Des Moines Register. January 30, 2018

Here's a lesson for lawmakers: Iowa schools don't need another mandate

Most Iowans have ideas they think are good. But if you're one of 150 Iowans who is also a state lawmaker, you have the unique ability to try to codify those ideas in Iowa Code.

Some of the proposals from these individuals need rethinking.

One recent example is House Study Bill 573, sponsored by Rep. Walt Rogers. This three-page nugget would impose a redundant mandate on Iowa schools. The Cedar Falls Republican wants to require students to correctly answer 60 percent of questions on a civics exam to receive a high school diploma.

This is the same test given by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the same percentage required of immigrants who want to become citizens. Rogers not only thinks students should have to pass it, but also wants to allow them to start trying in seventh grade.

As if schools don't have enough tests to administer already. As if there's any extra state money to cover the cost of such a mandate. As if this should be the educational priority when an estimated 10,000 Iowa third-graders cannot read at grade level. The only lobbyists registered in support of the bill are from an organization called the "Civics Proficiency Institute," an Arizona organization.

Yet Rogers insists it's "common sense that kids today should have an understanding of basic U.S. civics."

We agree. Perhaps that's why Iowa lawmakers recognized this decades ago. State law already mandates that every school or school district require students to take U.S. government to graduate.

That's in addition to the legislatively imposed American history graduation requirement. And the four years of English, three years of math, three years of science and three years of social science. It is in addition to the mandate from lawmakers that students take "one-eighth unit" of physical education in each semester of high school — unless a parent secures a religious exemption from P.E.

What other graduation requirements and federal tests would lawmakers seek to require for a high school diploma? Why stop at treating Iowa teenagers like immigrants seeking citizenship? Perhaps students should correctly answer 70 percent of questions on a civil service exam taken by some government employees or pass the basic physical fitness test for the U.S. Army, which includes a 2-mile run.

Our first thought when hearing about this legislation was that Iowa lawmakers should be required to pass the civics test to continue serving in the Legislature. They could sharpen their pencils and gather at the Statehouse on a Friday to sit for the exam, with their answers and scores immediately made available to voters.

Our second thought was that Rogers and other lawmakers should put the brakes on dictating what students should learn until they require all students to actually receive an education in this state.

The Iowa Legislature has so far refused to repeal Independent Private Instruction. This relatively new option in homeschooling allows parents to keep children home, notify no one, and teach kids nothing, let alone anything about U.S. civics. These parents are allowed to disregard every current state education law and could disregard the one Rogers wants to add to Iowa Code.

Doing away with this dangerous, irresponsible option is, well, common sense.

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Sioux City Journal. February 2, 2018

Leave pot decisions to individual states

In general, we believe the federal government holds too much power over the lives of Americans and believe in stronger rights for individual states to make decisions.

One example of an area in which Washington, D.C., in our view, wields too much power over states is legalization of marijuana.

Why is it the federal government's business if, say, the state of Iowa passes a medical cannabis law or the states of Colorado and California decriminalize pot for recreational use?

It shouldn't be.

Legalized marijuana, a $7.9 billion business in 2017, is supported by 61 percent of Americans, according to a Pew Research Center poll released earlier this month. Thirty states have legalized the drug in some form (eight states have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes). At least another dozen states will discuss marijuana legalization this year.

However, marijuana remains an illegal Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

This issue is in the news today because Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month announced he was rescinding an Obama-era policy limiting prosecutions for sale of pot in states where marijuana is legal. Sessions said future prosecutions will be up to individual U.S. attorneys.

To what end and for what purpose is the federal government clearing the way for a crackdown on pot?

The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Garrett, R-Virginia, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate federal criminal penalties for anyone engaged in state-legal marijuana activity. That sounds like something Congress should pass and President Trump should sign.

The recent Justice Department announcement is, in our view, heavy-handed overreach by the federal government into an area best left to the states. We aren't advocating for legalized recreational marijuana use in this state ourselves, but we do believe Iowans should be left alone by Washington to make this decision for Iowa.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. January 31, 2018

Lawmakers respond to Reynolds' challenge

Protecting and enhancing the quality of the Hawkeye State's water resources is vitally important.

That's why Gov. Kim Reynolds made a strong request to Iowa lawmakers in her Condition of the State address on Jan. 9. She urged them to make clean water legislation that had been stalled in the 2017 legislative session a priority for passage this year.

They did so. That gave Reynolds her first legislative victory of 2018.

"I am proud that the first piece of legislation I will sign as governor will be a water quality bill," Reynolds said, shortly after the bill was passed. "This will go a long way towards our goal of providing a long-term, dedicated and growing revenue source to help fund and scale best practices through the already successful Nutrient Reduction Strategy."

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey had praise for both the governor and those members of the Legislature who backed this important legislation.

"Passage of this long-term water quality funding bill with bipartisan support is a tremendous next step as we work to continue scaling up the water quality efforts underway statewide," he said in a statement released by his office. "We have seen Iowans all across the state taking on the challenge of improving water quality and this funding will help us build on these efforts."

This legislation is an important step forward in a long-term water quality improvement strategy. Its $282 million commitment for the years ahead is a welcome acknowledgment that the work needed to keep out water clean won't be cheap. Some critics say that this is insufficient funding for such an important undertaking. That, however, misses the point. This isn't the end of dialogue on this important matter. Rather it is a substantial and important move in the right direction. That point was underlined by the governor in her initial reaction to the bill's passage.

"But make no mistake. Passing this long-awaited legislation does not mean the water quality discussion is over," the governor said. "It should ignite a continuing conversation as we begin to implement and scale best practices that will continue to make an impact on water quality in Iowa."

The Messenger applauds Reynolds for her leadership on this crucial issue. We salute lawmakers for responding so promptly to her request for action.

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Quad-City Times. January 31, 2018

Iowa's irresponsible tax cuts

Iowa can't afford tax cuts, governor.

But that pesky fact isn't deterring Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is desperate to cut income taxes before her re-election bid in November.

Late last year, Reynolds initiated a legally questionable budgetary maneuver to plug gaps in this year's budget. This past week, ruling Republicans in Iowa Senate did Reynolds one better, with a proposal that would slash $52 million in previously appropriated cash for Iowa's public universities and other critical services.

The $19.2 million mid-year take-back from Iowa's four universities approved last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee would be four-times what Reynolds proposed.

For fiscal year 2019, Reynolds' executive budget proposed a 1.5 percent increase in K-12 funding, a figure well below inflation. The bludgeoning of Iowa's court system would continue, with some officials saying more than two-dozen local courts could close because of the GOP's slash-and-burn approach to government.

As if there wasn't enough absurdity already, Reynolds' has also proposed axing another $10 million from Iowa's failing Medicaid program.

Yet, somehow, Reynolds and legislative Republicans have deluded themselves into thinking Iowa is in a position to cut taxes. It's a ready-made recipe for deficit spending and another round of mid-year cuts.

So much for the party of fiscal responsibility.

The crux of all this — the recent federal tax cuts — could pump tens of millions of new money into Iowa's coffers. But Reynolds, instead, wants to pour it into another round of tax cuts. Make no mistake, there's a strong argument for paring back "federal deductibility" in Iowa. But rolling it out in a single year, amid continued mid-year cuts and across-the-board service reductions is neither prudent nor responsible.

That cash, $106 million in 2019, could go toward righting Iowa's unjust school funding formula, which designates some district as second class. It could keep tuition flat at Iowa's universities, once centers of bipartisan pride. It could provide relief for counties struggling with jails serving as mental health facilities. It could bolster Medicaid. It could pay for legitimate water quality legislation that actually applies science to test the outcomes. It could maintain local courts, cultural centers small towns throughout the state.

That money could pay for a lot of things that Iowa has left to rot.

Unfortunately, it won't. Instead, the influx will likely gush out just as fast as it came in, funding a tax cut that, by every objective measure, the state cannot afford.

To make matters worse, the cuts Reynolds' proposed seem just a starting point for lawmakers to do her one better.

This is the flaw of single-party dominance — where the fringe is elevated and reason is sacrificed to dogma.

Commodity prices remain depressed. A recent string of tax cuts under Reynolds' predecessor, Terry Branstad, left Iowa cash-poor. Uncertainty surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement, which President Donald Trump is renegotiating, isn't helping, either. And a weakened NAFTA could cost American agriculture dearly.

Iowa is broke. Its agencies are scrambling. Its educational system is bleeding. Medicaid is a shameful mess. And mental health services are wholly inadequate.

Reynolds and legislative Republicans are determined to see that it stays that way.

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