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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tribune-Star. May 19, 2013.

Waging the 'readiness' campaign

Almost every Hoosier who starts college intends to finish. Unfortunately, those who arrive on campus unprepared in key academic areas are far less likely to fulfill that aspiration.

The Indiana General Assembly passed one of its more logical, meaningful pieces of education legislation this spring related to college readiness. That bill, signed into law this month by Gov. Mike Pence, calls for high schools to identify and give extra help to 11th-graders at risk of failing senior-year exams or needing remedial classes once they reach college.

Unlike numerous experimental school reforms enacted in recent years by the Legislature, this law is quantifiably valid. It makes clear sense.

The legislation addresses a problem illuminated in the Indiana College Readiness Reports issued last month by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. The research showed that 32 percent of Indiana's high school graduating class of 2011 required a remedial course in college the following year. For Vigo County grads, 39 percent needed such a course. Statewide, more than 10,000 college freshmen produced by Hoosier high schools must take remedial courses.

The predicament is significant because only one in four Hoosier college students enrolled in a remedial course get their degree within six years. Even those who do graduate pay a heavier financial price. Remedial courses yield no college credits, but still carry the same tuition cost as a full-credit course.

The situation worsens at the community college level, where more than two-thirds of students require remedial English and math courses to catch up. The annual cost of postsecondary remediation to Indiana students and taxpayers, at just the community college level, is estimated at $35 million.

That uphill battle — academically, financially and time-wise — forces many students out of college. Among students nationwide seeking a two-year degree, only 9.2 percent who take remedial courses receive their associate degree in a three-year span, according to a 2011 study by Complete College America. As for four-year degree seekers who needed remediation, only 27.3 percent in the U.S. got their bachelor's within six years.

High school is the more appropriate time and place to strengthen core skills for a prospective collegian. The new law requires high schools to not only identify at-risk students, but also to provide them extra help in their senior year. In addition to college-bound students, the law also compels schools to test juniors' readiness to enter the workforce after graduation and remediate those who are deficient. It aims to reduce the number of students allowed to graduate from high school without passing grad exams.

House Education Chairman Bob Behning labeled it the "most important" education law of the 2013 session. On a positive basis, we agree.

In coming years, the Legislature needs to also be prepared to support the high schools' efforts to remediate those students with adequate staffing and resources. The burden can't simply shift from colleges back to the staff at the local high schools alone. Parents also play a prime role in their children's college readiness. A National Center for Education Statistics report tracked 25,000 U.S. students from eighth grade through 12th and found that parental involvement correlated to higher grade-point averages. Parents who encourage their child to be the first college student from the family and assist in the necessary steps toward that goal — such as filling out federal financial aid forms — have a better chance of watching that young person walk through a university commencement ceremony.

From households to the Statehouse, Hoosiers must continually assess the state's own readiness to reverse this troubling situation.

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The Indianapolis Star. May 18, 2013.

Indiana's peculiar liquor laws may drive you to drink

So a motorist in Indiana can pull up outside a package liquor store, plunk down a few bucks for a six-pack of cold beer, hop back into the car and speed off for home — or farther down the highway.

But that same motorist isn't permitted under Indiana law to walk into the grocery store next door or a convenience store across the street to purchase cold beer.

Why?

Officially, it's supposed to be about deterring potential drunk drivers and attempting to ensure that minors can't obtain alcohol illegally.

In reality, it's all about protecting a well-connected special interest — the package liquor store lobby, which has built strong financial and personal ties with key members of the Indiana General Assembly.

It's the same reason you can't buy beer (cold or otherwise), liquor or even cooking wine at a retail outlet today, or any other Sunday.

You can't because package liquor store owners fear the competition, and they have the attention (and the campaign finance account numbers) of your elected representatives in state government.

During this year's legislative session, Rep. Bill Davis, chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, refused to allow a committee vote on a bill that would have allowed Sunday alcohol sales at grocery stores and other retail shops. As The Star's Matt Tully documented, Davis received more than 80 campaign contributions ahead of the last election from companies and lobbyists linked to the sale and distribution of alcohol. Many of those donations came from the owners of liquor stores who have consistently fought Sunday sales.

Why the opposition to cold beer in the grocery aisle or a Sunday sale on bottles of wine? Liquor store owners are quite clear — they want to keep out the competition. "Allowing Sunday sales would be a slow death," Raymond Cox, owner of Elite Beverages, told The Star's Chris Sikich and Kristine Guerra. "Allowing cold beer would put us out of business overnight."

Not surprisingly, the unequal treatment under the law has now prompted a lawsuit by the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, which is seeking permission to sell customers cold beer just like the liquor store down the block. Convenience stores already can sell warm beer (and cold wine). But not beer on ice.

Which means, in short, that state government in Indiana is in the peculiar position of regulating the temperature at which beer can be sold.

Should state law be written to protect one set of businesses over the ability of others to meet consumers' demands?

Of course not.

Our laws not only need to be evenhanded but they also need to give business owners and managers enough flexibility to adapt to changing markets. In 2013, many people buy groceries on Sundays. They also often have cookouts and other gatherings (Super Bowl party, anyone?) in which they want to serve cold beer or a bottle of wine purchased at the last minute. Businesses ought be able to meet those legitimate demands without unnecessary interference by state government.

Lawmakers need to get out of the business of playing one segment of the alcohol industry against another. The ban on Sunday retail sales is long outdated. And the prohibition on cold beer sales finally should be put on ice.

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Indianapolis Business Journal. May 18, 2013.

CEOs should buy their own perks

It's no secret that CEOs of public companies make a lot of money.

And in general, they earn it: It takes talent, hard work and vision to oversee thousands of employees, answer to impatient shareholders, guard against competitive threats, and keep the trains running on time, particularly at behemoths like Eli Lilly and Co., WellPoint Inc., Cummins Inc. and Simon Property Group Inc.

To no surprise, the leaders of those four companies took home the largest paychecks among executives of publicly traded companies in Indiana last year: Former WellPoint CEO Angela Braly led with compensation of $20.5 million, followed by Simon CEO David Simon ($17.2 million), Lilly CEO John Lechleiter ($10.2 million) and Cummins CEO Thomas Linebarger ($8.8 million).

Most of the income public company executives pocketed last year came in the form of salary, bonuses stock options and restricted stock.

But way too many executive-pay dollars fall under the category of perks: extras like personal air travel, car allowances and country club memberships. At least 27 executives received more than $100,000 in "other pay."

Hoosier public company executives took home an average of $69,000 in perks over and above their salary, equity awards and bonuses. That's well above the $36,900 the average Hoosier took home in total pay in 2012.

Top executives can afford their own air travel, car payments and country club memberships. And they should pay for them.

Does the CEO of Cummins — who earned more than $8 million last year — need to use the company plane (at a cost of $54,000) for a getaway?

Could NiSource CEO Jimmy Staton, who took home $3.5 million in 2012, pay for his own financial planning and tax services? He billed the company $10,640.

Perhaps Zimmer Holdings CEO Bruno Melzi, who took home $2.7 million last year, could dig a little deeper and cover the equivalent of $2,762 per month he received for a car allowance? No word on what he drives, but it's likely nice: That kind of payment would get you about $125,000 of car if the loan term were 48 months.

To be sure, there are cases where "other pay" may be justified. Simon Property Group, for instance, provided private flight time worth $357,000 to its president and chief operating officer, Richard Sokolov, presumably to ferry him from his home in Youngstown, Ohio, to the company's headquarters in Indianapolis.

There are encouraging signs that companies are cutting back on perks: Medical supplier Hill-Rom Holdings Inc. shut down its corporate airstrip and sold its three planes.

A spokesman said the move will help the company "deliver increased shareholder value and reinvest in our business."

Good call.

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Journal & Courier, Lafayette. May 14, 2013.

What's going on in the Obama White House?

First, in the past week, the Internal Revenue Service was forced to apologize for targeting conservative political groups, spending extra time and scrutiny on their nonprofit bona fides during the 2012 campaign. President Barack Obama was properly outraged, casting blame at rungs deep down in the IRS and saying those sort of games wouldn't be tolerated.

But even as he was saying that, word spread of the U.S. Department of Justice gathering phone records for a handful of Associated Press reporters in 2012.

According to the AP's attorneys, federal agents secured subpoenas to get phone records, including home and cellphone numbers, of AP reporters working in Washington, D.C., Hartford, New York, among other places. What's behind the investigation hasn't been revealed by the Department of Justice, though attorneys for the AP say they believe it has to do with a May 2012 account of how the CIA foiled a plot to put a bomb on an airplane. Presumably, the Justice Department is interested in who is leaking confidential information.

The reach around the First Amendment by the Justice Department into the AP business is more than troubling.

As David Schultz, the AP's lawyer, put it: "This sort of activity really amounts to massive government monitoring of the actions of the press, and it really puts a dagger at the heart of AP's news-gathering activities."

Obama touted himself to America as a transparent alternative to the Bush administration, deriding exactly the sort of backroom tactics that were revealed in the past week. Right now, it appears his administration is positioning with thug tactics meant to squash any questions, whether they come from the media or from political groups with an anti-administration bent.

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