Iowa board advises prompt responses to records requests

The Iowa Public Information Board is advising records custodians to acknowledge public records requests “within the first few business days of receipt,” and to provide information at that time on possible fees and a timeline for producing the records.

The board approved an advisory opinion on “Timeliness of responding to record requests” during an August 18 meeting, where members also voted not to proceed with draft administrative rules on open records requests.

Representatives of government bodies and some state legislators had pushed back against the draft rules, released in July. In particular, some objected that the board lacked authority to issue a rule stating custodians “must acknowledge” receipt of records requests within two business days. (Iowa’s open records law, known as Chapter 22, sets no such deadline.) Some public comments also argued it would be unworkable to require governments to acknowledge requests received through social media.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Flowers of Augusts past

The ankle I severely fractured in January continues to interfere with my wildflower outings. Although I’m able to walk a couple of miles now, I have limited range of motion, which makes it hard to cover much distance on uneven ground like unpaved trails or prairies. My ankle flexion is still too limited for me to feel comfortable doing the long bike rides that used to provide lots of material for this series.

This week, I struck out looking for the plants I had hoped to feature. So I dove into my files and pulled out a selection of wildflowers I’ve found in August over the past six years.

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Governor still using public funds to promote herself at Iowa State Fair

More than four years after signing into law a ban on using public funds to promote the name, likeness, or voice of Iowa’s statewide elected officials in a “paid exhibit display at the Iowa state fair,” Governor Kim Reynolds continues to spend part of her office budget on an Iowa State Fair booth plastered with her name and picture.

Neither the Republican-controlled legislature nor the state board charged with enforcing the self-promotion law have taken any steps to remedy the situation.

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Missing in action: Copy editors, a loss to all of us

Herb Strentz: The essence of copy editing was not catching errors in spelling or grammar, but making the news more understandable.

When writing posts for Bleeding Heartland, I’ve learned that if you don’t have a good way to introduce a topic, you can find someone who does.

This commentary is about how much we’ve lost as many newspapers have all but eliminated copy editors—people who helped reporters provide the answers and clarity you expect to find in news stories, and saved them from publishing work that raised questions and confusion.

How to sum it up? Consider Michael Gartner’s recollection from when he had just begun working at the Wall Street Journal. (This was some fifteen years before he became editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune; later he was president of NBC News and won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing as an owner and editor of the Ames Tribune.)

He recalled: “The setting is early July 1960 in the newsroom of the Wall Street Journal:

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Dr. Pritchard's "colored" petition

This column by Daniel G. Clark about Alexander Clark (1826-1891) first appeared in the Muscatine Journal.

Alexander Clark’s daughter entered history in 1867 as the 12-year-old Iowan turned away from her neighborhood school because of skin color. Her father sued Muscatine’s school board and won. In 2019 the modern successors named the Susan Clark Junior High School.

Susan was born December 6, 1854. Her father had been an equal-rights activist all her life.

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It's about time to fund the IRS

This column by Rick Morain first appeared in the Jefferson Herald.

U.S. Senate Democrats passed their omnibus Inflation Reduction Act on August 7 by 51 votes to 50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. They did so under so-called “reconciliation” rules, which require only a simple majority to pass bills related to appropriations, rather than the usual filibuster-blocking 60-vote margin.

The bill then went to the House, where Democrats approved it on a party-line 220 to 207 vote on August 12. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill this week.

The measure contains a number of provisions dear to the hearts of Democrats and many moderates: empowering Medicare to negotiate prices for several key drugs, capping Medicare recipients’ out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 a year, climate control incentives, extension of federal health care subsidies, a 15 percent minimum tax for most corporations whose profits exceed $1 billion a year, and other long-sought goodies.

By raising more money than the act will spend over a 10-year period, it will also enable the government to pay down some of the national debt by several hundred billion dollars. That hasn’t happened for the past 25 years.

A section of the act that particularly irritates Congressional Republicans – and many of their well-heeled donors – increases the funding of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by $80 billion over the next 10 years. A little more than half of that increase will go to hire thousands of new agents to audit tax returns.

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Governor discounts pregnant Iowans' well-being. Will Supreme Court agree?

Lawyers representing Governor Kim Reynolds have taken the first step toward reinstating a 2018 law that would ban nearly all abortions in Iowa. A Polk County District Court struck down that law in 2019, and Reynolds did not appeal the decision. A motion filed on August 11 asks the court to lift the permanent injunction, which was founded on Iowa and U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have since been reversed.

In a written statement amplified on her social media, Reynolds promised, “As long as I’m Governor, I will stand up for the sanctity of life and fight to protect the precious and innocent unborn lives.”

Left unsaid by the governor, but made clear by the legal brief her team filed: pregnant Iowans’ interests have almost no value in the eyes of the state.

Will four Iowa Supreme Court justices balance competing concerns the same way?

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Iowa Republicans go quiet on Trump search

Iowa’s Republican members of Congress were quick to cast doubt on the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and Representatives Ashley Hinson and Randy Feenstra demanded more information from the Justice Department about the reasons for the “unprecedented” action. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks suggested that investigating Trump was a waste of taxpayer money.

But those GOP officials had nothing to say publicly after an inventory released on August 12 showed the former president had been keeping classified, secret, and top secret documents at the Mar-a-Lago resort.

Multiple news outlets published the search and seizure warrant for Trump’s residence, as well as the receipt listing property FBI agents took on August 8. Four items were described as “Miscellaneous Top Secret Documents,” and one was listed as “Various classified/TS/SCI documents.” Those are high levels of classification, used for material that “could cause ‘exceptionally grave danger’ to national security.”

SCI stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information, which “may be an electronic intercept or information provided by a human informant in a foreign country.” The Washington Post reported on August 11 that “Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought” in the search.

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Legal analysis: The state's case for reinstating Iowa's abortion ban

Bill from White Plains is an Iowa attorney with a specific interest in constitutional law and civil liberties.

Who’s more important: 51 percent of the populace of Iowa or, Iowa’s Republican-controlled government?

That is the question raised by the motion a partisan think tank filed in Polk County District Court on August 11. The Kirkwood Institute and the Alliance Defending Freedom are representing Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Board of Medicine, after Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller declined to lead the state’s effort to reinstate a near-total abortion ban.

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Who can save the rule of law?

Jim Chrisinger is a retired public servant living in Ankeny. He served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, in Iowa and elsewhere. 

As if their strings had been yanked, Donald Trump’s enablers and minions leap to trash the FBI and Department of Justice after the court-authorized search of Mar-a-Lago. They say DOJ and the FBI have been “weaponized,” maybe the searchers “planted evidence,” the FBI is “the enemy of the people” and should be defunded, this may lead to civil war, and we will sic the FBI and DOJ on them when we’re back in power.    

This is a full-on assault on the rule of law.  

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: A visit to the Hansen Wildlife Area

Katie Byerly shares photos of more than a dozen plants flowering in Cerro Gordo County’s Hansen Wildlife Area. Katie is also known as Iowa Prairie Girl on YouTube.

Thanks to Dave and Patty Hansen, Cerro Gordo County has a new beautiful community prairie! This spring the Hansen Wildlife Area was opened to the public, and as part of the celebration the North Iowa Nature Club toured the prairie with Dave and Patty has our guides.

The Hansen Wildlife Area is located on B20 north of Clear Lake, Iowa between Cardinal and Dogwood. It is already well marked with the usual brown sign and right away to a small parking area.

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Iowa environmentalists react to Inflation Reduction Act

Meaningful Congressional action on climate change seemed doomed in the 50-50 U.S. Senate after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia tanked President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better proposal earlier this year. But on August 7, Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking 51st vote to approve the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. All Republicans, including Iowa’s Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, voted against final passage.

Assuming the U.S. House approves the bill (a vote is scheduled for August 12), Biden is poised to sign into law “the single biggest climate investment in U.S. history, by far.” In addition to significant changes to the tax system and health care policy, the massive package includes $369 billion in spending aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting clean energy.

According to summaries of the bill’s energy and climate provisions, enclosed in full below, the bill could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. However, the bill’s incentives for the fossil fuels industry—which were necessary to get Manchin on board—are troubling for many environmental advocates.

Bleeding Heartland sought comment from some Iowans who have been engaged in policy battles related to climate change and the environment.

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Iowa gives too little attention to elder care

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.

People in the health care field have worked their tails off since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Iowa with a vengeance in 2020.

Doctors, nurses, and all manner of technicians and support staff have performed heroically under circumstances that often were trying.

But the death this year of a patient at a Centerville care center has struck a chord with many Iowans — and not just because COVID claimed another life. The reaction has ranged from sadness to anger because the person’s treatment was unprofessional, uncaring and incompetent, if not bordering on criminal.

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Monarchs merit royal care

Kurt Meyer writes a weekly column for the Nora Springs – Rockford Register, where this essay first appeared. He serves as chair of the executive committee (the equivalent of board chair) of Americans for Democratic Action, America’s most experienced liberal organization.

Who doesn’t love butterflies, especially monarch butterflies?

Let me share several verbal bouquets I encountered in reading articles about monarchs. “Showy looks.” “Extraordinary migration.” “One of the natural world’s wonders,” and, “one of the continent’s most beloved insects.” Unfortunately, I also came across some very troubling terms, like “endangered,” “vulnerable populations,” “declining precipitously” and “teeter(ing) on the edge of collapse.” Suffice to say, it all captured my attention.

Monarchs have been in the news a great deal lately. Appropriately so.

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Railroad bridge to Iowa

This column by Daniel G. Clark about Alexander Clark (1826-1891) first appeared in the Muscatine Journal.

This is column 19 of a series about people and events related to 19th-century equal-rights champion Alexander Clark. What started as a single column for Black History Month has turned into a weekly project I will continue until I run out of steam, or the editor pulls the plug.

If you’re following along, you know we’re headed toward Iowa’s desegregation drama of 1867-1868, and then on to Clark’s time as U.S. minister to Liberia. As the project grows, I tell more of the “back story”—connecting more dots.

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Tactical retreat on Iowa's abortion waiting period averts strategic loss

The ACLU of Iowa and Planned Parenthood North Central States announced on August 5 that they will not pursue litigation challenging Iowa’s mandatory 24-hour waiting period before all abortions. The Iowa Supreme Court allowed that 2020 law to go into effect in June, when a 5-2 majority reversed the court’s abortion rights precedent and sent Planned Parenthood’s case back to District Court.

In a written statement, ACLU of Iowa legal director Rita Bettis Austen described the decision to dismiss the case as “extremely difficult.”

But the move was wise in light of Iowa’s current legal landscape. Dropping this challenge could push back by years any ruling by the conservative-dominated Iowa Supreme Court to establish a new legal standard for reviewing abortion restrictions. That could strengthen the position of Planned Parenthood and the ACLU as they fight grave threats to Iowans’ bodily autonomy.

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Iowa campaign regulator may require attribution for political texts

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board may soon clarify whether state laws on attribution statements apply to some kinds of political text messages, the board’s executive director Zach Goodrich told Bleeding Heartland.

Goodrich plans to draft an advisory opinion that would confirm when text messages are “electronic general public political advertising” subject to Iowa’s law requiring disclosure of who is responsible for express campaign advocacy.

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The not-so-hidden costs of paid obituaries

Herb Strentz: Treating obituaries as news cemented ties between the newspaper and the community, and was great training for young reporters.

People may pay from hundreds to thousands of dollars these days to have loved ones’ obituaries published in local newspapers. But few if any ponder the impact “paid obits” have had on the newsroom.

As an old man (83) who grew up in a newsroom that routinely ran an obit as a news story, and published obits on everyone who died in town, I want to share some costs of today’s approach to obituaries.

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Long-term attacks on public schools

Bruce Lear reviews a new worrying line of attack on educators coming out of Republican-controlled states.

As a kid, I loved fishing off the dock because it assured immediate action, since I could catch tiny fish as fast as my worm hit the water.

But my dad practiced real fishing. He’d pack a lunch and fish in a small boat all day, even if nothing but mosquitoes were biting. He was in it for the long term, and it paid off with big catches. If he didn’t catch anything one day, he’d try again the next. He understood big catches took patience.

Like my dad’s long-term fishing, Republicans understand culture wars aren’t about instant gratification. The best example is their 49-year battle against Roe v Wade. They eventually found a right-wing majority on the Supreme Court brazen enough to overturn settled law and rob women of privacy and thus choice.

But the new front in the culture war is clearly public education. The hard right seems determined to chip away through multiple avenues of attack. 

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