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Views from across Iowa

Sep 27, 2013

The Hawk Eye, Sept. 22

Offensive suggestion: Republican-led House-passed bill would add drug testing to food stamp recipients


If House Republicans had their way, the 47 million Americans now having to sustain themselves on food stamps first would have to pass a drug test to get them.

That’s part of a House-passed measure that slices $4 billion a year from a program that is providing assistance to 1 in 7 Americans.

The Republican-controlled House passed the measure, even though 15 of their members voted against it.

We certainly agree there are scofflaws who abuse the system. But the vast majority of food-stamp recipients need the help. Their ranks swelled during the Great Recession, as one would expect.

In addition to the drug testing, the House bill would impose new work requirements, a suggestion most people eligible for food stamps now are loafs milking — no pun intended — the system while sitting on their couches in their government-subsidized house.

The reality is food stamps help struggling — most of whom have jobs — Americans put food on the table as they work to improve their lives.

And they’re not free. Beginning in the 1960s, food stamps were sold to low-income people at a discount. Coupon recipients were presented at the check-out counter, and a receipt for the transaction was given. No cash was involved.

The food stamp program provides essential support to people in need. Providing that support is the morally correct thing to do. And being told a drug test is necessary to get them is beyond offensive.

This bill has little chance of getting past the Senate. That’s good.

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Globe Gazette, Sept. 17

State law keeping fired DPS officials on payroll may need another look


What’s that? You can get fired but appeal your firing and keep getting paid for months?

That’s how it works in Iowa if you’re a Department of Public Safety supervisor who gets terminated.

We’re not sure why it got passed or how often it’s been used, but it’s a law taxpayers might want their legislators to look at. And if nothing else, kindly suggest to them that procedure be changed to speed things up one way or the other.

It came to light when The Associated Press reported that state law requires that the DPS continue paying supervisors while they appeal their firing administratively, which cans take a year or longer.

The DPS has been making headlines lately because, among other things, former Department of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Larry Hedlund, fired during the dust-up over Gov. Terry Branstad’s speeding SUV driven by a state trooper, is one of those still being paid pending his appeal. His annual salary: $96,500.

Hedlund was fired for alleged conduct problems, but is claiming it was solely over the Branstad situation.

Some lawmakers are urging that the 25-year veteran, with no previous discipline problems, be reinstated, and Hedlund said that would be just fine with him — that he’d rather be working “than sitting here trying to re-establish” credibility.

He’s not the only one in such a situation. An Iowa State Patrol sergeant, Kevin Knebel, was fired in June and has been receiving his annual $83,500 salary during his appeal process.

(Both he and Hedlund both say their pay was initially cut off then reinstated, so maybe there’s more than a few state officials unaware of the law.)

A third employee collected nearly $90,000 during an unsuccessful 14-month appeal that ended in 2010, The AP reported.

This law, passed in 1988, applies only to supervisors. Troopers and agents lose their pay immediately but have union representation and can appeal through arbitration.

For supervisors, an administrative law judge holds a hearing and issues a decision, a process that usually takes about a month.

Employees can appeal that ruling to a three-member Employment Appeal Board. All the while, the salary continues; if the board upholds the firing, no more pay. Apparently, those sorts of decisions take quite some time; or maybe it’s the appeals situation; or both.

We can see where the law would offer some protection to a supervisor who might have a personality clash and get the boot, even though he’s doing an acceptable job in others’ eyes. There’s also the possibility of differing on rules interpretations. There are many twists and turns in a department like the DPS that most of us can’t begin to know. And certainly we don’t know all the legalese.

But we do know that a 14-month appeal process seems like a long time.

The thing is, we want the process to be fair to everyone, including the taxpayer.

If the worker deserves to be fired, so be it. If not, get him or her back on the job so the public is getting its money’s worth.

Rules and laws may be complicated, but that seems like a pretty straightforward solution. Another might be to give the fired worker back pay if it’s determined the firing was unjust and he or she is reinstated.

Those are things we think legislators ought to take a look when they come back in January.

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Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sept. 19

Celebrate your freedom to read a banned book


The American Library Association reports that, in the past decade, its member libraries and schools were faced with nearly 5,000 challenges for books being “sexually explicit;” for being deemed “anti-family” or “unsuited to age group;” or for containing “offense language,” “violence,” “homosexuality” or “religious viewpoints.”

Parents always are able to lodge complaints if they think a book is inappropriate for their own children to read. But parents shouldn’t have the right to restrict access to those books for other people’s children.

That’s why we’re glad so many committed librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens are working to ensure that the vast majority of such challenges prove unsuccessful and that the “offending” books remain in a school’s curriculum or a library’s collection.

And that’s why the ALA yet again has sponsored its annual “Banned Books Week,” which started Sept. 22. The association is calling on teachers, libraries and other readers to hold public events that help people reflect on their First Amendment rights and their intellectual freedoms.

— The Iowa City Public Library held its 2013 Carol Spaziani Intellectual Freedom Festival.

— The Coralville Public Library (www.coralvillepubliclibrary.org) will stage a live display today (Sept. 26) of people reading books that have been challenged.

These and other public events are important to help maintain and celebrate intellectual freedom, but reading primarily is a private activity. So we strongly encourage all our readers to compile their own reading list for “Banned Books Week.”

For example, out the 464 challenges reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the Top Three most challenged books in 2012 were:

— No. 3: “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher.

— No. 2: “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie.

— No. 1: “Captain Underpants” (series).

If those titles don’t capture you attention, the Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has compiled a list of books that have been challenged in Iowa since 2005 (www.aclu-ia.org/challenged-books-in-iowa-banned-books-week-2013).

Or you might consider reading the work of two local authors, Dori Hillestad Butler and Larry Baker, whose books have been challenged in the past.

— Last year, Hillestad Butler’s “My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy” shot up to No. 4 on the list of most challenged books after a parent in Texas complained to her local FOX News affiliate that such a book had no place in the children’s section of any library.

— Three years ago, Baker found that his 1997 novel, “The Flamingo Rising,” had made it on to the list of required summer reading options for juniors at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill. Some parents who considered the book to be “X-rated” demanded the novel be removed from all high school curriculum. The Lincolnshire School Board declined the requests and kept the book on the list.

To view more lists of books that have been challenged over the decades, visit www.bannedbooksweek.org.

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