DHS director sends mixed messages on juvenile justice

DHS director sends mixed messages on juvenile justice

Gazette Column
Amid allegations of mistreatment at the Boys State Training School in Eldora, Iowa Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven says there’s no need for changes. But that’s not the opinion he expressed a few months ago. Disability Rights Iowa, a federally mandated and funded protection and advocacy group, released a report last week detailing concerns with the school, including improper use of seclusion and restraints and a lack of behavior health treatments. The school was established and is run by the state to provide treatment and rehabilitation services to boys, ages 12 to 18, who are found by juvenile courts to be delinquent. More often than not, these are male juveniles who have committed multiple, lower-level crimes, but the facility also houses teens convicted of violent acts. Capacity of the facility is…
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Statewide conversation on affordable, supportive housing begins

Statewide conversation on affordable, supportive housing begins

Gazette Column
Spotlight reveals challenges within the Creative Corridor DUBUQUE — Every county in Iowa lacks a sufficient number of affordable housing units, which, in turn, contributes to the prevalence of homelessness most apparent in the state’s population centers. Although intensity varies, this lack of housing is a statewide challenge that affects the ability of communities to attract business and sustain a workforce, the need for taxpayer-funded safety net programs and overall health and well-being. So, this week, the Iowa Finance Authority launched the first of three statewide conversations on housing with a specific focus on the overwhelming need for supported living arrangements. “What we’ve learned from recent experiences in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City,” explained Carolann Jensen, chief programs officer with the IFA, “is that the push for housing, especially supportive…
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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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Is it too late to snip the fuse on fireworks?

Is it too late to snip the fuse on fireworks?

Gazette Column
Once you open Pandora’s box of booming missiles and colorful starbursts, it’s impossible to completely refasten the lid. But maybe we can agree it needs better hinges. Iowa’s new fireworks freedom was hastily crafted by an “alpha male” Legislature wanting to show off its muscles. Quickly signed into law by then-Gov. Terry Branstad, the law allows Iowans to buy, use and sell fireworks from June 1 through July 8 and from Dec. 10 to Jan. 3. Unlike previously discussed versions of legalization, the new rules began immediately. State law allows any Iowan above the age of 18 to purchase and light a broad array of fireworks from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. — and even later closer to the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve holidays — within the…
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Resignation can’t stymie DHS probe

Resignation can’t stymie DHS probe

Gazette Column
Two of three teens the state pledged to protect were placed in homes where they were subsequently neglected and abused to death. The third fled her torturers. More than 4,000 other Iowa children are overseen by this most likely flawed system. A retirement announcement Wednesday by Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer does not absolve him of any failed obligations to these minors, living or dead. The move should spark renewed commitment to bring the truth to light. Known victims of the state system are 16-year-old Natalie Finn of West Des Moines, 18-year-old Malayia Knapp of Des Moines, and 16-year-old Sabrina Ray of Perry. [caption id="attachment_1221" align="alignleft" width="300"] Iowa DHS Director Charles Palmer speaks at a Johnson County Task Force on Aging forum at the Coralville Public Library in…
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Iowa winnowing of health care begins

Iowa winnowing of health care begins

Gazette Column
News that health care advocates had been dreading came Thursday: Planned Parenthood of the Heartland will shutter a third of it’s Iowa clinics. Locations in Bettendorf, Sioux City, Burlington and Keokuk will close at the end of June. Only one of those locations offered abortion services, and it will continue to provide those procedures until the building is sold. Soon to be lost is what more than 70 percent of Iowans supported — access to family planning services like contraceptives, prenatal vitamins and cancer or other disease screenings. More than 14,000 Iowans utilized the clinics now slated for closure. Planned Parenthood clinics statewide serve nearly half of residents who use publicly-funded family planning services. Looking only at the four counties impacted by the closures, Planned Parenthood clinics served, at a…
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Index: Iowa needs better crisis plans

Index: Iowa needs better crisis plans

Gazette Column
The new National Health Security Preparedness Index is out, and Iowans continue to lag behind in plans for the state’s most vulnerable. Across most of the 139 measures used to compile the index, Iowans fare well with rankings at or slightly above the national average. Iowa gets an overall score of 7 out of 10 — the same score it’s had for the past three years. But while Iowa has stagnated, other states have improved. The 7 that placed Iowa above the pack in 2014, now puts it in the middle. Drilling further down, it’s apparent that there is one section in particular where Iowans are lagging behind. Index authors labeled it as “Community Planning and Engagement Coordination,” which includes actions taken to develop and maintain supportive relationships among government…
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State won’t force my daughters

State won’t force my daughters

Featured, Gazette Column
For the past several years I’ve searched for a way to get my oldest daughter to move back to Iowa, and ways to keep my younger daughter in state. Thanks to the Iowa Legislature, I’m putting those plans on hold. There’s been plenty of “progress” this session that’s contributed to my decision. A full-throated denial of local control stands out, as do limitations on workers’ rights. But the final straw came this week when lawmakers decided that if my daughters become pregnant the state can force them to continue the pregnancy and give birth. It’s a decision that sickens me to my very core, and not just theoretically. I was one of those women who learned that a very much wanted child would not survive. I had to make the…
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An opportunity to care for Iowa’s kids

An opportunity to care for Iowa’s kids

Gazette Column
Before the General Assembly comes to a close lawmakers need take notice of new school lunch policies in the southwest. Legislators in Texas and California have filed bills to address “school lunch shaming.” New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez signed her state’s anti-shaming bill into law earlier this month, making it the first of its kind in the nation. “Study after study tells us that hungry students can’t keep up in school to meet their potential,” Martinez noted in her message to lawmakers. “I am pleased to sign Senate Bill 374, which ensures that our children will never go back to class hungry after lunch, even if their parents fail to pay outstanding bills for their meals.” The New Mexico effort, dubbed the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, was especially…
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