Iowa lawmakers’ top priority is moot point

Iowa lawmakers’ top priority is moot point

Gazette Column
Instead of tackling a host of thorny issues before the state, lawmakers are poised to offer a solution to a non-existent problem when they convene in January. Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, and House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, told the Des Moines-based Westside Conservative Club this week that when they convene the 2017 session on Jan. 9 lawmakers will push through unnecessary laws that will require Iowans to present state-issued identification in order to cast their ballots. And while I understand that Voter ID has been a GOP goal for some time, I’ve yet to understand why. Voting is a fundamental right, not a privilege. As such, it is protected by more constitutional amendments than any other right Americans enjoy. It is especially a mystery to…
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Long road ahead for Iowa political equity advocates

Long road ahead for Iowa political equity advocates

Featured, Gazette Column
The 2016 election will go down in Iowa history as a time when a record number of women sought office. It won’t, however, be remembered as one where women saw gains. While women nationally continue to absorb the loss of the presidency, Iowa women have added concerns. None of the Iowa women seeking federal office were elected — Patty Judge, Kim Weaver and Monica Vernon, all Democrats. A massive influx of Republicans to the Iowa Statehouse also took its toll on prospects for gender equity in Des Moines. [caption id="attachment_258" align="alignright" width="640"] Only six women will serve in the Iowa Senate when it convenes in January. It's a decrease of one from the current General Assembly. (Blank map source: Legislative Services Agency)[/caption] Eleven women sought election to nine seats in…
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Aim higher for Iowa’s gun safety training

Aim higher for Iowa’s gun safety training

Featured, Gazette Column
For the past five years, Iowa law has required citizens wanting a weapons permit to pay for a “safety” class that has no minimum standards. And, based on conversations with the crop of this year’s legislative candidates, no changes are on the horizon. In 2011, when Iowa became a “shall issue” state, removing nearly all discretion in weapons permitting from local law enforcement, the law required most applicants to attend safety classes. The Legislature, however, did not specify the content or curriculum of those classes or give such authority to the Iowa Department of Public Safety. [caption id="attachment_147" align="alignright" width="300"] A display of 7-round .45 caliber handguns are seen at Coliseum Gun Traders Ltd. in Uniondale, New York January 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)[/caption] The result is a patchwork — a…
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Iowa families need more than platitudes, campaign rhetoric

Iowa families need more than platitudes, campaign rhetoric

Gazette Column
Some Iowa lawmakers and elected officials gathered on the steps of the Capital this week to be disingenuous. [caption id="attachment_156" align="alignright" width="640"] The State Capitol Building in Des Moines. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)[/caption] It’s difficult to find good news in this election cycle, but this past week offered an exception. Both Democratic and Republican presidential nominees have rolled out their proposals for paid family medical leave. I’ll leave it to readers to research the ins-and-outs of the proposals by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The big news is the conversation about family medical leave is in the headlines again, and that’s due in large part to the number of women who have advocated on behalf of this issue. It’s good that we are talking, because this is an issue that’s been…
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‘Precedent’ no reason to not seek answers

‘Precedent’ no reason to not seek answers

Gazette Column
We give cover to those with whom we agree Trying to name the political elephant that won’t budge from the corner and keeps mucking up the floor? His name is Precedent, and he appears to be here for the long haul. I’m not exactly sure when he arrived, but I do know what makes him thrive. And, collectively, we’ve been serving him buckets upon buckets of scandalous food. For a prime example, let’s travel back in time to 2007, when the George W. Bush administration was taking heat for dismissing at least eight U.S. attorneys. When Congress requested the White House release administrative documents related to the U.S. attorneys, the public found out that White House staffers had been conducting official business on private servers run by the Republican National…
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Rethink sales tax holidays

Rethink sales tax holidays

Gazette Column
Sales tax holidays like the one happening in Iowa this weekend may sound nice, but they aren’t good public policy. And, yes, I can already hear groaning from the parents and grandparents reading that first sentence. Bear with me. For those who are unfamiliar, for the past 16 years, Iowa residents have been given two days in August to purchase various back-to-school items that cost under $100 without paying sales taxes. In addition, since 2000, the legislature has mandated that all retailers participate. Supporters of these holidays assert the incentive stimulates the economy by encouraging shoppers to purchase more of the goods included on the state’s tax-free list, even if some are impulse buys. But, research has time and again shown this to be false. The New York State Department…
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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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One less housing option

One less housing option

Gazette Column
Enacting justice reforms that include early release of nearly 1,000 non-violent drug offenders will spike demand for affordable housing. And, in Cedar Rapids, there’s one less option. In a column published the week Gov. Terry Branstad signed the criminal justice reform bill, I noted opportunities for ex-offenders to access housing and employment are few and far between. Not only will the state need to revisit the nearly 650 “tough on crime” era laws that restrict the rights of former offenders, but more integration opportunities need to be developed if society expects assimilation and productivity. To that end, my last column included a call for more ex-offender housing options like the Mary Lundby Townhomes in Cedar Rapids. “Check your facts,” a reader and former Lundby Townhome resident replied, adding the that…
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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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Time to end the Iowa K-12 funding shell game

Time to end the Iowa K-12 funding shell game

Gazette Column
Iowans received a mixed message this month when state officials finally found middle ground on state K-12 education funding. To put the lesson in context, we have to look back at last year’s K-12 spending debacle and Gov. Terry Branstad’s veto of a portion of the legislature’s 2015 compromise deal. The veto came just before the July 4 holiday, announced via email from the governor’s office. The legislative deal — a 1.25 percent increase with an additional $55 million in one-time funding — had been forged during a hard, six-month slog. Branstad took exception to the one-time spending and chose to use his line-item veto authority to remove it from the budget. “Maintaining the fiscal health of Iowa over the long term is my top budgeting priority,” Branstad said then,…
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