Globe Gazette. June 2, 2013.
Set bar higher on background checks for school workers
The Iowa Legislature is receiving high marks for its accomplishments this year. But a North Iowa woman says lawmakers could have set the bar a little higher when it comes to requiring background checks on all new non-licensed school employees.
We tend to agree.
The bill, headed to Gov. Terry Branstad for his signature, requires background checks using the state's sex-offender registry. However, child-protection advocate Kim Koenigs of Plymouth would like it to include full criminal background checks.
She said recent cases of murders, abductions and child abuse have made her particularly sensitive. We agree.
Our heart breaks for families of the two little girls abducted and killed in the Evansville case, and for the family of missing teenager Kathlynn Shepard, abducted by registered sex offender Michael Klunder. He later committed suicide. She has not been found, and an extensive manhunt has been called off.
Imagine the agony those families must be going through.
Those are headline-grabbing cases, certainly, but there are many other abuse cases that aren't as sensational.
Koenigs would like to see more strict legislation that she says would go further in stopping cases of any scope.
She would like to see legislation strengthened to require background checks on unlicensed employees working in school districts as well as on new unlicensed workers. The bill headed to Branstad also requires background checks every five years after the first one. Koenigs believes they should be more frequent.
We're not sure what a chore it would be to conduct the background checks. But using Internet searches and law enforcement resources, it seems they could be done relatively easily.
Checking the state's sex offender registry is important, certainly. But what about, for example, people from out of state who move to Iowa and might slip through sex offender records. It can happen.
As for the background checks every five years, that does seem a rather long time. Two years? Three years? Something shorter than the five-year period to, again, keep on top of the situation would be appropriate.
Some might call it overkill. But not Koenigs, and not us. She has plenty of experience lobbying lawmakers and promises to return to pick up her fight again.
We think she makes some good points, and we believe lawmakers should listen and consider tweaking the legislation.
"I'm all for the protection of the kids," Koenigs said.
So must we all be.
Quad-City Times. May 30, 2013.
Launch Davenport's basement renaissance
Davenport's amazing renaissance — downtown and everywhere — doesn't mean much to residents who have sewage in their basements.
A world-class art museum, skywalk and all of those eye-popping amenities can't compete with the sewer-popping rain storms. Weekend storms once again overran ancient sewers, sending wastewater into a dozen basements on Davenport's Garfield Street. Two deluges within a month are more than these residents can - or should - stand. That's why we were thrilled to hear Mayor Bill Gluba suggest the city invest in a solution.
The simplest solution is a sewer shut off valve installed in each affected home. Normally those expenses would fall to the homeowner. But at $1,500 each, the cost can be prohibitive, leaving residents with grim choices: Shovel and sanitize after each breach, or move.
Neither residents nor the City of Davenport want a neighborhood decimated by routine sewer backups. We on higher ground can hope that these spring storms are anomalies. But those experiencing repeated sewage backups know better.
Consider this simple city investment of $1,500 per home like the incentives given to attract and retain businesses. This solution keeps families in homes, and protects the taxable value of property that might be abandoned if sewage continues to back up into basements. Perhaps these residents' future stormwater and sewer fees can be earmarked for these value-adding improvements.
Davenport has made great strides in stormwater management, using fees and regulations to improve run-off and prevent major flooding, like the $1.85 million work to keep Locust Street near St. Ambrose above water during big storms.
Aldermen have an opportunity to show the same support for these Davenport homeowners.
The Des Moines Register. June 1, 2013.
Legislature should have backed Branstad on raises
Gov. Terry Branstad got much of what he wanted in the recently adjourned legislative session, but his proposal to raise salaries for top statewide elected officials was left on the unfinished business calendar.
Branstad urged the Legislature to raise the pay for the next governor (whomever that might be), lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and secretaries of state and agriculture. Lawmakers, however, took a pass, likely fearing voter backlash since the governor made the proposal in a public way, as he should have. (This might explain why members of the Legislature have increased their own compensation over the years by quietly slipping extra money for themselves into late-session bills.)
The proposed pay raises, about 9 percent each, were not unreasonable. Salaries of these top elected officials have not been raised for eight years, and even then the highest elected official (the governor) would earn just under $142,000 a year. State officials elected to manage vital state departments would receive just $112,510, which would be laughable in the private sector, given the administrative responsibilities over the state's agricultural industry, statewide elections, government audits and the state treasury.
Lawmakers also have been parsimonious in granting raises to executive branch department heads. That might be one reason Iowa just lost a bright and talented head of the Department of Education to a job as school superintendent in Eagle County, Colorado (6,500 students). In his new job, Jason Glass stands to fetch $28,000 more than he received as Iowa's top education official.
Branstad should recommend reasonable pay raises for all state department heads next year. But he should do it the same public way he proposed raises for statewide elected officials — by following the legal process — rather than through the back door by ladling out bonuses to certain department heads. He did that twice last year, a move that is hard to square with the Iowa Constitution, which says in Article III, Section 31: "No extra compensation shall be made to any officer, public agent, or contractor. ..."
Iowa lawmakers' stinginess when it comes to paying top officials of state government borders on being mean-spirited. Meanwhile, the football coach at the University of Iowa is paid enough to cover raises for the whole lot of them from the pocket-change jar on his dresser.
Sioux City Journal. May 30, 2013.
Iowa Health and Wellness Plan: It's a winner
"Lawmakers consider special session" read the headline at the top of the May 20 Journal's front page. In The Associated Press story, some Iowa lawmakers suggested the state's first special legislative session in seven years might be necessary to settle contentious debate over expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
By the end of the week, not only was a deal struck, but the deal seems to have satisfied lawmakers of both political parties, including Gov. Terry Branstad, as well as nearly all impacted constituencies.
Its achievement was, in a word, remarkable.
Fashioning what in the end was a creative, different approach to this issue through which the concerns of everyone involved were respected speaks well of the commitment by state leaders to the greater good of Iowa.
Under the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, the state would use federal funds to expand access to insurance coverage for more low-income Iowans by financing premiums for participants who agree to help manage their costs through healthy choices.
Residents with income up to 100 percent of the federal poverty guideline would receive the same health insurance coverage as state employees, with their premiums paid for with Medicaid money. Residents with income between 101 and 138 percent of the federal poverty guideline would seek private coverage through the state-federal exchange being formed by Iowa through the ACA. First-year premiums for those residents would be paid for with federal Medicaid expansion money. After the first year, those premium subsidies would continue provided specific health-related steps were taken; residents who failed to meet those objectives would have to pay a share of their premium costs.
Providing access to health insurance for an additional 150,000 low-income Iowans and promoting wellness support Iowa's continuing campaign to become the healthiest state in the nation.
"We didn't want to just stick with the old Medicaid system that hasn't improved the health of Iowans," Branstad said. "Instead, we want to embark on a new system that will truly revolutionize, where people will have ownership in their own health and we can improve the health of our citizens. This will put Iowa in the leadership position in the entire country in terms of doing this."
Finally, we supported expansion of Medicaid in our state for practical, fiscal, economic, health, and moral reasons, but we understood Branstad's concern about the ability of the federal government to hold up its end of the deal (under the ACA, Washington must fund 100 percent of Medicaid expansion costs for the first three years, then 90 percent).
The compromise agreement reached by the Legislature addresses Branstad's concern with an "opt-out" provision through which state taxpayers would be protected if the federal government failed to meet its funding pledge.
We are hopeful the federal Department of Health and Human Services will grant a waiver for the Iowa plan, which would go into effect in January if approved. In fact, we believe this plan is a model solution for other states to consider.