Des Moines Register. May 10, 2018

Iowa lawmakers did some good, but not nearly enough

The 2018 Iowa Legislature adjourned last weekend. Finally. What did 118 days and record legislative overtime under one political party do to make Iowa a better place to live?

Not enough.

Granted, lawmakers were able to agree on a mental health reform bill that should help fill gaps in care for vulnerable people. But the new law relies heavily on funding from Medicaid, a program regularly under assault by the GOP, which currently controls the government in Iowa and Washington, D.C.

Legislators also shepherded through some relatively noncontroversial changes, including expanding the "safe haven" law for infants, prohibiting fees for Iowans freezing their credit reports and requiring ignition interlocks for all drunken drivers. And Iowans can be grateful that efforts to redirect public education dollars to private education were not successful.

Yet the lack of action on important issues and the damage done in other areas in a mere five months are far greater than the few gains made. If leaders continue refusing to generate revenue to fund Iowa government and the environment, the damage will be exacerbated in future years.

Voters may well express their discontent in November. And there are plenty of issues that may affect what they do at the ballot box. These include:

Medicaid

The 2016 privatization of Iowa's Medicaid health insurance program has created numerous problems for low-income Iowans and health care providers. There is no good evidence taxpayers are benefiting. Lawmakers, who set appropriations, have incredible power to intervene. They could refuse to fund the program until it is returned to state oversight or they receive accurate, current estimates about the cost.

Instead, with no information on how much the program will cost in the upcoming year, they increased spending by $55 million. The expense could be much greater than that after the state eventually wraps up another round on negotiations with for-profit managed care companies.

Women's rights

The latest move by Republicans obsessed with the reproductive choices of their female constituents came in the form of a "fetal heartbeat" bill signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds. It bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which may be heard in the sixth week of development and before a woman knows she is pregnant. The new law is considered the strictest ban on abortion in the country.

Taxpayers may foot the bill for the inevitable court fight. GOP politicians who claim to champion less intrusive government placed the state squarely in the uterus of every Iowa woman.

Mother Nature

Once again, lawmakers refused to raise the sales tax a fraction of a penny to provide revenue to the voter-approved Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Voters from every walk of life overwhelmingly supported the creation of this trust fund. The revenue generated would be constitutionally protected to use exclusively for the outdoors. State law requires it to be allocated to specific endeavors, including wildlife habitat restoration, trails, local conservation and water quality.

That would be wonderful, except there is no money in the trust. Iowans who have been waiting eight years to fund the outdoors have been failed by elected officials again.

Sanctuary cities

Forget about local control in Iowa. And elected officials who solve actual problems. Gov. Reynolds signed into law a bill that targets so-called sanctuary communities. It authorizes revoking state funding for communities that "prohibit or discourage" the enforcement of immigration laws.

It's not as if undocumented immigrants are flooding the state while local officials flout federal statutes. Iowa does not even have enough home-grown workers to fill jobs. This state has a worker shortage and needs more people, including immigrants. Yet grandstanding politicians succeeded this session in sending an anti-immigrant message.

Unsustainable tax cuts

Lawmakers opted for a feel-good cash giveaway instead of making the tough decisions needed to reform and simplify Iowa's tax code. The income-tax bill, approved just weeks after lawmakers had to cut the current budget by $35.5 million, will eventually reduce state revenues by more than $2 billion.

The top 2.5 percent of taxpayers — those making over $250,000 a year — will see 46 percent of the benefit.

Republicans who last year acknowledged the need to eliminate or cap runaway corporate tax credits did neither.

They also left the federal tax deduction in place until 2023, even though it makes Iowa's tax rates appear higher than other states' and works against the federal tax cuts.

The federal tax cuts gave the Legislature a prime opportunity to make Iowa's tax code simpler, fairer and better able to support investments in education, health care and other priorities. Lawmakers blew it.

Utilities bill

Lawmakers joined hands with investor-owned utilities to slash energy-efficiency programs that save consumers roughly $2 for every dollar spent. Capping rebates for installing energy-efficient appliances or windows saves consumers in the short term, but will lead to higher costs in the future. The legislation jeopardizes Iowa's clean energy goals and potentially thousands of jobs associated with energy efficiency programs.

School funding

Lawmakers approved a bare-bones, 1 percent increase in state aid to K-12 education for the coming school year. That's an increase of about $32 million — half of what former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad proposed for the same period before he left office last year.

Meanwhile, lawmakers cut $11 million from Iowa State University and the University of Iowa in midyear budget cuts. The increase approved for next year of $8.3 million does not come close to filling the gap, leaving students facing higher tuition and more debt. The result will be increased brain drain from Iowa at a time when employers say they can't fill open jobs.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. May 11, 2018

Decade after Postville raid, policy muddled

Many anniversaries, ranging from birthdays to Independence Day to work milestones, are cause for celebration. There also are anniversaries marking solemn and tragic occasions, such as natural disasters, Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

For example, Saturday will mark the 10th anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake, a natural disaster in China so devastating that it leveled thousands of buildings, including student-filled schools, killed some 90,000 people, injured about 375,000 others and instantly left millions of people without homes.

On the same day — May 12, 2008 — half a world away and right in our tri-state region, another event of significance took place. Though it cannot begin to compare with the death and destruction in China, the federal government's immigration raid in the northeast Iowa community of Postville reverberates to this day.

On that Monday morning, agents descended upon the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant and arrested nearly 400 people — virtually all of Hispanic descent — for suspected immigration violations. It remains the largest single immigration raid in U.S. history.

The raid impacted more than just those people who were herded up and taken into custody. In many cases, not only were families broken up — parents separated from their children — they found themselves a thousand or more miles from their homeland, suddenly cut off from means of support.

If not for the leadership of the local Catholic Church, backed by the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and other religious and social-service organizations, the human impact would have been far worse.

Meanwhile, local retailers and other businesses in the small community suddenly suffered in the subsequent economic vacuum caused by the abrupt departure of thousands of residents and the eventual closure of Agriprocessors.

Responses to the Postville raid varied significantly. Some people expressed unwavering concern and compassion for the undocumented immigrants and their families. Meanwhile, others pointed out that the immigrants' problems were self-inflicted; after all, they had broken U.S. law by living in Postville without proper documentation. They argue that granting blanket amnesty to the undocumented sends wrong messages — including to those people who are going to the time, trouble and expense of securing U.S. residency and citizenship legally.

If it's possible to have a foot in each camp — compassion for the human suffering but respect for the law — that is where we stand. However, regardless of where one might stand on that range of opinions, all should agree that U.S. immigration policy was broken 10 years (and longer) ago — and it remains broken today.

A decade ago, there was some hope that the Postville raid and its aftermath would provide the impetus for immigration reform and legal clarity. In this space five years ago, our editorial asked, "What progress can be shown on the larger, national questions about immigration? Has this country made five years' worth of progress?"

Those answers are "not much" and "no." There is more talk about building a multibillion-dollar wall than developing clearer, more realistic rules and laws to deal with current undocumented and future residents.

In that same editorial, we concluded: "When the 10th anniversary of the Postville raid rolls around, let us hope that it will be said, 'It took longer than it should have, but we now have an immigration policy that is clear, fair, good for our country and good for all people.'"

That day is here. Sadly, the United States is not there yet. Sadder still, there are few signs that we will be there when we mark 20 years since the Postville raid. That will make it a more solemn anniversary indeed.

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Quad-City Times. May 7, 2018

After abortion bill, Iowa is neither nice nor rational

Iowa out-Mississippied Mississippi.

There's nothing nice nor pragmatic — let alone fiscally conservative — about the outlandish "fetal heartbeat" anti-abortion bill Republicans jammed through Iowa Legislature this past week. It's a cynical, intentionally unconstitutional act that would throw already depleted state funds at losing court cases. It would exacerbate further Iowa's brain drain, by threatening accreditation at the University of Iowa medical school.

The fetal heartbeat bill is, in every way, the antithesis to how Iowa loves to characterize itself.

It's nasty. It's ill conceived. It's a violation of the oath of office taken by every lawmaker who supported it.

It's fundamentally irresponsible, regardless of one's moral position.

And on that fact alone, Gov. Kim Reynolds should have vetoed it. She signed it Friday.

The fetal heartbeat bill is perhaps the most severe crackdown on abortion rights in the U.S. It's modeled off bills passed this year in Kentucky and Mississippi, but even those attacks on abortion rights pale in comparison, because they restrict abortions after 11 and 15 weeks, respectively. In most instances, a fetal heartbeat is detectable about six weeks into a pregnancy, often before most women realize they're pregnant.

The legislation is clearly unconstitutional based on well established precedent. And not only do its GOP supporters know it — that's the entire point.

The bills's backers admitted as much Wednesday morning during debate on the Iowa Senate floor. Iowa's getting played by national interests seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade abortion protections. The legislation's supporters wager freshly appointed Supreme Court Judge Neil Gorsuch will stick by them. They're counting on the death or retirement of Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy or Ruth Bader Ginsburg to provide social conservatives a generation-long 6-3 grip over the Supreme Court.

Only Republicans can nominate Supreme Court justices, remember. At least, that's the obvious position of Iowan and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley.

It's pointless to argue about highly subjective elements, such as when a fetus becomes a person. These are, in many ways, matters of personal morality. Such arguments tend to go nowhere nor change minds. However, it should be said that shoving a narrow religious viewpoint down Iowa's throat belies the very tenets of a secular representative government.

But the fact that Iowa — long a bastion of pragmatism — is willing to pour millions into protracted legal battles in district and appellate courts suggests that the state's common-sense identity is a thing of the past. The rampant irrationality is especially on display whenever anything abortion related is the topic of the day. In 2017, the GOP-run Legislature defunded Planned Parenthood and, unsurprisingly, statewide participation in family planning services tanked. And now, lawmakers are kicking around a budget that would make grants for sex education — the most viable method of keeping abortion rates low — unavailable to the organization.

The entire 2018 legislative session, in fact, has focused on fundamentally irresponsible, ideologically driven dogma. The tax cut deal, announced late last month, will only exacerbate pre-existing budgetary shortfalls, to the tune of $2.1 billion over the next six years. Expect more mid-cycle cuts. Expect inflation to continue to outpace hikes in education spending. Expect more tuition hikes at Iowa's public universities. Expect erosion of the safety net. Expect continued unnecessary budgetary panic under the pretense of economic growth that never comes.

Iowa is already broke. The pending tax deal — and, now, the fetal heartbeat bill, which will cost the state millions in losing court battles — ensures a self-fulfilling prophecy of dwindling revenue begetting continued cuts to state programs.

And, throughout, Iowa would spend those finite funds challenging an established constitutional right of half its population. It would dump millions into a ridiculous effort prompted by groups that see Iowa as nothing but a tool and a bank account.

So much for "Iowa nice." Perhaps "Iowa gullible" is more apt.

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Sioux City Journal. May 10, 2018

Complete Iowa Finance Authority review quickly

We support increased scrutiny of the Iowa Finance Authority planned through an independent review authorized and funded by the Legislature in the closing days of this year's session.

The IFA is in the spotlight following the firing of its executive director, David Jamison, by Gov. Kim Reynolds in March over what her office called "credible" allegations of sexual harassment.

The independent review will involve, according to the legislative authorization, "... investigation of the IFA related to revenues, expenses, and the personal conduct of current and former employees of the IFA."

A report to the Legislature is due on or before Dec. 1, according to the authorization.

The review is warranted, but we are concerned about the timeline for completion. December 1 is, of course after the election.

In Senate floor debate, Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines proposed language in the legislative authorization calling for a report on the review within 60 days.

"Are you wanting this to come after the election?" Petersen asked. "It's pretty clear you don't want taxpayers to know what's going on in the Iowa Finance Authority until well after the gubernatorial election."

We do not dismiss Petersen's words. A post-election deadline of Dec. 1 for the review looks suspicious.

Politics should play no part in how the IFA review proceeds. State leaders of both parties should push for as expeditious a report as possible. Sixty to 90 days does not strike us as unreasonable.

Iowans deserve nothing less.

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