- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

Des Moines Register. January 24, 2017

Iowa needs comprehensive job licensing review.Shrinking state government should not house an ‘examining’ board for interior designers or keep tabs on manicurists.

In his Condition of the State address, Gov. Terry Branstad outlined a list of priorities for Iowa lawmakers. Among them was tackling the reason that one-third of Iowa’s adult workforce must obtain a government license to earn a living - a higher percentage than any other state and three times higher than some states.

He asked lawmakers to conduct a “comprehensive review of all our state’s boards and commissions to address unnecessary barriers that prevent competition and raise costs.”

Those include the 34 state-sanctioned boards that license and oversee workers in dozens of professions. Iowans must pay a fee, meet numerous requirements and obtain government permission to wax an eyebrow, massage a back, paint a fingernail, style a wig, interpret sign language, whiten teeth or perform numerous other tasks.

The Register’s editorial board has written dozens of editorials about these licensing requirements, frequently crafted and enforced by boards comprised largely of industry insiders. Appointed by the governor, members are granted authority to sanction and strip peers of their livelihood. The governor rightly noted these boards prevent competition and raise costs. They also have inherent conflicts of interest and leave the state vulnerable to antitrust lawsuits.

Branstad should have long ago spearheaded a review of antiquated laws and rules related to job licensing. He could have created a commission or used his bully pulpit to insist the issue be addressed. He didn’t. While Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, issued an executive order to create an office to evaluate occupational licensing and develop recommendations, Iowa’s governor did nothing.

Now the task falls to Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa lawmakers.

Some licensing boards are important to public safety. It makes sense for an entity to ensure physicians meet specific educational and training requirements. Not just anyone should be able to walk into a pharmacy and dispense prescription drugs.

But requiring a full-fledged state license to work as a barber is not about protecting public health. It is about protecting the economic interests of current workers by making it more difficult for new workers to enter a specific field. And Iowa makes unnecessary and onerous demands of workers in some professions. A 2015 White House report on occupational licensing singled out this state for requiring 16 months of education to become a licensed cosmetologist while New York and Massachusetts require less than eight months.

Is a salon patron in the Big Apple at greater risk of a botched haircut? Does requiring half the training time to legally cut hair create a public health risk in Massachusetts?

No and no.

Government boards that license and sanction workers should exist only to protect public safety and health, not legitimize a certain profession or limit competition in an industry. Among the questions Iowa leaders should ask about every requirement related to occupational licenses in this state: Does it make anyone safer? Does it exceed requirements in other states? Does it make sense?

A dentist who graduated from the University of Iowa and passed his board exams should not have to pay more than $2,000 and take an additional, state-required test administered by a private, out-of-state company. A young woman who wants to style hair should not have to attend a for-profit cosmetology school for 2,100 hours. State government has more important tasks than housing an “examining board” for interior designers.

Branstad knows Iowa’s licensing laws, rules and boards have run amok. He knows this state is overdue in addressing them. Now elected officials must finally do it.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. January 27, 2017

Legislator’s UNI athletics proposal misses target

We realize the University of Northern Iowa has been shortchanged over the years in the way it has been funded relative to Iowa’s two other regent universities.

That’s why in addition to the Board of Regents seeking a 2 percent increase in general fund appropriations for the three state universities, it also is seeking an extra $2.5 million for UNI in an attempt to balance general fund inequities.

However, trying to break out the inequities in the athletics programs is going to be more difficult.

Last week, we learned Sen. David Johnson, an independent from Ocheyedan, was seeking to require Iowa and ISU transfer a total of $4.3 million over each of the next five years to the UNI athletic department.

Naturally, this proposal is going to sound rather good to many of those supporting UNI athletics. Conversely, it’s apt to sound a bit ridiculous to those who follow the sports programs of Iowa and Iowa State along with those who donate large sums of money to those programs.

“Athletics at the University of Northern Iowa should not be subsidized by student tuition and any general fund money,” said Johnson, who sponsored Senate File 95. “This is a way to be good neighbors in the public university system. Since the athletic budgets are so much larger at Iowa and Iowa State, they should help provide a little bit of tuition relief at UNI.”

Being a good neighbor doesn’t ordinarily equate to forking over large sums of legally received money. Go ask you neighbor and see for yourself.

UNI has used taxpayer or student subsidies to cover what can’t be raised through ticket sales, conference contracts, alumni donations, student fees and other sources - like television contracts.

Meanwhile, Iowa hasn’t given any state tax dollars or student subsidies to its athletics program since 2007. Iowa State athletics have not used such funds since 2011.

That’s the problem UNI faces. Here in the Cedar Valley, we appreciate the ideas of the state senator from Ocheyedan. The reality is such a proposal is doomed to fall flat. And it didn’t take too much time for some responses.

“As much as I understand UNI’s unique funding situation, and as badly as I want to see it funded, I don’t think that’s the way to do it,” said regent Milt Dakovich, of Waterloo.

“If indeed it’s a problem that UNI students, through their tuition, are funding athletics - if that is indeed a problem - you take away that problem and create an identical problem,” Dakovich continued. “Because part of the reason the University of Iowa and Iowa State have self-supporting athletic programs is through ticket sales and donors. You create a problem because those supporters of those schools are supporting UNI, and they do not intend to do so.”

That is the obstacle Johnson’s proposal does not address.

Another message was quickly received from the Board of Regents.

“The Board of Regents opposes the bill,” said board spokesperson Josh Lehman. “The board believes that the best way for the Legislature to appropriate money to any of our institutions is to fund the request made by the board in September, as it is written.”

We don’t see Johnson’s proposal gaining much ground anytime soon. But we do hope it can spark a larger discussion that weighs the benefits of a viable athletic program at UNI against the inability of the university to be self-supportive in athletics. Because it’s an issue that’s not going away anytime soon.

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Sioux City Journal. January 19, 2017

Renewable fuel project at treatment plant holds promise

We share City Council enthusiasm for a proposed renewable fuel project at the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.

At its Jan. 9 meeting, council members voted unanimously to contract with a West Des Moines firm for engineering services related to the project, which will take two years to complete.

According to a Jan. 10 Journal story, the city will use the new system to capture, clean and compress gas created as a byproduct of the process used at the plant to convert raw sludge into biosolids. The gas will then be used or sold by the city as a renewable source of fuel.

“We’re not first in line for this, but we would be one of the few in Iowa or the region that would be doing this,” Mark Simms, the city’s utilities director, said in Ian Richardson’s story.

Simms said through sale of the gas, the $9.3 million project will pay for itself in two years.

We appreciate this project for several reasons: 1) It’s forward-looking. 2) It’s eco-friendly because it involves creation of a renewable fuel. 3) It will produce revenue for the city.

We understand some concern may exist within the community about this process because of the continuing dispute in South Sioux City over foul odors, tied to a renewable energy plant, in homes.

However, the Sioux City project is different because the Wastewater Treatment Plant has used its digester process to break down raw sludge since 1961 and the waste stream is confined to the plant. Unlike what happened in South Sioux City, none of the waste will be transported through sewer lines.

Although we acknowledge progress, we do share local concern about continuing odor problems at the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant itself. Perhaps as the plant captures gas for this new project, it will capture a little more, if you know what we mean, because additional work is necessary on this front.

As for the renewable fuel proposal, though, our view is it’s an overall positive.

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Quad-City Times. January 27, 2017

Endorsement: Gonzales could better serve Iowa 89

To use a sports phrase, Republican Mike Gonzales has more upside than his opponent in Tuesday’s special election for Iowa’s 89th House District.

The LeClaire police officer was less than precise when we first met with him during his recent bid for an Iowa Senate seat. But the falling dominoes from that loss to now-Sen. Jim Lykam has cleared the field.

Put simply, Gonzales would be in a significantly better place to get things done in Des Moines than Democrat Monica Kurth.

Make no mistake, Gonzales has a lot to learn. Both candidates are political neophytes. His answers to our questions prior to last month’s Senate election were vague and without nuance. He learned from that experience. While still unpolished, Gonzales’ can now grapple with the most pressing issues facing the Quad-Cities - mental health and inequitable education funding.

Gonzales has grown. In him, we see the same potential identified by Scott County and Iowa GOP bosses. Running Gonzales in a basically doomed Senate race provided both name recognition and a teaching moment.

If elected, he’d be in the House majority, no small thing. And, with that immediate influence within the ruling caucus, Gonzales could demand meaningful attention for Scott County’s needs, particularly the incessant mental health crisis.

Gonzales faces fellow political newcomer Monica Kurth in that it’s her first-time seeking office. Kurth has spent three decades knocking on doors and championing Democratic causes. Disparities in Iowa’s school funding model, she said, were a prime concern. Yet, Kurth hadn’t even read Rep. Cindy Winckler’s bill pertaining to disproportionate school funding.

It’s incredibly easy to stand for equal school funding in Davenport right now. That’s thanks to Davenport Community School District Superintendent Art Tate, who has put his career on the line to make a point. But Kurth’s failure to even read the legislation dealing with the problem, drafted by a fellow Davenport Democrat, was almost shocking.

Her answers to questions about mental health funding were equally little more than partisan talking points. Blaming years of corporate tax breaks for Iowa’s budgetary ills isn’t without truth, but, in the next sentence, she lauded the economic development spurred by those hand-outs. It was cognitive dissonance.

Put simply, Kurth - a long-time counselor and math lecturer at Scott Community College - is an activist. And that role would not serve constituents in Iowa’s 89th well, particularly as a member of the House minority. Effective members of any legislative minority must be consensus builders. We just don’t see it here.

Gonzales’ platform isn’t without concern, either. We admire his deep religious conviction. But we caution against becoming a lawmaker who deals primarily in statement bills and social issues. Such legislation serves the grandstanding lawmaker more than it does his or her constituency.

The race for Iowa’s 89th House seat is yet another example of the relative weakness of Scott County’s Democratic Party. By all objective measures, Kurth should win on Tuesday. But, in recent local and state elections, we’ve consistently found the Republican candidates superior due, in no small part, to that local party’s efforts at identifying and grooming talent.

Iowa’s GOP is playing the long-game, here. Gov. Terry Branstad has spoken at length about focusing on local races and legislative seats. It’s working. Republicans now own Iowa government outright.

Democrats would be foolish to rest on their past laurels. It would be incredibly shortsighted to consider any district safe. Just ask Hillary Clinton.

But Monica Kurth’s candidacy is yet another display of a county Democratic Party adrift, set against a GOP that knows precisely where it’s headed.

We urge voters on Tuesday to support Mike Gonzales for Iowa’s 89th District House seat.

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Jan 22, 2017

It’s in the public’s interest

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We have been seeking, since the incident occurred, the entire body-cam video of the encounter between a Burlington police officer and Autumn Steele. As we’ve reported, she was shot twice by the officer and subsequently died. The officer’s actions were cleared by Burlington police and the Des Moines County attorney.

We have no quibble with that.

But, the incident was captured on the officer’s body-cam as well as his car’s dash-cam. We’ve asked to see that. Government has said we’re not entitled to that. That’s troubling. That’s disturbing. If there’s no wrong-doing then what’s the rub against releasing the video?

We didn’t agree with government and we took it to the Iowa Public Information Board. That board agreed with us. That board said government didn’t follow Iowa law and moved our case to a contested hearing.

Government - namely the attorneys hired by the Burlington Police Department and the Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers - sought to get our case dismissed.

Thankfully, for the good of the public, that didn’t happen.

Last week, the administrative law judge looking over our case denied their motion to dismiss our effort to get a public record. Judge Karen Doland said the case has merit and should be heard. So we press forward.

We have yet to understand, if Burlington police and the Des Moines County attorney Beavers declared there was no wrong doing, why they resist releasing the video of the incident. They’ve not indicated a justification for that.

But government has a history of doing that. When there was the tragic accident just west of Des Moines on I-80 between police and a drunk driver going the wrong way that killed the officers, the head of the public information office for Des Moines said that, while it was a public record, he wasn’t going to release it to the public in deference to the family members of those killed. The sentiment is notable, but if it’s a public record, he doesn’t get to be judge and jury on releasing that. It’s a public record. He said he wouldn’t release it because he didn’t want to see it on YouTube. Again, a notable sentiment, but not his call.

So, we’re pleased the administrative law judge in our body-cam dispute agreed this issue should move to the next phase.

Many people shrug when they see stories about us quibbling with government about access to what we believe to be public information.

Our position always has been that if we don’t go after that information nobody will. Other media - radio, television - has, sadly, given up that effort.

We’re not sure we’ll eventually prevail on this. But we’re going to press forward. It’s in the public’s interest.

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