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May 29, 2013

THEIR OPINION: May 30, 2013

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers, distributed by The Associated Press.

Pass shield law to stop intrusion

If members of the U.S. House and Senate are truly serious about cracking down brazen efforts by the U.S. Justice Department to intimidate news reporters by seeking their telecommunications with sources, they will follow the advice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and pass a federal shield law. Pence, when he was still a congressman, championed legislation to protect reporters from revealing their sources. Unfortunately, his bill passed the House, but failed in the Senate.

The proposed shield law found new life recently when it was disclosed that the U.S. Justice Department obtained phone records for 20 Associated Press and Fox News reporters. Also, they have labeled one journalist a co-conspirator for allegedly releasing security information.

In brief, this seems an effort by Attorney General Eric Holder’s department to intimidate journalists from doing their jobs.

Most states have shield laws to protect reporters, but not the federal government.

Pence said the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press.

A shield law by itself will not solve the issues of the Obama administration overstepping its bounds, but it is a start. But the most direct way right now to tell the Justice Department we will not tolerate its intrusion into the rights of a free press is to pass a federal shield law, now.

— Evansville Courier & Press

Brakes on reform

If you thought efforts to consolidate local government had slowed down in the recent legislative session, you would be wrong. The legislators stopped their progress and made consolidation harder.

Senate Enrolled Act 343 requires a consolidation proposal to be separately approved by voters in each jurisdiction, rather than in a single election. Opponents of an unsuccessful 2012 effort to merge local government in Evansville and Vanderburgh County joined Gov. Mike Pence in the bill-signing ceremony this month, celebrating passage of a law that will likely ward off the next effort to deliver services more efficiently in southwest Indiana, in northeast Indiana or anywhere else.

The fact that the Vanderburgh opponents won their fight by a 2-to-1 margin last year is evidence the legislation was unnecessary. The next consolidation effort will face almost insurmountable odds, regardless of its merit.

Under a provision pushed by the Vanderburgh County Farm Bureau, a merger of city and county government would require county residents living outside of the city to constitute one voting group and county residents within the city another. City residents, who pay both city and county taxes, essentially would be denied a vote as county residents.

Mark Lawrance, senior vice president for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said the process for consolidating township and county government, established in 2006, already was difficult to implement. Since the law went into effect, only three mergers have been approved. He said S.B. 343 was pushed in the last session as a tool for reorganization when, in fact, it will make it more difficult.

An effort to change the structure of county government in Allen County also was blocked in the last session. Senate Bill 475, made specific to Allen County after objections were raised by county officials statewide, would have allowed the county commissioners to adopt an ordinance to change the executive and legislative structure of county government, with approval of a majority of voters. It would have created a single county executive and a seven-member council with legislative duties.

The House voted to send the issue to a summer study committee.

“I think it’s totally unnecessary to study this further,” Lawrance said. “This issue has been studied time and again. We think what the legislature is almost saying is, we want county government the way we have it right now — we don’t want counties to have the option to try another way of organizing.”

The new law is a disappointing hurdle to local government reorganization. Since the Kernan-Shepherd local government reorganization recommendations were released in 2007, the state has made small but encouraging steps toward changing a government framework designed for the 19th century. Changing the rules to discourage an honest effort to eliminate duplication and improve efficiency is a step backward.

— The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne

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