Good for Regents to explain

Good for Regents to explain

Gazette Column
Pretty soon the Iowa Board of Regents will need to explain its actions. A Polk County lawsuit by University of Iowa alumnus and former staffer Gerhild Krapf questions the methods used by certain Regents during the University of Iowa presidential search. Specifically, the suit takes aim at actions that appear to show favoritism to Bruce Harreld, the man ultimately awarded the job despite significant staff and community concerns and opposition. In the suit, Krapf says multiple private meetings afforded to Harreld — and not to other applicants — were violations of the state’s open meeting law. While there was no majority of Regents at any one meeting, she argues, the meetings were held close enough together to constitute majority attendance either in person or by proxy. [caption id="attachment_137" align="alignright" width="640"]…
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DeCosters’ jail sentences justified

DeCosters’ jail sentences justified

Gazette Column
If you believe a massive 2010 Salmonella outbreak linked to Iowa eggs was the result of a few rogue workers, you haven’t been paying attention. Executives behind the outbreak — Austin “Jack” DeCoster, owner of Quality Egg, and his son, Peter, chief operating officer — received more bad news this week. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled executives can be sentenced to prison when their companies violate federal food-safety laws. It couldn’t have happened to two more deserving executives. The DeCosters pleaded guilty last year to violating the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. Both Jack and Peter were sentenced to serve three months in prison and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. The outbreak is believed to have sickened tens of thousands, and led to the…
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Move Iowa forward with voting rights

Move Iowa forward with voting rights

Gazette Column
Iowa Supreme Court justices had their say, and now Iowans must decide if the moral ramifications of stripping voting rights from perpetrators of “infamous crimes” is acceptable. The Iowa Constitution mandates those convicted of “infamous crimes” forfeit their right to vote. The Legislature linked “infamous crimes” to felonies, which is where state law is today — as well as where a majority of the Court believes we should stay. So all Iowans convicted of felony crimes lose the right to vote unless they file for and receive a restoration from the Governor’s Office. That’s the law, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court. But even if the current process aligns with the Constitution, we still need to decide if the practical results are what’s best for the state and…
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Another step toward justice

Another step toward justice

Gazette Column
Iowa Supreme Court says juveniles can't sentenced to life without possibility of parole As more fallacies of the nation’s “tough on crime” era are exposed, juvenile justice must continue to evolve. On May 27, the Iowa Supreme Court once again stood on the right side of history. But this case, unlike same-sex marriage, produced only minor ripples within the public consciousness. Perhaps this was because the opinion arrived before a three-day weekend. Or maybe it was because the ruling concerned people we’ve been told are lost causes. Regardless, I spent most of the day reading and digesting the split ruling and its companion dissents and concurring opinions. It took time to absorb that no Iowa juvenile offender will ever again be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Our…
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Should punishment fit the crime or the risk?

Should punishment fit the crime or the risk?

Gazette Column
A bill intended to drastically reform punishment for domestic violence has quickly moved through the legislature this year. While good-intentioned, it opens the door for use of risk assessments in sentencing, and uses ineffective mandatory minimums. House File 2399 passed the Iowa House in March, 82-12. It was amended by the Senate to expand the definition of stalking, include GPS monitoring as stalking and classify dating violence as domestic abuse before being passed unanimously on April 6. The Senate also included mandatory-minimum punishments for stalking, harassment and repeat offenders. The House must take up the amended version before it is passed to Gov. Terry Branstad’s desk. The bill, according to the Legislative Services Agency, would require abusers to undergo mandatory risk assessment. The assessment would be developed and validated by…
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SCOTUS short one justice shortchanges Iowans

SCOTUS short one justice shortchanges Iowans

Gazette Column
It’s been said that leaving the U.S. Supreme Court with only eight members isn’t a big deal, that it won’t really affect Iowans. But it already has. The most discussed SCOTUS deadlock thus far came Tuesday, when an evenly divided court couldn’t find consensus in Friedrichs v. California. The case was expected to end or significantly alter the ability of public-sector unions to collect fees from unaffiliated workers — a process well known by Iowans as “fair share” — but the eight-member court instead handed a victory to organized labor. The case was part of a multiyear initiative by several conservative groups hoping to weaken the unions that represent teachers, law enforcement officers and other public-sector workers. And, based on oral arguments in January, it should have been a conservative…
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Justice reform? Don’t forget public defenders

Justice reform? Don’t forget public defenders

Gazette Column
Lost in U.S. Supreme Court finger-pointing debacles this week was a legal anniversary that reminds us justice is a process. On March 18, 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court declared the right to counsel fundamental to fairness. That decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, led to the establishment of public defense systems across the nation. The case involved a homeless Florida man, Clarence Gideon. He’d been accused of breaking into a pool hall, and insisted he couldn’t afford an attorney. Florida law at the time required court-appointed representation only for the indigent who faced capital charges. It was Gideon’s post-conviction appeal that made it’s way before the Supreme Court and ultimately broadened 14th Amendment Due Process to include state felony defendants unable to pay for legal assistance. After the decision, Gideon was provided…
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Incentives speed Iowa bill to terminate parental rights of rapists

Incentives speed Iowa bill to terminate parental rights of rapists

Gazette Column
This is the most disgusting example possible of state lawmakers first ignoring and then profiting from a morally abhorrent problem. Back in 2012, when U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., waxed poetic about “legitimate rape,” the nation was yet again embroiled in a debate about abortion rights. Specifically, if abortion was illegal, should a woman’s health or sexual assault warrant exceptions. Akin was widely, and rightfully, chastised for suggesting that rape didn’t exist and, if it did, women couldn’t get pregnant as a result of it. Lost within the fanfare of ignorant comments uttered during an election year were the voices of women who had been raped, did become pregnant and made a choice. Too often those choices were made more difficult by laws that allow accused and convicted attackers to…
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Postville’s Rubashkin has criminal case expunged

Postville’s Rubashkin has criminal case expunged

Gazette Column
This can’t be what Iowa lawmakers had in mind when they agreed last year to make some criminal records private. The legislature created a new section of the Iowa Code, 901C, to keep certain criminal records private if the defendant was acquitted or found not guilty. There are, of course, caveats. All court costs and fines must be paid in full. The case must be at least 180 days old, and the not guilty verdict cannot be due to a finding of insanity or incompetency. But, if the criteria is met, beginning on Jan. 1, interested case parties could petition to have a criminal case hidden from public records. The law change was necessary, advocates said, because the Internet makes court information more readily available. Every day, they argued, Iowans…
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Vilsack support of Branstad water quality proposal no surprise

Vilsack support of Branstad water quality proposal no surprise

Gazette Column
Tax exemptions should be on the table The urban and rural divide is alive and thriving. The response to an appearance this week by former Iowa governor and U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack at Gov. Terry Branstad’s news conference announcing a possible extension and expansion of a penny sales tax now funneled to school infrastructure proves it. Branstad’s proposal is to extend a one-cent sales tax earmarked for school infrastructure and set to expire in 2029. The plan would keep the tax in place for 20 additional years, through 2049. While schools would continue to earn proceeds from that tax to a certain cap point, about three-quarters of future growth would be funneled to conservation efforts that help reduce farm chemical runoff and, in turn, improve Iowa’s water quality. Some…
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