Brandon Smith

IPBS Statehouse Reporter

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.

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Stan Jastrzebski / WBAA News

Indiana has a new contract in place securing the future of the Hoosier State Rail Line for the next two years. 

The deal between the state, Amtrak and Iowa Pacific began Sunday after months of negotiation and uncertainty. 

Amtrak will operate the line running from Indianapolis to Chicago, while Iowa Pacific will be responsible for train equipment and maintenance.  The line will feature food service and free wi-fi internet.

If ticket sales don’t cover all expenses, Indiana will pay Amtrak the difference. 

Jim Grey / https://www.flickr.com/photos/mobilene/

Significant tax relief for Hoosier employers could be on the horizon if the state’s revenues do well the next few months.

Indiana took out a more than $2 billion loan from the federal government at the height of the recession to pay unemployment benefits.  It’s been paying it back ever since. 

And as long as the state owes money on the loan, employers have to pay a penalty. 

This year, that penalty is $105 per employee; next year, it rises to $126. 

Department of Veterans Affairs / http://www.va.gov/

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald says his department is making progress in rebuilding trust lost in last year’s scandal involving manipulated wait times and falsified waiting lists. 

In a visit to Indiana Thursday, McDonald said the disability claims backlog has been reduced by 80-percent in the last couple of years, and the VA has completed more than seven million more appointments this year than last year. 

Flazingo Photos / https://www.flickr.com/photos/124247024@N07/

The Hoosier State’s unemployment rate decreased to 4.9-percent last month, the first time it’s been below 5-percent since February of 2008. 

June marks the fifth consecutive month the rate has declined, and since January of 2013, only one other state – Rhode Island – has decreased its unemployment rate more than Indiana. 

Yet for the first time in four months, the state’s private sector lost jobs, shedding 3,800 people last month. The biggest loss – 3,600 jobs – was in the trade, transportation and utilities sectors. 

Lauren Clark / Indiana Public Broadcasting

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is making his first bid for federal office, announcing Monday he will join a crowded field seeking to replace Ninth District Congressman Todd Young.

Zoeller says as Attorney General he’s repeatedly battled what he sees as overreach by the federal government, defending Indiana’s right to make its own decisions on everything from EPA regulations to the Affordable Care Act. 

The southern Indiana native says he’s running for Congress to continue that battle.

Governor Mike Pence has ordered enhanced security measures for Indiana’s National Guard in the wake of a shooting at a military installation in Chattanooga. 

Pence’s executive order directs the new head of the Indiana National Guard, Major General Courtney Carr, to work with the State Police, Homeland Security, and local law enforcement to beef up security at all National Guard facilities across the state, including recruiting storefronts. 

Joe Gratz / https://www.flickr.com/photos/joegratz/

Governor Mike Pence Friday announced his pick to fill a vacancy on the Indiana Court of Appeals – the first such appointment Pence has made in his two and a half years in office. 

Robert Altice has been through this process before – three times he’s been nominated to fill an Appeals Court vacancy.  And as Altice put it, the third time was the charm. 

The Marion County Superior Court judge and former Marion County Deputy Prosecutor was chosen from three nominees to fill the seat of Appeals Court Judge Ezra Friedlander, who’s retiring after 22 years in the post. 

Brandon Smith / indianapublicmedia.org/news

Governor Mike Pence Thursday proudly touted Indiana’s continued fiscal strength as he closed the books on the fiscal year.  But Democrats are wondering why Pence continues to order state agencies to cut their budgets.

U.S. Department of State / http://www.state.gov/

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, says he is “profoundly skeptical” of the nuclear agreement announced Tuesday between Iran and a group of nations led by the U.S.

Sen. Coats, who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says he will carefully review the details of the deal before rendering a final opinion.

He says the Iran agreement reminds him of a deal President Clinton made with North Korea, which ultimately resulted in that country obtaining nuclear weapons.

Massimo Catarinella / http://bit.ly/1Jia22V

A Department of Child Services case manager say she’s handling way too many cases, putting children’s lives at risk, because the agency won’t hire enough people.

The ACLU is taking the state to court over the issue.

Indiana law mandates that DCS must have enough caseworkers so that one employee doesn’t supervise more than 17 children at a time.

Case manager Mary Price says her caseload is 43 children — too many, she says, to effectively handle.

Indiana Public Broadcasting

Congressman Todd Young (R-9th) Sunday confirmed widespread speculation, joining what’s now a crowded Republican primary for U.S. Senator Dan Coats’ seat. 

There had been expectations circling for weeks that Young, a two-term congressman and former Marine, would join the race to replace Dan Coats.  Those expectations were boosted by recent fundraising numbers showing a one million dollar haul last quarter for the Bloomington attorney. 

State of Indiana / http://www.in.gov/lg/

Lieutenant governors from around the country descended on Indiana this week for a national conference.  Indiana Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann says the National Lieutenant Governors Association was the first conference she attended after taking office. 

She says its annual meetings are an important opportunity to meet with a strong group of bipartisan colleagues, sharing ideas and promoting causes.

Christopher Ayers / Indiana Public Broadcasting

Indiana’s highly-publicized First Church of Cannabis is going to court, hoping to stop the state from enforcing marijuana laws when it comes to the use of cannabis in its church services. 

The state's so-called "religious freedom" law creates a legal standard that says government must have a compelling reason to restrict someone’s religious practice and do so in the least burdensome way possible. 

Indiana Grown

More than 200 producers have signed up to become members of the new Indiana Grown program, and Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann notes they span all of Indiana agriculture – everything from hardwood to poultry, produce to bath and body products. 

State Department of Agriculture Director Ted McKinney says Indiana Grown encompasses all aspects of the food chain.

“It’s the retailers that have been pressing, pressing, pressing for this and I hope we’ve delivered a good product.  Same with restaurants,” McKinney says.

Daniel X. O'Neil / https://www.flickr.com/photos/juggernautco/

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller says the Hoosier State will join a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s new water rule. 

The EPA recently finalized a rule broadening the definition of “waters of the United States” – that is, which bodies of water fall under federal regulation.  The term would now include small bodies of water, including streams, ponds, and drainage ditches. 

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