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Calling Iowa's young leaders on clean energy

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 30, 2015 at 23:15:00 PM CDT

Midwest Energy News, a non-profit news website supported by non-profits focused on energy policy, is launching an award to recognize "emerging leaders throughout the region and their work to accelerate America's transition to a clean energy economy." The site will accept nominations for the "40 Under 40" designation here "until either 250 nominations are received or 10:00 p.m. CT on Monday, August 10." Eligible candidates include "midwest-based leaders and innovators from all sectors -industry, government, regulatory, business, academic, and advocacy."

I learned about the 40 Under 40 competition from State Representative Chuck Isenhart, who will serve on the selection advisory committee for Midwest Energy News. Isenhart is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee and has been a strong voice in the Iowa legislature on a range of environmental issues.

Through volunteering for various non-profits, I have become acquainted with several Iowans who deserve serious consideration for the new award, and I plan to encourage their colleagues to nominate them. The candidate who immediately came to my mind, though, is someone I've never met. Paritosh Kasotia is the founder and CEO of Unfolding Energy, a non-profit "founded on a premise that clean energy choices can safeguard the climate as well as create economic growth." She is best known as the highly capable former leader of the Iowa Energy Office; I enclose below more background on that part of her career. Late last year, leaders of the Iowa Economic Development Authority fired Kasotia for reasons never explained to anyone's satisfaction. Some suspected the dismissal was related to a $1 million solar power grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which Kasotia helped land but Iowa eventually relinquished after Branstad administration officials "amended an original proposal and insisted the grant not be used to evaluate solar energy policies - a change that utility lobbyists sought," Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press last July.

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Matt Hinch stepping down as Branstad's chief of staff

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 29, 2015 at 12:55:00 PM CDT

After nearly two years on the job, Matt Hinch is resigning as Governor Terry Branstad's chief of staff, effective August 7. The full press release from the governor's office is after the jump.

Hinch is leaving for an unspecified "private sector" opportunity. I expect to hear soon that he is joining one of the Republican presidential campaigns. Hinch's previous work included a stint as campaign manager for then-U.S. Representative Tom Latham. He also served as chief of staff for Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and handled government relations for the Greater Des Moines Partnership, an influential business-oriented group.

Hinch kept a low profile as the governor's chief of staff, rarely making the news. Last year, he headed a quick (and I mean very quick) review of secret settlements with former state employees, which sidestepped allegations of political cronyism that affected the careers of some merit-based state workers. Former Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert has asserted that Hinch and other senior Branstad administration officials thwarted her efforts to make her department's chief administrative law judge position a merit-based job, as the U.S. Department of Labor has demanded.

UPDATE: Another plausible theory: Hinch may go to work for the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water, an astroturf group the Iowa Farm Bureau created to lobby against any regulations to improve water quality.

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Pella Electric Cooperative trying to discourage customers from installing solar or wind

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 27, 2015 at 18:01:32 PM CDT

Solar power made big news in Iowa today, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in Des Moines about ambitious goals for installing solar panels. In a forthcoming post, Bleeding Heartland will compare the Democratic presidential candidates' proposals to combat climate change by increasing renewable energy production and decreasing carbon emissions.

Iowa has tremendous potential to generate electricity from the sun. Recognizing that fact, large bipartisan majorities in the Iowa House and Senate "triple[d] the size of Iowa's successful solar tax incentive program" in 2014 and during this year's session increased available solar energy tax incentive funds by another $500,000 to $5 million per year.

But some segments of the utilities sector have been slow to embrace solar power. One of Iowa's major investor-owned utilities persuaded the Iowa Utilities Board to block certain financing arrangements that made it easier for customers to install solar panels. An appeal of that administrative decision went to the Iowa Supreme Court, which overturned the Iowa Utilities Board last year.

Rural electric cooperatives, which supply electricity to roughly 650,000 Iowans, have approached renewable energy and solar power in vastly different ways. Farmers Electric Cooperative in the Kalona area installed the largest solar farm in Iowa last year.  

But as first reported by Karen Uhlenhuth at Midwest Energy News last week, the Pella Electric Cooperative is seeking to penalize customers who choose to install new solar or other renewable technology. Lee Rood picked up the story on the front page of today's Des Moines Register. The cooperative's new monthly charge for a handful of consumers is brazen and probably illegal.  

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AFSCME, 20 Democratic legislators sue Branstad over mental health closures (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 13, 2015 at 21:10:00 PM CDT

Iowa's largest public employee union and 20 Democratic state legislators filed a lawsuit today challenging the closure of mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda. I enclose below a press release from AFSCME Council 61, which lists the six state senators and fourteen state representatives who joined the lawsuit naming Governor Terry Branstad and Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer.

The Branstad administration announced plans in January to close two of Iowa's four in-patient mental health facilities. State legislators were neither consulted nor notified in advance. The Department of Human Services started winding down operations well before the end of the 2015 fiscal year. Democrats fought to include funding for the Clarinda and Mount Pleasant institutes in the budget for the current fiscal year, but Branstad item-vetoed the appropriation. The lawsuit contends that closing the facilities violates Iowa Code, which holds that the state "shall operate" mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda. The governor's communications director told KCCI that AFSCME's leader in Iowa "is resistant to change" and that the closed "centers were not suited to offer modern mental health care."

The Iowa legislature's decision next year on whether to fund the Clarinda and Mount Pleasant facilities will be critically important. The Iowa Supreme Court recently dismissed the lawsuit challenging the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home in 2014, without considering the merits of that case, on the grounds that the legislature made the issue "moot" by no longer appropriating state money to operate that facility. By refusing to include funding for the two closed mental health institutes in the budget for fiscal year 2017, Iowa House Republicans could bolster the Branstad administration's efforts to defeat the lawsuit filed today.

UPDATE: Added more speculation about this lawsuit's prospects below.

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Terry Branstad's weak excuse for axing refugee support funding

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 13, 2015 at 12:31:50 PM CDT

The apparent attempt to bury Governor Terry Branstad's large batch of budget cuts before the July 4 holiday weekend isn't working. Fallout from the governor's line-item vetoes continues to make news on a daily basis. Today, Iowa Senate Democratic leaders announced that they have formally asked colleagues to request a special legislative session to override the highest-profile and largest vetoes, which affected education and mental health funding.

Meanwhile, the latest article by the Des Moines Register's "Reader's Watchdog" Lee Rood called attention to an item veto that flew below the radar last week: $100,000 from the health and human services budget, intended for a pilot project to serve refugees in Polk County. The amount of money was so small--far less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the $7 billion state budget--that Branstad couldn't fall back on misleading statements about "fiscal health" to justify this item veto. Instead, he cited an equally weak pretext.

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Four takeaways from Branstad destroying the Iowa legislature's budget compromise

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 06, 2015 at 21:01:31 PM CDT

Late in the afternoon on the last day state offices were open before the long holiday weekend, Governor Terry Branstad used his veto pen to strike "all the big deals" Iowa House Republicans and Senate Democrats negotiated to end this year's legislative session.

The budget compromise was already a much better deal for statehouse Republicans than for Democrats. House GOP leaders got the global budget targets they had demanded, which were lower than what the governor requested and Democrats proposed. Most of the concessions to Democrats came in House File 666, a $125 million collection of one-time appropriations.

While Branstad didn't veto the entire supplemental spending bill like he did in 2014, he cut out House File 666's largest and highest-priority items for statehouse Democrats: $55.7 million for K-12 school districts, $2.5 million for community colleges, nearly $2.9 million for the University of Iowa, $2.25 million for Iowa State University, and $1.1 million for the University of Northern Iowa.

In other words, after standing on the sidelines during most of the battle over the 2016 budget, Branstad handed House Republicans near-total victory. The fallout will be substantial.

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Ryan Wise is the new Iowa Department of Education director (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 06, 2015 at 07:37:38 AM CDT

Catching up on news from last week, Governor Terry Branstad appointed Ryan Wise to lead the Iowa Department of Education, effective July 1. I've enclosed below the full statement from the governor's office, which includes more background on Wise. He should have no trouble during the Iowa Senate confirmation process, having served as deputy director at the education department since September 2013.

Wise replaces Brad Buck, who started work on July 1 as superintendent of the Cedar Rapids Community School District. It's no surprise that he sought new opportunities after less than two years in the top state education job. Branstad instructed Buck to prioritize the tourism industry's demands over the consensus of school district leaders on academic calendars, even though the large body of research supporting shorter summer vacations for students contrasts sharply with the lack of evidence that "early [school] start dates interfere in any meaningful sense with the Iowa State Fair or with any other tourism activity in Iowa." During Buck's tenure as education director, Branstad also asked lawmakers to approve miserly increases in state aid to K-12 schools. The governor's latest draft budget included "allowable growth" for K-12 education of 1.25 percent for fiscal year 2016 and 2.45 percent for fiscal year 2017. Those levels are low by historical standards and not nearly enough to allow school districts to cover growing costs, leading to either staff and program cuts or property tax increases in many localities.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: Added below excerpts from fifth-grade teacher Amy Moore's editorial for the Des Moines Register, sounding the alarm about Wise's experience with the Teach for America program.

P.S.- Almost every time I read a press release from the governor's office, I am struck by the relentless branding of Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds as a single unit. The communications staff have been doing this for years, supporting Branstad's desire to make Reynolds his successor. Still, it's jarring to read unnatural-sounding quotes mentioning the "governor and lieutenant governor" or "Governor Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Reynolds' leadership." Does anyone really talk the way Wise "speaks" in the enclosed press release ("I admire the Governor's and Lieutenant Governor's commitment to providing every child in Iowa with the world-class education they deserve")?

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Branstad insists on keeping administrative law judges "at-will," easier to fire

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 03, 2015 at 10:47:23 AM CDT

Not for the first time and probably not for the last time, Governor Terry Branstad dropped a lot of line-item vetoes late in the afternoon before a holiday weekend. Early news reports are understandably focusing on the vetoes of one-time funding for K-12 education and state universities, as well as language that would have kept mental health institutions in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant open. Bleeding Heartland has a post in progress about the fallout from those actions and others, including Branstad's decision to strike language that would have expanded child care assistance.

Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman called attention to several other line-item vetoes that flew below the radar yesterday. One of them seems particularly important, as it could put the State of Iowa at odds with U.S. Department of Labor demands to "strengthen Iowa's compliance with Federal law" and keep administrative law judges "free from actual or perceived intimidation."

JULY 6 UPDATE: The vetoed language pertained to administrative law judges working for the Public Employment Relations Board, not Iowa Workforce Development; see further details below.

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Iowa Board of Medicine not ready to face reality on telemed abortion or court appeals process

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 02, 2015 at 15:35:07 PM CDT

Nearly two weeks ago, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the state ban on using telemedicine for abortion. The unanimous decision is the end of the line for a rule the Iowa Board of Medicine adopted in the absence of medical evidence.

Yet Governor Terry Branstad isn't the only person reluctant to take the Iowa Supreme Court's no, no, no, no, no, no for an answer. Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register on Tuesday, "The Iowa Board of Medicine has huddled three times with its lawyers since losing a key state Supreme Court case this month, but has not yet decided whether to appeal or accept the decision."

I don't know what's more surprising: that after three meetings, those attorneys still haven't persuaded board members to quit while they're behind, or that board members who didn't participate in making the unconstitutional rule are considering hitching their wagons to this cause.

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Judy Bradshaw to lead Iowa Law Enforcement Academy

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 01, 2015 at 17:43:54 PM CDT

Former Des Moines Police Department chief Judy Bradshaw will be the new director of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, Governor Terry Branstad announced yesterday. Bradshaw has been assistant director at the academy since last October. Before that, she broke several glass ceilings in Des Moines as the Police Department's "first female lieutenant, captain, major and police chief." When she started at the department in 1980, the only two women working there "both had filed harassment charges."

I don't understand why Branstad renominated Arlen Ciechanowski as director of the Law Enforcement Academy despite disturbing accounts over the last few years of a hostile environment for female staff and cadets. Fortunately, the Iowa Senate declined to confirm Ciechanowski during this year's legislative session, prompting the director to retire and forcing Branstad to look for a replacement. Bradshaw will be much better positioned to change the culture.

Bradshaw said yesterday that her new position will allow her to share her experience and "perspective in what I think is good police work." I've enclosed more background on her career after the jump. She should have no trouble during the Iowa Senate confirmation process.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.  

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Branstad not ready to face reality on telemed abortion or court appeals process

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 26, 2015 at 07:15:00 AM CDT

A unanimous Supreme Court ruling against your position is usually a sign that your legal arguments lack merit. But Governor Terry Branstad hasn't learned that lesson from his administration being on the wrong end of not one, not two, but three unanimous Iowa Supreme Court rulings.

Last week, the court ruled with no dissenting justices that Iowa's ban on using telemedicine to provide abortion services is unconstitutional. Three of the justices who concurred in the decision are Branstad appointees (Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman). Two of them--Waterman and Mansfield--have demonstrated in previous cases that they are reluctant to substitute their judgment for that of executive branch bodies responsible for rulemaking. Yet Branstad not only rejects the reasoning underlying the telemedicine ruling, but also refuses to accept legal experts' determination that his administration cannot appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

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Environmental Protection Commission fails to protect the environment

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 17, 2015 at 09:52:43 AM CDT

The Environmental Protection Commission voted yesterday to eviscerate a rule adopted in 2012 to reduce stormwater runoff from new construction sites. The rule previously required developers to put at least four inches of topsoil back on sites. Thanks to a lobbying campaign from home-builders, the new wording requires topsoil replacement "unless infeasible," without defining that term. So any developer who doesn't feel like spending money to put topsoil back can claim it would have been "infeasible" to do so. If the homeowner can't grow anything on the impacted clay, and runoff contributes to more flash flooding in the area or downstream, too bad.

Dar Danielson reported for Radio Iowa that only two of the nine Environmental Protection Commission members voted against the rule change: Bob Sinclair and Nancy Couser. Sinclair proposed different wording, which sounded like a reasonable compromise, but other commission members did not want to adopt new wording, which would restart the lengthy public input process. The full list of EPC members is available on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website.

One of the newest commissioners, who joined the majority yesterday in putting a few developers' interests ahead of the environment, is former State Representative Joe Riding. Branstad named the Democrat to the EPC earlier this year. Riding's action is disappointing but hardly surprising. He didn't serve on committees that focused on environmental issues during his one term in the Iowa House. A former city council member in the rapidly-growing Des Moines suburb of Altoona, Riding has probably worked with lots of home-builders.

As Todd Dorman wrote earlier this year, the EPC "abandoned all sense of balance and fairness on this issue." Expect more flooding in Iowa, more topsoil loss, and more pollution from yard chemicals making its way to our waterways.

UPDATE: Matthew Patane reported for the Des Moines Register,

Prior to voting, Couser said the rule change would mean homeowners will get "thrown under the bus" if builders don't have to evenly distribute topsoil.

"Although it may not be the intent of the rule to protect the homeowner, the homeowner definitely, 7-to-1, is telling us that's what they want from us. They want their soil," she said.

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No single issue is worth risking the Iowa Senate majority

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 16, 2015 at 08:22:02 AM CDT

Shortly before the end of this year's legislative session, former State Representative Ed Fallon announced "political action" to stop the proposed Bakken Oil Pipeline. He warned that if the Iowa House and Senate did not approve a bill to block the use of eminent domain for the project, he would organize and fundraise "to help defeat one or two Democratic Senators and one or two Republican Representatives" who oppose the bill.

On June 5, the Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year without passing an eminent domain bill in either chamber. Last week Fallon confirmed that he is sticking to his goal of defeating one or two majority party members in both the House and Senate, adding that he had already raised $4,500 toward the cause.

All I can say is, count me out of that political crusade.

Come to think of it, I have a few more things to say on the subject.

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Iowa Utilities Board chair won't recuse herself on Bakken pipeline

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 05, 2015 at 12:22:49 PM CDT

Iowa Utilities Board Chair Geri Huser "will help decide whether to build a major oil pipeline even though her family law firm has represented a landowner trying to block it," Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press. Shortly after Governor Terry Branstad named Huser to the utilities board in March, Foley reported that Huser's brother R. Bradley Skinner "has represented farmers who oppose the $3.8 billion [Bakken] pipeline that would transport crude oil from North Dakota across Iowa." Skinner is no longer the landowners' legal counsel, and Huser has said she wasn't aware of her brother's involvement in the Bakken pipeline dispute.

The latest AP story notes that Huser's decision not to recuse herself

means all three [Iowa Utilities] board members will vote on whether to approve the $3.8 billion underground pipeline, avoiding a possible deadlock. But legal experts say parties may request Huser's recusal due to the appearance of bias, and if she declines, the issue could be raised during any appeals of the board's decision.

I have a bad feeling that any appeals of the board's decision will come from pipeline opponents rather than from Dakota Access, LLC, the subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners that wants to build the Bakken pipeline through eighteen counties from northwest to southeast Iowa.  

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Chris Godfrey's lawsuit against Branstad administration takes another detour to Iowa Supreme Court

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 04, 2015 at 17:05:58 PM CDT

Nearly four years have passed since Governor Terry Branstad and his senior staffers tried to strong-arm Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey into resigning years before the end of his fixed term, but the lawsuit Godfrey filed in early 2012 won't be heard in court anytime soon. Grant Rodgers reported for the Des Moines Register today that before the case goes to trial, the Iowa Supreme Court will rule on whether Godfrey "can invoke the Iowa Constitution to win monetary damages from the state in his lawsuit against Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and four former state officials." Excerpts are after the jump, but you should click through to read the whole story. Godfrey's attorney Roxanne Conlin appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court after Polk County District Court Judge Brad McCall "tossed out Godfrey's four constitution-based claims in an April order."

Last summer, a divided Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Godfrey could sue Branstad and five other administration officials individually for defamation, extortion and other claims, in addition to pursuing general claims and tort claims against the state of Iowa.  The governor contends that neither he nor his staffers discriminated against Godfrey, and that he was seeking to appoint a commissioner who would be more sympathetic to business owners. Depositions began in the fall of 2014, and a trial date had been set for November of this year. The Iowa Supreme Court is likely to resolve the new constitutional issue sometime in 2016.

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Iowa Senate confirms all but one Branstad appointee during 2015 session

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 22, 2015 at 08:45:58 AM CDT

The Iowa legislature's 2015 session drags on amid unresolved conflict over various budget issues, especially K-12 school funding. But one aspect of the lawmakers' work is complete for this year. The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate has confirmed all but one of Governor Terry Branstad's more than 200 nominees. The overwhelming majority of those votes were unanimous or nearly so.

In recent years, senators have voted against confirming one or two Branstad nominees. This year no nomination failed on the Iowa Senate floor, and only one department head was ever in real danger of not being confirmed to do his job: Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer.

Branstad has occasionally withdrawn nominees who didn't have support from the necessary two-thirds majority in the Iowa Senate. This year the governor didn't need to exercise that power, although he sidestepped a near-certain rejection by accepting Teresa Wahlert's resignation in January, rather than reappointing her to run Iowa Workforce Development. In addition, Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Director Arlen Ciechanowski recently announced plans to retire, tacitly acknowledging the votes weren't there to confirm him.

Follow me after the jump for background on the controversies surrounding Palmer and Ciechanowski and details on Palmer's confirmation vote--the closest call by far for any Branstad appointee this year.

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Fantastic new resource launched on Iowa Administrative Rules

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 20, 2015 at 14:42:13 PM CDT

Iowa policy wonks have every reason to be discouraged lately about the frozen-in-place, do-little state legislative session. Looking on the bright side, a fantastic new resource on state administrative rules appeared this week.

The Office of the Chief Information Officer launched the Iowa Administrative Rules website on Monday. The site is easy to navigate. A FAQ page explains the basics about the rulemaking process and public comments. Rules currently open for comment are right there on the front page. Clicking on any specific rule brings up the full text, contact information for the relevant state agency, details on upcoming public hearings, and the closing date for comments on the proposal. This website should make it easier for politically-engaged Iowans to understand and participate in making state regulations. It's a good companion to the Iowa legislature's official website, which is user-friendly and updated frequently (though it could be more readable).

I had to laugh at a few comments in the press release announcing the new website, enclosed after the jump. Governor Terry Branstad couldn't resist taking a swipe at "burdensome rules" and "overregulation," a bugaboo for him. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds (yes, the relentless branding of Branstad-Reynolds as a single unit continues) pegged the website launch to other "transparency" measures, including visiting all 99 Iowa counties every year.

I strongly disagree with the governor's general view that business groups need more power over state regulations. The new process Branstad created has allowed a small but powerful group of business owners to torpedo a rule protecting the public interest in preserving topsoil and clean water. Branstad also intervened to undermine an electrical inspections rule designed to prevent fires in farm buildings. That said, the Iowa Administrative Rules website was a great idea, well-executed. Whoever developed the site for the Office of the Chief Information Officer deserves credit.

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Ed Fallon arrested after sit-in at governor's office over Bakken pipeline (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 18, 2015 at 22:05:43 PM CDT

Former state lawmaker Ed Fallon is in police custody tonight after he refused to leave Governor Terry Branstad's office at the close of business today. Fallon went to the governor's office this afternoon demanding a meeting to discuss "eminent domain legislation that would help landowners along the path of the Bakken Oil Pipeline." More details are in a press release I've enclosed after the jump. Branstad's legal counsel Michael Bousselot came out to talk with Fallon, who insisted on a meeting or phone conversation with the governor himself. Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register,

When the statehouse closed at 5 p.m., Iowa State Patrol troopers approached Fallon and asked if he would be willing to leave, or be arrested for criminal trespassing. Fallon declined to leave, so he was escorted out of the building and arrested outside.

A supporter posted on Facebook this evening that Fallon has a "jail support team attending to all his needs" and "will probably be released sometime tomorrow." When Fallon served in the Iowa House from 1995 through the 2006 session, land use issues were a focal point of his legislative efforts. During and since that time, Fallon has opposed various proposals to use eminent domain to seize farmland for use in for-profit ventures. Earlier this year, he walked from the southeast corner of Iowa to the northeast corner along the proposed pipeline route to raise awareness and mobilize landowners and others who oppose the project. The No Bakken website and Facebook page represent a coalition of some two dozen non-profit groups that oppose the project.

The eminent domain bill Fallon wants Branstad to support is Senate File 506 (previously Senate Study Bill 1276), which passed the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee on May 6 with support from Democratic State Senators Rob Hogg, Brian Schoenjahn, and Kevin Kinney, and Republican Jack Whitver. Branstad warned state lawmakers in January not to "get politics into this" debate over the pipeline. The governor wants to leave the decision to the Iowa Utilities Board, which is considered likely to approve the pipeline. The Sierra Club Iowa chapter plans to fight the project before every state and federal agency that would be involved.

UPDATE: Fallon was released from jail the same evening he was arrested. In a press release I've posted below, he says he's due in court on May 27 and hasn't decided "what legal route to take yet."

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More competition coming to Iowa's health insurance exchange for 2016

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 15, 2015 at 09:50:00 AM CDT

The Iowa Insurance Division announced today that "seven companies have applied to offer Iowans health insurance through the federal health insurance marketplace" for 2016. This year, Coventry was the sole provider selling through the exchange, following the collapse of CoOportunity Health. Although Iowa's dominant insurance provider, Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield, is staying off the exchange for another year, Coventry and Minnesota-based Medica want to sell individual plans statewide, and United Healthcare wants to sell in 76 of Iowa's 99 counties. The Iowa Insurance Division's full news release is after the jump. Click here (pdf) for a list of counties where each company has applied to offer coverage through the exchange.

Increased competition will not only give roughly 45,000 Iowans more options for health insurance coverage, possibly at lower cost, but will also remove the threat that Iowans could lose access to federal subsidies for lack of a provider willing to sell through our state's partnership exchange.

Iowans could still lose access to the subsidies many need to make health insurance affordable, depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the King v Burwell case. An act of Congress could easily address a ruling that invalidated subsidies for Americans who purchase insurance through the federal website, and lawmakers have floated several ideas. But key Republicans don't want to pass any "fix" to the hated 2010 health care reform law.

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Iowa DOT insists that cities shut off some of their traffic cameras

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 13, 2015 at 22:06:33 PM CDT

The Iowa Department of Transportation is standing behind its ruling that limited the use of traffic cameras in several large Iowa cities. The DOT adopted new rules in late 2013 to limit local governments' ability to install traffic cameras on or near highways. Those rules required cities to demonstrate that cameras were needed to address "critical safety issues," which could not be resolved by other means. Studies have produced conflicting data on whether cameras reduce red light or speeding infractions or vehicle accidents.

In March of this year, DOT officials ordered officials in six cities to shut off ten out of 34 traffic cameras cities had defended on safety grounds. The city of Davenport opted to comply with the DOT ruling, but five other cities asked department officials to reconsider the decision. (Although a reversal was unlikely, exhausting administrative appeals typically precedes legal action challenging a state agency's decision.)

This week, DOT Director Paul Trombino notified city officials in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, and Muscatine that the department was rejecting their appeals, because data did not demonstrate that the disputed cameras had improved safety or reduced crashes. Click through to read copies of the letters. The fifth city to appeal, Sioux City, filed a lawsuit last year challenging the DOT rules. A Woodbury County District Court is scheduled to hear that case soon. Des Moines officials plan to challenge the DOT in court as well. Cedar Rapids officials have not yet decided whether to file a lawsuit. After the jump I've enclosed excerpts from Kathy Bolten's report for the Des Moines Register and Rick Smith's for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Local governments are generally responsible for enforcing traffic laws. I'll be interested to see whether Iowa courts back up the DOT's efforts to restrict those powers on or near major highways. According to Trombino, the Iowa Code allows the DOT to enforce limits on cameras for traffic enforcement. Whatever the courts decide, the state's multi-pronged assault on local control remains an under-reported story of Governor Terry Branstad's fifth and sixth terms.

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- Dave Loebsack (IA-02)
- Iowa Democratic Party
- Iowa House Democrats
- Iowa Senate Democrats
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