- Associated Press - Monday, July 23, 2018

Des Moines Register. July 18, 2018

Liability, transparency and accountability needed for gun-toting Iowans

You’re looking to adopt a pet, so you visit the local animal shelter with your son and granddaughter on a Sunday afternoon. While heading toward the cat area, another visitor accidentally fires the handgun in his pocket. The bullet ricochets off the floor and sends you to the hospital.

Instead of going home with a new cat, you go home with shrapnel in your feet and the back of your leg.

This is what happened to Denise Robinson during a recent visit to the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines.

“As we were walking those two or three steps, some wild crash happened, and I thought somebody dropped something. In that nanosecond, I looked down, I was standing in a pool of blood,” she told a Register editorial writer.

The shooter, Zakarey Gwinn, 27, walked away physically and criminally unscathed. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is not filing any charges against him. As a 14-year-old, Gwinn was ordered to undergo counseling after taking a gun to school. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia. (The public knows about these incidents because law enforcement actually filed charges in those cases.)

Like many Iowans, Robinson is understandably dismayed by the lack of accountability for a man who totes a gun in his pocket, apparently has a round in the chamber and inadvertently shoots people. She is also baffled by state laws that allow so many barely trained people to carry guns and that prohibit law enforcement from disclosing who is legally allowed to do so.

“I don’t have issues with carrying guns to protect yourself or having one,” she said. “I’m not a radical anti-gun. But anyone can get a permit. Anyone can get a gun and carry it anywhere. I just don’t understand what the hell is going on.”

Here’s what is going on in Iowa:

In 2010, lawmakers passed a law taking discretion away from county sheriffs in deciding who should be granted a permit to carry a weapon. Now, hundreds of thousands of Iowans, including some who have never fired a gun, can legally tuck loaded weapons in their clothing and vehicles - in their pockets, purses, backpacks, glove compartments and under seats of cars.

It is a recipe for exactly the kind of disaster Robinson experienced.

In 2017, the GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature passed a bill that allows Iowans to sue local governments that enact gun-free zones, expands existing “stand-your-ground” laws and provides confidentiality for permit holders, including those involved in shootings.

Champions of that law include Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, who said after the ARL shooting he did not support requiring Iowans to use holsters or other protective devices to prevent accidental discharges.

In other words, gun owners can do whatever they want while the rest of us are supposed to hope for the best.

In November, Iowans should support candidates who advocate the following ideas, none of which infringe on anyone’s right to own a gun:

Mandatory liability insurance for gun owners

The Iowa Legislature should require gun owners to have liability insurance the same way drivers are required to carry auto insurance. Who is going to pay the ambulance and hospital bills for Robinson?

While traditional insurance companies may not offer this coverage, the National Rifle Association is now pushing Carry Guard Insurance, which it describes as “comprehensive personal firearms liability insurance, including self-defense insurance, for those who lawfully carry firearms and their families, including protection against civil liability, the cost to defend against civil and criminal actions and immediate access to attorney referrals.”

The coverage also includes “supplementary payments as needed for bail, criminal defense legal retainer fees, lawful firearm replacement, compensation while in court, psychological support and cleanup costs” after a shooting with a legal firearm.

Transparency in weapons permits

After the ARL shooting, Polk County law enforcement said they could not reveal whether Gwinn had a valid permit to carry a weapon, citing the 2017 law mandating secrecy. The police incident report, which is a public record, showed Gwinn did have a permit.

Iowans should be able to know if that permit is revoked or renewed. They should also be able to find out whether co-workers, boyfriends, babysitters and others have been granted legal permission to carry deadly weapons.

Statewide tracking of firearm injuries

News outlets across the state cover local shootings - if they know about them, consider them a priority and have the staff to do the reporting. Short of monitoring every media entity and checking every county and city police report, there is no way to know how many Iowans are injured by guns. While firearm deaths are tracked by the Iowa Department of Public Health, injuries are not.

Law enforcement agencies should be required to report all firearm injuries to a central, publicly accessible database maintained by a state entity. This would allow Iowans to know how many of us are being shot, compare numbers over time and assess how changes in gun laws are affecting people.

Iowa’s elected officials have gone out of their way to encourage more people to own, carry and even use firearms. It is reasonable to expect liability, transparency and accountability for those who tote guns, including those who shoot innocent bystanders at an animal shelter.

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Sioux City Journal. July, 19, 2018

Will Pruitt’s departure mean more EPA support for RFS?

For agriculture states like Iowa and the state and federal leaders who represent them, these are days of frustration with the administration of President Trump.

In farm country, concerns continue to grow about the expanding trade war between the U.S. and China and concerns linger about President Trump’s critical view of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

And then there is the issue of waivers to the Renewable Fuel Standard. The federal RFS began with the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and was expanded and extended by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. It requires transportation fuel sold in the U.S. be blended with a minimum volume of renewable fuels.

Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is a leading, vocal critic of RFS “hardship” waivers granted to oil refineries by the Environmental Protection Agency under Administrator Scott Pruitt.

In a June 26 statement on EPA’s proposed RFS volume rules for 2019, Grassley said this:

“Buried in this proposal is the alarming admission that Administrator Pruitt has already cut at least 2.25 billion gallons of conventional biofuels from the Renewable Fuel Standard. That’s a gut punch to Midwest farmers, to President Trump and to the rule of law. Congress intended 15 billion gallons (for 2018), President Trump promised 15 billion gallons, and it’s up to Administrator Pruitt to achieve 15 billion gallons. So far, Administrator Pruitt has failed. But he can make it right by reallocating waived obligations in the final rule.”

In his statement, Grassley said Pruitt’s actions undermined President Trump.

“After a lot of back-and-forth with the administration, EPA upheld the president’s commitment to 15 billion gallons for conventional biofuels. But many months later, we found out that EPA was secretly cutting billions of gallons from the Renewable Fuel Standard by issuing so-called ‘hardship’ waivers to multibillion-dollar oil refining companies, exempting them from their legal obligations.”

Pruitt, of course, resigned on July 5. His No. 2 man, Andrew Wheeler, is acting EPA administrator.

Perhaps no state is impacted by RFS rules more than Iowa, the No. 1 producer of ethanol and biodiesel in America. So while we are encouraged by the EPA’s proposal of a higher overall target for biofuels in 2019, like Grassley and other farm state leaders we hope the EPA practice of diminishing the RFS through waivers will end under Wheeler or whoever replaces Pruitt on a permanent basis.

We urge Grassley to keep fighting the good fight on this issue.

And again today we urge elected leaders from farm states - in particular, all three governors and 13 of 14 members of Congress of President Trump’s Republican Party who represent Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota - to keep up the pressure on the administration for support of American agriculture.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. July 22, 2018

Gov. Robert Ray set a powerful example

Former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray died this month at age 89.

Younger Iowans may not realize just how important a role he played in our state’s history. For 14 years - from 1969 until 1983 - he served as Iowa’s top elected official. He won the governorship five times and served in that post so long that his tenure in that job would in itself be worthy of note.

What makes Ray worthy recalling - and honoring - however, is not the impressive electoral success he achieved or the longevity of his time in the governor’s chair. It is the exceptional quality of his public service that distinguishes him.

Gov. Kim Reynolds captured the essence of how Iowans will remember Ray.

“His civility, courage and common-sense governing set a high standard for those who followed,” she said upon learning of his death.

The civility Ray demonstrated is especially noteworthy in an era when our nation’s politics has become characterized by much vitriol. He was a genuinely thoughtful and principled leader who campaigned vigorously for causes he championed but treated both allies and opponents with respect and courtesy. We could use more of that approach in today’s combative political arena.

Ray was at the helm of the Hawkeye State during difficult times. The Vietnam War and its aftermath had a huge and quite negative impact on our nation’s politics during those years. He showed courage and vision by calling upon Iowans help make the world a better place. Ray challenged Iowa to become one of the most welcoming places in the nation for refugees from war-ravaged Southeast Asia. That was a stand that was not without controversy then - or later. It was, however, the right and compassionate thing to do.

Trying to find solutions to problems rather than simply talking about them was very much Ray’s game plan. That’s why this Republican governor worked so successfully with leaders of both political parties to build a modern state government and remarkable judicial system for our state. Many of the good things we now take for granted in Iowa might not have worked out so well had someone less wise or pragmatic been in the governor’s chair all those years ago.

After his time as governor, Ray continued to contribute to the success of our state. At key transition times, he served on an interim basis as mayor of Des Moines and president of Drake University. In the private sector, he helped bring about what is now named Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Gov. Robert Ray helped the Hawkeye State succeed. He will be most remembered, however, for being the type of leader and citizen whose approach to life and service warrants not just respect and admiration but, more importantly, emulation. He will be missed, but his example will continue to inspire far into the future.

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Quad-City Times. July 22, 2018

Paper or digital, keep public records public

The Associated Press article on Page 9A today provides yet another sad reminder that, though state and federal governments have many laws to permit public access to their government, not everyone in public service likes or follows them.

Laws tend to lag behind actions. Once a pattern of conduct or behavior occurs, and it is deemed to be inappropriate or at least not in the public interest, a law is created. It’s been that way since the Ten Commandments (and before). After all, it’s hard to come up with laws regarding technology or situations that have yet to be invented.

So, it should be no surprise that our public records laws have not kept up with current technology. Today’s article notes that digital apps make it easier than ever for users (including government employees subject to these laws) to scrub these records instantly.

If the same communication occurred in the form of ink-on-paper, it clearly would be subject to existing “sunshine” laws. However, if those words are transmitted digitally, especially on non-government devices, the law turns cloudy in a hurry.

Government officials who are truly committed to transparency and public accountability - and we believe they remain in the majority - need to add and amend laws to remove any question: Communication involving government employees should be retained and made available for public inspection, however it was created and regardless of medium.

Unfortunately, some people in government are seeking or exploiting loopholes. Some even argue that if the government employee is using his or her personal smartphone when sending texts and emails concerning government business, the public should not have access. If that is allowed to stand, it’s good news for smartphone sellers and bad news for the public.

As Daniel Bevarly, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said, “Those kind of technologies literally undermine, through the technology itself, state open government laws and policies.”

What is particularly concerning is the fact that, with some of these apps, there is no evidence that there was a communication in the first place. What secret deals and arrangements could government employees strike if they know they will be leaving no tracks?

Worst-case examples include legislation - fortunately, not approved - introduced in Kentucky and Arizona. Some lawmakers sought to exempt all communications - yes, that could include government communication - made on personal phones from state open records laws, alarming open government advocates.

Fortunately, not every politician is hell-bent on keeping secrets. For example, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer this year issued an executive order stating that his staff may only use official email accounts for all government business and banning private accounts for any communications related to “the functions, activities, programs, or operations” of the office.

If you’re needing a reason for strong and clear laws for retention and public access to digital communications as public records, look no further than Missouri, where Eric Greitens last month resigned as governor. His use of the Confide app, which makes messages disappear immediately after they are read, during his scandalous and sordid goings-on has inspired legislative remedies.

Lawmakers who are sincere in their commitment to transparency in government have some catching up to do. But it’s not too late. However or wherever it is created or communicated, whether on paper or using the ones and zeros of digital technology, communications and documents created by government employees conducting government business should and must be preserved and made available to the public.

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