- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

Des Moines Register. Feb. 6, 2016

Do we need loaded guns on ATVs, snowmobiles?.

Apparently, some members of the Iowa Legislature have far too much time on their hands.

Despite all of the pressing issues facing lawmakers, including school funding and water quality, some of them are pursuing legislation that would make it legal for Iowans to carry loaded firearms while driving or riding on all-terrain vehicles or snowmobiles.

Currently, Iowa law prohibits firearms on ATVs and snowmobiles unless the weapons are unloaded and enclosed in a carrying case.

The law exists not only to protect people from bullets accidentally fired as these vehicles bounce over rough terrain, but to discourage hunting from moving vehicles. Under a separate Iowa law, one can use a snowmobile or ATV to go hunting in Iowa, but it is illegal for hunters to use the vehicles to chase game, or to assist in taking the animals.

Amazingly, some Republican lawmakers think - or claim to think - that this restriction infringes on people’s constitutional right to defend themselves. Last week, a House subcommittee chaired by Rep. Brian Best, a Republican lawmaker from Glidden, approved a bill that would eliminate the law.

“I see this as a personal-protection measure, and (want) to make sure that Iowans can freely exercise their Second Amendment rights,” Best said.

“We don’t believe there is any good reason to strip people of their right to self-defense,” Richard Rogers, a lobbyist for the Iowa Firearms Coalition, told the Register.

Gov. Branstad’s Department of Natural Resources is staying neutral on the proposal, so it falls to the Iowa State Snowmobile Association and Iowans for Gun Safety to plead for common sense. Both organizations are opposed to the change in Iowa law.

“The concern is for safety and getting access (to) private land, which is difficult and challenging right now,” said Mike Heller, a lobbyist for the snowmobile association. “Our board thought that if guns are allowed it will be more difficult to get that access.”

Rep. Liz Bennett, a Cedar Rapids Democrat, has expressed concern about the potential for accidental shootings. Republican lawmakers say such concerns are unfounded, but just four days before this bill was introduced in the Iowa House, a Wisconsin teenager was accidentally shot in the leg while hunting rabbits with a friend on an ATV.

Apparently, some members of the Iowa Legislature have far too much time on their hands.

Lawmakers should also be mindful of the fact that under Iowa law, children of any age can ride on, or even drive, an ATV, regardless of the vehicle’s weight and size, on privately owned land. Do they really want to add loaded, uncased guns to that mix?

The existing state law should remain in place. It explicitly allows Iowans to carry guns on snowmobiles and ATVs, and requires only that they be unloaded and in cases during transport.

The argument that this restriction, which parallels those that pertain to automobiles and airplanes, somehow infringes on citizens’ Second Amendment right to bear arms is ludicrous.


The Quad-City Times. Feb. 5, 2016

Make police videos public.

The promise of body cameras is faltering in Iowa, under the weight of secrecy and self-preservation. And the program’s foundation will keep crumbling until the General Assembly backfills the crater that time eroded in the state’s right-to-know law.

Transparency and accountability was the pledge when police departments started strapping cameras to officers’ chests. Cops and the public alike will be protected by the first-person perspective, law enforcement officials promised in 2014 as Ferguson, Mo., burned.

Yet a 2015 fatal shooting in Burlington has exposed the inherent flaw in Iowa’s Freedom of Information Act, a law tweaked when email was shiny and new. Burlington Officer Jesse Hill was cleared of wrongdoing by a Des Moines County prosecutor. Hill walked into a domestic dispute and was attacked by the couple’s dog, officials said. He fired at the aggressive German shepherd mix and struck owner Autumn Steele instead.

But the Burlington Police Department flouted the basic tenets of transparency when, after significant public pressure, just 12 shaky seconds of Hill’s body camera video were released. Steele’s face briefly comes into view as Hill approaches her. She can be heard screaming, presumably at her husband, Gabriel. A snarling dog can be heard, and Hill commands the Steeles to “get your dog.”

Two shots. Mrs. Steele grunts. Fade to black.

In December, the Iowa Public Information Board kept alive the Steele family’s quest to see more, overruling the agency’s staff by a razor-thin 4-3 vote. The Burlington Police Department contends that FOIA doesn’t require the video’s release. The board’s dissenters said they, too, prefer that FOIA require the full release of body camera footage. The problem, they argued, is with the law itself, which says nothing about the new technology.

And they’re right.

Now the rush is on in Des Moines, as both sides are seeking legal clarity from the General Assembly. Many police departments want body cameras largely exempted from FIOA. The Iowa Freedom of Information Council is rightly fighting back, lobbying for greater transparency in the code.

One side is looking out for itself, while again reinforcing public mistrust. The other side is defending the citizenry.

A slew of Iowa’s largest police departments flout nationally accepted procedural guidelines for body cameras, The Des Moines Register reported. In fact, the officers involved in an incident get a private showing of the video footage. And then, as in Burlington, the public is left with only the official line.

Yet, as Americans are now keenly aware, reality is far more complicated than what’s described in police reports.

It was true when a passerby’s cellphone captured New York City officers choking-out a black man in 2015 for the laughable violation of slinging individual cigarettes. It was true when security cameras caught a Cleveland officer leaping from his cruiser and immediately gunning down a 12-year-old holding a toy firearm in a public park. It’s the non-police videos, not the official documentation, that are now reshaping America’s shoot-first brand of policing.

The U.S. Department of Justice, state police agencies and local departments, amid the carnage and public anger, pledged to do better. Pricey body cameras, they swore, would be the answer - an unbiased, truth-teller protecting both cop and citizen alike.


The Mason City Globe Gazette. Feb. 3, 2016

It’s Winter Dance Party: Rock on!

You have to admit: Mother Nature sure put the winter in Winter Dance Party.

And while we imagine the folks at the Surf Ballroom were none too thrilled with the big blizzard, we’re certain they didn’t have time to worry about it. They just shrugged their shoulders and went back to the task at hand - presenting another unforgettable week of legendary music and great memories.

How do we love the Winter Dance Party? Let us count a few ways.

1. There is a mystique about it like no other.

There are, of course, many music celebrations around the world in venues large and small, from ornate concert halls to dusty country stages. But there can only be one event that pays tribute to three pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll - Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper - in the last venue they played.

Holly, especially, continues to have a notable impact on rock music, with his innovative approach both vocally and instrumentally providing inspiration for numerous performers, some legends such as the well-traveled story of Paul McCartney: “If it wasn’t for the Crickets, there wouldn’t be any Beatles,” he said.

Winter Dance Party fans love that music not only because it so much fun to listen to and evokes so many memories, but also because it is a foundation that rock ‘n’ roll has been built on - truly a reason to celebrate any time, anywhere.

2. It turns North Iowa greener in the middle of a long winter.

During what would otherwise be a mostly quiet week around Clear Lake and North Iowa, hotels and restaurants do a booming business during Winter Dance Party week.

Hotels are booked year-to-year by the same people.

“See you next year,” they say as they head home.

Even places like libraries, museums and other institutions have more patrons as they offer educational and entertaining activities in the spirit of the Winter Dance Party.

The overall result is a boon to the region’s bottom line.

“Three nights of close to 2,100 (people) a night at the Surf, that has a huge economic impact for the restaurants and even for the retailers,” said Tim Coffey, executive director of the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a mini-Christmas here in Clear Lake for our business community.”

3. The stars of the Winter Dance Party.

The Surf staff constantly scours the country - the world, even - for talent with connections to the Winter Dance Party era. This year’s lineup features such notables as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas; the sons of Ricky Nelson, Matthew and Gunnar; Wanda Jackson; and others.

But the highlight will be a reunion of members of the Crickets as they pay tribute to the group’s late bass player, Joe B. Mauldin, in what will be a memorable night.

The music and the stars keep the people coming back year after year.

“Nowhere else can you take a step back in time to relive or experience how things were in 1959, form a life-long friendship with someone from across the ocean or rub elbows with your favorite rock ‘n’ roll icon,” said Laurie Lietz, the Surf’s executive director.

And certainly, the ballroom itself is a star. Throughout the year, people come from all over the world to see this national landmark. They love it for its history. They are grateful to the Snyder family of Clear Lake who preserved it. Preservation certainly rings true in North Iowa, where numerous memorable structures have been preserved and some given new life.

4. The Surf staff, volunteers and people of North Iowa.

Lietz and her board of directors along with the Snyder family have instilled a sense of pride and welcoming in the staff and many volunteers, and that has extended throughout North Iowa. People comment year after year about the hospitality playing a big part of the Winter Dance Party.

It all meshes every year to make for a successful, memorable week. And for that, we say thank you to the Surf staff and all the rest who make it so.

To those of you visiting North Iowa, we join them in extending a great wintertime welcome. We trust you’ll like it here - and hopefully want to come back time and again, in any season.

But this week, we celebrate Winter Dance Party 2016. Rock on!


The Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Feb. 5, 2016

Iowa’s quirky caucus serves nation well.

The line of Democrats snaked out from the Loras College Fieldhouse, down the long sidewalk, up the stairs and halfway down the block on Alta Vista Street.

At the same time Monday night, a few miles to the west, nearly 1,700 Dubuque County Republicans packed Peosta Community Centre.

It was caucus night, and neither long lines nor forecasts of an approaching blizzard kept Iowans from turning out in record numbers to town centers, schools and restaurants to begin the process of choosing the next president.

Every four years, pundits raise the same arguments about whether it really makes sense to have Iowa kick off this process. The state is not demographically diverse, they say. The process excludes anyone who isn’t available at that particular date and time, they say. True and true. And the process is not particularly efficient, smooth and simple.

Yet there’s something unique and special about the Iowa caucuses, and it is for those very reasons that Iowa has a positive impact on the whole political process.

Iowa is a geographically manageable state for candidates to test the waters of popularity, organization and message. Iowans, for their part, turn out in good numbers to listen to and question these candidates. To use a baseball analogy, Iowa is sort of like spring training.

Between the two parties, about 350,000 Iowans turned out to caucus. That’s pretty impressive for a state of 3 million people. Republicans blew their attendance record out of the water by topping 180,000, a 50 percent increase over 2012. Democrats didn’t climb to the huge numbers of 2008 when 240,000 turned out, but participation was robust nonetheless with more than 170,000.

It can be challenging to get 10 percent of registered voters to actually vote when all they have to do is spend a few minutes at a polling place or fill out a ballot and drop it in the mail. Yet more than 10 percent of all Iowans gave up a full evening Monday to caucus.

It’s what takes place inside those halls and restaurants and school buildings that adds to the unique environment of the Iowa caucus. It’s fascinating to see citizens jamming the room - such as those who filled the dining rooms at Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown, the oldest Iowa restaurant in continuous operation - and speaking from the heart about their favored candidates. They aren’t politicians or polished speakers - just citizens talking to (and then arguing a bit with) their neighbors. You don’t get that with a primary election. That’s why caucuses are different - and special.

While it might not be the most scientific approach - yes, on rare occasions a coin toss is involved - the Iowa method does provide insight to candidates that an arm’s-length primary never could.

As the number of people willing to get out and caucus grows, state and local party officials must examine the size and number of locations chosen as caucus sites.

Both Roosevelt Middle School and the Peosta Community Centre, which hosted multiple Republican precincts, had long lines and some parking issues because of the heavy turnout. More sites would alleviate some of those problems and streamline the process next time. Organizers should also make sure to have plenty of voter registration forms, as the Democrats ran out in at least one caucus site.

Iowans showed the nation on Monday night that they deserve this important role in the process. Hats off to all those voters who took their responsibility seriously and invested their valuable time and perspectives.


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