- Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2015

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. May 10, 2015.

Governor stands his ground on equitable funding for UNI

We know the University of Northern Iowa has a friend in Gov. Terry Branstad.

The governor said last week he planned to “spend a lot of time” with legislators resolving state budget differences. That included money sought by the state Board of Regents to freeze in-state undergraduate tuition and implement a new performance-based model for distributing funds at Iowa’s state universities.

Republicans who control the Iowa House and Democrats in charge of the Iowa Senate began the week far apart on most major fiscal 2016 state budget issues. But one area of common ground was neither chamber embraced the regents’ performance-based funding model that Branstad endorsed Monday.

“I don’t think there’s any interest in doing that,” Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said of the regents’ proposed funding model that would have tied 60 percent of state appropriations to in-state enrollment.

However, Branstad said he was not ready to give up on the concept, telling reporters “it’s not over ‘til it’s over” as he and top legislative leaders worked to end a budget stalemate.

“I would point out that the Board of Regents put tremendous time and effort into developing a new system, which hadn’t been addressed for about 40 or 50 years,” Branstad said. “I believe that it’s time that we had a performance-based system that treats all of our universities fairly.”

Bravo, governor.

However, Dvorsky said legislators are looking to fund the universities “without all the nasty byproducts they have in their model of the three regent universities fighting among themselves, fighting with the private colleges, community colleges - upsetting the whole higher education apple cart.”

“I just don’t see the political support for doing that,” said Dvorsky, from Johnson County, where the University of Iowa is located.

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter thanked the governor for his “strong support” of the board’s proposal to boost transparency, equity and accountability, saying the governor “understands that the decades-old funding model for the state’s public universities is antiquated and does not reflect the unique missions and enrollment realities at each university.”

Bravo, President Rastetter. The reality is a higher percentage of Iowa students go to UNI than the other two, larger state universities. The decades-old present funding formula does not take that into account. UNI has long been treated as the poor stepchild of the three state universities and sustained substantial cuts in recent years, including closing Malcolm Price Laboratory School.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the General Assembly and the governor to realize the board’s legislative priorities including a modest 1.75 percent inflationary increase, full implementation of the Performance Based Funding model, and holding the University of Iowa harmless,” Rastetter said in his statement.

For what it’s worth, ag entrepreneur Rastetter, a native of Alden, attended Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, the University of Iowa and has been a major donor both to Iowa and Iowa State University.

By the end of the week, it appeared the education funding impasse was broken - probably without the Regents’ funding formula.

Win or lose, we applaud Branstad for sticking to his guns.

Equitable long-term funding for UNI might be a lost cause this session. But to paraphrase a line from the 1940s Frank Capra movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” that cause, in our estimation, is worth fighting for.

We are grateful to Branstad for his support.

___

The Hawk Eye. May 10, 2015.

A reprieve: Deal appears in the works to keep southern Iowa’s mentalhealth institutes open until December. Under Iowa law, they shouldn’t close.

One of Gov. Terry Branstad’s arguments for closing mentalhealth facilities in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda are that two facilities are outdated and old.

Iowa has four public facilities as mandated by state law - which the governor hasn’t seemed to care about on this matter - that are all more than a century old.

The oldest is in Mount Pleasant, which opened as the Iowa Lunatic Asylum in 1861.

Next is the facility in Independence - one of two the governor wants to keep in operation - which opened in 1873.

The Clarinda facility opened in 1886.

The Cherokee facility opened in 1902.

All four buildings opened within 40 years of each other.

All four have operated efficiently for more than a century. Yet the governor continues to cling to the notion that the ones on the southern half of the state are too old to stay open - though there is a building he wants to keep open in northeast Iowa that’s older than one in southwest Iowa.

There appears a compromise is in the works that would keep the two southern Iowa facilities open at least to midDecember while the state works to farm them off to private companies.

Under the deal, the public would fund the facilities in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda through Dec. 15 and then hope to find a private company to run the facilities.

Iowa law says the state “shall” operate mental hospitals at the four facilities. It doesn’t say the state “should” operate the four of them.

That the chief executive of the state - someone with a law degree from the University of Iowa - is dismissing the law should trouble those who put him in office.

The Mount Pleasant facility is minutes away from the state prison in Fort Madison, which, as an aside, is costing Iowans millions more than anticipated and a project the governor has shown little leadership as it pertains to protecting our interests, or our pocketbooks. He keeps blaming designers from Dubuque and former Gov. Chet Culver for the problems.

The state decided last week to pay out another $7 million of our money to an outofstate company for what they claim are cost overruns.

It would make sense to have a mentalhealth facility within a few miles of the state prison. Instead, inmates, if the governor gets his wish, will have to be taken to facilities in the northern part of the state for treatment. That will be costly, as the Lee County sheriff has previously noted.

It appears the facilities on our half of the state will at least survive to the holiday season. That’s a good thing for the people here who need the treatment.

But, they should survive much longer.

___

The Des Moines Register. May 8, 2015.

Grassley should not block sentencing reforms

Amid hysteria over growing use of illegal drugs 30 years ago, Congress passed tough new criminal laws carrying long mandatory prison sentences. Regardless of whether mandatory sentences had any effect on drug abuse, they have contributed to a 500 percent increase in the federal prison population and a 600 percent increase in federal prison spending.

Besides filling prisons and imprisoning a generation of largely minority males from inner cities, these one-size-fits-all sentences tie the hands of judges who should tailor penalties to the unique circumstances of individual defendants. And this obsession with criminalizing drug use has diverted resources that instead should be used to help people overcome their addictions.

Something extraordinary has happened recently, however: A consensus has emerged that this nation has put far too many people behind bars, and in the process it has created an unemployable underclass with criminal records. That consensus includes a remarkable cross-section of politicians from both ends of the political spectrum, along with religious leaders, corporate executives and opinion leaders.

While there is growing bipartisan support in Congress for changing the mandatory-minimum sentencing law, one potential stumbling block remains stubbornly in place: U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is in a position to allow federal sentencing reforms to move forward.

He was dismissive and defensive when a “Smarter Sentencing Act” was introduced in March with the support of senators ranging from Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky to Democrats Dick Durban of Illinois and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. He referred to supporters of the sentencing reform bill in a floor speech as the “leniency industrial complex.”

Although he recently seemed to soften his tone, saying he is “ready to address some of these issues,” Grassley has ruled out any across-the-board cut in mandatory minimum sentences. Three Iowa bishops in a guest opinion published by the Register May 1 called on him to support sentencing reform, but he promptly responded with an opinion piece that amounted to a full-throated defense of mandatory minimum sentences.

The argument in favor of mandatory sentences is that the prospect of spending decades in prison gives prosecutors leverage to get lower-tiered dealers to produce evidence against “drug kingpins.” But this gives prosecutors enormous power to force defendants to plead guilty, and with no prior involvement of a judge in open court.

Despite the assertion that mandatory sentences are aimed at putting away drug lords, “offenders most often subject to mandatory minimum penalties at the time of sentencing were street-level dealers - many levels down from kingpins and organizers,” according to research by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Moreover, sentencing commission data show that “black and Hispanic offenders make up a large majority of federal drug offenders, more than two thirds of offenders in federal prison, and about 80 percent of those drug offenders subject to a mandatory minimum penalty at sentencing.”

This nation’s war on drugs focused on criminal punishment instead of treatment has been a complete failure. At long last there is growing support for changing that. Iowa’s senior senator should not stand in the way.

___

Quad-City Times. May 10, 2015.

Free speech and roadside compassion

Ease off an interstate ramp and slow for the light. In Bettendorf, Davenport, Cedar Rapids, St. Louis, Chicago and in nearly every city, you’ll likely find someone holding a crumbled cardboard sign asking for donations.

In Davenport and elsewhere, city leaders have said the public right-of-way is fair game for these solicitations. In Bettendorf, aldermen decided these solicitors need to be regulated and licensed. The city reports about 40 licenses. Now Bettendorf aldermen are considering further restrictions and we can understand why. These roadside beggars often are the first thing motorists experience when arriving in Bettendorf.

We do not envy aldermen navigating these murky ethical and legal waters. Begging is a form a free speech that reaches Americans through their mailboxes, TV shows, on their web searches and even in their text messages. These appeals, like their roadside brethren, come uninvited. Americans can choose to ignore them. But they can’t keep them off their airwaves, out of their mailboxes or away from their Twitter feeds.

But soliciting on public streets invites other concerns. Handouts are requested within inches of moving vehicles. Motorists are distracted for a moment - maybe longer if they’re hunting for change. These same safety concerns have caused some cities to restrict firefighters from doing the same thing for the Muscular Dystrophy Association fund drive each year.

Uniformed, trained officers collecting for suffering children certainly leave a different impression than impoverished people collecting for themselves. But municipal ordinance can’t distinguish based on looks or legal cause.

Sadly, homeless individuals won’t find many solutions on street corners. The meager contributions and handouts cannot supplant steady income. Homelessness isn’t an affliction cured with a handout. It can be a symptom of poverty, mental illness, addictions and family problems.

Our community has many private, faith-based and government agencies treating the conditions that lead to homelessness. Contributions to shelters, mental health centers and food pantries build a safety net far more reliable than street-corner handouts.

We urge Bettendorf and all local elected officials to strengthen that safety net. Invest in systemic solutions. Work with the experts who know and understand the intricacies of homelessness.

In Davenport, aldermen never asked their police to license, check or regulate these solicitations. Police respond only to reports of blocked traffic, enforcing the same laws applicable to all. Davenport traffic division commander Lt. Jamie Brown told Times reporter Jack Cullen the city has few problems with roadside begging.

While man’s laws may differ, faithful Quad-Citians know what their Bible instructs. In literally thousands of references, the Bible counsels instant compassion, not judgment. Cullen found Quad-Citians eager to heed that call with food, clothing and cash contributions.

Bettendorf’s licensing ordinances certainly haven’t diminished roadside begging. And no municipal regulation will stop compassionate donors from helping as they see fit.

Forget about deploying police to referee about three dozen impoverished souls compelled to beg on public roadways. Aldermen who want to help might consider investing municipal resources in our Quad-Cities existing network of shelters, pantries and mental health centers.

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