Transparency’s best hope: Regents lawsuit

Transparency’s best hope: Regents lawsuit

Gazette Column
Iowans are one step closer to learning how far former Board of Regent President Bruce Rastetter diverged from the University of Iowa president search process he put in place, and whether he and complicit regents will face consequences for mocking open meeting laws. The members, who constitute a majority of the board tasked with overseeing Iowa’s public universities, had to describe under oath their role in the covert recruitment in 2015 of UI President Bruce Harreld. Secret meetings — which then-Regent Katie Mulholland described as “coordinated in such a way as to avoid the requirement that they be public” — took place weeks after the regents announced a transparent search process, but only hours before Harreld made official application for the job. In addition to Mulholland, Harreld met in private with former…
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National monuments under fire

National monuments under fire

Featured, Gazette Column
Maybe, if the review of national monuments ordered by President Donald Trump directly targeted Effigy Mounds or the Herbert Hoover Historic Site, Iowans would be more interested. But a lack of Iowa sites isn’t reason to be complacent. If the Trump administration chooses to shrink or abolish a national monument, and earns court approval for doing so, precedent will be set, placing the fate of all national monuments in jeopardy. The reviews, being conducted primarily by the U.S. Department of the Interior and its new secretary, Ryan Zinke, are the result of an April executive order that questions the legitimacy of recent designations under the Antiquities Act of 1906. That’s the law that established the nation’s first historic preservation policy, intended to protect artifacts from would-be looters or vandals. It gives the…
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How far has culture of sexism at Iowa Statehouse spread?

How far has culture of sexism at Iowa Statehouse spread?

Gazette Column
Been thinking there must be some deeply rooted cultural phenomenon that led Iowa lawmakers to propose — and, unfortunately, pass — bills that negatively impact women? Turns out, you’re right. A recent court case, brought by a former Iowa Senate Republican Caucus staffer, reveals the ugly details of sexual harassment at the Capitol complex in Des Moines. Charges by Kirsten Anderson, who was the communications director for the GOP caucus for five years, were confirmed in court testimony by other staffers, some of whom continue to work in the harassing and juvenile environment. One described an incident from more than 20 years ago, when she came back from lunch only to discover her computer’s screen saver had been changed to a topless woman jumping on a trampoline to the tune…
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Godfrey court decision good for Iowans

Godfrey court decision good for Iowans

Gazette Column
Iowa Supreme Court Justices narrowly decided last week that citizens can sue government officials who violate their rights. The 68-page decision, which addresses a portion of an employment dispute case brought by former Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris J. Godfrey against former Gov. Terry Branstad, Gov. Kim Reynolds and four more Branstad administration officials, was handed down June 30. It reverses a lower court decision to stall the case and, by doing so, establishes a landmark pathway for citizens to seek monetary damages from the government and government officials for violations of equal protection and due process rights within the Iowa Constitution. While many in Iowa await the outcome of the long-standing dispute between the Branstad administration and Godfrey, the Iowa Supreme Court ruling merely sends the case forward. The Justices specifically…
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Wrongful birth suits get Iowa court nod

Wrongful birth suits get Iowa court nod

Gazette Column
Physicians who don’t inform pregnant women and their partners of fetal anomalies can be sued, the Iowa Supreme Court decided this month. These “wrongful birth” cases involve pregnancies in which physicians or other medical professionals have access to test results, not disclosed to parents, indicating the child will face severe disabilities. For instance, in the case before the Iowa Court, parents Pamela and Jeremy Plowman say their prenatal doctors failed to inform them of abnormalities discovered during an ultrasound. Instead they were led to believe “everything was fine” with the pregnancy, and recommended follow-up testing was never completed. Severe cognitive defects were diagnosed after their son was born. His medical condition requires lifelong oversight and intervention. Now six years old, their son does not speak or walk, and he is…
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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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