Mason City (AP) — The Des Moines Register. Dec. 28, 2013.
Here are resolutions for Iowa lawmakers' 2014 session
On the first day of 2014, many Iowans will promise to lose weight, quit smoking or save more money. New Year's resolutions are about making changes now in order to improve your life going forward.
Members of the Iowa Legislature have the power to do this too, taking action that can improve the lives of all Iowans. Lawmakers will convene in less than two weeks, and they should work together to do exactly that.
During recent caucuses of their members at the Statehouse, the two political parties outlined their agendas for the 2014 session. Democrats say they will focus on the middle class, economic issues and perhaps expanding preschool services. Republicans are looking at ways to make Iowa more attractive for businesses to locate and expand.
Here are a few more issues lawmakers should resolve to address in 2014:
Public employee pensions
A legislative interim committee met in the fall to get status reports on the pension plans overseen by the state. Iowa's plans are in better shape than those in many other states, but they are underfunded to the tune of nearly $7 billion, according to reports from the plan managers. Iowa's pension reserves have been replenished thanks to Wall Street's recent rebound, but that can quickly evaporate in a future downturn. The Legislature should hire an outside consultant to get an independent analysis of state and local employee pension funds to assure the money will be there when employees are ready to retire.
Emergency medical services
An Iowan who calls 911 for a medical emergency has no idea who will respond or how long it will take an ambulance to arrive. The state doesn't publicly report the average response time for emergency medical services. While some communities have exceptional ambulance volunteers, nothing requires an Iowa county or an Iowa city to provide emergency medical services. And Iowa lacks laws or regulations that would require background checks of EMS workers. The state bureau overseeing emergency medical services is underfunded. In November, a committee of lawmakers met to hear from experts and the public and make recommendations for improving emergency services. When these recommendations are finalized, lawmakers should act on them.
Iowans depend on safe and efficient highways, roads and city streets, but the state is not bringing in enough revenue to pay for maintenance and new construction. The need is obvious for an increase in the gas tax, the most flexible and sensible way to pay for roads. Lawmakers from both parties understand that. The governor understands that. It's time to act.
In 2010, Iowa voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly favored a constitutional amendment creating a trust fund dedicated to conservation and recreation. It was a landslide for Mother Nature. The new fund had no money in it, but voters assumed lawmakers would follow through and increase the state sales tax a fraction of a penny to provide money for the fund. Iowans are still waiting. Lawmakers should finally listen to voters and raise the sales tax to address soil erosion, filthy waterways and destroyed wetlands that contribute to devastating and expensive floods. Trails and parks attract businesses and tourists who spend lots of money on everything from hotels to ammunition. Providing a steady source of revenue for the outdoors is a win for everyone.
The Des Moines Register has written extensively on Iowa's job licensing requirements. It makes sense to require licenses for doctors, nurses and some other workers whose skills have a direct bearing on public health or safety. But Iowa has 35 state licensing boards that oversee more than 100,000 people working in dozens of other occupations, including dietitians, hearing aid dispensers and sign language interpreters. Some boards impose very tough requirements on workers entering the field while exempting current workers from the requirements. Rather than protecting consumers, some boards limit competition. Unnecessary regulations impede job creation and business growth. Iowa lawmakers should form a committee to perform a thorough review of licensing requirements.
Perhaps the most egregious example of job licensing run amok is in cosmetology. The state requires anyone who wants to cut hair to complete 2,100 hours of training at a cosmetology school. But if an African-American wants to open a business simply braiding hair, she will have to attend cosmetology school, which may or may not even teach hair-braiding. The 2,100-hour cosmetology requirement is among the most burdensome in the United States. It leaves young Iowans, particularly low-income women, with big student loan debts and few opportunities for a decent paying job — if they graduate. It's time for the Legislature to reduce the number of hours required for a license and to consider whether someone should even need a state license to braid hair.
When lawmakers "reformed" education in 2013, they also created a large loophole in Iowa's home-schooling laws. The new "Independent Private Instruction" program allows parents to educate their children and four other unrelated children with no involvement from the state. Parents do not have to follow any specific educational curriculum. The children do not have to take assessment tests. These changes go too far. Most parents who educate their own children do so quite well. But there are some who aren't so diligent, and state law needs to look out for those children.
Each lawmaker will bring his or her own agenda to the Statehouse in a few weeks. That's fine. But those who care about the future of Iowa should address the issues above. They can resolve to do that today
Quad-City Times. Dec. 28, 2013.
Iowa rest stop plan needs Q-C input
Iowa is easing away from the interstate rest area business with plans to close two of the state's 40 rest stops and dropping the standard that kept a public interstate bathroom no more than an hour away.
The Iowa Department of Transportation said it will not replace two stops to be razed for an I-80 interchange just west of Des Moines in Dallas County. "There will be fewer rest areas in the state as we go into the future. There is no question about that," DOT Director Paul Trombino told The Des Moines Register.
Our Q-C region has been — inexplicably to us — rest stop deprived. The I-80 stop near Bettendorf's Middle Road is a spartan facility providing the basics, but nothing you might expect at the first Iowa stop for westbound travelers. Illinois is worse. The downsized eastbound I-80 stop near Rapids City still has the spectacular river view, but no longer offers vending or truck parking according to the Illinois DOT web site.
Trombino and others are challenging the notion that state government needs to provide as many rest stops. Maps and directional information no longer are needed as most folks have GPS or cellphones to chart their trips. Interstate corridor businesses believe they can serve the traveling public just fine.
Iowa 80 Truckstop executive Delia Meier told The Des Moines Register her world's largest truck stop can handle the traffic if DOT closes area rest stops. "We have lots of customers now who just go to the bathroom, and we are set up for that. People do not have to buy something to use our facilities and to park here," Meier said.
Meier and crew operate a wonderfully successful business and state government should avoid furnishing rest stops that compete. But DOT should take a few other views into consideration.
Some areas of Iowa lack convenient space to park rigs overnight to comply with federal DOT rules requiring commercial driver breaks. The Iowa Motor Truck Association suggests state government partnerships with existing truck stops to create more space.
Consumer preferences come into play. Register reporters found a Bettendorf couple who chose the Dallas County rest stop over private alternatives. "I just don't feel comfortable stopping at a gas station if we are not going to buy anything," Dianne Heimendinger told the Register. "I would prefer a rest area like this to walk around, picnic, that sort of thing." She and her husband Gary were enroute earlier this month to Colorado.
Most of all, our Q-C leaders should consider how strategic development of interstate rest stops — public or private — can improve area tourism. Right now, cross country motorists can breeze through our community with few reasons to stop. There are no more welcome centers. Our remaining rest stops are indistinguishable from others. That leaves the World's Largest Truck Stop to greet westbound travelers 20 miles past the metro Quad-Cities.
Then the first Iowa welcome center is just a couple miles further west in Wilton.
We're glad to see the Iowa DOT take a new look at these old rest stops. Our Q-C civic and tourism leaders can help by assuring that the next step — public or private — gives westbound cross-country motorists a proper Iowa greeting within the Q-C metro area.
(Dubuque) Telegraph Herald. Dec. 27, 2013.
President scores TD with choices for U.S. delegation to Olympics
Ideally, the Olympic Games engender a spirit of good feeling. Ideally, the Olympics bring people of different nations and beliefs together for honest athletic competition that is free of political influence or intrigue.
That is the ideal.
History has shown that the Olympics have fallen short of that ideal. There was the Summer Games of 1936 in Berlin, where Hitler intended to use the Olympics to showcase the superiority of the Aryan race; American track athlete Jesse Owens put a dent in those plans. There was the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches in Munich in 1972. Eight years later, the U.S. led a 65-nation boycott of the Summer Games in Moscow because of the Soviet Union's military invasion of Afghanistan (of all places).
On Feb. 7, the Winter Olympic Games will open in Russia, which in the past year has stepped-up its anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) position as a matter of national policy. Free-speech activities, such as writing about LGBT issues (lest a minor see it) or staging gay-pride rallies are outlawed.
Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993 — conviction used to bring prison terms of up to five years — but the government's official hard line against gays has only emboldened perpetrators of murders and assaults on gays and those suspected of being gay.
Regarding the Olympics, the sports minister of Russia, Vitaly Mutko said that all athletes' rights would be respected — but also that athletes must respect Russian law. "An athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn't banned from coming to Sochi, but if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable."
Anyway, though some nations are considering boycotting the Games in Sochi, most countries are planning to compete — but many will make their opinions known concerning Russia's crackdown on human rights.
In the U.S., President Obama is signaling his disdain for recent events in Russia (likely also including the Vladimir Putin administration's harboring Edward Snowden) through diplomatic means — namely the composition of the official U.S. delegation to Sochi.
The president won't attend the games. The first lady won't go. No ex-president has been asked to represent us. Neither will Vice President Joe Biden, who headed the U.S. delegation at the Winter Games in Vancouver four years ago. In fact, the president is not sending any senior government officials.
However, he is sending two well-known LGBT athletes, tennis legend Billie Jean King and figure skater Brian Boitano, to represent our country at the opening ceremonies. Hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who is openly gay, will also attend competitions.
Take that, Russia.
Perhaps it is only coincidental, but in the face of international criticism in the run-up to the Olympics, the Russian parliament approved amnesty for thousands of political dissidents, including many who had the temerity to say discouraging words about Putin.
As Russia tries to clean up its image before rolling out the welcome mat in Sochi, the political maneuvering before the Olympics might be more interesting than the Games themselves.
In any case, President Obama scored early points with his Sochi roster.
The (Fort Dodge) Messenger. Dec. 28, 2013.
These proposals have merit
When members of Congress get copies of bills under consideration, they also receive estimates of the measures' costs — not that it seems to do much good in controlling government spending.
Lawmakers wondering how bills would affect employment are left to do their own research or, worse, rely on lobbyists' claims.
Bills introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives would change that. They would require that the Congressional Budget Office also "score" bills based on how many jobs they would create, protect, or, more likely, eliminate.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. introduced the Senate version of the bill. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., introduced the House measure.
Manchin made an excellent point, insisting "it's time that lawmakers start thinking about one simple question before they cast their votes: how will this bill impact jobs and job growth in America?"
Both houses of Congress should make approval of the bill a priority in January.