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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

February 26, 2018

Des Moines Register. February 23, 2018

Will kids turn the tide on gun laws?

Our kids are tired of running and ducking for cover.

They know that the active-shooter drills at their schools are substitutes for real solutions. The exercises are lessons in failure — the failure of our elected representatives to act.

“If you see something, say something,” Gov. Kim Reynolds implored students in announcing a suspicious-activity reporting campaign.

Yes, students are seeing our collective weakness and saying something. They’re lobbying legislators, walking out of class, planning marches and challenging authority over the status quo on mass shootings.

They want to know: What will we adults do? Will a real crisis — not a drill — motivate our lawmakers?

In the wake of the shootings, the Iowa Senate has advanced a bill, Senate File 2253, requiring Iowa school boards to develop security plans for individual school buildings.

It’s hard to believe that any Iowa schools lack such plans, after Columbine, Sandy Hook and now, Parkland. Almost 95 percent of U.S. schools hold lockdown drills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“Crisis drills are a routine part of our overall physical security in Des Moines Public Schools,” an official at one school emailed families in the last few days. The message said that the school “screens all visitors and volunteers, has internal and external cameras and microphone systems, is equipped with secure entrances with automatically locking doors, has a school resource officer with the Des Moines Police Department on site and a security team available 24/7, has a district emergency radio that is monitored all day, and has a 911 calling system that alerts dispatchers to the specific classroom within the building where the call was placed.”

Schools could become fortresses and it wouldn’t be enough. Arming every teacher, janitor and lunch lady won’t be enough. “Until politicians develop the courage to actually do something about the kind of gun violence that only seems to happen in our country, what we do will never be enough,” Des Moines Superintendent Tom Ahart said. He called for doing “more to both protect the lives of our children and support the emotional, social and mental health of students.”

With every mass shooting, positions on gun control seem to harden more with no major breakthroughs. These advocates are accelerating efforts to bypass the system and create change at the community level. USA TODAY Opinion

So what can we do? A lot, it turns out.

The New York Times consulted 32 current or retired academics in criminology, public health and law to offer ideas. The researchers agreed that no law can eliminate the risk of mass shootings. But they did propose several ideas that would reduce the likelihood of mass shootings or reduce the number of people killed. These include:

Banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines;

Requiring universal checks for buyers of guns and ammunition; mandating gun licenses; and creating a centralized record of gun sales;

Barring sales to all violent criminals, people deemed dangerous by a mental health provider, and convicted stalkers.

All of the above are popular with the public; polls done by the Times show that 62 percent or more of the people surveyed approved of each of those suggestions. The Pew Research Center also finds that large majorities of Americans from both parties favor these and similar policies to ban assault weapon sales, expand background checks and track gun sales.

So there is political will among the public and research supporting gun restrictions. But is there a will to act on the federal level?

President Donald Trump has finally acknowledged that something needs to be done. He ordered the Justice Department on Tuesday to issue regulations banning bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas mass shooting. He also supports raising the minimum age for buying rifles from 18 to 21.

And he has expressed support for the “Fix NICS Act,” which aims to improve existing background check systems for firearm purchases. The bill has attracted bipartisan support in Congress, including from Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Ia.

These actions wouldn’t enact new gun laws, but would establish ways to enforce existing ones. And they’re not enough. We can do more:

We can address gun deaths as a public health crisis. We can lift the effective ban that prevents the Centers for Disease Control from doing research on gun violence. For example, while the federal government tracks motor-vehicle deaths in a database, nothing similar exists for gun deaths.

We can seriously debate how to restrict assault weapons. Defining an “assault weapon” can be troublesome, and gun sellers can easily find ways to get around bans. But surely we can find a way to heavily regulate military-style weapons capable of firing multiple rounds quickly. Doctors say bullets from AR-15s travel at higher velocity and are far more lethal than ammunition from handguns.

It’s time to reconsider legislation similar to the 1994-2004 assault weapon ban. Even with loopholes, the ban worked: A study by a researcher at the University of Massachusetts at Boston shows that gun massacres fell significantly during that time and more than tripled in the 10 years following.

There is one big problem: Our nation has been flooded with many more AR-15s and similar weapons since the ban was lifted. We won’t significantly reduce the number of guns in our country unless we’re ready to enact a massive buy-back program — which Australia did after a mass shooting in 1996.

This challenge should not mean, however, that we should do nothing. No laws can prevent all shootings, but a collection of smart policies can make a difference. It can do so without infringing on Second Amendment rights. It can save lives.

We owe it to our kids, who are watching our next move.

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Sioux City Journal. February 21, 2018

Security for Tyson Orpheum: A prudent step

Without reservations, we support the installation of security equipment at the entrances to the Tyson Events Center and Orpheum Theatre.

In an unfortunate, but all-too-real sign of the times in which we live, metal detectors and wands were put into use for all events at both venues last month.

“Providing a safe environment is the most important service we can offer,” Erika Newton, Tyson and Orpheum general manager, said in a Journal story. “There may be some additional time at the doors, but we want to make sure that people who come to our facilities feel comfortable and know that security is being taken seriously.”

Strengthening the case for this decision is the fact some acts won’t book venues in which security protections don’t exist.

We appreciate the fact transition to this new system of security creates the need for adjustments by ticketholders and presents a learning curve for venue staff. However, we are confident patrons will become accustomed to the security and venues will work out wrinkles quickly. Soon, no one will remember the pre-security days.

To assist in making this conversion easier for everyone, we offer a few suggestions for consideration by the Tyson and Orpheum:

- Provide information, including tips, for patrons about security at the time of ticket purchase so no one is surprised upon arrival.

- Open doors and begin security earlier so no one misses the beginning of a performance.

- Don’t force ticketholders to stand outside in the cold or rain waiting to pass through security. Allow them inside the front doors in a designated pre-security checkpoint area.

- Allow access to refreshments during the wait for security. Food and drink carts when the weather allows? Why not?

Finally, patrons should arrive earlier for events to allow time for security and should exercise patience.

After all, this is about keeping everybody safe.

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Quad-City Times. February 22, 2018

Leave B’dorf’s parks out of it

OK, consolidating elementary schools in Bettendorf makes good fiscal sense. But taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to sacrifice a city park to get it done.

It’s a confounding double-whammy that should send Bettendorf Community School District officials scurrying back to the map room until better sites are discovered.

But a park could be the cost of a Facilities Plan on which school board members are scheduled to vote March 5. The plan includes a proposed three-section, $14 million consolidated school that would replace Thomas Jefferson Elementary and Mark Twain Elementary.

Both are old. Both need considerable work. Both function in a district that’s corralled on three sides and has experienced a flat-line in enrollment.

By and large, most of the outcry has focused on the consolidation effort. Parents don’t like the idea of a larger campus with potentially larger classes. Homeowners in and around the two out-of-date elementary schools argue the facilities are an important part of the neighborhood and boost property values. And it’s this hyper-parochialism that no doubt spooked the school board on Feb. 13 when it first shot down the Facilities Plan by a 4-3 vote.

But rampant reverse NIMBYism shouldn’t overshadow the fundamental benefits, and failings, of the district’s pitch.

At its core, Bettendorf Community School District has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer. It’s the taxpayer who funds the district. It’s the taxpayer who would pour millions into rehabbing already outdated buildings in the name of quaintness, should dissenters get their way. It’s the taxpayer who would be on the hook for the new school, should it get built. And it’s the taxpayer who stands to lose either McManus Park or Edgewood Park, locations specifically targeted in the administration’s study.

From that taxpayer perspective, school consolidation makes a lot of sense. Bolstered economies of scale, by and large, result in significant reductions in operating costs, research says. While, generally, there’s an increase in capital spending — to maintain the larger, more robust facility — that cost is usually offset by the benefits of a bolstered economy of scale.

And, at the end of the day, students are learning in a state-of-the-art environment instead of a freshly painted shrine to the gods of nostalgia. Once constructed, it would take just a few short years for the neighborhood-level parochialism to give way to an embrace of a unified elementary school.

In a vacuum, consolidation is a good deal for both students and the people footing the bill.

Those very same taxpayers, though, stand to lose much more than $14 million in bonds should the proposal become reality. Green space, too, is an important component of any community’s social and economic vibrancy. The potential loss of McManus, in particular, would rob an entire segment of town of its green space. The district plan essentially sacrifices one necessary social component for another. It’s an unnecessary poison pill that threatens an otherwise sensible idea. It’s a nonsensical double-punch to the very people who, for years after, would fund the build-out.

Bettendorf City Council shouldn’t even entertain any effort to transform a park into an elementary campus. And district officials should pump the brakes until they find potential construction sites that wouldn’t rob Bettendorf of recreational opportunities.

Until then, the district’s proposal is just too costly to the entire community to support.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. February 24, 2018

Algona Public Library gets a boost

Fundraising campaign receives a $375,000 donation

A public library is an asset that most towns of more than modest size regard as absolutely crucial. Keeping such an important local institution state-of-the-art is both challenging and expensive.

The Algona Public Library is in the midst of a major fundraising drive. The goal is to raise $2 million. The new money would be used to pay for an assortment of improvements and renovations to keep the library’s facilities in sync with rapidly evolving 21st-century needs.

While the precise details are still being worked out, enhancements sought are likely to include upgrading the youth department, making shelving more accessible for people with disabilities and infrastructure improvements to the heating and air conditioning system.

According to Library Director Mara Strickler, the fundraising campaign already has achieved commitments totaling more than $1.3 million. A major step forward was the recent decision of Pharmacist Mutual Co. and the Pharmacist Mutual Foundation to make an exceptionally generous donation of $375,000.

The Messenger applauds this large gift and the many other commitments by individuals, organizations and businesses. It is clear that many people who live in or near Algona understand just how important a first-rate library to the quality of life in a community. We hope the generosity already shown will motivate others to join in the effort to turn the $2 million goal into a mission accomplished.

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