The Indianapolis Star. Nov. 13, 2015.
Why LGBT rights must include public accommodation.
Like Indiana, Utah tends to be a socially conservative, Republican-dominated state. So it became national news in March when Utah's lawmakers passed an anti-discrimination bill that for the first time provided legal protections for LGBT citizens in housing and employment.
Proponents heralded the law, known as the "Utah compromise," as a groundbreaking balance of religious liberty and LGBT rights, one that, remarkably, gained support from both the Mormon Church and the American Civil Liberties Union.
If it could happen in Utah, political observers contended, it seemed to be possible anywhere. And in recent months, Gov. Mike Pence and Indiana lawmakers have eyed the Utah legislation as a potential model for our state as they consider adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Indiana's civil rights law.
But a critical element was omitted from Utah's law: public accommodation.
Indiana lawmakers can do better.
Under existing law, Indiana provides safeguards to ensure equal opportunity in education, employment, housing and public accommodation with regard to race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin or ancestry. Public accommodation is legally defined as "any establishment that caters or offers its services or facilities or goods to the general public."
That means a restaurant can't deny serving a meal to a customer because of his race. A hotel can't deny a room to a guest because of her ethnic background. A bakery can't refuse to sell a wedding cake to a couple because of their religious faith. Almost all Hoosiers would agree that such protections against discrimination are fair and reasonable.
So why then would state leaders consider extending legal protections for LGBT citizens in employment and housing but exclude public accommodation? Are we willing to say as a state that some citizens are more deserving of full protection than others? What message would it send if state leaders deemed discrimination by business owners against our LGBT friends, neighbors and family members acceptable under the law?
The most common objection to full inclusion under the law is that business owners could be forced to compromise religious beliefs by having to provide services at same-sex weddings. That concern should not be brushed aside lightly. Religious liberty is an essential value in our state and nation, one deserving of strong protections, and government should always pause before telling citizens that they must compromise core beliefs.
That's why Indiana's civil rights law has long excluded houses of worship, religious schools and clubs, and nonprofits.
Still, as important as religious liberty is, it's not an ultimate trump card that should be used to justify discrimination. Safeguards for religious convictions can, and do, exist in the civil rights law; and it would be unnecessary for lawmakers to further expand religious exemptions in the statute.
A weakened measure that eliminates public accommodation would imperil the economic growth of Central Indiana, a significant engine for the state. The region thrives from hosting large conventions and sports events, which would be at risk. Make no mistake about that.
The region also is home to major employers that must recruit and retain world-class talent, and that are committed to inclusiveness. They want all employees to feel welcome where they work and live. Excluding public accommodation would likely reignite the firestorm that scorched the state last spring with passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Nobody wants that.
Instead, the General Assembly has, in its backyard, Indy's 10-year-old ordinance that appropriately offers anti-discrimination protections while also safeguarding religious liberty concerns. Lawmakers and Gov. Pence do not need to import another state's flawed model; they can adopt a proven solution from right here in the shadow of the Capitol dome.
Indy's decade of experience shows clearly that equal rights for all can thrive side-by-side with the free exercise of religious liberty. We all can truly work and live together.
The KokomoTribune. Nov. 10, 2015.
Educators deserve more respect.
Is there a teacher shortage in Indiana?
It appears the jury is out on this one. A drop-off in the number of teaching licenses issued in the state was enough to prompt State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz to convene a panel and for a legislative study committee to examine the issue, but economists looking at the numbers are skeptical.
Right now, the student-to-teacher ratio in the state is actually lower than it was 15 years ago. However, the total number of teachers in the state has dropped by 16 percent in the past five years.
Reporter Lauren Slagter took a look at the issue in stories published on Sunday and Monday, finding that while there's no immediate crisis, industry professionals are increasingly unhappy with their careers.
Local educators cited a similar set of issues when it comes to recruiting new teachers: low pay, too much emphasis on testing, a sense of disrespect for the profession and no influence in policy decisions.
If these perceptions persist, it's not hard to imagine a future in which teaching becomes one of the least desirable professions in the nation. Why would someone headed to college set a goal of getting a job where they will feel undercompensated, unappreciated, stifled and unimportant?
For economists, the path forward is simply to raise salaries, thus making the profession more attractive. But that would address only one of the four major complaints educators have about the climate. Increasing compensation won't clear the cloud of negativity, nor will it change the atmosphere in which accountability is everything and inspiring a new generation of thinkers is put on the backburner.
The best teachers choose their careers out of a desire to make a difference in children's lives, not because the pay is so much better than in other sectors. So, when the bad parts of the job start to outweigh the good ones, teachers are forced to examine their own happiness and make a tough choice.
If the declines continue, it's possible there will be a problem in the future. It's also clear that rural school districts struggle the most to find qualified professionals to fill their open positions.
We hope state officials can see the problem for what it is. It's time to stop driving people out of the classroom and start providing quality educational experiences again.
The Bloomington Herald Times. Nov. 14, 2015.
County officials can't let huge rise in overtime pay persist.
With a change in how overtime is determined, the amount paid out to a group of county employees soared nearly out of sight.
OK, some in county government might have known this would happen, but it certainly looks as if the taxpayers were once again an afterthought as county officials determined how money would be spent. Here's what happened.
People who work in law enforcement and safety jobs don't follow the same government rules for overtime as those who work in the private sector. The stakes are high, and people can't just leave their jobs if someone can't come in. So labor laws give governments more flexibility than the typical 40-hour work week rules.
In the past, correctional officers at the Monroe County Jail were only eligible for overtime after they'd worked 171 hours in a four-week, 28-day period. That gave opportunities for shifting hours and responsibilities to manage the accumulation of overtime, but it also took its toll on employees who might be tasked with working especially long shifts out of necessity.
Officers bargained with county officials on how overtime is figured and came to a new agreement: Overtime would be paid to those who work more than 8 hours and 15 minutes in a single work day. And that, apparently, happens a lot.
The county council this week approved shifting some funds from other budgets to pay a $118,000 shortfall in the jail budget due to increased overtime payouts. A total of $145,000 has been transferred to cover the expense for the year.
Only $18,000 is in the 2016 jail budget to pay overtime; clearly, that won't be enough. And money will have to come from some other fund again.
County officials need to look at this issue and come up with a better solution than overspending so much on overtime.
Council member Lee Jones suggested hiring more jailers to reduce the need for the current staff to log so much overtime. That's a reasonable place to start. Another idea would be to back off this daily overtime opportunity to something that gives more flexibility in scheduling.
But don't just let this ride.
The Munster Times. Nov. 12, 2015
Strong commitment to education in NWI.
If there's one thing READY NWI has proven, it's the strong commitment to providing high quality education in the Region.
The organization, which focuses on preparing Northwest Indiana students for college or career, has a strong track record already. It's building on its successes with a community education summit Friday.
"Graduate to Success in Northwest Indiana," as the summit is called, is among GradNation events across the nation held in conjunction with the America's Promise Alliance, an organization founded by U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell. Today, the alliance is the nation's largest multi-sector alliance focused on the wellbeing of young people.
This summit aims to focus on working together as a region toward the big goal of having 60 percent of Northwest Indiana residents have some post-secondary credential or degree by 2025.
The importance of achieving this goal cannot be understated. One of the factors considered by business executives in determining where to locate is educational attainment. That helps those executives determine whether they will be able to get enough skilled labor to meet their needs.
Friday's event will include business and education leaders, including Indiana Commissioner of Higher Education Teresa Lubbers as keynote speaker, but it also will offer a student perspective. Even better, it's not just a series of lectures but also offers roundtable discussions to provide input and recommend actions to address student needs.
That Northwest Indiana was chosen as one of just 100 places in the nation to host this education summit says a lot about the commitment to education here, especially to making the essential connection between workforce and schooling.
This summit should be one more source of Region pride — and one more opportunity to help shape the Region's future.