- Associated Press - Monday, November 2, 2015

The Des Moines Register. Oct. 29, 2015

Iowa rightly, finally sued over job licensing law.

The state of Iowa will have to answer for a provision in one of its many arcane job licensing laws. Finally. On Tuesday, the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties interest group, filed a lawsuit in Polk County. The defendant: The Iowa Board of Cosmetology Arts & Sciences and all its volunteer board members appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad. The plaintiffs: Two women who simply want to earn money braiding hair.

The complaint alleges a state law requiring hair braiders to obtain a cosmetology license violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and the Iowa Constitution. The bottom line: The law is wrong.

Braiding hair involves no chemicals and poses no health risk to customers. Yet in Iowa, you must obtain a state-issued license to perform the task. That means spending thousands of dollars and 2,100 hours at a for-profit beauty school that is not even required to teach hair braiding and probably doesn’t. It means paying licensing fees, participating in continuing education and answering to a citizen board granted authority by the state to strip you of your license. The requirement on hair braiding is just one of many unreasonable licensing laws that prevent Iowans from finding work and opening businesses. It is the epitome of overzealous, burdensome government regulations. And it disproportionately affects minorities.

For more than two years the Register’s editorial board has encouraged state leaders to reform our job licensing laws, including those related to hair braiding. An Iowan who wants to work massaging necks, interpreting sign language, performing manicures or offering numerous other services must fulfill sometimes ridiculous requirements to secure a license from one of about three dozen state-sanctioned boards. And Iowa leads the country in these job-killing shenanigans. One-third of our workforce must obtain a government license to work, according to a July report on occupational licensing from the Obama administration. This is a higher percentage than any other state and three times higher than some states.

Yet state lawmakers and the governor have refused to act. Now the state is being sued.

One of the plaintiffs, Achan Agit, first learned to braid hair when she was 5 years old. Born in Sudan, she fled her home country in 2001 to escape civil war, arriving in the United States in 2004. She learned to speak English while braiding in other states, moved to Des Moines, saved her money and opened her own salon. But her dreams were shattered by Iowa law.

Agit could not even apply for a cosmetology license because she didn’t complete high school. She closed the business and now braids hair out of her home in exchange for goods such as diapers and food. Yet she still risks getting in trouble with authorities. For each “offense” of braiding hair without a license in Iowa, she could be fined $1,000.

“She believes that owning her own braiding salon would provide her with more reliable and steady work. She could also advertise her services and grow her business, which would help her family have greater financial security and stability,” according to the lawsuit.

The other plaintiff, Aicheria Bell, is a single mom who lives in Des Moines. She trained under hair braiding instructors in Georgia and Texas and completed more than 900 hours of cosmetology school in Minnesota. But that isn’t good enough for this state, where she lives in constant fear of being prosecuted.

These women are among thousands of workers victimized by Iowa’s job licensing laws. The Iowa Legislature must finally revisit the hundreds of pages of statutes and rules that unnecessarily restrict employment opportunities. Many were originally conceived by workers in an industry trying to prevent new workers from entering the profession. Some have absolutely nothing to do with protecting public health.

And if our leaders continue to ignore the problems with these laws, more legal challenges are likely headed our way.

If history is any guide, Iowa will lose this case

The lawsuit filed against the Iowa Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences seeks one dollar in damages for the two plaintiffs. The complaint is not about money. It is about changing an unfair provision in law. If the case does end up going to trail, Iowa will likely lose. The Institute for Justice has filed lawsuits on behalf of hair braiders in several states. Judges declared the statutes unconstitutional in California, Utah and Texas. In other states, including Minnesota, Arkansas and Mississippi, the lawsuits prompted changes in state law before a ruling was issued. The Institute has a challenge pending in Missouri. And now Iowa.

Iowa Attorney General stands up for cosmetology students

In 2013, a Register editorial writer interviewed three African-American cosmetology students as part of an investigation into Iowa cosmetology schools and laws. One young woman had already dropped out of La’ James International College in Johnston. She said the school just as well have granted her a degree in “janitorial services” because much of her time was spent sweeping floors.

“They tell us black hair is just like white hair,” said another student. There were few black clients and the school did not even teach braiding, which is what these women were interested in doing after graduation.

But to legally cut, blow-dry or braid hair in Iowa, state law requires 2,100 hours of training and education - more than double what some states require. Students pay thousands in tuition to cosmetology schools and work for free providing beauty services to clients who also pay the school. Though a dream come true for a for-profit beauty school, it can be a nightmare for students. Many do not finish, leave mired in debt and cannot work in the industry.

Fortunately, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is suing the La’ James chain of cosmetology schools, contending they systematically defraud students and leave them so frustrated they quit before graduation. “What many students experience is a school with extraordinary turnover of instructors, resulting in instructorless classrooms and inconsistent instruction, lack of access to practice their skills, and ultimately, an institution that treats them more like free labor than students,” according to a lawsuit the Iowa attorney general’s office filed in Polk County District Court in August 2014.

A trial is scheduled in early 2016.


The Sioux City Journal. Oct. 29, 2015

Hard Rock honor boosts profile of community, downtown.

We extend our congratulations to ownership, management and staff of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino for earning the 2015 “Outstanding Attraction” award for metro areas from the Iowa Tourism Office and the Travel Federation of Iowa.

The award was announced at the Iowa Tourism Conference in Fairfield last week.

“Receiving this award means so much to our team,” Hard Rock General Manager Todd Moyer said in a statement. “We strive to deliver the very best in hospitality and entertainment every day and are honored to be recognized as a new leader in Iowa’s tourism industry.”

In the larger picture, recognition for Hard Rock increases the profile of our community and draws visitors downtown, where a renaissance of dynamic changes is under way.

The $128 million Hard Rock opened in August 2014, some 16 months after the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission chose the project from among four proposals for a new Woodbury County casino.

From the beginning of the process to build a land-based casino several years ago, our focus was on downtown. As unabashed supporters of downtown who wish to see impressive downtown momentum continue, we consistently supported a move of Woodbury County’s casino to our community’s central core.

The new casino complex and its diversity of amenities will over time, we are confident, provide a significant boost to downtown, leading to more investment, more tax revenue, more jobs, more activity, and, as a leading destination for tourists, more visitors.

More work is necessary because pursuit of progress doesn’t end, but from our perspective the future of downtown looks bright.

Hard Rock is one big reason why.


The Mason City Globe Gazette. Oct. 29, 2015

New wrongful conviction agency is right move.

Federal agents’ missteps, whether intentional or accidental, could mean new trials for some Iowa convicts, and we think it’s appropriate that the state has opened the doors to the possibility.

Gov. Terry Branstad announced Monday that the state has created the Wrongful Convictions Division, which will partner with the national Innocence Project to examine cases to determine if wrongful convictions occurred.

The office will focus on convictions reached in the 1980s and early 1990s in which hair sample analyses played a role because the FBI this spring admitted its agents gave flawed testimony regarding hair analysis over roughly two decades, according to a story from our Des Moines Bureau.

It wasn’t clear why the FBI agents made these blunders - certainly something we wouldn’t expect from the nation’s top cops - but Iowa Public Defender Adam Gregg said they frequently overstated the accuracy and impact of the hair samples. What’s more, they trained state law enforcement agents, including in Iowa, to use those faulty methods.

Thus, Gregg’s office will work with the state Division of Criminal Investigation and the Innocence Project to examine roughly 100 Iowa cases initially in an effort to determine if wrongful convictions might have occurred.

“What’s an acceptable error rate for our criminal justice system? Even if we get it right 99 percent of the time and only get it wrong 1 percent of the time, that would mean there are over 80 innocent people currently incarcerated in Iowa prisons,” Gregg said.

Indeed. And thankfully, Iowa doesn’t have the death penalty. The thought of someone being executed because of faulty evidence is sickening.

So now, the state and the Innocence Project (www.innocenceproject.org) will use DNA evidence wherever possible to re-examine the cases for possible wrongful convictions.

So far, the Innocence Project’s Midwest division is litigating six cases and has 300 on its waiting list. Nationally, 333 people have been exonerated by DNA testing, according to the Innocence Project.

The attorney hired to work in Iowa’s new office has freed seven wrongfully convicted people. She’ll get help from the Innocence Project of Iowa, a separate and local nonprofit group of attorneys.

Of course, the more resources the better when it comes to getting it right.

“This is why partnering with such organizations as the IPI and the WCD will enable all of us to pool our resources, maximize our budgets and provide the best legal representation for innocent and incarcerated people throughout Iowa and the Midwest,” said Tricia Bushnell, legal director for the Midwest Innocence Project.

Still, it could be years before any exoneration takes place. Yet just the fact that the Wrongful Conviction Division has been established in Iowa should give hope to those whose innocence was quashed by faulty evidence, presented perhaps by over-eager or unknowing agents.

We commend Branstad and other state officials for forming the Wrongful Conviction Division. The lawyer hired to work in the office will be paid $80,000 annually from the public defender’s budget, a very reasonable amount in the pursuit of justice.

As Branstad says, “What the creation of this division does is represents another step that we can take to ensure accuracy in the Iowa criminal justice system.”

That’s what Iowans, those in and out of prison, deserve - getting it right.


The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Oct. 30, 2015.

Watch out for deer at this time of year.

It’s the time of year when drivers need to be especially vigilant on the roads, particularly around dusk or dawn.

Deer are on the move, especially during those times, creating hazards on the roadways. And deer are a big problem for drivers in Iowa.

According to the CarInsurance.com website, Iowa ranks third in the nation in the likelihood of car-deer crashes. And State Farm says deer-vehicle collisions are three times more likely to occur on a day in November than they are on any day between Feb. 1 and Aug. 31. October is the second most likely month for a crash involving a deer and a vehicle. December is third.

Crashes involving animals may be unavoidable at times, but there are things drivers can do to lessen the chances.

Trooper Dan Loussaert of the Iowa State Patrol has some tips:

. First, and perhaps most important, don’t swerve to avoid a deer or other animal. “Stay in your lane and hit your brakes,” Loussaert says. Drivers are much more likely to hurt themselves or others if you swerve into another lane or go off the road while trying to avoid a deer. Experts say it’s better to hit the deer, causing some damage to your car, than to risk injury or death by veering away from the animal.

. Increase your following distance and “even slow down a bit, especially at times of dawn and dusk,” he says.

. Try to avoid roads if parallel to a nearby four-lane road, especially in the morning and evening. “Not only will this help you avoid deer, it also may help you avoid some machinery on the roadway,” Loussaert says.

. Use bright lights when it’s legally possible. It may help you spot deer on or near the road sooner, but be careful not to blind oncoming drivers.

A couple of other tips:

. Deer crossing signs are placed along sections of roadway for a reason; those areas are known to have lots of deer. Still, be vigilant in other areas too.

. Deer move in packs, so if you see one, you can bet there are more nearby.

Statistics compiled by the National Highway Safety Administration are staggering: There are about 1.5 million deer-related car accidents annually; the accidents result in more than $1 billion in vehicle damage; and they cause 175-200 fatalities and 10,000 injuries every year.

Don’t become part of those statistics; keep an eye out for deer along roads this time of year.


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