State concedes masks needed around some students with disabilities

The Iowa Department of Education has conceded that facial coverings may be required in some school settings to ensure students with disabilities have equal access to educational opportunities.

In a December 1 order distributed to Area Education Agencies, agency officials determined that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows schools to make an exception to a state law that generally bans mask mandates, if a student’s Individualized Education Programs (IEP) team finds masking is needed for that child to receive the education federal law guarantees.

However, the department’s order said the IDEA does not require public schools to adopt district-wide mask mandates.

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Grassley blocks bill on universal background checks

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley on December 2 blocked Senate debate on a bill that would require background checks on all firearms sales. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut requested unanimous consent to proceed with debating the bill, known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, following the latest horrific mass shooting at a school, which ended the lives of four Michigan high school students.

Everytown for Gun Safety explains that current federal law “requires a background check on a prospective gun buyer only when the seller is a licensed gun dealer, leaving all other sales—such as unlicensed gun sales negotiated over the internet—unregulated and with no background check required.” Under this proposal, “unlicensed sellers would meet their buyers at a licensed gun dealer, who would run a background check using exactly the same process already used for sales from their own inventory.”

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Pawn takes queen

Ira Lacher ponders the possible fallout from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that undermines reproductive rights.

When my wife and I consider a major home project, such as a kitchen or bathroom remodel, we apply the principle I call “pawn takes queen.” As in chess, the idea is to consider several moves ahead so as to anticipate the ramifications. If we knock down a wall to open up the kitchen, where do we put the stove? Will we need to add new gas lines? Where? How much time and disruption will that add? And so on.

America may have to apply that principle if, as widely predicted after oral arguments December 1, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Mississippi House Bill No. 1510M, which bans nearly all abortions after fifteen weeks of pregnancy.

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The 1776 Pledge is a pledge of division

Bruce Lear: Pretend patriots are afraid to let students understand all of American history so they can make informed judgments.

When a girl or boy joins the Scouts, they pledge to be a part of a troop and a part of the community of scouting. When a college student joins a sorority or fraternity, they make a positive pledge to be a part of something. We pledge allegiance to the flag as a community of Americans.    

But not all pledges are positive. Some drive a wedge between us. The 1776 Pledge isn’t about building a community. It’s more like a tool to mold public schools into a political prop instead of a place of learning.

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The people must vote on WDM Water Works regionalization

Julie Stauch became invested and motivated about water issues after the 1993 floods. In 2017, she joined others across the metro area to speak out against the regionalization bill in the Iowa legislature, focusing on West Des Moines. She stayed involved attending meetings of a regional group representing communities across the metro area.

On November 30, leaders of West Des Moines Water Works discussed a regionalization plan in public for the first time. You likely did not know this plan was on the agenda for the “joint workshop” of the West Des Moines City Council’s workshop with the WDM Water Works, which had been announced the previous Wednesday (the day before Thanksgiving). The posted agenda included only a vague reference to “Discussion on Future Water Supply Needs for West Des Moines.”

I had intended to publish here the statement I delivered at the workshop. But the nature of the event changed my point of view. Folks, we have a big problem at the WDM Water Works Board of Trustees.

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Top Iowa Senate Republican afraid to run in swing district

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver announced on November 29 that he will seek re-election in 2022, but not in the Ankeny-based district he has represented since 2011.

In a news release, Whitver bragged about keeping his promises “to implement conservative budgets, reduce taxes and put pro-growth policies into place,” while “funding education” and supporting law enforcement “with bold reforms.”

But the top Senate Republican isn’t confident enough to let the Iowans who know him best judge his record. Instead of running in the new Senate district 21, where he now lives, Whitver will flee to safer GOP territory in Senate district 23.

Whitver’s decision closes one door for the second-ranking Senate Republican, Jake Chapman, who was also placed in a swing suburban district following redistricting.

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Tiffany O'Donnell continues GOP winning streak in Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids residents elected yet another Republican mayor on November 30, as former television news anchor and Women Lead Change CEO Tiffany O’Donnell defeated Amara Andrews by 13,479 votes to 6,358 (67.8 percent to 32.0 percent), according to unofficial results. As is typical for runoff elections, turnout was lower today at 21.4 percent of registered voters than in the November 2 election (28.1 percent turnout).

After receiving about 42 percent of the vote on November 2, O’Donnell appears to have consolidated support from almost all residents who preferred outgoing Mayor Brad Hart. He and Andrews both received about 28 percent of the vote four weeks ago.

O’Donnell is the fifth Republican (including Hart) to be elected mayor of Iowa’s second-largest city since 1996. Only one Democrat (Kay Halloran) has won Cedar Rapids’ highest office during the same period.

While it was logical for Andrews to run as a progressive Democrat in a city that generally favors Democratic candidates, in retrospect it looks like a strategic error for her campaign to focus on her opponent’s Republican ties. For whatever reason—I’d welcome insight from locals—a lot of Democratic-leaning voters in Cedar Rapids are comfortable with Republican mayors.

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Six Iowa nonprofits that support good journalism

In the spirit of “Giving Tuesday,” I want to encourage Bleeding Heartland readers to support one or more nonprofits that help make quality journalism available to Iowans at no charge to readers or listeners. The entities listed below are 501(c)3 organizations, so donations are tax-deductible.

If you aren’t in a position to give money to any organization right now, you can help spread the word about solid reporting by sharing links through e-mail networks or social media feeds, or telling friends about sites you enjoy reading.

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Breaking up is hard to do

John Whiston ponders a troubling dynamic: political disagreements are becoming more personal, and “negative partisanship” more prevalent.

A couple of days ago, I saw a Facebook post from a woman I knew in high school out west, one of those manufactured right-wing memes that gets so casually forwarded in some circles. It was a picture of Donald Trump with this caption: “When I look at all the people who hate this man, I like him even more!”

The post stuck in my mind because it resonates so strongly with a new concept I stumbled upon reading the recent best-seller by David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. That idea gave me my big word of the month: “schismogenesis,” that is, the origin of schism or separation between social groups. An obscure footnote in the anthropological literature since the 1930s, it is described by Garber and Wengrow this way:

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Cedar Rapids mayoral race offers contrast in values, priorities

Cedar Rapids residents will elect either Amara Andrews or Tiffany O’Donnell to be city’s third woman mayor on November 30. O’Donnell received about 42 percent of the votes cast in the November 2 general election. Andrews advanced to the runoff with about 28 percent of the vote, just 41 votes ahead of outgoing Mayor Brad Hart, who endorsed O’Donnell the following week.

While O’Donnell has to be considered the favorite going into Tuesday, the general election leader has lost Cedar Rapids runoff elections at least two times in the recent past. Anything can happen in a low-turnout race, and voter participation usually drops in runoffs.

Although Iowa’s local elections are nonpartisan, some candidates have revealed their party affiliations as one way of expressing their values. Andrews has been campaigning as a progressive Democrat who will make the city more equitable and fair. In contrast, O’Donnell has downplayed her Republican affiliation and presented herself as a candidate for “all of Cedar Rapids.”

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John Deere could have offered workers more

Only a week after United Auto Workers members ratified a new six-year contract with John Deere, the company announced record profits of $5.96 billion during the fiscal year that ended on November 1.

Tyler Jett reported for the Des Moines Register on November 24,

The company announced Wednesday that the new contract with the UAW will cost $250 million to $300 million. J.P. Morgan analyst Ann Duignan wrote in a note that she expects Deere to increase prices by 1.5% to offset its higher pay to workers.

That cost estimate appears to cover the immediate 10 percent raises and $8,500 ratification bonuses for each of Deere’s approximately 10,000 employees represented by UAW. The range of $250 million to $300 million would work out to between 4 percent and 5 percent of the company’s profits for the fiscal year that just ended.

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The truth is all we've got

In the spirit of the gift-giving season, Ira Lacher offers a few pointers to see you through our ever-increasing spate of less-than-credible news.

November 22 passed last week, not with a bang but a whimper. It seems no one cares to remember that on that date fifty-eight years ago, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Fifty-eight years ago, Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t even a zygote, so the rash of conspiracy theories circulating around the shooting in Dallas — “the Mafia did it, with the help of Cuban guerrillas and the CIA!” — had to depend merely on the number of book authors attempting to take advantage of Americans’ chronic abdication of reality.

Today, of course, social media is to conspiracy theorists what steroids were to Barry Bonds. And for good reason. We know the companies who administer those platforms do so with the idea of magnifying shrillness. It’s like substance addiction: The more you ingest, the more your body wants it.

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Honor Thanksgiving spirit by respecting Indigenous people

Sometime during the fall of 1621, white European settlers at Plymouth held a harvest feast, attended by some Wampanoag, one of the Indigenous peoples living in the area. Almost everything else you learned about that “first Thanksgiving” was wrong.

The Pilgrims didn’t invite the Wampanoag to share their bounty. Some historians now believe the Native men came because they heard gunshots and assumed the settlement was under attack. (They had formed an alliance with the European settlers in the spring of 1621.) Another theory is that the warriors showed up “as a reminder that they controlled the land the Pilgrims were staying on and they vastly outnumbered their new European neighbors.”

According to Thanksgiving myths, the Pilgrims expressed gratitude for Wampanoag who taught them how to grow or find food in their new surroundings. In reality, “Their role in helping the Pilgrims survive by sharing resources and wisdom went unacknowledged that day, according to accounts of the toasts given by Pilgrim leaders.”

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Fall berries and seeds

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m wrapping up the tenth year of Bleeding Heartland’s wildflowers series. I’m so grateful to the guest authors who contributed posts and photographs this year: Katie Byerly, Lora Conrad, Tommy Hexter and Jacy Highbarger, Elizabeth Marilla, Marla Mertz, Bruce Morrison, Leland Searles, Kenny Slocum, and Patrick Swanson.

Iowa wildflower Wednesday will return sometime during the spring of 2022. Please let me know if you would like to write about any one plant, or group of plants that thrive in a similar habitat, or special place or trail. Anyone on Facebook can connect with nature lovers year round in the Iowa wildflower enthusiasts group, which now has more than 5,300 members.

To close out this year’s series, Lora Conrad contributed nine photographs of berries or berry-like fruit that can be found on plants in Van Buren County at this time of year. All but one are native to Iowa.

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Court finds law targeting trans Iowans unconstitutional

For Aiden Vasquez and Mika Covington, the news was life-changing. Polk County District Court Judge William Kelly ruled on November 19 that Iowa’s law designed to deny Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery “violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.”

He ordered the Iowa Department of Human Services to change a longstanding regulation “excluding coverage for sex reassignment surgery” and said the agency must apply the revised rule to allow “transgender individuals coverage under Iowa Medicaid for medically necessary gender affirming surgery for the treatment of Gender Dysphoria and other relevant diagnoses.”

Vasquez and Covington are transgender Iowans who qualify for Medicaid and have been unable to obtain the health care they need for years. They have been seeking legal redress since soon after Governor Kim Reynolds signed the discriminatory statute in May 2019.

Naturally, not everyone was happy with what the ACLU of Iowa’s legal director Rita Bettis Austen described as a “historic win for civil rights in Iowa.” Soon after the court ruling was published on November 22, Reynolds’ spokesperson Alex Murphy told reporters, “The governor’s office is disappointed in today’s decision and disagrees with the district court’s ruling on Medicaid coverage for transgender reassignment surgeries.”

Reynolds echoed the sentiment when speaking to reporters on November 23: “Of course we were disappointed with the ruling and disagree […] My legal team is looking at it. There will be more to come later on. We’re still looking through it and trying to determine what our options are.”

She should stop fighting this battle.

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Iowa Ag Department still ignoring state auditor's warnings

With the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and Single Audit for the 2020 fiscal year in the rear view mirror, the State Auditor’s office has been churning out its annual “reports of recommendations” for state government agencies and other entities. The majority of reports issued so far have cited no concerns related to internal control or compliance with statutory requirements.

However, the latest report for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), published on November 23, pointed to several practices “for which we believe corrective action is necessary.”

A news release noted that State Auditor Rob Sand “recommended the Department strengthen internal controls over receipts in certain Bureaus,” adding, “The finding discussed above is repeated from the prior year.”

That’s an understatement. Sand and the previous two state auditors have been warning IDALS about the same internal control problems for more than ten years.

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Dave Muhlbauer ends Senate campaign after family tragedy

Dave Muhlbauer announced on November 23 that he is ending his U.S. Senate campaign to take more time to grieve with his family. Douglas Burns reported for the Carroll Times Herald that Muhlbauer’s 4-year-old nephew Jed Riesselman died in a farm accident on August 12.

In a statement posted on his social media feeds, Muhlbauer said the loss of his nephew “has had a devastating effect on our family. It’s something you can never prepare yourself for and will leave a hole that will never be filled.”

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Pro-Ernst group fails to toss lawsuit over undisclosed donors

The public is one step closer to learning who funded a sophisticated messaging and organizational effort to re-elect Senator Joni Ernst in 2020. A federal court on November 19 denied a motion to dismiss a watchdog group’s lawsuit against Iowa Values, which supported Ernst’s re-election in 2020 but did not disclose its fundraising or spending.

The Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit focused on “advancing democracy through law,” sued Iowa Values in February, after the Federal Election Commission did not act on the center’s complaint against the pro-Ernst group for more than a year.

Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia comprehensively rejected legal arguments the pro-Ernst group raised in trying to dismiss the lawsuit and return the case to the FEC, which would likely do nothing.

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Miller-Meeks' revised disclosures still have discrepancies

U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) has revised the financial disclosure forms Congressional candidates and members of Congress must submit annually. The new documents mention more than 50 assets, liabilities, or income sources not listed on the 2020 annual report Miller-Meeks submitted in August. The apparent omissions prompted the Iowa Democratic Party’s executive director to file an ethics complaint last month against the first-term Republican.

Despite working with the House Ethics Committee to fix the problems, Miller-Meeks’ latest filings don’t entirely line up.

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