- Associated Press - Monday, June 4, 2018

Des Moines Register. June 1, 2018

Iowa Supreme Court puts a dent in property forfeiture abuses

A rose to the Iowa Supreme Court, whose ruling last week should put a significant dent in property forfeiture abuses by Iowa law enforcement agencies.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects Americans from government search or seizure of property without due process of law. And yet the Des Moines Register found in 2016 that agencies had seized more than $55 million and more than 4,200 vehicles over the past 20 years, in some cases without ever charging the owner with a crime.

That was the case with Jean Carlos Herrera. He filed a lawsuit after a Department of Transportation officer seized the 16-year-old SUV he was driving and $45,000 in cash after a traffic stop in September 2015 in Pottawattamie County.

Herrera denied the officer permission to search the vehicle, but he did it anyway, citing inconsistencies in Herrera’s and a passenger’s stories about why they were traveling from New York to Los Angeles. A trained police dog detected the odor of narcotics, according to court records, but no narcotics were found.

The officers seized almost $45,000 they found in a hidden compartment, along with the SUV, a partially disassembled soft-serve ice cream machine and tools. They issued Herrera a speeding ticket but never charged him with a crime.

The Supreme Court, ruling in Herrera’s case, found:

Courts must decide whether law enforcement properly and lawfully seized items before deciding a claim against the property. The government can’t use the seized property as evidence in a forfeiture claim if the property was seized illegally.

Officers can’t force people to answer questions about seized property as a condition for its return. That could force someone to choose between possibly incriminating himself or forfeiting the property.

Prosecutors can’t avoid paying attorney fees for people trying to get their property back by strategically dropping a forfeiture case at the last minute. In some cases, the cost of legal fees to get property back could exceed the value of the property.

The Supreme Court’s 6-0 ruling demolishes several of the daunting barriers people have faced in trying to reclaim property seized from them even though they were never charged with a crime.

It will be up to the Legislature, however, to eliminate the incentive for law enforcement to risk trying to grab property even though they can’t make a case. Currently, law enforcement agencies get to keep the money they seize; they also keep the money from seized property sold at auction. That money should go to the state general fund or perhaps toward funding drug courts instead of staying with the agency that seized it.

Iowans might think it’s fine for police to get a suspected drug dealer’s car and stash, even if they can’t pin a crime on the person. It’s like a toll for traffickers crossing through our state. But the innocent and the not-proven-guilty have the same constitutional protections. We can’t deprive rights from the probably guilty without depriving them from everyone.

Reynolds values gun lobby more than basic child safety

A thistle to Gov. Kim Reynolds for blocking state regulators’ plans and instead hoping the Iowa Legislature would require safe storage of guns in child care centers. Because she refused to allow administrators to do their jobs, operators of child care centers and home daycares remain free to keep loaded weapons on the premises and not tell parents.

That’s quite an accomplishment, governor.

An Iowa Department of Human Services proposal in December would have required guns to be locked up and kept separate from ammunition. Parents would have needed to be notified if a gun was on the premises. The Iowa Council on Human Services must approve all rules before putting them into effect.

Gov. Kim Reynolds talks to members of the media following her weekly news conference Tuesday, May 29, 2018, at Iowa State University’s BioCentury Research Farm near Boone, Iowa.

Keeping guns secure in a child care center does not infringe on anyone’s Second Amendment rights. It is a matter of basic safety and common sense. That is likely why the vast majority of states have such a requirement. That is likely why no one from the public responded with a formal comment when DHS staff posted a standard “notice of intended action” about the rules last November.

More: Limits on guns in child care centers are blocked by governor’s staff

But a lobbyist for the Iowa Firearms Coalition said he expressed concern to the governor’s office, and Reynolds’ staff assured him the proposal was being put on hold. She publicly said she preferred that lawmakers decide the issue.

So how did leaving this up to the GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature work out? A Democratic legislator introduced a bill, but it went nowhere. Republicans, who have worked to put more guns in the hands of more people to carry more places, were apparently not interested.

That is hardly a surprise. And thanks to the governor’s allegiance to the gun lobby and her interference with basic rule-making, children and child care workers are less safe than they could be.


Dubuque Telegraph Herald. June, 1, 2018

Voter ID law a misdirected ‘solution’

If you’re an Iowan planning to vote in the primary election on Tuesday, June 5, this is a good time to make sure you have your identification card(s) at the ready.

The initial phase of Iowa’s solution in search of a problem, the Election Modernization and Integrity Act, went into effect Jan. 1.

Previously, people showed up at the polls and voted. If there were suspicions of fraudulent voting, the law had provisions for challenges and prosecution. With few exceptions - about counted on one hand, statewide - there were no problems. Few of those few problems would have been headed off by the provisions of the new law.

Nonetheless, Republican Paul Pate, the Iowa secretary of state and elections commissioner, wanted a voter ID law. In 2017, the Republican-controlled Legislature and the governor at the time, Republican Terry Branstad, gave it to him.

Now, people wanting to vote will have to show a valid ID card. For most of us, it’s only a matter of pulling out our driver’s license. Other forms of identification that poll workers will accept are a state-issued non-operator ID card, state voter ID card, passport (U.S., of course), military ID card or veteran’s ID card.

All that seems simple enough. However, the costs add up quickly.

Pate’s office estimates that expenses related to the new law have been around $700,000 - thus far. Those dollars have gone toward voter education, poll worker training, reprogramming the state voter registration database and sending ID cards to some 123,000 citizens who did not already have a state-issued ID. Nearly half that figure - $300,000 - is a revolving loan fund to help counties with the purchase of electronic poll books. While those loans must be repaid to the state, the money is coming from the coffers of local counties.

Speaking of local counties, there are other expenses being shouldered by taxpayers in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. In Dubuque County alone, for example, a conservative estimate is that the new law has already cost taxpayers an additional $12,000, not including staff time, for additional postage and printing of new cards, forms and handouts.

In our view, the new law was not needed. But it does include some measures to minimize some (not all) of the inconvenience and the possibilities of qualified citizens being denied their right to vote. So it could have been worse.

Not everyone agrees. The new law is the target of a lawsuit, filed Wednesday, alleging it discriminates against minorities.

In any case, the new law commands lots of resources toward minimal “problems.”

The biggest threat to election integrity and public confidence is not whether a qualified voter somehow manages to cast two ballots or whether an unqualified individual votes. That shouldn’t happen, certainly, but there is scant evidence - despite some public claims coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. - that it happens.

Just this week, President Trump alleged that special counsel Robert Mueller, who with his team is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, would somehow skew 2018 midterm election results to benefit Democrats. He provided no evidence for that claim. Unfortunately, allegations like that create suspicion and damage public confidence - damage that won’t be undone merely by forcing citizens to show driver’s licenses at the polling place.

No, the greater concerns should be the integrity and verification of vote tabulations; protection of election systems from hackers, Russian and otherwise; and unsubstantiated, confidence-sapping predictions and contentions undermining confidence in our electoral process.

Like it or not, needed or not, Iowa’s voter ID law is in effect. Voters should be prepared - prepared for the bill and prepared to show their IDs.


Quad-City Times. June 1, 2018

By Jove, Illinois might get budget

Don’t look now but a miracle happened this week in Springfield: Illinois government actually functioned.

It’s sad that standard operating procedure in most states - such as passing an on-time budget - is a watershed moment in Illinois. But, considering recent history, the Senate’s adoption of a $38.5 billion budget on Wednesday and the House’s ratification on Thursday appear downright biblical.

At this time last year, the state was more than 700 days into a damaging budget impasse that was bleeding social services and state institutions alike. But, this year, Illinois enters its new fiscal cycle with an actual budget, one that, thanks to no shortage of gimmicks and risky assumptions, might actually fully fund state government without again boosting taxes. And the whole thing was done with support of both ruling Democrats and minority Republicans.

The four caucuses actually sat down, hammered out a package and pushed it through. For a brief moment, government worked in Illinois, and that, in and of itself, is a small victory.

But don’t drop to your knees and reach for the heavens just yet. The spending package must survive Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk, though his veto would substantially damage an already troubled re-election bid. Rauner owns at least some of the last impasse. He’d hold the note on this one, should he pull a fast one at the last minute.

That’s not to say there aren’t serious issues in Illinois’ would-be spending plan. Per usual, powerful special interests wormed their way in and foisted upon taxpayers a few gifts.

Perhaps the most egregious handout in the budget deal does nothing less further divide citizens into first- and second-class citizens, those with exclusive benefits and those without who’re simply expected to foot the bill.

The legislation imposes a minimum wage for teachers on school districts throughout the state. And it does so without offering a single penny toward the cause - meaning some districts may have to raise local taxes to cover the unfunded mandate.

A $40,000 minimum salary for teachers by 2022 might sound reasonable in Chicago. Not so much in rural downstate districts, where simply paying the pension costs are already keeping property tax revenues from funding actual programs.

So, yeah, there’s no shortage of handouts and elevating some residents above others.

Yet the fact that Illinois, for a few short days, actually worked is still the real story here. In a matter of hours, lawmakers - many no doubt eyeing their own political fortunes - adopted a budget. They called Rauner’s bluff and approved a three-day wait on all long-gun purchases. And they even righted a historic wrong and adopted the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which Illinois all but scuttled single-handedly 40 years ago.

That last bit might be a moot point, though, as the deadline for the ERA’s ratification among the states ended in the early 1980s. But hey, sometimes it’s the thought that counts.

As previously stated, Rauner would be foolhardy to wage a line-item veto war, especially considering the overwhelming bipartisan support the budget received within the General Assembly. He’d be setting himself up for just another GOP mutiny, which, last year, substantially weakened his already shaky political position. Rauner indicated in a statement Thursday afternoon that he intended to “enact” the budget.

Barring a bit of political suicide from Illinois’ chief executive, the state enters fiscal year 2018-19 with a budget. It’s schools, social service agencies and highway engineers will know that the money exists. Social service programs won’t be forced into a round of mid-year closures. Its people can, for the first time in years, have confidence that Illinois will operate in the clunky, inefficient yet functional manner befitting of state government.


Sioux City Journal. June 1, 2018

Cheers and Jeers


Survey says …

Morningside College’s Col. Bud Day Center for Civic Engagement this week released results of its first poll. The Morningside Poll sampled 994 Iowa adults on a variety of issues between May 2 and 12 through automated calls to landline and cell phone numbers.

Morningside students analyzed the survey data under direction of Valerie Hennings, associate professor of political science. Hennings told The Journal the Day Center (named for the extraordinary late Medal of Honor recipient who graduated from Morningside in 1950) plans to conduct more polls in the future.

We commend Morningside for a valuable contribution to public discourse within Iowa on important issues of the day.

Foundation supports college

Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, is the recipient of a $500,000 gift from the Robert and Ginny Peterson Foundation for improvements to the college’s business school.

The gift, announced on Wednesday, will support the Robert L. Peterson Commodity Trading Room which will be housed in the Harold Walter Siebens School of Business.

“The gift ensures that our students continue to have front-row access to top-notch spaces and educational experiences,” said Joshua Merchant, college president. “In particular, the Robert L. Peterson Commodity Trading Room will allow the institution to build upon efforts to support and nurture our new agriculture programs.”

Back in business

Justin and Tory Engelhardt of Sioux City are back in business.

The Engelhardts, who as owners of Wild Hill Honey manufacture and sell honey, were victims of between $50,000 and $60,000 in vandalism to beehives and beekeeping supplies on their 18 1/2-acre property on the city’s west side in December. The shed in which they store beekeeping supplies was ransacked and every hive knocked over, killing half a million bees.

Boosted by significant financial support from a sympathetic public, the Engelhardts rebuilt their business, according to a story in Sunday’s Journal Business section. In fact, Wild Hill Honey will be a larger operation than it was before the vandalism.


Smooth sailing

The USS Sioux City passed “a major milestone” last month, moving the vessel one step closer to its commissioning and addition to the U.S. Navy fleet, The Journal’s Nick Hytrek reported on Thursday.

From May 20 to 24, the ship completed acceptance trials on Lake Michigan.

“The success of the sea trials is a major milestone that takes us a step closer to a fall commissioning date,” said retired Rear Adm. Frank Thorp, chairman of the USS Sioux City Commissioning Committee.

Thorp said the commissioning is anticipated sometime in the fall at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.


All about him

True to form, President Trump on Monday managed to insert praise for himself into America’s observance of Memorial Day.

“Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today,” he tweeted. “Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18 years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!”

Good grief.


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