Editorial Roundup: Indiana

Terre Haute Tribune-Star. July 16, 2021.

Editorial: Timely moratorium for federal death penalty

Terre Haute became the stage for a misuse of the federal death penalty, a punishment long reserved as a last resort in America’s justice system.

Instead, executions morphed into a political spectacle.

A repeat of that sad chapter in history is unlikely, at least for a few years. Current U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has imposed a moratorium on federal executions while the Department of Justice reviews its policies and procedures, including the drugs used for lethal injections. That step is prudent after the events of 2020 and early 2021.

A resumption of federal executions — after a 17-year hiatus that stretched from the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies through the first three years of Donald Trump’s term — was announced on July 25, 2019, by Trump’s Attorney General William Barr. It was the morning after special counsel Robert Mueller finished his testimony before Congress on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by Trump. The announcement appeared intended to divert the public’s attention, disguised as an overdue delivery of justice to the victims’ families.

After legal challenges, a string of 13 executions in a six-month span began in July 2020, continued through President Trump’s reelection campaign against eventual winner Joe Biden, and then finally ended just days before Trump’s term concluded on Jan. 20, 2021.

All of those executions were carried out at the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex, which houses the nation’s only federal death chamber. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, Barr resisted halting the lethal injections. It turned into a coronavirus super-spreader situation, with correctional officers, traveling Bureau of Prisons execution team staff, media witnesses and inmates contracting COVID.

It was a bizarre episode. The number of executions was the most under any president since the 19th century.

No executions have been carried out since President Biden took office. The moratorium announced by Garland on Thursday included no timetable for the review, only an explanation of its purpose, The Associated Press reported.

“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely,” Garland said. “That obligation has special force in capital cases.”

The review does not prevent federal prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, nor does it stop future administrations from resuming federal executions. It does, though, give reviewers time to assess the execution protocols put in place under Barr. Specifically, they will study the drug pentobarbital, which replaced the now-hard-to-obtain three-drug mix previously used for lethal injections. Also, the reasons behind the disproportionate number of Black and minority inmates on death rows will also be rightly reviewed.

Support among Americans for the death penalty has reached historic lows, though approval still hovers near 55%, according to the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center. That growing uneasiness, the recent unseemly taint of politics inside the execution process, the methods and racial inequalities validate the timing of the moratorium.

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Columbus Republic. July 18, 2021.

Editorial: Schools should make masks optional

Tomorrow night, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. will hold a school board meeting to review its reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year.

Among the recommendations BCSC will make to the board includes not requiring students to wear masks inside the schools.

While the proposed policy isn’t popular with everyone, it’s the right call.

BCSC has consulted with both the Indiana State Department of Health and Bartholomew County Health Department in reaching its mask-less conclusion. There’s plenty of reason to believe that careful consideration went into the recommendation, as both organizations helped guide BCSC in returning to in-person classes last year.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that vaccinated students and staff above the age of 12 don’t need to wear masks inside schools, and should be at least 3 feet apart while seated.

This policy makes some sense, as those 12 and under can not yet get vaccinated, but local data also suggests that COVID-19 isn’t spreading through our community at a dangerous level; thus not necessitating masks.

In addition, parents can still tell their children to wear masks in school — the practice is still allowed.

If local COVID-19 numbers become dangerous, and there’s evidence that it’s spreading throughout the school system, BCSC can reinstate their mask policies.

In the meantime, there’s no need for the rule.

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KPC News. July 17, 2021.

Editorial: Tax refund nice, but needs still abound

Indiana’s got too much money in the bank, which means Hoosiers will be receiving some of it back.

That’s great for every taxpayer who will get some cash back next year, but at the same time, the state has plenty of unmet needs that continue to remain unmet.

An Indiana law enacted by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2012 says that if the state closes out a fiscal year with more than 12.5% of its total expenditures in reserves, it triggers an automatic refund process.

This week, we got news that’s the case at the end of this fiscal year, as Indiana ends with $3.9 billion sitting in wait.

Based on the law, half of the excess goes to stabilizing pension funds — lawmakers are saying they’ll use about $545 million to pay down teacher pensions — while the other half gets sent back to taxpayers.

Exact numbers of the individual refund won’t be known until later this year, but it’s estimated to be about $170 per taxpayer.

First, how did we get to an overflowing coffer coming out of a major pandemic?

The answer to that question seems pretty clear — big federal relief spending.

Pandemic relief money flowed into Indiana to help cover the costs for everything from supplies to tourism support to rental assistance. Congressional leaders during both the Trump administration and the Biden administration opened up the tap to flow to states.

That doesn’t just include government support, either. Stimulus dollars that flowed directly to Hoosier wallets in three separate payouts helped, too.

State Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City, noted that sales tax revenue increased sharply during this fiscal year. Sales tax only increases when people are spending and people are only spending when they have money to spend.

Yes, Indiana does maintain good fiscal policy year to year, but it’s doubtful the state would be overflowing with cash without a federal faucet pouring more dollars into the bucket.

As for the excess reserve itself, that’s a good sign that Indiana government could be doing more to address its shortcomings.

This fiscal year bumper crop may be an outlier due to the pandemic, but local lawmakers think this is not a blip and that strong annual revenue is here to stay.

If that’s the case, it’s time for our legislators to start addressing more of the state’s needs. The automatic refund triggers as a percentage of state expenditures, which either means expenditures are too low, revenue is unusually high, or both.

Teacher pay is still lackluster in Indiana. Education spending is still trailing despite recent new investments. Road grants and other infrastructure programs could do more good with more funding. Rural communities could use a significant boost in development support.

There’s a long list of needs — not wants, not some wishlist spending spree — areas where it’s been clearly demonstrated the state lags in comparison to neighbors and peers.

Indiana leaders have done a good job putting the state on a strong financial foundation. But building a foundation is only the first step toward building upward.

So while it feels nice to send back dollars that are stacking up in reserve, lawmakers should now be preparing to head back in 2023 with a plan for the next two-year budget on how to start utilizing their bigger revenue to fix areas of known fiscal deficiency.

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