NOTE: The following op-ed was co-authored by Ann Birch, President of the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County, and Mary Morgan, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. A version was published in the May 20, 2020 Indiana Daily Student.
The COVID-19 crisis gives all of us a compelling reason to invest in our democracy—when could this be more important than in times of national emergency? Here’s what you can do to make sure your voice is heard:
1) Be aware. By now, all Monroe County registered voters should have received an absentee ballot application. If you want to vote by mail, no excuses needed, this is your chance. You can also apply for your ballot online at the Indiana Voter Portal. You have until May 21 to get your application in.
You can still vote in person both on Election Day and during early voting. Early voting starts on May 26 at Monroe County Election Central, 401 W. 7th St. – check their website for hours. With the continued need for protection against COVID-19, your polling place on Election Day (June 2) may have changed, and new rules will be in place to minimize the chance for contagion. Find your polling place at the Indiana Voter Portal.
2) Be informed. Several nonpartisan guides give candidate information and enable comparison between candidates on issues. The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce provides a voter guide for local candidates, state legislature candidates, and District 9 congressional candidates. The League of Women Voters voter Vote411 website includes questions and answers on issues for federal and state races and links to candidate information for local races. Just go to the site, enter your address, and under “Find What’s On Your Ballot,” click Explore Now.
In addition to these two resources, the Concerned Scientists at Indiana University Bloomington organization has queried District 9 congressional candidates on science topics. Check out the CSIU website to read the responses.
3) Be counted. This is a census year. When you respond to the census, you are helping to direct billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities for schools, roads, and other public services. In addition, census results are used to determine your political representation at all levels of government. If you’re an IU student, have you counted yourself? Getting students to count themselves and their roommates at their off-campus apartments, not at their parents’ homes, has been challenging. Go to the Census 2020 site to fill out the questionnaire. It’s important. And it’s easy.
As our community works to strengthen public transit, the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce urges the Bloomington City Council to take an initial step: Amend Chapter 2.76 of the Bloomington Municipal Code, enabling Bloomington Transit to provide service outside the city limits.
According to Erin Predmore, President and CEO of the Chamber, “This is a small but necessary step to make our community’s public transit system even better for city residents, including employers and people who work in urbanized areas of Monroe County.”
The current code states that the boundaries of the Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation, which operates Bloomington Transit, must be “coterminous” with the city’s boundaries. Lifting this restriction, by itself, does not mean that Bloomington Transit will immediately start operating buses outside the city limits. But it does provide flexibility for BT to adjust its routes in the future, if BT staff and board find it to be financially viable.
BT is undergoing a route optimization process. Consultants for this project recommend that BT provide service out to Ivy Tech and Cook Group, located just beyond the city limits. However, this service would not be possible under the current city code. Nor can BT offer service to Ellettsville, under current constraints.
“Most of us don’t constrain our lives to the city limits, even if we live within them. Many city residents need to attend Ivy Tech, or work at Cook Group and other businesses located slightly outside the city, or shop on the western edge of our community. We need a transit system that reflects the realities of our community and serves the needs of city residents,” says Predmore.
Providing reliable public transportation helps all city residents. A recent report by the Bloomington Affordable Living Committee – “Working Hard, Falling Behind” – includes this feedback from Amethyst House, a local nonprofit: “Affordable, reliable and accessible public transportation is critical to many in our community as they work to sustain employment, fulfill basic needs, gain access to social services, and engage in our community.”
The Chamber recognizes there are many challenges to expanding transit, including financial resources and political issues between the city and county. Looking at how to improve public transit in other ways should also be a goal for our community. There’s hard work to be done. But changing this city ordinance is an easy step, and we urge council to take it.
As we look to 2020, the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce is seeking input on issues that take priority for our members, local businesses and others throughout our community. Results from this 2019 Public Policy and Legislative Survey will help guide our legislative priorities and shape our advocacy in the coming year.
Please click the button below to weigh in – and thanks for your feedback!
Erin Predmore, President and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, issued the following response to recent comments by Jerry Falwell Jr.:
We have been horrified as the tragedy at the border seems to get worse every day. The recent publication of the images of the migrant father and toddler brought the reality closer to all of us. As the voice of business in our community, The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce rejects Jerry Falwell Jr.'s characterization that business/entrepreneur experience somehow validates disgusting treatment of our fellow humans.
Our members care deeply about our community, lead with compassion and honor, and attempt daily to add shared value to our economy. "Making payroll" or building an organization "from scratch" are experiences that have changed us, but they haven't caused us to reject the humanity of those in need. They also don't somehow make our opinions about the border crisis more valid than other caring individuals.
We stand with our fellow humans, Dr. Falwell, and we still make payroll, build things from scratch, innovate, shape our community, and make room for all. In fact, we currently have hundreds of available jobs and would be happy to have some new neighbors.
Director of Advocacy & Public Policy