We have a new candidate in Iowa House district 7

John Wittneben, a small business owner and member of the Estherville City Council, announced today that he is running as a Democrat in Iowa House district 7, where seven-term Democratic State Representative Marcella Frevert is retiring. The north-central Iowa district includes all of Emmet and Palo Alto Counties and Kossuth County north of Algona (map here). From Wittneben’s press release:

“As a small business owner, my top priority will be to help businesses across Iowa expand and create good-paying jobs.  We need a strong education system and world-class community colleges to make sure we have a skilled workforce that can compete for jobs in the 21st Century economy,” said Wittneben, who is former president of the Estherville Chamber of Commerce. “Through the wind energy program at Iowa Lakes Community College, I’m proud our community is training students to support Iowa’s renewable energy industry.”

Wittneben owns his own land surveying company and has previously worked for Jacobsen-Westergard & Associates in Estherville.  He serves on the Estherville City Council and was the Estherville Chamber Citizen of the Year in 2007.  He is a member of the Estherville Rotary, Friends of Fort Defiance, and the Good Samaritan Citizen Advisory Board.

“After growing up in Estherville and working across the country, I know there is no better place to live and operate my business than in Estherville.  I care deeply about our state and community and that’s why I want to be State Representative,” added Wittneben.  “My top priority at the Statehouse will be to listen to the people of District 7 and work across party lines to make our community a better place to live.” Wittneben grew up in Estherville and received his AA in pre-engineering from Iowa Lakes Community College. He also attended Iowa State University.

“I’ve balanced the books in my own business and I will make sure we keep the state’s fiscal house in order. We must balance the budget without raising taxes, create jobs, and keep our k-12 education system strong,” concluded Wittneben.

He sounds like a strong candidate to hold this district in the Democratic column. He’s already won elected office in Estherville, the largest town in the district with a population of around 6,300. Frevert was from Emmetsburg, which has about 3,600 residents. She did not have a Republican opponent in the 2006 mid-term election. In 2008 she received 58.5 percent of the vote against Republican Debra Satern.

I don’t know who is running for the Republicans in Iowa House district 7, but I will update this post when I learn more.

UPDATE: Thanks to Bleeding Heartland user hawkeye77 for more information in the comments. The GOP candidate is West Bend-Mallard School Board member Lannie Miller, who served three terms as a county supervisor in Palo Alto and has chaired the county’s Republican Party.

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Good news for Iowa water quality (for once)

State legislators have allowed clean water “anti-degradation” rules to stand, a step toward filling a significant hole in Iowa’s water quality regulations. A last-ditch effort by Republicans failed to win enough votes on the Iowa legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee (ARRC) to set aside rules adopted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

I’ve joked that the ARRC’s unofficial motto is “Where good rules go to die,” because on several occasions the committee has rejected rules oriented toward environmental protection. Today Republican Senator Merlin Bartz tried to keep that tradition going with a motion to object to the new water quality rules. However, only Bartz’s three fellow Republicans on the committee (Senator James Seymour and State Representatives Dave Heaton and Linda Upmeyer) voted for rejecting the DNR’s rules. The six Democrats on the ARRC (Senators Wally Horn, Jack Kibbie and Tom Courtney, and State Representatives Marcella Frevert, Tyler Olson and Nathan Reichert) all voted against Bartz’s resolution.

Governor Chet Culver’s chief legal counsel, Jim Larew, spoke in favor of the rules at today’s ARRC hearing, saying they would help Iowa reverse the trend of declining water quality. Unfortunately, we’ve got a long way to go on this front. Further regulation of pollution is warranted, but the political will to accomplish that is currently absent in the state legislature.

Several non-profit organizations deserve special recognition today. Without their efforts, the DNR might not have moved forward to adopt the anti-degradation rules, as required by the Clean Water Act. The Iowa Environmental Council issued a release today with more background and details about the anti-degradation rules. Excerpt:

With the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 states were required to enact Antidegradation rules to prevent the further pollution of lakes, rivers and streams in the nation by 1985.  Iowa adopted rules but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed Iowa that its rules violated federal law as early as 1997.  

Repeated delays in rewriting the rules led a coalition of environmental organizations – Iowa Environmental Council, Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law & Policy Center – to file a Petition for Rulemaking with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2007 requesting that the State act immediately to adopt antidegradation implementation rules.  This action initiated a rule-making process that included several opportunities for public comment and a hearing before the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, which approved the revised rules in December of last year. Monday’s meeting of the legislative Administrative Rules and Review Committee marked the final step in the decades-long process.

The full text of the press release is after the jump.

Thanks again to the Iowa Environmental Council, the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Sierra Club Iowa chapter, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

UPDATE: I’ve added the press release from the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter after the jump.

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When lawmakers feel sorry for law-breakers

Normally, people who write laws want the rest of us to follow those laws. However, when enforcing a statute costs a corporate interest group more money, prepare to hear some whining about government officials doing their jobs. So it was last week, when the Iowa Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee unanimously approved rules formulated by Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.

The rules expand the number of hospital workers who are considered mandatory reporters of abuse to include food service workers and housekeeping staff, and define “gross negligence” as a form of abuse.

Lobbyists for Iowa’s hospitals and nursing homes attended Tuesday’s meeting and argued against approval. They said the state inspectors’ definition of gross negligence would result in too many caregivers being branded as abusers. They argued that gross negligence requires a willful, deliberate effort to harm a patient. […]

Representatives of Iowa AARP, the Governor’s Developmental Disability Council and Iowa Protection and Advocacy argued that industry proposals would weaken protection for seniors.

Rep. Bruce Hunter, a Des Moines Democrat who managed legislation related to the proposed rules, addressed the committee and said the industry’s proposed definition of gross negligence was unworkable.

“It would make it very, very difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute somebody in a nursing home or a hospital,” he said. “Yes, we want to make prosecution difficult because dependent-adult abuse is a serious charge, but we don’t want to make it impossible.”

Democratic State Representative Marcella Frevert

expressed dismay that regulators seemed to have regressed from “educational and helpful” enforcement to a “gotcha mentality” of penalizing violators.

Frevert joined the rest of the committee in approving the inspections department’s proposals, but said the full Legislature should consider revisiting the issue in 2010. “So, this isn’t over,” she said.

Here’s an idea: let’s stop issuing tickets for speeding and running red lights in favor of more “educational and helpful” enforcement of traffic laws.

Seriously, those talking points about the “gotcha” mentality of nursing home regulators sound familiar. That’s because legislators from both parties have made the same points in the past. By an amazing coincidence, those legislators have taken expenses-paid trips to Washington courtesy of the Iowa Healthcare Association, which represents nursing homes.

This issue bears watching during the 2010 legislative session, because nursing home operators know their way around the capitol and are good at getting what they want. Legislators could do this group a favor by relaxing the rules on “gross negligence” in nursing homes, and it wouldn’t cost an extra dollar from the general fund.  

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