Des Moines Register. March 30, 2018
Roses & thistles: All we are saying is give tolls a chance
A thistle to Gov. Kim Reynolds for too quickly dismissing the idea of adding tolls on Interstate Highway 80. What is the harm in at least giving the revenue-generating idea some time for debate?
A new report by the Iowa Department of Transportation laid out a proposal to establish 11 toll sites across Iowa to pay for a massive $3.8 billion project to widen and modernize the interstate across Iowa.
“Current federal and state highway funds are limited and insufficient to meet all of the state’s highway needs,” according to the DOT. That leaves Iowa to continually balance the needs of the state’s highway system and prioritize projects and funding.
Tolls would provide a new source of revenue, and they’re hardly a radical idea. Many states use them as a way to pay for highway improvements. “It is commonly purported that tolls have paid for roughly half of all new highway lanes constructed in the nation over the last two decades,” according to the report.
The change would require federal approval as well as authorization from the Iowa Legislature and the governor. But Reynolds put the kibosh on pursuing this idea.
“I am not interested in tolls. I don’t think Iowans are interested in tolls,” she said last Monday at her weekly news conference.
If Reynolds is so quick to dismiss tolls, she should tell Iowans her plan for funding government projects and services. Because the money for everything from road repair to child protection to health care has to come from somewhere. It is certainly not going to be generated by the government-starving income tax cut she has been pushing.
Providing a Lyft to exercise First Amendment rights
Arose to Lyft Inc., the ride-sharing company that came to Des Moines in 2017. It offered up to $1.5 million in free rides at 50 March for Our Lives rallies last weekend. This included the rally at the Iowa State Capitol, which drew thousands of people protesting gun violence.
“We believe there is something seriously wrong when the threat of gun violence is so frequent and real throughout the country,” wrote Lyft co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green in a letter to students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed in a February shooting. “And like many, we are inspired by your leadership.”
That inspiration was paid forward when the San Francisco-based company partnered with event organizers and committed to helping people exercise their First Amendment rights.
Quad-City Times. March 29, 2018
A Florida judge put Iowa’s voting laws on trial
Iowa’s disenfranchisement of thousands of felons is an egregious effort at voter suppression. It’s an obvious attempt to keep certain populations ? disproportionately of color ? from holding political power.
And, after to Tuesday’s federal court ruling in Florida, it sure looks flatly unconstitutional to boot.
That’s the only possible takeway from U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s decision, which this week struck down Florida’s draconian system for voting rights restoration. Florida’s discredited system of enfranchisement is bad enough, requiring the direct approval from the governor or one of his cabinet for the restoration of a felon’s voting rights.
Iowa’s is even worse, a method chiseled into stone under former-Gov. Terry Branstad. Only the governor can restore voting rights in Iowa. And, under the most recent administrations, hell would freeze over before someone who’s done their time could again exercise their constitutionally protected right to the voting booth.
Iowa’s is a system that breeds personal bias, at least that’d be true if the Governor’s Office ever considered restoring voting rights. Instead, more than 56,000 Iowans are disenfranchised, roughly 49,000 of whom are out of prison, say state records. Iowa’s among just four states with such grossly disproportionate displays of voter suppression ? methods that, combined with economic and cultural factors ? create a population of former criminals barred from fully accessing society.
At least in Florida, voters are taking matters into their own hands. More than 1 million Floridians signed a petition that forced the issue onto November’s ballot. Some 1.5 million felons are disenfranchised in that state, reported the Tampa Bay Times. In Iowa, the very real problem has suffered from total neglect since Gov. Kim Reynolds came power. By and large, Reynolds has been loathed to undermine policy adopted by her mentor, Branstad.
Bipartisan legislation sat untouched in the Iowa House Judiciary Committee. So, too, has the associated movement to amend the state Constitution. Iowa Legislature’s self-imposed “funnel” essentially means the bill is dead this year. And previous efforts to force the issue through the state courts have fallen short. Iowa’s political elite simply lack the will to overhaul a system constructed with the express purpose of locking a subset of the population out of society.
But that was before Tuesday’s decision, which fundamentally destroyed Florida’s argument for the status quo.
Judge Walker ordered Florida to create an impartial mechanism outside the Governor’s Office where felons could petition for voting rights. Considering Reynolds’ past run-ins with the law, one would think that she would be a true believer in an individual’s ability to change.
Tuesday’s ruling in Florida reiterates the shameful flouting of the U.S. Constitution that’s inherent within Iowa’s treatment of felons. It’s imperative that the Legislature next year take seriously its duty to uphold the Constitution and extend voting to those who’ve done their time. In the meantime, Gov. Reynolds should create an interim committee that expedites the dozens of petitions that have been ignored for too long.
Sioux City Journal. March 29, 2018
Joni Ernst’s SWAMP Act deserves more discussion
Imagine moving U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters to Iowa, in the heart of farm country.
Still, in our minds, it’s an idea with merit. That’s why we are intrigued with a bill sponsored in the Senate by Republican Joni Ernst of Iowa called the Strategic Withdrawal of Agencies for Meaningful Placement, or SWAMP, Act.
Draining the “swamp” that is Washington, D.C., was a favorite presidential campaign theme of Donald Trump.
Ernst’s bill proposes to repeal the section of U.S. Code under which federal agencies must be located in Washington so agency headquarters could move (national-security agencies, including the Department of Defense, would be exempt). The legislation would establish a competitive bidding process through which individual cities and states could compete to be the new homes for those agencies.
“Currently, the headquarters of nearly all executive branch agencies are clustered in and around Washington, D.C., concentrating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the region,” according to a statement from Ernst’s office. “The SWAMP Act aims to distribute agency headquarters over geographically diverse areas and among the people most impacted by the effects of agency decisions. The legislation will help to ensure agencies focus on the stakeholders, and not on bureaucracy within the D.C. beltway, while also bringing good, stable government jobs to new parts of the country.”
We have questions about exactly how this immense shift in approach would evolve, of course, but we support more discussion of Ernst’s SWAMP Act. It strikes us as a way to improve the effectiveness of federal agencies through a strengthened, outside-the-beltway connection between them and the Americans they serve and impact; boost the economies of states other than those bordering the nation’s capital; and save money through, for example, cheaper leases on space (Ernst said office space in the Washington area rents for about $59 per square foot versus $18 in Des Moines) and lower salaries due to lower costs of living in other parts of the country for agency employees.
We are under no illusions about this bill’s chances for passage, but it deserves more than a casual shrug. Frankly, talking about an idea like this one is a better use of time than much of what happens in Washington.
Fort Dodge Messenger. March 28, 2018
It’s time to get prepared
t’s officially spring, and while wintry conditions may not be completely behind us, warmer days are coming. Unfortunately, however, the weeks and months just ahead are also the time of year when dangerous weather-related conditions can threaten the well-being of Hawkeye State residents. That’s why Gov. Kim Reynolds designated this week Severe Weather Awareness Week in Iowa.
“From heavy rainfall to flooding and high winds to tornadoes, severe weather will soon be starting up for the season,” she said in her proclamation. “It goes with the territory of living in Iowa, but it’s our responsibility to be prepared.”
Each day this week, a specific preparedness issue is being highlighted by officials and helpful information is being disseminated to the public. On Monday, the focus was severe thunderstorms. Tuesday, weather warnings were emphasized. Today, one of our state’s scariest phenomena — tornadoes — are the featured topic. Thursday, family preparedness will get special attention. On Friday, the risks associated with flash flooding will be stressed.
Fact sheets about severe weather preparedness can be accessed on the Ready Iowa website, beready. iowa.gov.
Here in Webster County, officials have long taken weather threats seriously and worked hard to make sure members of the public have the information they need. Go to www.webstercountyia.org — the county’s website — to sign up for weather alerts.
“Our weather can change,” Scott Forbes, Webster County emergency management coordinator, told The Messenger. “One day it could be snowing and the next day we could have a thunderstorm. Knowing just basic safety tips will help ensure your safety.”
Since dangerous conditions can occur quite suddenly, it’s important that we all do some advance planning to make sure that we know what to do if a hazardous situation materializes.
Forbes said it’s very important to have a severe weather plan and to discuss it with your family.
“And then practice your plan,” he said. “Conduct a family severe thunderstorm drill regularly so everyone knows what to do when severe weather is approaching.”
That’s good advice. The Messenger strongly urges our readers to heed it. We should all spend some time this week making sure that we are as ready as we can be for any weather-related risks that may emerge.