Year-end Indiana stories

2012-12-30T00:00:00Z 2012-12-30T00:31:22Z Year-end Indiana storiesTimes Staff nwitimes.com
December 30, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Indiana enacts right-to-work law despite loud objections

Indiana became a right-to-work state in March after Republicans muscled the union-limiting measure through the Legislature and Gov. Mitch Daniels signed it into law.

The Statehouse was an ugly scene in the weeks leading up to the successful final vote. The governor locked out most union protesters (though later rescinded his Statehouse capacity limits), and House Democrats stalled passage by walking out of the chamber — denying the House enough members to take legislative action.

Hoosier voters punished House Democrats in the November elections, and they no longer have enough members to deny a quorum.

After voter fraud convictions, secretary of state removed

Republican Secretary of State Charlie White forfeited his office Feb. 4 after being convicted of six voter fraud-related felonies.

A jury determined White illegally voted in the wrong precinct in the 2010 Republican primary to conceal that he had moved out of the district he represented on the Fishers Town Council.

White was sentenced to one year on house arrest but is appealing his convictions. The Valparaiso University School of Law graduate is also suspended from practicing law.

Indiana Democrats claimed White’s actions meant he was never properly elected and that Vop Osili, their 2010 candidate, should be secretary of state.

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Gov. Mitch Daniels had the right to name a new secretary of state. On March 16, he picked state Sen. Connie Lawson, R-Danville.

Indiana snuffs out cigarettes in most indoor public places

With state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, proudly looking on, Gov. Mitch Daniels signed Indiana’s first statewide smoking ban into law this year.

The measure, which took effect July 1, prohibits smoking in all indoor public places except bars and taverns, casinos, cigar and hookah bars, tobacco shops and cigar manufacturers.

Smoking is also allowed in private clubs, but only in designated rooms with separate ventilation systems.

Outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels elected president — of Purdue

Gov. Mitch Daniels will become president of Purdue University when his second term as governor ends in January.

On June 21, the Purdue Board of Trustees unanimously selected the Republican as the 12th president of the six-campus university that educates some 75,000 students statewide, including more than 15,000 at two Northwest Indiana campuses.

The pick was mildly controversial, as Daniels appointed nearly the entire Purdue board that elected him university president. However, student campus protests didn’t attract many participants.

Daniels told The Times in November he plans to review the need for Purdue campuses located just 34 miles apart in Hammond and Westville.

DCS director resigns; reforms proposed by legislative group

Judge James Payne, the director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, resigned Sept. 24 amid allegations he improperly intervened in a DCS neglect case involving his grandchildren.

Payne already was under scrutiny by a General Assembly study committee reviewing DCS operations when he left his post.

The agency, created in 2005 by Gov. Mitch Daniels, has been criticized for operating a poorly run centralized child abuse hotline and not intervening quickly enough to prevent several child deaths.

The legislative panel recommended in November that DCS partially localize the child abuse hotline and make other reforms to ensure better coordination of child abuse tracking.

Region lawmakers picked to lead Indiana House Democrats

House Democrats deposed their leader, state Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, in July after he proved unwilling to share power with other caucus members.

State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, was chosen as interim leader. While House Republicans were unable to campaign directly against Bauer, their favorite punching bag, they still upped their majority to 69 members from 60.

After the elections, state Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, was picked to lead the House Democrats. Lawson is serving as his deputy.

Dick Lugar loses GOP primary; Donnelly elected to Senate

State Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeated U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, 61 percent to 39 percent, in a Tea Party-fueled May Republican primary.

The loss ended Lugar’s 36-year tenure in the U.S. Senate.

Mourdock ran against U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, in the general election. The race was neck-and-neck throughout the summer and fall until Mourdock said during an Oct. 23 debate that pregnancies caused by rape are “something that God intended to happen.”

Donnelly won the election, 50 percent to 44 percent.

Mike Pence elected governor; Bennett loses education race

The Indiana governor’s office will stay in Republican hands through 2016 after U.S. Rep. Mike Pence defeated Democrat John Gregg in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Pence ran a disciplined, on-message campaign and pledged to cut income taxes, promote family values and revive vocational education if elected.

Gregg’s folksy TV ads, featuring people and places from his hometown of Sandborn, Ind., didn’t connect with most voters, and Gregg only saw his poll numbers rise after attacking Pence’s do-nothing record in Congress.

In the race for superintendent of public instruction, Hoosiers decided enough was enough when it came to education reform and elected Indianapolis school teacher Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, over Republican incumbent Tony Bennett.

Bennett was selected to lead Florida’s schools -– an appointed position -– in December.

Hobart native is selected to lead Indiana Supreme Court

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Brent Dickson, a Hobart native, was named chief justice May 15 after the retirement of longtime Chief Justice Randall Shepard.

Dickson has served on the state’s high court since 1986. As chief justice, he heads the entire Indiana court system.

Casino industry threatened by out-of-state competition

Northwest Indiana’s casinos faced their greatest competitive threat this year after Illinois lawmakers approved legislation permitting new casinos to open in Chicago and the south suburbs.

Ironically, it was Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn who saved thousands of Indiana jobs by vetoing the measure in August, citing the lack of ethics rules for the new casinos. Illinois lawmakers have vowed to pass a new gaming bill in 2013.

Indiana casino revenue was down statewide this year due to several new casinos opening in Ohio.

Indiana closer to fully funding full-day public kindergarten

The Indiana Department of Education announced this year it has increased the amount of money for the kindergarten grant.

Kindergarten is not required in Indiana. As a result, the state has traditionally counted kindergarteners as half a student.

This year’s funding is the result of 2012 legislation spearheaded by Gov. Mitch Daniels and passed by Indiana lawmakers to guarantee $2,400 per kindergarten student for a full day, up from $1,234 last year.

Indiana now requires annual evaluation of superintendents

A new statute requires all school superintendents to be evaluated annually.

Frank Bush, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, said prior to the law's going into effect in July, there was no specific law regarding annual evaluations for superintendents.

However, most school boards placed language into the contracts requiring an annual superintendent evaluation, he said.

Crown Point Superintendent Teresa Eineman appears to be the rare superintendent in Northwest Indiana with a five-year contract -- but she has never been evaluated by the school board.

Even more students sign up for school voucher program

Enrollment in Indiana’s voucher program more than doubled in its second year, with 9,324 families signing up to participate in 2012-13.

Last year Indiana administered the largest first-year voucher program in the nation’s history, the Choice Scholarship Program, with 3,919 families participating.

Indiana’s voucher program allows students to use public dollars to send their children to nonpublic schools. Students qualify for one of two scholarship levels based on their total family income and federal free and reduced-cost lunch participation requirements.

In Lake and Porter counties, 1,022 students have taken advantage of the state voucher program during the last couple of years.

The School City of Hammond and the Gary Community School Corp. lost the most students to private schools, at 272 and 270, respectively, over the last couple of years. East Chicago rounded out the top three list with 175 students transferring to private schools.

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