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Another baby step toward making medical cannabis available in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Sep 13, 2014 at 10:03:00 AM CDT

The Iowa legislature's Cannabidiol Implementation Study Committee met Thursday to discuss problems related to the implementation of the new law intended to allow Iowans to use cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders. Although the law went into effect on July 1, families who lobbied for measure are not yet able to purchase the oil derived from marijuana plants, because of various legal hurdles. Ten lawmakers (five from each chamber and five from each political party) serve on the study committee: State Senators Joe Bolkcom (D), Bill Dotzler (D), Steve Sodders (D), Charles Schneider (R), and Mike Brietbach (R), and State Representatives Walt Rogers (R), Clel Baudler (R), Linda Miller (R), John Forbes (D), and Bob Kressig (D).

Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register that the committee voted 9-1 to recommend that the state reschedule marijuana from "a Schedule I drug, meaning its use for any reason is illegal," to "a Schedule II drug, which could be used for medical purposes." Rogers was the dissenting vote. The committee voted 6-4 for "a motion to recommend allowing the closely regulated production and distribution of medical marijuana for approved patients. The motion did not specify what type of marijuana, but it did say the state should not tax the products." Baudler, at one time Iowa's most vocal opponent of medical marijuana, joined the five Democrats on the committee to approve that motion. However, Leys noted that Baudler "strenuously opposes expanding the law to let people possess marijuana to treat other conditions, such as cancer or Crohn's disease. The committee rejected a motion to recommend such an expansion."

The committee's recommendations are not binding on the Iowa House and Senate, which will go back into session next January.

Not to take anything away from the suffering of Iowans with seizure disorders, but I don't understand why lawmakers would want to approve medical cannabis for those conditions only and not for a range of other chronic or life-threatening diseases, which affect thousands of people here. Other states have created workable programs limiting access to those with genuine medical needs, and a majority of Iowans support legalizing the medical use of marijuana. Oncologists have been quietly recommending cannabis to cancer patients for at least four decades.

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Iowa judge sentences medical marijuana user to probation

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 10, 2014 at 13:27:00 PM CDT

In a case being watched by medical marijuana advocates across the country, cancer patient Benton Mackenzie received three years of probation rather than a prison term for his conviction in July on drug charges. Mackenzie had grown marijuana plants on his parents' property in order to extract cannabis oil, and his wife and son also faced drug charges. At the trial, District Court Judge Henry Latham did not allow Mackenzie's attorney to tell the jury that the defendant was trying to treat his angiosarcoma. Yesterday, the same judge sentenced both Mackenzie and his wife Loretta Mackenzie to probation, in line with the prosecutor's recommendation in the case. After the jump I've posted excerpts from Brian Wellner's report for the Quad-City Times and Grant Rodgers' report for the Des Moines Register. Libertarian candidate for governor Lee Hieb, a medical doctor, attended yesterday's hearing and afterward called for a change in public policy to give people "the right to choose our own cancer care." Mackenzie expressed hope that he will be the "last person" to be prosecuted under similar circumstances.

The Mackenzie family wants to move to Oregon, where a doctor has approved Benton Mackenzie for participation in that state's medical marijuana program. Probation officers in Iowa would have to sign off on the move before the family could leave the state. Mackenzie also plans to appeal "in an effort to get the Iowa Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in a 2005 case that bars Iowans from using claims of medical necessity as a defense to growing marijuana."

I still think it was a waste of taxpayer money to prosecute a critically ill person for growing marijuana intended for personal use. Iowa lawmakers should make cannabis more accessible to people who can demonstrate a medical need for it.  

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When will our culture recognize domestic violence as violent crime?

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 09, 2014 at 08:49:37 AM CDT

Not being a football fan, I had never heard of Ray Rice until the Baltimore Ravens running back received a pathetic two-game suspension for beating up his fiancee Janay Palmer (now his wife) earlier this year. Rice finally lost his job yesterday, after a leaked video showed him punching Palmer in an elevator. But Louis Bien's timeline of key events in the case underscores how many authority figures bent over backwards to help Rice avoid any serious repercussions.

For months, top management for the Ravens made clear they hoped Rice would continue to play football with minimal interruption. The team's official twitter account promoted the idea that Palmer shared some responsibility for getting knocked out. Having given other players one-or two-game suspensions for domestic violence incidents, the National Football League didn't ask the Atlantic City casino for video footage before deciding on an initial consequence for Rice. Unbelievably, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell interviewed Janay Rice about the incident in the presence of her husband. In a meaningless gesture, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely yesterday--after the Ravens had ended his contract.

Instead of moving forward with aggravated assault charges, New Jersey prosecutors offered Rice a deal involving probation and anger management counseling rather than prison time. The "pretrial intervention" agreement means that Rice can avoid trial and even have the criminal charges expunged, as long as he complies with the program. I'm all for abusers getting counseling, in addition to facing legal consequences for their actions. Rice's deal seems way too lenient, given the evidence prosecutors had on videotape. The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office says Rice "received the same treatment in the court system that any first-time offender in similar circumstances has received," which doesn't inspire confidence in the court system.

Rice is lucky that he'll probably never serve a day in prison for this assault, yet football legend Mike Ditka noted sympathetcally yesterday that Rice is "not a bad guy" who has seen his life "ruined" and his earning power "destroyed." Right-wing media darling Ben Carson loves to talk about "personal responsibility." But when asked about Rice yesterday, Carson said, "Let's not all jump on the bandwagon of demonizing this guy. He obviously has some real problems. And his wife obviously knows that because she subsequently married him. [...] let's see if we can get some help for these people." In what other context would a conservative show such sympathy for a man who had beaten someone unconscious? Yes, Rice has problems. Let him get help while he faces responsibility for his crimes.

By the way, Carson spent a few days in Iowa during the last week of August. The possible 2016 presidential candidate headlined fundraisers for the Polk County Republican Party and GOP Congressional candidates Rod Blum (IA-01) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02). I hope that Blum, Miller-Meeks, and Polk County GOP Chair Will Rogers will repudiate Carson's comments about Rice. Domestic violence is the most prevalent form of violent crime in Iowa, affecting tens of thousands of people every year.

UPDATE: Worth reading Vice President Joe Biden's comments on Rice and our cultural attitudes toward violence. Biden was the lead author of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

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Weekend open thread: Political corruption edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Sep 07, 2014 at 13:10:56 PM CDT

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

I've been reading about the recent convictions of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen McDonnell on federal corruption charges. Both are likely to do prison time for accepting money and favors for personal benefit. Incidentally, McDonnell refused a deal that would have required him to plead guilty to just one charge, sparing his wife from prosecution. Iowa's own former State Senator Kent Sorenson showed more chivalry--or was it wisdom, for once?--when he agreed to plead guilty on corruption charges, protecting his own wife from prosecution in connection with illegal payments.

While I have no problem with prosecuting greedy politicians, it occurs to me that the McDonnells' outrageous actions (such as letting a wealthy businessman cater their daughter's wedding) were less damaging to the public welfare than many more prevalent forms of "legal corruption." No governor will be prosecuted for appointing wealthy donors to powerful state positions, where they may promote their own businesses or interfere with those they see threatening their industry. No governor will ever be prosecuted for giving interest groups undue influence on public policy, either covertly or openly. In the August 31 Sunday Des Moines Register, Richard Doak wrote an excellent piece on how Governor Terry Branstad has "put state government at the service of one segment of the people: the business community." I've posted excerpts after the jump. Doak's not talking about criminal activity, but he cites policies that have harmed Iowa more than any luxury vacation for the McDonnells could ever harm Virginia.

On a related note, the Brennan Center for Justice recently published a disturbing report on trends in federal campaign spending:

In recent cases like Citizens United and McCutcheon, the Supreme Court has been narrowing what counts as corruption in campaign finance cases to mere quid pro quo corruption. Quid pro quo is Latin meaning "this for that." In other words only explicit exchanges of gifts for votes or campaign cash for official acts will count as corruption for the Roberts Supreme Court. But a new study entitled, "The New Soft Money" from Professor Daniel Tokaji and Renata Strause calls this narrow read of corruption into question.  

Speaking of "dark money," Iowa's third Congressional district was among thirteen tossup U.S. House races examined in a separate Brennan Center report on outside political spending. A growing trend (not yet seen in IA-03) is for a super-PAC to be formed supporting a single Congressional candidate, giving "big donors a way of evading federal contribution limits."

UPDATE: Over at the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's blog, Adam Rappaport illustrates another example of legalized corruption: "issue ads" funded by dark money, which are clearly intended to influence elections. Although the "tax code plainly says section 501(c)(4) organizations must be 'exclusively' engaged in non-political activity," the IRS interpretation allows dark money groups to fund blatant electioneering communications.  

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Iowa's medical marijuana law too limited, unworkable

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Aug 28, 2014 at 12:22:00 PM CDT

On the last day of this year's legislative session, Iowa lawmakers took a baby step toward legalizing the medical use of marijuana in this state. I found it regrettable that the only compromise acceptable to Governor Terry Branstad and key Iowa House Republicans limited access to cannabis oil suitable for treating seizure disorders. Thousands of other Iowans suffer from debilitating chronic and/or life-threatening conditions, which could be alleviated with medical marijuana in other forms.

Turns out, the new law isn't even helping the few hundred people who could theoretically benefit from cannabis oil. Although the law went into effect on July 1, parents who lobbied for it told the Des Moines Register's Tony Leys this week that access to the medicine is "still light years away."

[T]he law included no legal method for growing or selling the product. State administrators are still working out the details of how to issue ID cards allowing residents to possess marijuana extract bought in other states.

[Sally] Gaer and other parents believe their children's seizures could be significantly dampened with a form of marijuana oil that has low levels of THC, the chemical that makes marijuana users high. But they remain unable to legally obtain the oil, which is said to have worked well in other states. [...] Colorado law only allows sales of the medication to Colorado residents, they said. They've heard that once they have their Iowa-issued cards, they might be allowed to purchase the extract in Oregon. "What are we all going to do, get in a wagon train and go over the mountains?" Gaer said with a wry laugh.

The women said they were disappointed by how long it's taking Iowa officials to implement the law, which technically took effect July 1. [...]

The women said they have found Iowa-licensed neurologists willing to sign a form recommending the marijuana extract for their children, as the Iowa law requires. However, the form has not been created yet by state officials. If the families can find an out-of-state supplier willing to sell the oil to them, they would face a cost of several hundred to more than a thousand dollars per month - plus the cost of travel. They also could risk arrest for carrying the oil through states that don't allow it.

Why are we putting families through this ordeal when more than a dozen states have already led the way toward making medical marijuana available to people who need it? After the jump I've posted a video of Dr. Steven Jenison talking about New Mexico's medical cannabis program, which he helped to implement in 2007.

State Senator Joe Bolkcom has promised he will work to expand the new law during the 2015 legislative session. Here's hoping the Iowa House and Senate will listen.

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Kent Sorenson pleads guilty over hidden payments scheme (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 27, 2014 at 13:39:46 PM CDT

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that former State Senator Kent Sorenson has pleaded guilty to two charges related to hidden payments in exchange for supporting Ron Paul for president. When he abandoned his position as Michele Bachmann's Iowa campaign chair to endorse Paul less than a week before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, rumors immediately circulated about alleged payments for his support. Sorenson repeatedly denied those rumors. However, he has now admitted that he received $73,000 in concealed payments after endorsing Paul. As part of his plea agreement, he also admitted lying to journalists and giving false testimony to an independent counsel appointed to investigate various charges. Sorenson resigned his Iowa Senate seat last October, the same day that independent counsel filed a devastating report. Federal authorities have been investigating the case since last year.

After the jump I've enclosed the full Department of Justice press release, with more details about the plea deal. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled. As far as I can tell, these charges are unrelated to any payments Sorenson allegedly received from the Bachmann campaign earlier in 2011. A former Bachmann campaign staffer made those claims in complaints he filed with the Federal Election Commission and with the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee. Another former Bachmann staffer signed an affidavit containing details on Sorenson's compensation for work supporting that campaign.

One mystery I hope someone will solve someday is whether Sorenson's attorney, Ted Sporer, lied on behalf of his client, or whether Sorenson lied to Sporer along with everyone else. Even on the day he resigned from the state legislature, Sorenson maintained he was an innocent victim of a "straight-up political witch hunt." A separate lawsuit that had alleged Sorenson stole a valuable e-mail list from a Bachmann staffer's computer was eventually settled without any admission of wrongdoing by Sorenson.

UPDATE: Russ Choma has more details at Open Secrets, including the full plea agreement. Highly recommend clicking through to read that whole post. I've enclosed excerpts below.

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Three reasons Rick Perry's indictment will help him with Iowa Republicans

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 19, 2014 at 10:54:25 AM CDT

Being charged with a crime is rarely good news for any public figure, but it looks like Texas Governor Rick Perry will be the exception that proves the rule.

Not only will his presidential aspirations survive the criminal case launched against him last last week, the governor's prosecution will improve his standing among Iowa Republicans, for three reasons.

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State Representative Henry Rayhons charged with abusing his incapacitated wife

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 07:25:00 AM CDT

When I criticized State Representative Henry Rayhons for announcing his retirement so late in an election year, I had no idea this was coming down the pike:

Today, 78 year old Henry Rayhons of Garner, Iowa was arrested after charges were filed against him for 3rd Degree Sexual Abuse, a class C Felony. [...]

The criminal complaint states that on or about May 23, 2014, Rayhons committed sexual abuse upon the victim [Donna Rayhons] by performing a sex act upon her as a person suffering from mental defect or incapacity, after he had been told that the victim did not have the cognitive ability to give consent to any sexual activity.

You can view the complaint and affidavit here (pdf). After the jump I've posted the full text of the Iowa Department of Public Safety press release, a statement released by Henry Rayhons' attorney, and excerpts from relevant news coverage. Henry Rayhons has been released from jail after posting bail. Donna Rayhons passed away on August 8.

It appears that the prosecution's case against Rayhons will rely on testimony from Donna Rayhons' roommate at the nursing home, surveillance camera footage from the nursing home, and statements the state lawmaker made while being interviewed by a Department of Criminal Investigations agent on June 12. Judging from comments made yesterday by Rayhons' son and by his attorney, the defense will argue that Rayhons is the victim of a "witch hunt," that he loved his wife, and that the "sexual contact" he admitted to "could be anything from a hug or a kiss."

Rayhons' late retirement makes a lot more sense now. By the way, on August 14 local Republicans held a special election to nominate Terry Baxter in Iowa House district 8, the seat Rayhons will vacate. Baxter will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

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Weekend open thread: Crime and punishment edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 20:58:44 PM CDT

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

Late last week, a Virginia medical examiner determined that James Brady's recent death was a homicide, stemming from John Hinckley's attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. I would be interested to hear from readers more familiar with the criminal justice system about precedent for charging someone with murder when more than three decades elapsed between the fatal wound and the victim's death. The U.S. Attorney's office had no comment other than to say that they are reviewing the coroner's report. If prosecutors charge Hinckley with murder, they could get around double jeopardy questions, as Hinckley was never tried for murder before. But since his previous trial ended in a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, it seems that it would be quite difficult for prosecutors to convince a jury that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of killing Brady.

In one of the last decisions announced from the term that just ended, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled a few weeks ago in State v Lyle that mandatory sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. You can read the majority ruling and two dissents here. The majority ruling built on but went far beyond a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated mandatory sentences of life without parole for convicted killers who were juveniles at the time of the crime. Writing for the 4-3 majority, Chief Justice Mark Cady extended reasoning from three Iowa Supreme Court decisions last year related to juvenile sentencing. Cady is not afraid to be ahead of the curve here. I expect that over the next decade, other courts will take into account the growing body of research on the adolescent brain, and this ruling will be viewed as a harbinger rather than an overreach. Justices David Wiggins, Daryl Hecht, and Brent Appel joined the majority.

In dissent, Justices Thomas Waterman and Bruce Zager argued that the court went too far in the current ruling as well as in the previous juvenile sentencing cases. They held that a seven-year mandatory minimum was not "cruel and unusual punishment" for a violent criminal who happened to be 17 years old at the time of the crime. Justice Edward Mansfield joined both dissents. It's worth noting that the majority opinion didn't say a juvenile couldn't be sentenced to a long prison term--only that a judge must take into account individual circumstances and current knowledge of adolescent brain development when determining a sentence.

Side note: Governor Terry Branstad appeared not to understand this Iowa Supreme Court ruling, or perhaps he deliberately attempted to mislead the public about its implications. Speaking to reporters last month, the governor implied that juveniles who commit violent crimes will now have to be released at age 18. Not at all. The Iowa Supreme Court majority did not hold that juveniles could never be tried as adults, or that juveniles could not be sentenced to long prison terms. Judges simply can't apply to juveniles mandatory formulas designed for adults who committed violent crimes.

Earlier this summer, I never managed to write a post about the idiot "open carry activists" who were hell-bent on walking into chain stores and restaurants heavily armed. Even the National Rifle Association characterized the movement as having "crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness"--though the NRA wimps soon apologized for offending Open Carry Texas. Thankfully, I haven't encountered this phenomenon in Iowa, but if I see a person or group of people walking heavily armed into a store or restaurant, I will clear out immediately. There's no way to tell whether someone carrying a semiautomatic weapon is an open carry activist or a psychopath about to go on a killing spree, and I wouldn't hang around to find out. This philosophy professor had it exactly right when he pointed out that open carry enthusiasts are different from people who carry concealed weapons: "Those who conceal their guns are ready for trouble, but open-carry activists are looking for it. In general, I don't trust anyone who is looking for trouble."

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Iowa State University ending VEISHEA for good

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Aug 07, 2014 at 11:40:00 AM CDT

Iowa State University President Steven Leath announced this morning that the university will never again hold the annual spring celebration known as "VEISHEA" for more than 90 years. Leath cancelled most VEISHEA events this year after a riot broke out yet again. Last month, a task force Leath convened to study the issue recommended replacing the celebration with at least three separate events, not using the VEISHEA name and not held during the spring or on any holiday weekends. You can read the full report here (45-page pdf). Vanessa Miller summarized its key points in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Although many ISU alums will be disappointed to see the VEISHEA tradition end, Leath made the right decision in my opinion. Long ago this event's name lost its association with ISU's original colleges (Veterinary Medicine, Engineering, Industrial Science, Home Economics, and Agriculture). Anything called VEISHEA will make many people think of drunken riots, and as the task force report noted, "A major springtime event at Iowa State, even if significantly retooled and identified by a different name, may still carry with it the baggage of unofficial VEISHEA." I suspect most Ames residents will be relieved by today's news.

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Rest in peace, Jim Brady

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 20:25:00 PM CDT

Jim Brady never planned to be a gun control advocate. That task fell to him when a mentally ill person tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. John Hinckley's attack left Brady permanently disabled and unable to continue his career as a press secretary. However, he and his wife Sarah Brady remained in public life as the country's most visible and dedicated advocates of gun control. More than twenty years after President Bill Clinton signed it into law, the Brady Handgun Control Act remains the most significant federal legislation designed to keep guns away from criminals, abusers, and some mentally ill people.

Like the 55 mph speed limit, which saved lives without allowing us to point to specific people who benefited, the Brady bill has surely prevented some gun deaths. We'll never know who is walking around alive today because an unstable person was blocked from buying a gun. How well the Brady Bill works is a matter of debate. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reported earlier this year that the law had "blocked more than 2.1 million gun purchases" to felons, domestic abusers, or fugitives. I've posted excerpts from that report after the jump.

Other researchers have suggested that the Brady law had limited impact on gun violence overall. While the waiting period introduced in 1994 likely reduced gun suicides, gun homicides were less affected because the "unregulated secondary gun market" has remained "a gaping loophole" in the system of background checks. The National Rifle Association and other pro-gun advocates have repeatedly stymied Congressional efforts to close that loophole.

Brady died yesterday at age 73. I appreciate how hard he worked, in a role no one would choose, to keep others from being killed or wounded by people who never should have been able to buy a gun.  

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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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