- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

Des Moines Register. May 24, 2016

Was Rep. Young bullied into switching his LGBT vote?

They say that if you like either laws or sausages, you should never watch them being made.

Rarely has the congressional sausage-making looked uglier than last week when a group of Republican members of the House strong-armed their colleagues into changing their votes on an anti-discrimination measure.

It happened last Thursday, as the final votes were being tallied on a bill amendment that would have barred federal contractors from discriminating against members of the LGBT community.

The amendment had just secured enough votes for passage, with 217 votes in favor and 206 votes in opposition, as the clock ran out. The measure needed only 213 votes to pass.

But GOP leaders then decided to hold the vote open, buying a few more minutes of time in which Republicans pressured members to change their vote.

The House erupted in chaos, with members milling about, shouting, booing and yelling at each other. “Need two more votes,” Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., announced as he moved from one Republican to the next. Angry Democrats protested, chanting, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as the vote total shifted and the bill went down in flames.

At least seven Republicans reportedly changed their votes, including Rep. David Young of Iowa.

As reported by The Hill, the rules of the House stipulate that once the clock expires on a vote, the electronic voting machines are to be switched off and members are asked whether they wish to change their vote. Those who do are expected to approach the front of the chamber and register their changed vote in person, openly acknowledging their reversal.

But in this case, the question was never posed. Instead, GOP leaders held the vote open and allowed members to make the switch without having to step forward and identify themselves.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, was the apparent leader of the effort to persuade GOP lawmakers to switch their vote. To their credit, some Republicans stood their ground and refused to be bullied, including Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. According to Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat, Dent told McCarthy to “get lost,” at which point McCarthy “went around and twisted everybody else’s arms. . I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that craven and that ugly in my time in Congress.”

So why did Rep. Young change his vote?

“The congressman’s recorded vote today was both consistent with his position and previous recorded votes on this issue,” Young’s spokeswoman, Meg Baglien, said last week, neatly sidestepping the issue.

Baglien didn’t respond to calls and emails this week asking whether she or the congressman would be willing to elaborate on what transpired.

If Young was truly opposed to the measure, he should have no problem defending his position, which matches that of Iowa’s other Republican House members, Reps. Steve King and Rod Blum, both of whom voted against the amendment from the outset.

As it stands now, however, it appears that Young voted his conscience in initially supporting the amendment, only to be beaten into submission by party leaders who opposed the measure. If so, he caved to pressure from individuals who don’t represent Iowa and who were willing to run roughshod over the House rules in order to get their way.

Iowans will respect a congressman who doesn’t always vote their way as long as that congressman has done his homework and is doing what he believes is in the best interests of Iowa and the nation. But they won’t tolerate a congressman who allows himself to become a tool of either special interests or the party leadership. That’s true of both conservatives and progressives.

It could be that Young, still in his first term representing Iowa’s 3rd District, voted the way he did because he needs the support of party leaders if he’s to be re-elected in the fall. But for Iowans, the question is no longer whether Young can get re-elected; it’s whether he deserves to be re-elected.


Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. May 25, 2016

Congress recognizes opiod problem.

With opioids taking more than 28,000 lives in 2014, a leading cause of accidental deaths in the nation, the House and Senate are finally addressing the scourge.

After the Senate passed comprehensive legislation in March, the House last week approved 18 bills dealing with an epidemic affecting 2 million people. A conference committee must reconcile the differences, but the focus is on treatment.

Opioids encompass a wide range of legal painkillers or “opiates,” originally derived from the opium poppy, as well as illegal narcotics such as heroin. Prescribed painkillers, often made with synthetic sources, include oxycodone (OxyContin, Fentora, and Percocet and Percodan, which also contain acetaminophen) and hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet and Norco).

Fourteen years ago, pharmaceutical companies convinced regulators and the medical community supposedly non-addictive opioids were a remedy for many painful conditions. Perdue Pharma led the way, aggressively marketing OxyContin beginning in 1996. But in 2007, it pleaded guilty to misleading authorities on OxyContin’s addictive nature and paid a $600 million fine. The drug would have total sales of $27 billion through 2014.

From 1999 to 2012, all U.S. painkiller prescriptions quadrupled to 259 million - more than the adult population. Opioid-related deaths tripled to 28,647 in 2014 with 19,000 blamed on prescription drugs, the remainder on heroin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45 percent of heroin addicts are addicted to painkillers.

While it makes sense to attack problems at the source - prescriptions, the Law of Unintended Consequences kicks in with opiates.

According to a recent survey by IMS Health, opioid prescriptions have declined every year since 2012. The Drug Enforcement Agency and the CDC began limiting hydrocodone in 2014. Yet opioid-related deaths have increased as addicts turned to heroin instead.

Marcia Wulfekuhle, an addiction therapist at Pathways Behavioral Services in Waterloo, told The Courier earlier this year alcohol remains the leading area addiction, but heroin has grown from 2 percent to 4 percent in just three years. Seventy percent of the heroin addicts told her their “gateway drug” was a pain pill.

Admissions to substance abuse clinics in Iowa for heroin addiction - primarily in Polk, Johnson, Linn, Black Hawk, Dubuque and Scott counties - reached a record high of 2 percent last year, an increase of 0.6 percent, according to the state Office of Drug Control Policy. There were 19 heroin-related Iowa fatalities in 2014.

Admissions from prescription drug abuse dropped 1 percent to 5.3 percent.

Congress should be commended for putting the emphasis on treatment.

The Senate bill, approved 94-1, would provide grants to states, local governments and nonprofits to improve prescription drug monitoring and treatment for addicts, while expanding prevention, education and law enforcement initiatives.

The House bills include provisions for an inter-agency task force to set standards for doctors to manage painkillers and requires states receiving federal grants to ensure infants born to opioid-addicted mothers will be cared for safely after leaving the hospital.

According to a National Institutes of Health survey published in November, about 75 percent of people with drug-use disorders do not receive any treatment, because of overwhelmed facilities or lack of insurance, although Medicaid and policies procured on the health insurance exchanges require coverage.

Treatment also can take many forms, including drugs such naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose, and buprenorphine, an opioid that can wean addicts from more dangerous opioids, including heroin, according to the CDC.

States have been active. The American Academy of Pain Management, representing medical professionals who receive funding from the drug industry, estimates state legislatures are considering 375 proposals to regulate painkillers and pain clinics.

Some states have online databases so doctors can determine if a patient is getting prescriptions from other doctors. West Virginia, an epicenter for the epidemic with numerous worker-related injuries, has turned to pain management clinics, which rely on drugs other than opiates, injections, physical therapy and counseling.

While it’s good Congress is finally recognizing the problem, paying for the programs is a major obstacle. The White House wanted $1.1 billion and congressional Democrats $600 billion, but Republicans insist funding must come from offsets in other programs.

Finding the money is a priority. Long-term it has budgetary benefits, given that 46.3 percent of inmates in the federal prison system are in for drug-related offenses (16 percent in states). So reducing that total is a potential offset.


Quad-City Times. May 27, 2016

Ross needs help in Rock Island County.

Rock Island County Administrator Dave Ross was hired to do an unenviable task: Righting the sinking ship that is the county budget. And he deserves his shot.

Ross’s proposed sales tax hike probably won’t sit well with voters who, before his time, suffered incessant property tax increases. County board back-benchers will gripe. And the cancellation of Wednesday’s special meeting makes us wonder if the votes simply weren’t there.

Ross didn’t create this mess. He’s but a janitor dumped in a nuclear waste site with only a broom to clean up the mess.

The fallout belongs to the county board and its Finance Committee. The county is broke, busted by pensions costs, years of political fecklessness and decades of mismanagement. In essence, Rock Island County is a microcosm of Illinois.

There’s not a single beauty queen among the four five-year budget options facing the county board. The Do Nothing option (Budget C) would maintain all services and staffing by immediately boosting property taxes 13 percent. The Hail Mary draft (Budget A) would bilk county reserves for basically all it’s worth, then all will hope and pray something or someone bails the county out by 2022. And don’t even get us started on the Let It Burn proposal (Budget D), which would slash taxes and gut the county, particularly the Sheriff’s Office.

Then there’s the Let’s Be Reasonable option (Budget B), which includes a half-cent sales tax hike to pick up the additional cost. Property taxes would actually decline 2.4 percent over the next five years under this one. The half-cent sales tax hike would maintain county buildings, a necessity put on display by the county courthouse fiasco, and keep basic services operational.

Really, Budget B is the only option real option here. The rest is either fire and brimstone or continued political mismanagement.

It’s been a year since Ross became Rock Island County’s first administrator. The appointed post is designed to buffer basic management from the politics that, for too long, fostered the county’s pervasive mismanagement. Ross is tasked with speaking truth to power. With a year under his belt, he’s doing just that.

Electric company Exelon has pledged to close the county’s largest taxpayer, Quad-Cities Generating Station, unless Springfield OKs a rate hike. Employee health care and pension costs continually spike. County politics are set for a wholesale overhaul following the 2020 census, when the number of seats on the county board will drop from 24 to 15.

Rock Island County can’t gamble on a state bailout, especially in Illinois. The variables are mounting. Ross, for his part, is hoping to grapple with those within his purview.

Voters will complain if the county, yet again, comes at them with a tax hike. Sales taxes are, after all, some of the most regressive systems out there. But property tax payers have been pumped for years and have nothing left to give.

The county board should show some courage and approve Ross’s viable, albeit painful, Budget B. It should send the sales tax hike to the voters in November. It should do its part to assure that the county maintains some semblance of operation.

Ross was hired to offer an honest, apolitical answer to the county’s woes. After a year, he’s crunched the numbers and forced the board to face the toxic brownfield it has created.

He can’t clean this mess on his own.


Mason City Globe Gazette. May 25, 2016

More Mason City pork plant talks encouraging.

We are encouraged to see the Mason City Chamber of Commerce refusing to let the Prestage Farms proposal die a quick death.

Too much was and remains at stake - 1,700 jobs, a huge economic impact in our region, among others - to let this go without another airing.

The Mason City Council, via its 3-3 vote, turned down the agreement that would have brought the Prestage pork processing plant to Mason City. What seemed like a sure thing, with the governor and state economic development officials’ blessing, died a sudden, dramatic death.

Or so it seemed. The Chamber of Commerce and North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corp. will host a private meeting June 2 with the goal of bringing the proposed Prestage plant back to the council.

Anderson said the meeting will share information so local leaders can make informed decisions. Some state heavyweights will be at the meeting, including Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham, along with a representative from Prestage.

That the meeting is being held at the Park Inn Hotel is symbolic because the hotel is the centerpiece of a program - Vision Iowa - that also was once thought dead, voted down twice by the City Council (which, we might add, was a far less visionary body than the current council).

Yet the hotel stands today as a symbol of perseverance, drawing thousands of visitors each year.

“We brought Vision Iowa back to the table then,” Anderson said. “We think because of our experience with Vision Iowa, what we learned is sometimes you have to tweak it and bring it back for discussion.”

And discussion is all that can be asked at this point - a point some proponents thought might never come. Why continue those discussions?

Councilman Alex Kuhn was consistent in his opposition, saying the deal didn’t provide enough back to the community - the city, county, schools and other taxing entities. What if there’s new information that would address Kuhn’s concerns? Would it be enough to make him change his mind? Or what if Prestage makes the development agreement terms more to his liking?

Councilman Bill Schickel said the community wasn’t totally behind the project, which he deemed essential. But at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, a number of people spoke in favor of the project. One said she was shocked to learn it had been defeated. Has Schickel heard enough - or might he hear enough in future meetings - to make him reconsider?

That the city’s two major business and industrial organizations feel strongly enough to want to continue the dialogue is encouraging.

Certainly there will be complaints that the public is being excluded from this meeting. Anderson said that’s because of the limited space at the Park Inn, and that the Chamber and EDC want to schedule more public meetings soon to share information and answer questions.

This can’t be an empty promise for the project to move forward: proponents must do everything possible to have more meetings with a similar lineup of officials in an appropriately-sized venue.

The Prestage situation produced one of the more tumultuous periods in recent city history. It’s hard to imagine that those who were opposed to the plant won’t resurface with the same vigor they showed before.

The Chamber and EDC hope new information will help ease some of that opposition.

Whether it does, Mason City must not let this degrade into something that would cast any more negative light on our community.

Certainly enough of that has taken place already, and it’s likely that with these new informational talks, even more attention will be paid to our community from the outside.

In listening to comments pro and con over the past weeks, it’s clear no one wants to do harm to this community or this region. It’s just that people have different views on what such a plant would bring.

That’s why we’re encouraged that there will be more meetings and more information presented.

We encourage open-mindedness and a healthy sharing of information and ideas.

Take time to learn more and discuss the options, pitfalls, potential and ideas.

By doing so, no matter what the final outcome will be, we will be perceived as a stronger community.

And that will be most important as we go forward, with or without Prestage Farms.

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