Editorial Roundup: Indiana

KPC News. Sept. 26, 2021.

Editorial: Hoosiers should welcome Afghan refugees to communities

Indiana has captured part of the national spotlight following the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, playing host to more than 6,000 refugees airlifted out of the country as it fell back to Taliban control in late August/early September.

Hoosiers should not only welcome this group of people fleeing dangerous conditions in their homeland in the short-term, but embrace and hope to add them to communities across our state long-term, too.

Unfortunately some are already seeking to make these Afghans their next political football.

Some politicians were screaming at the top of their lungs a month ago that America needed to get everyone out of Afghanistan, sharing photos of overstuffed cargo planes and desperate Afghans running alongside and clinging to planes — some later falling to their deaths as the planes left the ground.

Now that the time for trying to rack up political points for a bad withdrawal from Afghanistan is over, those same political types have since turned on the very Afghans they were shouting to rescue, now stoking unfounded fears about who ended up here and playing into typical anti-Muslim tropes.

Predictable, and despicable.

Indiana should instead view the arrival of new refugees as an opportunity to bolster and improve the Hoosier state.

Ball State economist Michael Hicks, a retired Army reservist, noted the the Afghans arriving are not only America-friendly from aiding the U.S. during its 20-year mission in their homeland, but also made up of many well-educated family units.

“The Afghans now relocating to America may be the second-best educated group in history. This more resembles the European Jewish diaspora of the 1930s than any other period of immigration. Our enlightened economic self-interest should push us to welcome these families into our communities,” Hicks wrote in his recent column.

The 2020 Census showed that Indiana, like most states, lost population across most of its rural area, and you can’t have ears nowadays without hearing some employer somewhere complaining that they can’t find anyone to hire for open positions.

Afghans could also introduce new diversity into many non-diverse Hoosier landscapes and eventually establish an immigrant community that will not only grow on its own but could become a beacon long-term for other legal migration. Indiana already has immigrant communities like that in patches across the state, such as Burmese in Fort Wayne or Sikhs in central Indiana.

Even our local area has become host to a growing community, as many Arabic-speaking families live in Noble County and attend East Noble schools. Although those families draw roots from different nations, they could perhaps offer at least a compatible shared culture that might be welcoming to resettling Afghan refugees.

Surely not all of the Camp Atterbury refugee group will stay in our state, but as they go through entry procedures and vetting and get set up in America, we should welcome and support families as they start new lives in our country.

Aside from the basic humanitarian benefit of helping refugees in need, Afghans can offer economic, cultural and growth benefits to many ailing Hoosier communities in need of an injection of new people.

Northeast Indiana should welcome the assist Afghans if the opportunity presents itself.

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Columbus Republic. Sept. 25, 2021.

Editorial: One senator for county may prove beneficial

Redistricting in Indiana always comes with some give and take.

For example, lawmakers drawing proposed new Indiana House districts took District 57 entirely away from Rep. Sean Eberhart, the Shelbyville Republican whose district currently covers an eastern portion of Bartholomew County. Under the proposed maps, District 57 is moving – without Eberhart – to the southwestern Indianapolis suburbs.

The Republican map-makers still carved Bartholomew County’s House representation into three slices, just as it currently is, but with a twist. Only current Republican District 59 Rep. Ryan Lauer of Columbus is assured of continuing to represent his district, which includes most of the city and roughly the western half of Bartholomew County.

When it came to drawing the lines for Indiana’s Senate seats, which were unveiled Tuesday, there was more give-and-take for Bartholomew County. Time will tell whether the changes work to the county’s benefit.

The proposed Senate map aligns with Republican Senate leaders’ priority of keeping more counties and cities in a single district, protecting what they called “communities of interest.” That’s true at least when it comes to Bartholomew County.

Currently, county residents are divided among three senators – Eric Koch of Bedford, Chip Perfect of Lawrenceburg and Greg Walker of Columbus. Under the proposed Senate redistricting, Walker’s District 41 would take in all of Bartholomew County as well as a large chunk of Johnson County, extending north from Bartholomew County to take in Edinburgh, Franklin and extend to the southern edge of Greenwood.

So the new map would give Bartholomew County a single voice speaking for the entire county in the Senate. But it also would take away representation by a power broker in Koch, who chairs the Senate Utility Committee, and Perfect, who chairs the Commerce and Technology Committee and is the ranking member under Koch on the Utility Committee.

On the whole, though, it’s logical to argue that a hometown senator representing his home county would bring a more focused view to the Statehouse. It also makes sense that a senator’s constituents benefit when they know who their state senator is. Leaving counties undivided where possible, as was the Senate leaders’ aim, better serves the public and hopefully results in more responsive representation at the Capitol.

Walker, who has served in the Senate since 2006, chairs only the Senate Ethics Committee, which did not meet at any point in the most recent session. Nevertheless, he is popular with voters, earning nearly 67 percent of the vote when he was last re-elected in solidly Republican District 41 in 2018.

The public still has an opportunity to comment on the proposed maps, which Republican leaders hope to pass early next month.

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Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Sept. 26, 2021.

Editorial: Wetlands task force offers hope

No legislation drew as much of the general public’s attention and heat in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly as Senate Bill 389. Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the law weakening protection of wetlands over the objections of more than 100 groups, including some unexpected critics.

Representatives of Holcomb’s own environmental and natural resources agencies testified against the legislation.

But the controversy the bill generated also served to improve it. Rep. Harold Slager, R-Brookston, offered an amendment to create a wetlands task force to study the issues that prompted the legislation. Holcomb made appointments to the task force last week. Dr. Indra Frank, environmental health and water policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, is pleased with the new panel.

“I definitely feel like this is a good thing,” she said in a phone interview. “Indiana has already lost more than 85% of its original wetlands. And the remaining wetlands are critical to our water system. ... Wetlands soak up excess stormwater; they reduce flooding; they recharge groundwater; they purify water and they serve as critical habitat for wildlife in Indiana. Any given property owner or developer (is) going to be concerned just with what they want to do on their own property. So, a task force like this is essential. It brings together a full array of stakeholders who can look at the cumulative impact.”

The Indiana Builders Association played a key role in the bill’s introduction, and its current board president, Fort Wayne developer Jeff Thomas, is a member of the new task force. But the panel also includes representatives of environmental groups, such as White River Alliance.

“There are a lot of really knowledgeable people on this task force, and that does give me hope,” Frank said. “Having a developer on the task force – that’s part of having all the stakeholders present. But it also brings together a number of people who have worked on flooding issues; who’ve worked on habitat issues – who really know wetlands and wetland hydrology.”

Frank said an Aug. 30 court decision provides yet another reason for optimism.

“A federal court ruled that the Trump administration’s rule on Waters of the U.S. was damaging, and it vacated that rule,” she said. “So that sends us back to federal wetland protection that preceded 2015. That means more of Indiana’s wetlands are federally protected.”

Frank said opponents of SB 389 acknowledged a need to review and revise the state’s 18-year-old wetlands law. There are ways to make the permitting process less cumbersome and frustrating and to better protect wetlands, she said. The task force, which has until Nov. 1, 2022, to make recommendations, will look at isolated wetlands classification and how to incentivize preservation, for example.

It’s difficult to overcome the outsized influence of special interests in a legislature controlled by a supermajority party, but Indiana’s new wetlands law shows public pressure can blunt the worst effects and possibly improve worrisome public policy.

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