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Supreme Court sides with equality for all

This time, the Supreme Court got it right on gay marriage.

The court refused Monday to hear Indiana's and four other states' request to hear appeals of federal court rulings that struck down bans on same-sex marriage.

In effect, the high court said lower courts were correct to determine there is no compelling legal reason to prevent same-sex couples from marrying. It might be disappointing for some that the Supreme Court was silent on the issue. Yet it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which the court would rule in the future that same-sex marriages should be invalidated.

Momentum and a number of lower court decisions at the state and federal levels clearly favor extending marriage rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples to same-sex ones.

The Supreme Court's tacit approval of same-sex marriage could end the issue. The only way, it appears, the high court could step in is if a federal court were to uphold a ban, thus creating a split circuit. The high court would then have the final say.

The court's refusal should also end action to amend Indiana's Constitution to include a definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

So as of today, gay marriage is legal in 30 states, with little reason to believe it won't eventually encompass the entire nation.

A battle or two on the marriage front might still be waged, but it appears the war is over. Perhaps now our Indiana lawmakers can put aside efforts to enshrine discrimination and yes, hatred, in the Indiana Constitution by defining who can and cannot marry. One wonders whether a generation or two from now, people will shake their heads in disbelief when hearing accounts of how some tried to thwart the rights of gay people.

Our lawmakers can now set aside social engineering efforts and now concentrate on closing the wealth gap that exists in Indiana by focusing on job development and upgrading the state's education system at all levels, or protecting our environment from polluters.

Same-sex marriage opponents have decried the court actions as made by liberal or rogue lower-court judges. They fail to realize it's not about an activist judiciary, it's not about religion, or "family values," or who can raise a child. What it is about is common sense and a value that is a bedrock since the nation's founding. It's about fairness and equality — for everyone.

- The (Muncie) Star Press, Oct. 9

Penny-pinching at DCS keeps money from kids

Nearly a decade has passed since Gov. Mitch Daniels created the Department of Child Services to protect children from abuse and neglect. It was and continues to be a wise move to split the agency from the behemoth Family and Social Services Administration in an effort - as we said in 2004 - to increase the state's "responsiveness and responsibility."

While much improved from its troubled beginnings under founding Director James Payne, there are clues that DCS still lacks the resources to meet its responsibility to Indiana children in need. One is the outright acknowledgment that the agency doesn't have enough caseworkers to keep track of children at risk. A lawsuit alleging DCS violated the Fair Labor Standards Act is even more alarming.

Lake County case managers Arlene Nunez and Veronica Martinez have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Hammond, claiming DCS denied them and other employees payment for overtime work. They allege the agency deducted time from weeks when they had worked more than 40 hours and shifted it to weeks they had worked fewer to avoid paying the higher rate, court records state.

The suit also alleges Nunez and Martinez were required to work through lunch hours and that on-call shifts and emergency calls prevented them from getting five hours of continuous sleep. The case managers claim they were required to spend extensive time outside regular work hours responding to emergencies, investigating calls and writing reports - work for which they receive no overtime pay.

When they complained, according to the lawsuit, they were told by supervisors, "Don't even bring it up."

Nunez is a 14-year employee; Martinez has worked for child protection services for 36 years, according to state records.

Their attorney, Adam Sedia of Dyer, said there is evidence that DCS employees in other cities may have faced similar demands. He is seeking a class-action lawsuit.

A DCS spokesman would not comment last month on the pending litigation. But before the Child Services Oversight Committee last month, Director Mary Beth Bonaventura said the agency has a 17 percent turnover among caseworkers. About 100 caseworkers have been hired in the past year and another 10 positions will be filled before year's end.

Adding to the complexity is the absence of reliable data on caseloads. State law requires case managers assigned to new cases to have responsibility for no more than 12 cases at a time because of the serious needs of the children involved. Family case managers who oversee established cases are limited to no more than 17.

Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, said during the oversight panel last month that hiring caseworkers is difficult because of low starting wages and job pressures. He said he hopes to get the agency more funding in the next biennial budget.

But funding is just one part of the equation. DCS, like most other agencies, has reverted money toward the state's $2 billion surplus. In the last fiscal year it reverted more than $4?million earmarked for child protection services; in 2013 about $3.8 million went unspent. The figures represent a small percentage of the agency's $550?million-plus budget, but it is proportionately higher than reversions by the Department of Natural Resources, veterans affairs and homeland security.

The outcry over DCS' early, stumbling steps made it clear that the public expects the state to serve children in crisis. Lawmakers answered with tougher oversight and increased funding. When it comes to reversions, DCS should take a pass and put all available resources toward responding to abuse and neglect. It can begin by making sure case managers get paid for the long and difficult hours they work.

- The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette, Oct. 8

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