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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

December 3, 2018

Des Moines Register. November 29, 2018

Get the lead our of Iowa’s shotgun deer hunting season

Iowa’s first season for hunting deer with shotguns begins Saturday Dec. 1 and runs until Dec. 5. The second season is Dec. 8 to 16. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources expects 60,000 hunters in each, when the bulk of the deer harvest occurs in this state.

The agency’s press release on deer season offers hunters safety tips that include treating every gun as if it’s loaded and wearing blaze orange. It should also advise hunters to use nontoxic ammunition, like steel or copper, instead of lead.

This, too, is a safety issue.

Lead is poisonous. It contaminates the environment. It kills wildlife.

When the small pellets contained in a shotgun shell scatter across the land, they look like the weeds and seeds birds eat and the gravel and grit they consume to aid digestion. One or two pellets can kill a small bird. Bald eagles and other large raptors may die when they feed on animals that ingested or were shot with lead ammunition.

Kay Neumann, executive director of Saving Our Avian Resources, sees the effects of lead on wildlife first hand. In September, the raptor rehabilitation center in Manning got its first lead toxicity case of the 2018-19 hunting season. Workers suspect the female bald eagle may have eaten a rabbit, squirrel or dove that contained lead ammunition fragments.

The center will see more and more sick raptors in upcoming months. The Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management published a study in 2017 by Iowa researchers based on 11 years of data about lead exposure in eagles. In 273 tested animals, half had elevated lead levels.

Neumann, a hunter herself, says these lead poisoning cases are preventable if hunters would use widely available non-toxic shot. That is what her family uses.

The Des Moines Register editorial board has repeatedly encouraged the Iowa Legislature to ban poisonous lead ammunition. Lawmakers have so far refused to do so. Meanwhile, other states have stepped up their game, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

In Oregon, hunters are not allowed to fire lead bullets in many state wildlife areas. California has banned it in some places. In Arizona, non-lead ammunition is delivered in bulk to a Native American tribe that lives near habitats where scavenger animals are vulnerable to ingesting it. Minnesota game wardens host shooting clinics for hunters to compare copper and lead bullets. Their hope is to show lead breaks apart in ways that makes it more prone to contaminate the animals that hunters kill and eat.

Yet Iowa does too little to discourage the use of lead ammunition. So doing the right thing is up to individuals.

About 250,000 hunters spend 4.2 million days hunting in Iowa each year, according to the U.S. Census. They leave home with shotguns and boxes of shells and hope to return with a deer, pheasant or dove. It’s unlikely any of them want to contribute to the sickening and killing of wildlife they are not targeting. They likely do not want to consume game meat that may be contaminated with a poisonous substance.

So they should not use lead ammunition.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. November 30, 2018.

Unemployment is at a record low

If you want powerful evidence that Iowa’s economy is doing well, drive around any of the state’s major towns or cities. Almost everywhere businesses have posted “hiring” signs in windows or other prominent places.

Nationally, the unemployment rate is at a remarkable 3.7 percent. Here in the Hawkeye State the jobs picture is even more impressive. In October, Iowa had the second lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.4 percent. (Only in Hawaii — with a 2.3 percent unemployment rate — was the employment picture better.)

In the portion of the state served by The Messenger, many counties were doing even better. Here are the October numbers from Iowa Workforce Development for some of them:

. Buena Vista County — 1.6 percent

. Calhoun County — 2.0 percent

. Greene County — 1.5 percent

. Hamilton County — 2.1 percent

. Humboldt County — 1.8 percent

. Kossuth County — 1.5 percent

. Palo Alto County — 1.6 percent

. Pocahontas County — 1.4 percent

. Sac County — 1.5 percent

. Webster County — 2.4 percent

. Wright County — 2.0 percent

In October, Iowa achieved its lowest monthly employment rate since March 2000. The 2.4 percent unemployment rate tied the record monthly low that has been achieved in our state in only four previous months since 1976. (The only times unemployment reached as low as 2.4 percent before this October were December 1999 and the first three months of 2000.)

Gov. Kim Reynolds expressed enthusiasm about this accomplishment in a statement released by her office on Nov. 16.

“This new jobs report is a reflection of the hard work Iowans are doing to keep our state moving,” she said. “Not only has our unemployment rate dropped to this historic low, but we’re also seeing Iowa’s workforce continue to grow. The number of unemployed Iowans continues to drop, and employers keep adding jobs — 21,800 since last year.”

This good news is in part due to the emphasis Reynolds and her predecessor, Gov. Terry Branstad, placed on economic growth and job creation. Their wise leadership has helped make Iowa an attractive place for businesses to locate and grow. The Republican Legislature has also adopted tax and regulatory approaches that make our state an excellent place for companies to invest.

The Messenger applauds the public and private sector leadership that has helped Iowa’s economy to prosper. The future looks very bright indeed.

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Quad-City Times. November 28, 2018

Overdue answers on Medicaid

It’s a bit bureaucratic, but on page 15 of the new review of the various cost saving estimates from Iowa’s Medicaid program, there is this extraordinary line:

“However, during the decision making process to move the Medicaid program from primarily a fee-for-service program to a managed care program, the method or parameters to be used to estimate the program savings were not established.”

In short, what this line means is this: In early 2015, when the Branstad administration initiated moving Iowa’s Medicaid program to private management, nobody stopped to figure out a way to verify what the cost savings might actually be.

Let that sink in for a moment. A primary rationale for this change has that it would save money. You’d think somebody would have asked, “Hey, how do we figure out if our assumptions hold up?”

Apparently, nobody did.

As a result, savings estimates have bounced around like a ping pong ball. In early 2017, the governor’s office put savings at $234 million. Ten months later, that had plummeted to $47 million. Six months after that, it bounced back up to $141 million.

This week’s report, from the office of outgoing State Auditor Mary Mosiman, said the state Department of Human Service’s May, 2018, methodology for determining such savings was a good one — and that, based on updated data, the state saved roughly $126 million in fiscal year 2018 over what it would have spent had it stayed with the previous fee-for-service Medicaid program.

That’s about $100 million less than the Branstad administration initially predicted.

It goes without saying, it should not have taken this long to figure out this basic a question.

We don’t look askance at $126 million in savings, if that’s the most accurate figure. Frankly, after all the various estimates about purported Medicaid savings, we’re not fully sold that this is the last word on the question.

But what we also find significant about this report is its limitations.

It doesn’t tell us much — actually, anything — about how these savings came about. And it doesn’t tell us what the impact is from the reduced spending amounts.

We have heard legions of reports about health care providers not getting paid by the state-hired private insurers. We would ask how much of the state’s savings were shouldered by hospitals, doctors and others who had claims denied or still are waiting on payment. And how, then, did that affect the services they provided to their patients?

How much of these savings came from services the managed care organizations denied?

How much came from more coordinated care?

It seems to us there hasn’t been much oversight by the Republican-controlled legislature on these questions.

Rob Sand, the Democrat who defeated Mosiman in the Nov. 6 election, has pledged that his review of the managed care experience will be more comprehensive.

No doubt, that will open up even more partisan skirmishes in Des Moines over Medicaid. But we welcome more light on this issue.

We have repeatedly stated our concerns about the rising cost of the Medicaid program, which the state allocated $1.34 billion from its general fund in fiscal year 2019. (And just a couple of months ago, the Iowa Department of Human Services estimated that it would need another $145 million by fiscal year 2021.)

We also know, however, that this program is vital to 600,000 Iowans, many of them some of our state’s most vulnerable individuals. This program must work for all of them. And fully examining whether they are getting the care they deserve is a tougher, but more important, question to answer.

Some have argued the auditor’s report should have been released before the Nov. 6 election, given the importance of the Medicaid issue to the gubernatorial and legislative elections.

Frankly, we think clarity on this aspect of the Medicaid transition was needed long before that.

Let’s hope that the answers to these other questions aren’t also similarly delayed.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. November 30, 2018

Rail service must fit needs, not nostalgia

If they missed them during the holiday hubbub, folks who want the restoration of passenger railroad service in Dubuque should go back and check out a couple of recent articles printed and posted by the Telegraph Herald.

In one, transportation advocates in Illinois are hoping that, once he becomes governor, J.B. Pritzker will revive plans to establish two new passenger rail routes — one between Chicago and the Quad Cities and the other between Chicago and Dubuque (via Rockford).

The proposals for new routes were wiped off the drawing board a few years ago by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who noted that the fiscally challenged state was in no position to spend millions every year to cover the operations’ projected losses.

Re-establishing passenger rail service to Dubuque has been the hope of some local residents for a long time — almost since the Blackhawk made its last Amtrak run on Sept. 30, 1981. They hearken back to the days when one could hop on the Blackhawk in the morning, take care of business or shopping in Chicago during the day, and return to Dubuque at night. How convenient. How nostalgic.

However, much has transpired these past 37 years, starting with much-improved highways — especially east of Jo Daviess County — and including Americans’ preference to drive themselves, on their own schedules and not Amtrak timetables.

That second point — people driving themselves — is reflected in the second article, which reported that Amtrak ridership in Iowa dropped 4 percent over the previous fiscal year and is down 16 percent from its record level in 2010.

“Our competition, for the most part, is driving, and as people buy newer cars that get better mileage, part of me wonders if people aren’t finding themselves driving because their cars are higher-performing than they were 10 years ago,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told The Des Moines Register.

What also hurts Amtrak’s numbers in Iowa, besides nicer cars and better highways, is its route. It runs east-west through southern Iowa and manages to miss every larger city in the state. You can’t board a passenger train in the Quad Cities, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Ames, Des Moines or Sioux City.

Though the adjective “high-speed” is often inaccurately dropped in front of “rail” during these conversations, note that, according to the most recent report, the train would take longer between Dubuque and Chicago than driving there.

If Illinois officials and Amtrak can figure out a way to eliminate, or at least drastically minimize, the taxpayers’ subsidy of passenger rail, they should go for it.

And if that is going to happen, Iowa officials should engage the Amtrak brass in serious conversations about changing the route across the Hawkeye State. Dubuque to Omaha via Cedar Rapids and Des Moines makes more sense than Burlington to Omaha via Osceola and Creston.

Whatever is done, establishing passenger rail service should address contemporary transportation needs, not feed advocates’ appetite for nostalgia.

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