Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers – Washington Times

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. February 3, 2017

Public needs trust in following public records.Last week, Senate File 158 was introduced in the Iowa Legislature. In short, it’s a proposal that would allow government entities to post public notices on government websites in lieu of posting them in newspapers.

It’s an issue that has been introduced in previous sessions, and with lobbying from the Iowa League of Cities and the Iowa State Association of Counties, we expect the issue to keep returning.

However, approving such a proposal, we believe, would be a large step backward in government transparency.

Consider some of the following statistics.

A survey conducted in December 2015 by Newton Marketing and Research showed 85 percent of Iowans believe state and local government should be required to publish public notices in newspapers.

An overwhelming 91 percent of Iowans find their local newspaper trustworthy when publishing public notices, compared to only 67 percent who find government sponsored websites trustworthy.

Iowans rely on their local newspapers to stay informed, and 76 percent of Iowans read their local newspaper.

Those are the kind of numbers our state leaders should heavily consider since the accessibility to information about government dealings is an important premise upon which the principle of democracy is based.

Newspapers have the responsibility to publish public notices in a timely, complete and accurate manner. Nobody has ever hacked a newspaper, unlike internet sites where public notices have mysteriously disappeared.

Putting public notices from schools, cities and counties on hundreds of government websites is a good way to make sure they will not be noticed by a larger portion of the public.

Proponents of the change will point to cost savings for government entities.

Research by the Iowa Newspaper Association shows, on average, cities, schools and counties spend 1/20th of 1 percent of their budgets on public notices.

Do we really want to sacrifice government transparency for that?

Residents of Iowa communities for decades have been relying on notices being published in their local newspapers as a way of keeping tabs on their local governments. The easier we make keeping tabs on our government dealings the better.

Public notices have been available to the public via newspapers for 200 years. Newspapers are a respected third party – unlike a government agency posting public notices on the agency’s own website.

Notices in newspapers also are a permanent record.

We expect our lawmakers to give these latest statistics and the important concept of government transparency the proper consideration.

Newspapers offer maximum opportunity for the public to be aware of the way our government agencies are conducting business and spending taxpayers’ money. That’s an important aspect of government transparency we need to maintain, not allow to erode.

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Quad-City Times. February 2, 2017

Regulate, don’t ban, traffic cameras

Traffic cameras – the bane of libertarian-minded motor-heads – is sitting shotgun in the Iowa Legislature. There’s a sound bill running on reason and facts and another that speeds headlong into a fiery ideological crash.

The motoring enthusiasts among us understand Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Zaun’s frustrations with the increasingly prevalent enforcement devices. Drivers allegedly blowing a traffic light or speeding down a highway never even get to face their accuser. Instead, a ticket shows up in the mail. So much for due process.

Head to court and face the photos. Zaun’s bill would end all that by banning traffic cameras statewide.

There’s also legitimate concerns about the purpose of traffic cameras in many instances. Cities throughout Iowa have realized they are a relatively cheap method of generating revenue without having to add more cops. There are few better ways to erode public trust in police than the monetization of law enforcement. Add to that a slew of questionable deals with the private firms that operate the systems, and Zaun’s general aversion is easily justified.

But not every traffic camera was installed simply as a cash-grab, a fact Iowa Department of Public Transportation admits. Many, including in Davenport, are demonstrably linked to fewer crashes at problematic intersections. It’s a case local police chiefs and mayors have effectively made in defense of the oft-grumblesome technology.

Zaun, R-Urbandale, hopes to put the hammer down. A better competing bill, authored by Senate Transportation Committee Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, isn’t so fast and loose.

Kapucian’s legislation would finally provide state oversight over where traffic cameras are installed. Iowa DOT would approve locations, presumably based on crash and safety statistics. In effect, Kapucian’s legislation would strip cities of the practice of setting up speed traps designed to pump money in to local coffers. Yet it wouldn’t rob police of a tool that, the data show, has saved lives and money.

Police chiefs from Iowa’s largest cities are strongly backing Kapucian’s approach. The oversight the bill provides is but one piece. It also would require the more than $10 million in fines collected annually to be used on infrastructure. In so doing, speed traps would no longer be a quick and easy way to plug holes in the city budget.

Kapucian’s started its journey Wednesday through the state Senate. Zaun’s outright ban waits for a full vetting in the Judiciary Committee.

But, already, it’s obvious that Kapucian’s compromise deals in the facts. Zaun’s is a matter of political ideology.

There’s a legitimate argument about the constitutionality of traffic cameras. But they’re yet to be successfully challenged. The questions about due process are a matter for the courts. So far, traffic cameras have a middling record at state-level courts throughout the country. Federal courts have yet to render a defining blow one way or another.

Kapucian’s legislation grapples with that reality. It correctly asserts that, in too many cases, traffic cameras have been abused. But it also acknowledges the technology’s upside.

Zaun’s proposed ban lacks the legal foundation to justify the loss.

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Sioux City Journal. February 2, 2017

Don’t abandon medical marijuana program

In 2014, the Iowa Legislature took an important first step on the issue of medical marijuana. Lawmakers passed a bill through which patients afflicted by epilepsy can legally possess an anti-seizure medicine derived from cannabis.

Because we have compassion for Iowans who suffer from diseases and disorders for which medical marijuana might provide some relief and because we have faith and confidence in Iowa’s medical community, we believe physicians should have, within a proper framework, the legal option to write a prescription for medical marijuana.

In fact, we not only supported the 2014 bill, but we stated our support at the time for future debate about extending Iowa’s medical marijuana program to illnesses other than epilepsy.

During last year’s legislative session, we encouraged lawmakers to legalize production and distribution of cannabidiol in Iowa, at least for use by epilepsy patients. This, in response to reasonable concerns expressed by Iowans about the fact the 2014 bill didn’t address production and distribution of the drug within the state. In other words, the legislation allowed an Iowan to legally possess the drug for treatment of epilepsy, but it remains illegal in the state to produce or distribute it.

We return to this issue today because, without legislative action, the 2014 legislation will expire on July 1.

In other words, lack of action returns the state – and those who suffer from epilepsy and other illnesses for which medical marijuana might help – to square one.

Because we do not wish to see the state take a step back in this area, we encourage the Legislature this year to, at a minimum, extend the 2014 legislation and include production and distribution.

If discussion of expanding Iowa’s medical marijuana program to include other illnesses is preventing anything from happening for epilepsy patients this year, then lawmakers should put such expansion on hold.

What they shouldn’t do, however, is abandon the state’s existing medical marijuana program – and, by extension, those Iowans it seeks to support – altogether.

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Burlington Hawk Eye. February 3, 2017

Playing by the rules

There were a couple items this week that should remind each of us to be diligent about how our elected officials go about conducting our business. One happened here in Burlington and the other in Des Moines.

One was a talk-show session on KBUR. Reporter Rob Sussman was interviewing Councilman Jim Davidson and City Manager Jim Ferneau regarding city expenditures. During the conversation, Mayor Shane McCampbell called in and not long after that, Councilman Tim Scott called. Sussman cut off the conversation. The three council members constituted a quorum, and absent public notice, that’s against the law. Sussman did the right thing.

Besides tying up the phone lines preventing listeners to call in, we question the council members for their apparent lack of knowledge of the law – each has served at least a term as mayor. And, the city spends a lot of taxpayer money to have membership with a state association educating elected representatives about the Iowa Open Meetings Law and Iowa Open Records Law. They should know better.

In Des Moines, legislation was introduced to make it more difficult for Iowans to keep informed of what their government is up to. It would permit public notices to be posted on government websites. It’s a movement that has been taken up in statehouses across the country. And it’s bad public policy.

Public notices typically have been required to be published in local newspapers. Advocates for removing them from newspapers say it’s more convenient to have them on the internet. And they say it would save taxpayers a lot of money.

Others say it’s nothing more than a cash cow for newspapers. It’s not. The rate is set by government and is not much. Most newspapers, including this one, publish public notices as a public service. What we can charge covers the cost. And, it’s an economical way for government business to get to the public.

It’s unfortunate new Iowa Sen. Tom Greene of Burlington is one of the co-authors of this legislation.

It’s interesting people running for office go out of their way to declare they will be transparent in hopes of securing votes then once they get into office they go out of their way to do the opposite. It happens at all levels.

The old adage is if it’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it.

There’s nothing broken with the current public notice rules. There’s nothing broken with the rule that prohibits a quorum of a council discussing public business absent a notice to the public.

This shouldn’t be this challenging.

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