- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

The Des Moines Register. Sept. 22, 2015

To end the lawsuit, fix water pollution.

If state Sen. Randy Feenstra is serious about ending the Des Moines Water Works’ lawsuit over water quality, he could do several things. In fact, the Iowa Legislature should have done them a long time ago.

As the Register reported Monday, Feenstra, a Republican from Hull in northwest Iowa, plans to introduce a bill in the 2016 session of the Iowa General Assembly to block the Water Works lawsuit against three northern Iowa drainage districts. This is his latest tactic against the Des Moines drinking water utility after his unsuccessful effort to get rural Iowans to boycott Des Moines businesses.

The Water Works Board of Trustees is suing in an effort to get the federal court to bring agricultural drainage districts under the regulatory authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The lawsuit’s goal is that the EPA would enforce the Clean Water Act standards for agricultural drainage districts in the same way it does for cities and industries that send pollution into Iowa waterways.

It is not hard to understand the sentiments of those who want to resolve the lawsuit without having the two sides go to court. The Greater Des Moines Partnership has taken steps to get the utility and rural agricultural interests to work toward a settlement. And, of course, farm organizations have launched a public relations and advertising campaign condemning the Water Works for filing the lawsuit.

The solution, however, is not for the Legislature to interject itself into a lawsuit already under way in federal court - assuming that would be legal in the first place. If lawmakers are serious about ending the lawsuit, they should cure the problem that prompted the lawsuit in the first place. The state could do that by taking more aggressive action to substantially reduce excessive nitrate in the Des Moines utility’s drinking water source.

First, the Legislature should put some serious money and teeth in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which is totally voluntary at this point. Achieving that strategy will require a substantial investment in conservation programs to slow the movement of water and to absorb more nutrients at the field level. That will have the added benefit of slowing soil erosion, reducing floods and removing other pollutants from Iowa’s water.

That investment will be borne not just by farmers but by Iowa taxpayers as well. The Legislature has not appropriated anywhere near enough money for this strategy to succeed. One way to make that happen is to pass the fraction-of-a-penny increase in the state sales tax for the constitutionally protected Iowa Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

If farmers are expected to make this investment, some will need more incentive than they have now. And, if taxpayers are expected to pay for conservation programs, they should be able to see measurable results. Neither is happening now, and that must change.

So, if Senator Feenstra and his fellow lawmakers are serious about resolving the real pollution problem that Des Moines water consumers face, they should tackle that problem. Passing a bill to block a lawsuit will do nothing about that.


The Quad-City Times. Sept. 25, 2015

Former foster kids give back.

Amber and Amy Haskill’s story is inspiring.

Growing up as foster children is tough enough, but the twins, who turn 15 next week, survived being separated by the system and have been adopted by Alli and Dan Haskill of Rock Island, joining their sons Logan, 15, and Liam, 13.

Just those facts show a huge success for the girls and the foster care system, but it wasn’t enough for Amber and Amy. They know how tough it is for foster children, and they want to help children who are in the system. So, they created Closet2Closet, a program that provides free clothing to foster kids age 10 to 18.

The twins started the charity about two years ago, taking donated clothing, washing it and giving it to foster children.

“When you are moving around, oftentimes that person doesn’t get to keep anything,” Amy told us in a story in Monday’s paper. “You just go to the next home with nothing.”

“When I came here to Rock Island, I came with nothing but the clothes on my back,” Amber told us.

Q-C Closet2Closet was created to address that.

The program has grown enough that the Haskills now have a storage unit to hold the clothing, and they hold shopping days for foster kids on a quarterly basis. The next is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Trinity Lutheran Church’s Faith Hall, 1330 13th St., Moline. Foster children can simply show up with either a foster parent or a case worker with proof they are in the foster care system.

They also give out care packages that include toiletry items, new socks and underwear and other personal items.

For their efforts, the twins were singled out recently as Citizens of the Year by the city of Rock Island. They make all of the Quad-Cities proud.


The Burlington Hawk Eye. September 24, 2015

Body camera discrepancies.

Here is how they do it in Seattle: The images inside the police cruiser are fuzzy, impossible to discern until a laptop glows and street lights illuminate the dash. A few minutes pass and the officer is on foot, approaching a white sedan. There are flashlights in the darkness, and maybe that’s the light of a shopping center in the distance.

It’s not the greatest body-cam video but one of hundreds captured each day by the Seattle Police Department. The departments then uploads to YouTube images captured on body cameras attached to officers. In Burlington, releasing body-camera videos has been an editorial decision made by those in possession of the cameras. That overreaching use of power - some would say abuse of power - by government is the reason this newspaper and the family members of Autumn Steele, want more than a 12-second video of Steele being shot and killed by a Burlington Police officer in January. The government tells us it has fully complied with the law. It redacted considerable amounts of the video before releasing just 12 seconds of it. It refuses to provide audio of police communications of the incident - audio you hear routinely on cops shows on television. It has essentially told the public that government gets to be judge and jury of what the public gets to know about what the government is doing.

We think otherwise, and the matter is making its way through the Iowa Public Information Board. It’s an important issue. If government prevails, it would permit government to censor public information presumably because its release could harm law enforcement’s reputation. We can think of no other reason for the government’s zealousness in attempting to keep secret the entire video of this incident. County Attorney Amy Beavers looked into the matter, including the entire body-cam video, and determined no charges would be filed against Officer Hill. Case closed, she declared.

The Iowa Department of Investigation thinks otherwise. Sure the case is “technically” closed, they argued before the IPIB, but in reality, no law-enforcement case is ever “closed” by definition, so the government can keep secrets.

That’s a scary proposition for the public.

Government, in the Steele cased, wants us to believe everything was handled by the book. If that’s the case, there isn’t anything to hide. So why is it hiding it?

Seattle should be a template for all law enforcement agencies. Meanwhile, the local government is spending your money to keep secrets from us. It should be ordered to stop keeping those secrets and release the materials requested.


The Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Sept. 25, 2015.

Iowa fiscal report good news— mostly.

Following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Iowa Auditor Mary Mosiman continues to earn the reputation of “taxpayer watchdog.”

When David Vaudt held the job for a decade, Iowans could count on him to assess state finances candidly, without partisan concern. His no-holds-barred reviews sometimes raised the ire of politicians, especially fellow Republicans, but they always earned the appreciation of taxpayers. Having a state official assigned to scrutinize spending is a healthy approach to the state’s fiscal health.

Mosiman has proved to be equally on point with her review, regardless of the politics involved. In her assessment of Fiscal 2016 spending, Mosiman found lots that taxpayers will be happy about, and a few concerns as well.

Overall, the auditor’s report confirmed what most constituents probably knew: Iowa lawmakers are pretty sensible when it comes to spending. We don’t max out the credit cards. We pay our bills. We fill in the reserve accounts we’re required to fill. Like a lot of Iowans, the state lives within its means.

But there was one point in Mosiman’s assessment that did raise a few eyebrows: “The state is significantly decreasing its use of one-time resources for ongoing expenses.”

Decreasing? One would expect so.

Gov. Terry Branstad beat the drum against one-time spending so steadily it echoed through the chambers. It was the prospect of one-time spending that brought out the governor’s veto pen when it came to supplemental funding for education. The deal, brokered after many weeks of legislative extra innings, included a bipartisan agreement to include $56 million in supplemental funding along with a 1.25 percent increase.

Lawmakers insisted the supplemental money was going to be earmarked for special initiatives, not ongoing expenses like salaries. But the deal smelled too much like applying one-time money toward regular operations for Branstad, who has been highly critical of that approach.

Now Mosiman’s report indicates that while the state is doing a good job of not going crazy on the one-time spending thing, it isn’t a practice that has been completely eliminated.

Here are two specific references in Mosiman’s report:

(asterisk) $330 million of surplus carryforward included in the $8.7 billion of resources supporting the state budget. Surplus carryforward is not a reliable, ongoing, revenue source.

(asterisk) $12 million of one-time resources used for ongoing expenses.

It seems hard to imagine Branstad, like Mosiman a Republican, signing off on any one-time spending, given his reaction to the supplemental aid for education.

If ever there was a use for one-time spending on this governor’s watch, it should have been to approve the arduously negotiated education funding that both chambers and both parties agreed to.

Mosiman’s report is mostly positive; it’s pretty clear that Iowa’s fiscal house is in order, and Branstad deserves his share of the credit for that.

But it’s troubling that the very practice that presented an impassable roadblock for education funding still persists in other instances.

The review of finances by Mosiman further underscores the importance of having a fiscal watchdog in the auditor’s office.


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