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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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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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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‘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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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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Investment must follow Iowa justice reform

Investment must follow Iowa justice reform

Gazette Column
What will Iowa communities do with the nearly 1,000 non-violent drug offenders made eligible for early release by the justice reform bill signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad this week? Or maybe the better question is what will those rejoining society do with themselves? Many ex-offenders return to families or friends in old neighborhoods, although that often means renewing connections to the people and circumstances that led them to crime. Others are no longer welcomed in those spaces, either because relatives and friends refuse or housing policies prohibit tenants with certain criminal histories. Either way, ex-offenders are released from prison with few resources. Even when housing is available, there is no money for rent and deposits. While Iowa isn’t the worst of the states when it comes to restricting…
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SCOTUS short one justice shortchanges Iowans

SCOTUS short one justice shortchanges Iowans

Gazette Column
It’s been said that leaving the U.S. Supreme Court with only eight members isn’t a big deal, that it won’t really affect Iowans. But it already has. The most discussed SCOTUS deadlock thus far came Tuesday, when an evenly divided court couldn’t find consensus in Friedrichs v. California. The case was expected to end or significantly alter the ability of public-sector unions to collect fees from unaffiliated workers — a process well known by Iowans as “fair share” — but the eight-member court instead handed a victory to organized labor. The case was part of a multiyear initiative by several conservative groups hoping to weaken the unions that represent teachers, law enforcement officers and other public-sector workers. And, based on oral arguments in January, it should have been a conservative…
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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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