- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. June 13, 2014.

Make Iowa’s texting-while-driving law a primary offense

While data continue to show a direct correlation between texting while driving and tragedy, Iowa continues to list it as a “secondary offense.”

That means in most cases an officer cannot pull over a texting driver unless that driver is doing something else wrong.

Iowa Department of Transportation crash reports show the anti-texting law enacted in July 2011 has done nothing to decrease cellphone-related crashes. Instead, they have increased at a steady pace. Data for 2013 remain preliminary, but already show the highest number of phone-related crashes since 2009.

In a recent investigation, IowaWatch examined state laws, traffic reports, studies and crash data for Iowa and other states and interviewed visual attention specialists, traffic safety officials, experts, statisticians, legislators and law enforcement officers.

While texting-related crashes have increased in recent years, Iowa convicted on average only 2.5 drivers per county for texting last year, according to the investigation.

“Texting while driving has become ubiquitous,” said Mark Lowe, director of the Iowa DOT’s Motor Vehicle Division.

That is to say, “existing or being everywhere at the same time.”

It’s unquestionably a frustration for law enforcement officers policing our roadways, who see this behavior and have to let it go. That means allowing a driver to proceed while engaging in behavior that increases the chances for a tragedy.

While such crashes are believed to be severely underreported, Cellphones have accounted for more than 7,000 crashes statewide in the past decade, killing 24 people.

Almost all states ban texting while driving. Only four states, however, fail to enforce it as a primary offense. Those are Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and Florida.

The law would certainly get the attention of more offenders if it were upgraded to a primary enforcement law. That in turn could make our highways and streets safer for all.

That’s a pretty good reason to put some teeth in the Iowa law.

Yes, cellphones and other devices have created a modern convenience in our lives. However, we’ve come to a point where too many drivers believe it is too much of an inconvenience to wait until they can pull over in order to read or send a text.

It’s that sort of mentality that will continue to cause easily avoidable tragedies.

Earlier this year, Kara Macek, spokeswoman for the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, said texting laws have the same genesis seat belt laws did a couple of decades ago.

“States go for secondary laws first, then it begins transitioning into a primary law,” she said.

As the data continue to pour in, we’d say that transition cannot come soon enough.


Iowa City Press-Citizen. June 12, 2014.

Looking for far more specifics on efficiency study

In the recently released update for its efficiency study of the Iowa regent system, Deloitte Consulting managed to dish out a softer stew of pabulum than we expected - and we already expected mush.

The Iowa state Board of Regents have contracted with Deloitte to conduct a $3.45 million efficiency review of Iowa’s three public universities. The hope/promise/plan is that the consultant group - after meeting with hundreds of faculty, staff and administrators at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa - will come up with saving opportunities equal to multiple times the price tag for their services. And Regent President Bruce Rastetter said that any savings coming as a result of Deloitte’s recommendations would be reinvested in the university from which they originated.

Yet the four-page update released Wednesday - which is supposed to summarize the past 10 weeks in which Deloitte has visited each campus twice and met with nearly 700 individuals across the system - is so generic in its analysis and diagnosis that it’s hard to critique.

The consultants - whose contract was just expanded to ensure that their work will extend beyond the summer - identified 10 major themes in their interviews. They’ve narrowed that list and are proposing to focus on the following areas during the next phase of the review:

- Improving purchasing practices.

- Enhancing “competitiveness” among academic programs and broadening “non-traditional student access through Distance Education.”

- Figuring out ways to “optimize how IT services are provided.”

- Exploring new ways to use facilities more effectively and to improve building usage rates.

- Finding ways to simplify the delivery of finance services.

- Optimizing how HR services are provided.

- Evaluating whether future students would benefit from developing a common application portal across the three universities.

Based solely on this four-page update, it would seem that any halfway-informed senior academic administrator could have written such boilerplate content in a few days - without having attended campus meetings or doing any on-site research. Nearly all the summaries of the themes include variations on the vaguely worded phrases “organizations within each university have been proactive in identifying savings opportunities” and “there appears to be opportunities to realize additional savings.”

Without any specifics either about what the universities already have done well or about which additional “opportunities” are most likely, the report offers nothing to calm the worst-case worries of those concerned about how such a system-wide review will affect the academic quality - and individual culture - of each of the three universities.

Looks like we’ll have to lower our expectations even further for Phase II of this study.


The Des Moines Register. June 14, 2014.

Farmers must lead, not resist, change

Iowans are getting a heavy dose of references to this state’s agricultural roots this election year with campaign talk of castrated hogs, peeping chicks and farmers with or without law degrees. These may seem like frivolous distractions, but farming enjoys an exalted status in Iowa politics.

That status is under attack, however, and not just from outsiders. Like other Americans, Iowans have grown skeptical of, if not hostile to, some aspects of modern farming, including genetically modified seeds and chemical additives in food. They want to know what is in their food and how livestock is treated.

The public may have a fondness for this state’s agricultural roots, but times have changed. Family farms are increasingly consolidated into sprawling corporate mega-farms, and livestock production has become industrialized, with hogs and chickens confined by the tens of thousands in climate-controlled buildings. Iowa got a black eye nationally with the recent guilty pleas to criminal charges by Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son, Peter DeCoster, for their role in the nationwide salmonella outbreak from tainted eggs.

The people of Iowa are also concerned about the impact of agriculture on the condition of the soil, drinking-water supplies, rivers and lakes. As Iowa hog producers expand their confinement facilities, they are running into public opposition not just near cities, where suburban sprawl creeps outward into the countryside, but in sparsely populated rural areas.

Meanwhile, Iowa state officials have yet to demonstrate they are serious about dealing with this state’s contribution to environmental damage that is attributable to agricultural land runoff via the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

Iowa state officials, political leaders and agricultural industry leaders have tended to react by circling the wagons, characterizing critics as outsider enemies to be fought at every turn. Last week, for example, Gov. Terry Branstad said, “We need to be careful about these outside groups that have little knowledge of agriculture leveling attacks against an important economic driver of our state’s economy.”

A strategy of hunkering down and attacking critics is not in the interests of Iowa agriculture or the consumers of food in this country. It will only ratchet up the rhetoric and waste energy that should be devoted to solutions.

Instead, Iowa and other Midwest agricultural states should acknowledge changing consumer attitudes and take the lead on improving food safety, livestock conditions and environmental protection.

It is foolish and pointless to rail against changing public sentiment with “right to farm” constitutional amendments, as proposed in Missouri, or legislation that seeks to make it a crime to report mistreatment of livestock. Instead, Iowa and other Midwestern leaders should lead the way toward solutions.

Growing evidence suggests the industry can, and should, accommodate public interest rather than oppose change at every turn. The most recent example is Minnesota-based Cargill Inc.’s decision to give pork producers a 2017 deadline for eliminating controversial gestation crates that restrict the movement of sows. This is just the latest in a series of moves by major food companies and restaurant chains to impose changes in how livestock is treated, in response to consumer demands in the marketplace.

Battles will continue to be fought over food labeling, whether it be “organic” and “natural” or “contains food grown from genetically modified seed.” Farm state leaders should be part of the discussion on how to give consumers meaningful and accurate information about their food, instead of fighting labeling movements.

Farmers have a good story to tell. They are producing more wholesome and safe food today than at any other time in history, and at affordable prices. That requires new science, including seeds that are modified in the laboratory to produce bigger yields and resist pests and disease. Modern farming requires reasonable application of chemicals and fertilizer, and it can be done while preserving topsoil for future generations and protecting the quality of water.

Farmers and their supporters will have more credibility in telling this story if they are seen as leading the way toward change rather than being dragged to it by lawmakers, government regulators and consumers.


Sioux City Journal. June 15, 2014.

Tell the city what you think about plastic bags

Anyone who cares about the appearance of our community should understand why local government wants to talk about plastic bags.

As reported by the Journal on June 7, city officials are in the early stages of studying options for how to cut down on the problem of litter from plastic bags.

To this point, no specific proposals have been formed, no decisions have been made.

Unsightly (and environmentally unfriendly) plastic bag litter is a common site. Reducing the problem would make the city look better, no question.

Still, in our minds, concerns about government overreach arise.

Our biggest question: What would be the effect on private businesses of any city action on plastic bags?

To its credit, local government appears to be treading with care on this issue. So far, its strategy not only embraces due diligence, but prevents the perception of heavy-handedness.

City officials here are talking with city officials in other places where plastic bag ordinances have been adopted (including Chicago, where the City Council earlier this spring approved a partial ban on plastic shopping bags). Also, we agree with Mayor Bob Scott, who told our editorial board last week it’s important for Sioux City to engage the cities of Sergeant Bluff, South Sioux City and North Sioux City in this discussion because he doesn’t want to put Sioux City businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Finally, Sioux City is conducting a survey of both retailers and consumers.

We see nothing wrong with having local dialogue about problems created by plastic bags. In fact, we envision a growing number of cities holding this discussion in the future. Some value exists in simply raising awareness.

Perhaps our community can craft an effective model for other communities. Or, perhaps this discussion will end in no action by the city.

The key for city government as this subject moves forward, in our view, is respect for all viewpoints, particularly those of private businesses who will be impacted the most.

To those ends, we encourage the community - both sellers and buyers - to share their thoughts about the use of plastic bags by filling out a survey.

You can access a survey online at sioux-city.org or pick one up at the City Hall customer service desk. The survey will last until at least July 5, but it could be extended if interest is high.

City officials are asking you what you think. Tell them.

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