Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

By: The Associated Press
May 2, 2016 Updated: May 2, 2016 at 9:01 am
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Des Moines Register. April 30, 2016

Amend constitution, end lieutenant governor.

Gov. Terry Branstad has succeeded in his quest to reduce the size of state government. With fewer than 18,000 workers, the administrative branch is the smallest it has been in at least two decades. There are hundreds fewer workers in agencies responsible for inspecting nursing homes, investigating child abuse and guarding state prisoners. It seems the public workforce can never be too small for this governor.

In that spirit, Branstad should look in the mirror. Standing right next to him — as the public well knows — is an individual holding a position that serves no immediate, essential function: The lieutenant governor. The fiscally conservative governor should be leading the charge for a constitutional amendment to eliminate that job.

Iowa's original constitution did not provide for the position of lieutenant governor. The secretary of state was to assume the responsibilities of the governor's office in the event of a death, incapacitation or resignation. The present constitution, drafted in 1857, created the position. According to a 1988 amendment, the individual "shall have the duties provided by law and those duties of the governor assigned to the lieutenant governor by the governor."

But the role of this individual is not defined in Iowa Code. He or she basically exists to do whatever the governor says, and to wait in the wings in case the governor dies. (Only one Iowa governor, William Beardsley, died while in office and the lieutenant governor served as governor for about two months until the already elected Leo Hoegh was inaugurated).

Why not amend the Iowa Constitution again and abolish the job? Let the secretary of state or someone else succeed to the governor's office in the unlikely event a governor can't serve. Save the taxpayers the salary of a lieutenant governor. Kim Reynolds, who currently holds the position, is paid $103,000 plus travel expenses annually.

Those dollars, plus any money spent on staff dedicated to the office, could instead be used to pay for state troopers, prison guards, ombudsmen or other workers whose duties extend beyond the ceremonial and political.

Even some "co-governors" around the country have mocked or challenged the position. The former lieutenant governor of Arkansas, Win Rockefeller, is perhaps best known for describing his job as state government's spare tire: pumped up and hoped it's never used. Although Bob Crosby successfully ran for lieutenant governor of Nebraska in the 1940s, he argued the position should be abolished. A bill now being considered by the Illinois Legislature would further an effort to dissolve the office, a move the current lieutenant governor said she supports.

Seven states — Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming — do not elect a lieutenant governor, according to Governing Magazine. A few of those simply give the title to whoever is presiding in the Senate.

Iowa could do the same by amending the state constitution. Considering Branstad's reluctance to fund necessary public workers, he should be leading the charge to eliminate unnecessary ones.

Responsibilities of lieutenant governors vary

Stateline, a publication of Pew Charitable Trusts, reported in 2015 on the role of lieutenant governors around the country. Some have clear, extensive responsibilities. In Colorado, the lieutenant governor directs the Department of Higher Education. In Indiana, the individual serves as the secretary of agriculture and runs six state agencies, according to the publication.

In Iowa, the lieutenant governor has little authority and no immediate duties beyond those assigned by the governor. Kim Reynolds, who currently holds the position, told Stateline she "helped attract more than $9 billion in private investments to her state since 2011 from companies including Facebook, Google and Microsoft" and co-chairs the governor's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Advisory Council.

Of course, Iowa already has directors for the state's economic development and education agencies. These people are appointed by the governor and each earn about $150,000 annually.___

Sioux City Journal. April 28, 2016

Legislature needs to revisit issue of felon voting rights.

Should Iowa felons have the right to vote?

A case before the Iowa Supreme Court seeks to provide an answer to what we view as a difficult question deserving of more discussion. The case was brought by Kelli Jo Griffin, who lost her right to vote after a 2008 drug conviction.

We, however, prefer the state Legislature, not its High Court, lead this discussion.

During arguments in the Griffin case made before the court on March 30, questions from justices focused on meaning, within the Iowa Constitution, of the words "any infamous crime."

"A person adjudged mentally incompetent to vote or a person convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled to the privilege of an elector," the Constitution reads. (The original wording was "No idiot, or insane person, or person convicted of any infamous crime, shall be entitled to the privilege of an elector." A 2008 amendment changed the wording.)

What, exactly, did Iowa's founders mean by "any infamous crime"? Did they mean "any felony"?

Clearly, justices were perplexed by the language.

"What can you do to breathe life into these very vague words, 'any infamous crime?'" Justice Brent Appel asked at the beginning of arguments from Griffin's lawyer. "It doesn't jump out and tell you exactly what it means ..."

"Our founders gave us a phrase that gives us some difficulty today and probably has throughout the existence of our state," said Justice Mark Cady. "They wanted to make people who were convicted of an infamous crime ineligible to vote. They didn't say felony crimes. They didn't define any specific crimes. ... So what are we to do today?"

In our view, this isn't a one-size-fits-all matter. We do not believe Griffin should be treated the same as, for example, a convicted murderer who is serving a life sentence in prison. Room exists, we believe, for allowing some felons to exercise a right to vote — after completion of sentence. Do we not, in fact, hope a felon becomes a rehabilitated, productive member of society when his or her punishment for a crime ends?

Today, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, Iowa, Florida and Kentucky are, in fact, the only states in which all convicted felons are barred for life from voting unless they complete a process for restoration. According to the Iowa secretary of state's office: "Voting rights may be restored by application to the governor's office after completion of the sentence, any required probation, parole, or supervised release, and all court costs, fees and restitutions have been paid."

We are uncomfortable with having the Supreme Court define "any infamous crime" and we do not believe executive action is the proper course on this issue. (Gov. Terry Branstad in 2011 issued an executive order reversing former Gov. Tom Vilsack's 2005 executive order in which he restored voting rights for felons who completed their sentences.)

Rather than have justices, in effect, legislate from the bench or a governor overstep his or her bounds with respect to felony disenfranchisement, we believe it's time for the Legislature to revisit the issue of voting rights for felons with an eye toward providing constitutional clarity by debating, then adopting a specific, reasonable definition for "any infamous crime."

Simply put, in our view, this is a legislative, not a judicial or executive responsibility.___

Dubuque Telegraph Herald. April 29, 2016

Keep pressing for Medicaid oversight.

Less than one month into a controversial new system and Gov. Terry Branstad is ready to call the Medicaid privatization transition a success.

Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds the other day sent out a press release highlighting success stories about how the new system is "connecting patients with services to live healthier, happier lives."

Access is better, care is better, outcomes are better, according to Branstad, who pushed the system forward despite months of controversy, missteps and delays.

In early April, a TH editorial included the story of a McGregor boy, battling the second brain tumor of his young life, who was caught in transitional red tape. Shaun Mohs' grandfather was sounding alarm bells because the 9-year-old Iowan couldn't start undergoing chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on March 30 because the transition to managed care was set to begin April 1 and negotiations between managed care companies and health care providers still had to be worked out.

We're happy to report that Shaun's case was quickly evaluated and Mayo received authorization to provide all the necessary and highly complex care for him.

That's terrific news for Shaun and his family, who nonetheless face a difficult road ahead. It's encouraging to hear that the managed care operator moved swiftly to facilitate authorization when a child's health is at risk.

But we can't help but think what might had happened without the boost of publicity about Shaun's situation. And we think about the remaining half-million Iowans in the Medicaid program, for whom the wheels might not be turning so quickly.

Unfortunately, the news release from the governor's office notwithstanding, the reviews are not all glowing. In many cases, managed care operators are frantically trying to put together documentation to keep services flowing. Authorization is often done by people out of state, so Medicaid recipients and their caretakers have seen inconsistencies in what is approved and what is not.

Perhaps the biggest challenge families report is in trying to get prescriptions renewed. It is requiring prior authorization and use of out-of-state pharmacies, and it has meant patients waiting a week or more for refills. When a patient is taking anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications, days not taking the prescribed drug can be a huge and dangerous setback.

As Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum put it, "We're not at the corner of happy and healthy." While the governor has pulled out his shining examples of successes, lawmakers have taken dozens of calls from constituents who tell different stories. State Medicaid offices have been fielding as many as 1,000 calls a day from consumers and hundreds more from health care providers.

Meanwhile, the Iowa Legislature has yet to put any oversight into place. In the waning days of the session, this is an issue where Democrats and Republicans can't agree. Here's one thing everyone should agree on: Every government system needs oversight. Especially a new one. Especially one that deals with 560,000 of the state's most vulnerable people.

It's far too early to call the change to managed care of Medicaid a success — or failure — no matter what the governor or the critics say. The likelihood of success will greatly increase if we demand transparency and accountability from the system. The Legislature needs to make that happen.___

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. April 26, 2016

Time to fix the cannabis law.

Iowa lawmakers have been working on medical marijuana parameters for some time now.

We hope this is the year they can come up with a logical plan that meets the needs of the people it can help.

Originally, this session's bill, Senate File 484, was written to allow Iowans with an array of health problems to obtain medical marijuana. Those conditions included cancer, multiple sclerosis, Chrohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and other chronic ailments. It would have allowed up to four producers to grow marijuana in Iowa with oversight from the state. It also would have allowed for independent dispensaries to sell the drug.

Changes were made after going through the Commerce Committee, slimming down the health condition requirements and the number of manufacturers. Initially the bill included 12 health conditions that would qualify for the use of cannabidiol, also known as CBD. The changes cut that down to three approved conditions and two manufacturing facilities. The health conditions include intractable epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and cancer if a patient has less than 12 months to live.

Iowa's current law, enacted in 2014, allows for the use of CBD to treat people who have intractable epilepsy. That law was passed after years of discussion and included gatherings of parents who have children with epilepsy who lobbied hard for the use of medical marijuana within the state.

At first, that was seen as a great victory for proponents of medical marijuana use in Iowa. However, it was soon realized those who met the requirements had to leave the state in order to obtain the drug and were technically breaking federal laws that prohibit the transportation of drugs over state lines.

Gov. Terry Branstad has said he is willing to work with the Legislature on resolving issues with the state's current law but will reserve his judgment on this bill until he sees its final form.

"We want to make sure that we protect the state against unintended consequences and access to marijuana to people that would be using it for inappropriate or illicit purposes," he said.

Over the years we have supported further use of potential medicines that have been shown to relieve pain and suffering. Finally, it looked like the state had made some progress on the issue after those lobbying efforts. It turned out the efforts that went into passing the 2014 bill, for all intents and purposes, were for naught.

Our legislators have another chance this year to rectify that embarrassing situation. They should be taking this next opportunity to fix this law - at least so it rises to the spirit it was intended: helping Iowans with painful and debilitating conditions.___

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