Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

By

The Des Moines Register. July 13, 2014.

Homeless tent camps are not the solution

Des Moines has invested a lot of public and private money in providing shelter and assistance for the homeless. This includes temporary shelters, transition housing, public housing and rent subsidies. Yet there are cracks in this system and a small percentage of the homeless population falls through those cracks.

You can see some of them camped along the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers.

These are people who have made it clear they do not want to live in any of the institutional shelter options available to them. They prefer to live by themselves in isolation. The problem is these living arrangements pose health and safety hazards to the homeless occupants and to the public safety workers who are called in on occasion to put out fires or rescue accident victims.

In response to complaints from the public, and out of concern for the safety of the homeless, the city has repeatedly sought to evict the campers. Each time the city has met resistance from some camp occupants and their advocates. Legal disputes have been playing out for more than a year in administrative proceedings, and an appeal is pending before the Iowa Court of Appeals.

It is hard to imagine the courts will ultimately force the city to sit on its hands while people put down permanent roots on public property to live in makeshift shelters that are not in compliance with building and fire safety codes and lack water and sanitary services.

If that is the outcome of these cases, then the law should be changed. That outcome would not be in the interest of the homeless, public safety workers or the public at large. In the face of such an exception, how could the city justify enforcement of zoning regulations or building and fire codes for other residents?

If the city is ultimately allowed to order the evacuation of the homeless camps, that should not be the end of the story, however.

Every effort should be made to help this homeless population find temporary shelter, a place to store their belongings and connections with social services. City officials have done that in the past, and they insist they would do the same in the future. That message should be clearly delivered to homeless campers who may fear being forced into even worse circumstances.

One thing public and private groups have learned in working on homeless issues is that there will never be enough temporary shelter space. As soon as new shelters are built or existing ones are enlarged, they will be filled. The only solution is to reduce the need for temporary shelter.

The goal of the most successful public and private housing assistance efforts is to help the homeless make a transition to permanent housing. That requires assistance in finding employment, health care, mental health services, transportation and child care.

Meeting those needs is especially challenging for those who fall into the category of the chronically homeless. But the effort should be made. The alternative of living in a makeshift camp by the river is not a reasonable, or humane, option.

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Iowa City Press-Citizen. July 13, 2014.

UI needs to keep its admission standards high

There's been a lot of talk lately — most of it coming from the leadership of the Iowa state Board of Regents — about the University of Iowa not being passionate enough about its recruitment of in-state undergraduates. Regent president Bruce Rastetter, for example, has gone as far as to accuse the university of being unwelcoming to Iowa high school graduates. And last month the board voted 8-1 to tie more closely the amount of state money a university receives and the percentage of in-state undergraduates it enrolls.

Regent policy and state administrative code, however, already require UI to accept each and every Iowa student who scores above 245 on the Regent Admission Index and who has completed the required number of high school courses.

Now that list of required courses differs slightly among the three universities — with UI's being the most stringent. So when it comes to recruitment efforts, about the only truly unwelcoming aspect of UI is that its admissions officials probably have to turn down applications from Iowa high school graduates at a higher rate than do their counterparts at ISU and UNI.

UI officials have launched a major, multimedia campaign to persuade more Iowa high school students to become Hawkeyes rather than Panthers or Cyclones. Yet those same officials have drawn a line in the sand and said the one thing UI will not do to attract more students is lower its standards for admission.

So, if you're a senior at a high school in Iowa and you're thinking about enrolling in UI, there is a quick way to see if you're likely to be accepted. Visit the Regent Admission Index on the website for the Iowa state Board of Regents (ww.regents.iowa.gov/RAI) and plug in the numbers requested for:

— Your composite score for the ACT, or your Critical Reading and Mathematics scores for the SAT.

— Your class ranking and the size of your graduating class.

— Your grade-point average.

— And the number of yearlong, core courses that you've completed in English, mathematics, natural science, social science and foreign language.

If the calculator gives you an unofficial index score above 245, odds are very strong that you'll be admitted to the three regent universities — provided, again, that you've also completed the minimum number of required high school courses. And if your score is well below 245 (or you haven't taken nearly enough English, math, science or foreign language courses), odds are that you'll need to spend some time in community college or some other program to get your grades up before reapplying.

If you're in the give-or-take range around 245 — or if you've completed most but not all of the high school requirements — there is still a chance you'll be admitted if you can "demonstrate potential and commitment to succeed at a regent university." A chance, but no guarantee.

As UI officials adapt to the regents new funding model, they need to keep those admission standards in place. They need to keep their focus on ensuring that the students admitted are (or soon will be) ready, willing and able to succeed in a college environment.

They need to avoid the temptation to accept more underprepared students as undergraduates just as a way to beef up their in-state statistics.

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Telegraph Herald. July 11, 2014.

Tobacco ban in parks but not casinos?

The Iowa city of Epworth just got tough on smoking. Even though state law already prohibits smoking in enclosed public spaces or public places where lots of people congregate, Epworth recently made it illegal to smoke inside the perimeter of the city's parks. On a 3-2 vote, the City Council banned the use of tobacco and nicotine products, including e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, in city parks, with a couple of exceptions.

One might wonder: Just how big a problem is smoking in Epworth parks? One might assume it's a significant issue if a group felt strongly enough about it to lobby for the change.

Actually, though, it wasn't a rash of smokers in Epworth parks that brought this issue to the fore. It turns out that local health officials must make at least one park or recreation area in the county tobacco-free as a requirement of a grant from the Iowa Department of Public Health. City officials in Dubuque weren't inclined to further prohibit smoking in an outdoor, wide open space, just to satisfy the state grant requirements. But anti-smoking advocates got Epworth to comply.

Not that banning tobacco in parks is a bad thing. Kids hang out in parks. And the fewer places kids see adults smoking, the less likely they are to gravitate toward the nasty habit. Or one might hope. Plus, smokers have a tendency to toss cigarette butts wherever they please; so the parks might be a bit tidier.

Still, for the Iowa Department of Public Health to hold state funding hostage to pressure communities to make a few parks tobacco-free doesn't seem to be aiming very high. If state officials are concerned about secondhand smoke, they have bigger targets they could pursue.

Like casinos, for instance.

For six years, Iowa casinos have enjoyed a gaping loophole in the state's smoking ban. In 2008, when lawmakers prohibited smoking in public places, they cowed to the casino lobby and granted gambling establishments an exemption. So, despite a statewide ban by which all other businesses must abide, gamblers are allowed to smoke away in Iowa's casinos. Apparently, the state's concerns about secondhand smoke end at the casino door. Casino workers and non-smoking gamblers take a back seat to the gambling revenue flowing to state coffers. It just doesn't make sense.

Creating more smoke-free places is generally a positive thing. But if we really want to move the needle on public health as it pertains to cigarette smoke, the state should be looking at casinos, not parks.

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Sioux City Journal. July 9, 2014.

Drive through I-29 work zone with care

As the controversy over traffic cameras in Sioux City rages on, we watch with incredulity.

Is all of this time and effort, all of this angst and anger, necessary? Must city square off against state or state square off against state?

Really?

We understand opinions about the devices differ, but the depth and extent of emotion produced by the cameras continues to strike us as, well, excessive.

Pardon us if we do not join the hyperventilation.

Because it's the height of summer road construction season, we focus today, specifically, on the Interstate 29 speed cameras.

Contrary to deep accusations of constitutional violations pronounced in some quarters, these two cameras represent, in our minds, nothing more than a temporary solution to a public-safety problem.

As we have from the beginning of speed-camera discussion three years ago, we begin with this premise: It's a good idea for traffic to slow down on I-29 within our community during its multi-phase, $400 million reconstruction.

To this end, speed cameras strike us as an effective tool.

When no construction is taking place, the cameras on I-29 should be turned off. When the I-29 project in Sioux City is finished and the original stated need for them disappears, the cameras should come down.

In the meantime, our advice for local interstate drivers is simple: First, take a deep breath. Then, obey the posted speed limits and drive through the work zone with care.

The need to prevent accidents and protect people and property is something on which complete agreement should exist.

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