Archive for December, 2005

Christmas break

xmas treeMy wife and I will be on the road visiting family and taking time to enjoy the season over the next week - so I plan to take a little time off from updating.

However, I will be back after the New Year, ready to tackle the upcoming legislative session.

Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, and a Happy New Year!

1 comment December 23rd, 2005

Indiana town to destroy 15,000 trees

ashThe town of Decatur, Indiana has decided to cut down 15,000 ash trees in order to slow the spread of the emerald ash borer infestation.

The Associated Press is reporting that the estimated $1 million operation is necessary to eradicate a pocket of the insects that have appeared outside of their natural spread area – likely brought in by transported firewood. The larvae of the insects have already been estimated to have destroyed 8 to 10 million trees – mainly in Michigan, but increasingly in Indiana and Ohio.

If left unchecked, the emerald ash borer could cause the extinction of the ash tree as a species in North America.

emerald ash borer

The emerald ash borer (Agrilus Planipennis) is an invasive species that was not found on this continent before June 2002. Its natural range is eastern Russia, northern China, Japan, and Korea, but it most likely came to the US in ash wood used for stabilizing cargo in ships or for packing or crating heavy consumer products.

To help stop the spread of this insect, Indiana Michigan and Ohio have created a joint website to disseminate more information about the threat at: www.emeraldashborer.info.

Additional information is available below:

Indiana DNR Division of Entomology and Plant Pathology
Purdue Entomology Extension Inormation
National Invasive Species Council
The Global Invasive Species Initiative

1 comment December 22nd, 2005

Supercomputing grid comes to South Bend

gridThe Northwest Indiana Computational Grid is now scheduled to go online in January, thanks to $6.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Through a partnership with the University of Notre Dame, Argonne National Laboratory, and Purdue University, the grid will combine processing, storage, transmission, and visualization of complex data to be used in a wide variety of research applications.

In South Bend, Notre Dame will house a 21-foot long cluster of 580 computers downtown at Union Station by Coveleski Stadium. The cluster will be linked into the grid in cooperation with the St. Joseph Valley Metronet – the non-profit dark fiber network established in cooperation with the City of South Bend earlier this year.

The South Bend Tribune says the project, along with other recent local technology developments “represent(s) a continuing shift in the local economy away from traditional manufacturing toward a technology base.”

The Grid will be an incredible opportunity for our area, but I do not think it necessarily precludes manufacturing applications. Increased computing power and research capability will help serve to modernize our manufacturing base – not eliminate it.

Jeff Kantor, V.P for research and graduate studies at Notre Dame says the grid will dramatically increase the research infrastructure, but also cites some practical implications for the nuts-and-bolts engineering and manufacturing economy:

“The design of orthopedic devices, from an engineering perspective, is an example of where we can lead with simulation studies and computations work that will be supported through the collaboration of the grid.”

1 comment December 20th, 2005

Industrial air pollution in Indiana

air pollutionSeveral papers have run stories over the last week highlighting the dangerous levels of air pollution in our state. As reported in the Louisville Courier Journal:

The AP analyzed records from the Environmental Protection Agency, which tracked air releases reported by industrial plants to calculate health risk scores for every community across the country. The scores are based on the amount of toxic pollution released, the path the pollution takes as it spreads through the air and the danger each chemical poses to people.

The report is disturbing in its implications. Among the specific findings are:

    - Indiana ranks fourth in the nation for the health risks its residents face from exposure to industrial air pollution.
    - In Indiana, 222 census tracts in 31 counties were ranked among the nation’s worst 5 percent for air pollution-related health risks.
    - Minorities are one and a half times more likely to live in communities where air pollution leads to serious health problems.

The story says the Indiana Manufacturing Association “cautioned that air data can be misinterpreted and can be affected by human reporting errors or unrelated medical conditions.”

While it is true that some air data can be misinterpreted, it can also be a good indicator of future problems. I am attempting to address this situation in one of the bills I am introducing this year. Once I get the bill draft, I will post more about my idea and potential ways to address the problem of industrial air pollution.

Add comment December 19th, 2005

Two great headines from today’s South Bend Tribune

It seems some South Bend Tribune editors had a good time coming up with headlines today. Here are two stories I got a kick out of:

Elusive bat wounds boy, flees scene
Boy saves bat from cat’s mouth, only to be bitten in return

“A bat in the mouth of a cat was saved by Jonathon Brandy. So the bat then bit the boy, who now must undergo rabies shots.”

Woman appears out of trunk of car

“A good Samaritan who stopped to help a motorist Saturday night… received more than he bargained for when a woman got out of the closed trunk of the car… police determined the woman had stashed herself inside the man’s 2001 Ford Escort without him knowing, just so she could be with him.”

Good stuff.

Add comment December 14th, 2005

Bill filing and the legislative calendar

legislationThis weekend was the final deadline for House members to submit bills to the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) for drafting.

According to the Rules of the House (pdf), no bills (except budget bills) may be filed until they have been submitted to LSA for the purpose of checking for correct form, subject matter, etc. Once the bills are in official draft form, they can be filed with the Clerk of the House and then must be assigned by the Speaker to a committee within ten days.

The final deadline for filing bills in the House is January 10, 2005, and House Rule 109.2 limits the number of bills filed in the second regular session (the so-called “short” session) to just five per member.

Because the drafting deadline has now passed, the listing of House bills should soon start filling out.

I have submitted my drafts and they are currently being prepared for filing. As they become available, I will make updates here about each of them.

The “short” session can be difficult because all legislative work is compressed into an incredibly tight timeframe. For example, according to this year’s preliminary legislative calendar (pdf), the last day for assigning bills to House committees is January 20th, and the final day for third reading (final passage) in the House is February 2nd. That leaves only two or three weeks for all bills to be heard by committee, amended and passed in one chamber.

Hoosiers deserve a more thoughtful and deliberative process than that. We can keep a part-time citizen Legislature, and still give adequate consideration to new legislation and provide oversight of the Executive branch agencies (which is now effectively non-existent).

It might make more sense to allow committees to meet at any time throughout the year to take testimony, and allow bills to be filed year-round. The Legislature could then spend far more time hearing public input and crafting compromise legislation.

The current summer study committee structure is helpful, but most of the members are not elected representatives. The work and policy recommendations they generate can be overlooked because not enough legislators (who actually write the legislation) are involved in the process.

The General Assembly is comprised of dedicated and conscientious public servants that I am proud to serve with. However, spending time ironing out difficult points of law takes time, and the compressed nature of the legislative session does a disservice to the citizens of Indiana. Hopefully, we can make changes in the future to strengthen and improve the branch of government that is the most direct representative of the people.

4 comments December 13th, 2005

More on the Envirnonmental Crimes Task Force

Bigeastern has posted some feedback on my previous post on the Environmental Crimes Task Force:

My opinion: remediation is no more a cure for a criminal environmental offense than it is for a bank robber, and often less so. If a bank robber pays the money back (after getting caught, of course) everybody is pretty much squared up. When an industry releases carcinogenic chemicals, how do you ‘remediate’ the people who’ve been exposed? Environmental crimes are intended to act as deterrents, especially for wrongful acts that might be highly profitable and difficult to detect. I would suggest that environmental crimes are no different than any other. The mere fact the person responsible — the criminal — may have a nice home, wear a fashionable suit, and play golf at the right country club doesn’t change a thing any more than it does for any other ‘white-collar’ crime.

Let me know if you have any input on the process that you would like to share.

Add comment December 12th, 2005

Environmental Crimes Task Force – Second Meeting

toxicThe Environmental Crimes Task Force (ECTF) held its second meeting this week. As I have written about in an earlier post, the ECTF was established to review Indiana’s environmental crimes statue (IC 13-30-6-1) and make recommendations for legislation to revise it - including a set of specific statutory standards for determining criminal violations.

On the agenda for this meeting was an overview of Indiana criminal law (pdf) and a summary of how other states handle the prosecution of environmental crimes. The state-by-state prosecution summary (pdf) was prepared by task force member Gordon Durnil, whose service under President George H. W. Bush highlighted his credentials as a conservative environmentalist – an often overlooked political position.

The task force then reviewed existing criminal statutes from other states to prepare for our work on determining Indiana’s specific needs.

A substantive discussion on the consideration of criminal penalties focused on the rationales for punishment. Some members expressed the opinion that violations of mere promulgated rules should focus more on restoration of damage caused, or forfeiture of profit gained through violations of rules, as in disgorgement. Others felt that any criminal statue would necessarily deal with more serious violations that would merit more serious punishment.

Mark Stuann suggested adopting a framework for the task force’s work that would set three priorities: 1) determine who should have prosecuting authority for environmental crimes; 2) determine specific environmental crimes and their elements; and 3) determine penalties for the specific crimes.

Chairman Kenley agreed this would be a practical framework to adopt. We then discussed working it into a timetable that would result in draft legislation being ready for presentation to the Environmental Quality Service Council by late summer 2006, and a potential bill filing for the 2007 legislative session.

With the upcoming legislative session approaching, the task force will be unable to meet until Spring. The next meeting is scheduled for the end of April, with proposed meetings every month or two after that.

I have already received some constituent feedback on this process, and would be glad to obtain more. Feel free to let me know if you have something you would like to contribute to this process.

2 comments December 9th, 2005

State Representative R. “Tiny” Adams

tinyIn what has been a very difficult week for the Indiana Legislature, the House of Representatives has lost another member.

Representative Tiny Adams was another friend of mine. He was an excellent public servant, and a class act who always put his constituents first. He cared deeply for his community, and was a stalwart advocate for working men and women.

I will miss him sitting with me in the back row during caucus meetings, I will miss his passion for the people of Indiana, and I will miss his laugh.

1 comment December 8th, 2005

State Representative Jim Bottorff

jimA good friend and a great Hoosier passed away today.

State Representative Jim Botorrff, of Clark County, was an all-around great guy. He represented his constituents with passion and integrity, and treated everyone he met with respect.

My favorite part about Jim was his dry, southern Indiana humor. If I ever walked past his seat on the floor of the House with too serious a look on my face, he was sure to crack a joke that would make me laugh.

We’ll miss you Jim.

4 comments December 6th, 2005

Granger paths and regional greenways

pathThe Granger Paths project to develop a network of multi-use pedestrian/bike paths throughout the Granger area is gaining momentum. Yesterday I mailed a letter to the Indiana Department of Transportation TE program in support of Granger Paths’ application for a Transportation Enhancement grant to help fund the project.

If you live in the area and have not had a chance to view the project proposal that was developed in conjunction with Ball State University’s Landscape Architecture program, feel free to take a look at it online here (pdf).

The Granger project is just one of many multi-use path projects being developed in our community. The St. Joseph County Parks Department has been hosting a series of regional greenways charettes with local governmental and planning bodies in Indiana and Michigan. The long-term goal is to create a wide network of interconnected paths and trails that extend across the Michiana region.

A map of the potential greenways in St. Joseph county can be seen by clicking on the image below (pdf):

trails map

While a large network of greenways is still under development, there are already several existing trails in our area. Among them is the scenic East Bank Trail that runs from the East Race area in downtown South Bend up north along the St. Joseph River.

For more information on trails around the state, the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council maintains a good database of projects and routes across Indiana.

Add comment December 6th, 2005

Two more Indiana legislative blogs

It turns out that at least two other Indiana legislators have blogs of their own. Representative Steve Heim (R – Culver) and Senator David Ford (R - Hartford City) both have Blogger accounts.

Representative Heim seems to have begun posting on December 1st, and Senator Ford started back in March of this year. If anyone knows of any other Indiana legislative blogs that I have missed, please let me know.

(Thanks to Masson’s Blog and Lawmakers for pointing them out.)

1 comment December 4th, 2005

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