Globe Gazette. Dec. 17, 2012.
State does not need to restore death penalty
Calls to renew capital punishment come easy in the wake of horrible crimes such as the likely murders of the two young Iowa cousins whose bodies were recently recovered after having been missing for five months.
Some legislators have been calling for the state to bring back the death penalty, and Gov. Terry Branstad has said he supports the death penalty in limited circumstances, although he won't push for it now because he realizes it has little or no chance of making it through the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate.
In the heat of emotion, we, too, can imagine wanting to kill anyone who could do such a horrible thing as to murder two small girls. A long, torturous death for that person would seem appropriate.
That's why laws should be made not in the heat of emotion, but in the light of logic and facts.
The facts simply don't support any justification for capital punishment other than for pure, simple, brutal revenge, and hopefully our society strives for a higher standard than that.
There are in-depth studies and tons of research that back all the reasons against the death penalty, but put simply, they are:
— The death penalty is discriminatory. You are far more likely to be put to death if you are a minority, or if you are poor and cannot afford your own attorney.
— The death penalty does not deter violent crime. Most law enforcement professionals agree with this, and FBI statistics show that states with the death penalty do not have lower homicide rates than states without it — in fact, in many cases death penalty states have among the highest murder rates.
— The death penalty wastes money. You might think it would cost more to keep a person in prison for life than to execute him, but that's not true. Because of the process required to try to make sure an innocent person isn't put to death, death penalty cases cost taxpayers far more than keeping someone in prison for life.
— Even in spite of that onerous judicial process, some innocent people are put to death. That fact alone should trump all others. Since 1973, more than 140 people have been released from death row because their verdicts were overturned due to new evidence or because of unfair trials. For the state to put even one person to death who does not deserve it should be unthinkable.
Iowa repealed the death penalty in 1965, joining almost all modern countries and a growing number of states without it.
In Iowa, if you are convicted of a capital crime you are sentenced to a long, slow death behind bars. There is no probation and no parole for people sentenced to life in this state. We're satisfied that's the way it should remain, and oppose any efforts to try to change it.
The Gazette. Dec. 14, 2012.
If not allowable growth, then what?
We are puzzled by Gov. Terry Branstad's announcement that he wants to do away with the current system of funding our K-12 schools.
We don't like the idea of tying student performance to funding, as the governor has suggested. Already, schools, subject to the whims and political posturing of state legislators, have trouble planning their budgets from year to year.
And we hope this isn't simply one more attempt to centralize power in Des Moines and further reduce local control over our children's education.
Even though the governor is still working on the proposal's details, we're skeptical of this idea.
We agree with the governor that school districts should run efficient operations that direct the most possible resources to areas where they will most affect student achievement. But we think most of those decisions are better left to the districts.
During a question-answer session at the Iowa Farm Bureau's annual meeting in Des Moines this week, Branstad said that his staff is working on a proposal that would eliminate allowable growth — the legislatively directed percentage that a school district's budget can increase in a given year — from the state school funding formula.
Branstad called allowable growth "an automatic increase in property tax." Property tax reform is another of the governor's legislative priorities.
He said he'd like to develop a new school funding method that targets funds in ways that improve student achievement.
But districts should have discretion in how they spend money to educate their students. Allowable growth allows schools to better plan for increased costs for infrastructure and operations. And after a few leaner budget years, school districts have few options for cutting expenses or finding other funding sources.
Cedar Rapids school district officials, for example, recently announced that with cash reserves at their lowest balance in eight years, the district will face some very tough decisions in crafting their FY 2014 budget. Their situation is mirrored in many rural and urban districts across the state.
We're open to considering a more detailed plan from the governor. But we don't want to see the diverse needs of Iowa's K-12 districts shoehorned into a one-size-fits-all budget mechanism
Iowa City Press-Citizen. Dec. 16, 2012.
Partnering with feds better than state exchange
Friday was the deadline for states to tell Washington whether they would be setting up their own health insurance exchange to comply with the federal health care law, whether they would be looking to partner with the federal government on such an exchange or whether they would be asking the feds to set up and manage the exchange.
Gov. Terry Branstad waited (yet again) until the deadline to announce that Iowa will create a state-federal partnership exchange to help Iowans buy health insurance. He sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to confirm the state's decision.
The state-federal partnership seems a much better option than having Iowa leaders rush to set up its own system without having done all their homework.
Yes Iowa has had since March 2010 — when the Affordable Care Act was passed — to talk about how the state would move forward with setting up exchanges for residents and small business who otherwise might not be able to afford health care options on their own.
Unfortunately, no substantial progress was been made.
Instead, it seemed Branstad and many other Republican governors across the nation seem to have been banking on Mitt Romney winning the Nov. 6 presidential election. So instead of taking 2½ years to plan they were left with only 10 days to decide the best course of action for their states before a first-round deadline last month.
Before that earlier deadline, Branstad said he wanted to avoid a federally run exchange, but lingering questions about the cost of a state exchange — especially how it would work with Medicaid and other federal programs and databases — may leave Iowa no choice but to join a one-size-fits-all exchange for it and other states.
We generally agree with the notion that Iowa would be better off with an insurance exchange designed by Iowans for Iowans. But so far, we haven't seen any evidence that a state-run exchange would be any better than a federal run exchange.
Branstad seems to have come to a similar conclusion in now advocating for a hybrid, federal-state system. He said the state-federal model will allow Iowa to keep some control over its health care system and minimize costs.
The partnership option, however, will allow the federal government to pay for initial setup costs, including the computer technology and call centers required to run it. But the state will still have the ability to administer its own health care programs and regulate the insurance industry.
As the state and federal government work together to hammer out the details of this partnership, we continue to hope that they will use a much more open and transparent process than the governor has shown during the past few weeks.
And now that the governor has decided to call for a federal-state partnership on the health care exchanges, it's time for him to turn his attention to another needed reform included within the Affordable Care Act: expanding the state's standards for Medicaid eligibility.
Quad-City Times. Dec. 17, 2012.
Contraception program is an Iowa success
Iowa has charted a course that has reduced unintended pregnancies and abortions.
New data shows the number of abortions dropped 24 percent from 2007 through 2011 and unintended pregnancies are down 8 percent.
That course ends this year with the lapse of a five-year, $35 million grant from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. The funding put accessible, affordable, long-term birth control in the hands of thousands of Iowa women. The contribution helped establish the Iowa Initiative to encourage women to use them. These simple, safe, implanted devices provide months, even years of birth control, but cost more up front than daily birth control pills.
The grant also paid for extensive education, including training for nonmedical professionals, who can be more effective than hospital or clinic staff at reaching low-income Iowa women.
The grant was intended to learn how access to long-term, reversible birth control would affect birth and abortion rates. The results, independently confirmed, showed Iowa's unintended pregnancy rates dropping far more than surrounding states without this grant-funded program. The abortion rate declined even more.
These results affirm that although the grant has expired, Iowa lawmakers should shift funding to build on the success of this plan. The price of long-term, reversible birth control is a fraction of the human and financial costs of the unintended births and abortions they prevent.
Contraception funding is a touchy issue for state legislators. That's why this program is so effective. It doesn't force any woman, employer or insurer to do anything. It simply allows Iowa women to choose.
Allowing Iowa women to choose for themselves also seems to be a controversial issue for some lawmakers. So perhaps it's better to consider this as a legislative choice: Do lawmakers want to continue Iowa's dramatic decline in abortion, or are concerns over contraception more important?
We commend the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation and the Iowa Initiative for showing Iowa a path to dramatic reduction in abortions. We encourage lawmakers to allocate the funds to stay on this path.