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Weekend open thread, with Iowa medical marijuana links

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 08:36:13 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Among the new Iowa laws that took effect at the beginning of the current fiscal year on July 1, the act legalizing the use of cannabis oil for certain seizure disorders drew the most media attention. Senate File 2360 (full text) passed the Iowa House and Senate during the final hours of the 2014 legislative session. This week the Iowa Department of Public Health released draft rules on how Iowans can gain legal access to this drug derivative for medical purposes. This page on the Iowa DPH website contains details on how to obtain a "Cannabidiol Registration Card." Eligible Iowans will be able to pick up cards through their county's Iowa Department of Transportation office, because DOT offices are more accessible for many people.

During negotiations with Iowa House Republican leaders and staff from Governor Terry Branstad's office, the scope of Senate File 2360 was narrowed to cover only the use of cannabis oil (not marijuana in any smokeable form), and only for seizure disorders, meaning that roughly a few hundred Iowa families will benefit from the new law. But a criminal trial verdict that made headlines this week may spur future efforts to help the thousands of Iowans who seek to use marijuana to treat chronic or terminal health conditions. A Scott County jury convicted Benton Mackenzie, along with his wife and son, of drug charges for growing marijuana plants. Mackenzie's elderly parents are due to stand trial soon for allowing the plants to be grown on their property. The presiding judge didn't allow Mackenzie's attorneys to tell jurors he was growing the drugs to treat a rare cancer, because medical marijuana is not legal in Iowa.

Quad-City Times reporter Brian Wellner covered the Mackenzie case and discussed it on Iowa Public Radio this week. After the jump I've posted excerpts from a few news reports on the verdict. I agree completely with State Senator Joe Bolkcom, the leading advocate for medical marijuana in Iowa, who called the decision to prosecute Mackenzie and his family members a "waste of taxpayer money."  

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Supreme Court strikes down Massachusetts law on buffer zones around abortion clinics

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 26, 2014 at 12:09:21 PM CDT

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a Missouri law establishing a 300-foot buffer zone around funerals, and has upheld some state laws creating buffer zones around abortion clinics. But today, all nine justices found that a Massachusetts law establishing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. You can find the full texts of the majority opinion and two concurrences in McCullen et al v Coakley here (pdf).

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. The ruling found that although the Massachusetts law was not attempting to regulate speech based on content, "The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth's asserted inter­ests," which "include ensuring public safety outside abortion clinics, preventing harassment and intimidation of patients and clinic staff, and combating deliberate obstruction of clinic entrances."

There is a long history of intimidating and sometimes violent protests outside Massachusetts abortion clinics. But the majority rejected state officials' contention that the 2007 law was needed because a previous, less restrictive buffer zone law had not worked. The court argued that a more narrowly-tailored approach, stepping up law enforcement around the Boston clinic with the most problems, could achieve the same end without restricting protesters' free speech in public areas.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a separate opinion, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, concurring in judgment only. He would have thrown out the law because it regulates speech in a "content-based" manner and can't survive the "strict scrutiny" standard which "requires that a regulation represent "the least restrictive means" of furthering "a compelling Gov­ernment interest." Justice Samuel Alito wrote a separate opinion concurring in judgment. He would throw out the state law because it "discriminates based on viewpoint. Speech in favor of the clinic and its work by employees and agents is permitted; speech criticizing the clinic and its work is a crime."  

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Police need a warrant to search your cell phone

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 13:13:00 PM CDT

In what may become one of this year's most far-reaching court rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that a right to privacy applies to cell phones, and that law enforcement cannot inspect the contents of cell phones without a search warrant. Chief Justice John Roberts, one of the high court's five conservatives, wrote the opinion, which you can read in full here. Good summaries include David Savage's report for the Los Angeles Times, Adam Liptak's report for the New York Times, and this SCOTUSblog analysis by Lyle Denniston:

The Court rejected every argument made to it by prosecutors and police that officers should be free to inspect the contents of any cellphone taken from an arrestee.  It left open just one option for such searches without a court order:  if police are facing a dire emergency, such as trying to locate a missing child or heading off a terrorist plot.  But even then, it ruled, those "exigent" exceptions to the requirement for a search warrant would have to satisfy a judge after the fact.

The ruling was such a sweeping embrace of digital privacy that it even reached remotely stored private information that can be reached by a hand-held device - as in the modern-day data storage "cloud."  And it implied that the tracking data that a cellphone may contain about the places that an individual visited also is entitled to the same shield of privacy.

I'm not surprised by the decision, but I'm surprised it was unanimous. It's a very strong statement that police need to change their standard practices after arresting suspects will have to change.

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Iowa's incarceration rate in a global and national context

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jun 15, 2014 at 21:19:47 PM CDT

The Prison Policy Initiative, a non-partisan non-profit organization created "to document and publicize how mass criminalization undermines our national welfare," has published a fascinating report on the "global context" of sky-high U.S. incarceration rates. I knew that our country locks up more of its residents per capita than any other country on earth, but I didn't realize that if you consider the 50 states and Washington, DC individually, three dozen American states have a higher incarceration rate than Cuba, which has the world's second-highest incarceration rate. Iowa now has 437 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 residents, putting us among the states with the ten lowest incarceration rates. Even so, just three other countries (Cuba, Rwanda, and the Russian Federation) imprison more residents per capita than Iowa. The report notes,

Utah, Nebraska and Iowa all lock up a greater portion of their populations than El Salvador, a country with a recent civil war and one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Five of the U.S. states with the lowest incarceration rates - Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Dakota, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island - have higher incarceration rates than countries that have experienced major 20th century social traumas, including several former Soviet republics and South Africa.

States in New England tend to have the lowest incarceration rates, followed by the Midwest. Most states with the highest incarceration rates are in the South.  

The Prison Policy Initiative recently published a detailed comparison of state prison systems. The Iowa profile shows the growth in the incarceration rate as well as the massive racial disparities other researchers have found in our state. I've posted a few graphs after the jump. (Note that one graph shows an incarceration rate a little below 300 per 100,000 residents, rather than 437. That's because the graph below includes only people serving a prison term longer than one year.) Click here for links to all state incarceration rates by race and ethnicity and here for a report "tracking state prison growth in all 50 states." Data on that last page show how "state-level policy choices have been the largest driver of our unprecedented national experiment with mass incarceration."

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Memorial Day open thread

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 26, 2014 at 13:35:00 PM CDT

What's on your mind this Memorial Day, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

I've posted Memorial Day-related links in past years at this site, but I learned only last year that Memorial Day became an official federal holiday only recently, in 1971. That's surprising, given that the tradition of remembering American war dead on a special day in May goes back to the 1860s. The Iowa National Guard's website includes brief histories of Iowa soldiers' involvement in U.S. wars since the mid-19th century and a stunning photo of thousands of men standing in the shape of the Statue of Liberty.

The horrendous shooting rampage in Santa Barbara on Friday night has prompted a wave of new commentaries about mental health, violence against women, and gun violence generally. It's so upsetting to know that the authorities couldn't do a thing to disarm the perpetrator, even though his family had been trying to get him help and warned police weeks ago that he was posting YouTube videos about his murderous and misogynistic fantasies.

For many people, Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer, so I'm re-posting a link to a piece that's worth re-reading every year: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning.  

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IA-03: Matt Schultz still posturing as hero battling "voter fraud"

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 12, 2014 at 09:45:00 AM CDT

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz just can't quit the fantasy that he has saved Iowans from a major "voter fraud" problem. A new report from the Secretary of State's Office may serve as a welcome distraction from his record of keeping some political appointees on the payroll, but it distorts the reality of election irregularities and ignores more important factors that keep some eligible voters from having their ballots count in Iowa elections.
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Weekend open thread: Mother's Day edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun May 11, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome. I've enclosed a few links in honor of Mother's Day.

The Pew Research Center posted "5 questions (and answers) about American moms today."

Annie Fox, who has a great website for teens, tweens, and their parents, shared her perspective on "What makes a good mom?"

Mother's Day can be a difficult holiday for many people, especially women who have experienced the death of a child. State Senator Janet Petersen wrote about her stillbirth and her work since then to educate parents on monitoring their babies' movements during the third trimester. I've posted excerpts after the jump.

Mother's Day can also be challenging for those whose mothers have died. Hope Edelman, the author of the book Motherless Daughters, shared her experiences and advice on how to spend the day when your mother is gone.

Finally, Mother's Day can stir up painful feelings for those who never received the emotional support they needed from their mothers. Dr. Laura Markham, who runs my all-time favorite parenting website and writes one of the best parenting blogs, recently re-shared her excellent post on "How to Give Unconditional Love When You Didn't Get It Yourself."

Speaking of great advice, Froma Harrop's latest syndicated column urges college students who are the victims of rape or sexual assault to call 911, rather than reporting to campus authorities. "Rape is a violent crime, and when violent crimes occur, the police should be called." Parents of college students should pass along these wise words. My only quibble with Harrop is that she assumes all such victims are women. Men can also be assaulted sexually, and if that happens to a male college student, he should call 911 as well.

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HIV transmission bill passes in end-of-session surprise

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 01, 2014 at 13:36:00 PM CDT

Sometimes bills left for dead rise again in the final hours of the Iowa legislature's work. So it was for Senate File 2297, an "act relating to the criminal transmission of a contagious or infectious disease." If signed into law, this bill would replace current Iowa law on HIV transmission, under which a person can be sentenced to 25 years in prison, even if the virus that causes AIDS was not transmitted to anyone. For background on the old law, one of the harshest in the country, click here or here, or listen to this Iowa Public Radio program from March. (Incidentally, the Iowa Supreme Court has heard but not yet ruled on a case related to that law but not challenging its constitutionality.)

Whereas current law takes a "one size fits all" approach to HIV transmission cases, Senate File 2297 outlines more serious penalties for those who intentionally infect a partner (not just with HIV, but with any communicable disease) than for those who either didn't mean to transmit or did not transmit a disease. In addition,

under the new bill, Iowans would no longer be sentenced as sex offenders and a retroactive clause in the bill would remove anyone sentenced under 709c from the sex offender registry. Prosecutors would also have to prove substantial risk, rather than the current law which simply requires non-disclosure.

Senate File 2297 passed the Iowa Senate unanimously in February. Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg said it would update Iowa law to reflect modern medicine and replace a "badly outdated and draconian" part of the code. Republican State Senator Charles Schneider agreed that current law was "not always proportionate" to the crime committed.

So far, so good. But instead of sailing through the Iowa House, Senate File 2297 stalled. It cleared a House Judiciary Subcommittee but not the full committee in time for the "second funnel" deadline in mid-March. The bill landed on the "unfinished business" calendar, which kept it eligible for debate.

I hadn't heard anything about this bill for some time, until I saw this morning that it came up for debate in Iowa House a little before 2 am. It passed by 98 votes to 0. After the jump I've posted a statement from the LGBT advocacy group One Iowa, which has pushed for similar legislation for years.  

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Iowa legislature gives final approval to medical cannabis oil

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 01, 2014 at 10:14:00 AM CDT

Iowa legislators pulled an all-nighter at the Capitol to close out the 2014 session. The Iowa House adjourned for the year a little before 6 am, while the Senate will return briefly on Friday to authorize further investigation of Branstad administration controversies.

It will take several days for Bleeding Heartland to cover the most important news about the state budget and other bills passed toward the end of the session. I was surprised to see that Iowa House leaders did call up Senate File 2360, the limited medical cannabis bill the Iowa Senate approved last Friday. As of yesterday afternoon, that bill seemed doomed.  I saw some speculation that leaders might not even call it up for debate. A few Republicans had filed more than a dozen amendments, apparently with the goal of killing the bill on the floor. State Representative Chip Baltimore was one sponsor of the poison pill amendments. He told the Des Moines Register that

a bill legalizing marijuana - even in an extremely limited way for an extremely limited purpose - simply couldn't be introduced, debated and passed in the space of a week.

"We're being asked to take an extraordinary leap of faith," Baltimore said, referring to the reassurances [Representative Rob] Taylor and others have given on cannabidiol's safety and efficacy. "You don't do that in five days."

Lawmakers negotiated well pass midnight and agreed to make small changes to the medical cannabis bill. It will still allow only the use of cannabis oil, not marijuana in smokeable form. According to Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson, the new language also "requires patients to get an Iowa neurologist's recommendation for cannabis oil." The Iowa House approved the bill by 75 votes to 20 just after 3:30 am. The Senate approved the House version by 38 votes to 8 about an hour later. The Senate roll call is after the jump. I'll update this post with the House roll calls once it becomes available on the Iowa legislature's website.

Governor Terry Branstad indicated a few weeks ago that he is open to a cannabis oil bill, as long as it's "very limited in focus." I expect him to sign Senate File 2360.

UPDATE: Added a statement below from State Senator Joe Bolkcom, the legislature's leading advocate for medical marijuana.

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Iowa legislature's quick fix to sexual exploitation statute may need to be fixed

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 16:58:00 PM CDT

In just two days, both the Iowa House and Senate unanimously approved a bill drafted in response to a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling. A majority of justices overturned the conviction of an assistant high school basketball coach who had engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with a student, on the grounds that he didn't meet the definition of a "school employee" under Iowa's sexual exploitation statute. House File 2474 closes that loophole, but unfortunately, State Representative Mary Wolfe identified a drafting problem that could criminalize behavior many people would not consider sexual exploitation.

Wolfe is a criminal defense attorney by trade and gave me permission to reproduce part of her blog post below. But you should head over to her Iowa House Happenings blog and read the whole thing. Click here to read the full text of the April 11 Iowa Supreme Court ruling and dissent.

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Iowa Senate approves cannabis oil bill

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 10:35:00 AM CDT

Yesterday the Iowa Senate approved by 36 votes to 12 a bill to legalize the use of medical cannabis oil for treating certain seizure conditions. You can read the full text of Senate File 2360 here. After the jump I've posted State Senator Joe Bolkcom's floor statements in support of the bill, which summarize its key points and limited scope. An Iowa Senate Democratic research staffer provided a more detailed analysis of the bill here (pdf).

The roll call in the Senate Journal shows that all 26 Iowa Senate Democrats voted for the cannabis oil bill, joined by the following ten Republicans: Mike Breitbach, Mark Chelgren, Minority Leader Bill Dix, Joni Ernst, Hubert Houser, David Johnson, Tim Kapucian, Charles Schneider, Amy Sinclair, and Brad Zaun. The twelve Republicans who voted no were Bill Anderson, Jerry Behn, Rick Bertrand, Nancy Boettger, Jake Chapman, Randy Feenstra, Julian Garrett, Sandy Greiner, Dennis Guth, Ken Rozenboom, Roby Smith, and Jack Whitver. Republicans Mark Segebart and Dan Zumbach were absent.

During the floor debate, several Republicans warned that passing the bill would send the wrong message to teenagers, leading to more recreational use of marijuana. That's hard to fathom, since the bill does not legalize smoking marijuana, even for terminally or chronically ill Iowans who could benefit from medical cannabis in that form.

Key Iowa House Republicans and Governor Terry Branstad have made clear that for now, they would consider only a bill to allow access to medical cannabis oil. I hope a study committee on broader use of medical marijuana will go forward. Senate File 2360 is a step in the right direction and will give families like this one options other than moving to Colorado. However, the bill leaves out too many suffering people.

P.S.- A sign of how far the political ground has shifted in the medical marijuana debate: Joni Ernst and Brad Zaun are in fiercely competitive GOP primaries (for U.S. Senate and IA-03, respectively). Both of them voted for this bill.

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Divided Iowa Supreme Court rules Tony Bisignano can run in Iowa Senate district 17 (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 15, 2014 at 18:22:20 PM CDT

A three-way Democratic primary is assured in Iowa Senate district 17, as the Iowa Supreme Court announced this afternoon that it has affirmed a district court ruling on Tony Bisignano's eligibility to run for office. Rival candidate Ned Chiodo filed a lawsuit last month, saying Bisignano's recent aggravated misdemeanor conviction for second-offense OWI should be considered an "infamous crime." The Iowa Constitution disqualifies citizens convicted of "infamous crimes" from exercising the privileges of "electors."

Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote the plurality opinion, joined by Justices Daryl Hecht and Bruce Zager. Overturning Iowa Supreme Court precedents set in 1916 and 1957, the court ruled that "infamous crimes" cannot be interpreted to mean any crime punishable by a prison sentence, including aggravated misdemeanors. On the other hand, the court did not simply accept the 1994 law defining "infamous crimes" as felonies. Citing historical references including an 1839 Iowa territorial statute, the plurality argues that not all felonies are "infamous," and that the words had different meanings at the time the Iowa Constitution was adopted in the 1850s. It did not go on to define which felonies should be considered infamous crimes in the present context.

Justice Edward Mansfield wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Thomas Waterman. The concurrence agrees that Bisignano retains his rights as an elector, because aggravated misdemeanors cannot be considered "infamous crimes." However, Mansfield would have accepted the bright-line definition from the 1994 state law, equating felonies with "infamous crimes." He warned that the plurality opinion would serve as a "welcome mat" for future litigation from felons claiming that they should be entitled to vote, because their convictions were not for "infamous crimes." On balance, I agree most with Mansfield's opinion.

Justice David Wiggins dissented, arguing that the court should not have rewritten "nearly one hundred years of caselaw." He would have found Bisignano ineligible to run for office under the longstanding precedent that "infamous crime" means any crime punishable by a prison sentence. Wiggins' dissenting opinion does not accept the 1994 law which defined "infamous crimes" as felonies, because interpreting the state Constitution is a job for the Iowa Supreme Court, not the state legislature.

Justice Brent Appel recused himself from this case.

The Iowa Supreme Court did not rule on Chiodo's separate claim that Attorney General Tom Miller should have recused himself from the panel that allowed Bisignano to remain on the ballot. Chiodo argued that Miller had a conflict of interest, because one of his employees, Assistant Attorney General Nathan Blake, is also seeking the Democratic nomination in Senate district 17.

You can read the Iowa Supreme Court's three opinions in this case here (pdf). After the jump I've enclosed summaries and excerpts from each opinion. I also included a statement from Bisignano hailing the ruling and announcing several more labor union endorsements.

One thing's for sure: today's ruling won't be the last attempt by the Iowa Supreme Court to clarify the definition of "infamous crimes."

UPDATE: Added Nathan Blake's comment below. SECOND UPDATE: Added more thoughts about the implications of this case.

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At least 12 Iowans disenfranchised in 2012 presidential election

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 09:50:00 AM CDT

Secretary of State Matt Schultz's crusade to stop voter fraud in Iowa has uncovered a couple dozen allegedly ineligible voters who registered (not all of whom voted). The only person prosecuted for fraud was acquitted in less than an hour. I would bet that several people who pleaded guilty to lesser charges to avoid the risk of a trial would have been acquitted as well, since no evidence suggests they knew they weren't entitled to vote.

Meanwhile, via John Deeth I see that Schultz has now admitted that twelve Iowans had their ballots improperly thrown out during the 2012 presidential election, because their names wrongly appeared on lists of ineligible felons. I'm surprised the number isn't substantially higher than twelve, since we already knew that three voters in Cerro Gordo County alone were deprived of their constitutional rights. UPDATE: No one will ever know how many more Iowans did not attempt to register or cast a ballot because of confusion over their eligibility.

Schultz is creating a task force to resolve inaccuracies in the I-Voters felons file and has ordered county auditors "to work with local law enforcement, county attorneys and county clerks of court to make sure the felon status information is accurate" before special precinct boards decide whether to count provisional ballots cast by voters who appeared on the felon's list. I'm so naive that I assumed local officials were already conducting those checks before throwing out people's votes.

Schultz was not ashamed by a jury's rapid-fire acquittal of a southeast Iowa woman, saying she won't be able to "cancel out the vote of anyone in the future." At the very least, he owes a public and abject apology to the Iowans whose votes were tossed because of a flawed procedure for screening out felons. He may also end up having to return federal funds used for his criminal investigations--or maybe his successor will be left to clean up that mess. Schultz opted to run for Congress in Iowa's third district rather than seek a second term as secretary of state.

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Branstad, key Iowa House Republicans more open to medical cannabis

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 10, 2014 at 11:23:06 AM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad has opposed efforts to legalize marijuana for medical use in Iowa, but on Monday he he signaled that he is open to taking a small step forward this year.

[I]t looks like we could end up with something that's very limited in focus, like as passed recently in Utah and Alabama," Branstad said. "I'm certainly working with legislators to see if there's a possibility to work something out on that before the legislature adjourns."

The new Utah law allows extract in oil form, but not smoking marijuana to treat a medical condition. Along the same lines, James Q. Lynch reported stunning news: Iowa House Public Safety Committee Chair Clel Baudler is open to legalizing the use of medical cannabis, in oil form. After meeting with parents whose children suffer from seizure disorders, Baudler said, "These little kids are taking some drugs that are really hot [...] So if we educate ourselves and possibly we can give them some relief, that's a good thing."

Last summer, Baudler bragged that he would wear as a "badge of honor" his designation as one of the country's ten worst state legislators, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

He and Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen indicated that to have any chance of passing the Republican-controlled House, a bill to legalize the use of cannabis would have to exclude marijuana that can be smoked. That will disappoint Iowans suffering from cancer, severe pain, or debilitating chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis. Smoking marijuana can ease nausea and other symptoms in such patients. Speaking to Lynch, Baudler said people who want to use cannabis to treat conditions other than seizure disorders should "Move to Colorado."

Even limited progress on this issue is welcome, but I hope Iowa lawmakers will move forward with a broader study of medical cannabis programs.

UPDATE: Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is willing to help "move a limited bill on medical cannabis oil forward." Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix is non-committal for now.  

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Time for Iowa State to cancel VEISHEA permanently

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CDT

Yet again, "VEISHEA" celebrations in Ames have degenerated into a riot. This time a student was injured badly enough to be life-flighted from the scene, on top of the substantial property damage we've seen too often. VEISHEA is supposed to be a celebration of Iowa State University pride, but I think campus leaders need to accept that they can't stop a small percentage of drunken idiots from ruining the festival for everyone. Administrators have given students plenty of chances to prove they can get VEISHEA right.

Although it may seem unfair to punish everyone for the behavior of a small group, we're not talking about a handful of troublemakers. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of people were involved in last night's riot. This isn't the first, second or even third riot during VEISHEA. The recurring problem makes the whole university look bad. Most colleges and universities get by without a weeklong party every spring. It's time for Iowa State to join them.

Comments from Ames police Commander Geoff Huff and ISU President Steven Leath are after the jump.

UPDATE: Leath announced on April 9 that the rest of this year's planned VEISHEA events will be cancelled. A task force will determine what happens in future years.

Leath said VEISHEA will be completely refocused on what it used to be or it will be eliminated.

"The problems revolving around alcohol, house parties -- these issues have to go away," said Leath.

I hope the task force will also review acts of violence that don't generate media coverage or attention. For instance, I would like to know whether sexual assaults on campus typically increase during VEISHEA week.

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Spiker takes parting shot at Branstad over medical marijuana

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 09:56:39 AM CDT

A few days before he will formally step down as the Republican Party of Iowa's leader, A.J. Spiker advocated legalizing medical marijuana in a guest editorial for the Sunday Des Moines Register. Excerpts from Spiker's column are after the jump. Framing the case for medical cannabis in terms of personal freedom, Spiker rebuked Republicans who have been unwilling to acknowledge strong arguments for allowing doctors to prescribe the drug. While he didn't name names, his points came across as a rebuttal to Governor Terry Branstad, who would rather drag his feet on this issue.

Spiker and Branstad have clashed repeatedly, and it's an open secret that the governor hasn't been happy with the Iowa GOP's priorities or fundraising since Spiker took over from Matt Strawn in early 2012. It's shrewd for Spiker to stake a claim for medical marijuana, a position that is increasingly popular, especially with younger voters. Now his last impression as state party chair will be as a forward-thinking leader, rather than the guy who sometimes seemed to care more about Ron Paul's Liberty movement than about electing Republicans.  

Speaking of medical marijuana, the issue was the focus of last Friday's edition of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program. Steve Lukan, director of the governor's Office of Drug Control Policy, appeared along with West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer and State Senator Joe Bolkcom, leading advocates for legalizing medical cannabis using the New Mexico model. The video and transcript are available here. I was disappointed to see Lukan basically repeat the same talking points throughout the program, without acknowledging that many legal drugs can also be abused and may have devastating side effects for patients. Branstad didn't search for anyone with expertise in drug policy before offering the state's top job in this area to Lukan.

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Weekend open thread: Infamous crimes and aggravated misdemeanors

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 22, 2014 at 17:31:10 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

Ned Chiodo's challenge to Tony Bisignano's eligibility to run for Iowa Senate district 17 has brought new attention to some legal confusion over which crimes can cause Iowans to lose their voting rights. The Iowa Constitution does not specify which "infamous crimes" should disqualify citizens from voting or holding public office. Chiodo's attorney cites case law from the Iowa Supreme Court suggesting that aggravated misdemeanors as well as felonies can be considered "infamous crimes." Yet a law passed in 1994 defined "infamous crimes" as state or federal felonies.

State Representative Mary Wolfe, an Iowa House Democrat who is also a criminal defense attorney, just reposted a piece she wrote in 2012, explaining why aggravated misdemeanor convictions do not disqualify voters. (I recommend clicking through to read her whole analysis.) Wolfe notes with dismay the "complete and total disconnect between Iowa's Governor and Secretary of State on such a straightforward, yes or no issue." Secretary of State Matt Schultz's website correctly indicates that convicted felons whose rights have not been restored may not register to vote. However, Governor Terry Branstad's website states that "infamous crimes" may include aggravated misdemeanors and any crime that "may be punishable" by more than one year in prison. That could include a long list of offenses, including the second Operating While Intoxicated charge to which Bisignano pled guilty earlier this year.

At this writing, Branstad's website still contains that misinformation about some aggravated misdemeanors leading to the loss of voting rights, even though Branstad himself signed the 1994 law defining "infamous crimes" as felonies. Speaking to reporters a few weeks ago in defense of his policy permanently disenfranchising all but a handful of ex-felons, the governor equated "infamous crimes" with felonies.

Because Chiodo plans to take his case to court, a Polk County District judge (and perhaps eventually the full Iowa Supreme Court) will settle any questions over whether Iowa's 1994 law supersedes previous court rulings on this issue.  

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Panel clears Tony Bisignano to run in Iowa Senate district 17; court may have final say

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 12:11:32 PM CDT

Attorney General Tom Miller, Secretary of State Matt Schultz, and State Auditor Mary Mosiman decided unanimously that Tony Bisignano may run in the Democratic primary to represent Iowa Senate district 17 despite a recent drunk driving charge. Democratic rival Ned Chiodo had challenged Bisignano's candidacy, saying a second-offense OWI is an aggravated misdemeanor punishable by a prison sentence. Therefore, "long-established case law from the Iowa Supreme Court" place this charge among the "infamous crimes" that render citizens ineligible to vote or hold office under the Iowa Constitution. You can read the full text of Chiodo's challenge here (pdf).

Attorneys representing both sides presented their case to the three-member panel on Wednesday. Tipping his hand, Miller shared concerns expressed by Bisignano's lawyer that thousands of Iowans could lose their voting rights if Chiodo's challenge were upheld. In fact, Miller estimated that 35,000 to 50,000 people could become ineligible to vote under that standard.

Today Chiodo's attorney confirmed plans to appeal in Polk County District Court. The case may eventually reach the Iowa Supreme Court, as language in the state constitution and a 1994 law are in conflict. I don't see how the matter could be resolved before the June 3 primary, let alone before the Polk County Auditor's office will have to print primary ballots.

After the jump I've posted statements from Bisignano's campaign. The winner of the Democratic primary is virtually guaranteed to succeed Jack Hatch in Iowa Senate district 17. Republicans do not even have a candidate running in this heavily Democratic area of Des Moines.

I'm disappointed that Ned Chiodo is willing to sacrifice the voting rights of thousands of people in order to advance his political career. By the same token, I would prefer not to elect a repeat drunk driver to the legislature. Whether or not Bisignano's offense meets the legal definition of an "infamous crime," his behavior posed a danger to himself and others. If I lived in Senate district 17 I would vote for new blood in the Democratic caucus: Nathan Blake. The official announcement of his candidacy is at the end of this post.

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Matt Schultz spins voter fraud acquittal as success

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 10:52:34 AM CDT

Most people familiar with the criminal justice system understand that a jury acquittal after less than an hour is an embarrassing loss for the prosecutor and a sign that the case should never have come to trial.

Then there's Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. Having spent major political capital (not to mention hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars) to spin simple errors into grand criminal conspiracies, he managed to claim victory yesterday when a Lee County jury declared an ineligible voter not guilty of perjury.

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Medical marijuana links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 13:48:03 PM CDT

I've been meaning to put up a thread on efforts to legalize cannabis for medical use in Iowa. State Senator Joe Bolkcom has been the lead sponsor of a bill that would create "a state regulated system to provide medical cannabis to Iowans under a doctor's care." Senate File 2215 (full text) did not meet the Iowa legislature's first "funnel" deadline because of a lack of support from statehouse Republicans. However, more recently GOP lawmakers including Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, a nurse practitioner, have said they are open to discussions on the issue. Iowa House Republican Clel Baudler, who helped kill a similar bill last year, is dead-set against what he calls an "asinine" idea.

The Iowa Medical Marijuana website includes much more background on efforts to legalize the medical use of cannabis. The front page of that site includes links to recent news coverage and videos from an Iowa Senate hearing on March 5. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta changed his mind on the medical uses of marijuana while working on a documentary last year.

After the jump I've enclosed a statement from Bolkcom explaining the key points of SF 2215, highlights from the Des Moines Register's latest polling on the issue, and comments from Governor Terry Branstad, West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer, and Representative Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

Any relevant thoughts or predictions are welcome in this thread. I expect advocates will have to work for at least a few more years before Iowa joins the 20 states and Washington, DC where medical marijuana is already legal.  

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