Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

By

Iowa City Press-Citizen. March 13, 2014

Medical marijuana is a job for the Iowa Legislature

For Iowa families suffering through the ravages of chronic illness, the many recent expressions of sympathy by lawmakers, bureaucrats and the governor are utterly worthless. These families want/need Iowa to join the 20 states that already have medical marijuana programs in place, and they want/need Iowa to do it as soon as possible.

Late last year, Maria La France decided to try bypassing the legislative sausage-making process and, instead, sent an email to the Iowa Board of Pharmacy requesting that the board use its rule-making authority to set up a medical cannabis program in the state. As a model, she specifically requested the board adopt rules similar to those used by New Mexico for its successful program.

La France made her plea in person before the board back in January — explaining that she is hoping to obtain a marijuana-derived oil for her 12-year-old son, Quincy Hostager, who suffers from epileptic seizures. And in the months since La France's testimony, the board has received numerous similar requests.

On March 12, the board's chairman, responding to all such requests as a group, said the board lacked the authority to implement such a program. And in this particular case, unfortunately, we think the board made the right call.

Yes, there is a 35-year-old provision in the state code that could possibly be read as granting the board such authority. But even under the broadest of interpretations, the provision doesn't give the board the clear and equally essential authority to:

— Establish a distribution system for medical marijuana.

— Create a list of medical conditions that marijuana could be prescribed for.

— Set criminal penalties for violating the law.

— Or put in place a quality control system.

Only Iowa lawmakers have such authority, and it's long past time for them to exercise it.

Back in 2010, Democratic legislative leaders — facing an unfriendly electorate and an uncertain election — cited that decades-old provision as a way to punt the issue back to the board. That bit of political cowardice (followed by the ideological intransigence of the House Republicans and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on this issue) has slowed any further advancement to a glacial pace.

The only real progress made in the past four years has been an increase in the number of lawmakers who are comfortable offering their public condolences for the Iowa families who are suffering needlessly. Such growing sentiment, of course, is a far cry from actual legislation.

Back in 1979 — when a medical marijuana bill was first introduced in the Legislature — it was understandable for state lawmakers to be somewhat hesitant about leading the way into the largely unchartered waters of partial legalization. After all, it was unclear how the federal government would respond to such state initiatives.

But since then, the path has been well paved over by 20 other states, and the U.S. Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, stated last year that the federal government will not intervene in the implementation of state medical cannabis programs, as long as the activities are covered under state law.

In an interview after the hearing on March 12, La France told The Des Moines Register that she and her family might now move to Colorado to ensure that Quincy can get legal access to the medication he needs. And after nearly four decades of legislative inaction, we certainly can understand the family's frustration.

In order to stop any more families from having to face such a difficult choice, it's time for lawmakers and the governor to create the medical cannabis program that the pharmacy board doesn't have the authority to create on its own.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. March 16, 2014

Allow coaches to do their jobs

Coaching at the high school level can be a challenge. Dealing with the kids is usually the easy part. Parents may be a different matter.

Virtually every parent wants to see their children excel at whatever school or extra-curricular activity in which they participate. Many find it difficult to accept that perhaps that area of excellence won't be on the court, field, mat or track.

Sometimes, it gets ugly. Early last week it appeared as if up to five coaches from the Independence School District's girls basketball program would be stepping down. Bullying by some parents was cited.

In an email to The Courier, assistant coach Rob Ratchford said he and head coach Rod Conrad were resigning, and that three others might follow suit.

"Our head coach Rod Conrad resigned his position on (March 6) as a result of parents using bullying in an attempt to get their child more time on the court. Coach Conrad and the rest of the staff have taken a stance that bullying is not allow(ed) in schools and it will not be allowed in the basketball program," Ratchford wrote.

It appears the situation is being worked on and in the process of being smoothed over.

In a statement released Wednesday, the district said that Conrad is considering remaining in his position after meeting with district administrators.

Conrad noted that administrators had moved to "tighten up and improve the parent-coach protocol in our district."

Good for them. We hope this situation is resolved for everyone involved.

Let's face it, this is but a tiny microcosm of a widespread problem and no community is immune. Youth and school sports are just one of those areas where you are apt to witness some incidences where the kids exhibit a bit more maturity that some of the parents.

We are not privy to how exactly things unfolded here. But the fact that — at least at some point — no fewer than five coaches were contemplating severing their coaching ties with the team, speaks volumes. So does the district's stated aim of tightening up the parent-coach protocol.

The overwhelming majority of school sports coaches are in it for the kids, just like teachers. Many of them are teachers. Coaches can leave a lasting imprint on a person's life, imparting lessons in teamwork, hard work and discipline. You don't have to be a star, or even a starter, to reap those benefits.

Ratchford had described angry phone calls before and after games as part of the problem, as well as being approached after games. He stated that he had received a threatening phone call from a parent.

"There was just a bunch of things over the last few years," he said.

The publicity that has ensued has probably grown larger than anyone ever intended or wanted. We're heartened that the administration is looking at taking measures to limit future problems.

Parents have entrusted their children with their particular sports teams and coaches. The next step is allowing the coaches to coach.

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The Des Moines Register. March 16, 2014

Iowa needs fresh look at 'college cards'

The Government Accountability Office found that hundreds of colleges and universities contract with financial institutions to offer banking products to students. These products include checking accounts with ATM access and debit cards where federal loan and student-aid money may be deposited.

Among the concerns of GAO investigators: Students at some schools may not have adequate access to ATMs where they can make free withdrawals, and the total fees they are paying to use the cards are not known.

The GAO investigation also brings to light a practice that raises concerns beyond students paying fees to gain access to their loan money: so-called revenue-sharing agreements between some banks and schools. These contracts provide financial rewards to colleges when students patronize a specific bank. Schools may encourage students to open an account with that bank instead of providing unbiased information about other methods of collecting their loan money and student aid payments.

The GAO reports that revenue-sharing agreements for college cards have been declining, at least in part due to "the negative public attention the practice has received." There is something wrong when colleges steer students toward a financial product because the arrangement financially benefits the school, and not necessarily the student.

The GAO investigation came at the request of U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia. Some of the agreements "look far too similar to the student loan and credit card abuses we cracked down on in the past," said Harkin.

The 63-page GAO report released in February does not identify schools that were investigated, and the Government Accountability Office would not provide the names to The Des Moines Register editorial board. So we asked Iowa's three regents' universities for any contracts with financial institutions offering banking services to students, as well as marketing materials related to those services.

Iowa State University partners with U.S. Bank to offer accounts to students. Federal aid remaining after tuition is paid can be deposited into the account and students can use their university-issued identification card as a debit card to access the money. Iowa State receives a "royalty" payment based on the percentage of students and former students who have these U.S. Bank accounts. The school collects about $300,000 per year.

ISU Treasurer Joan Piscitello told the editorial board the school is planning to soon update information given to students to ensure more transparency and disclosure. Written information will make clear that opening a U.S. Bank account is optional, and more information will be provided about the school's relationship with the bank.

The University of Iowa partners with Hills Bank and Trust Co. to offer students a checking account linked to their university IDs. Though such an account is optional, the mailings and fliers emphasize the benefits of opening an account with this particular bank. In one brochure, students are offered a "free gift with your new UI Student Checking Account." Parents who may want to deposit money into the student account are instructed to provide a driver's license, Social Security card and personal bank account information.

While this account may or may not be a good option for a student, it's definitely a profitable option for the University of Iowa and the bank. In addition to the $125,000 "signing bonus" from Hills Bank, the university receives a percentage of the students' "swipe fees," with a guaranteed minimum payment of $50,000 per year. The bank pays the school rent for a branch office on campus and contributes to the cost of the cards provided to students.

According to the contract, the arrangement nets the school more than $1 million over a five-year period. The bank may get a customer for life.

The University of Northern Iowa does not offer any ATM/debit/credit or bank account to students, said spokeswoman Lindsay Cunningham. "We require students to provide us their bank account information if they want to receive funds electronically, but these are the accounts that they have established with the banking institution of their choice."

"Many students trust their schools and, as a result, may view co-branding as an endorsement and an indication their school has negotiated the best terms for them," the GAO report said. But are they a better option than what a credit union or a different bank might offer? Do new students assume they should simply get in line at orientation to sign up for an account because other students are doing so?

Harkin has raised concerns about the lack of transparency for students and families when it comes to the agreements schools have with financial institutions.

The schools should post these contracts online. In fact, they should post all bids received from financial institutions seeking to facilitate such accounts.

Iowans need assurances the schools are focused on providing the best deal to students, not gaining the most revenue.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. March 14, 2014

Ignition locks for every offender goes too far

If there were legislation that could take away the pain inflicted by drunken drivers, surely it would pass the Legislature with unanimity.

If families torn apart by senseless acts of intoxicated driving could be made whole again, there would be no question — laws would be rewritten.

But the rewriting of Iowa's law affecting drunken-driving offenders won't take the pain away. It won't make families whole. And it's unclear whether it would even deter drunken driving. Lawmakers must take a hard look at legislation that would expand ignition interlock requirements.

Iowa law now requires ignition interlocks for repeat drunken-driving offenders and those convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 or higher. The legislation being considered would expand ignition interlock requirements to all offenders convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.08.

This is a different approach, but not necessarily a better one. One of the great deterrents of drunken driving is the threat of losing a license. Many people are dependent on their vehicles for work and for tending to family. If you think that drinking and driving could put at risk your livelihood or the ability to get kids to school and other activities, that's a significant disincentive.

The proposed legislation would allow convicted drunken drivers to apply immediately for a conditional temporary restricted license. With an ignition interlock device on a vehicle, convicted drunken drivers would be free to drive anywhere — which doesn't seem so bad. If the punishment isn't harsh, it removes some of the incentive to avoid drinking and driving in the first place.

Installing a device seems awfully severe for a first-time offender who made a mistake. If it is a good idea to have an ignition lock after one conviction, why not for all vehicles before any convictions?

For the serious offender, the person who is likely to drink and drive again, attaching an ignition device isn't foolproof. Plenty of people have access to more than one vehicle. For drivers who aren't concerned about driving with a suspended license, they would likely not be concerned about driving a different vehicle to get around the ignition interlock device.

If there were a law that could put an end to drinking and driving, every lawmaker in every state would be in favor of it. But problems can seldom be legislated away. Putting ignition interlocks on the vehicle of every drunken driving offender seems to be an over-the-top idea that won't necessarily curtail the problem.

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