Quad-City Times. Feb. 23, 2014.
Iowa fireworks bill needs longer fuse
From the sound of most Independence Days, it would be hard to conclude fireworks are illegal in Iowa.
Those licensed, legal displays illuminating our river valley are surrounded by unlicensed, illegal displays that draw the same oohs and aahs. Blasts resonate through neighborhoods the entire holiday week and beyond.
From the sound of it, enforcement of Iowa's 70-year-old ban seems almost nonexistent.
In that context, the bill in the Iowa Senate legalizing fireworks deserves debate.
In every other context, this sneak attack on Iowa law needs much, much more vetting before Iowa's fireworks ban is wiped off the books.
The bill would end the hypocrisy of forcing Iowans to buy fireworks out of state, then use them freely at home. But our reading suggests this will create much more enforcement for local police. The bill establishes penalties for selling to minors. It allows local fire chiefs to enact bans on particularly hot or dry days — not uncommon in summertime Iowa — then establishes offenses for violators. Enforcement, of course, falls to local police, who certainly need to be consulted before this becomes law.
Doctors, firefighters and moms and dads also may have something to say about this bill that popped out of a Senate committee last week. We've been to legislator forums, researched special interest wish lists and published hundreds of letters. We hadn't heard a peep about legalizing fireworks.
So the bill's quick approval in Senate committee during the final week of committee work startled us like bottle rocket.
Upon reflection, we expect legal Iowa fireworks would draw a lucrative business from across the Illinois border. Our safety concerns are tempered by the fact that recreational fireworks already seem eagerly embraced by Iowans.
But this proposal is far too provocative to be rushed into law. Fireworks have been illegal in Iowa since shortly after a dropped sparkler on Independence Day 1936 destroyed 20 businesses and left 100 people homeless in Remsen, Iowa. Five years before that, fireworks were blamed for a blaze that leveled five blocks of downtown Spencer.
Of course, lots has changed in those intervening seven decades. And Prophetstown and Maquoketa residents know that fireworks aren't needed to ignite blazes that destroy downtowns.
Still Iowa can wait a year to gather more input before rushing through this life and limb-changing proposal.
The Hawk Eye. Feb. 23, 2014.
Ho-hum session: Legislative session shows why lawmakers don't have to meet every year
The silly season appears to be over, and now the Iowa Legislature can get down to the business of crafting a budget.
Not much is expected from lawmakers this year as those up for election challenges don't want to irritate potential voters.
A legislative deadline passed last week, and some bills didn't make it to the next stage of consideration.
They include medical marijuana. The bill would legalize usage for some people with chronic conditions with oversight from the state.
It's been found to work fine in other states, but Iowa lawmakers aren't quite ready to embrace it here.
There also was a bill introduced that would have made it easier for women to later sue doctors who performed an abortion on them.
A resolution seeking to amend the state constitution to add the right to bear arms didn't find favor with lawmakers. We already have the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing the right to bear arms, so one has to wonder why this piece of legislation even was offered for consideration.
A measure regarding distillery sales won't go anywhere this year. This bill would allow micro-distilleries in Iowa to sell the liquor they make by the glass and increases the number of bottles they can sell on the premises.
Why the government would think it needs to dictate how private businesses do their work is a head scratcher, but when it comes to liquor, the government believes it should dictate the rules.
And a bill that would require all in-home daycares register with the state didn't pass muster, either. Currently those that look after five or fewer children are exempt.
Iowa already is an overregulated state. Lawmakers were right to stay out of the baby-sitting business. Parents should be smart enough to know who to leave their child with during the day. They don't need the government to help them with that chore. At least they shouldn't.
This is the kind of legislative session that provides an apt example why state lawmakers don't need to meet every year. Every other year would work just fine. It would save the state millions.
As they piece together a budget before they head out to campaign, perhaps they should consider that.
It would be in the taxpaying public's best interest.
Iowa City Press-Citizen. Feb. 19, 2014.
Iowa should look to New Mexico on medical marijuana
It's been four years since the Iowa Board of Pharmacy voted 6-0 to propose legislation that would reclassify marijuana and make it possible to legalize the drug for medical purposes. (The anecdotal and statistical information provided in the statewide forums held by the board showed that marijuana already is serving a medicinal purpose for many people suffering from glaucoma, fibromyalgia and many other chronic illnesses.)
That's four years those chronically ill Iowans and their families have waited for a majority of state lawmakers — after looking at the successes and failures among the other states that have medical marijuana programs — to have the political courage to come up with a workable medical marijuana program for the state. (Actually, not all have waited. Some have decided to move on to other states where they or their loved ones can be prescribed medical cannabis.)
That's four years those chronically ill Iowans have been struggling to persuade more state lawmakers to stop snickering at the mere mention of "marijuana" and, instead, to start discussing the controversial issue like grown-ups.
And it looks like those chronically ill Iowans are going to have to wait a while longer.
As he has done in several years past, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa, introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow patients with certain medical conditions to obtain medical marijuana with a prescription from a physician and authorization from the state. The program proposed in Senate File 2215 is based on New Mexico's Medical Cannabis Program — a highly successful program that the Board of Pharmacy listed as a possible model for Iowa.
Unfortunately — as has happened in with similar proposals for the past 35 years — Bolkcom's bill is likely to die on the legislative vine. It simply didn't have enough bipartisan support to make it through the legislative funnel. (And even if by some miracle it did manage to be approved by the Legislature, it's unlikely Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad would support any measure that decriminalizes marijuana in any way.)
"We have a lot of work to do to educate legislators in (the Capitol) about the urgency and importance of this issue to many Iowa families," Bolkcom said.
On this issue, it seems the majority of Iowa lawmakers simply are lagging behind their constituents. Over the past four years, polls commissioned by The Des Moines Register have found that a clear majority of participants agree that Iowa should join the 20 other states, along with the District of Columbia, that allow marijuana to be prescribed for medical use.
We don't think Iowa should be taking steps toward following Colorado and Washington into fully legalizing marijuana. But after the recommendation from the pharmacy board, it's become impossible for critics to argue credibly that marijuana has "no accepted medical use for treatment."
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Feb. 21, 2104.
No need to rush online schools
Online schools may be a good option for a small subset of the student population.
Iowa's leaders, however, should be wary of opening up the gates for an unlimited number of for-profit online schools that take students out of their district school buildings.
Currently, there are two online schools authorized in Iowa — Iowa Connections Academy in Anita, and Iowa Virtual Academy in Guttenburg. They have about 520 students between them.
The state is in a three-year pilot program that authorized those schools.
House Study bill 610 would expand the opportunities for private companies to operate in the state by allowing them to partner with charter schools or set up on their own.
State Sen. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, is the chairman of the House Education Committee. He introduced the bill last week.
"I always want to provide as many options for parents as I can, and I feel the online program serves one of those options for parents," Jorgensen said.
"This legislation takes (online education) to the next step," he added. "If we do nothing right now and don't have a plan in place when the three years is over, it will just fizzle out."
We're pretty sure they'll still be there after the three years.
The governor's office, so far, is adhering to a wait-and-see policy.
"Since we are in the second year of the three-year pilot, we want to wait until the end of the third year to assess how the two programs worked," said Linda Fandel, the governor's special adviser on education.
The online companies currently pay a $50,000 base fee to their host districts and provide a small percentage of the per-pupil state aid — $6,121 for fiscal year 2014 — to the home district as well.
"We consider ourselves an Iowa school," Connections Academy Principal James Brauer said. "We will do everything the Iowa codes indicate are the expectations of an Iowa school. Even with our own company, I've made it very, very clear; we are more of an Iowa school than we are a (Connections Academy) school."
Both of the schools, however, are run by corporations with headquarters in other states.
The bottom line should go without saying. What is best for the individual student? That's going to take quite a bit of data and research.
How much does the interaction with peers as a child and teen matter in becoming a well-rounded adult?
We don't see the need to rush into an expanded role for online schools. We agree with the governor's office. Let the three year pilot run its course, garner as much information as possible and make a more informed assessment.