Jim Shella’s Political Blog

Sen. Donnelly aims to eliminate military suicide

December 19th, 2014 at 4:56 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) fought for two years to pass a bill into law that will change the way the military deals with mental health issues.

He was inspired by a couple from Farmland, Indiana. Jeff and Barb Sexton lost their son Jacob to suicide. He killed himself while on leave from Afghanistan.

Now every member of the military will receive an annual mental health examination because of the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014.

Jacob Sexton killed himself at a movie theater in Muncie in 2009 but his problems started when he prepared to make his second deployment with National Guard.

“He wanted help,” said Jeff Sexton, “but I believe that he was afraid to speak up.”

Today Senator Joe Donnelly pointed out that Sexton was much like any young man in Indiana as he hailed the passage of a new law named after him. It will not just improve mental health treatment in the military, it will also protect the privacy of people who seek help.

“The day they passed the bill would have been Jacob’s 27th birthday,” said Jeff Sexton. “I can’t think of a better birthday present for him.”

“We need to care for their mental health the same way we care for their physiical health,” said Lisa Brattain of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “I think there’s a saying called a checkup from the neck up.”

The statistics are staggering. 475 people in the military committed suicide last year. 132 died in combat..

“I’ve talked to different units and everything and begged the guys to get help,” said Jeff Sexton. “This gives them the chance.”

Sen. Donnelly says he hopes to eliminate military suicide.

“I was asked by somebody, they said, what’s your real goal?  I said my real goal is to get it to zero.”

The Jacob Sexton Act was included in the National Defense Authorization Act.

It passed the Senate a week ago and the President signed it into law Friday afternoon


Growing economy means more state spending

December 18th, 2014 at 4:20 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The Indiana economy continues to grow and that’s good news for taxpayers. State government will have more money to spend over the next two years.

State lawmakers got a forecast of tax revenues over the next two years on Thursday. They were told to expect a gradual acceleration in the Indiana economy, a report that one key lawmaker called “moderately positive.”

Manufacturing jobs, led by the carmakers, are growing faster in Indiana than in the nation as a whole. It’s why economist Douglas Handler gave this assessment to the state budget committee.

“Better to be in Indiana,” he said, “than a lot of other states in the region.”

But there are problems here, too, and they start in the gaming industry. Gambling tax revenues fell by 16% this year, down to the 2003 level, and will continue to fall.

The problem is competition. “We continue to see the pressures,” said analyst David Reynolds, “from Illinois, Ohio and the south Michigan tribal casinos.”

It leads to a prediction that state tax revenues will grow by 2.4% in the 2016 fiscal year and by 3.2% in the 2017 fiscal year, the two years covered by the state budget that will be created in 2015.

So, while Mike Pence was celebrated a record year for economic development deals, he also guarded against a state spending spree.

“It’s important that we continue to exercise caution,” said the Republican governor.

And Democrats warned that the good economic news could quickly evaporate.

“It’s just kind of a re-run,” said Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crothersville.) “It’s kind of like watching old Batman re-runs, you know the Joker’s gonna come in there somewhere and take some away.  Who that Joker is we don’t know.”

Yet there is more money to spend.

“This revenue forecast,” said the governor, “that projects modest growth in the state’s revenues, I think, gives us the room to increase funding to education.”

The governor refused, however, to be specific about the size of the spending hike he will request.

There will also be pressure from lawmakers to address other needs, including the need to hire more caseworkers in the Department of Child Services.

And the governor will push to preserve the $2 billion state surplus.


Pence boasts of record job creation

December 18th, 2014 at 2:44 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Governor Mike Pence joined with representatives of 16 companies Thursday to declare that 2014 is a record year for economic development in Indiana.

Not everyone agrees.

No one is questioning the governor’s job creation numbers or the employment figures, but Democrats say the good news is tempered by the fact that wages in Indiana lag behind those in most other states.

Indiana ranks 39th in per capita income.

Nevertheless, the Republican governor held a Statehouse ceremony to boast that Indiana made deals this year that will lead to 25,000 new jobs and more than $4 billion in private investment.

And, the Pence administration points out that those jobs pay slightly more than the current average in Indiana.

“Indiana is on a roll and businesses around Indiana and around America know it,” Pence told the crowd.

He later told reporters that increasing state tax revenues, “should be an encouragement to every Hoosier.”

The reality is that the Indiana economy is performing better than those in surrounding states but not as well as states in other parts of the country.


Dan Coats objects to President Obama’s Cuba plan

December 17th, 2014 at 4:43 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Reaction on Capitol Hill to President Obama’s agreement to normalize relations with Cuba is mixed and Indiana Senator Dan Coats is one of the people who is speaking out against the President’s agreement with Cuba.

He expressed his concerns first on Twitter.

The Indiana Republican first welcomed the return of acused spy Alan Gross and said “I celebrate his release from imprisonment.”

But then he went on the offensive saying that “since 1961 nine Presidents… opposed normalizing relations with Cuba.”

He said the announcement is “evidence that the Obama foreign policy objective is appeasement”.. and then he tweeted that the action “rewards the Castro regime at the expense of the Cuban people.”

In a 24 Hour News 8 interview he said he relies on Florida Senator Marco Rubio for advice on this matter.

“And he said look, this is a communist dictatorship there that has oppressed the people,” said Sen. Coats. “They try to paint a nice picture but what’s going on down in Cuba still under the Castros, first Fidel and now his brother Raoul, he said is bad, bad stuff.”

Through a spokesperson Joe Donnelly took a more cautious approach.  In an email to 24 Hour News 8 Spokesperson Elizabeth Shappell said that Donnelly “will continue to review the President’s proposal… understanding that our foreign policy should always promote and protect the economic and security interests of the United States.”

As Coats did, Donnelly welcomed Alan Gross back home.


Democrats challenge Pence’s management of state government

December 16th, 2014 at 2:01 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Indiana Democrats want the governor to explain some state government management problems before the end of the year.

In particular, they would like to know the reasons for accounting problems in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

State Chairman John Zody suggested that the governor is not properly focused on his job.

“Before the governor travels off to Israel to help his Presidential ambitions he needs to be honest with Hoosiers here at the end of the year,” said Zody, “what he’s doing or not doing about the management of state government.”

Zody also wants to know how a new state government management and performance hub is creating tax savings.


Sen. Merritt says no to a run for Mayor

December 16th, 2014 at 12:31 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Republican state Senator Jim Merritt will not run for Mayor of Indianapolis in 2015.

Merritt says that it would be impossible to perform his duties as state Senator and, at the same time, do the fundraising necessary to run for Mayor.

He says it will be a $4 million race.

The Merritt decision leaves the Republicans with no candidate at the moment.

“I’ve said all along I think it’s far more important to have a great candidate than it is to rush into having a candidate at all,” said Marion County GOP Chairman Kyle Walker, “and, again, we have several folks who are considering a run.”

Walker declined to identify any of those people.

Democrat Joe Hogsett is currently the only declared candidate for mayor.


Sen. Amanda Banks swearing-in is historic

December 16th, 2014 at 12:14 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Amanda Banks took the oath of office to become a state Senator Tuesday.

It’s a historic occasion because Banks was selected to fill in for her husband, Jim, who is now serving our country in Afghanistan, a move made possible under a new law.

Amanda Banks will serve on an interim basis until Jim Banks returns following the 2015 session.

She is a Republican from Columbia City and says she will likely vote in much the same fashion that her husband would.

“We share the same conservative values so, I can’t imagine there’s not anything we’ll disagree on,” she said, “but it’ll be very small if it is.”

Jim Banks was re-elected in November and took the oath of office by Skype from Afghanistan before he took a leave of absence.


State Fair injury payments challenged

December 15th, 2014 at 4:46 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

62 people injured in the 2011 stage collapse at the State Fairgrounds accepted legal settlements from state government. Now the state court of appeals is being asked to find that the payments were distributed in an unconstitutional way.

It’s all about efforts by the state to limit the damages from the Fair collapse. The state has what’s called a cap on tort claims. That means it can’t be sued for more than $5 million for any one incident.

In the case of the State Fair collapse the legislature, in a one-time-only move, contributed an additional $6 million but lawyers for one victim say that she was still unfairly denied the ability to sue state government.

In arguments conducted at the Statehouse Monday they told a 3 judge panel that the tort claim cap that applies to individuals, $700,000, should be available to every victim.

Those lawyers represent Jordan Polet of Cincinnati whose mother Jill and older sister Jaymie were seriously injured in the state collapse. Both of them accepted settlements.

Jordan Polet rejected an offer of $1690 and her lawyers are fighting an uphill battle to win the right to sue.

“The court understands the issues,” said Polet’s attorney, Robert Peck. “It’s now in their hands.”

When asked if it would be a big precedent if he won, Peck answered, “Yes it would.”

Jordan Polet’s lawyers lost this case at the trial court level leading to the appeal. They say that her claim against the state could go as high as $100,000.


IWIR

December 12th, 2014 at 1:36 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

John Hammond is in the Republican seat today as the Indiana Week in Review panel discusses these topics:

  • The governor’s plan to visit Israel
  • Charlie White takes his case to the Appeals Court
  • Dr. Kent Brantly shares the TIME Man of the Year honor
  • HIP 2.0 approval still pending
  • David McIntosh takes over the helm at the Club for Growth
  • Indy is cited as a top 10 destination for 2015

Governor Pence headed to Israel

December 12th, 2014 at 1:13 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Mike Pence may be positioning himself to run for President and a planned trip will fuel that speculation.

Governor Pence is headed to Israel.

He’s going on a 9 day trip and his family will go along.

It’s just another move that will get him noticed well beyond Indiana.

Pence has a solid approval rating and an equally solid conservative record but he doesn’t like to talk about his political future.

“The encouragement that I receive as I travel around,” he said, “I always turn back on Hoosiers. The success of our state is all about the success of our people.”

Yet he is taking on the President in ways other governors do not.

Pence sued the Obama Administration over new clean air standards that he calls a “war on coal” and he’s also sued to reverse the President’s executive order on immigration.

“We need to fix a broken immigration system,” he said. “The way to do it is through the legislative process.”

And now he’s headed to Israel where he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government leaders.

“I consider Israel our most cherished ally,” he said, “and we received earlier this year an invitation from the Prime Minister’s office to come and to visit.”

The trip will be paid for by Christians United for Israel and the Pence family will spend Christmas in Jerusalem.

“The ability to be over there and, in a very real sense, reflect on the important relationship that the people of Indiana have had with the people of Israel for generations in this state,” said the governor, “is a great privilege for me.”

It will be the governor’s third foreign trip this year following visits to Germany and England where the governor traveled on trade missions.

And trade will also be an element of this visit. The state’s economic development team will join Governor Pence in Israel for 3 of the 9 days.