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Indiana's Top Stories Of 2016

1. Gov. Pence chosen as Trump's Running Mate, Elected As VP


Rumors that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was considering Pence as his running mate surfaced early in the year, although Pence brushed off the talk.

Pence has a history of disagreeing with Trump on some issues. For example, before being named to the GOP ticket, Pence called Trump's comments about an Indiana judge's ethnicity "inappropriate."

Shortly before the Indiana primary election, Pence endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz for the GOP nomination, although quickly added a caveat that he would support any Republican nominee. Pence even campaigned with Cruz in Fort Wayne. Moments after Cruz dropped out of the race after a decisive loss to Trump in Indiana, Pence tweeted his support for Trump.

Pence campaigned for Trump in Indiana in the days before the official announcement. Trump used Twitter to announce his final decision to bring on Pence as his running mate.

Trump and Pence were elected in November, winning Indiana with 57 percent compared to Democrat Hillary Clinton's 38 percent.

2. Lead-Contaminated Soil In East Chicago Forces Residents To Move


The Indiana State Health Department reported in early September that 17 children in East Chicago, Ind. tested positive for abnormally high levels of lead in their blood.

"They're just giving them vouchers as if that makes everything okay. These people have to leave their homes, and it's not adequate."

The U.S.S. Lead facility was built in East Chicago over 100 years ago. Other smelters and refineries came and went over the years, as well. Smelting processes raw lead for use in products like batteries.

Through air emissions from the factories and burying waste products - which is a legally allowed disposal method - lead can get into soil, contaminating it.

The city decided to demolish the West Calument housing complex, forcing hundreds of families to find another place to live.

In addition to the lead and arsenic contamination in the soil, the EPA later discovered unsafe levels of lead in drinking water. East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland has requested that state officials declare a state of emergency.

3. Controversial Abortion Ban Becomes Law, Is Challenged In Court


Early in the 2016 legislative session, the Senate passed a bill banning women from having an abortion because of the festus' race, gender or disability. But the House wouldn't hear the bill, so Senate lawmakers added it to another abortion bill, one that outlaws the disposal of aborted remains as medical waste.

"This particular bill doesn't really value life, it just values birth."

The bill drew criticism from doctors and even some Republican lawmakers, including a few who've sponsored anti-abortion bills in the past.

Gov. Pence signed the combined bill into law despite petitions asking him to veto it.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sued the state on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

A federal judge blocked the selective ban and the requirement to intern or cremate fetal remains just one day before the law was set to go into effect on Jul. 1.

The ACLU is also challenging a portion of the law that requires women to undergo an ultrasound at least 18 hours before an abortion.

Indiana University and three of the school's scientists have filed a separate federal lawsuit challenging another portion of the law that bars them from acquiring fetal tissue for research purposes.

4. ISTEP+ Assessment Cut, Legislative Panel Recommends New Test

Report from Indiana Public Broadcasting's Education reporters:

The year started with the 2016 legislative session, where lawmakers passed a bill to get rid of the ISTEP+ as it currently functions. They also created a 23-person panel to craft recommendations for its replacement.

The panel met once a month for six months, and its strategy had a broad frame. Members included teachers, principals, superintendents, legislators and state officials. This range of experience required a lot of discussion on both how standardized assessments function and how they are created.

Narrower conversations about specific changes to the test or testing administration did not take place until the the very end of the process, the second-to-last meeting before the Dec. 1 deadline.

The final recommendations to the legislature were broad and didn't offer major changes to the testing system.

The fate of the new state assessment now rests with lawmakers, who will decide how much to reshape the old one. We recently heard from Sen. Dennis Kruse, the chair of the Senate education committee, that he will propose pushing back the deadline for a new test to make sure the revisions are well done.

5. Northern Indiana Woman's Feticide Conviction Overturned


The only woman in the United States ever convicted of feticide for ending her own pregnancy was released from prison this year after her conviction was overturned.

A jury convicted Purvi Patel of feticide last year for ending her pregnancy by taking abortion-inducing drugs; she was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

"The precedent involving the abortion that a woman in Indiana cannot be prosecuted with regard to her own abortion."

But in July, an appeals court decided only third parties who end a pregnancy can be convicted of feticide. The court did uphold a lesser charge of neglect of a dependent.

Lead defense attorney Lawrence Marshall says although the feticide charge would have set a precedent for similar cases, the neglect charge doesn't carry the same weight.

"That has nothing to do with the precedent involving the abortion issue, which is that a woman in Indiana cannot be prosecuted with regard to her own abortion," Marshall says.

A judge re-sentenced Patel to 18 months in prison for the remaining charge of neglect of a dependent. With credit for good behavior and time served, she was released in September.

6. Carrier Announces Plant Closure, Trump Strikes Deal To Save Jobs


Carrier announced plans this year to close its Indianapolis plant by 2019, sending 1,400 jobs to Mexico as soon as 2017.

Pence met with executives from Carrier's parent company United Technologies in March, where they agreed to repay property tax abatements and job training grants.

The plant closure became a frequent topic during the presidential primary campaigns, referenced by both Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Republican Donald Trump often slammed Carrier in the weeks leading up to the primary election.

"We're going to hold [Trump] accountable. He got a partial deal at Carrier, still got a lot of work to do."

"We're gonna build the wall," Trump said at an April 20 rally at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. "And you know, when Carrier that left here goes to Mexico and they want to sell their product, we're going to say ‘Sorry folks we have a nice strong border, we have a nice strong wall, we're going to charge you a 35 percent tax after what you did.'"

Despite Trump's criticism, financial documents show he profited from United Technologies in 2015, earning between $2,500 and $5,000 in interest from Carrier's parent company.

After winning the GOP primary and eventually the presidency, Trump returned to Indianapolis to announce a deal to keep "more than 1,000" Carrier jobs in Indiana in exchange for $7 million in state tax incentives. The actual number of jobs saved is 800, as the Steelworkers Local 1999 President Chuck Jones clarified later.

Trump attacked Jones on Twitter, saying he "has done a terrible job representing workers." Jones responded by saying he wants to work with Trump to save additional jobs.

7. Baron Hill Drops Out Of Senate Race, Evan Bayh Replaces Him

After winning the Democratic bid to run for U.S. Senate in an uncontested primary election, Baron Hill campaigned for roughly three months before abruptly dropping out of the race. Shortly after, former Ind. Governor and U.S. Senator Evan Bayh announced his intention to take Hill's place.

"I think the stakes for America are even higher. The gridlock and the even more harmful to the people of America."

When Bayh left the Senate in 2010, he cited gridlock and divisive partisanship as reasons for his departure.

"I think the stakes for America are even higher," Bayh said after announcing his decision to join the race. "The gridlock and the dysfunction, given the challenges that we face, is even more harmful to the people of America."

Bayh joined an already contentious race for senate against Republican Todd Young, who beat out Marlin Stutzman in the Republican primary.

The race turned negative quickly, with Young accusing Bayh of not really living in Indiana and Bayh attacking Young's record on Social Security.

Bayh faced an uphill battle, and despite coming into the election with $9 million cash-on-hand, ultimately lost to Young in November. It was the first election Bayh ever lost.

8. Daniel Messel Convicted Of Murdering IU Student Hannah Wilson


The trial for Bloomington man Daniel Messel, charged with murdering Indiana University student Hannah Wilson in 2015, was delayed several times as Brown County Judge Judith Stewart ruled on preliminary issues. Messel's defense requested a change of venue because of the media attention, but after questioning several test jurors, Stewart denied the request.

"She's the hero. I think her final act of fighting...allowed us to secure this conviction."

The highly-publicized trial began in early August with three days of jury selection, followed by six days of intense witness testimony and arguments. Messel attended every day of the trial, though he chose not to take the stand himself.

The nine-member jury convicted Messel of the murder based on substantial evidence, most notably the discovery of Messel's phone under Wilson's body and her blood and hair on his clothes and in his car.

Prosecutor Ted Adams called Hannah Wilson a hero for fighting back.

"She's the hero," Adams said after the conviction. "I think her final act of fighting, of the struggle we talked about in our case, allowed us to secure this conviction, because she was able to get that cellphone to drop out onto the ground, which led to everything."

9. Republicans Sweep Indiana Elections


The Nov. 8 election was a successful night for Indiana Republicans. The GOP swept every statewide election and maintained supermajorities in both the House and Senate.

Republican Eric Holcomb was a relative newcomer to the gubernatorial race, but beat out Democrat John Gregg with 51 percent of the vote compared to Gregg's 45 percent. Holcomb's victory marks the fourth consecutive win in the governor's race for the GOP. Before his gubernatorial victory, Holcomb had never won an elected office.

In the contentious 9th Congressional District, Republican Trey Hollingsworth won over Democrat Shelli Yoder.

10. Indiana Continues Battle Against Opioid Abuse Epidemic


Indiana's place in the nation's opioid abuse epidemic was solidified in 2015 when the HIV outbreak in Scott County garnered national attention. In 2016, the state continued to fight the epidemic with increased state funding and the expansion of syringe exchange programs.

The Indiana State Department of Health granted permission for syringe exchange programs to five new counties this year, bringing the total to nine counties. According to the Rural Center for Aids/STD Prevention, 16 other counties are working toward applying for a needle exchange.

Pence created a temporary Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment and Prevention in 2015, which made 19 recommendations over 15 months. The task force was recently disbanded in favor of a permanent replacement: the Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse. It will begin meeting in 2017.

In December, President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act, which will, among other initiatives, direct around $19 million to Indiana over two years to aid opioid treatment programs.

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