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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Pardon me for not rejoicing

Pardon me for not rejoicing

Gazette Column
Another day, another spitting match between Gov. Terry Branstad and a public employee union. The latest lawsuit was launched by AFSCME in response to Branstad’s shuttering of two of the state’s four mental health institutes. The union was joined in the Polk County filing by 20 state lawmakers. “Iowa law clearly states that the state of Iowa shall operate mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda,” said AFSCME President Danny Homan. “This was the law when the governor announced his decision to close these facilities. This was the law when the legislature passed, with bipartisan support, the funding to keep these facilities open. This was the law when he closed these two facilities. It still is the law today.” The entire situation could nearly be cut-and-pasted from the aftermath…
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Keeping the ‘Faith In Iowa’

Keeping the ‘Faith In Iowa’

Gazette Column
Witosky, Hansen book offers clear view of marriage equality struggles and influence Civil rights vanguards aren’t immediately appreciated and are rarely comfortable. Iowans know this from experiences dating to the early 1800s, well before statehood. The first ruling of the Iowa Territory Supreme Court in 1838 said a slave could not be forced to return to a slave state after residing on our soil. At a time when women were considered legal property by most Americans, married and unmarried Iowa women legally owned property. And, a century before interracial marriages were nationally recognized, they were taking place in Iowa. The list goes on. From a ban on segregated schools 90 years before a similar national decision to a 1953 legislative refusal to take up a McCarthy-era demand for public employee…
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Rayhons case reveals law’s flaws

Rayhons case reveals law’s flaws

Gazette Column
Jury selection took place this week in the trial of Henry Rayhons, a former Iowa lawmaker who stands accused of sexual abuse against his ailing wife, Donna. The case hinges on whether or not Donna, who was in a care facility due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, was able to consent to sexual activity and, of course, if sexual activity did occur. The couple, both in their 70s, married in 2007. They each had children from previous marriages and, as it often is in end of life situations, the presence of grown children was not trivial. Early last year, as Donna’s mental capability eroded and safety questions arose, two of her daughters suggested placement in a care facility. Henry balked, later explaining he did not want to be separated and…
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Political spin turning voters off

Political spin turning voters off

Gazette Column
A  new study by a Philadelphia media watchdog group has found that, in the lead-up to the 2014 midterm elections, more time during broadcast newscasts was devoted to paid advertisements by political campaigns and third-party groups than actual information or discourse on policy issues. Researchers found that ad time outpaced news on political issues at a ratio of nine to one. “ ... By the numbers, it was no contest. Political ads vastly outnumbered political stories of any kind and that difference was monumental when it came to political stories that addressed any of the public issues that were raised in the ads.” While we don’t yet have solid research regarding the amount of time Iowa newscasters spent discussing policy issues in comparison to the amount of time spent airing…
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