Evansville Courier & Press. June 23, 2014.
Bush, Obama showed foresight in protecting paradise in Pacific
Unless you are preternaturally geographically attuned, you are probably unaware that Baker, Jarvis and Howland islands, Johnston and Palmyra atolls and Kingman Reef are part of the United States — territories actually.
You may have heard of Wake Island because of its gallant, but ultimately unsuccessful defense against the Japanese during World War II. According to the CIA's handbook, it alone of that Pacific group is inhabited — by a rotating group of about 150 military and civilians who maintain its airfield.
And, oh yes, during the 1950s we conducted nuclear tests in the vicinity. But other than those incidents, the territories are largely forgotten. Yet these tiny specks of land are in one of the remotest parts of the Pacific and, as such, have become an almost unrivaled haven for a rich variety of marine life from sea birds to fish to marine mammals to coral reefs, a legacy of nature that is being endangered elsewhere by overfishing, dredging, and mineral and oil and natural gas exploration.
Last week, President Barack Obama used his executive authority to expand the marine sanctuary surrounding the island and atolls to 782,000 square miles and was immediately denounced by congressional Republicans for arrogant, unilateral and "imperial" abuse of executive authority, although, in fact, he has that power under a 1906 law.
Showing its persistent problem with short-term memory loss, the GOP seemed to have forgotten that the Pacific Remote Islands Marine Sanctuary was created by President George W. Bush in one of his finer moments shortly before leaving office in 2009. The original Bush sanctuary, now greatly expanded by Obama, was 87,000 square miles.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, who used the word "imperial" to describe Obama's entirely legal action, said if marine sanctuaries are to be created, they should go through Congress, dooming their designations to inaction in the current political climate. Asked by NBC's Chuck Todd if he had objected to Bush's executive designation of the marine sanctuary, Hastings lamely replied that he hadn't been a member of the committee at the time.
Rather than having acted imperially, Obama may have acted in timely fashion. The major nations are increasingly asserting aggressive claims to fishing and mineral rights in the world's oceans — in the Arctic, where the melting of the ice cap has made more of that ocean accessible and, most especially, in the South China Sea where conflicting claims to such obscure outcroppings as the Spratly Islands have come close to a military flashpoint between China and rivals like Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Bush and Obama, whatever their other failings, will likely be remembered favorably by history for their foresight in protecting that obscure, remote and ecologically important marine paradise.
News and Tribune, Jeffersonville. June 21, 2014.
New law will help time match the crime
Are you thinking about stealing a candy bar, pencil or pack of cigarettes?
If so, it's probably best to wait until July 1.
That's because Indiana has finally wised up and made a long overdue change to how it classifies certain theft offenses.
For years, someone caught shoplifting a pack of gum has potentially faced the same charge as a person who stole a car. Indiana classified those crimes as class D felonies, punishable by up to three years in prison.
Starting July 1, a provision in Indiana law drops felony theft to a misdemeanor if the stolen goods are valued at less than $750.
It's about time that change was made to the amount of time someone charged with relatively minor theft can do in jail. Correctional facilities are already overcrowded, and it makes little sense to add to that by handing down jail sentences to people committing minor thefts. Probation is a better option.
This week, retailers announced their displeasure with the change, unhappy with the $750 threshold which will take effect July 1.
"We've got a huge problem with that," Grant Monahan of the Indiana Retail Council told Maureen Hayden, Indiana Statehouse reporter, for a story published this week in the News and Tribune.
We can understand Monahan's stance. His job is to look out for the interests of his membership — Hoosier retailers.
Stealing $749 out of someone's wallet or purse is significant, as is stealing the same amount of jewelry from a store or taking an iPad or iPhone from a retailer.
It's something the Indiana General Assembly should look at when it convenes in January, and we'd support a lower limit to trigger a felony charge — perhaps $100 or $200. The state could even look at establishing several theft levels based on the value of the items stolen.
What legislators should not do is repeal the new law, because the change to the criminal code was needed.
It's wrong — and illegal — to steal, but there is a big difference between boosting a car and shoplifting a loaf of bread.
We think that's something everyone can agree on. If a crime is committed, the state should do the best job it can in making the punishment fit that crime, and this change to the criminal code was a step in that direction for Indiana.
The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne. June 19, 2014
Voters must step in on ethics rules - where lawmakers refuse to act
When do a citizen lawmaker's efforts at exerting influence become a conflict of interest? The Indiana General Assembly can't seem to figure it out, giving a pass to a legislative leader who used his position to benefit his family business. As House Speaker Pro Tem P. Eric Turner walks away from an ethics scandal unbruised and nearly $2 million richer, it's time that voters demand the higher standards legislators have failed to approve.
House Speaker Brian Bosma said this week that Turner will not be sanctioned by the House after an ethics investigation determined he did not violate current rules.
"The ethics committee completed its review, and the review was to take no action but to take a hard look at our disclosure statutes and statements, and that's what we're doing now," Bosma said Tuesday.
Turner, the speaker's second-in-command, abstained from voting in public. But he lobbied in the GOP caucus to kill a proposed moratorium on new nursing home construction. His behind-closed-door dealings angered at least one colleague, who pointed out to the members of the media that Turner was an investor in his son's nursing home development company. The moratorium, proposed by Republican Sen. Patricia Miller, threatened multiple projects planned by Mainstreet Property Group, a company owned by the lawmaker, his son and several others. The state offered $345,000 in tax credits for a Terre Haute project that Mainstreet documents show will earn Turner about $1.8 million.
If one House Republican showed character in disclosing Turner's hypocrisy, it's fair for voters to wonder why the others supported his bid to kill the nursing home moratorium.
How did the Cicero businessman convince them that their Senate colleagues were wrong about the legislation? Were the others uncomfortable with Turner's lobbying? Did he convince House members that his conflict did not compromise the integrity of the General Assembly?
We'll never know. But we can remind all legislators that the low bar Turner was able to clear is in sharp contrast to legislative standards elsewhere. His actions would not have been allowed in Kentucky, where tough standards were recently revised to become even tougher.
Lawmakers in the Bluegrass State apparently recognized that a Statehouse scandal harmed the reputations of more than the 18 lobbyists and lawmakers convicted on corruption charges. The scandal led to the creation of an independent nine-member board that oversees lawmakers and lobbyists.
With many veteran lawmakers choosing retirement, the young and inexperienced group of Indiana legislators needs to hear the lessons of Martin K. "Chip" Edwards, Phillip E. Gutman and Michael K. Phillips. Once respected leaders, each was involved in a scandal that ended his political career and harmed the reputation of the entire legislature.
As the General Assembly begins to consider tightening its rules, it needs to hear from voters. A part-time legislature served by citizen-lawmakers shouldn't serve as a cover for glaring conflicts of interest.
South Bend Tribune. June 19, 2014.
We repeat: Fix broken immigration system
Those looking to the nation's capital for much-needed action on immigration reform may be developing a serious case of whiplash.
Just within the last six months, the signs have veered between hopeful and hopeless. In February, House Speaker John Boehner all but ruled out passage of immigration legislation before the fall elections. A few months later, there was talk of reform -- not in one grand measure, but by piecemeal legislation. In a visit with the Editorial Board last month, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, expressed confidence that this was the way reform could and would be accomplished before the November elections.
In the past week, Beltway wisdom has again changed, with some pundits declaring that the primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has ended all hope of immigration reform. Of course, these same pundits never saw Cantor's defeat coming.
Amid the shifting winds in Congress, here's one thing that hasn't changed: This country's immigration system desperately needs a comprehensive overhaul. Instead, the issue has been kicked down the road time and time again, leaving states to come up with a patchwork of measures that don't offer a real solution.
As we've often said, this is a job for the federal government, not the states. So it's past time for Congress to get to work and fix a hopelessly broken system.