Weekend open thread: Veterans Day do's and don'ts

Thanking a veteran is easy. Tackling problems that face veterans is hard.

At no time is that political reality more apparent than on the 11th day of the 11th month.

The usual expressions of respect and gratitude can be found in the latest batch of Veterans Day tweets by Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and Representatives Rod Blum (R, IA-01), Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02), David Young (R, IA-03), and Steve King (R, IA-04).

After the jump I’ve posted some concrete ways members of Congress could show they care about veterans. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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ACLU challenges Medicaid coverage exclusions for transgender Iowans

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa has filed a second lawsuit charging that state government violates the civil rights of transgender Iowans. Plaintiff EerieAnna Good is a Medicaid recipient who has been denied coverage for transition-related surgical care, because Iowa Department of Human Services administrative rules exclude Medicaid coverage for surgery related to “Sex reassignment.”

Professional associations representing doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers support transition-related care as medically necessary, and more than a dozen states prohibit transgender exclusions in private health insurance or Medicaid.

In a news release enclosed in full below, ACLU of Iowa legal director Rita Bettis noted that “Iowans who are not transgender routinely receive coverage for a medically necessary mastectomy—but a transgender Iowan would be banned from coverage for the same care to treat gender dysphoria regardless of medical need. That’s a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and equal protection under the Iowa Constitution.” (Since 2007, the Iowa Civil Rights Act has prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity.)

A second transgender Iowan, Carol Ann Beal, will likely join this lawsuit after the Iowa DHS finishes processing her appeal of Medicaid’s denial of coverage, the ACLU said.

Last month, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of a former Iowa prison nurse, who “was continuously denied the use of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity, because he is transgender,” and also denied “the same level of health care benefit coverage” the state plan provided to employees who are not transgender.

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Pete Buttigieg on how Democrats can "flip the script"

“It is time for Democrats to stop treating the presidency like it’s the only office that matters,” said South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, in one of the most memorable lines from his speech at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed in Des Moines on September 10. He missed a Notre Dame home football game weekend to spend time here, because in his view, we are facing “the most important season for progressives in our lifetime. And so much of what has to happen—so much of what has to change—starts right here in the middle of the country.”

Last year’s rout in state legislative races allowed Iowa Republicans to enact a long list of destructive policies. Although today’s school board elections are non-partisan, as are the city council and mayoral races in November, the turnout level and outcomes should provide some clues about whether Democrats and progressives are able to translate their anger into effective political action.

Buttigieg recognizes the challenges facing a party at a low point nationally and in states like Indiana and Iowa. On the plus side, he is convinced Democrats already have a message that can resonate with voters, and “It’s not even complicated.”

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Former Iowa prison nurse files landmark transgender rights lawsuit

A former prison nurse has filed Iowa’s first transgender rights case since state lawmakers and the governor added gender identity protections to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa announced today.

Jesse Vroegh is suing the Iowa Department of Corrections, the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, the insurance company Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Iowa, and State Penitentiary Warden Patti Wachtendorf on four counts of discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex. The plaintiff charges that while employed at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, he “was continuously denied the use of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity, because he is transgender.”

In addition, the Department of Corrections “denied transgender employees the same level of health care benefit coverage that it provided to non-transgender employees,” while the Department of Administrative Services “was involved in the decision to select and offer to employees of the Iowa Department of Corrections only employer-sponsored health care plans which discriminated against transgender employees.”

Vroegh claims the state’s actions violated the Civil Rights Act and provisions in the Iowa Constitution that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and require equal protection for historically disfavored groups. I enclose below the plaintiff’s initial court filing and a press release providing more background on the case.

Although he no longer works for the Department of Corrections, Vroegh said in a statement he is proceeding with the lawsuit “because I feel I need to fight for the rights not only of transgender people who work for the state but for other Iowa workers as well. I’m not asking for any special treatment of myself or any other transgender person. All I’m asking for is that transgender people be treated the same way as people who are not transgender.”

The ACLU of Iowa noted, “The first transgender employment discrimination case, Sommers v. Iowa Civil Rights Commission, was decided in 1983. But today’s action is the first case we’re aware of to be filed in Iowa District Court that asserts gender identity discrimination in employment since the Iowa Civil Rights Act was amended in 2007 to include gender identity and sexual orientation.” A few state House and Senate Republicans joined almost all of the Democratic lawmakers to approve the new civil rights language during the first year Democrats had controlled both chambers of the legislature in more than a decade. Governor Chet Culver signed the bill into law.

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How Phil Miller won the Iowa House district 82 special election

Democrat Phil Miller won today’s special election in Iowa House district 82 by 4,021 votes to 3,324 for Republican Travis Harris (53.8 percent to 44.5 percent). It was a larger margin of victory than Miller’s good friend Curt Hanson managed in his 2009 special election, the first state legislative race after the Iowa Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in Varnum v Brien. The results will be a morale boost for Democrats, since Donald Trump won nearly 57.8 percent of the vote in the House district 82 precincts last year, compared to just 36.4 percent for Hillary Clinton.

The 7,476 votes cast in House district 82, according to the unofficial tally, is roughly three times higher than the turnout for the special elections earlier this year in heavily Republican House district 22 and heavily Democratic House district 89. The major parties spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television commercials and direct mail to mobilize supporters of Miller and Harris (more on that spending below). On the other hand, turnout for this race was a bit lower than voter participation in Hanson’s special election win eight years ago.

Miller’s home base of Jefferson County, containing the population centers of Fairfield and Vedic City, carried him to victory.

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