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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 20, 2014

Views from across Iowa

Dec 19, 2013

Quad-City Times, Dec. 12

Iowa voting crackdown finally yields arrests

 

Iowa’s highly touted crackdown on improper voting finally has resulted in some arrests that appear to justify Secretary of State Matt Schultz’ concerns. We’ll leave it to voters to decide if Schultz’ concerns merit the breadth of his two-year, $280,000 investigation.

Schultz drew headlines — and some catcalls — when he cross referenced federal immigration records with Iowa voting records. Then he paid an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent to follow leads. Schultz, speaking Oct. 23 at a Scott County Republican Party fundraiser in Davenport, reported 20 active cases and five convictions. He said he expects “a lot” more.

The investigation yielded two arrests in Muscatine County. Both are documented immigrants charged for misrepresenting their citizenship status in an attempt to vote. Syliva Rada, 49, is alleged to have done it on an absentee ballot she filled out in 2012. Prosecutors say Mayra Lopez-Morales, 21, didn’t divulge her immigrant status on a voter registration form in 2012. Both face Class D felonies.

Schultz has drawn far more attention than results with his investigation of immigrant voter fraud. On Sept. 26, Tehvedin Murgic of Dallas County pleaded guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges of voter misconduct in the 2010 election. He was fined $1,325.

Schultz’ investigators busted Nickie Dean Perkins for failing to disclose his felony convictions when he registered to vote in 2012. Another investigation centers on Linn County voter alleged to have submitted an absentee ballot in another’s name. That investigation is pending.

After reporting on several elections decided by one vote, we can commend Schultz for his zero tolerance of voter misconduct. But rather than an organized scheme, he so far has uncovered a handful of individual cases that don’t seem to be part of any conspiracy. Indeed, the few founded cases after a two-year investigation seem to support the integrity of Iowa elections.

We share support for voter ID we find no more onerous than identification required to cash a Social Security check or buy an airline ticket. But so far, Schultz’ investigation suggests that two years spent on a public information and registration campaign might be a more effective path than a two-year criminal investigation.

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The Des Moines Register, Dec. 15

Closing home for juveniles is right call

 

The Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo is responsible for providing care, education and treatment to Iowa youth who have no other place to go. Some of these kids have been in trouble with the law. Some are judged by a court to be “in need of assistance” because they were abused or abandoned. By now, most Iowans have heard about problems at the home, which is operated by the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Workers kept at least three girls in small, concrete block cells for months at a time, according to an investigation by Des Moines Register reporter Clark Kauffman . Employees resigned after this newspaper asked for a copy of a slide show presented during a holiday party at the home. One slide depicted a skeleton lying in an isolation room with a caption that said, “Dr. Joan was supposed to assess this youth three days into her suspension. Guess she forgot.” Four employees were fired over allegations they abused or used excessive force while restraining children there.

Gov. Terry Branstad appointed a task force to make recommendations on the institution. Among the members’ suggestions: The state should serve only delinquent girls at Toledo and move non-delinquent youth to private facilities elsewhere. Implementing those recommendations would leave only a couple of children at a 27-acre facility with 13 buildings and 93 employees.

Earlier this month, DHS administrators announced that the 21 girls who remain at Toledo will be relocated and all state workers there will be laid off, effective Jan. 16.

Yes, the governor moved quickly and didn’t formally seek input from lawmakers. Unfortunately Iowans will lose jobs. It is frustrating that taxpayer money was used to pay for millions of dollars in renovations in recent years at a campus that will now be essentially closed. The governor is “sending kids to programs that previously admitted they couldn’t handle these girls,” said State Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines. “Will they receive better treatment?”

These are all legitimate concerns. But the governor did the right thing.

The current workers at Toledo are many of the same people who remained silent for years about problems that were occurring there. The closure of the home forces the state to make changes now instead of debating what to do next. Such a debate would have been riddled with politics and could have taken several years. No one knows if Toledo could have been “fixed,” but Iowa’s children can’t wait while policymakers try to figure it out.

Closing the facility is not the end of anything. It is the beginning of Iowa doing what it should have done a long time ago: figuring out how to best serve the most troubled Iowa children.

To successfully do that, Gov. Branstad should keep in place the 5-member task force he created to make recommendations about Toledo. This group is made up of professionals with extensive experience in child welfare. Members have operated with transparency and provided an opportunity for public comment at every meeting. They are familiar with the issues that will need to be addressed when the state no longer operates a facility considered the “placement of last resort” for youth.

One of these issues is where to place delinquent girls who may pose a risk to others and have been ordered by judges to a secure facility. “What does Iowa do with no training school for girls?” asked task force chairman Jerry Foxhoven.

Of the 21 remaining girls at Toledo, 11 are delinquent. Some may move to the state’s psychiatric medical institutes for children, said DHS spokeswoman Amy Lorentzen McCoy. If the state plans to create a “little Toledo” in the wing of a different state institution, there must be adequate oversight of the program.

Also, private facilities in Iowa won’t serve the youth currently at Toledo under the current payment arrangements, the task force said in a report in October. The state may need to pay private providers more to take care of these girls. Any money saved from laying off staff at Toledo could be redirected to taking care of the kids.

These are among the many details that now need to be sorted out. The task force is necessary to make sure that happens. Iowans should have assurances there is monitoring of not only the girls moved from Toledo now, but all children who enter state care in the future.

For at least 17 years, Toledo used seclusion as a way to control children, sometimes in violation of court orders. Warehousing kids in concrete cells for days and weeks at a time deprived already troubled girls of education and socialization.

Debates in the Legislature about closing the facility would have wrongly ended up focusing on the loss of state jobs in rural Iowa. Instead, the focus needs to be on doing what’s right by Iowa kids who are in the custody of the state. The state must provide them with the best treatment and education possible. Toledo couldn’t provide it.

Now it’s up to the Branstad administration to ensure better care is provided elsewhere. That will require money, transparency and involvement of the task force.

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Iowa City Press-Citizen, Dec. 11

UI tries offering better bargain for law school

 

When discussing lawyers and law school back in 1928, journalist and general curmudgeon H.L. Mencken wrote, “The sad thing about lawyers is not that so many of them are stupid, but that so many of them are intelligent. The craft is a great devourer of good men; it sucks in and wastes almost as many as the monastic life consumed in the Middle Ages.”

And until the early years in this century, that general devouring seemed to be in full swing. Law schools were brimming with new applicants and, as a result, law school tuition skyrocketed.

But like so many other bubbles in recent years, the law school bubble finally burst. New lawyers are graduating with nearly six-figure debts and are not able to find jobs that will allow them to pay off their loans, let alone make enough to achieve their American Dream.

The situation even reached the point that, back in August, the nation’s Constitutional-Law-Professor-in-Chief, Barack Obama, weighed in. Speaking during a town hall-style meeting at Binghamton University in New York, Obama — who graduated from Harvard’s law school and who taught at the University of Chicago’s — urged law schools to consider cutting a year of classroom instruction from the curriculum.

“In the first two years, young people are learning in the classroom,” Obama said. “The third year, they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm even if they weren’t getting paid that much, but that step alone would reduce the costs for the student.”

Yet many law schools — including the University of Iowa’s — have been slow to readjust their tuition to better match the shrinking market demand for their product. It’s only been this year that UI officials decided to try to bolster the school’s falling enrollment numbers by asking the Iowa state Board of Regents to approve a significant tuition decrease for out-of-state students. (UI, in contrast, asked the regents to increase in-state tuition by 1.8 percent, or about $475 a year.)

Earlier this month, however, the regents surprised just about everyone when they voted not only to decrease law school tuition for out-of-state students but also to slash in-state tuition by 16.4 percent (more than $4,000 a year).

“It is only fair that the resident students have the same economic opportunities as non-resident students,” said Regent Katie Mulholland, who proposed the approved amendment.

UI officials had calculated that increased out-of-state enrollment is likely to more than make up for the decrease in out-of-state tuition. But no such calculations had been made for the cuts in in-state tuition. So while the decrease in tuition definitely will make the UI law school a better bargain for students next year, it’s unclear what the long-term impact will be on the quality of the law school.

In-state students also will benefit from a new arrangement between the UI Law College and the colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences at both UI and Iowa State University. The new program would allow some students to earn their B.A. and J.D. degrees in six years rather than seven.

Students interested in participating in the 3+3 initiative would apply to law school at the beginning of their junior year. If they meet the qualifications and pass the Law School Admissions Test, they could begin attending law school in what otherwise would have been their senior year of undergraduate study.

 

Such combined undergraduate and law degree programs were common decades ago, but fell out of favor during the law school bubble. With that bubble burst and today’s students looking ways to reduce their debt and get out into the workforce more quickly, law schools are having to look back to those pre-bubble times for inspiration.

 

No law students are enrolled yet in the 3+3 program, but it isn’t too late for qualified students to take the LSAT in February or June and, presumably, take advantage of the lower law school tuition rates next fall.

 

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Sioux City Journal. Dec. 11, 2013.

Congress should extend wind energy tax credit

 

In May, Gov. Terry Branstad and officials of MidAmerican Energy Co. announced plans for the largest economic development investment in Iowa history: A $1.9 billion wind energy project involving the addition of 656 new wind turbines.

 

According to leaders, the project will generate as much as 1,050 megawatts of power in the state by 2015, create 48 permanent jobs and 460 construction jobs over two years, provide $360 million in additional property tax revenue over the next 30 years, produce $3.2 million in annual payments to landowners and reduce future electricity rates for MidAmerican customers by up to $10 million per year by 2017.

 

For this boost to the state’s economy and energy picture by MidAmerican, Iowans can thank, in large measure, the federal wind energy production tax credit.

 

So valuable to growth of wind energy in Iowa and elsewhere, this tax credit (2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity generated) is set to expire at the end of the month. Again this year, we support renewal of the credit and urge Iowa’s congressional delegation to do the same.

 

Failure to renew, we fear, would have a devastating impact on a promising industry.

 

Here in Iowa, the stakes are high. The wind energy industry in our state currently employs 6,000 to 7,000 people. This ranks Iowa third in the nation in employment related to wind energy. Iowa, among the nation’s wind energy leaders, in 2012 produced a national record of almost 25 percent of all electricity generated in the state from wind turbines, according to the Wind Energy Association.

 

In the larger picture, wind energy is good for the nation. For the long-term economic, strategic and security interests of America, we support a diverse portfolio of energy options, including biofuels like biodiesel and ethanol, and wind. In the name of achieving energy independence for the country, we in principle are comfortable with the idea of federal support for energy - all of energy. Let’s not forget: The oil, natural gas and coal industries get federal tax breaks, too.

 

As we said last year in urging extension, at a time when jobs, energy independence and producing clean, renewable fuels are near the top of this nation’s list of priorities, renewal of the wind energy production tax credit would be money well spent.

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