- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. April 3, 2015.

It is time to implement anti-bullying strategies

While previous efforts have died at the Statehouse, bipartisan support for substantive ant-bullying legislation is looking better this year.

“We’re pretty optimistic on bullying (legislation), and we’re very hopeful that we’re going to see it approved with bipartisan support,” Gov. Terry Branstad said during his weekly news conference earlier this week. “Last year, we didn’t get the proposal to the Legislature until later in the session. This year, they’ve had it from the very beginning.”

Developing strategies to wipe out bullying is one important step in getting our youths through an intense stage of their lives. We all need to invest in this endeavor.

The legislation would strengthen the commitment to address cyberbullying by explicitly including “social networking sites” in the definition of “electronic” - and stating that schools have authority to address bullying that occurs off school grounds.

In the past, the “off school grounds” language made us a little nervous. Our principals, superintendents and teachers excel in many areas, and an added role would definitely add more to their already-full plates.

However, cyberbullying has proven tragic in multiple cases, and laws have lagged behind. Indeed, there is ample evidence cyberbullying has become the preferred type of bullying for many young people. The proposed legislation would send the message that cyberbullying will not be tolerated.

In addition to giving schools that authority, the latest proposal would:

Require parental notification of incidents, but allows for exceptions if the victim may be further threatened.

Create training programs for school officials and a statewide task force to provide ongoing analysis.

Nate Monson, executive director of the nonprofit Iowa Safe Schools, was particularly supportive of the task force, saying it will help the state engage in an ongoing conversation about bullying issues.

“It’s easy to fall into doing an assembly (at school) and thinking you’re done, or buying T-shirts,” Monson said. “What you need is something systemic.”

We believe the discussions in previous sessions, in combination with the governor’s anti-bullying summits, have helped solidify the current proposals.

Left unchecked, festering social problems can only become worse. We believe that’s the case with bullying. With the advent of social media, electronic gadgets have become yet another weapon for potential bullies.

The best methods to fight bullying start in the home However, we are fully aware not all the answers are found in every home. Schools can foster an environment that makes bullying less acceptable.

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The Hawk Eye. April 5, 2015.

Political bully: Gov. Terry Branstad pushes antibullying legislation while being one himself

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is pushing an expansion of antibullying legislation in this year’s legislative session and so far two bills, one each in the House and Senate, have received committee approval.

It appears a measure of some sort to include cyberbullying on social websites and parental notification will gain approval, if funding can be agreed upon, and be sent to the governor for his signature.

We would like the governor to be looking in a mirror as he puts pen to paper, because he has become a political bully himself.

The latest embarrassing incident happened last week when an angry letter from a former Iowa Utilities Board member to the governor was made public by The Associated Press. Sheila Tipton, an attorney, accused Branstad of removing her from the IUB after she voted to require MidAmerican Energy to use some of its proceeds from a $280 million wind energy investment to reduce costumers’ rates by $2 million annually.

The company objected and complained to the governor, who long has been an ally of MidAmerican, the state’s largest utility company, and was paid to sit on its board of directors in 1999. He also has received more than $120,000 from a company political action committee since 2010.

Branstad also demoted the chairwoman of the board, Elizabeth Jacobs, and appointed former legislator Geri Huser to the board as its new chairwoman, despite her having little experience dealing with utilities.

“Administrative agencies, including the Iowa Utilities Board, are intended to be independent and not subject to political pressures or threats of retaliation,” Tipton wrote in her letter to Branstad. “Yet in replacing me and demoting Chair Jacobs, the message being sent to the board and its staff is to get in line and approve anything that the utilities, particularly MidAmerican, bring to it.”

That’s difficult to argue with, so Branstad didn’t bother. He simply sent his spokesman to talk to the AP and spout some political pablum about Huser’s appointment improving the board.

Adding insult to injury, Tipton noted she was assured by former Branstad chief of staff Jeff Boeyink two years ago when she gave up her law practice to fill an unexpired term that reappointment to a sixyear term would “not be an issue.” Branstad’s spokesman, Jimmy Centers, simply denied she had been told that.

Branstad seems to have assumed a noholdsbarred attitude in getting just what he wants as he serves out the final three years of his last term as governor, and his legacy be damned. That’s too bad. The people of Iowa deserve better leadership than that.

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Iowa City Press-Citizen. April 4, 2015.

Lawmakers holding our schools hostage

Iowa lawmakers have been holding school districts hostage this legislative session.

And while districts should now be able to move forward in one area, they’re left hanging in another.

State lawmakers reached a compromise Tuesday, sending a bill to Gov. Terry Branstad that would mandate schools start no earlier than Aug. 23.

School officials had been waiting for months for direction about when classes could start this fall. Districts had to create multiple calendars to account for multiple possibilities. Iowa City had three calendars ready - with start dates of Aug. 19, Aug. 24 and Sept. 1.

We still think districts should be allowed to approve a calendar that works best for their students, staff and communities, rather than be bound to a one-size-fits-all calendar set by the state. However, it’s already April, and it’s time to let school officials and parents start planning for their summer and next school year.

It also was an unnecessary distraction from a more pressing issue: school funding.

Lawmakers, listen up: Stop your posturing and give school districts an answer.

Leaving districts in the dark on such an important issue is irresponsible - as well as illegal.

Iowa law - a law signed by Branstad himself nearly two decades ago - requires the Legislature to set education funding 18 months in advance of the school year. However, lawmakers last year failed to pass an allowable growth, or a supplemental state aid, increase for the academic year that begins this fall.

It’s an insult to Iowans and to the Democratic process when those who create our laws fail to follow them.

While lawmakers apparently think it’s OK to ignore such legal deadlines, school districts aren’t given that option. Instead, it means they are put in a position of having to guess how much the state would be paying per student and how much the district would be able to spend per student.

Being forced to guess on a budget when our children’s education is at stake? Give us a break.

Unfortunately, it appears the deadlock won’t end anytime soon. Democrats this week offered to split the difference of the two current proposals - reducing their proposal for a 4 percent increase in funding to just more than 2.62 percent. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, however, said Republicans are firmly sticking with their initial offer of a 1.25 percent increase.

Education funding should not be a partisan hot potato. Both sides need to stop playing politics with one of our state’s greatest assets and show our students they are not “worth less” - as signs held by students who rallied at the state Capitol last week read.

There are good reasons why state law requires the allowable growth rate to be set 18 months in advance: because school districts benefit from stable and predictable funding.

Apparently Branstad once thought this, too. But now he and our state’s lawmakers are too caught up in partisan bickering to do their jobs, all the while the amount our state spends on each student has dropped to 35th in the nation.

It’s time to start making up that ground. Our students deserve better.

Pass the funding bill now, then come back next year and do as the law demands: Set school funding 18 months in advance.

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Sioux City Journal. April 5, 2015.

Iowa should ban hand-held cell phone use while driving

For the sake of public safety, we support making illegal in Iowa the practice of using a hand-held cell phone while driving.

In our view, it’s time for Iowa to join 14 other states in strengthening the fight against a dangerous epidemic on America’s roads.

Alarming statistics about cell phone use by drivers abound. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, some 660,000 drivers use cell phones or manipulate electronic devices while driving at any given daylight moment. The National Safety Council reported use of cell phones causes 26 percent, or roughly one in four, of the nation’s car accidents, resulting in some 1.6 million crashes and 330,000 injuries each year. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, six of 10 moderate-to-severe crashes involving teen drivers are the result of distracted driving; interaction with passengers and cell phone use were the leading culprits.

We could go on, but you get the frightening picture.

These statistics tell us our society is far too cavalier in its acceptance of this unsafe practice and a culture change is needed.

Requiring a driver to use a hands-free device is a good and proper step in the right direction. (The best option of all, of course, is to wait until you aren’t behind the wheel to use your cell phone.)

In the past, we have supported making texting while driving a primary offense. Today we urge the Legislature to expand on this prohibition by making any use of a hand-held cell phone, including talking, while driving an illegal, primary offense.

By taking this step, lawmakers would make a bold statement about what is a growing menace.

Making the use of a hand-held cell phone while driving illegal won’t end the problem, we understand, but we are confident it will reduce it, perhaps significantly.

Is reducing the problem, thereby making roads in our state safer, a worthwhile goal Iowa should embrace? We believe it absolutely is.

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