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No-brainer: fired Iowa DCI agent wants his job back

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 09:50:00 AM CDT

The career Division of Criminal Investigation agent who lost his job shortly after reporting a speeding incident involving Governor Terry Branstad's SUV is willing to drop his lawsuit against the state if he can get his old job back, James Q. Lynch reported yesterday for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

"He is interested in returning and it's our understanding the position is still available," said Tom Duff, a Des Moines attorney representing former DCI special agent Larry Hedlund.

Hedlund was a central figure in a high-profile incident last April where a state trooper driving an SUV carrying Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds was clocked driving 84 mph in a 65-mph zone. [...]

Although officially retired now, Hedlund is interested in returning to work, Duff said. Since the incident, the director of the Department of Public Safety has left state employment and two others involved in the handling of the Hedlund case have moved to other jobs.

The former Department of Public Safety chief was Brian London, who stepped down last September. His tenure at the agency was a real train wreck. The Iowa Senate recently confirmed Larry Noble to run the department again; he was Branstad's first choice for that job.

By many accounts, Hedlund was a solid employee during his long career at the DCI. If he is willing to work there again, rehiring him seems like an easy call. I can't imagine why the state would prefer to roll the dice on expensive litigation. Court hearings would only generate more coverage of Hedlund being forced out. Hedlund's attorney told Lynch that he has not heard back yet from the Iowa Attorney General's Office.  

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The pros and cons of Iowa traffic cameras: links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 07:37:38 AM CDT

Transportation policy doesn't often generate passionate public debate, but everyone seems to have a strong opinion about traffic cameras. Last week the non-profit news service Iowa Watch published an excellent piece on how traffic cameras are used in Iowa and the conflicting evidence about whether they improve public safety. Kelsey Block's article inspired me to compile arguments for and against this law enforcement tool.
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Iowa legislative news roundup: dead and alive after the second funnel

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 13:59:29 PM CDT

The Iowa legislature's second "funnel" deadline passed late last week. To remain eligible for debate during the remainder of this year's session, most legislation needed to have passed one chamber as well as a committee in the other chamber. There are a few exceptions to the rule, namely appropriations bills and some tax measures. Rod Boshart listed the most significant "dead" and "alive" bills for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The Iowa House Republican staff compiled a more comprehensive list of "second funnel survivors," including bill summaries. The Iowa Senate Democratic staff highlighted the most important bills passed by the Senate that died in the House.

After the jump I've enclosed more links and some analysis on bills that died as well as those still under consideration. From my perspective, the most surprising casualty of the funnel was a bill to extend the statute of limitations for sex crimes against children (see the "safety and crime" section below).

Any comments on pending legislation in the Iowa House or Senate are welcome in this thread.  

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Sioux City suing state to block traffic camera rules

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 09:35:31 AM CDT

As Bleeding Heartland has discussed before, I've long felt that Governor Terry Branstad's disregard for local government authority is one of the most under-reported Iowa political stories of the last few years. The Iowa Department of Transportation's new rules restricting cities' use of traffic cameras is one of many examples. Bills seeking to ban local governments from using traffic cameras for law enforcement stalled during the 2012 and 2013 legislative sessions. The Iowa DOT's new rules went into effect last month; they do not prohibit all use of traffic cameras but require annual reviews to show the cameras are improving safety and not just serving as a revenue source for local government.

Sioux City is one of many Iowa municipalities that have installed traffic cameras on some major roads and intersections. The Iowa DOT gave Sioux City officials "until May 1 to justify the use of two speed cameras and seven of its 11 red-light cameras." Now the city government has filed a lawsuit claiming the state department exceeded its authority.

Assistant City attorney, Justin Vondrak, filed the judicial review action in Woodbury County District Court and says the DOT regulations make it almost impossible for the city to use speed cameras along Interstate 29 within the city limits. "What we're asking for is a review of the rules and to eventually have the rules determined to be unconstitutional based on the city's home rule authority, as well as other Iowa code sections which grant the city joint jurisdiction with the DOT for traffic enforcement upon the primary roadways within the city's jurisdiction," according to Vondrak.

More details on the lawsuit are after the jump.

Whatever the District Court rules, I expect the losing side to appeal and would not be surprised to see the Iowa Supreme Court eventually decide this matter. The case raises interesting questions about local and state government powers. On a related note, I still think some municipality should have challenged Governor Branstad's executive order on project labor agreements in court.

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What could go wrong? Iowa House legalizes silencers (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 09:54:36 AM CST

Most gun-related bills failed to make it through in the Iowa legislature's first "funnel" last week. The list of proposals that are dead for this year included efforts to restrict access to firearms (such as Senate File 2179 to close the gun show loophole) and several bills aimed at making guns more available: House File 384 to authorize possession of machine guns and sawed-off shotguns; House File 169/Senate File 251 to allow Iowans with permits to carry concealed weapons on school grounds; House File 172 to allow school employees to carry guns in school; and House File 2012 to allow children as young as 12 to possess handguns.

The trouble is, many incumbents don't want to face the gun lobby's wrath in an election year. Many lawmakers want to have something to brag about when pro-gun activists compile scorecards and endorsement lists. Such concerns prompted Iowa House and Senate leaders to revive and eventually pass a 2010 bill to make it easier for Iowans to carry concealed weapons.

I believe the same dynamic prompted Iowa House members to vote overwhelmingly yesterday to legalize firearm suppressors, better known as "silencers" popular for many decades among snipers and assassins.

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What could go wrong? 12-year-olds with handguns edition

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 09:51:25 AM CST

Every year I'm amazed by some of the bills Iowa House and Senate members introduce. An Iowa House Public Safety subcommittee provided the latest head-scratching example yesterday, when two Republicans and a Democrat unanimously advanced a bill to lower from fourteen to twelve the age at which Iowans can "possess a pistol or revolver or the ammunition therefor for any lawful purpose" while being supervised by a parent or guardian or an instructor authorized by a parent or guardian. Details are after the jump.  
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New Year's Day open thread

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 01, 2014 at 13:15:00 PM CST

Happy new year to the Bleeding Heartland community. Here's an open thread. I'm among the minority of Iowans not watching the Outback Bowl today, but for what it's worth, I do hope the Hawkeyes beat Louisiana State. LSU jumped out to an early lead.

Several new laws take effect in Iowa today, notably the alternative to expanding Medicaid, just approved by the federal government in mid-December. Under the plan, federal funds will cover Medicaid for Iowans earning up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level and private health insurance for Iowans with incomes between 100 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In theory, the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan is supposed to cover between 100,000 and 150,000 people, roughly half of our state's uninsured population. Problems with the federal health insurance exchange website may leave a lot of people with a gap in coverage, though. The Iowa Department of Human Services has advised roughly 16,000 Iowans who applied for coverage through Healthcare.gov and may be eligible for Medicaid to apply again to the state agency. If they apply by January 31, they can get coverage retroactive to today.

Teen drivers in Iowa face new restrictions under Senate File 115, which passed both chambers with large bipartisan majorities last year. After completing driver's ed and having an instruction permit for six months, teenagers will have an intermediate license for 12 months (extended from six months under the previous statute). Also, the teen driver's parents have the option to limit the driver to having no more than one unrelated minor passenger in the vehicle. Rod Boshart explained more details about the new law, intended to reduce the risk of traffic accidents involving young drivers.

Boshart also reports, "Thousands of commercial property owners in Iowa face a Jan. 15 deadline to apply in their counties for a new tax credit established" in the compromise property tax bill approved at the end of last year's legislative session with strong bipartisan support.

As of today, it is legal in the state of Colorado to sell marijuana to people over age 21 at certain licensed stores. Drivers with Colorado license plates were already among the groups more likely to be pulled over by Iowa State Patrol. I would guess that profiling will increase.

In some parts of the country, black-eyed peas are considered a lucky food to eat on New Year's Day. I'm not a fan of "hoppin' John," the most traditional preparation, but I've posted the recipe for my favorite black-eyed peas dish after the jump.  

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Weekend open thread: Nature in winter

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 16:50:00 PM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? Across central and parts of eastern Iowa, today was this winter's first good sledding opportunity. But road conditions are iffy, and tomorrow's high temperatures will be in the single digits, so be careful if you need to venture out. Earlier this month, I posted a bunch of winter safety links here.

Today's Sunday Des Moines Register includes a feature by Mike Kilen on Leland Searles' Raccoon River Watershed Phenology calendar. In a blatant play for the reader's attention, Kilen led with the calendar's many references to animal mating. This calendar is a fantastic resource for Iowans interested in birds or native plants. You can order copies here; part of the proceeds go to the non-profit Raccoon River Watershed Association.

The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round, and they have snowshoes for visitors to borrow if you want to explore the prairie. Highly recommended. The center also holds some special events during the winter, including a guided snowshoe hike on December 28 and a bird count scheduled for January 4.

I just learned about this website containing links to Iowa natural areas, including marshes, prairie remnants and fens as well as state parks and preserves.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa cities will face new hurdles on traffic cameras

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 09:54:00 AM CST

The Iowa Transportation Commission unanimously approved new rules yesterday regarding local use of cameras to enforce traffic laws on speeding and running red lights. You can read the rules proposed by the Iowa Department of Transportation here (pdf). A brief summary is after the jump.

Assuming the Iowa legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee allows the regulations to take effect, city or county governments will have to do more to gain approval from the Iowa DOT for installing or maintaining traffic cameras on roads. Iowa DOT Director Paul Trombino assured commissioners that the department will not ban traffic cameras, but officials will need to see evidence that cameras are being used for safety reasons and not primarily as a way to collect revenue. Dar Danielson and Mike Wiser both covered the transportation commission hearing.

The Iowa DOT pursued new rulemaking on this issue after bills that would have banned local governments from using traffic cameras for law enforcement stalled during the 2012 and 2013 legislative sessions.

Reasonable minds can differ on whether cameras are justified to enforce speeding laws. Regardless of your personal feelings, it's striking as another example of Governor Terry Branstad's administration and Republican lawmakers moving away from "local control" and embracing more state constraints on city and county government actions. Some local law enforcement agencies are not happy about the new rules on cameras.

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Iowa winter safety linkfest

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 09, 2013 at 09:10:00 AM CST

It's freezing cold across most of Iowa today, and road conditions are mixed after the first snowfall of several inches in central Iowa. It jogged my memory to post some links about winter safety.

The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning goes up during the winter, so be aware of that and other indoor air hazards common in cold weather.

For current road conditions, call 511 or use the Iowa Department of Transportation's 511 website or apps for mobile devices.

Avoid unnecessary vehicle travel during icy conditions or snowstorms. Here's good advice on how to drive in winter weather, what to keep in your car in case of emergency, and what to do if you become stranded in your car.

Frostbite is a problem for pets as well as humans during the winter.

I've been a "city girl" (in the Iowa context) all my life, but living in the country changes your midwestern winter experience. Danelle of the Stamps Family Farm posted "what you should know about winter on a farm."

For those who like to play outside in the winter, here are safety tips for sledding and going out on pond or lake ice. Over Thanksgiving weekend, two brothers drowned in a terrible pond ice tragedy in southwest Iowa.

Final link: look how these Russians got an empty SUV out of a pond using only simple machines and some manpower.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa wildlife edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 11:05:00 AM CST

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

As a major cold front and a dusting of snow covered much of Iowa in recent days, birds have been relying more on feeders. I've refilled ours every two or three days instead of once every ten days to two weeks. Now would be a excellent time to put out thistle seed for finches or any feeder containing a mix of birdseed.

November is the peak time for deer-vehicle collisions. The other day I was on a two-lane highway near dusk and saw a doe dart across the road, narrowly escaping a deadly encounter with trucks traveling in both directions. Of course, I thought immediately of Senator Chuck Grassley.

Pheasant season opened in late October, but bird numbers are down significantly, due to weather conditions and habitat loss. The trendlines are even worse in South Dakota.

Via the Next City blog, I saw an amazing map of the "United Watershed States of America." Land use planner John Lavey created the map after wondering, "What if all the states were configured around principal watersheds?" In Lavey's map, "Iowa" consists of areas feeding into the Mississippi River. Western parts of our state that feed into the Missouri River are part of "Missouri" on the map.

Speaking of watersheds, the Raccoon River Watershed Association is selling a beautiful 2014 calendar as a fundraiser ($18 per calendar or $15 each if you order at least ten). Many calendars include lovely Iowa nature photos, but to my knowledge, only this one contains detailed information about Iowa phenology. Dr. Lee Searles created the calendar with birders, native plant lovers and nature enthusiasts in mind. For instance, it notes that early warblers usually start arriving on April 8. Yellow coneflower starts opening around July 3. Northern Goshawks start to come down the Raccoon River around September 15. UPDATE: Here's a link to the calendars.

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Weekend open thread: Learning the wrong lessons

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Sep 28, 2013 at 15:20:00 PM CDT

Imagine that a speeding incident involving the governor's vehicle snowballed into a scandal and a wrongful-termination lawsuit from a 25-year law enforcement veteran. If you were the governor, wouldn't you make sure your driver didn't exceed the speed limit again?

In July, Governor Terry Branstad acknowledged the need "to obey the speed limit laws." Yet news broke yesterday that his unmarked SUV was caught speeding again in late August. Franklin County Chief Deputy Linn Larson pulled the vehicle over and gave a warning to the state trooper who was driving. A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Safety won't say how fast the governor's vehicle was going or how the driver was disciplined later. Branstad's spokesman Tim Albrecht depicted the governor as an innocent bystander:

"The governor has made clear that his security detail is to obey all traffic laws, and he does not tolerate any exceptions. Upon learning of the incident, the Department of Public Safety launched an immediate investigation and they took disciplinary action against the trooper involved in the incident."

Are we supposed to believe that the governor's driver independently decided to speed, with no pressure from Branstad's staff to get the governor and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to a noon town-hall meeting on time? I'm with State Senator Jeff Danielson:

"You've got to be kidding me," Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said after hearing about the latest traffic stop. "It's the governor's responsibility to change the culture and it begins with himself and not deferring it to the troopers."

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Weekend open thread: Lousy Iowa roads edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 07:05:00 AM CDT

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

A recent news report brought to my attention research published earlier this year on poor road and bridge conditions in Iowa. The full report by the national non-profit group TRIP is available here (pdf). Excerpts from the conclusions are after the jump. I knew that Iowa was one of the worst states for structurally deficient bridges, and that the Des Moines metro area is one of the country's worst mid-sized communities on that metric. However, the estimated financial impact of bad roads and bridges on drivers surprised me. I also didn't know that "poor road conditions are a factor in one-third of all traffic deaths in Iowa."  

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IA-03: Staci Appel launches campaign (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 08:51:15 AM CDT

Former State Senator Staci Appel rolled out her campaign in Iowa's third Congressional district yesterday. Despite ruling out a race against ten-term Republican Representative Tom Latham earlier this year, citing "family obligations," Appel filed papers with the Federal Election Commission a few days ago. After the jump I've posted background on the candidate, including her introductory video (with transcript) and an e-mail stating the case for her candidacy.

Many Democrats in Iowa and Washington have urged Appel to run for Congress, especially since Latham's first declared challenger Mike Sherzan ended his campaign in April.

IA-03 is a swing district on paper, containing 157,406 registered Democrats, 164,101 Republicans, and 156,340 no-party voters as of July 2013. That said, any Democratic nominee will be an underdog Latham. He says and does little in Congress but has a history of outperforming the top of the Republican ticket.

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Weekend open thread: Summer safety edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jun 23, 2013 at 08:25:00 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? It finally got warm enough to go swimming in Iowa, so I wanted to re-post this link on recognizing the signs of drowning. A few excerpts from the article are after the jump. A person in trouble in the water looks nothing like common depictions on television or in movies.

The Environmental Working Group's latest guide to sunscreens is the best resources for finding effective sun protection with minimal harmful chemicals. Other good links on that site: Nine Surprising Facts About Sunscreen, why it's better to avoid sunscreens containing vitamin A, and why marketing of sunscreens with SPF above 50 is misleading.

A recent report by AAA and experts from the University of Utah again confirmed that hands-free cell phones are not safe to use while driving. The DC Streets blog posted a good summary of the findings. The full report is here (pdf), and you can download a fact sheet here (pdf). I've posted excerpts from the AAA study after the jump. Earlier research reached similar conclusions (pdf) about distracted driving, one of the leading causes of fatal car accidents. Pull over when you need to make or answer a call. Even if both hands are on the wheel, a cellphone conversation can lead to "inattention blindness." Many people wrongly believe it's safe to send voice-activated texts while driving, texting while driving is extremely dangerous as well as illegal in Iowa.

If you saw the moon Saturday night or early Sunday morning, you witnessed the largest full moon of the year.

UPDATE: The wet weather has ushered in a banner year for mosquitoes, but it's safer to protect yourself with DEET-free products. Also, watch out for poison ivy if you are out and about. It's prevalent along recreational trails.  

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Latest IA-Sen news: taxes, spending, and problem solving

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 22, 2013 at 11:15:00 AM CDT

Time for another discussion thread on the race for Iowa's open U.S. Senate seat. Recent news on the campaign is after the jump.
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NRA "blame everything but guns" links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 07:08:57 AM CST

Politicians and commentators continue to react to recent comments by National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. He broke the NRA's weeklong silence following the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting with a December 21 speech (falsely billed as a "press conference") and an appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press" two days later.

LaPierre rejected any new restrictions on guns or ammunition and blamed a wide range of cultural influences for mass shootings. He suggested that Congress should respond by funding armed security officers in every school in the country.

This thread is for any comments about the root causes of violence or policies that could prevent future gun-related tragedies. I've enclosed lots of relevant links and analysis after the jump.

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Snow day open thread

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 08:05:00 AM CST

Hundreds of school districts and businesses are closed across Iowa today because of winter storm Draco. Late last night we had rare snowstorm thunder and lightning in the Des Moines area. Power outages have affected many Iowans. Our electricity came back relatively soon in Windsor Heights, and I hope that will be true everywhere.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. A few winter weather-related links and two soup recipes are after the jump.

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Iowa political reaction to the Sandy Hook school massacre (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 16:55:00 PM CST

The horrific mass killing at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Connecticut has dominated news coverage since Friday, and almost everyone I know has been talking about the tragedy. But only a few Iowa politicians have publicly discussed the events or possible ways to prevent similar crimes.

Remarks by Senator Tom Harkin, Representative Dave Loebsack, State Senator Rob Hogg, and Governor Terry Branstad are after the jump. I'm disappointed but not surprised that the governor is not open to any new restrictions on assault weapons or large ammunition clips. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who like Branstad has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, today called for moving "beyond rhetoric" on gun control. His comments are also below.

I've sought comment from other members of Iowa's Congressional delegation and will update this post if I hear back from any of them. UPDATE: Added Representative Bruce Braley's comments below.

SECOND UPDATE: Added Senator Chuck Grassley's comments during a December 17 radio interview.

LATER UPDATE: Added comments from Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass.

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Weekend open thread: Deer hunting edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 07:00:00 AM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? Iowa's deer hunting season began on Saturday. Dates, rules and regulations are on the Department of Natural Resources website. Hunters can use any kind of ammunition in Iowa, but non-toxic options like copper kill more effectively, leaving higher-quality meat without exposing humans, birds, or other wildlife to lead.

The overpopulation of deer has been on Senator Chuck Grassley's mind ever since he was a passenger in a car that hit a deer in October. He is on a mission to lengthen the hunting season by raising awareness about the dangers of deer on the roads. After the jump I've compiled all of Grassley's recent twitter posts on the subject. His comments about deer have attracted a cult following and typically get hundreds of "re-tweets."

Disease related to this year's drought has brought the deer population to its lowest level since 2003. In fact, statistics from the DNR and the Iowa Department of Transportation indicate that the deer-vehicle crash rate is "at its lowest level in 25 years."

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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