Views from Across Iowa
The Hawk Eye, June 28
Iowa proud: Supreme Court rulings show the Hawkeye State is doing things right.
Iowans can be forgiven for feeling a little smug following major U.S. Supreme Court rulings this week.
In both the Voting Rights Act and Defense of Marriage Act rulings, the court majority affirmed our state is on the right side of history and interested in treating its citizens fairly and equally.
First, the high court cribbed portions of the Iowa Supreme Court’s famous 2009 Varnum decision that made same-sex marriage possible in Iowa. It said not allowing same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples violated the principal folded within the 14th Amendment, that laws should be applied uniformly to everybody.
Now, same-sex couples are in line for the same tax, health and pension benefits as traditional couples of the opposite sex.
The high court’s ruling actually affects only the 12 states, including Iowa, and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriages are allowed, but the wording strips bare many of the legal arguments used to maintain the status quo.
It also affirms the Constitution is the basis of our law, not the Holy Bible. It’s important to point out, churches are not required to sanction same-sex marriages. If their doctrine frowns upon such unions, so be it. But churches do not make civil law for their nonmembers.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts set up the court’s same-sex marriage ruling by saying the previous day, “our country has changed in the past 50 years,” when the court neutered the Voting Rights Act.
In that ruling, the court freed nine, mostly Southern states from the necessity of securing a Justice Department blessing before they can change rules affecting local elections.
If other states treated political boundaries and voters as Iowa does, the question would have been moot.
Unlike most states, when Iowa redraws political boundaries after each decennial census, it’s done in a nonpartisan manner by the Legislative Services Agency. Political boundaries are based solely upon on population data that’s respectful of existing township and county borders.
Elected officials can challenge maps the agency draws, but each version must be more exact, population-wise, than the previous, the goal being each district has roughly the same number of people as the others.
Some states are unapologetic about the outlandish districts drawn to protect a candidate, a party or a race — and sometimes all three.
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’ misguided effort to introduce voter identification laws notwithstanding, Iowa does as good a job as any state to accommodate voters and encourage their participation — including the longest polling hours in the country, same-day voter registration, generous absentee voting rules and weekend balloting.
– – –
The Des Moines Register, June 28
Iowa’s Medicaid abortions are hardly common
Gov. Terry Branstad recently signed legislation to provide health insurance to low-income Iowans.
The law includes a provision giving the governor the final say on whether Medicaid will pay for medically necessary abortions.
Though offensive to many women and outrageous to pro-choice groups, it is unlikely even a pro-choice governor would want the responsibility of approving or denying a specific medical procedure for an Iowan. Will lawmakers next want him to review and approve or reject reimbursements for birth control prescriptions?
The abortion requirement was the idea of a few extremely conservative members of the Legislature who have little idea how things work in the real world. Iowans should remember that when they vote in the next election.
Medicaid only covers abortions for poor women in cases of rape or incest, to save the mother’s life or when the fetus is severely abnormal. Medicaid paid for a total of nine abortions this fiscal year. That’s right, nine.
The Iowa Department of Human Services already reviews claims for Medicaid funding of abortion services — after the abortion has been performed and before the bill is paid. That is the same process that will likely occur under the new law. Going forward, if the U of I bills for an abortion and a governor refuses to pay for it, the procedure would have already been completed and the state-funded institution would not be compensated.
Do lawmakers who pushed this provision understand why these nine abortions were performed? In one case, it was to save the life of the mother. In the other eight, the fetus had a severe abnormality. These abnormalities include fetuses entirely missing a cranium or having a malformation of the brain that causes severe neurological impairment.
“In many cases, the fetus would not live if delivered,” said Department of Human Services spokesman Roger Munns.
Perhaps lawmakers don’t understand that Medicaid does not simply cover any poor person who applies for it. The women whose abortions were paid for may have been among those who sought and were approved for the health coverage because they were pregnant. They intended to deliver the baby and were being responsible by trying to obtain prenatal care. Then a doctor told them the fetus was missing a large section of the brain or had an extra chromosome that would lead to severe and permanent medical problems.
Do the lawmakers who want to deny a woman any say in the matter understand this? Do they want to force a poor woman to carry to term a fetus that is not going to survive anyway? Or deliver a child who will live in a state-funded institution for the rest of his or her life?
The provision to require approval from the governor for a Medicaid-funded abortion has nothing to do with being pro-life. It is an affront to women and health professionals and an embarrassment to Iowa.
– – –
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, June 26
UNI focus is long-term
Gov. Terry Branstad recently used his veto pen to cut millions of dollars from the state budget.
Among the cuts was more than $7 million total for planning and designing buildings at the state’s three public universities — $3 million for the University of Iowa Pharmacy Building renovation, $2.5 million for the Iowa State University Biosciences Building and $1.5 million for the University of Northern Iowa’s Schindler Education Center renovation.
“Until strategic plans and sustainable financing are secure, it is not appropriate to spend taxpayer money designing and planning the project,” Branstad wrote in his veto message.
A five-year capital fund plan approved by the Iowa Board of Regents last fall included a request for renovation planning money at Schindler that would include updating electrical and mechanical systems.
Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, whose district includes UNI, said he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cut.
“This is the No. 1 project on (UNI’s) list,” he said. “There’s a lot of focus on education, and if you’re not going to modernize the facilities you’re going to be left behind.” He said the veto likely delays the project for at least a year.
State Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, viewed the governor’s action from a broader perspective.
“He’s the last line of defense for smaller government,” Rogers said. “I always advocate for UNI, and I’d like to see it in there, but he (Branstad) is trying to look at the overall big picture. He has to decide where money’s going to be cut. I’m certainly not going to throw him under the bus.”
He would have a case. Unlike the projects at Iowa and Iowa State, which apparently involve constructing new buildings, the UNI project would renovate an existing building that is about 40 years old and doubtless needs work.
And since it is the Schindler Education Center, the cut seems to fly in the face of previous commitments made to teacher training at UNI in the wake of the closure of Malcolm Price Laboratory School.
In March, Richard O. Jacobson, an Iowa businessman and philanthropist, donated a record $15 million to the UNI College of Education to hire faculty, lure quality students with four-year scholarships and support student and faculty research.
However, that’s program money. The Schindler money is for a capital project. In that respect it seems each of the state schools took a proportionate hit.
We share lawmakers’ disappointment with the cut, but there are bigger fish to fry.
New UNI President William Ruud is thankful for a $10 million appropriation from the Iowa Legislature for the upcoming school year, but said he’ll work on making the one-time appropriation into permanent base money. Additionally, Ruud is looking forward to working on the new Iowa Board of Regents task force that will examine the funding model for public universities.
Equitable state funding for UNI in the long term should be the top priority. Ruud has his eyes on that prize. So should all friends of UNI.
– – –
Mason City Globe Gazette, June 25
Preschool important for much more than academic reasons
A new report shows there’s little difference in the test scores of Iowa schoolchildren who attend preschool and those who don’t.
Interesting, but we hope it’s not the impetus for budget-cutting legislators (or the governor’s office, for that matter) as a reason to take a bite out of preschool funding. (We have no reason to believe that would happen, but these days one never knows.)
We take our position because there’s a lot more to going to school in any grade than book learning, and that seems especially true in preschool.
The preschool study, which came out of the Iowa Department of Education, showed little difference in reading and math test scores by the time students reach third grade whether or not they participated in a voluntary preschool program.
The report’s authors followed the first group of Iowa students offered voluntary all-day preschool (2007-08) and which just completed third grade.
However, while the report shows no impact on test results, it’s not contending there was no impact from preschool on those youngsters, wrote Jason Glass, Department of Education director, in an introduction to the report.
“Multiple studies have shown positive outcomes for students that reinforce the need for early childhood education,” he wrote.
Glass also said the study should be considered exactly for what it is — an initial step and not a final word on preschool.
Gov. Terry Branstad, a fiscal conservative, apparently isn’t rushing to any conclusions, either. That’s good. We don’t pretend to be childhood experts, but in scanning numerous Internet reports we found more than enough from very credible sources to make us believe that preschool is very important.
Among the positives:
— Development of social skills such as taking turns, following directions, cooperation with teachers and fellow students.
— Exposure to the alphabet, language skills and more through activities that increase childhood creativity in a variety of ways whether through music, art or other skill-building programs.
— Learning things that they likely wouldn’t learn at home.
— Plus, of course, introduction to those subjects they’ll learn about in school.
Here’s another reason we believe preschool is important. Linda Fandel, the governor’s special assistant on education policy, noted the state’s education reform bill requires readiness assessments for kids entering kindergarten.
We believe that preschool can give our students a boost in preparedness for when they begin their formal education. And that’s why we hope Iowa continues to help provide preschool education for all Iowa children whose families can see the benefits and want to participate.