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Northwest Indiana leaders call for voting rights protections during Hammond MLK Celebration

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screenshot from Go Hammond Facebook video
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U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan (D-Highland) speaks during Hammond's Martin Luther King Day celebration at the Hammond Civic Center on Jan. 17.

Northwest Indiana elected officials focused on voting rights during Monday's Martin Luther King Day celebrations. U.S. Representative Frank Mrvan (D-Highland) spoke during the City of Hammond's annual commemoration.

"Our future has a lot to do with making sure, as Martin Luther King made it a priority back in the 60s, is voting rights -- making sure that we understand that elections make a difference and that we have to protect that right that people had fought for, lost blood for, and rights like Congressman John Lewis wanted to make sure that future generations had," Mrvan said.

Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. says the inability to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act proves that the Senate is broken. "More people being allowed to vote -- the U.S. House passes it. It goes to the Senate, and all the Republicans to a person block it. And you can't get to 60 and you can't move forward with voting rights? And people ask me why I'm running for U.S. Senate? It's 'cause it's broken!" the mayor said.

Another theme at Monday's event was education. The Indiana Senate is no longer considering a bill that would restrict how issues like race, religion and politics are taught in the classroom, but a similar bill is still alive in the Indiana House.

Hammond School Superintendent Scott Miller calls it morally wrong. "In particular, I fear it will devalue the stories of our students of color and wrongly stress to them that the only history that matters is white history," Miller said.

Meanwhile, Mayor McDermott spoke out against an Indiana House bill that would ban Gary Community School Corporation teachers from collective bargaining and stipulate that all of its board members would be appointed by the Indiana Secretary of Education.

"What is that? There's been other school districts in the state of Indiana that have gone through this [Distressed Unit Appeal Board] process and gotten out of the process. However, Gary is different in the state of Indiana. What's that? That, to me, is discriminatory."

The mayor also took aim at an Indiana law that requires Lake County's superior court judges to be chosen by a judicial merit selection system, rather than the regular elections used by most other counties.