Editorial Roundup: Indiana

South Bend Tribune. Oct. 22, 2021.

Editorial: Partisan politics trample public health in St. Joseph County

Now we know.

After 19 months of watching the politicization of science and public health, we see what — and who — some elected officials are willing to sacrifice to score political points.

On Tuesday, the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners vetoed a bill that would have brought $3 million in federal grants for health outreach efforts to minority communities.

The bill accepting the grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously been approved by the St. Joseph County Council. Derek Dieter, a Republican, voted to veto it, as did Republican Commissioner Deb Fleming. Republican Commissioner Andy Kostielney did not support the veto.

The grant would fund eight new community health workers, adding to three current such positions, according to Health Officer Dr. Robert Einterz and Cassy White, the health department’s director of health equity, epidemiology and data.

The reason stated for rejecting a grant that would help with such critical issues as lead and blood pressure screenings, not to mention COVID-19 vaccinations and testing?

The fear that accepting the money could obligate the county to follow COVID-19 directives from the CDC.

Dieter, reading from the grant documents at the commissioners meeting, pointed to “red flag” language that would require the county to “comply with existing and/or future directives and guidance from the Secretary regarding control and spread.”

Fleming argued that the health department “should not be locked into pushing the federal CDC recommendations that they change, as far as having your vaccine mandates, your mask mandates.”

Never mind Einterz’ explanation that the county is already obligated to make such reports to the state Department of Health and Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Never mind that Einterz noted that the local health department doesn’t have to be “in lockstep” with the state or CDC in cases where “we feel it’s inappropriate.”

Such details weren’t factors in this vote, which comes a month after the Elkhart County Council voted unanimously to reject the same grant using the same reasoning. One Elkhart council member said he refused to say “that whatever the federal government tells me I have to do I have to do.”

Even if you accept that Commissioners Dieter and Fleming were driven by their concern about federal overreach, they were offered an alternative by their fellow commissioner. The county could repay the grant if it opted not to follow some future CDC guidance, said Kostielney, who allowed that he, too, was concerned about the grant language.

That compromise would have meant eight additional health workers to help address, among other things, the ongoing threat of lead poisoning in children connected to lead-based paint, specifically in older homes located in lower-income neighborhoods. The health issues associated with lead poisoning are well-documented and have been the subject of numerous Tribune articles and editorials in recent ye.

But elected officials sworn to protect the public rejected the option provided by Kostielney. We can only hope that the county council has the votes to override the commissioners’ vote.

Heidi Beidinger-Burnett, president of the health board, said she was “shocked” and “appalled” by the vote.

“Politics has invaded the space of health,” she said. “We’re playing games with the health of our community.”

Indeed, we are. But sadly, after more than a year of watching public officials abdicate their responsibilities in the name of partisan posturing in the midst of a public health crisis, we’re no longer surprised.

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Anderson Herald Bulletin. Oct. 22, 2021.

Editorial: State AG owes Shabazz an explanation or an apology

Political commentator and journalist Abdul-Hakim Shabazz was denied access to a recent news conference by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, which is troubling when no valid reason is given.

Denial of access is contrary to the very foundation of the First Amendment freedom of the press. Historically, the free press has functioned as a watchdog to the government, demanding transparency and accountability.

The press also gathers information and shares it with the public. That helps residents keep abreast of what’s going on without having to drop their responsibilities and go attend a news conference at the Statehouse.

In the past, Rokita has accused Shabazz of bias. Of course, attempts to undermine the credibility of the press in response to unfavorable coverage are nothing new, but they’ve certainly received a boost in recent years.

In fairness, journalists are not immune to bias, intentional or not. Bias is a human flaw, and journalism is performed by humans, after all.

However, bias was not cited as a reason for Shabazz’s exclusion from the news conference.

Shabazz said that the only reason given was that he was not credentialed media. Shabazz added that this is the first time he has been told that his Indiana Department of Administration press badge wasn’t enough of a credential.

According to Shabazz, he was invited to the news conference via robocall and did nothing different from his normal routine.

If the attorney general’s office has changed its standards of what media credentials are acceptable, then it should make this known to media that regularly cover such matters.

The attorney general should provide Shabazz with a valid reason for his exclusion and give a clear standard of what qualifies as credentialed media.

If he is unable to provide this information, then Rokita owes Shabazz a formal apology and should restore his access to news conferences.

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KPC News. Oct. 23, 2021.

Editorial: Diligent work on solar regulations will benefit local counties

Rules are required in order to responsibly use our land.

And it’s because of that that DeKalb and Noble county leaders should be applauded for their diligent work this year on crafting rules regarding commercial-grade solar fields.

Some companies have taken at least an initial interest in potentially leasing thousands of acres of land in order to build large-scale solar fields that would generate electricity for wholesale use with utilities. Those companies have been looking at areas in both counties, where there’s transmission infrastructure already nearby and plenty of clear, flat, sunny land to utilize.

But what the counties didn’t have were any rules regulating solar fields at that size.

A solar field covering thousands of acres and generating hundreds of megawatts of energy is very different from residential solar panels or even small fields utilized by businesses.

Big fields make big impact, so it requires big planning in order to ensure that local land and residents are protected.

Planning commissions and county leaders in both counties spent months reviewing sample ordinances, having discussions and fine-tuning the specifics on things like height requirements, setbacks and de-commissioning requirements for when the panels eventually hit the end of their life span.

They’ve thoughtfully taken both encouragement and criticism and balanced those out. There are proponents who see dollar signs in the form of lucrative land leases who are ready to go all in, and there are opponents who want the undisturbed country lifestyle and don’t want panels encroaching on their bucolic abode.

What both counties have created after months of work are regulations that adequately balance the sometimes competing desires of developers and landowners in order to not shut the door on solar fields but also try to make them as acceptable and nondisruptive as possible.

If developers do advance to build, we expect solar fields will be a positive addition to northeast Indiana.

The renewable green energy they will add to the state’s electrical portfolio will help reduce reliance on fossil fuels including coal and natural gas, which are plentiful now but ultimately finite resources that are known to emit greenhouse gases when combusted, a contributing factor to climate change.

Land leases can be a new source of income for property owners who can earn more from leasing or can collect payments without the trouble of tilling, planting and harvesting each year. With America’s farming community both aging and shrinking, turning some land — especially less productive parcels — from crops to solar will create less environmental disturbance annually and help ease the workload of many overworked farmers.

And, lastly, the multi-million dollar investment in solar panels would benefit local counties in the terms of new taxable developments, which could help reduce the tax burden on all property owners and benefit county government, townships, schools and libraries that would levy taxes off that big investment.

Solar can be a big win for northeast Indiana and, if projects ever materialize, it will be because planners were proactive now in laying the groundwork for responsible and thoughtful development in our counties.

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