The Des Moines Register. July 8, 2013.
Branstad's trooper has no business going 90
It is bad enough the Iowa State Patrol didn't pull over a speeding SUV because it was driven by a fellow trooper transporting Gov. Terry Branstad.
It is troubling the state worker who reported the speeding vehicle was removed from duty a few days later. The public deserves a full explanation about the incidents.
Without a complete explanation, Iowans will assume the governor gets to disregard laws that everyone else has to obey and that those who cross him are dealt with harshly.
On the afternoon of April 26, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent Larry Hedlund telephoned a State Patrol dispatcher to report a black SUV traveling "a hard 90" on U.S. Highway 20. A trooper eventually clocked the SUV at 84 mph. An in-car video shows the responding trooper got close to the SUV and then backed off. A communications log indicates the trooper advised that "this turned out to be Car 1" — law enforcement code for the governor's car.
Hedlund complained to his superiors about the incident. A few days later, the 25-year veteran of the DCI was suspended from his job.
When asked about any state policy regarding troopers violating speed limits, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety said the agency was "reviewing the situation as part of a confidential personnel investigation." Hopefully the agency isn't trying to position itself to keep secret whatever that investigation uncovers by placing it in a "personnel" record. This isn't just about the actions of a single trooper. Who was involved in removing Hedlund from his job and why?
A comprehensive review and findings should all be public.
For the record, troopers are not free to speed whenever they want. In 1979, the Iowa Attorney General's Office issued a formal opinion stating that everyone, including law enforcement, must abide by the speed limit. The only exception is when officers are responding to an emergency, pursuing a suspected felon or responding to an incident dangerous to the public "if and only if the officer is using either an audible or visual signaling device."
The officer transporting Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds wasn't pursuing a felon. He apparently wasn't responding to an emergency. He wasn't using red lights or a siren.
Though most passengers would notice if the car they were riding in was passing every other car on the highway and a State Patrol trooper was right on their tail, Branstad and Reynolds were not aware of the incident, spokesman Tim Albrecht said. "We have great faith and trust in Iowa's law enforcement officials to ensure the safety of the governor and all Iowans," he said.
Iowans want to have faith these officials are following the law themselves. They want to know the governor would not tolerate anything less.
If Hedlund hadn't complained and ultimately hired a lawyer, Iowans likely never would have known about any of this. Now they're wondering if troopers regularly exceed the speed limit by 20 mph with no consequences while Joe Civilian risks losing his license for doing the same thing.
The public needs assurances that is not how things work in Iowa. But the public also needs a detailed explanation of what led the governor's SUV to be traveling nearly 20 mph above the speed limit.
Keeping the governor on schedule is hardly an acceptable explanation.
Quad-City Times. July 6, 2013.
Compromise eases health-care transition
American business has been given a needed reprieve from the imminent deadline to provide health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
President Obama's decision to yield to legitimate business concerns is being touted by some as acknowledgement of the ACA's failure, strengthening the call for a complete rejection of the law.
Compromise remains unrecognizable in battle-weary Washington.
The president's decision rightfully respects businesses struggling to comply with the ACA requirement that any employer with more than 50 workers provide insurance coverage, or face a stiff fine of $2,000 per worker. The act provides subsidies to help employers and Americans comply with the coverage mandate.
We're heartened to see the president listen, grant the requested delay and get to work on simplifying the rules.
But there's no reason to expect or even want the president to turn back now.
The Affordable Care Act already is bringing wellness — not just treatment — to thousands of Quad-Citians through community clinics built and expanded because of the act. The act already is expediting health professionals' transition to digital data, so that patients' medical records are available when patients need them, not locked up as proprietary information in providers' offices.
This progress has been made even as a useless House of Representatives squanders taxpayer money voting without effect again and again to dismantle the act. The progress comes as state after state balks at provisions to establish online exchanges where Americans can easily compare health insurance products.
These assaults on ACA come as the rate of medical spending growth in America actually is slowing for the first time in decades. The ACA's emphasis on wellness — not just treatment — is limiting the double digit percentage growth in health expenses.
Clearly, much needs to be done to bring millions of Americans into the insurance pool, spread out the risks and emphasize more preventative care. If Republican House members and governors focused more on prevention and risk management, perhaps we'd see even bigger savings by now.
Instead, partisan obstruction continues to curtail the health expense reductions essential to American businesses, their workers and customers.
The year-long reprieve gives America's small businesses time to adjust to these big changes. We hope that time is used to enroll more Americans, launch the tax credit subsidies ACA provides to offset the cost to business, and get on with the important job of providing affordable health care to all.
Iowa City Press-Citizen. July 5, 2013.
State still not doing enough to fix deficient bridges
In his 1992 novel, "The Bridges of Madison County," author Robert James Waller included the line, "The human heart has a way of making itself large again even after it's been broken into a million pieces."
While that theory might be true of the human heart, we'd rather not see the "(breaking) into a million pieces" tested out on any of the more than 5,000 of bridges across Iowa that are "structurally deficient."
According to the most recent report from Transportation for America, Iowa continues to hold the dubious honor of ranking as the third worst state in the national in terms of bridge conditions. More than one of out every five of the state's 24,465 bridges has some kind of deficiency.
Now, a bridge rated as "structurally deficient" does not necessarily mean it's unsafe for travel for the public. But it does mean that significant work is required if it is going to remain in service.
And the growing number of deficient bridges is just one small part of that larger "looming transportation crisis" that hasn't gone away while the nation has been focused on other, more seemingly pressing economic concerns.
Back in 2008, the bipartisan National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission — responding to the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in the Twin Cities — released a report calling for a comprehensive vision that will serve as the blueprint for America's transportation needs in the first half of the 21st century just as Dwight Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System served the nation in the second half of the 20th.
In the five years since, there has been some lip service paid to the issue, but the talk largely has been just talk. And as a result, the issue keeps getting pushed further into the background — although the issue did gain some renewed traction after May's collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Washington state.
In Iowa there has been much talk of increasing the state's gas tax as a way to fund the state's overdue infrastructure concerns. That's what a citizens' panel appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad recommended in 2011.
The proposal, however, has aroused far more bipartisan opposition than bipartisan support. And the governor's backing of the proposal has been hit-and-miss at best.
Although the idea of a gas tax remains highly unpopular, something does need to be done to address Iowa's aging infrastructure needs. And our state leaders shouldn't just wait until catastrophe happens here before they feel compelled to act.
In his best-selling novel, Waller also includes the sentence, "Analysis destroys wholes. Some things, magic things, are meant to stay whole. If you look at their pieces, they go away."
But maintaining infrastructure doesn't involve any magic. It requires frequent analysis — and sufficient funding — to make sure that things don't fall to pieces.
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. July 8, 2013.
Make casinos smoke-free just like the rest of Iowa
Much has changed since July 2008.
Back then, Iowa had just adopted the Smokefree Air Act, banning smoking in most workplaces and public areas. Many in the bar and restaurant industry had fought against the change. They were convinced a ban on smoking would mean business would plummet. They feared many establishments would shut down.
Tonya Dusold, communications director for the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, showed that hasn't been the case. She pointed to the number of state licenses for bars increasing in the two years following the ban. Today there are 550 more licenses than when the law took effect in 2008.
While the numbers across the state show no harmful effects for the business, statistics draw broadly from all over the state. No doubt some businesses have been negatively affected. Take John Kinter, for example. He owns The Hangout in Riceville and told the Mason City Globe Gazette last week that it has hurt his business. As a smoker himself, Kinter still resents the law.
A year after the ban, Bruce Strom, who owned two local bowling alleys at the time, told The Courier that he lost some bowlers because of the smoking ban, but gained some new customers because they now felt more comfortable coming into a haze-free environment. It all turned out in the wash, but those at the alley were now able to breathe deeply.
On the anniversary of the smoking ban, Christopher Squier, a professor in the University of Iowa's department of pathology, radiology and medicine, said the ban has saved Iowans $240 million in hospital costs alone. Two years after the ban Squier was part of a research team that documented 17,500 fewer tobacco-related hospitalizations and an estimated 9,800 that could be directly attributed to smoke-free air.
But beyond the benefits for adults who breath cleaner air in public establishments, there are the benefits for our youth. Today there are children and even young adults who have never seen an ash tray. What's the likelihood of them picking up the habit when they have never been exposed to smoking?
All of this renews our question of why the Iowa Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, decided back in 2008 to exempt casinos from the smoking ban. And in subsequent years, the Legislature has had ample opportunity to reverse that choice and give those who work at or frequent casinos the same right to smoke-free air.
"It would have been fair," Kinter said. "... It has nothing to do with fairness but revenue."
From the outset, there never has been a lick of fairness in the casino ban. This absurd exemption has everything to do with an addiction — the inescapable draw of money for the casino owners, the lawmakers who use casino revenues to fund state projects and the lobbying industry that fights for the status quo.
Iowa's world didn't stop spinning when the smoking ban became law in 2008. Iowans have adjusted quite nicely and have enjoyed proven benefits from the change.
It continues to make no sense that the casinos operate in a bubble, one that protects them from a fate that doesn't seem to harm the rest of the state.