Telegraph Herald. Dec. 30, 2012.
Mental health issues need more than 1 solution
While the political reaction to the Newtown, Conn., tragedy has primarily focused on gun control, the school shooting illuminated another issue sorely needing attention and resources: Meeting the needs of the mentally ill. This week, the Telegraph Herald has looked at many issues related to the mental health system, particularly the reformation of the program here in Iowa. While that is on the front burner for local officials, there is more than one problem to be solved. Helping mentally ill people in our society is an issue that must be addressed on several fronts.
Iowa has at long last begun the process of regionalizing its mental health care system. After decades of dealing with 99 different programs, counties are banding together in an effort to provide better services more efficiently. At least that's how it is supposed to work in theory. Unfortunately, the details haven't been spelled out, leaving those charged with providing mental health services nervous about how the regional plan will work. Dubuque County officials couldn't get other counties to even discuss funding and staffing strategies, and the state has put no parameters on the regions to ensure that efficiencies are realized. Hammering out the expectations should be at the top of the list for lawmakers in the January legislative session. If saving money and improving services isn't part of the goal, then why change the system at all?
Even if state and county officials work together to make regionalization a positive step, there are areas of concern that still need to be addressed.
Too often, mentally ill people end up in jail. Sometimes, like in the case of Justice Krambeer, of Garnavillo, highlighted this week, there has been no crime committed. But when there is no mental health bed available, jail is the go-to repository. Mentally ill individuals tend to not function well there, and law enforcement officials are not equipped to deal with the individualized regimens that can help keep mentally ill patients stable. Meanwhile, the lack of mental health beds is a growing concern. Iowa's ratio of beds per 100,000 population is 4.9. Iowa is categorized in the "critical bed shortage" area, while Wisconsin (13 per 100,000 population) and Illinois (14.3 per 100,000) are listed as having a "severe bed shortage." So far, the issue of increasing beds has not been on lawmakers' radar. It needs to be.
Dubuque was doing a better job addressing this issue nearly a decade ago than it is today. In 2003, when the county had a federal grant to fund its Jail Diversion Program, the results were dramatic. Mental health professionals and substance abuse counselors worked with police and sheriff's officials, and in the first six months, jail diversion staff assisted 275 times with 207 different people, getting help for individuals instead of placing them in jail. All stakeholders had positive things to say about the collaborative effort. But the grant only lasted three years. When the funding dried up, the program was cut to the bone — down to one treatment coordinator. No matter how good that coordinator is at his job, it is impossible for one person to take on the entire program.
Bridging the gaps in our mental health system will require a multi-pronged approach involving lawmakers, county officials, law enforcement and mental health providers. Better access to services will be a good start. Greater attention to assessment and appropriate treatment must follow, lest we find ourselves in our own tragic circumstance.
Quad-City Times. Dec. 27, 2012.
LaPierre takes aim at taxpayers
The National Rifle Association's pre-Christmas assault on American sensibilities isn't fooling anyone.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, seemed to parody his prestigious organization by suggesting the answer to assault weapon attacks is buying superior firepower for American schools.
"Saturday Night Live" writers couldn't have skewered the NRA as effectively.
LaPierre urged property taxpayers to provide assault weapons as part of the standard operating equipment in American schools, inviting a firefight and, not so subtly, boosting sales for the weapon makers who ardently support the NRA.
Our business operates solely by the power granted in the same Bill of Rights that provides the freedom to hold and bear firearms. American law grants wide latitude to those exercising First Amendment rights, but there are limits.
Americans who recklessly and maliciously rely on the First Amendment to publish damaging and inaccurate information are held accountable. Americans who rely on the Second Amendment to recklessly and maliciously distribute high-power firearms that regularly are used to commit crimes are not.
We believe America can respect the Constitution and regulate Second Amendment rights, the same way our country respects the Constitution and regulates First Amendment rights.
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act passed by Congress in 2005 shields gun makers and distributors from any liability for damage caused by their products. Vehicle makers don't enjoy this privilege. Neither do alcohol makers and distributors. Certainly, journalists aren't afforded this massive exemption to liability.
We agree with the NRA maxim that guns don't kill; people kill. But unfettered marketing of assault weapons and ammunition has provided people with the means to turn their personal anger and emotional detachment into double-digit casualty lists. LaPierre's preposterous suggestion — firepower escalation — will contribute to the body count.
The Des Moines Register. Dec. 29, 2012.
DOT license policy for youth granted deferred action is shortsighted
A boy is brought to the United States by his parents. He is undocumented but is allowed to attend school. He makes his way through childhood, builds friendships and thinks himself no different than other kids in his town. He knows this is home.
Then he becomes a teenager. He wants to get a job at the mall but has no Social Security card. His friends are getting driver's licenses, but that isn't an option for undocumented immigrants. Other kids talk about going to college, but this boy isn't eligible for federal financial aid. And now he's old enough to worry about the government deporting him to a country where he has no family or friends.
This is how things work in the United States. This country's immigration policies are painfully broken, and Congress has done nothing to fix them.
So last June, President Obama unveiled a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Young people with no criminal record who were brought to the U.S. before age 16 will not be deported and are allowed to legally work here.
The program is no substitute for comprehensive immigration reform. But the administration's program makes sense as a stop-gap measure.
Nonetheless, Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Steve King, blasted Obama's move as an overreach of executive authority. On Thursday, the Iowa Department of Transportation said it would not issue driver's licenses or state identification cards to those granted deferred action. Iowa law doesn't allow the state to do so, the DOT says.
Of course, the DOT could have interpreted the law the way the American Civil Liberties Union and other states have done and grant licenses or ID cards to these people. The DOT could have continued to interpret the law as it did a few months ago when it issued a license to a young Denison man with deferred action status.
Then, those allowed to legally remain in this country under the Obama policy would be able to legally drive to work or school in Iowa. They would be required to pass a test, pay a licensing fee and purchase insurance to be on the road. The roads would be safer as a result.
The truth is all undocumented immigrants should be able to obtain a driver's license. Members of Branstad's own party know it makes sense. "We're not talking about whether these people are legal or illegal. They're here. They're driving," said former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar when talking recently about legislation in that state. "We want to make the highway safe. Most Republicans I know want safe highways."
Maybe that common sense will resonate with Iowa's governor. Maybe it will resonate with Iowa lawmakers who should clarify the law to ensure all undocumented immigrants can obtain a driver's license.
Thousands of young people in Iowa are eligible for deferred action. The federal government recognized they were brought here as children through no decision of their own. They have grown up, gone to school and started families in a country they consider their own. Obama recognized they should be treated humanely. Iowa's leaders should do the same.
The Gazette. Dec. 26, 2012.
Bonuses come with expectations
Gov. Terry Branstad has been fielding questions lately about healthy bonuses his administration has paid to three top state department directors. We think that's appropriate and necessary.
Although it's easy to find the salaries authorized by lawmakers for top bureaucrats, figuring out how much bonus pay they're also receiving takes some digging. The Gazette's Erin Jordan did that digging, and came up with $128,000 in bonuses. Department of Revenue Director Courtney Kay-Decker received $20,800 in extra pay for housing costs. K. Brian London, the Department of Public Safety director hired in October, received a recruitment bonus of $16,110. And Debi Durham, director of the Economic Development Authority, has received more than $90,000 in retention bonuses.
We're not strictly against bonuses beyond salary caps for exceptional state employees. But taxpayers and the lawmakers who represent them shouldn't have to wait for an investigative report to get the details. At the very least, bonuses should be transparent and reported on a regular basis by the executive branch.
Branstad says bonuses should reward achievement, although some of these bonuses were paid to executives who had yet to build much of a performance track record. We agree with the governor. Bonuses should be tied to performance. And performance measurements should be specific. For example, bonuses for Durham could be tied to net gains in job creation, a rise Iowans' median household income or the number of new businesses attracted to the state.
With specific performance goals, Iowans would have a better understanding of why top leaders are receiving extra pay. They also would better understand how a governor seeking to freeze pay and increase health insurance contributions for thousands of other state workers in less lofty positions can also justify large bonuses for those at the top.