- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

Des Moines Register. Feb. 27 2016

Cannabis issue demands comprehensive approach.

There’s no question that Iowa’s two-year-old law on cannabis oil is an unworkable mess. It doesn’t do what the governor and some lawmakers pretended it would do, and has so far generated nothing but confusion and anger.

The law allows people with severe epilepsy to legally use doctor-approved cannabis oil. Or, rather, it purports to allow that. The truth is, the 2014 law conflicts with a longstanding state law that makes it illegal to manufacture or distribute cannabis oil in Iowa, and with a largely unenforced federal law that bars its transport across state lines.

In other words, Iowans can theoretically use doctor-approved cannabis oil to treat epilepsy, but they can’t buy it here, and they can’t transport it here from the states where it can be purchased legally.

And it gets worse. Last summer, the Register reported that the state’s cannabis-oil authorization program had spent more than $100,000 creating and issuing registration cards for cannabis oil users to just 50 people. That works out to $2,000 per card and, for all of the above-stated reasons, the cards are pretty much worthless.

Fortunately, some legislators are trying to fix the law by legalizing the manufacture and distribution of the product within Iowa. A House study bill has survived one of the initial legislative deadlines for consideration, and is now eligible for debate on the House floor.

The bad news - and there’s always bad news when it comes to the sausage-making business of legislating - is that other elements of the proposed legislation have been scaled back to win approval from those legislators who fear that physician-ordered medical use of cannabis oil will somehow lead to reefer madness and the corruption of our youth.

In its original form, the bill would have enabled people with a wide range of medical conditions - including cancer, AIDS or HIV, Hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - to access cannabis oil with a doctor’s order.

But backers have had to scale that back to include only intractable epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and cancer, and only if a doctor has determined that a patient has less than 12 months to live.

So, Iowans seeking relief from the symptoms of AIDS, or those facing a more protracted decline in health that involves years of debilitating pain, are out of luck.

“I don’t like to pick some losers and winners,” Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, a pharmacist, told the Register. “And I think in some cases that’s what we’re doing by reducing it to three different medical conditions.”

That’s exactly right. The mystery is why legislators feel they are more qualified than medical experts to determine who’s entitled to cannabis oil. This is just one of several bills - involving fetal-tissue research, medical tests for newborn infants, and physician notification for women with dense breast tissue - in which lawmakers have figuratively stood up and said, “I am not a doctor - but I play one in the state Capitol.”

If, as hoped, the manufacture and distribution of cannabis oil is legalized in Iowa, administrative rules will need to be written, and an infrastructure put in place for oversight and regulation, all of which is contemplated by the bill now being considered.

Regardless of the fate of this particular bill, lawmakers will need to step back and take a more comprehensive look at medical marijuana and cannabis oil next year. This issue is far too important to be reduced to a series of half-measures that don’t help Iowans in need.

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The Quad-City Times. Feb. 26, 2016

Try to force gun owners into new safety standards and get throttled. Incentivize good practice and, just maybe, build consensus and do a little good.

That consensus is exactly what legislation moving through the Iowa House hopes to achieve. HF 2347, which breezed through the House Public Safety Committee earlier this month, would grant tax breaks refunding up to $500 for the purchase of a new gun safe. It’s among a slew of gun bills flooding the House. This one, at least, gets it right.

Few issues are more divisive than gun regulation right now. Any hint of new regulation is met with the cries from the National Rifle Association - ironically, an organization once committed to gun safety - and its not-so-merry band of demagogues. Meanwhile, the unreasonable seize-all-guns crowd on the left dominate the opposition.

Something has to change.

Firearms are an important part of American life. And they have been for centuries. But, polls show, the reason for ownership has shifted dramatically over the past few decades. What had long been tools for hunting are now seen by many as must-have home defense devices. It doesn’t seem to matter that the numbers suggest firearms are very rarely used by regular citizens to defend themselves or their families. The evolving viewpoint, in a practical sense, can result in more improperly stored firearms.

A gun in a safe isn’t much good to someone always looking for immediate access. That wasn’t an issue for the whitetail hunters of the past.

For years, organizations, such as the American Association of Pediatrics, have waged a losing battle in statehouses throughout the country. Mandate proper storage, they contend, without answering obvious questions about actually enforcing such a law.

Physicians bury lawmakers under piles of statistics, which show the dangers improperly stored guns pose to children. It’s a danger that’s only increasing as firearms evolve. Manual safeties, for instance, were never fool-proof. Even those simple safeguards are being replaced by easily bypassed mechanical alternatives on semi-automatic pistols.

Sometimes the well-meaning doctors get some legislation. Earlier this month, Democrats in the Wisconsin House pitched a slate of gun regulations that would, among other things, mandate proper storage. The predictable squeals followed. The legislation is dead-on-arrival.

This is, after all, a country that bans the U.S. Centers for Disease Control - which monitors car accidents, diseases and even lightning strikes - from studying gun violence.

It’s within this ridiculous framework that HF 2347 exists. Sure, there are questions about cost. No one seems to know how much revenue would be lost through the program. But it probably wouldn’t be much in the grand scale.

You can support the Second Amendment, while acknowledging the huge responsibility a gun owner assumes.

Without saying it, members of the Public Safety Committee endorsed the science-backed concept that an unlocked firearm poses a risk. They admitted that guns should be properly stowed whenever they’re not in use. They backed a state-sponsored campaign to increase proper gun storage.

HF 2347, sponsored by committee Chairman Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, could survive the Republican-dominated House. It’s the Democratic Senate that poses a risk to the bill’s survival. It’s worth noting that all but one Democrat on the House Public Safety Committee backed the bill. But many on the left prefer mandating storage without ponying up any cash. Killing HF 2347 on ideological grounds would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

The American gun debate lives in the extremes. It’s a devastating binary, one that results in pure gridlock. HF 2347 seeks to bridge the gap and that alone makes it worthy of support.

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Sioux City Journal. Feb. 25, 2016

Going after more state money is right strategy for city.

An unexpected, rare opportunity is knocking and our community must answer the door.

In a front-page story today, The Journal reports the city of Davenport withdrew its project from Iowa Reinvestment District Program funding consideration for this year, leaving on the table $10 million it tentatively was awarded for the project by the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board last year.

In light of the decision by the city of Davenport and because additional state funds would provide a boost - perhaps a significant boost - to what we believe is a promising local IRDP proposal, we support, with enthusiasm, our city’s plan to go after more state money.

In June, the board approved $41.5 million in state funding for five IRDP projects, including the Sioux City project, contingent on meeting additional benchmarks by March 1, 2016. In addition to Sioux City and Davenport, the cities of Mason City, Coralville and Grinnell were, tentatively, awarded funds.

Sioux City requested $13.9 million in IRDP money and was awarded a little more than $8 million for a city development plan comprised of the following pieces: A hotel and parking ramp in proximity to the city’s downtown Convention Center; an ag center and hotel on the unused former John Morrell site in the old stockyards area; and redevelopment to commercial use by Ho-Chunk, Inc. of three former industrial buildings in the 100 block of Virginia Street.

“The Iowa Reinvestment District Program is designed to assist communities in developing transformative projects that will improve the quality of life, create and enhance unique opportunities and substantially benefit the community, region and state,” according to the Iowa Economic Development Authority website. “The program provides for up to $100 million in new state hotel/motel and sales tax revenue to be ‘reinvested’ within approved districts. Districts cannot exceed 25 acres in size, and must be in an Enterprise Zone or Urban Renewal Area.”

The city’s strategy, as described in today’s Journal story, to again request $13.9 million for its IRDP project by the March 1 deadline is absolutely the right one.

Finally, due to the potential economic benefits of this project within three key geographic areas of our community, we encourage the public (both city and county government) and private sectors to unite behind the goal of making this plan a reality.

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Mason City Globe Gazette. Feb. 24, 2016

NIACC worthy of honor.

We’re pleased to see a strong community partner honored for its accomplishments - pleased but not surprised.

Because for years we’ve written in our news pages and on this page about the good things North Iowa Area Community College does.

Its achievements were validated once again when the Washington, D.C.-based Aspen Institute selected the Mason City school as one of the top 150 community colleges in the country.

According to a story by Globe Gazette reporter Meredith Colias, every two years the organization announces its list for excellence based on factors such as degree and certificate completion, employment rates and earnings, and equity and diversity.

NIACC also was selected for the honor in 2012 and 2014.

This recognition is important in two major ways. It gives the school the opportunity to compete for $1 million in prize money and up to 50 technology scholarships to be awarded nationwide, and it validates the school’s course of student education and community involvement.

The college excels in tailoring program offerings to student and community needs. It offers students the basics they will need to transfer on to four-year (or more) programs, and offers programs - sometimes in response to local business and industry needs - tailored to allow graduates to enter the work force immediately. It has a high placement rate in career programs and most of those graduates choose to stay in the nine-county North Iowa area, where many jobs are calling for qualified applicants. Those graduates make an immediate impact on the economy by joining the work force, and help grow and strengthen their communities in the long term.

As for community involvement, the college is a strong partner with other North Iowa organizations dedicated to growth and development, and takes a lead role in quality-of-life offerings with programs such as the NIACC Performing Arts & Leadership Series, bringing world-class entertainment and other programs to the North Iowa Community Auditorium.

As a package, it’s easy to see why the college garners praise locally and, once again, recognition nationally as one of the top 150 community colleges among the 1,655 such schools in the United States

While they’re pleased, NIACC officials aren’t surprised about the honor. And they’re certainly not going to rest on their laurels.

“By looking at what we are doing right, what can be tweaked, I think we do improve our quality of education,” said Terri Ewers, vice president of student services at NIACC.

As for targeted areas of improvement, one is in retention rates - estimated at 60 percent - and graduation rates of between 41 and 43 percent in 2015.

They also aren’t worried about competitors for the prize money. Rather, says Ewers, “I think we are viewing it that we are doing something right.”

Something right, indeed, and with a commitment to do even more even better.

NIACC may not win the big prize money, but for our money, NIACC is a winner and we congratulate staff and students who have led it to this major national recognition.

History won’t forget this misstep by Grassley

It was shameful rhetoric from Senate Republicans on Tuesday when they declared they wouldn’t even consider a hearing on anyone President Barack Obama might nominate to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

That shouldn’t sit well with the American voter. Obama wasn’t elected to serve a 3-year term. And it’s repugnant to refer to him as a lame-duck, as Senate Republicans did.

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