Editorial Roundup:

The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. October, 17, 2020

Candidates’ stands worth seeking out

This is an election year like no other. If you voted by mail for the first time, you understand. If you’ve stood in a long line to cast your ballot early, you know that’s the case.

Our editorial board realized it last spring, when shelter-at-home orders transformed our usual primary candidate interview sessions into a series of conference calls. We endorsed candidates in the primary election, but we also determined the calls were not a good substitute for the face-to-face meetings with candidates we’ve held for many years. In addition, voters’ eagerness to cast ballots made it necessary to interview candidates early in the election cycle – too early, in some cases, to determine the issues of most concern to our readers.

For those reasons and others, The Journal Gazette will not offer candidate endorsements for the general election. It’s not a decision we arrived at easily. The newspaper has a long history of endorsing candidates, beginning with the founding of The Fort Wayne Daily Gazette as a vehicle to support the reelection of President Lincoln. While the Gazette was established as a Republican newspaper and later favored Democratic Party positions, we have been independent since 1973 and our endorsements in general election contests have always included candidates from both sides of the political aisle.

We also recognize the First Amendment rights we enjoy come with an obligation to inform readers and to encourage their civic participation. We’ve already heard from readers seeking our editorial board views on local contests.

But this extraordinary election year also differs from most others in the sense that its hyper-partisan tone has made it difficult to move past the noise to focus on issues, candidate qualifications and records, even for the down-ticket races.

That doesn’t mean there is no information available to you. The Journal Gazette’s election coverage once again includes previews of area races and candidate profiles. Our editorial board invited candidates for governor to make their case in columns published on this page. Op-eds by 3rd District Congressman Jim Banks and his Democratic challenger, Chip Coldiron, appeared Oct. 18, and we’ve published columns and letters by multiple local candidates. As always, we’ve devoted much opinion-page space to election-related letters to the editor, which we will continue to accept until noon on Oct. 26.

The League of Women Voters’ website, vote411.org, is an excellent source of information. Enter your address to view the races on your ballot and find unedited responses entered directly by the candidates.

If you can’t find information about a candidate, that’s also worth considering. Candidates unwilling to respond to a nonpartisan organization’s questionnaire or a reporter’s request for information might be candidates unwilling to answer to constituents once they are elected. Elected officials are public servants; they should be accessible and responsive.

Our editorial board will continue to follow issues affecting the state, region and city long after Nov. 3. Our hope is that our daily reporting and commentary have made you aware of issues you should consider when you vote. And we expect to return to endorsing candidates in 2022, when we’re hopeful the pandemic will be history and partisan passion has cooled.

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(Terre Haute) Tribune Star. October 16, 2020

Schools’ diligence has kept state’s bad virus news from creeping in

Vigo County approaches a pivotal day in its efforts to restore a degree of normalcy. The community takes that step with a mix of hope and trepidation.

Both emotions are necessary in this time of pandemic.

High school students who chose in-person-style education for the 2020-21 year will return to the classroom on Monday. The students had been attending every other day to reduce the class sizes and the chances of spreading COVID-19 among the teachers, staff and pupils. The resumption of five-days-a-week attendance is the last step of a phased-in plan to bring traditional students back to school in-person. Elementary and middle school students resumed five-days-a-week, in-person studies earlier this fall.

An option for full-time at-home learning continues to be available to students and families who prefer that.

A local COVID-19 task force and the Vigo County Teachers Association assisted Vigo County School Corp. leaders in developing the reentry plan. In announcing the high schoolers’ return, the school district emphasized one caveat.

The five-days-a-week attendance depends on the local schools’ continued success in limited the spread of the coronavirus.

So far, that has happened. Confirmed coronavirus cases among VCSC students, teachers and staff are occurring at a smaller rate than the rest of the county’s general population. County residents overall experienced 163 cases of COVID-19 last week, compared to six in the schools. As of Wednesday, the VCSC reported 17 active cases out of its 13,000-plus in-person students and staff.

Those statistics impress county health officials, VCSC Superintendent Rob Haworth said, but “numbers are rising in Vigo County.”

The same is true statewide. On Friday, the Indiana Department of Health reported 2,382 new cases — the highest single-day total since the pandemic emerged in March. It was also the state’s first daily total above the 2,000 mark. A total of 3,654 Hoosiers have died from the highly contagious virus.

Why are school districts experiencing lower levels of coronavirus cases than the rest of the Hoosier population? Gov. Eric Holcomb spelled it out in his COVID-19 news conference Wednesday. In a nutshell, school kids, their teachers and school staff are required to wear face masks. And they do.

“Unfortunately, we’re learning that our children are leading the way,” Holcomb said.

Thus, most cases cropping up in schools come from transmission happening elsewhere in a surrounding community. Large social gatherings or family events without social distancing or face masking are prime drivers of new infections, public health officials say. Indiana has a mask order in place, but it is essentially a recommendation.

Indiana itself is a COVID hotspot. Chicago health officials on Thursday added the Hoosier state to its restricted travel list. A two-week quarantine is required for anyone traveling into Chicago from Indiana, or any Chicagoans returning from Indiana for non-work reasons.

Think that is a Democratic state political tactic? On Wednesday, Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine imposed a similar restriction on Indiana travelers into and out of the Buckeye state.

A difficult fall and winter lies ahead nationwide. Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said large family Thanksgiving get-togethers may pose a risk of COVID-19 spread. He cautioned against such gatherings.

Under these circumstances, Indiana continues its path into an almost fully reopened economy under Stage 5 of the governor’s plan.

Through their vigilant efforts to mask up, VCSC schools and other districts are making the best of the difficult situation. A resumption of every-day in-person attendance — amid comparatively low numbers of cases — reflects that diligence. Yet, the potential for problems has not lessened. More kids and teachers will be closer together, coming to school from a less masked-up and distanced community as an uncertain season unfolds.

The kids are doing the right things. Their teachers and school workers are too. They could use some help from the rest of us.

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Kokomo Tribune. October 16, 2020

Corrections and counties

On July 1, 2014, more than 200 new laws were added to the Indiana Criminal Code. After six previous years of Statehouse proposals, study committees and debate, economics finally had caught up with the push by politicians to get tough on crime.

People who commit the most violent of crimes today are serving longer prison sentences. Fewer people who are convicted of low-level felonies are being sentenced to prison.

The result was easily foreseen: Counties are seeing huge spikes in non-violent offenders, who until recently would’ve been serving years within the Indiana Department of Correction. Now our jails are struggling to make room for local inmates and keep up with the costs to house them.

That was before COVID-19, which has killed more than 3,600 Hoosiers and infected another 140,000. Because of the virus’ effect on the economy, Ball State economist Michael Hicks predicts about a third of local governments in Indiana will face a 4% drop in tax collections.

A report from the Pew Center for the States in 2010 found Indiana’s state prison population had grown by 41% from 2000 to 2008. That was significantly higher than the 12% average for the nation as a whole in that same time period.

The Pew study put the blame on harsher sentencing and corrections policies over the past three decades.

To reverse the trend, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and a number of Indiana lawmakers proposed reforms they said would create a more precise set of drug and theft sentencing laws that would give judges more options.

They proposed strengthening community supervision by focusing resources on high-risk offenders and to reduce recidivism by increasing access to community-based substance abuse and mental health treatment.

Many of these proposals finally were adopted in 2014. But the reforms didn’t include funding to improve probation, parole and treatment programs on the county level.

Lawmakers addressed that oversight in the 2015 legislative session, providing $116 million for community corrections and increasing funding for mental health and addiction treatment by $30 million.

This past legislative session, Senate Bill 120 and House Bill 1622 would’ve raised the state’s reimbursement rate from $35 per inmate to $55. Neither made it out of committee.

Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, told his local newspaper he and his colleagues inserted into the state budget bill language that would raise the reimbursement rate to $37.50 per day this fiscal year and $40 per day in 2021.

The criminal code reforms of 2014 put the state of Indiana on the right track economically. But over the last six years, they only have pushed the expense of corrections onto counties.

They need relief. Next session, if possible.

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