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Life goes on beyond the bars

Life goes on beyond the bars

Gazette Column
People with incarcerated loved ones gather twice each month in Cedar Rapids for support and to learn more about navigating a complicated justice system. “Living Beyond the Bars is a non-judgmental support group. We strive to be understanding, honest and supportive of people who care about someone who is in the criminal justice system,” said Sue Hutchins, who co-facilitates the group with Leon Kroemer. The group, which has been meeting on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of each month at Kenwood Park United Methodist Church for more than two years, has about seven core members. Many more have attended in times of crisis, or when an immediate need for emotional support arose. “As a society, we often talk about jails and prisons in terms of the impact they have on those who work…
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Sisterhood explains it very well

Sisterhood explains it very well

Gazette Column
As a young girl, Jeanne White was rocked by a neighbor who softly cried and spoke a strange language. What White remembers most is wetting her finger tips with her tongue and trying to rub away the bluish-black numbers on the neighbor’s arm. “I didn’t know until years later what those numbers meant,” White said as her eyes welled with tears. I pivoted our conversation back to the pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution fanned atop the folding table in front of White and her friend, Sharon Poplawski, hoping to calm emotions so that I could hear the rest of her story. After a few minutes, White resumed and said, when she was older, her mother confided that the neighbor’s children were murdered during the Holocaust. [caption id="attachment_1881" align="alignright" width="500"]…
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Maybe the answer is fewer rural hospitals

Maybe the answer is fewer rural hospitals

Gazette Column
Midwestern health providers and stakeholders are speaking out, and what they have to say is surprising. Could fewer hospitals bridge the widening urban-rural health gap? A new report highlighting the challenges and opportunities in rural health care across Iowa and six other Midwestern states says small communities need more flexibility to customize health care services, workforces and facilities to meet individual needs — even if, in some communities, it results in the loss of a full-service hospital. The Bipartisan Policy Center and the Center for Outcomes Research and Education spoke with more than 90 thought leaders and key stakeholders in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming to compile the report, which was released this month. [caption id="attachment_1874" align="alignleft" width="500"] Stethoscopes hang in a clinic hallway on May…
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Interior department’s draft plan splits Iowa

Interior department’s draft plan splits Iowa

Gazette Column
Most of state grouped with land along Mississippi River Reorganization plans within the U.S. Department of the Interior call for the creation of 13 regions not limited by state boundaries. Like many states, Iowa is divided — eastern and central portions of the Hawkeye State grouped with lands along the Mississippi River, and western Iowa aligned with Nebraska, the Dakotas and pieces of other states. The plan, which department officials say isn’t finalized, was rolled out to senior Interior executives this month at a leadership summit titled “Planning for the next 100 years.” In a video published to the Interior’s YouTube channel, Secretary Ryan Zinke said his plan moves “decision-making authority to the front-line superintendents and managers so right actions can be quickly made without excessive paperwork or burdensome administrative requirements.” Gritty…
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Iowa coalition begins death penalty discussions

Iowa coalition begins death penalty discussions

Gazette Column
As state lawmakers consider reinstatement of the death penalty in Iowa, a coalition of opposition groups plans to travel the state as part of an information campaign. They began Monday night in Cedar Rapids. “At the very least, we want Iowans to better understand what reinstating the death penalty will mean; how it will impact us all in a variety of ways,” said Sue Hutchins, a counselor who formerly worked in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and now helps lead Living Beyond the Bars, a support group for family and friends of inmates. The local group is working with the bipartisan Iowans Against the Death Penalty and Iowa Justice Action Network to convene a series of information sessions. “Iowans can have civil discourse on this issue,” said Wendy Wittrock, who spoke on behalf of Iowans…
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Iowa Republicans blinded by abortion

Iowa Republicans blinded by abortion

Gazette Column
However shortsighted, expensive and harmful the resulting policies may be, Iowa Republicans remain obsessed with abortion. Last legislative session, they chose to scrap the Iowa Family Planning Network waiver, primarily funded by the federal government, and replace it with a new program funded solely by the state. That initiative, now known as the Family Planning Program, took effect July 1. Both programs provide men and women of childbearing age who do not qualify for Medicaid a cost-effective way of accessing reproductive health services including contraception, exams, screenings and testing. The Iowa switch wasn’t proposed because the original program was riddled with fraud or otherwise ineffective. In May 2016, the University of Iowa Public Policy Center concluded that more than 80,000 women had used the Iowa Family Planning Network waiver since…
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Sexual harassment report urges action

Sexual harassment report urges action

Gazette Blog
Nearly five years after complaint 'there is nothing that has changed' On Friday, the Iowa Republicans shared a four-page report by Mary Kramer, which included specific recommendations “for achieving the goal of creating and maintaining a safe, respectful and professional workplace in the Iowa Senate.” Kramer, a former Republican lawmaker, U.S. ambassador and human resource professional, was asked by GOP leadership to prepare the report after a wrongful termination lawsuit was successfully brought against the state, placing taxpayers on the hook for $1.75 million. Although Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, has yet to acknowledge or express remorse for it, a court ruled GOP leadership retaliated against a female employee by terminating her employment hours after she had submitted a formal complaint of sexual harassment. Court documents, as well…
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Reynolds’ address offered renewed optimism

Reynolds’ address offered renewed optimism

Gazette Column
This week was for the doubters and the naysayers. This week was for those who continue to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that it makes no difference when women lead. With her first Condition of the State address, Gov. Kim Reynolds proved to all Iowans why well-rounded states value and embrace the strengths and experiences of all residents. Her remarks were generally inclusionary and conciliatory. They stood in stark contrast to last year’s contentious legislative session, and in defiance of the bungled Statehouse sexual harassment scandal. “All of us in public office must ensure not only a safe workplace but serve as a model for the public and private sector,” she said. “What we do here matters. Iowans are watching. We can’t change behavior everywhere, but we have…
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Education is aim of ‘Know Your Neighbor’ religion series

Education is aim of ‘Know Your Neighbor’ religion series

Gazette Column
Can three community discussions on religion improve life in Cedar Rapids? Organizers hope so. “Hans Kung has a great quote about there being no peace without the great religions coming together. So, we need to start at that level,” Charles Crawley, president of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County, said. The council worked with the Cedar Rapids Public Library for a series of three “Know Your Neighbor” events. Crawley says the idea was to work with the library on its mission to improve literacy by offering information that specifically addresses religious literacy and fosters community understanding. [caption id="attachment_1815" align="alignleft" width="400"] The first Know Your Neighbor religious discussion took place Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, before an overflow crowd at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. It was organized by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.[/caption]…
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Triage for mental illness makes sense

Triage for mental illness makes sense

Gazette Column
Iowans need jail alternatives County law enforcement officials are asking Iowa lawmakers to create regional triage centers for Iowans experiencing mental health episodes or an addiction crisis. It would be a much needed and smart move by lawmakers. The six triage centers proposed by the Iowa State Sheriffs’ & Deputies’ Association would assess individuals committed voluntarily or involuntarily so that those people can receive proven treatment that’s cost-effective. Currently, these people in crisis are being funneled into highest cost care, generally hospitals, jails and prisons. The flip side of the coin is why this is happening, and has been happening for several years. Iowa doesn’t have nearly enough treatment options for those with mental illnesses. This was true four years ago, when I wrote a two-part series about a Johnson County criminal case. It involved…
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