- Associated Press - Monday, March 30, 2015

Dubuque Telegraph Herald. March 27, 2015.

School calendar: Late start beats late decision

The Dubuque Community School Board’s decision to go ahead and set the 2015-16 school calendar, rather than wait around for decision out of Des Moines, is proving to be wiser by the day.

Current law says K-12 schools can’t start their academic year before the week in which Sept. 1 falls. But this school year all but a couple of the state’s 338 districts secured a pass on that requirement. Finally, Gov. Terry Branstad directed state education officials to stop handing out waivers willy-nilly. So, suddenly, the starting date became an issue.

Had Dubuque board members opted to wait for a decision by the Legislature (and the governor, who has not signaled how or whether he will compromise), they would still be waiting. And thousands of constituents - students, parents, teachers and staff members - would still be wondering and unable to set plans.



When the Iowa Senate passed a measure making school start date a local decision, not a statewide mandate, it seemed that movement was in the offing. The momentum stopped cold this week when the House, hearing from stake-holders that Sept. 1 is too late to begin, passed a significantly different bill.

The House version bumped up the earliest possible start date to Aug. 23 and backed away from letting the districts decide.

The House version might be as good as this resolution is going to get. It does resolve a couple of the issues in what was a convoluted approach to school calendars. However, there is a catch: The House bill appears to preclude year-round school, though waivers might legitimately address that issue.

Branstad’s mandate got some people riled up because he mentioned that the early start time interferes with late-summer tourism in the state. “The governor cares more about attendance at the Iowa State Fair than education,” his detractors said.

Some districts started as early as Aug. 11 last year, and that is cutting into summer. And it does make some sense to have Iowa schools on roughly the same schedule.

The Aug. 23 date the House proposes seems to be a good compromise, and representatives working on the bill believe the date is as early as they could go and still hope to get the governor’s signature. Still, the House and Senate versions are at odds, with bipartisan support on each side in each chamber. So this might take a while to sort out.

Yes, by acting three weeks ago, the Dubuque Community School Board made the right call by playing it safe and setting a start date of Sept. 1. It’s later than they might have preferred, but it’s safe. Districts waiting for the Legislature to make up its mind probably wish they had done the same.

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Sioux City Journal. March 27, 2015.

Branstad should close sledding loophole

We encourage Gov. Terry Branstad to sign a bill passed by the Legislature which would protect Iowa cities from liability when injuries are sustained during “recreational activities,” including sledding, on city property.

State law affords protection for cities against lawsuits for injuries on public property related to a variety of specific and inherently dangerous activities, including skateboarding, in-line skating, bicycling, unicycling, riding scooters, river rafting, canoeing and kayaking, but not sledding.

Adding sledding by changing the wording of state law to include all “recreational activities” makes sense. As with the aforementioned activities, taking part in the activity of sledding involves the assumption of personal risk for which cities - and, by extension, taxpayers - shouldn’t be held liable.

Local leaders have lobbied for the addition of sledding to state law as a result of a lawsuit filed against the city of Sioux City by a man who was injured while sledding in Sertoma Park on Jan. 11, 2008. (In 2012, the city approved a $2.75 million settlement of the suit.) Discussion in Sioux City about creation of an estimated $2.3 million winter-themed park (amenities would include hills for sledding and tubing) on city land near the IBP Ice Center and Lewis and Clark Park contributes to local support for closing this loophole.

The bill passed this year by the Legislature doesn’t set new precedent. It simply broadens existing protection against lawsuits for cities in common-sense fashion. Branstad should make it law.

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The Des Moines Register. March 29, 2015.

Safety must trump revenue

Automated traffic-enforcement cameras have proven to be an effective tool for improving public safety.

Of course, they have also proven to be a very effective tool for raising revenue. And that, in a nutshell, is why they remain so controversial.

One study after another has shown that stop-light and speeding cameras do more than spit out citations. They also change drivers’ behavior. For the most part, their mere presence encourages people to follow the law, which makes the roads safer for everyone.

But that’s not always the case. In some instances, a traffic camera can be placed so that it maximizes revenue for the ticketing agency, while doing nothing at all to improve safety. In those instances, the traffic cameras are nothing more than a budgetary tool; the modern-day equivalent of the motorcycle cop working a speed trap to help pay his own salary.

Fortunately, some checks and balances are in place to guard against abuse. The Iowa Department of Transportation requires cities to justify the use of any cameras located on or near state highways and interstates, and two weeks ago the DOT reported its findings on the use of traffic cameras in six Iowa cities.

The DOT determined that 10 of the 34 cameras it reviewed need to be shut down. In Des Moines, for example, a speed-enforcement camera that monitors the eastbound traffic on Interstate Highway 235 near the Waveland Golf Course has to go. The crash rate on that part of the interstate was low before the camera was installed three and a half years ago, and it hasn’t changed much since.

In Muscatine, Davenport and Sioux City, crashes at certain intersections monitored by cameras have actually increased, and so those cameras also have to be shut down. In Cedar Rapids, two speed-enforcement cameras on Interstate 380 must be moved because they are within 1,000 feet of the point where the speed limit drops, which means drivers have little opportunity to safely slow down without being ticketed.

Some of the cities, which benefit from the revenue generated by the tickets, aren’t entirely pleased. The speed cameras on eastbound I-235 in Des Moines produced 43,000 citations last year - that’s an average of 117 tickets per day - and generated about $1.2 million for the city.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie points out that those tickets were issued for people driving at least 11 miles an hour over the speed limit. “It’s amazing to me that the DOT doesn’t think that that is a safety issue,” he said.

Well, yes, the number of speeders is definitely a safety issue. But the mayor’s own numbers demonstrate that the cameras aren’t effective in reducing speeds. In 2012, 36,202 citations were issued on eastbound I-235, which is about 15 percent fewer citations than the number issued last year. At that location, the cameras are effective in raising increasing amounts of revenue, but not in making the interstate safer, which is the alleged goal.

In one important respect, it’s understandable that city officials are irked with the DOT telling them how to handle traffic enforcement. The regulations the DOT is applying to these cameras are administrative rules devised by the department itself. They are not state laws approved by the Iowa Legislature.

That’s one reason the DOT rules don’t apply to traffic-enforcement cameras on city or county roads. At those locations, independent oversight of the cameras and their use is virtually nonexistent, which means that in Iowa today there’s no consistency at all in how these cameras are used. That alone is reason for state lawmakers, and not just the DOT, to work on a set of common-sense, uniform standards.

Iowans have a right to expect that all law enforcement resources - automated or otherwise - are being deployed to enhance public safety and not simply to generate revenue.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. March 27, 2015.

U.S. should treat Israel with respect

American officials often intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, usually while insisting no such thing is happening. Often, such activities are aimed at undermining unfriendly governments.

It comes as no surprise, then, that President Barack Obama’s administration attempted to influence politics in Israel. Clearly, the White House seems to view the Jewish state as an unfriendly foreign power.

Before and after Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress earlier this month, the Obama administration and leading liberals were strident in their criticism. They argued that Netanyahu’s visit was wholly undiplomatic, intended to influence U.S. politics and bolster the prime minister’s attempt to remain in office after an election.

That balloting was held and, to Obama’s disgust, Netanyahu held on to power.

Now it develops the State Department spent about $350,000 in 2013-14 to aid an Israeli group, OneVoice, that opposes that country’s policies and tried to defeat Netanyahu in the election. In addition, Jeremy Bird, a strategist from Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, went to Israel to help the group.

Both Democratic and Republican members of Congress want to know more about the intervention. They should investigate.

The American people deserve to know whether or not these claims are true.

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