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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

Associated Press Updated: March 16, 2015 at 11:31 am
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Quad-City Times. March 16, 2015

Iowa ends voter fraud goose chase

Former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz's two-year, $250,000 witch hunt ended ignobly Friday. Schultz's successor, Republican Paul Pate, dropped his office's Iowa Supreme Court appeal of a lower court ruling that held Schultz overstepped his authority in a crackdown on immigrant voters.

Schultz had broad-based GOP support as a candidate condemning what he suggested was widespread voter fraud, particularly by documented immigrants who were not citizens. Schultz's exhaustive investigation compared voter registration lists with federal and state immigration lists, including the federal database used to verify entitlement benefits.

So instead of targeting the behavior based on evidence of unlawful voting, Schultz went hunting for voters he suspected might be immigrants.

The Iowa ACLU and League of Latin American Citizens filed suit, claiming the targeted enforcement was discriminatory and beyond Schultz's authority. Schultz lost his first round in court and appealed. On Friday, his successor withdrew the challenge.

So how effective was Schultz's obsession?

His own report disclosed evidence suggesting 117 illegally cast votes. Considering that 1.6 million Iowans voted in 2012 general election, Schultz's success rate was no better than .0073 percent. The investigation led to six criminal convictions, or .00037 percent.

Lottery players would seem to have better luck.

What Schultz' investigation found mostly were mistakes and incomplete records. His investigation hassled far more innocent voters than likely suspects. Instead of focusing on improving voter turnout by easing registration, expanding hours and improving equipment, Schultz chose to pursue his own suspicions of fraud by targeting immigrants.

Pate pledged to stay tough on voter fraud,, "continuing efforts that ensure verifiable voter identification."

But he was clear that Schultz's choice of tactics had failed. "After counsel from Iowa Attorney General's office we have decided to voluntarily dismiss this appeal and instead focus on building the most accurate voter registration list for Iowa. I will use my authority to the fullest extent of state and federal law to ensure accurate voter lists. There are other ways to accomplish the same goal without pursuing a course with significant legal hurdles."

Of course, detecting voter fraud must be a critical part of every Secretary of State's office. But as investigators, they must deploy enforcement resources effectively. This two-year effort, condemned for intimidating Hispanic voters, squandered resources and wound up detecting precious little fraud.

Schultz's wolf cry ended in a whimper Friday with a sound decision not to squander more.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. March 12, 2015.

Iowa medical marijuana law desperately needs upgrading

Over the years we have generally supported the legalization of certain marijuana derivatives for some medical situations. That's simply been a matter of empathy - supporting the further use of potential medicines that have been shown to relieve some levels of pain and suffering.

It's also an issue that has been discussed many times over the years at the Iowa Statehouse. Prior to last year, the issue had been left for dead in past legislative sessions. Then, lobbying efforts by parents of children with seizure disorders, often associated with epilepsy, kept the issue alive during the last session.

Finally, a proposal got through the Legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill into law last year that allows for the use of oil derived from marijuana to treat chronic epilepsy.

Getting that very narrow use of cannabidiol -- a chemical component of marijuana believed to have medicinal value without a high -- was a tribute to the persistence of advocates.

Many of those persistent people were at the Capitol rotunda during the law signing last year. They were parents and children - many in wheelchairs. They are those who are impacted by the effects of epilepsy and seizures, and they fought long and hard to see that law approved.

"I am elated and so incredibly happy to see the governor put his name down on that piece of paper for this bill," April Stumpf, of Riverside, said at the time. Her daughter, now nearly three years old, suffers from epilepsy. "This is truly an amazing day."

It was indeed a feel-good time for many supporters.

However, as everyone quickly found out, the law did not provide any way for the creation or distribution of the extract in Iowa. It's made in other states, Illinois among them, but is illegal to transport across state lines.

In other words, the efforts that went into passing that last bill have, for all intents and purposes, been rendered futile.

During an editorial board meeting at The Courier last week, Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said the law "has not helped one Iowan."

This year, a bill was introduced that could expand the law to allow access to it, and also expand the conditions under which it could be used.

Our lawmakers should be taking the opportunity to fix this law -- at least so it rises to the spirit it was intended: helping Iowans with painful and debilitating conditions.

As reported in May of last year, Branstad said he approved of the measure after consulting with other governors in conservative states who have signed similar measures. He said the bill strikes an appropriate balance of oversight, regulation and empathy in providing narrowly targeted immunity in Iowa for the possession of the extract as a treatment for chronic epilepsy.

Except that the empathy facet rings hollow if no one can obtain the medicine to use it.

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Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil. March 11, 2015.

Applause for schools breaking laws?

Rarely, if ever, has a superintendent been publicly applauded for saying, "I take full and sole responsibility for the violation of state law."

But that's exactly what happened at Monday night's school board meeting in Davenport, as reported by The Quad-City Times.

Art Tate, superintendent of the Davenport Community School District, announced Iowa's third-largest district is simply following the Legislature's lead in "ignor(ing) the law this year" by spending more per pupil than is allowed under state law, despite having significant cash reserves in the general fund.

After his scalding critique of the Legislature for its failure to finalize state supplemental aid to schools, more than a month after the Feb. 12 deadline codified in state law, a standing ovation interrupted the proceedings.

In his action - one that could see him charged with a misdemeanor - Tate raises a valid point: How can the Legislature hold the district accountable for spending its own money when those charged with setting state aid to all school districts can't even get close to making their state-mandated deadline?

With roughly a month until school districts are required to submit budgets to the state, it is outrageous that school boards have no idea what they will be working with for state aid. Some are just guesstimating as they begin the lengthy and involved process.

Though the debate - the 1.25 percent advocated by the GOP versus 4 percent pushed by Democrats - is an important one to have, continued political posturing cannot be allowed to trump laws put in place for a reason - to govern schools.

When those elected to make laws fail to follow the statutes governing themselves, dysfunction sets in. Look no further than Congress to see what transpires when mandates are flouted.

Both houses are required to pass annual budgets each spring. Yet the threat of a government shutdown - whether for an agency or the entire federal government, as we saw in 2013 - continues to loom because neither house has been particularly adept at preparing a budget.

Accordingly, Congress continues to stumble piecemeal through continuing resolutions to fund this or that - only to undergo the same song and dance for a different department just weeks later. We saw it yet again last month with the last-minute theatrics to avert a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.

We feel the Iowa Legislature is a far more effective legislative body than Congress, particularly when healthy debate ensues, but disrespecting the laws governing actions at the Capitol is an insult to all Iowans.

The House and Senate worked admirably just a few weeks ago to garner enough bipartisan support to pass the unpopular but sorely needed hike in the gas tax.

It's time they do the same to end the wrangling over allowable growth and give school districts concrete numbers.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. March 11, 2015.

Gun bill a shot to the public interest

The U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens the right to bear arms. But that right doesn't guarantee secrecy.

Some Iowa lawmakers, however, feel it's necessary to change that.

Legislation advancing in the Iowa Legislature would withhold from the public the identities of Iowans holding permits to carry concealed weapons.

And the bill doesn't stop there. It would legalize silencers or "suppressors," which reduce the noise associated with a gunshot.

Wondering whether Iowans are really clamoring for this change?

There's more. Consider this bit of the legislation: The bill would make it legal for youngsters under the age of 14 to possess a handgun or ammunition.

Scratching your head yet?

The reverse in transparency on Iowa's conceal-and-carry law is troubling enough. This is a state that changed its law to strip sheriffs of nearly all their authority to decide when a license to carry would be issued. Instead, gun permits are handed out to 99.6 percent of all applicants. A Des Moines Register investigation last year found that among those permit-holders are the legally blind and more than 50 registered sex offenders. That's not against the law specifically, but is it good public policy?

Still, House File 527 and Senate Study Bill 1251 advanced from their respective bodies' judiciary committees without delay.

The measure passed the House on Tuesday, 75-24.

Proponents say it's nobody else's business who is carrying a concealed weapon. Some say keeping the information public makes weapons-carriers a crime target, while others say if it's public information that they do not carry a concealed weapon, they are a target. (So that pretty much covers 99.6 percent of the population.)

A couple of years ago, the newspaper in Westchester County, N.Y., sparked a firestorm of protest and dire predictions of crime, including burglaries and violence, after it listed local permit-holders; it even spotted them on a map. Months later, it went back to see if those predictions came true. They didn't.

Not one criminal incident was linked to the newspaper's disclosure. (See thonline.com/weblinks.) (So too when the TH posted the list of local permit-holders.) Even those who protested the loudest at the time acknowledged their worst fears did not materialize.

If this information does not remain available to citizens, where is the public oversight? How can citizens assess how the sheriff, though limited under the "shall-issue" law, is administering this program?

TH Media's online publication of the Dubuque County list surfaced someone holding a permit who had lost his eligibility to do so. That would not have been known had the list been secret. (That problem was traced to a communications disconnect between the police and sheriff's departments.)

People without weapons permits have rights, too. For instance, shouldn't a citizen be able to check whether a contractor working in his or her home has a permit to carry a weapon? How about an employer who is about to dismiss an employee? What about abuse victims or folks having an escalating difference of opinion with a belligerent neighbor?

Keeping this information public has more upsides than downsides. Making it secret is a solution looking for a problem.

At the very least, legislators should go along with a proposed amendment that would allow a citizen to learn the permit status of a specific person, as opposed to being able to scan the entire list. That amendment didn't get included in the House version; it should in the Senate. Some mechanism for oversight also should be part of the equation.

There are pros and cons on the secrecy issue, but we are at a loss to find a good reason for silencers and for allowing kids to possess guns.

As Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said in his criticism of the proposal: It's remarkable that the Legislature isn't providing enough money to ensure that all 4-year-old boys and girls can attend preschool, yet lawmakers are suggesting that those same children can shoot a gun.

Protecting the right to gun ownership is one thing. This law stretches into areas that can only be the domain of the gun lobby.

Iowa lawmakers would be hard-pressed to suggest that this is in the best interest of all Iowans.

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