I-69 and the unfunded

mandate of pavement

The state continues its aggressive push to pave through the

farms and forestland of southwestern Indiana despite multiple lawsuits

questioning the rationale of the current approach to the new-terrain route for I-69.

Construction is underway on several sections linking

Evansville to Crane Naval Base through Daviess and Greene counties. That

portion of the highway is targeted for completion by December 2012.

Bloomington continues to battle the section running through

Monroe County even as state and federal officials continue to argue that locals

have no right to stop the highway. Potential retribution for the city's

audacity could result in the state withholding millions of dollars in federal

aid for Bloomington's public bus system.

The State of Indiana and the local governments it supports

could not fund the existing backlog of bridge and highway infrastructure

repairs without selling 75 years of revenue rights from Indiana's northern toll

road to a private company. But project proponents — in a chorus started

by the Democratic governors that proceeded him and continued by the GOP's

Daniels — insist the economic boost the highway offers will offset the roughly

$3 billion cost

, the unwelcome appropriation of private property and the

environmental costs.

Other hot infrastructure news of the year included the

closing of the Sherman Minton Bridge connecting New Albany and Louisville.

Thousands of drivers continue to be diverted each day as engineers work toward

a seven-figure bonus if they can restore structural integrity by a March

deadline.

Plundering Planned

Parenthood

Hungry to be known as the most pro-life state in the

country, the Indiana

General Assembly

passed new, stricter abortion restrictions that would also

withhold federal funds from one of the state's largest healthcare providers to

low-income women.

Despite restrictions already in place preventing Medicare

funds from being used for abortions, HB 1210 denies any federal funds going to

any facility offering abortions. Nearly 10,000 mostly low-income women rely on Planned

Parenthood

as their primary medical provider, many of whom are at risk of

losing out on many of the other services the organization offers, including

cancer screenings and health check-ups.

The bill also caps the number of weeks at which a woman can

get an abortion,

reducing it from 24 weeks to 20, and requires abortion providers to inform

patients the fetus can feel pain.

During the deliberation process, state legislators were

warned that the bill might be in violation of federal statutes and could lead

to a costly court battle for the cash-starved state. But they pushed forward

anyway, hoping to create the "most pro-life state in America,"

according to bill author Eric

Turner

, R-Cicero.

The warnings proved to be prophetic. In June, a federal

court granted a temporary injunction preventing the law from taking effect, and

the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services disapproved the measure that same

month. The 7th U.S. Court of Appeals is currently weighing the case.

The Workforce Blues

It's been a rough year for Indiana's labor force —

unemployment has consistently hovered around 9 percent, hiring has slowed to a

crawl and the General Assembly is preparing to mount a full-scale offensive to

pass a right-to-work bill similar to the measure passed by Wisconsin last year

— and it looks like the war against workers will continue into 2012.

Gov. Mitch Daniels says the right-to-work measure, which

would limit unions' abilities to require membership or collect dues, would help

make Indiana more attractive to new companies. Labor advocates counter that

employees' wages and working conditions would suffer. Conservatives have been

laying the groundwork for passing the controversial measure throughout the

year, and Daniels has said the bill will be one of his legislative priorities

next year.

The biggest target in Daniels' sights this year was the

powerful Indiana Teachers Union. In addition to his support of charter schools

and voucher programs, Daniels sought to limit teachers' collective bargaining

rights to only salary and benefits issues and would strip them of their ability

to negotiate evaluation procedures and criteria. The measure passed the

Republican-dominated General Assembly and was signed into law in April.

In January, NUVO highlighted the plight of security guards

at Securitas in Indianapolis. Despite the pro-union, pro-social justice

platform of its global parent company, local corporate officials fought against

even listening to workers' complaints or requests for a living wage.

The Indianapolis Star

reported on much of the labor strife, but when more than 60 Star employees were

laid off in June, the news was buried deep in the paper — or as deep as

the increasingly slim Star could hide it. Months later, the remaining employees

launched a Save the Star campaign, hoping to highlight the obscene financial

shell games played by corporate parent Gannett. The money the media Goliath

saved in the thousands of laid off employees would later be funneled to

departing Chief Executive Officer Craig Dubow's pockets; the failed CEO walked

away with a more than $37 million severance and retirement package when he left

the company earlier this year.

-Robert Annis and Rebecca Townsend contributed to this report

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