- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

The Des Moines Register. July 28, 2016

Recent outbreak at ICE facility underscores need to mandate vaccines for some workers

This country’s federal government requires anyone seeking legal, permanent residence here to be vaccinated against 14 diseases, including measles, polio and seasonal flu. Because immunizations protect public health, the mandate for newcomers makes sense.

What does not make sense: The same government fails to require workers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities to be vaccinated. These individuals have extensive contact with the public and are at higher risk for contracting contagious diseases, yet may not be protected against any of them.

Eventually the inevitable happens.

Health officials in Arizona are now attributing the largest current measles outbreak in the country to immigration detention workers who refused to be immunized. Authorities have confirmed 22 cases this month, all stemming from the Eloy Detention Center. The federally-funded facility houses about 1,200 detainees and is managed by a private corrections company.

Vaccines should be a condition of employment in this and similar facilities. Our tax dollars not only fund the salaries of these workers, but also contribute toward the cost of their health care. One detention center worker who contracted measles spent four days in the hospital, and the public foots the bill when government health officials must respond to a disease outbreak. Job applicants who refuse immunization for anything other than legitimate, medical reasons can seek employment elsewhere.

Requiring vaccinations is not a new or radical idea. It has been more than 100 years since the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the power of government to mandate them. In 1905 it upheld an ordinance in Cambridge, Mass. requiring all adult citizens to be vaccinated against smallpox in the wake of an epidemic. Laws in every state require immunizations for children attending school. Most hospitals and health clinics impose such requirements on workers.

In 2009, the University of Iowa mandated all employees at its hospitals and clinics be vaccinated for seasonal influenza. It rightly recognized it had a responsibility to protect patients from being treated by individuals who may contract and spread the flu.

More employers, including government employers, should do the same. And they would be within their rights to do so.

Employers frequently impose conditions on initial and continued employment. They require drug tests. Some refuse to hire applicants who test positive for nicotine. Most states recognize at-will employment doctrines, which allow employers to terminate workers for essentially any reason. That could extend to workers who refuse vaccinations.

The majority of people who contract measles are intentionally unvaccinated, according to a review of studies recently published in the medical journal JAMA. Their choice may well have been influenced by an anti-vaccine movement with no basis in science. The rest of us should not pay the price for that decision.


Globe Gazette. July 28, 2016

Intersection needs action quickly

Another tragic accident at another rural intersection has prompted yet another call for traffic-control improvements. We couldn’t agree more that those improvements are essential.

In June, two women were killed at a rural Worth County intersection which had been the site of several previous wrecks. Improvements at the intersection had been talked about previously, but after the horrible accident, Worth County supervisors ordered rumble strips there and at two dozen other intersections. Plus there now are solar-powered flashing lights outlining the stop signs for north-south traffic. Nothing is foolproof, but those changes should go a long way in increasing safety.

Now, attention has been focused on the intersection of the Avenue of the Saints and Quarry Road/Highway 218 in Floyd County, at the small community of Floyd just west of Charles City. Quarry Road takes traffic southbound while Highway 218 goes north.

For a small community, there’s considerable traffic at that interchange. Traffic is busy on the Avenue of the Saints because of Charles City, including the ethanol plant visible from the four-lane highway. Plus there’s one big truck stop there with another major truck stop in the works. For traffic control, there are stop signs for north-south traffic. Because of all those factors, the accident rate is high.

According to Floyd County data, there have been 35 crashes at the intersection since June 1, 2011. The most recent involved a fatality last week when a motorcyclist drove in front of an oncoming semitrailer.

That death sparked a community meeting Tuesday attended by 100 people voicing their support for an overpass with on- and off-ramps at the intersection. An online petition calling for the Iowa Department of Transportation to take action had nearly 3,000 signatures as of Tuesday.

Of course, the DOT is well aware of the problems there and has taken some measures to improve safety. It also has taken preliminary steps should an overpass be approved.

But such a project could take years, and we agree with residents at Tuesday’s meeting that some stopgap measures should be considered. Suggestions included lowering the speed limit (which most drivers likely would ignore) and putting in flashing lights, even a stoplight.

That’s up to state traffic experts to decide. What’s up to concerned residents is to keep the pressure on the state to do something. State Rep. Todd Prichard of Charles City appears poised to be the leader in those efforts. He urged those with concerns to send letters to state transportation officials.

” . It’s up to us to kind of stay organized and send a message to the DOT that this project has got to be a priority,” he told the crowd Tuesday.

We believe those who care - and there appear to be many - will indeed make it a priority. Working with state and local cooperation, we believe improvements can be made relatively quickly, just like they were in Worth County, and that wheels can be set in motion toward the ultimate goal of building an overpass at this deadly intersection.


Sioux City Journal. July 24, 2016

Legislature should look at felon voting rights

By not, in effect, legislating from the bench by reinterpreting the state’s Constitution, the Iowa Supreme Court made the proper ruling earlier this summer in a case about voting rights for felons.

Next year, the Legislature should do its part and take the lead in further study and discussion of this issue.

In a 4-3 decision on June 30 in the case of a woman who lost her right to vote after a 2008 drug conviction, the Supreme Court ruled the Iowa Constitution’s lifetime ban on voting for anyone convicted of “any infamous crime” extends to all felons, thus upholding the state’s permanent ban on a convicted felon’s right to vote.

What, exactly, did Iowa’s founders mean by “any infamous crime”? Did they, in fact, mean “any felony”?

We were uncomfortable with having the Supreme Court rewrite the meaning of “any infamous crime” and do not believe executive action is the proper course to follow on voting rights for felons. (Gov. Terry Branstad in 2011 issued an executive order reversing former Gov. Tom Vilsack’s 2005 executive order in which he created an automatic process for restoration of voting rights for all felons who completed their sentences.)

Rather, we believe the Legislature should take another look at this issue with an eye toward providing clarity by debating, then adopting a specific, reasonable definition for “any infamous crime,” either through an amendment to the Constitution or, if possible, a change in Iowa Code.

“The issue is squarely in the General Assembly’s hands,” University of Iowa law professor Todd Pettys told The Des Moines Register following the Supreme Court’s decision. “The Legislature clearly has a central role to play here, and if they don’t want all felonies to count as infamous crimes they can enact legislation that says so.”

Iowa State Sen. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said she will pursue a change in state law.

“In my opinion, the majority ruling seems to invite the General Assembly to amend current Iowa Code to redefine ‘infamous crime’ for purposes of disenfranchisement as something other than all felonies,” Wolfe told The Register. “I certainly think the average Iowan would not agree that all felonies, every category of felonies, reaches the level of infamous crimes.”

We agree with Wolfe and do not believe this is a one-size-fits-all matter.

To his credit, Branstad in May adopted changes designed to streamline the process convicted felons must follow in seeking to have their right to vote restored.

Still, we believe our state should go further. Iowa is, in fact, one of only three states (the others are Florida and Kentucky) to permanently bar convicted felons from voting unless they complete a process for restoration.

As a state, Iowa should want convicted felons to become rehabilitated, productive members of society after they have served the punishment for their crimes and should support this goal through action.

To these ends, we encourage state lawmakers to revisit the subject of voting rights for them during next year’s session.


Iowa City Press-Citizen. July 29, 2016

Police stop is opportunity for cool-headed discussion

Our reaction to the headline was, in all likelihood, a typical one: After reading those words, “Four gun barrels in his face,” a collective intake of breath. Could it be the unrest and violence sweeping the nation had come to Johnson County? Had police rashly used force on a young black man, and were we witness to another in the long line of incidents which has sparked a massive movement for racial fairness in our justice system?

Thankfully, University of Iowa football player Faith Ekakitie’s police stop was nothing of the sort. While searching for an armed robbery suspect, four officers approached Ekakitie based on a description they’d received of the perpetrator. After a routine check of Ekakitie’s information and a search for weapons, the officers let him go, with body camera recording confirming both the police account and Ekakitie’s later Facebook post about the incident.

What’s perhaps most surprising about the situation is how calm and collected both parties were, and how little acrimony characterized the response. Ekakitie thanked the police in his Facebook note. With all the stops gone wrong that have been recorded over the last few years, it’s odd to see one go as well as it probably could. Which is a reminder that this stop is but one point of data, an instance that shouldn’t be extrapolated to reflect all community encounters with police. It should not be used to indicate either a positive or a negative trend.

But we should count our blessings in the wake of the stop. We’re now able to discuss these issues of community policing without an injury or death spurring the conversation. This should be an opportunity to confront the very real problems some municipalities have with relations between their police and minority communities. Johnson County doesn’t have the same population as, say, New York, but this is a discussion that should be had nonetheless. Costly mistakes are possible anywhere in high-tension jobs, and no police force can account for every error. But without a violent incident fresh on the mind, everyone should feel confident in coming to the table and working out the best way forward to minimize potential abuses of authority.

At the moment, it seems people are more than happy to have that discussion. Local equity groups should sit down with police departments to make their interests known and to hash out a way forward, if they aren’t already. Striking a balance between effective law enforcement and compassionate attitudes toward neighborhoods in departmental jurisdiction is essential to maintain an environment of trust.

This is not to say the situation is perfect. Talk to minority residents about their day-to-day experiences and there’s little doubt they’ll have more than a few stories of unease: a time they were followed through a store, an instance of verbal abuse. The incarceration and arrest rates - numbers which show disproportionate treatment between whites and blacks - bear these narratives out, nationally and statewide. Ekakitie himself spoke of the fear he felt in the first moments of his stop, the knowledge he could have very easily been yet another statistic.

That he was not, and that the Iowa City police did their duty responsibly, is a comfort in these troubled times. But a model response is no reason for inaction. Preemptive work will keep that record admirable.

To that end, we welcome residents to weigh in with their thoughts and feelings on the issue right here, by submitting letters or guest columns to opinion@press-citizen.com. Groups and individuals are also invited to join us in discussion, to give us a better understanding of present circumstances.

A community that welcomes discussion of difficult situations and events is one that will find resolution to the issues that trouble it. It does no one any good to be removed from the world around them, and we are no exception.

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