation to provide grants to projects that provide nutritious foods in under-served areas of the community. Eligible projects would include grocery stores, food cooperatives, and grocery delivery services. Currently, these programs are prevalent, but rarely deliver to areas of the community that do not have grocery stores and fresh markets available in their neighborhoods.

The committee will meet again in September to further consider proposals like Rep. Shakleford’s before making final recommendations later this fall.

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Sign on and tell Gov. Pence to fix our bridges now

The closing of a bridge along Interstate 65 near Lafayette has underscored the need to address Indiana’s burgeoning infrastructure funding crisis. The bridge over Wildcat Creek will be closed until mid-September according to officials, forcing the 24,000 vehicles that traverse the bridge daily to find alternative routes.

The bridge is one of 365 the Indiana Department of Transportation acknowledges in poor condition, a number expected to grow to 672 in a decade.

SIGN ON and tell the governor let’s invest in our future and ensure the bridges millions of Hoosiers travel across every day are safe.

CLICK for an interactive look at DCS caseloads around the state.

Dept. of Child Services failing to comply with caseload mandates in 18 of 19 regions

The Department of Child Services delivered its annual report to the State Budget Committee in Lafayette on Friday. The presentation comes amid recent developments, including an announcement that the Department would hire 113 additional family case managers to meet the rising tide of abuse and neglect among Indiana’s most vulnerable children and that the agency remains out of compliance with state law mandating caseload limits in 18 of DCS’s 19 geographical regions.

FY2015 DCS Annual Budget Committee Report>>

Struggling to meet the demand

In November 2014 DCS reported that the agency was out of compliance with state law requiring family case managers to maintain caseloads of no more than 12 investigations into child abuse and neglect and 17 ongoing cases in 18 of DCS’s 19 geographical regions. Senate Democrats have maintained that higher than legally-permitted caseloads put an unneeded burden on family case managers (FCM) already grappling with difficult responsibilities.

Since then, the agency has worked closely with Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane and members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to address concerns. Those efforts included the hiring of 100 additional case managers at the end of the 2015 legislative session and ongoing face-to-face meetings with key Department staff on needed structural reforms.

Rising reports of child abuse and neglect

The agency and its case managers continue to face mounting reports of child abuse and neglect. In 2009, DCS detailed 109,489 reports of alleged child and abuse. That number rose to 187,475 in 2013, an increase of 71 percent. In 2014, DCS’s centralized hotline received 198,684 allegations of child abuse or neglect, an increase of 5.9 percent from 2013.

Indiana Dept. of Child Services 1217 Weighted Caseload Report for SFY15

CLICK for an interactive look at DCS caseloads around the state.

CLICK for an interactive look at DCS caseloads around the state.

In their Budget Committee report, DCS officials noted that the number of investigative and ongoing cases family case managers are handling jumped dramatically. At the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, DCS had 21,891 ongoing cases compared to 17,471 at the end of FY2014, an increase of 25.2 percent.

As a result of rising caseloads and staffing shortfalls, DCS continues to fail to comply with state law in 18 of the 19 geographical regions.

Staff turnover

DCS leadership also reported an increase in negative staff turnover – the percentage of family case managers leaving the agency entirely – in FY2015. In a press conference Thursday, the Department acknowledged a negative staff turnover rate of nearly 20 percent, peaking in April 2015 at 20 percent. That’s more than an 18 percent increase in negative staff turnover from FY14 when 16.9 percent of family case managers left the Department. In exit interviews, FCMs note the top three reasons for leaving were: job pressure and work-related stress; workload (working conditions/schedule); and family circumstances.

Structural reform

To address caseloads, turnover and other structural issues raised by both Senate Democrats and confirmed in a March 2015 report from Deloitte Consulting, the Department has embarked on a number of promising reforms.

READ letter from Sen. Lanane to DCS officials requesting information on progress made toward structural reforms laid out in Deloitte report>>

For instance, DCS employees will have access to three free, confidential in-person counseling visits with a licensed therapist, per issue, per year, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those same services will extend to members of employees’ household. The Department is moving forward with other initiatives, including more thorough supervisor and technology training, a high-level point person overseeing reforms, and forward-looking hiring processes among others.

Moving forward, Senate Democrats will continue to work with DCS staff to achieve their long-term goal of making sure Hoosier children are protected.

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LANANE: DCS case worker hiring only the beginning

INDIANAPOLIS – Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) released the following statement regarding the governor’s announcement concerning the Department of Child Services (DCS).

“Today we must recognize that while this is progress, we are only now achieving the bare minimum required by law to protect children.

“Hoosiers know the minimum isn’t enough.

“There are still areas of the state where significant gaps exist, where family case managers are handling many times the number of cases legally permitted under the law.

“The unthinkable burden this circumstance places on case managers and the children and families they are charged with protecting is inexcusable.

“This is encouraging progress, but we have a long way to go.

“Ensuring that new and existing caseworkers receive the training, guidance and support they need in an environment that reduces burnout and enhances continuity is ultimately what we must achieve.

 “Senate Democrats will continue to work shoulder to shoulder with the Department of Child Services and will remain a committed legislative partner in the effort to protect our most vulnerable.

“Protecting neglected and abused children is of the highest priority. We cannot continue to pad the surplus while leaving our most vulnerable Hoosiers behind.

“This is only the beginning. The true test of the governor’s commitment comes now, over the weeks and months it will take to make the structural changes required.”

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Your Guide to the Indiana State Fair

It’s that time of year again.  The Indiana State Fair has begun as the state celebrates the Year of the Farmer.  Here is a helpful guide to make sure Hoosiers are aware of all of the new attractions and deals that the fair has to offer.

Tickets

Tickets can be purchased ahead of time online for $9 (plus a convenience charge) along with parking passes to speed up your entry, and Midway Ride bracelets that will be only $20 until August 9th. For a complete list of admission information and to purchase tickets ahead of time, click here>>

Musical Entertainment

Headlining acts include Meghan Trainer  on August 11th, along with Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias  the 13th, and Jake Owen takes over the stage for some singing and dancing on the 14th. Click here for ticket information>> For a more affordable option, the Free Stage has an extensive line-up this ear featuring acts such as the Indigo Girls, KC and the Sunshine Band, The Village People, and more.

Food and dining

It wouldn’t be the Indiana State Fair without a variety of food options ranging from typical, to wild. Each year, the fair host a contest to dub a dish the Indiana State Fair’s Signature Food. You can find this year’s winner, the Smoked Pig Patty, in the IN Pork Association’s tent.

Two-Dollar Tuesdays are also back this year, giving fair-goers the opportunity to purchase select food items for just $2 each.

Discount Days

From college students and members of the military, to days you simply need to print off a coupon, the fair’s Discount Days should help keep costs down throughout the next two weeks. For a full list of savings each day, follow this handy guide>>

This year’s fair is  shaping up to be an exciting and all inclusive experience for everyone. Don’t forget to share your experiences online via Twitter (@IndyStateFair) and Facebook using the hashtag “#YroftheFarmer.

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LANANE: Governor’s surplus politics don’t add up for every day Hoosiers

INDIANAPOLIS— Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) issued the following statement in response to the fiscal year close-out numbers released today by the state auditor’s office.

“This budget statement is about misplaced priorities.

“The governor continues to hold resources back and the effects are being felt in communities across the state.

“Good government spends tax dollars prudently with an eye toward the future and improving quality of life in communities across our state.

“The governor’s budget is devised solely to generate the largest surplus possible at the expense of other vital services.

“The goalposts on an acceptable reserve level move further and further back. The governor and his team targeted 12 percent of operating appropriations initially. That number has grown to 14 percent. The fact is, by socking away more than necessary and forcing agencies to preemptively revert, we’re shorting taxpayers and cutting corners on vital services.

“A nominally larger balance statement may look good in a press release, but it’s not filling potholes or rebuilding local roads and bridges or protecting children.

“Reversions like the $1.4 million the Indiana Department of Health was forced to make in the midst of an HIV crisis in southern Indiana and as communities continue to grapple with drug addiction have a consequential impact.

“Instead of prioritizing bipartisan issues like rebuilding local infrastructure and expanding the progress we’ve made on quality early education, the governor continues to beat the drum for more tax cuts for big business like those enacted by Republican legislative supermajorities.

“Decisions like turning down $80 million in seed money to grow the state’s early education program and penny-pinching at the Department of Child Services calls into question whether the governor’s priorities align with every day Hoosiers’.

“Governor Pence continues to embrace the surplus politics of the past. That vision prioritizes special interests ahead of Indiana communities and every day Hoosiers.”

Sen. Lanane represents Indiana Senate District 25 includes the portions of Madison and Delaware counties, including the City of Muncie and portions of the City of Anderson. For more information on Sen. Lanane, his legislative agenda or other State Senate business call 1-800-382-9467 or visit www.IN.gov/S25 .

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A photo of Sen. Tim Lanane can be downloaded at: http://www.in.gov/legislative/senate_democrats/images/headshots/Lanane.JPG

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LANANE: Chemical dumping, EPA lawsuit signal need for stronger state water quality standards

Government is about promises. It’s a social contract that allows the public sphere to provide public safety, a functioning infrastructure and public education. It is also the duty of this state government to ensure that individuals and corporations are held to similar clean air and water standards.

That is why it is so disconcerting to read the Indianapolis Star’s recent story regarding the Indianapolis International Airport’s (IIA) policy of periodically dumping de-icing chemicals into local streams and waterways under an Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) permit.

This is not an everyday occurrence at the airport, as the IIA appears to have the appropriate chemical runoff protocols and infrastructure in place to keep dangerous chemicals out of our waterways. However, over the course of the winter, liquid runoff containing de-icing chemicals are stored in large underground basins at the IIA. In the spring, those basins are tested. If the chemical levels in the basins are too high, they are siphoned into the sewer system to be treated at local wastewater treatment plants. But if the chemical levels are below levels established in the IDEM permit, the airport is allowed to release the chemical runoff into local streams and waterways.

This is unacceptable and raises the issue of how dumping de-icing chemicals could be a permitted practice. Along with the complaints of pungent odors and the disconcerting milky coloring of the water in Seerley Creek and Mars Ditch, the chemicals being released into these waterways have long-lasting effects on the fish and wildlife in the region and can be dangerous to humans as well.

The only form of recourse and enforcement that can be taken in this situation is in the hands of IDEM, as only they have the ability to review and enforce the permits issued by the department. What does this say about the efficacy of the state agency on the forefront of preventing environmental degradation? To me, it says that they are not keeping their promise.

Practices like the ones utilized at the airport in Marion County are not isolated incidents. In fact, Indiana is ranked number one in the nation for toxic releases into waterways, totaling 17 million pounds of toxic emissions into streams, rivers and the Great Lakes in 2012.

These facts demonstrate one thing: the state of Indiana must take meaningful action regarding water quality standards to ensure a more sustainable future.

While the governor’s administration may believe the EPA’s new rules clarifying and strengthening the federal Clean Water Act go too far, this incident at the IIA is an indication that the state’s rules and procedures to protect water quality may be too lax.

As policymakers, we must consider the needs on not only this generation, but those to come. If Indiana wants to achieve the quality of life that ensures the health and safety of future generations, then the state must demonstrate a genuine commitment to environmental excellence as one of its core values. Allowing unsafe and potentially toxic substances into our precious waterways has no place in that commitment.

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2015 New laws effective July 1

Key New Laws

Indiana Biennial Budget

Lawmakers signed off on the state’s $30.9 billion budget, House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1001, for the next two years. The budget increases funding for some K-12 schools and allows universities to issue bonds for specific capital projects. It increases community corrections and mental health and addiction treatment funding to help with an expected shift of the state’s prison population to local jail and mental health programs following the overhaul of the state’s criminal code. The budget also authorizes the State Budget Agency to transfer $200 million to fund Major Moves road construction projects and funds an expansion of the South Shore Rail Line in Northwest Indiana.

After pressure from Senate Democrats and the public, budget writers fully funded the Department of Child Services, enabling them to hire 100 new caseworkers tasked with investigating cases of child abuse and neglect.

The state’s budget increases school funding by $464 million – 2.2 percent and 2.5 percent in Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017, respectively. Controversially, budget writers slashed complexity index funding – money directed to schools serving high poverty and at-risk students – by $250 million and changed how poverty is measured in schools from free textbook eligibility to SNAP, TANF and foster care figures over three years. Democrats argued that to truly invest in education, we should not cut funding to schools serving high poverty students to finance the growth of other schools. The result, Democrats argued – were some schools that saw funding gains and some that did not. The budget also bumped up money allocated for students with disabilities and funds full-day kindergarten. $10 million in charter school and innovation network school grants will be available annually.

Budget writers removed the $4,800 cap on vouchers the state provides to students attending private school. That move coupled with explosive growth will see the price tag associated with the controversial program rise to nearly $175 million in 2017.

Cited as a shift in philosophy, crafters of the state’s two-year budget increased funding for community corrections to $151 million over the course of 2 years. While the governor called for additional funding in the budget to build more prisons to house low-level nonviolent offenders, Senate Democrats pointed to community corrections programs as an effective solution rehabilitating these individuals. Specifically, Senate Democrats advocated for additional funding to invest in offender mental health and addiction treatment. The state budget bill raises funding for those programs by $30 million over the course of the next two years. Studies from the National Institute of Mental Health have shown that as many as 64 percent of inmates in local prisons suffer from mental health and/or addiction issues. Senate Democrats see these programs as an investment by helping these individuals with providing treatment to ensure they are able to become contributors in society once rehabilitated.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act

One of the most controversial bills approved by Statehouse Republicans contained language that many believed would open the door to discrimination against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 101, more commonly referred to as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), garnered world-wide attention causing the legislature to revisit the topic in an effort to clarify language. The final companion proposal, SEA 50, stated that an individual or business cannot refuse services, goods, employment or housing to a person “on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.”

Drafters of the new RFRA language claim it will ensure that the law cannot be used as a defense for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, Democrats called for a full repeal of RFRA while simultaneously adding lasting protections for the LGBT community into the state’s civil rights laws.

Democrats noted the RFRA debate exposed Indiana’s civil right protections as being embarrassingly deficient. Under current Indiana law, it is lawful to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity unless those people are protected by local ordinances. Senate Democrats have committed to making statewide protection for all Hoosiers their number one priority when the legislature reconvenes next year.

State Board of Education changes

Lawmakers approved controversial legislation that postpones the removal of Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz as the chair of the State Board of Education until 2017. She faces reelection in 2016. The new law, SEA 1, awards the governor eight board appointees. Six must have educational experience and no more than five may be of the same political party. The House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore each appoint one member to the board, for a total of eleven members. The four-year board appointments were made June 1, 2015 and a new chairperson will be elected annually. In a controversial last minute move, Republicans required the Department of Education to share confidential student data with the State Board of Education and its expanded staff.

Repeal of the Common Construction Wage

Senate Democrats also fought to maintain the state’s common construction wage, a law that has effectively set wages on public construction projects for 80 years. To achieve the 20 percent savings proponents of repealing the common construction wage claimed, skilled local workers would have to work for virtually nothing. At a time when Hoosier incomes lag the rest of the nation, Senate Democrats repeatedly noted we should be working to raise wages, not lower them. Unfortunately, Statehouse Republicans repealed the common construction wage law under HEA 1019, effectively lowering wages for thousands of working Hoosier families.

Move over to allow vehicles to pass

A new Indiana law requires motorists to move over to allow overtaking vehicles to pass. Failure to move over and allow vehicles to pass could result in a Class C infraction and up to $500 fine at the officer’s discretion. Proponents believed the law would help preserve the left lane for passing while opponents contend it allows Hoosier motorists to be ticketed while potentially driving the speed limit.

Continue reading

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Stars, stripes and safety

Cookouts, bonfires, family gatherings, parades and of course fireworks commemorating America’s Independence Day always provide great summer memories for Hoosier families. The Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus would like to wish everyone a happy and safe Fourth of July. While you’re having fun celebrating, it is important to remember some tips to ensure a weekend free of cuts, scrapes, burns and unnecessary hospital visits.

Safety tips courtesy of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security

  • Never let children handle, play with, or light any fireworks without adult supervision.
    •Store fireworks in a cool, dry place away from the reach of children.
    •Use a clear, open area and keep the audience a safe distance from the shooting site.
    •Do not attempt to make or alter any fireworks device.
    •Only purchase and light 1.4G consumer fireworks. Examples include bottle rockets, roman candles and fire crackers.
    •Only light one firework item at a time and never attempt to re-light or fix a “dud” firework.
    •Have a fire extinguisher, water supply, hose, or bucket of water nearby.
    •Use extreme caution when lighting fireworks in the wind. Keep spectators where the wind is blowing away from them.
    •Never smoke or drink alcoholic beverages while handling fireworks.
    •Never aim, point, or throw fireworks at another person.
    •Sparklers burn at extremely hot temperatures from 1200 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Glow sticks make an excellent, safer alternative to sparklers, especially for young children.
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Op-Ed by Sen. Tallian: Four reasons the governor has it wrong on clean air and the Hoosier economy

Recently, the Pence Administration issued a letter to the Obama Administration, threatening that Indiana will not abide by the Environmental Protection Agency’s updated rules under the Clean Power Plan. Governor Pence also issued a statement denouncing those policies. I believe the governor is wrong, both in his underlying philosophy and in his response to the federal plan.

#1 “Sky is falling” mentality
Americans heard this same kind of nay-saying when we passed the original Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act more than 40 years ago: “The sky is falling and it’s going to be too costly, and devastating to business and manufacturing.”

Those predictions never came to pass.

Instead, the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act may be two of the most productive, socially beneficial, and job producing pieces of legislation in the 20th century. They have saved our nation and our lonely planet.

The governor’s position shows no vision for the number of jobs and innovation that might occur if we look forward to new energy policies. Consider the efforts of the Blue-Green Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmentalists who have come together to promote good jobs, good environment, and a green economy. We could create a stronger, more innovative economy if Indiana’s leaders were not merely obstinate.

#2 File a lawsuit first approach
Indiana, again, was one of a few states to file a lawsuit against the federal government on this issue. This was recently dismissed by the courts as being premature.

This administration – chiefly Governor Pence and Attorney General Zoeller – have shown that their first response to federal policy is to file a lawsuit. Look at the wasted public money spent on the challenges to the health insurance subsidies. This administration has shown that they are willing to take Indiana‘s citizens to the Supreme Court in order to make political hay, even when it harms Hoosiers. Their reaction to these proposed standards is about adopting an extremist position in order to challenge their mainstream political opponents, and they have done it repeatedly. This is not a methodology for problem-solving.

#3: Reliance on fear mongering
The Governor’s statement adamantly threatens that these proposed rules will “force the premature retirement of existing coal plants” and kill Indiana’s coal industry.

This kind of talk is blatant political-speak, pandering to Indiana’s coal industry. He suggests that we have 26,000 coal-related jobs in Indiana; however, the Department of Natural Resources’ website indicates 2,500-3,500 jobs in 24 active operations in 10 southwestern counties. He also enacts this tactic by suggesting that Indiana’s energy prices will skyrocket.

The truth is that the proposed standards only set goals and options for how to get achieve outcomes. Indiana has the ability to come up with our own plan, using any or all of the many available options.

#4: Refusal to accept science as fact
An ever-diminishing number of the extremist right still refuse to acknowledge that climate change, smog, and pollution are man-made. Incredibly, the governor’s statement explicitly puts him among that group.

But the rest of the world has already come to different conclusions. Look at China and India today. Recall what it was like to drive through Gary, Indiana or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1960’s. Or watch the Cuyahoga River on fire. The rest of the world acknowledges what is happening.

These are the same people who wanted to teach Creationism a couple of years ago. Are we finished listening to them?

Leaders find solutions that help to advance our state. Clean air and economic vitality can coexist. The governor’s unwillingness to break away from his “world is flat” mentality solves nothing and traps Indiana in the past.

Sen. Tallian represents Senate District 4 which encompasses portions of northern Porter County and Michigan, Coolspring and New Durham townships in LaPorte County. For more information on Sen. Tallian, her legislative agenda or other State Senate business call 1-800-382-9467 or visit www.IN.gov/s4.

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