- Courtesy of Vistavision via Flickr Creative Commons
- I-69 progresses. The news pleases some and troubles many.
I-69 and the unfunded mandate of pavement
The state continues its aggressive push to pave through the farms and forestland of southwestern Indiana despite multiple lawsuits questioning the rationale of the current approach to the new-terrain route for I-69.
Construction is underway on several sections linking Evansville to Crane Naval Base through Daviess and Greene counties. That portion of the highway is targeted for completion by December 2012.
Bloomington continues to battle the section running through Monroe County even as state and federal officials continue to argue that locals have no right to stop the highway. Potential retribution for the city's audacity could result in the state withholding millions of dollars in federal aid for Bloomington's public bus system.
The State of Indiana and the local governments it supports could not fund the existing backlog of bridge and highway infrastructure repairs without selling 75 years of revenue rights from Indiana's northern toll road to a private company. But project proponents — in a chorus started by the Democratic governors that proceeded him and continued by the GOP's Daniels — insist the economic boost the highway offers will offset the roughly $3 billion cost, the unwelcome appropriation of private property and the environmental costs.
Other hot infrastructure news of the year included the closing of the Sherman Minton Bridge connecting New Albany and Louisville. Thousands of drivers continue to be diverted each day as engineers work toward a seven-figure bonus if they can restore structural integrity by a March deadline.
- Courtesy of Mike Soron via Flickr Creative Commons
Plundering Planned Parenthood
Hungry to be known as the most pro-life state in the country, the Indiana General Assembly passed new, stricter abortion restrictions that would also withhold federal funds from one of the state's largest healthcare providers to low-income women.
Despite restrictions already in place preventing Medicare funds from being used for abortions, HB 1210 denies any federal funds going to any facility offering abortions. Nearly 10,000 mostly low-income women rely on Planned Parenthood as their primary medical provider, many of whom are at risk of losing out on many of the other services the organization offers, including cancer screenings and health check-ups.
The bill also caps the number of weeks at which a woman can get an abortion, reducing it from 24 weeks to 20, and requires abortion providers to inform patients the fetus can feel pain.
During the deliberation process, state legislators were warned that the bill might be in violation of federal statutes and could lead to a costly court battle for the cash-starved state. But they pushed forward anyway, hoping to create the "most pro-life state in America," according to bill author Eric Turner, R-Cicero.
The warnings proved to be prophetic. In June, a federal court granted a temporary injunction preventing the law from taking effect, and the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services disapproved the measure that same month. The 7th U.S. Court of Appeals is currently weighing the case.
- Photo courtesy of Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File
- Union workers gathered outside the Indiana House chamber Tuesday where lawmakers were gathered for an Organization Day to prep for their 2012 session. The union members object to right-to-work legislation that would allow workers to opt out of paying fees to unions they don't join.
The Workforce Blues
It's been a rough year for Indiana's labor force — unemployment has consistently hovered around 9 percent, hiring has slowed to a crawl and the General Assembly is preparing to mount a full-scale offensive to pass a right-to-work bill similar to the measure passed by Wisconsin last year — and it looks like the war against workers will continue into 2012.
Gov. Mitch Daniels says the right-to-work measure, which would limit unions' abilities to require membership or collect dues, would help make Indiana more attractive to new companies. Labor advocates counter that employees' wages and working conditions would suffer. Conservatives have been laying the groundwork for passing the controversial measure throughout the year, and Daniels has said the bill will be one of his legislative priorities next year.
The biggest target in Daniels' sights this year was the powerful Indiana Teachers Union. In addition to his support of charter schools and voucher programs, Daniels sought to limit teachers' collective bargaining rights to only salary and benefits issues and would strip them of their ability to negotiate evaluation procedures and criteria. The measure passed the Republican-dominated General Assembly and was signed into law in April.
In January, NUVO highlighted the plight of security guards at Securitas in Indianapolis. Despite the pro-union, pro-social justice platform of its global parent company, local corporate officials fought against even listening to workers' complaints or requests for a living wage.
The Indianapolis Star reported on much of the labor strife, but when more than 60 Star employees were laid off in June, the news was buried deep in the paper — or as deep as the increasingly slim Star could hide it. Months later, the remaining employees launched a Save the Star campaign, hoping to highlight the obscene financial shell games played by corporate parent Gannett. The money the media Goliath saved in the thousands of laid off employees would later be funneled to departing Chief Executive Officer Craig Dubow's pockets; the failed CEO walked away with a more than $37 million severance and retirement package when he left the company earlier this year.
-Robert Annis and Rebecca Townsend contributed to this report