Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

By

Mason City Globe Gazette. April 13, 2014.

Legalize use of cannabis oil

On four different occasions in recent years, we've published editorials calling for the legalization of medical marijuana. We are not alone. Our Lee Enterprises sister papers, most recently the Sioux City Journal, have done the same.

For whatever reason — mostly, we suspect, an irrational fear that even strictly controlled access would lead to widespread abuse — such legislation has never passed.

Perhaps this will be the year. Those with any compassion for those suffering from nearly unbearable symptoms should hope so.

We have reason for new optimism. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Thursday that the Senate will move a medical marijuana bill before the end of this session. He agreed to sign off on very narrowly crafted legislation to permit the use of cannabis oil for seizure disorders.

Gronstal and House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said the lobbying efforts of mothers whose children have seizure disorders often associated with epilepsy have kept the issue alive.

"We think there are mothers who have come to the Capitol with tragic stories, difficult circumstances for their kids, who have made a very compelling case that certain elements of marijuana, cannabis oil — nothing to smoke — can dramatically impact the health and welfare of their children," Gronstal said in a story by James Q. Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, a contributor to our Globe Gazette Des Moines Bureau.

We commend these mothers for their efforts and urge them and others to keep up the pressure to get relief that should have been available years ago.

Those mothers are not alone, of course. We remember vividly the plea from West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer, whose daughter Margaret, 24, has a form of epilepsy treatable with a marijuana extract. As it is now, his family would face felony charges if caught administering the extract. He spoke for many.

Yet, some legislators previously viewed the issue callously, saying Iowans in need of the relief that medical marijuana could provide should move to states where it is available. That is absurd.

Now, though, at too long last, that attitude seems to be softening. While Paulsen said he couldn't guarantee whether the Legislature will act this session, he has encouraged continued dialogue on the issue.

Perhaps that will change more minds, like it did of a major player in the issue, Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield and a former law enforcement officer. He has come out in favor of legalized cannabidiol, a compound in cannabis that has little of the mood-altering THC but greater amounts of the chemical CBD that has medical impact.

Gov. Terry Branstad, who has shied away from approval of medical marijuana, also indicated support for narrowly crafted legislation such as Gronstal gave his blessing to.

There's one more potential roadblock, Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock. Like Gronstal, he would have to sign off to bring the bill to the Senate floor, and has said he would have to read such legislation before deciding whether to do so.

We would hope he'll get the message from Iowans who, in a poll released last month, showed 81 percent of voters support allowing marijuana use for medical purposes.

Because we sympathize with those with diseases that medical marijuana might help, we don't think this cannabis oil measure goes far enough. We trust Iowa's medical community and state officials enough to come up with a system that would help the many people who have chronic pain and other symptoms.

But right now, we'll be thankful for whatever relief victims may get. Legalizing medical marijuana for everyone who needs it is a debate that can wait. We urge lawmakers to not shut down this session without approving this big first step in giving suffering Iowans relief that cannabis oil can provide.

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Telegraph Herald. April 13, 2014.

Veishea called off, everybody loses

It's said that one bad apple can spoil the entire barrel.

In the case of Veishea, Iowa State University's annual spring celebration, it's a beer barrel.

In these parts, the word Veishea (a 90-year-old acronym based on the letters of the university's colleges at the time) has become synonymous with drunkenness, destruction and mayhem. It doesn't happen every spring, and it certainly does not involve every ISU student, but it has happened often enough, with enough students, that they have spoiled for everyone what is largely a popular and pleasant celebration in Ames.

Ironically, Veishea events are officially alcohol-free. However, some students use Veishea week (which often coincides with transition from winter to spring weather) as an excuse to act irresponsibly and dangerously.

After a Tuesday night of Campustown mayhem during which a student was injured by a pulled-down light pole, the university's president, Steven Leath, announced the cancellation of the remainder of Veishea 2014. Months of plans and preparation by countless students went for naught, washed away in the sea of alcohol consumed by revelers.

Leath's decision to cancel Veishea, though justified and prudent, spoils it for the rest of the ISU community and hurts the image of the university and state.

Will the president's decision have any impact — positive or negative — on behaviors? This editorial was completed hours before Saturday night descended on Campustown, but Friday night was relatively quiet, and that's a good sign.

People who are intent on drinking too much and thinking too little rarely need much of a reason. The problem is not confined to ISU. Consider that after Monday night's men's basketball national championship game, students at the losing University of Kentucky rioted — but so did those at the victorious University of Connecticut. Riot when you lose? Riot when you win? Who needs an excuse? A quip on Facebook suggested that ISU students rioted because it was a Tuesday — but it's not much of a joke.

Using simple math, here's some historical perspective on Veishea and riots. The students who tore up Campustown and spoiled Veishea 2014 have parents who are old enough to have participated in the first riot during Veishea 1988. That should be enough to show that these embarrassments have gone on long enough.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. April 10, 2014.

Iowa courts keep pace with expanding types of media coverage

In a decision that bolsters openness and transparency, the Iowa Supreme Court recently approved amendments to rules regarding audio and video recording and photography of courtroom procedures.

The new amendments broaden the court's definition of news media and allows for live electronic reporting, such as tweeting and blogging by media, provided there is advance approval from the presiding judge.

We believe those amendments are in line with the expanded use of social media in all segments of society, including the jobs of collecting and disseminating information and news.

The new rules take effect May 1.

Iowa has a solid reputation of openness in its judicial branch of government.

It was less than three years ago when we were arguing in support of the Cameras in the Courtroom Act, which would have required television coverage of open sessions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Iowa was one of the states leading the way regarding television cameras in the courtrooms on a state basis, getting on board with that concept in 1979.

The issue regarding these new amendments in Iowa was reviewed for 10 months by a 15-person Iowa Supreme Court advisory committee that consisted of Iowa judges, attorneys and members of the media.

Iowa Supreme Court Justice Bruce Zager, who is from Waterloo, commented on the amendments.

"I am confident the expanded news media coverage rules as amended will continue Iowa's tradition of openness and transparency of court proceedings and move us closer to Chief Justice (Mark) Cady's goal of being the best court system in the nation," Zager said.

District Judge Colleen Weiland said the updated rules address two problems with the expanded media provisions.

"One being who counts as media and the other being nontraditional types of coverage including live blogging. The old rules did not address either of those two items," she said.

It hasn't been clear under the old rules whether reporters could use computers and phones to report, blog and tweet live on courtroom proceedings. It also wasn't clear how bloggers and others who do not work for traditional media outlets were treated.

In the new rules, the news media is defined as anyone who regularly reports on matters of public interest "in any medium."

In comparison with the rest of the nation, Iowa has a good record of openness and transparency.

The way in which we are reporting community information and breaking news has been changing. That is apparent to everybody.

These amendments help keep pace with technological change, while maintaining Iowans' access to the judicial process.

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Iowa City Press-Citizen. April 11, 2014.

Database info does, in fact, count as a 'list'

When is a door not a door? When it's ajar.

When is a road not a road? When it's ahead.

When is an angle not just any angle? When it's acute.

When is a list not a list? When it involves information, maintained on a state database, that blocks hundreds of former state employees from ever being rehired by the state even though, since 2009, administrative law judges have ruled multiple times that Iowa doesn't have the authority to issue such blanket lifetime bans.

Although none of those jokes are particularly funny, the last one is definitely important because of the fervency in which Mike Carroll, the now former director of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, told state lawmakers, "There is no 'blacklist.' There is no 'do-not-hire' list. There is no list."

And it's important because Jimmy Centers, spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, said that such records were individually maintained in a state computer database and made into a spreadsheet only at the request of the AP.

"There isn't some list that we're manipulating every single day," Centers said.

Carroll was fired Tuesday, hours after the agency finally released a spreadsheet that identified 975 workers who are disqualified from future employment because they were either fired or resigned before termination. (Carroll also told lawmakers that — despite later released emails to the contrary — no state employees were paid to keep legal settlements confidential.)

The Associated Press had requested information about the list four months ago under the state's public records law. And the agency finally agreed to release the information after AP reported last month that the executive department — under three different governors — had engaged in the practice for more than two decades.

The information on the spreadsheet finally provided to AP goes back to 1990. Although the list doesn't state why an employee was fired — which is confidential under Iowa law — it does show that practice is widespread across the executive department agencies. It includes employees whose offenses may be egregious enough that they could warrant such a ban, but it also includes whistleblowers who deserve a chance to appeal such a ruling against them.

Such an appeal process does exist, but the former employees often don't know they are on the list until it is too late. The AP reports that, instead of ending the practice, the Department of Administrative Services merely stopped notifying workers when they're put in "exclusion status." They aren't told until they try to apply for another state job. And even if employees win an appeal when applying for a specific job, they aren't removed from the list and may have to go through the appeal process again if they were to apply for another job later on.

We're glad the AP stuck with its public records request, even after the department initially responded that the request could cost AP $11,656 to pay for the estimated 280 hours it would take for the department employees to remove the confidential information from the records. The department eventually agreed to release the spreadsheet for free, but it withheld the names of more than 600 other fired probationary and at-will employees.

The Branstad administration already is facing questions about former state employees allegedly being paid off in return for signing confidentiality agreements. Plus, federal authorities are looking into whether Teresa Wahlert, the Branstad-appointed director of Iowa Workforce Development, has illegally sought to influence appeals of unemployment benefit cases in favor of Iowa businesses. So it hardly seems like a good time for the Branstad administration to be playing semantic games in an attempt to keep watchdog groups like the AP and others from gaining access to public information about this discriminatory practice.

A list is a list is a list.

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