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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 20, 2014

Views from across Iowa

Oct 17, 2013

Telegraph Herald, Oct. 11

Now’s not time for lesson on overspending

 

The U.S. government’s record of excessive spending and ballooning deficits has put us in dire financial straits. Something has to be done.

But politicians shouldn’t use the debt-ceiling decision as a bargaining chip in their fight over government spending.

Raising the debt ceiling is a formality that allows government to pay the bills that Congress has already approved paying. To refuse to raise the limit is akin to letting the country bounce its checks. If it wants to control spending, Congress needs to say no before it makes the “purchase,” not when the bill is due.

To not pay those bills could have catastrophic impact on the global marketplace, economists believe. Some politicians say that point of view is overstated. If they won’t believe economic predictors, how about history?

The last time we edged this close to default, in 2011, the impact was serious, if not disastrous. For the first time ever, the U.S. credit rating was downgraded. The stock market tanked. It cost us billions more to borrow money after that, and consumer confidence was badly shaken. And that’s how it looked when the crisis was, at the last minute, averted.

But all that, apparently, was not enough of a negative outcome to have Congress avoid another debt ceiling crisis. In fact, Congress decided to lump the conversations on government spending and budgeting and the debt ceiling and the Affordable Health Care Act all into one big debate. This is a legislative body that can’t find agreement on small points of contention. How on earth will it untangle this web?

If the government goes into default, strides made toward economic recovery will be reversed, and the world will view our government as grossly incompetent. And the U.S. government could actually default on its debts.

Is this debt ceiling crisis a threat of our own making?

It is.

Is the whole thing a little bizarre?

It is.

But is the threat real?

It absolutely is.

Congress should tackle reining in government spending — but not by refusing to act on the debt ceiling.

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Quad-City Times, Oct. 11

Let DOT promote camera enforcement

 

Iowans worried that cities and counties are exploiting traffic cameras solely for profit should be wary about state legislators rushing to the rescue.

The Iowa Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee met Tuesday to consider a Department of Transportation policy change that would give the DOT oversight of local traffic cameras on state roads. The committee is a bipartisan group of four representatives and four senators, including Davenport’s Republican Sen. Roby Smith.

If the committee votes “yes,” Iowa’s Department of Transportation will have to sign off on any camera used to issue tickets on interstates, federal or state highways. That means the DOT will have to develop rules and regulations.

We’re all for responsible oversight of automated enforcement. Davenport pioneered the practice in Iowa, prompting the evolution of state law that didn’t account for the technology. When Davenport launched automated enforcement, traffic tickets never showed up on permanent driving records. Legislators responded with proper reforms so that traffic scofflaws couldn’t keep paying off camera tickets without losing their licenses.

Since then, we’ve seen measurable improvements in traffic safety around Davenport’s cameras. Davenport police affirm fewer accidents at intersections with red light cameras. And we’ve seen how the speed camera at 1200 block of westbound River Drive is keeping traffic at the posted 40 mph limit.

One fixed camera can do the work of many patrol officers at a fraction of the cost. DOT regulation should be aimed at promoting the responsible use of these cameras. Instead, the new rules seem to originate with legislators’ fears of abuse, not their interest in using technology to improve safety and reduce costs.

Recall, this is the same legislative body that exempted casinos from smoking bans solely to protect gaming tax revenue. It’s the same group that passively allowed Iowa Lottery slot machines in hundreds of convenience stores across the state until public outrage forced action. It’s the same group that reformed property taxes, in part, by gouging local governments.

Legislators have succumbed to the same revenue temptations these DOT rules aim to stop.

By all means, authorize the DOT to study the effectiveness of enforcement. Certainly lawmakers should develop cogent guidelines for determining best practices. But don’t implement new rules without a full legislative discussion, not just the rules committee. And by all means, keep lawmakers’ hands off the revenue generated by this effective enforcement pioneered by Davenport and other Iowa city police departments.

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The Des Moines Register, Oct. 11

Iowa’s redistricting plan: Does it make a difference?

One of the reasons cited for the breakdown of cooperation in the U.S. House is the gerrymandering of safe congressional districts.

A growing number of voices have suggested looking to Iowa for a better way, because Iowa law does not allow legislators to get directly involved in drawing legislative district maps. The job is done by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which proposes district maps every decade following a census. Lawmakers either approve or reject them. Maps may only be amended after the first two proposed district maps have been rejected in succession.

Fans of Iowa’s redistricting process say it has generally produced competitive state House and Senate districts, as well U.S. House districts. This is in stark contrast to some states, where state legislators in the majority party created safe congressional districts for their party. Both parties are guilty, but the Republicans have been particularly aggressive in states where they control legislatures.

In the recent battle over the federal budget, it’s not clear that Iowa looks much different, however. Iowa’s four House members have fallen into lockstep with their parties, with eastern Iowa Reps. Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voting with Democrats, while Reps. Tom Latham in central Iowa and Steve King in western Iowa are doing likewise with the Republicans.

The difference is at the margins, at least for three of these men. While Loebsack and Braley have a slight edge in party registrations among active voters from their parties, the margin is relatively slim. It’s virtually nonexistent for Latham. King has the safest district, but none of the four seats could truly be considered safe, in part because the largest number of voters register as independents.

The question is whether voters in these districts, regardless of party, get the message to their representatives that they want to see more compromise on federal deficits, a farm bill and immigration reform. If they hear only from the most extreme wings of their parties, don’t look for much change in Congress’ gridlock.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Oct. 13

Preparing for the worst is a wise step

 

School districts employing a training program that addresses armed intruder threats are simply facing a relatively new reality.

A meeting in the Cedar Falls district last week exposed concerns that parents have about the district’s decision to train students to run or fight back if an armed intruder threatens the school.

“I think all this reactionary hype is needlessly scaring our children and normalizing these shooter situations,” one parent of two elementary-aged students said.

We understand the concern. Now you have to weigh the benefits and the drawbacks.

While we realize the chances of such an incident affecting any particular school in the area are slim, we’ve also seen that such a situation can materialize pretty much anywhere.

And that’s reason enough to employ a preparedness program.

Many of us of a certain age remember drills in which schoolchildren took shelter underneath desks early on during the Cold War. What were the odds that something was actually going to happen? They were certainly higher than they should have been, but still minimal.

The overriding reasons for those drills were to protect children -- not scare them. Same with fire and tornado drills. Schools hold periodic fire drills because they need to be ready to react quickly and in an organized manner in an emergency.

Schools are a natural place to employ such strategies — for obvious reasons. Hundreds of children are apt to be inside a single building at one time — an obvious ingredient for mass casualties.

It shouldn’t matter if potential tragic events originate from human violence or natural disasters. Being prepared is key.

The district is using a model promoted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security called “Run, Hide, Fight.” It’s a condensed version of ALICE, or Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Count, Evacuate, the protocols the district used to train teachers and staff last week.

During the presentation Monday, Dan Conrad, director of secondary education in Cedar Falls, spoke with a few dozen parents. He provided examples of how perpetrators shot students and teachers who were hiding in rooms during tragedies at Columbine, Colo., Virginia Tech University and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“We’re not simply going to have one option, which is lock down the classroom and wait it out,” Conrad said.

Those were all horrendous tragedies. It would be tragic if we didn’t learn from them.

Conrad said the district is making it a priority to involve parents in the planning process, and meeting Monday night was a good example.

“We’re not going to sugar-coat,” he said.

Yes, it’s a sad commentary that school districts across the nation feel the need to have some type of school shooter training. It’s also a reality that such shootings are happening — enough so that it should be taken as a threat.

Using a training program that could mitigate danger in such a situation is a prudent step.

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