Iowa state treasurer: Use caution with gift cards

Shoppers in the U.S. spent an estimated $160 billion on gift cards in 2018, up from around $90 billion a decade earlier. The holiday season is the peak time for those purchases.

State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald has warned that much of the value will go to waste. Years ago, his office had a tool to help Iowans recoup the cost of unused gift cards. But state legislators had a different idea.

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Weekend open thread: Walking the talk edition

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

State Representative Chuck Isenhart, the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee, has installed solar panels on his Dubuque home as a personal step to address climate change. Details are after the jump. Solar power has a reputation for being expensive to install, but technological advances and policy changes have reduced the payback time for many home and business owners. Isenhart expects to save money in the long-term. A bill approved during this year’s legislative session improved Iowa’s tax incentives for solar in several ways.

The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, begins its northern route in Rock Valley today. Good luck to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community planning to do all or part of RAGBRAI. Last week’s weather would have been absolutely perfect; I hope the high temperatures will mostly stay below 90 this week. In its recent feature on “33 useful tips for newbies” to the experience, I found it strange that the Register focused so much on the drinking culture. Carl Voss, a Des Moines bicycling advocate and veteran of 36 RAGBRAIs, unloaded on what he called “sophomoric drivel” in an angry letter to the editor. Excerpt:

Granted, alcohol attracts some riders and non-riders among the more than 10,000 RAGBRAI participants. It happens. But trust me, that isn’t the way most participants enjoy RAGBRAI, Iowa and our communities.

Now, flip to the RAGBRAI website, where RAGBRAI (and therefore the Register) includes among the “Top 10 Recommendations for Rider Safety“: Do NOT drink alcohol and ride. […]

Publishing crap like this in your news columns will turn me off to RAGBRAI and the Register.

Another letter to the editor, which I’ve posted after the jump, focused on the large number of puppy mills near this year’s RAGBRAI route. The Iowa legislature passed a bill in 2010 that was designed to reduce abuses at puppy mills, but unfortunately Iowa still has some bad actors in the industry. Adopting a pet from a shelter such as the Animal Rescue League has so many advantages. If your heart is set on a purebred animal, at least visit the breeder’s facility before buying a pet.

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Weekend open thread, with Iowa medical marijuana links

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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Branstad vetoed funds for Iowa civil rights history project

I was so focused on the environmental impacts of Governor Terry Branstad’s recent vetoes, I failed to look closely at other appropriations in a supplemental spending bill he axed. Today I learned from Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg,

Saturday is the 50th anniversary of the start of Freedom Summer and the murder of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney – it is too bad Governor Branstad vetoed the $300,000 the Legislature appropriated on a bipartisan basis to help the African-American Museum of Iowa collect Iowa’s civil rights history and educate the public about these historic events.

There it is on page 4 of Senate File 2363: $300,000 for “an oral history of civil rights” at the African-American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids.

It’s maddening that Governor Branstad has no problem with tens of millions of dollars in tax giveaways to wealthy corporations, yet he pleads fiscal prudence when vetoing spending like this, which serves the public interest without major impact to the state budget. Many of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights activists have already passed away, and those who haven’t are senior citizens. “Freedom Summer” was a major event in 20th century American history. Some Freedom Summer veterans with connections to Iowa City or the University of Iowa have already told their stories to historians or recorded their memories on paper or film. The Historical Iowa Civil Rights Network are doing their part too, and you can follow their work here. I’m disappointed that the African-American Museum of Iowa won’t have the funding to collect and archive these stories on a larger scale.  

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Branstad slashes conservation and clean water funding

It’s one of the oldest tricks in any governor’s playbook: schedule media events for bill signing ceremonies you want the public to hear about, while burying bad news late on a Friday, after reporters have filed their stories. I was worried Governor Terry Branstad would make big cuts to environmental funding just before Memorial Day weekend, as he had cut food bank money two years ago.

Instead, Branstad’s office released the news about this year’s spending vetoes after dinnertime on Friday, May 30. Hours earlier, the governor had welcomed reporters, lawmakers, and members of the public to watch him sign a bill legalizing the possession of cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders, as well as a bill altering Iowa’s HIV transmission law.

Follow me after the jump for the gory details. I no longer consider 2014 a good year for Iowa environmental funding.

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Branstad will sign cannabis oil, e-cigarette bills; undecided on dog racing

Governor Terry Branstad plans to sign a bill that would allow possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of some seizure disorders, he announced while taping Iowa Public Television‘s “Iowa Press” program today. He noted the bill will help some children with epilepsy, and he’s satisfied its “limited” scope will not increase abuse of marijuana in smokeable form.  

The governor also said he will sign a bill banning the sale of e-cigarettes to children, adding that his wife is a “militant” anti-smoker. Trouble is, that bill was backed by tobacco industry lobbyists. Many public health groups lobbied against the bill.

Branstad has not decided whether to sign the dog racing bill, which would end greyhound racing at one casino in Council Bluffs and get a non-profit casino in Dubuque off the hook for subsidizing the races. His concern isn’t the massive giveaway to dog breeders and kennel owners, which makes no sense to me. Rather, he is worried that lobbyists for horse racing interests didn’t get their cut from the bailout. O.Kay Henderson reports for Radio Iowa,

“I understand the benefits that the people in Council Bluffs and Dubuque see from this, and the greyhound industry,” Branstad says. “My concern is the horse industry was left out of this.” […]

However, the governor’s concern is over provisions in the bill that would give the greyhound industry authority to strike deals to simulcast dog and horse races at any of the state’s casinos and get all of the profit from it. Today simulcasting deals are only allowed at the casinos in Altoona, Council Bluffs and Dubuque and Iowa’s horse industry gets the financial take.

“There is some concern that I’m hearing from my friends in the horse industry. I’ve always been close with them,” Branstad says. “We have a very big and significant horse industry in the state of Iowa.”

Branstad has ’til June 2 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.

“I’m trying to weigh all those things,” Branstad says. “I want to do something that’s fair to all the communities involved and fair to all the parties and the one group that seems to be, because of the simulcasting provisions of that bill, having some concerns is the horse industry and so I’m carefully reviewing that,” Branstad says. “I have not made a final decision.”

Environmental activists in Iowa are nervously awaiting the governor’s decision on a bill to expand solar tax credits and several spending bills that include record-high funding for the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) conservation program. The governor recently said he is concerned about various parts of a supplemental spending bill that contained $5 million of the REAP funding. In 2012, Branstad line-item vetoed half a million dollars for Iowa food banks on the Friday before Memorial Day.

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