Bill that would regulate Indiana voting systems to ensure one-person-one-vote not seen as essential this session

As the Indiana General Assembly passes its halfway mark, several bills have not met their required milestones to get further consideration.

One of them was HB 1288, which deals with election security. It was sponsored by Representative Ryan Lauer, a Republican whose District 59 covers most of Bartholomew County, including the city of Columbus.

The bill got a mention at an early-February meeting of Monroe County’s election board, as part of county clerk Nicole Browne’s rundown of pending legislation.  It got a second look, because of its requirement that voting systems store votes “as a whole number, without the use of decimals or fractions.”

Browne told her two colleagues on the three-person board: “I don’t want anybody to be alarmed in Monroe County. We have never reported out our votes in anything but whole numbers.” Browne ventured, “So something’s going on in some other county. And I would not take that as a fire alarm in Monroe County.”

According to Lauer, the motivation behind the bill was not based on an attested problem with vote total reporting in any of Indiana’s counties. Continue reading “Bill that would regulate Indiana voting systems to ensure one-person-one-vote not seen as essential this session”

COVID-19 case numbers continue downward trend, vaccinations upward

All the relevant infection numbers for COVID-19 in Monroe County and across the state of Indiana continue their downward trend.

The IU Health and Monroe County vaccination clinics were closed on Monday and Tuesday due to the heavy snowfall, but are making up cancelled appointments.

Brian Shockney, president of IU Health’s south central region, said on Friday that IU Health’s hospitals across the state continue to see fewer COVID-19 patients.

Shockney was speaking at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders to talk about COVID-19 response. Continue reading “COVID-19 case numbers continue downward trend, vaccinations upward”

Bloomington design element requirements for residential buildings could be abolished by state legislature

A state house bill that could have a potential impact on Bloomington’s zoning code is making its way through the state house.

The mage is from an elevation from The Standard at Bloomington, a 1,000-bed student-oriented housing development that got site plan approval from the city plan commission in early February, 2021.  EIFS (Exterior Insulation Finishing System) is not allowed for residential use in some Bloomington zoning districts, but is allowed in others. Bloomington’s regulation of EIFS would be affected by HB 1114.

In early February, on an 8–5 vote, HB 1114 was passed out of the committee on government and regulatory reform.

The key sentence of HB 1114 states: “A municipality shall not regulate design elements of residential structures.”

Applying the bill’s definition of “design elements” would have an impact on the kind of design elements that appear in Bloomington’s unified development ordinance (UDO)

It would mean Bloomington could not enforce some aspects of its basic local law on land use.

If it is passed, HB 1114 could affect the upcoming debate by Bloomington’s plan commission, followed by the city council, on revisions to the citywide zoning map and amendments to its text ordinance.

HB 1114 would still need to achieve a majority in a floor vote in the house, and approval by the state senate, to become state law.

State representative Matt Pierce (D), responded to a question about the bill at a legislative update on Saturday, hosted by the League of Women Voters Bloomington-Monroe and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.

Pierce said it might have hit a “snag” because it may have encountered some opposition in the Republican caucus.

Speaking at the same legislative update on Saturday state representative Jeff Ellington (R) indicated the bill is not dead, “First to the middle of the week, there’ll probably be, I heard, maybe some amendments to make it a little less aggressive.”

Many of those who oppose the bill, like Pierce, see it as an encroachment on local government control. Those who support it, like Ellington, say it will allow more affordable housing to be built.

How could HB 1114 affect Bloomington’s upcoming local rezoning debate? Continue reading “Bloomington design element requirements for residential buildings could be abolished by state legislature”

Monroe County, Bloomington officials say: Get COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn

In the state of Indiana and Monroe County, the COVID-19 pandemic numbers continue to slide down the other side of the peaks that were climbed starting in mid- to late-October of 2020.

The most recent rolling 7-day daily averages for Indiana deaths (19), hospitalizations (1,274), confirmed positive cases(1,621) are the lowest the state has seen since mid-October. The same is true for confirmed positive cases in Monroe County (31).

Dispensing every drop of vaccine that they are allocated has become the main focus for local health officials. That’s the basic picture that emerged from Friday’s weekly news conference held by local officials on pandemic response.

Right now the main barrier to vaccinating more people is the amount of vaccine available. IU Health is currently allocated about 4,000 doses a week, and Monroe County’s clinic is getting around 800 doses a week. The current pace of full vaccinations—two doses are required—would put Monroe County at the 70-percent herd-immunity threshold around mid-November.

That’s assuming demand remains higher than the supply of vaccine. Otherwise put, that’s assuming that enough people are willing to be vaccinated. Continue reading “Monroe County, Bloomington officials say: Get COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn”

Local business experts say Monroe County jobs numbers took “big hit” from pandemic, but vaccinations could give economy a shot in the arm

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, Monroe County councilors got a briefing from local economic experts on their outlook for the coming year.

The presentation came from Carol Rogers, who’s co-director of the Indiana Business Research Center at IUPUI, and Jennifer Pearl, who’s president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation.

The current jobs growth and unemployment news is bad in Monroe County, as it is in the rest of the state.

Rogers told county councilors the local labor force numbers have slipped. The labor force figure of 69,205 in December 2020 is down 2.5 percent compared to December 2019, she said.

Out of that labor force of 69,205, in late 2020, 2,315 people were unemployed in Monroe County. That made for a 3.3-percent unemployment rate. It’s 25 percent higher than last year, Rogers said. “We’re in one of the highest unemployment scenarios that we’ve been in the county since the Great Recession,” Rogers said.

One statistic that Rogers said she’ll be tracking as a possible driver of economic recovery is the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Rogers said, “As more and more people become vaccinated, as the spread [of COVID-19] is reduced and hopefully potentially eliminated, [we hope] we’ll see [weekly unemployment] claims get down to the hundreds instead of well over 1,000.”

“The ability for [Indiana University] to constrain the virus spreading among the student population is going to have an effect on that.” Rogers said. Continue reading “Local business experts say Monroe County jobs numbers took “big hit” from pandemic, but vaccinations could give economy a shot in the arm”

COVID-19 Update: Infection trends down, local regs mostly same, audit bumps historical death counts

Across the state of Indiana and in Monroe County, COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths are trending downward.

The good downward trends have not yet led local officials to relax regulations much. The numbers in all key areas, though headed downward, are still well above spring 2020 peaks.

In Monroe County, the rolling average of 31 daily cases is down from a mid-January peak of about 80, but that rolling average is still three times higher than the spring 2020 single-day high of 11.

Monroe County’s low positivity rate (2.2 percent), combined with a decrease in per capita case counts, has put the county into the yellow category on the state’s two-metric, color-coded system.

That’s led to one relaxed requirement from the county board of health. Gathering size limits have been raised from 25 to 50, Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill said on Friday. She was speaking at the weekly press conference of local leaders about COVID-19 response.

At the press conference, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said he would be sticking with his executive order that limits gatherings to not more than 15 people inside Bloomington. Continue reading “COVID-19 Update: Infection trends down, local regs mostly same, audit bumps historical death counts”

Monroe County COVID-19 update: Vaccine distribution, infection rates show good relative trends, absolute picture still not ideal

Monroe County’s two COVID-19 vaccination clinics are able to deliver almost all of the vaccine they’re being allocated by the state of Indiana into the arms of the county’s residents.

That’s the latest word from Brian Shockney, president of IU Health’s southwest region.

Speaking at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders, Shockney said that through Jan. 27, Bloomington has dispensed 14,717 of the 16,100 doses (91 percent) that have been allocated to Monroe County. By the end of Friday, Shockney said that number would rise even higher.

Shockney said on Friday, “Bloomington’s vaccine site has been outperforming every vaccine site in the IU Health system in regards to our utilization rate.” Shockney said that reflects IU Health’s commitment to making Monroe County the first county to be immunized at a high enough rate to get out of the pandemic.

Infection numbers, deaths and hospitalization  are all trending down, across the state and in the county.

One of the key stats with a local trend in the right direction, and markedly better than elsewhere in the state, is the rolling average “all tests” positivity rate.

For Monroe County the positivity rate has now dropped to 2.9 percent. That is well below the 5-percent threshold that qualifies Monroe County for the best possible score on the state’s two-metric green-yellow-orange-red color-coding scheme.

Even though Monroe County’s numbers for vaccinations and positivity rates are good compared to stats from other places, in absolute terms the picture is still sobering. Continue reading “Monroe County COVID-19 update: Vaccine distribution, infection rates show good relative trends, absolute picture still not ideal”

Area state legislators update local residents on state budget, local income taxes, closure of capitol

At a forum hosted Saturday morning by the League of Women Voters Bloomington-Monroe and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, three state legislators gave an update after two weeks of this year’s session.

Screen shot of the Jan. 16, 2021 forum co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. Clockwise from upper right: Ann Birch (president of the LWV of Bloomington-Monroe, Matt Pierce (representing District 61 in the state house), Peggy Mayfield (representing District 60 in the state house), and Shelli Yoder (representing District 40 in the state senate.) (Image links to CATS recording of the forum)

Any partisan jostling that unfolded between the two Democrats and one Republican who attended was relatively mild.

In their opening remarks, and in their responses to the questions from the public, they covered a range of topics, including the budget, teacher pay, local income tax, and next week’s capitol closure, among others.

Matt Pierce, a Democrat representing District 61 in the state House, used his opening remarks to talk about the budget. Indiana’s legislature adopts a budget every two years, and that cycle makes 2021 a budget year.

Pierce said, “It’s interesting that the governor and his proposal seems to be focusing mostly on buildings and infrastructure.” Pierce said the Democrats would be taking a different approach from that of Republican governor Eric Holcomb.

Pierce said, “We think that particularly at a time when so many people are struggling, we should be maybe focusing the resources we have more on people—people infrastructure, human capital, and particularly those who are struggling at the bottom.”

Pierce added, “It seems like we do a very good job of stockpiling the surplus, but even when it’s raining, and you might want to use a rainy day fund, seems like we still kind of hang on to that money.”

Following Pierce was Peggy Mayfield, a Republican representing District 60 in the state house. Mayfield took up the topic of the surplus by saying, “Because Indiana has been so disciplined over the last decade…, we have money now to continue to invest in Indiana, instead of figuring out how we’re going to pay our bills coming out of this pandemic.” Continue reading “Area state legislators update local residents on state budget, local income taxes, closure of capitol”

IU Health president makes plea on COVID-19 vaccination: “Get the vaccine when your opportunity comes.”

 

Brian Shockney, who’s president of IU Health’s south central region, which includes Bloomington and Monroe County, said on Friday: “My personal and professional plea to each of you is to get the vaccine when your opportunity comes.”

Registration for vaccination appointments, which are currently limited to frontline healthcare workers and those older than 70, can be done online, or by calling 211.

Shockney followed up a few minutes later with a challenge: “I put a challenge out: Let’s be the first county to achieve herd immunity.” In ballpark numbers that would translate into 70 percent of Monroe County’s population of about 148,000, or 103,600 people.

Shockney was speaking during Friday’s weekly news conference of local leaders on COVID-19 response. Continue reading “IU Health president makes plea on COVID-19 vaccination: “Get the vaccine when your opportunity comes.””

Indiana bill on checking executive authority gets first committee hearing

Getting a first committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon was a bill that would put the state legislature in a position to have a say on extending the Indiana governor’s executive orders related to a disaster emergency.

Representative Matt Pierce asks a question during the Jan. 12, 2021 meeting of the House standing committee on rules and procedures. The image is a screen grab from the live video that the General Assembly makes available for committee hearings.

HB 1123 is one of several bills that deal with executive powers, which have been referred to the House standing committee on rules and procedures.

The bills are a reaction by legislators to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Holcomb, who is a Republican in a state where both chambers of the legislature have better than two-thirds Republican majorities, issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency on March 6, 2020. The governor has extended the executive order several times since then, in 30-day increments. The state of emergency is still in effect.

HB 1123 was authored by representative Matt Lehman, a Republican whose District 79 covers a swatch of the state that’s south of Fort Wayne.

The initial draft proposed by Lehman would prevent a governor’s order from continuing for longer than 30 days, unless the General Assembly is in session, or the governor has called for a special session of the legislature. Continue reading “Indiana bill on checking executive authority gets first committee hearing”