- Associated Press - Monday, February 19, 2018

Des Moines Register. February 14, 2018

Medicaid bill demonizes low-income Iowans with delays, drug tests, work requirements

When Iowans helped send Donald Trump to the White House in November 2016, they also gave Republicans control of the Iowa Legislature. Sen. Tom Courtney was among the long-serving Democrats who were unseated. He was replaced by Sen. Tom Greene, R-Burlington.

Courtney was known for sponsoring criminal justice reform that became law and for leading the Senate’s Government Oversight Committee, among other accomplishments. Greene is making a name for himself in other ways.

Greene is the sponsor of Senate File 2158. The only impressive thing about the legislation is how many bad ideas it packs into a single page.

The bill directs the Iowa Department of Human Services to seek federal approval to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients.

The Trump administration recently indicated it would allow states for the first time to require employment or participation in jobs programs to qualify for health insurance.

Greene is apparently so supportive of this bad idea, he feels compelled to use legislation to order state officials to move in that direction. He wants “able-bodied” adult Iowans to work, attend school or participate in a job training program at least 20 hours per week to be eligible for Medicaid.

Why?

“The best result from a state welfare program is the number of citizens who remove themselves from assistance via education and employment,” Greene said.

Actually Medicaid is not a “state welfare program.” It is a health insurance program largely funded by the federal government. Providing coverage to people helps ensure they have the care they need to be physically and mentally well enough to hold a job. It ensures health providers are paid to care for otherwise uninsured Iowans.

More than half of the Iowans who rely on Medicaid are children. Only 16 percent of beneficiaries in this state are “adults” not also categorized as disabled or elderly. Kids and people living in nursing homes are unable to work. The majority of able-bodied adults on Medicaid already have jobs, and many of them have full-time jobs.

They are still poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.

So we hope they would not be expected to pay for the drug use assessment Greene wants them to undergo. If illegal drug use is suspected, the individual “shall agree to participate in testing for illegal drugs,” according to the bill.

Republicans love drug testing. Seeking it for recipients of cash welfare is among their favorite ideas and one courts have repeatedly put a stop to. The idea, like work requirements, is driven by an attempt to portray the poor as unemployed scofflaws sponging off the system. And it doesn’t save money.

A 2011 Florida law required anyone seeking cash welfare to undergo a drug test. During the few months before a judge issued an injunction, more than 4,000 applicants peed in cups. Only about 100 failed the test. Welfare recipients actually use drugs at lower rates than the general population.

The entire charade, including legal fees and refunds to people who passed the drug screens, ended up costing Florida taxpayers more than $300,000.

And what if an Iowan seeking Medicaid did test positive for drugs? Does Greene want to withhold from them the very health insurance they may need to cover the cost of drug treatment?

The bill also states that applicants’ Medicaid coverage would not start until 180 days after their applications are approved. Delaying access to health care and medications is a sure-fire way to help ensure Iowans get sicker and possibly die.

Then there is the out-of-left-field provision requiring Medicaid enrollees with minor children ensure those children attend school.

If Greene is concerned about Iowa children being educated, he should spearhead an effort to require every child to be educated in this state by repealing an option in homeschooling that allows an Iowa child to disappear and learn nothing.

One would think Greene, who worked as a pharmacist for four decades, would understand the importance of ensuring Iowans get care needed to be productive members of society. Then again, the part-time lawmaker was not required to pee in a cup or wait six months to enjoy his taxpayer-subsidized family coverage.

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Sioux City Journal. February 14, 2018

What’s the best location for Awesome Biker Nights?

A local staple of June for nearly two decades, Awesome Biker Nights represents not only a colorful two-day celebration attended by thousands, but a community-minded event producing thousands of dollars for charities. As we have said in this space before, we recognize its popularity and commend its philanthropy.

However, we also have said we respect the position of businessmen and women who, for whatever reasons, do not wish to pay a fee to help cover event costs because they see little to no upside to them from participation in the event.

In other words, we are torn about the hoped-for return by Awesome Biker Nights to the Historic Fourth Street District this year.

On Feb. 5, Awesome Biker Nights organizers and representatives of businesses opposed to holding the event on Historic Fourth Street made their cases to the City Council. According to a Journal story, more than a half dozen Historic Fourth Street businesses don’t want this event back in the district.

The council deferred a decision on the event’s request until Feb. 26.

Our thoughts?

- We give credit to Councilwoman Rhonda Capron for volunteering to help mediate the dispute between Awesome Biker Nights and event opponents, but it’s unfortunate the City Council was put into the position of referee.

“It just really troubles me that you all haven’t sat at the same table,” Councilman Alex Watters said at the Feb. 5 meeting. “I think it’s silly that the City Council is where we’re negotiating this and mediating it. It should have been done long before coming before council, as far as I’m concerned.”

We agree with the councilman.

All local celebrations should, in fact, seek to establish strong dialogue with affected private business owners. No amount of information and conversation is too much.

- We hope Awesome Biker Nights, the local business community and the city will identify a solution to this dilemma so the summer tradition can return to the location on Historic Fourth Street desired by organizers.

We believe mutual agreement is within reach if the power of open-minded communication and the spirit of compromise are applied.

- In the end, however, no businessman or businesswoman should be forced to pay for an event he or she believes is of no benefit to him or her and, in fact, hurts the bottom line. No businessman or woman should be forced to accept a barricade in front of his or her establishment to accommodate an event.

“We lost $12,000 in business that weekend,” Julie Schoenherr, who owns SoHo Kitchen & Bar, told the council about last year’s event.

- If a solution acceptable to all Historic Fourth Street businesses doesn’t surface, we suggest the city work with Awesome Biker Nights organizers on a move of the event to either the parking lots of the Tyson Events Center and Long Lines Family Recreation Center or the Anderson Dance Pavilion along the riverfront.

In our view, either site will meet the needs of this event.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. February 16, 2018

Main Street Fort Dodge is on the move

In 2017, Fort Dodge rejoined the Main Street Iowa program.

Main Street Iowa works with a select group of Iowa communities “capitalize on the unique identity, assets and character of their historic commercial districts.” The program provides an array of technical assistance that can include training workshops, architectural and design help and business development support.

A downtown rebirth is taking hold in Fort Dodge and shows promise of more success in the years ahead.

Our town’s historic commercial center has great potential. Being part of Main Street Iowa can help us turn the assorted possibilities into exciting realities.

This week it was announced that Main Street Fort Dodge has won a pair of grants.

A $7,000 award from the Texas-based Build a Better Block program will help pay for sprucing up a small section of Central Avenue. A $15,000 technical assistance grant from the statewide Main Street program will pay for a future survey of market needs.

The Messenger strongly supported our town’s application to rejoin Main Street Iowa.

We are delighted to see that, under the leadership of Executive Director Kris Patrick, Main Street Fort Dodge is moving aggressively to demonstrate that it can make an enormous positive contribution to the future of our city.

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Quad-City Times. February 12, 2018

A glimmer of hope in a bad year for Iowa schools

Get it done.

Legislation to address Iowa’s school equity rose from its year-long coma Wednesday night only to be sent Thursday into palliative care. State Senate Republicans - spearheaded by Sen. Roby Smith, R-Iowa - sent a deeply flawed one-year fix for Iowa’s fundamentally unjust school funding formula, which, until righted, provides up to $175 more per-student to some schools than others. But the amendment’s power wasn’t in its effectiveness.

It was a signal to the House, one that, this year, might be taken seriously.

Unlike last year’s failed attempt, the Senate this time jammed it within the overall K-12 spending package, a shameful bill that provides schools with a funding bump well below the inflation rate. The House punted yet again, stripping the educational funding package of the meager $14 million down payment on equal funding for hundreds of districts. As of Friday, the Senate was expected to adopt the sans-equity education bill and its miserly 1 percent funding boost.

There’s apparently little money for public schools, but, Iowa can somehow divert funds toward tax cuts and hand-outs to private schools. That last little slice of parasitic legislation rolled out in a House committee this past week, which would divert public funds to pay for tuition at private schools.

Budgets are statements of priories. And, no matter how much Gov. Kim Reynolds and legislative leaders profess otherwise, Iowa’s public schools aren’t one for Iowa’s GOP.

The school equity issue is the one potentially sugary coating making palatable an otherwise legislative session already full of money-bleeding handouts to special interests. There’s no way tax cuts don’t ultimately cost Iowa substantial cash. Lawmakers have already thumbed their collective noses at the state’s public universities, too. Another bill, which would make it easier to students to transfer to neighboring districts, is a transparent attempt to segregate schools and reinforces the haves at the expense of the have nots.

Yes, the equity piece - a matter of huge significance locally, but considered a canard elsewhere - would stand as a small, but important win that would ease the sting of an otherwise disgraceful assault on public education.

Parochialism is a powerful motivator here and Davenport Community School District Superintendent Art Tate has successfully made the case against how Iowa now funds individual districts. He faces an ethics investigation, one that could end his career, after diverting funds - probably illegally - to fill the $2 million gap left by the inherent inequality in the state aid funding formula. Some members of the district’s school board, too, face possible impeachment for backing Tate’s end-run on state overreach.

To his credit, Sen. Smith knows this and has worked tirelessly to address the issue. Smith’s back-door crusade has made gains. Last year, the Senate passed a 10-year fix only to watch it die of neglect in the disinterested House. This year, Smith and a few Senate GOP colleagues, successfully inserted the one-year fix that the House immediately stripped. And Gov. Kim Reynolds, facing her first re-election bid, is backing the push to fund Davenport and Maquoketa the same as their neighbors. A bill signing at Davenport Central, rife with pomp, could only help Reynolds in Scott County come November.

All this momentum equated to a promise from House leadership that last-year’s 10-year equity fix, an objectively superior bill to what the Senate this year sent over, will get a hearing this week. Democrats representing the Quad-Cities, such as Rep. Cindy Winckler, have warmed up to the bill, which she last year blasted because of its slow roll out.

But, all that said, the ruling GOP is more interested in axing programs than new spending. For that reason, there’s good reason for pessimism about the 10-year bill’s efficacy.

That said, the governor’s backing combined with the Senate’s pressure has breathed new life in a push to right a historically unjust funding model that feeds a vicious cycle of white flight and continued decline.

It’s passage would be a lone bright spot in a year of egregious hand-outs to special interests that, by design, weaken Iowa’s public schools.

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