Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

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Quad-City Times. March 3, 2013.

Drop casino plan now: Rampant conflicts make this wager too risky

Davenport's exploration of casino ownership must come to an end now.

Perhaps it can be resurrected under new leadership, with a broader-based exploratory group. But the plan promoted by City Administrator Craig Malin, Mayor Bill Gluba and a city council majority portends risk and failure even if Iowa's Racing and Gaming Commission can somehow stomach the rampant conflicts of interest.

We cannot.

The network of interlocking oversight boards already has presented conflicts that forced some members to resign and others to recuse themselves from major decisions. Those conflicts get worse if this comes off the drawing board.

Concerns respectfully raised by former Quad-Cities Development Group director John Gardner show the breadth of risk this project brings to the city and its taxpayers. Many of those concerns might be addressed through a transparent, collaborative process. But this process has been a cobbled mess of confrontation and secrecy.

Collaboration is essential not just to swing the purchase, but to make good on the sketchy revenue projections that seem to be driving council support. The accusations swirling among council and RDA members are a crippling rift to any collaborative plan.

All of this raised serious questions among our editorial board members. But Malin's reported job offer to the Isle's longtime Rhythm City general manager cemented our opposition. Emails confirmed circulating rumors that Malin planned to hire Mo Hyder — the Isle's Bettendorf and Rhythm City general manager — to oversee the city's casino.

Malin serves as city administrator and a founding member of the Davenport Community Improvement Corp. Neither role empowered him to offer a job for an entity yet to be created by aldermen, the RDA or DCIC.

Hyder's decision to accept a casino management job elsewhere avoids this awkward conflict. But many others remain.

We commend Malin and his team for pursuing a larger piece of the Quad-City gaming pie. But as committed, professionally trained government leaders, they obviously already are struggling to understand the intensely competitive gambling business. The casino business will only get tougher with greater competition from online gaming, as well as the digital machines cropping up all over Rock Island County.

This dogged pursuit of more gambling money is dividing the city, straining relationships between the council and business community and alienating good city partners like Restoration St. Louis. Pursuing it further, in our view, exposes taxpayers to possible litigation among these conflicted parties even before a nickel of taxpayer money is pledged as collateral to buy and build a casino. No one involved can even tell taxpayers if they'll be on the hook for a $50 million or $100 million loan. Worst of all, taxpayers never will be asked.

The debt doesn't necessarily scare us.

Our opposition is to a less-than-transparent process, fractured leadership structure, dogged resistance to a referendum and, finally, Malin's secret employment offer.

None builds the confidence needed to persuade Davenport taxpayers that their casino investment will be in capable hands

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The Des Moines Register. March 4, 2013.

Our antibiotics are less effective; routine use in farming is cited

A soldier shot in World War I may not have been killed by the initial wound. Yet there was a good chance a subsequent infection would take his life. By World War II, that soldier had a better chance of survival due to the wide availability of antibiotics. These miracles of modern medicine fight infections and save lives.

But the vast majority of antibiotics developed to treat people are given to the animals people eat. Farmers add low doses to feed and water to prevent disease in crowded livestock facilities. The drugs also promote growth. A bigger cow, pig, turkey or chicken translates into more money for producers.

How does this widespread use in animals affect humans? It is killing us, a growing number of scientists say.

Bacteria are adaptable little guys. Over time, they develop a resistance to commonly used antibiotics. Those more resilient bacteria then move from animals to humans. The bacteria causing everything from urinary tract infections to pneumonia in humans are more difficult to treat with common antibiotics.

Tens of thousands of Americans are killed each year by drug-resistant infections. It costs the country's health care system billions of dollars.

So what should be done? Obviously, there is a desperate need to develop new antibiotics. People have heard by now they should avoid overusing and misusing these drugs, which can contribute to resistance. But the extensive use of antibiotics in agriculture — and its culpability in a human health crisis — cannot be ignored. Science isn't ignoring it. Neither can Washington lawmakers.

A few years ago, Congress considered following the recommendations of scores of scientists to phase out the use of antibiotics in animal farming, except specifically to treat disease. Though researchers, including those at Iowa State University, estimated the cost to the livestock industry and consumers would be small, the agriculture industry opposed the legislation — and won. The Food and Drug Administration is trying to rein in the routine use of drugs in animals, but it is unclear whether producers are responding.

At the very least, Congress should require more reporting on what drugs are being used on what animals so scientists can better track the impact on human health. "We need to know what's going on," said Dr. Lance Price during a recent meeting with the Register's editorial board. He and his colleagues have traced new strains of antibiotic-resistant pathogens to industrial livestock operations.

Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, can ensure such data is gathered by requiring it in the Animal Drug User Fee Act, which the committee is discussing now. Longer term, American producers, who lead the world in aggressive use of antibiotics, should move toward reducing and eliminating the use of the drugs, except to directly treat disease.

It has been more than a decade since producers in Denmark stopped using antibiotics for growth promotion in animals. The small increase in feed costs was ameliorated by the decrease in spending on antibiotics. Pork production rose. It's certainly no coincidence that Denmark has fewer problems with antibiotic-resistant infections in hospitals than the United States does.

It's time for this country to care as much about protecting human health as growing big cows or chickens.

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The Gazette. March 1, 2013.

Take better care of Iowa's resources

A little more than two years ago, Iowans voted overwhelmingly to cement the Iowa Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund into the state constitution. The measure, which was supported by nearly 63 percent of voters, would pump three-eighths of a cent from any future state sales tax increase into outdoor recreation and conservation efforts.

A Senate subcommittee recently signed off on a bill that would power that pump by raising the state sales tax by three-eighths of a cent, a move that would collect more than $120 million annually. The measure is eligible for debate by the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, is among its leading backers.

We understand that Senate Study Bill 1117 probably isn't going to become law. Gov. Terry Branstad has said that he doesn't support the tax increase. Politically, it's all but doomed, at least this year.

But that doesn't mean it's not a good idea. And we'd like to see lawmakers prove our prediction wrong.

Maybe you read the words "outdoor recreation" and think of campsites and canoes. The fund certainly can provide a boost to the quality of Iowa's recreational offerings and their multi-billion-dollar economic impact.

But, even more important, Iowa is in need of additional dollars to protect its land and water resources. The state is embarking on ambitious efforts to reduce agricultural runoff and better manage its watersheds, both with an eye on downstream pollution and flooding. Conservation of Iowa's rich, valuable soil is also at stake.

Iowa's policy preference is to encourage better land use and runoff practices through incentives that encourage voluntary changes. But those incentives must be funded adequately to succeed. The state's runoff reduction strategy will require incentives that far exceed the state's current conservation budget. And if they don't succeed, Iowa farmers and agribusinesses could face mandated measures prescribed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The cost of federal requirements could far exceed the cost of a modest sales tax increase.

In 2010, voters showed how strongly they feel about recreation and conservation. Lawmakers should follow their lead.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Feb. 28, 2013.

'Cousins Law' a worthy idea

More than two months ago, state Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, said he would be introducing legislation similar to a proposed "Cousins Law" during the 2013 legislative session.

He did so last week, proposing a bill that would remove the statute of limitations on sex offenses involving children.

The proposed legislation is in response to the abduction and killings of cousins Elizabeth Collins, 8, and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, who were reported missing in July. Their bodies were subsequently discovered by hunters in December.

Danielson had talked of introducing new legislation in December after Robin Arnold of Cedar Falls began collecting signatures for a proposed "Cousins Law." The goal was to create more urgency when a child disappears, perhaps prompting actions such as vehicle checkpoints in the county and state shortly after a child is reported missing.

The bill introduced touched on those aspects and several others. The statute of limitations section got immediate praise from some during a Statehouse hearing.

"Sometimes it takes decades before the trauma can be spoken of," said Kim Hiscox, an organizer and spokeswoman for the National Child Safety Council. "A statute of limitations doesn't make sense."

We agree with that assessment and support Danielson's efforts in bringing another necessary discussion to the Statehouse this year.

Other changes to existing law were part of the bill. That would include setting aside $2 million for a state revolving fund under the control of the Department of Public Safety to pay for training and best practice protocols for law enforcement agencies involved in tracking missing children, including new alert systems and establishment of a statewide human trafficking task force.

Another would be modifying the state's sex offender registry tier structure so offenders on the list are ranked based on an assessment of their propensity to re-offend.

Danielson called the bill "a starting point."

Years ago, the kidnap and murder of Jetseta Gage of Cedar Rapids prompted legislation making it tougher for violent offenders to be released from prison. Subsequent offenses, including our tragic local example, show the need for further action.

We strongly support Danielson's "starting point" bill, and hope there is some serious discussion between our state leaders on these subjects.

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