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Indiana's Top Stories Of 2015

1. Religious Freedom Restoration Act



Shortly after Gov. Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law during a private ceremony in March, controversy over the measure swelled. While proponents argued the bill was designed to protect religious liberty, others criticized the legislation, arguing it would allow for discrimination against the LGBT community. Some businesses called for a boycott of Indiana and national conventions, including Gen Con, threatened to move their annual events out of the state.

Amid mounting controversy, Republican lawmakers came up with a fix for the bill which they say prohibits discrimination. Pence signed a bill clarifying RFRA in April.

"Last weekend I called upon the Indiana General Assembly to clarify that this new judicial standard would not create a license to discriminate or to deny services to any individual as its critics have alleged," Pence said in a statement.  "I believe resolving this controversy and making clear that every person feels welcome and respected in our state is best for Indiana. "

But the debate is still at the forefront of many people's minds as legislators prepare to convene in Indianapolis. Freedom Indiana is gearing up for another fight at the statehouse -- they want sexual orientation and gender identity to be included in the state's civil rights statute. Republican legislators have introduced their own proposal that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity while exempting religious institutions.

2. Indiana HIV Outbreak Largest State's Seen In DecadesÂ



The first patients associated with Indiana's HIV outbreak were diagnosed last December. Since then, 184 people have tested positive for the virus, making it the largest HIV outbreak the state's seen in decades. The Indiana State Department of Health says most of the cases have been linked back to intravenous drug use in Scott County.

The state dispatched resources in February, setting up a 'one-stop-shop' where people could get tested, be connected with treatment and sign up for healthcare coverage. While the number of new cases has slowed, the state says its work in Scott County isn't over. It's working with local authorities to focus on the long-term needs of those who are HIV positive.

In response to the outbreak, legislators passed a law allowing counties to seek state approval to setup syringe exchange programs. Counties must be faced with a public health emergency in order to qualify. Since the law went into effect earlier this year, at least 20 counties have considered establishing needle exchange programs.

3. Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Same-Sex Marriage



In a landmark June decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of same-sex marriage, solidifying an earlier opinion making the marraiges legal in Indiana. A federal judge previously declared the Hoosier state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, making the marriages legal in June 2014. But the marriages only went on for three days before an appeals court issued a stay on the ruling while it considered the case.

The fate of Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage remained uncertain until the Supreme Court's decision, which makes same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

4. Gov. Pence Bars State Agencies From Helping Resettle Syrian Refugees

In the days following terrorist attacks in Paris, governors across the nation, including Gov. Pence, announced they would not welcome any Syrian refugees into their states until the federal government addresses security concerns. Pence directed state agencies to suspend their efforts to help resettle Syrian refugees in the state. His decision caused at least one family to be diverted to another state in November. Shortly after, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis defied Pence's wishes and resettled a Syrian couple and their two children.

Indianapolis religious leaders hosted an event in December to welcome Syrian refugees to the state.

5. Jared Fogle Convicted Of Child Pornography And Sex Crimes

The former Subway spokesman was sentenced to 15.5 years in prison and a lifetime of parole after pleading guilty to child pornography and sex crimes. The revelations came as a shock to many, making national news.

The criminal case against Fogle began when Indiana State Police received a tip about the man running Fogle's foundation, Russell Taylor. An April raid on Taylor's home uncovered he'd secretly videotaped several young boys and girls bathing and changing in Taylor's home, prosecutors say.



Authorities also found messages Taylor had sent to Fogle discussing the filming of the children and images Taylor sent to Fogle.



Fogle's involvement in illicit sexual activity began in 2007, prosecutors said, before Fogle met and hired Taylor. He spoke to several women then about his attraction to young girls and his desire to have sex with them, court documents say. Some of those conversations were recorded and given to investigators.



After Fogle contracted Taylor to run The Jared Foundation, he began in March 2011 receiving nude child images Taylor was making. Fogle chose to benefit from the knowledge Taylor was making child pornography instead of stopping it, prosecutors say. Fogle further shared those images at least once, investigators said. Fogle also had sex with at least one minor while traveling out of state for business.



Fogle was transferred to a Colorado prison in December. His lawyers say while there he will continue to receive treatment for hypersexuality and alcohol abuse.





6. Ongoing Issues With ISTEP+ testing



Issues with this year's assessment started early. When schools started getting information about administering the test, it was clear the assessment would be significantly longer than normal. The revelation sparked outrage among parents and teachers, so the State Board of Education and lawmakers brainstormed ways to shorten the test. After meeting with testing consultants, Gov. Mike Pence signed an executive order shortening the assessment.

But, the issues didn't end there. When testing scores should have been close to being released at the end of the summer, testing company CTB told the INSBOEÂ they would be delayed because of grading errors. This isn't the first time the state's had issues with CTB. In 2013, technology glitches delayed testing.

The state is still waiting on ISTEP+ scores which has delayed A-F grades and teacher bonuses.

7. Severe Weather Damages Indiana Businesses, Homes



Summer storms caused significant damage to homes, businesses and farms. Johnson and Morgan counties were hit especially hard during a July storm. The National Weather Service reported a high-end EF-0 tornado along State Road 135 between Samaria and Prince's Lakes. Several homes were damaged and dozens of trees were downed by heavy winds. However, FEMA turned down the state's request for disaster assistance for the 19 counties damaged by summer flooding.

Heavy rains also cost the state money, forcing the Department of Natural Resources to cancel more than 4,000 reservations over the summer. That resulted in the DNR losing out on roughly $670,000 in revenue.

Farmers also felt the effects of heavy rain. The federal government approved a disaster declaration for 53 of the state's counties in the wake of the flooding, giving farmers access to relief funds.

8. Cyber Attacks Hit Businesses, Consumers



Several businesses and universities fell victim to cyber attacks in 2015, putting people's personal information at risk. In February, Anthem says hackers gained access to personal information including birth dates, names, social security numbers and addresses.

Later that month, Indiana University announced the names, social security numbers and addresses of students and recent graduates had been compromised. University officials say the problem wasn't a technical one, but rather human error. The Student Services database was supposed to be in an encrypted location, but instead it was being stored in an insecure location.

9. Sen. Dan Coats Announces Retirement



Republican Senator Dan Coats announced in March he won't seek re-election, leaving half a dozen candidates to compete for his seat.

"While I believe I am well-positioned to run a successful campaign for another six-year term, I have concluded that the time has come to pass this demanding job to the next generation of leaders," Coats said.

Coats spent 18 years in Congress, in both the House and Senate, from 1981 to 1999 before retiring to fulfill a self-imposed term limits promise. After serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany, he successfully ran for Evan Bayh's vacated Senate seat in 2010.





10. HIP 2.0 Gets Federal Stamp Of ApprovalÂ



The federal government approved Indiana's proposed healthcare expansion, known as HIP 2.0, in January. Gov. Pence unveiled the plan last year as an alternative to traditional Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. But the plan was delayed for months at the federal level because it does not meet the requirements of Medicaid.

Pence calls HIP 2.0 a first-in-the-nation reform effort that covers the working poor. He touts the program's commitment to "personal responsibility," which comes in the form of health savings accounts participants pay into.

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