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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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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Use #IamMedicaidIowa to share experiences

Use #IamMedicaidIowa to share experiences

Gazette Column
When Iowa lawmakers consider what should be done to improve Iowa Medicaid, Disability Rights Iowa hopes people will be their primary focus. To that end, the organization is encouraging Iowans to go online and share their stories in an #IamMedicaidIowa awareness campaign. Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, told Iowa Public Radio the idea was hatched following a forum last month that highlighted “turmoil” in the program. “Many people came up to me and said: ‘Politicians need to see our faces. They are just thinking about the numbers,’ ” Hudson says. “ … That’s why we’re doing this.” [caption id="attachment_1793" align="alignleft" width="500"] Disability Rights Iowa is encouraging Iowans to hold a #IamMedicaidIowa sign, take a photo and tell their story to lawmakers.[/caption] A special announcement on the Disability Rights Iowa website is more…
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Rubashkin supporters have forgotten Postville. I can’t.

Rubashkin supporters have forgotten Postville. I can’t.

Gazette Column
Greed knows no religious boundary. On May 12, 2008, the day federal immigration officials raided the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, I was two hours away at a hospital, waiting for my husband to have surgery. The call came, and I, the only nearby reporter for the national news outlet that employed me, couldn’t go — wouldn’t go. A few hours later, as I sat beside my husband in a post-surgery recovery room, he made the decision. “Go,” he said. I did — not just that day but nearly every day over the course of the next year, and for months after that. The story of Postville, told from the tiny town in northeastern Iowa and points beyond, forever changed me. [caption id="attachment_1470" align="alignleft" width="500"] The welcome sign in Postville, Iowa…
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A 2017 summary in four quotes

A 2017 summary in four quotes

Gazette Column
If anything, 2017 was a quotable year. Here are four that sum up a year’s worth of news in the Hawkeye State. SEXUAL HARASSMENT “Several of the staff members interviewed indicated they possess a fear of retaliation, which is why they did not feel comfortable reporting any instances of harassment.” — Senate GOP internal report on sexual harassment at the Statehouse. Although several quotes surrounding the Iowa Senate Republican Caucus sexual harassment scandal that put taxpayers on the hook for $1.75 million could be used — many of them absurdities uttered by Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix as he has repeatedly attempted to whitewash bad behavior — this statement from the GOP’s internal investigation is most troubling. To date, no one has been held accountable and Statehouse employees, which include teenage…
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1992 Iowa and the rebirth of feminism

1992 Iowa and the rebirth of feminism

Gazette Column
Some may view it as a setback, but I think renewed interest in the word feminism is women (and men) finally deciding for themselves. Each year, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary selects one word that received increased attention and interest throughout the year, naming it as the “Word of the Year.” Not surprisingly, given the current state of our union, the word for 2017 is “feminism.” The word was one of the top lookups throughout the year, increasing by 70 percent from 2016. “The general rise in lookups tells us that many people are interested in this word; specific spikes give us insight into some of the reasons why,” Merriam-Webster explains on its website. It began with the Women’s March last January, and continues amid allegations of sexual harassment and assault. That has…
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Salmon is OK with doctors lying

Salmon is OK with doctors lying

Gazette Column
Janesville Republican Sandy Salmon wants to reverse a court ruling that requires doctors and other medical professionals to tell pregnant parents the truth. As a guest columnist on the Caffeinated Thoughts blog, state Rep. Salmon said she plans to introduce a bill that will prohibit “wrongful birth” lawsuits in the Hawkeye State, effectively clearing the way for health care professionals to withhold vital fetal health information from pregnant women and their partners. “Wrongful birth” cases, as I’ve written before, 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. In the case decided by the Iowa Supreme Court, for instance, abnormalities discovered during an ultrasound were not discussed. The parents were instead led to believe “everything was fine”…
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Sexual harassment makes Iowa Capitol no place for teens

Sexual harassment makes Iowa Capitol no place for teens

Featured, Gazette Column
Legislative page program should be paused until Statehouse culture changes Each year the Iowa Senate, House and Legislative Services Agency employ high school juniors and seniors as pages. Unless persistent and significant workplace culture questions are answered, 2018 should be an exception. It’s been nearly five months since an Iowa court found that Kirsten Anderson, a former Iowa Senate Republican caucus staff member, was wrongfully terminated hours after she reported sexual harassment. It’s been more than a month since the state settled the case without an appeal, agreeing to pay Anderson and her attorneys $1.75 million from the state’s coffers. To date, no one has been held accountable. [caption id="attachment_1419" align="alignleft" width="500"] A portion of the Iowa Senate GOP's internal investigation report atop a picture of the Iowa Statehouse.[/caption] Perhaps…
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Time to stop the Chicago blame game

Time to stop the Chicago blame game

Featured, Gazette Column
There’s a persistent rumbling of how Chicago transplants are to blame for just about every negative trend in Eastern Iowa. Perhaps you’ve heard it? The lack of affordable housing in our communities, as well as the strain on local social services organizations, according to the rumbles, is because people from Chicago are moving here and jumping to the front of the line. Incidents of violence are skyrocketing, they say, because Chicago transplants are bringing gang activity, guns and illicit drugs with them. Even if violence and mayhem isn’t the intent, there’s a cultural divide between small city Iowa and big city Illinois that’s impossible to cross. And, perhaps worst of all, the rumbles single out people from Chicago’s south side as instigators of neighborhood corruption, which is too often a…
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Recommit to support veterans

Recommit to support veterans

Gazette Column
Parades, free meals and organized ceremonies took place Friday as Iowans observed Veterans Day. That leaves this day, the actual date of Veterans Day, open for personal reflection and recommitment to those who wore the boots. Since 1775, nearly 1.4 million military members have died in war and conflicts. More than 40 million men and women have served in the armed forces during war; millions more during peacetime. Men and women have served on bases and in conflicts around the globe, including in Afghanistan for the past 16 years. They’ve served regardless of current events or political sentiment — although all returning have been subject to the whims of a society shaped by these factors. Within that context, the pomp and circumstance of Veterans Day is important and inadequate. Pausing…
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