Quad-City Times. Feb. 8, 2014.
Iowa vote fraud probe fizzles
Iowa legislators worked over Secretary of State Matt Schultz pretty well at a recent hearing on Schultz's personal push to clean up voting rolls.
Schultz staked his political career on his high-profile effort to curb voter fraud. Almost immediately after being elected in 2010, he alerted county election officials he was targeting immigrants he believed were voting improperly.
County auditors waited and waited for Schultz to follow through. It took more than a year for him to acquire a federal citizenship database to check the legality of perhaps 1,000 Iowa voters Schultz suspected of voting illegally. The $240,000 probe led to 26 arrests of folks who mostly seemed confused, not conspirators.
At the same time, Schultz's crackdown led to improper challenges of three Iowa voters whose names were incorrectly on a list of ineligible felons. Turns out, all had their voting rights restored years ago. Schultz's round-up has nine former Iowa felons facing new felony charges for voting in recent elections.
We were early and ardent supporters of Gov. Tom Vilsack's initiative to more easily restore felons' voting rights. Voting is not a reward bestowed for good behavior. We regard voting as an important way to engage all Iowans, including ex-felons, in civic leadership. Gov. Terry Branstad believed otherwise. He rescinded Vilsack's order and reinstated the cumbersome process that pretty much eliminates any voting by ex-felons. And Schultz eagerly added ex-felons to his voting purge.
Schultz chose to spend his secretary of state career collaring a relative handful of voters whose mistakes might have been cleared up with a public information campaign. A better choice, we believe, would have been to build support for voter ID cards, a more effective way to reduce voting fraud. If implemented earnestly, we believe a voter ID effort could actually increase participation. We're mindful of concerns about access to cards. But a state that can put lottery tickets, alcohol, driver's licenses and tax forms in the hands of almost every adult resident certainly is capable of competently equipping each voter with a laminated ID.
Now Schultz is running for Iowa's Third Congressional District seat. He'll be touting his record on this voter crackdown. We believe Iowa and Schultz's candidacy would be better served if he could tout a massive increase in Iowa voting participation, not the six-figure investigation that nabbed a handful of immigrants and ex-felons.
The Des Moines Register. Feb. 7, 2014.
It's time to tighten access to vaccination exemptions
Like Iowa, Colorado is one of 48 states that allow parents to cite personal or religious reasons to exempt their children from vaccinations required to attend school. Amid a national outbreak of preventable diseases like whooping cough, Colorado officials are working to make it more difficult for parents to do this. One proposal being considered would require them to receive counseling or education related to vaccinations before they can opt out for nonmedical reasons.
Iowa should consider a similar measure. If government doesn't bring some common sense and truth to the thoroughly debunked idea linking vaccines to autism, who is going to do it? Children can't pick their parents, and they are left vulnerable to illnesses that can cause serious health problems. Just as troubling, unvaccinated children put other children at risk for communicable diseases.
And there are no shortage of these children in Iowa. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, 2,184 Iowa children were granted an exemption from vaccinations for medical reasons in the 2012-13 school year. More than twice that number, 4,958, were granted an exemption for religious reasons. In 2012, there were 1,700 cases of pertussis in the state, an illness that is preventable with a routine vaccine.
People are free to practice whatever religion they choose and to listen to whatever anti-vaccine spokesman they desire. But they should not be free to so easily put the rest of us at risk by being granted an exemption to Iowa law requiring vaccinations for children.
Iowa City Press-Citizen. Feb. 9, 2014.
State should wait till feds weigh in on e-cigarettes
When it comes to the controversial question of how the state of Iowa should regulate e-cigarettes, there already are a few key points of common ground:
— Just about everyone (if not absolutely everyone) agrees that ingesting nicotine through the vapor provided by e-cigarettes is a significantly healthier (at least, less-dangerous) activity than ingesting nicotine through the combination of tobacco smoke, chemicals and carcinogens found in cigarettes.
Now, there still needs to be studies done on just how much healthier/less-dangerous e-cigarettes are, and there still needs to be studies done on the second-hand effects of the nicotine vapor given off by the product. But e-cigarettes clearly are a healthier/less-dangerous alternative to regular ol' tobacco cigarettes.
— And just about everyone also agrees that there needs to be some regulation of e-cigarettes, if only to ensure that they are made automatically available to children. Industry lobbyists and public health advocates alike agree on those portions of proposed legislation that restrict anyone under the age of 18 from buying e-cigarettes.
But that's about where the level of agreement ends.
Industry lobbyists want legislation that, while restricting sales to minors, also clarifies that e-cigarettes are not tobacco products and, thus, shouldn't be subject to any of the other restrictions the state in place for tobacco products. That means the products wouldn't be subject to the heavy tax rate the state places on tobacco products (putatively because of the negative effect such products have on public health). Nor would e-cigarettes be included in the restrictions outlined in the Smoke-Free Air Act, which prohibits smoking (but not necessarily vaping) in most public, indoor spaces.
Public health lobbyists, however, want legislation to make it clear that it really doesn't matter whether the "cigarette" in question has an "e'' in front of it or not. They view the current legislative proposals as "a deal with the devil" or "a Trojan horse," in which — in the name of supposedly protecting children — the state would be giving tobacco producers and marketers the ability to skirt regulations for selling to adults and thus undermine years of successful anti-smoking campaigns.
Lobbyists from groups such as the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Iowa Public Health Association have formally opposed the bill and are calling on lawmakers to turn down any legislation that includes definitions for "alternative nicotine products" or "vapor products" and creates a legal difference between e-cigarettes and other tobacco products. And Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has asked for lawmakers to allow the state to regulate e-cigarettes just as it does tobacco products.
Unfortunately, this state-level debate is playing out in the absence of firm direction from federal authorities on the regulation of e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue a statement on the devices later this year, and we think state lawmakers should think twice about agreeing to any "deal with the devil" until the feds weigh in.
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Feb. 9, 2014.
Time to take the politics out of the juvenile home discussion
The partisan political horses may already be out of the barn regarding the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home. But we hope it's not too late to rein them in.
Polk County District Judge Scott Rosenberg last week ordered the state to reopen the Toledo home, saying Gov. Terry Branstad overstepped his authority when he ordered the facility closed last month.
The Iowa Juvenile Home provided housing and schooling for children in the state's legal system.
The state-run facility has been the subject of controversy since last summer when an advocacy group criticized the home's practice of placing young girls in extended isolation.
The revelation led to investigations by other state agencies and a legislative oversight panel. A state task force recommended the home remain open if economically feasible.
Rosenberg's ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed against the state by Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61 and four state lawmakers.
One of those lawmakers is state Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, who is seeking the Democratic Party's nomination to run against Branstad this fall.
"The judge is the latest in a long line of Iowans who have tried to get Terry Branstad to follow the law. The ruling is another example of how this governor operates above the law, without accountability or respect for the rule of law," Hatch said in a statement released through his campaign.
Hatch may be referring to a 1992 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that Branstad, in his previous stint as governor, broke the law by withholding a pay raise unionized state workers won in binding arbitration under the collective bargaining process laid out in the state code. AFSCME-affiliated state workers were affected. Branstad complained at that time that the ruling led to a state sales tax increase.
Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers defended the juvenile home closing.
"Because the children weren't receiving the education they deserve and their safety and treatment were being compromised, Gov. Branstad believed seeking alternative court-ordered placements in licensed and accredited facilities — or in their own homes — was in the best interest of the children," he said.
"We're ecstatic," said Dave Nagle, a former congressman and Waterloo attorney who grew up in Tama County and is working pro bono on behalf of the group "Save Our Home."
"We have contact with some of the children who were displaced, and we're hoping they can return to the home soon," he said.
Nagle and Branstad also are political adversaries from way back. During his first run for governor in 1982, Branstad, then lieutenant governor, referred to Nagle as "a hatchet man" after one of Nagle's rhetorical salvos against Branstad when Nagle headed the Iowa Democratic Party.
So suffice it to say, some of the antagonists in the juvenile home discussion have a little history.
We would respectfully suggest that those involved put the political baggage aside, keep the welfare of our young people at the top of their minds, engage in an honest dialogue and talk to each other instead of about each other.
And when the urge comes to unleash a cleverly turned political barb, well ...
Just say whoa.