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Auditor details mismanagement by Matt Schultz and Mary Mosiman

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Sep 26, 2014 at 07:39:48 AM CDT

If you thought nothing could surprise you anymore about Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, I recommend reading the report Chief Deputy State Auditor Warren Jenkins released yesterday. Jenkins reviewed payments to Schultz's former chief deputy Jim Gibbons after Gibbons stopped coming to work. You can download a pdf of the audit here. I've posted the full text after the jump.

Key points: Schultz told Gibbons in May 2012 that his position would be eliminated at the end of the calendar year. Gibbons stopped coming in to work regularly the following month. Normal procedure calls for at-will state employees to be paid "until the end of the pay period, up to a maximum of 2 weeks after being notified their position is to be eliminated." After learning that state agencies are not allowed to make severance payments to at-will employees, Schultz decided to keep Gibbons on the payroll through December 2012. There are no timesheets or records of how often Gibbons came to work between June and December of that year. Former colleagues could not provide Jenkins with much information about anything Gibbons did for the Secretary of State's Office. Gibbons reported directly to Schultz.

The audit concluded, "Based on the lack of documentation supporting work performed by Mr. Gibbons, we cannot determine the public benefit of the Secretary of State's Office paying Mr. Gibbons $90,738.67 in salary, vacation, and benefits for the period June 8, 2012 through December 31, 2012." Jenkins also questioned the public benefit of paying more than $21,000 to two other at-will employees whose positions were eliminated.

Schultz is now running for Madison County attorney. That election will be a good test of whether Madison County Republicans care more about partisan allegiance or basic competence. A statement from Schultz tried to pass off Gibbons' work arrangement as something advised by the Department of Administrative Services. That spin is misleading, for reasons I explain after the jump.

Current State Auditor Mary Mosiman was one of Schultz's deputies during the period examined, and to put it mildly, this report casts an unflattering light on her. She has claimed that she warned Schultz that keeping Gibbons on the payroll was damaging to morale in the agency. But the bottom line is, she never blew the whistle on a colleague getting tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars for doing no work.

In addition, Jenkins found that neither Mosiman nor Gibbons submitted timesheets or "leave slips" documenting approval of planned time off. As a result, Mosiman "was paid for one week of accumulated vacation she should not have received" when she left the Secretary of State's Office for her current job. She has reportedly already returned to the state her excess payment of $2,500. No one knows whether that's the full extent of overpayments to Schultz's subordinates. Jenkins' report states, "Because timesheets and leave slips were not required to be completed and were not submitted by the Deputies, we are unable to identify any additional vacation hours used but not properly recorded for the Deputies."

The state auditor is supposed to make sure the public's money is well spent. How can someone do that job without understanding the need to record essential information such as time spent working and time spent on vacation? Even if Mosiman was not aware that she received too much vacation pay, she should have recognized and taken steps to correct the lack of record-keeping at the Secretary of State's Office. She should not have stood by and let Gibbons collect month after month of salary and benefits, long after he stopped coming to work.

After the jump I've posted comments from Schultz, Democratic State Senator Liz Mathis (who requested the audit), Democratic candidate for secretary of state Brad Anderson, and Democratic candidate for state auditor Jon Neiderbach.

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IA-Gov: Second Branstad-Hatch debate live-blog and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Sep 20, 2014 at 18:55:00 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad and Democratic State Senator Jack Hatch are holding their second debate tonight in Burlington. The discussion will focus on economic issues. C-SPAN is televising the debate (channel 95 in the Des Moines area). I'll be live-blogging after the jump. I expect to hear a lot of bogus statistics from Branstad about jobs he allegedly created. Reality: no economist or labor market analyst tracks the fake statistic the Branstad administration made up ("gross over the month job gains"). That's just a fiction to allow Branstad to claim he's on track to create 200,000 jobs. Also, median incomes in Iowa have not grown significantly.

Any comments about the debate or the governor's race in general are welcome in this thread.  

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Iowa Supreme Court allows "telemed" abortions to continue pending appeal

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 16, 2014 at 21:35:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court has put a stay on a state rule prohibiting doctors from prescribing abortifacient drugs to patients through a videoconferencing system, according to an e-mail blast from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland this evening. Excerpt:

Today, the Iowa Supreme Court extended the stay on the Iowa Board of Medicine's telemedicine abortion ban, ensuring that thousands of women in Iowa will continue to have access to safe, constitutionally protected abortion while we fight to permanently reverse the ban.

As our fight for Iowa women continues, we're pleased that the court has upheld this right, and we're proud to continue to provide the same exceptional care that we always have, no matter what.

We also are gratified that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) filed an amicus brief supporting PPHeartland's request for a stay. This important group of medical providers understands and agrees that a woman and her doctor - not politicians - should be making personal health care decisions.

Planned Parenthood recently appealed last month's Polk County District Court ruling that allowed the rule adopted by the Iowa Board of Medicine to go into effect. Bleeding Heartland summarized the key points in the case here. Seven of Planned Parenthood's nine Iowa clinics that offer abortion services have been using the telemedicine system. If the state rule had been implemented pending appeal, women would have had to drive to clinics in either Iowa City or Des Moines in order to access medical abortions in the presence of a doctor.

At this writing, the judicial order has not yet been posted on the Iowa Courts website. I will update with a link when available.  

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Planned Parenthood appeals to Iowa Supreme Court in telemedicine case

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Aug 29, 2014 at 14:41:00 PM CDT

Yesterday Planned Parenthood of the Heartland asked the Iowa Supreme Court to put on hold a state rule banning the use of "telemedicine" for medical abortions. A Polk County District Court recently upheld that rule, on grounds Bleeding Heartland discussed here. Planned Parenthood argues that it is likely to succeed on the merits when the Iowa Supreme Court considers its appeal of the lower court ruling, that the state ban would "irreparably harm" Planned Parenthood and its patients, and that a temporary injunction on the rule while the appeal is pending "will not harm the interests of the other parties or the public." A stay on the rule would allow women to continue to receive medical abortion access at seven Planned Parenthood clinics across Iowa where the teleconferencing system is available.

The Des Moines Register posted the full text of Planned Parenthood's motion filed yesterday. After the jump I've posted key excerpts, which preview the substance of Planned Parenthood's appeal.

I'm not an attorney, but my hunch is that the Iowa Supreme Court will overturn the lower court ruling--perhaps with two or three dissenters who would defer to the Board of Medicine, along the lines of the dissents in a recent case involving the Iowa Utilities Board.

To my mind, Planned Parenthood's strongest argument is that the Iowa Board of Medicine approved a rule that "singles out abortion, banning telemedicine delivery of this service while encouraging other uses of telemedicine." A Des Moines Register editorial published earlier this week underscored the hypocrisy of that position. I've enclosed excerpts from that piece at the end of this post. Governor Terry Branstad and others in his administration have celebrated the use of telemedicine in many ways that involve doctors or pharmacists dispensing medications without ever being in the same room as their patients.

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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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Iowa could do so much better with local food availability

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 26, 2014 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

Agriculture is and always has been a major part of Iowa's economy, but given our abundance of world-class farmland, we could do much more to make local food available to Iowans. When the non-profit food advocacy group Strolling of the Heifers introduced its "Locavore Index" two years ago, Iowa ranked second only to Vermont in terms of local food availability. At that time, the index measured per-capita presence of Community-Supported Agricultural enterprises and farmers markets.

Last year, Strolling of the Heifers added a third component to the index: the per capita presence of "food hubs," those "facilities that handle the aggregation, distribution and marketing of foods from a group of farms and food producers in a region." Iowa dropped to fifth place on the Locavore Index.

For 2014, Strolling of the Heifers added a fourth component: the percentage of school districts with Farm-to-School programs, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Sadly, only 31 percent of Iowa school districts have a Farm-to-School program, putting us below many states with insignificant agricultural output compared to Iowa. We should be doing better seven years after the state legislature first funded Farm-to-School efforts. While our state is still strong in farmers markets per capita, our national rank on the Locavore Index dropped to tenth.

August and September are arguably the best months to shop at Iowa farmers markets. With peak late-summer produce being harvested around the start of the academic year, it's a shame more Iowa students don't have access to fresh, local food. We should have more flash-freezing facilities to make it easier for larger facilities to buy local as well--not just public school districts but also nursing homes, hospitals, colleges and universities. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach "provides technical assistance to school food service staff" in six northeast Iowa counties. Here's hoping that project will expand statewide.

After the jump I've posted the Strolling of the Heifers chart showing all state-level data on local food availability. I added the group's "10 reasons to consume local foods," covering economic, health, environmental, and taste benefits. Iowa's Healthiest State Initiative doesn't include a strong local food component, although it promotes healthier eating at schools. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship administers a few Farm-to-School programs and has provided grants for a few dozen schools to start vegetable gardens each year.

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District Court upholds Iowa rule banning "telemedicine" abortions

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 19, 2014 at 22:46:10 PM CDT

A Polk County District Court today upheld a rule adopted by the Iowa Board of Medicine last year, which would prohibit Planned Parenthood of the Heartland from providing medical abortions using "telemedicine" (where a doctor meets with the patient via videoconferencing). You can read the full text of Judge Jeffrey Farrell's ruling here. After the jump I've summarized Judge Farrell's key findings, including background on the case and excerpts from his decision. I've also enclosed reaction from both sides in the telemedicine abortion debate, as well as from Governor Terry Branstad and Democratic challenger Jack Hatch.

Judge Farrell's ruling goes into effect in 30 days, but Planned Parenthood has already said it will appeal, so the Iowa Supreme Court may put another stay on the rule pending its hearing of the case.

I'm surprised by this ruling. In a November 2013 decision granting Planned Parenthood's request for a stay of the rule, Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano sounded skeptical that rule would be upheld when courts considered the merits. She noted the lack of evidence of any adverse outcomes in more than 5,000 abortions using Planned Parenthood's telemedicine system, the "peculiar" fact that the Board of Medicine required an in-person meeting between a patient and doctor for abortion services, but not for other telemedicine practices, and the likelihood that denying rural women access to medical abortion would increase demand for "surgical abortion, which is much more invasive and risky." UPDATE: In the comments, Bleeding Heartland reader ahawby notes several factors that could have influenced Judge Farrell's perspective on this case.

Today's decision is a victory for opponents of abortion rights, because Iowa women in small towns and rural areas will face more hurdles to obtain abortions early in pregnancy. It's also a personal triumph for Branstad's legal counsel, Brenna Findley. As Judge Farrell's ruling acknowledges, Findley was a vocal advocate of the rulemaking, urging the Board of Medicine to act quickly on the petition from pro-life activists, against the advice of the board's own legal counsel as well as the Iowa Attorney General's office.

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IA-Gov: First Branstad-Hatch debate discussion thread (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 16:08:26 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad and State Senator Jack Hatch are debating this afternoon at the Iowa State Fair. Iowa Public Television is live-streaming the event and will replay the debate at 7 pm tonight. Share any comments about the governor's race in this thread. I will be updating with my thoughts after the jump.

Branstad has agreed to two other debates with Hatch, but his team are refusing to allow Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to debate Hatch's running mate, Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon. It's a strange stance for a guy who is determined to make Reynolds the next governor.

UPDATE: My live-blog is after the jump. I will add more links and discussion later. If you missed the debate, you can watch at 7 pm on Iowa Public Television. They may also keep the video up on the IPTV website. SECOND UPDATE: The full debate transcript is now available here.

THIRD UPDATE: Mike Glover saw this debate as a sign Iowa "will actually have a governor's race this year." Click through to read the whole piece; I've posted excerpts below, after the liveblog.

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Terry Branstad's vendetta against Chris Godfrey looks even dumber

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 11:15:47 AM CDT

Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey submitted his resignation to Governor Terry Branstad yesterday in order to become chief judge of the Employee's Compensation Appeal Board in Washington, D.C. later this month. I haven't seen any official reaction from the Branstad administration. The governor has been trying to get rid of Godfrey since late 2010, even though the Iowa Senate had unanimously confirmed him to a fixed term as Workers' Compensation Commissioner until 2015. During the summer of 2011, Branstad docked Godfrey's pay after sending his chief of staff and legal counsel to demand his resignation one more time. The governor couldn't articulate any reason for being dissatisfied with Godfrey, other than saying, "business groups in Iowa [...] told me in no uncertain terms that they were not happy with the direction under Mr. Godfrey." Branstad staffers publicly criticized Godfrey's work, which along with the pay reduction and pressure to resign led to a defamation and discrimination lawsuit against the state of Iowa and six senior officials, including Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds.

Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Godfrey can sue individual officials as well as the State of Iowa for defamation, extortion and other claims. Yesterday, Godfrey's attorney Roxanne Conlin confirmed that the lawsuit will move forward. I've posted her comments below, along with reaction from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch. Polk County District Court Judge Arthur Gamble told attorneys last week that a firm trial date will be set for sometime in 2015. Depositions are only just beginning in a case that has already cost the state of Iowa more than $500,000 in legal fees.

If Godfrey weren't doing his job well, he would not have been offered a more senior and prestigious position in the same line of work. I don't know whether Branstad wanted to get rid of him because Godfrey is openly gay, as the lawsuit alleges, or because the governor was taking marching orders from business groups. Either way, the governor never should have bullied and badgered this highly capable person, and the state should have settled this lawsuit a long time ago.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- Has any Iowa governor ever hired a worse legal counsel than Brenna Findley? She's supposed to steer her boss away from legal problems, not provide fodder for a lawsuit. Nor is this case her only misstep. Last summer, Findley contradicted legal advice from the Iowa Attorney General's office and the attorney for the Iowa Board of Medicine, encouraging that board to move forward with abortion restrictions that have been temporarily blocked and will probably be struck down in a separate lawsuit.

UPDATE: Todd Dorman hits on the most disturbing aspect of this "saga": "Truth is, governors have the power to make dozens and dozens of powerful appointments. The fact that Branstad would go to these lengths to get his hands on one job that eluded his grasp tells you quite a bit about how he views the limits of executive power. After nearly 20 years, he doesn't see any."

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A smoke-free Cedar Rapids casino is not a public health initiative

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 19:34:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission sent a strong message last week to backers of a casino project in Cedar Rapids: don't bother trying to get a license for at least the next three years.

Rational actors would have started working on Plan B for prime downtown real estate as soon as commissioners voted down the application for a Cedar Rapids casino in April. But Mayor Ron Corbett and some other movers and shakers are determined to chase the gambling dream, through legislative or judicial means. Instead of taking the hint from the Racing and Gaming commissioners, Corbett is ratcheting up his strategy for gaining legislative approval for a new casino. He's smart and experienced enough to know that state lawmakers need a better excuse for acting than "we don't like what the commission did." So, he's now dressing the casino project up as a public health initiative. Lawmakers shouldn't fall for or hide behind this ruse.

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"Quality care" is in the eye of the beholder

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 20:05:00 PM CDT

The nursing home industry already had too much political power in Iowa before Terry Branstad returned to the governor's office. Since late 2010, Branstad has repeatedly demonstrated that he prefers a more lax inspection regime for residential care facilities, with fewer nursing home inspectors than state lawmakers are willing to fund.

But Branstad may have hit a new low this month, according to a story by Clark Kauffman in Monday's Des Moines Register. Kauffman has reported extensively on substandard care in Iowa nursing homes. Following up on this year's winners of the "Governor's Award for Quality Care in Health Care Facilities," Kauffman learned that one of the three honored facilities "was cited by inspectors seven weeks earlier for widespread unsanitary conditions and failure to meet residents' nutritional needs."

At this writing, I could not find the July 9 press release announcing the awards on the governor's official news feed. I found it on the Department of Inspections and Appeals website and posted the full text after the jump.

I also enclosed excerpts from Kauffman's report, but you should click through to read every disgusting detail about the Woodland Terrace in Waverly (Bremer County). I challenge Branstad or Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to move any of their own beloved relatives to a home with such low standards of hygiene. It's bad enough that Woodland Terrace wasn't fined after the conditions inspectors found when they visited in May. To honor that facility is outrageous.

Regarding the other two award-winners, Kauffman noted that Prairie View Home in Sanborn did not have any violations during its most recent inspection, but Friendship Haven in Fort Dodge was cited in late 2013 "for failure to provide adequate incontinence care for residents; failure to adequately treat bedsores; and failure to keep food at the proper temperature before serving."

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No welcome mat from Terry Branstad for unaccompanied immigrant children

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 13:46:09 PM CDT

For two days I've been trying to find the words to react to Governor Terry Branstad slamming the door on unaccompanied and undocumented immigrant children who are staying in crowded facilities near the U.S. southern border. Since last fall, at least 50,000 children are estimated to have entered the country via Mexico from various countries of origin, mainly Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The Obama administration has asked governors to help house the kids. During his Monday press briefing, Branstad made clear he doesn't want any of the children sent to Iowa.

It's not that I expected Branstad to welcome any of these kids. This is a guy who demagogued on illegal immigration during his last campaign and disagrees with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows undocumented children to be educated in public schools. Still, for those of us old enough to remember Governor Bob Ray welcoming refugees from Asia to Iowa during the 1970s, it's dispiriting to hear Branstad trot out tired excuses and talking points. He wants "empathy for these kids" but doesn't want to "send the signal to send these children to America illegally." As if these children deliberately broke the law. As if families in desperate circumstances, trying to save their kids from murderous gangs in central America, would be influenced by "signals" from generous Iowans.

I have nothing profound to say, I just find it depressing to hear the governor cite some charitable work by his wife as an excuse not to do anything to alleviate a humanitarian crisis. After the jump I've posted some news clips on the story, along with a call to action from the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- What a disgrace for WHO-TV to allow reporter Aaron Brilbeck to file a story referring to human beings as "illegals" in the headline and the lede. Where were the newsroom editors? I expect that kind of language in a press release from Representative Steve King's office, not from a reputable media organization.

P.P.S.- Philip Brasher, formerly of the Des Moines Register, filed an excellent feature for Roll Call about "The Other Side of the Border."

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Change in Iowa Medicaid policy hasn't reduced abortion access

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 20:43:35 PM CDT

A year after Iowa law changed to require the governor to approve all Medicaid reimbursements for abortions, the new policy does not appear to have limited low-income women's access to abortions in cases of rape, incest, threat to the mother's life or severe fetal abnormality.

On the other hand, the policy has in effect ended Medicaid coverage of abortion in Iowa, which was already among the most restrictive states in this area.  

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Supreme Court ruling will speed up small solar projects in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 11:42:57 AM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday affirmed a lower court ruling that will make it easier for small-scale solar projects to move forward in Iowa. The up-front cost of installing solar panels has long been a barrier to unlocking Iowa's huge potential to generate solar power. Now municipalities, home or business owners will be able to have solar panels installed through a "third-party power purchase agreement," whereby they pay for the electricity generated after installation.

Follow me after the jump for background on this case, key points from the majority ruling, and reaction to the decision. Advocates for solar power in Iowa and elsewhere are enthusiastic about the potential for more small-scale renewable energy projects (sometimes called "distributed generation"). Utility companies are warning that the ruling will drive up electricity costs.  

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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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Iowa Supreme Court rejects Farm Bureau's effort to nullify clean water rules (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 18:08:12 PM CDT

In a 4-3 split decision, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed today a Polk County District Court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit seeking to nullify new state water quality rules.

The environmental community and groups representing big agribusiness have closely watched this case for years, because the "antidegradation" rules are an important step toward bringing Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Had this lawsuit succeeded, no strong water quality rules would have seen the light of day for the forseeable future in Iowa, because Governor Terry Branstad has packed the State Environmental Protection Commission with advocates for agribusiness.

Follow me after the jump for more background on the case and details about today's decision.

UPDATE: Added reaction from the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Environmental Council below. If there's a more hypocritical statewide organization than the Farm Bureau, I can't think what it could be.

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Report highlights immigrants' impact on Iowa economy

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 09:05:00 AM CDT

A detailed analysis by the Iowa Policy Project shows that immigrants contribute substantially "to Iowa's economy both as workers and employers," and could contribute more "if immigration reform were to make work authorization or a path to citizenship possible" for some undocumented Iowa residents. You can read the full report by Heather Gibney and Peter Fisher here (pdf). I've enclosed excerpts from the executive summary after the jump.

One key finding is that contrary to the image fostered by some politicians, undocumented immigrants are not a drain on state or federal budgets. They generate significant revenue for public assistance programs, from which they cannot benefit. Representative Steve King (R, IA-04) is notorious for his demagoguery against "illegals," but sadly many other Iowa Republican elected officials, including Governor Terry Branstad, have promoted myths about undocumented immigrants taking state benefits.

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Muscatine residents will get day in court against major air polluter

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 12:33:08 PM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday that a District Court should hear a lawsuit eight Muscatine residents have filed against the Grain Processing Corporation. Muscatine locals have long had to breathe some of Iowa's dirtiest air, and the Grain Processing Corporation has long been one of the area's major polluters. Despite being forced to pay a $538,000 civil penalty for air pollution violations eight years ago, the corporation continued to emit excessive amounts, leading to a lawsuit by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller in 2011. Earlier this year, the company settled that lawsuit, agreeing to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty and to take several steps to reduce toxic emissions from the facility.

But the Grain Processing Corporation stood and fought when local residents filed a class-action lawsuit two years ago, citing health risks as well as damage to personal property related to the air pollution near the plant.

In 2013, a District Court judge granted the defendant's motion to dismiss the case, prompting plaintiffs to appeal. The Iowa Supreme Court found that the Grain Processing Corporation "was not entitled to summary judgment" and sent the case back to District Court, which will consider the lawsuit on its merits. You can read the full text of Justice Brent Appel's ruling here (pdf). (It's more than 60 pages long and gets into some technical legal issues.) All the other Iowa Superme Court justices concurred, except for Justice Edward Mansfield, who recused himself because some of his former law partners were representing the corporation.

After the jump I've posted more background on the lawsuit and excerpts from Jason Liegois' report for the Muscatine Journal on the Iowa Supreme Court ruling. The plaintiffs are not guaranteed to succeed in District Court, but at least they can present their case. In addition to fighting the lawsuit at the lower court level in Iowa, the Grain Processing Corporation could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the federal Clean Air Act preempts claims like the ones the Muscatine residents are making.

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Gaming commission grants casino license to Greene County (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 12:35:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted 3-2 today to grant a casino license for a $40 million project near Jefferson (Greene County) in western Iowa, between Boone and Carroll counties. Residents had overwhelmingly approved a gambling referendum last year, but the outcome was in doubt because the commission recently voted down a casino proposal for Cedar Rapids. According to Dar Danielson's report for Radio Iowa, the commissioners who opposed the license cited evidence a new casino would largely take business from existing Iowa casinos, and that the Greene County community didn't need a gambling facility as much as other amenities. The commissioners who favored the license cited the potential economic impact for a rural area.

The Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Polk County had lobbied the commission to reject Greene County's application, citing potential impact on its business. Jefferson is a little more than an hour's drive northwest of the Des Moines metro area. But in casting the decisive yes vote, Racing and Gaming Commission Chair Jeff Lamberti noted,

We have lots of advantages in Polk County and I think we have lots of advantages that are going to come in the future," Lamberti explained. "We've got significant population growth amongst all of our suburbs. We've got some good things that are in the work that are pretty historic by Iowa standards. And quite frankly, we have advantages that a lot of other parts of the state don't have, and quite frankly I think we are going to be just fine."

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who has vowed to keep working toward a casino for his city, sounds furious about today's decision. I've posted some of his comments below.  

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Iowa Supreme Court allows lawsuit to proceed against Branstad and key officials (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 09:57:21 AM CDT

In a 5-2 split decision, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a District Court judge should determine whether Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey can sue Governor Terry Branstad and five other administration officials individually for defamation, extortion and other claims. Follow me after the jump for background, links and details about the opinion.  
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