What took them so long?

Better late than never. Governor Kim Reynolds recommended on March 15 that Iowa schools close for four weeks to slow the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The same day, Republican legislative leaders announced the House and Senate will suspend operations for at least 30 days after meeting on March 16 “to consider resolutions regarding continuity of government to ensure delivery of essential services to Iowans.” Clerks and secretaries have been told they will be paid through April 21, but “March 16 will be your last day of employment.”

While several state legislatures around the country hit the pause button last week, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver waited for recommendations from the governor or the Iowa Department of Public Health.

As recently as the late afternoon on March 13, Reynolds was assuring the public, “At this time, Iowa is not experiencing community spread of the virus.” Such a definitive statement was not warranted, given how few people had been tested for COVID-19.

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College admissions bribery case should kill sports betting bill

Two bills on sports betting, House File 648 and Senate File 366, made it through the legislature’s first “funnel.” John Morrissey wonders, “What assurance do any of us have that the colleges and universities can police themselves in light of today’s revelations?” -promoted by Laura Belin

The Associated Press is reporting today that 50 people, including several television celebrities, have been charged in connection with a scheme to get their children accepted to college athletic teams after offering bribes to college coaches and other collegiate insiders.

While not directly on point, this is very concerning in light of the state legislature’s apparent desire to legalize sports betting in Iowa casinos, not to mention the extremely arrogant position taken by Prairie Meadows to construct a facility before the enabling legislation was even introduced.

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Weekend open thread: Accountability

Senator Chuck Grassley hit a new low last week in running interference for the White House on the Trump/Russia investigation. After leaders of the private research firm Fusion GPS called on Congressional Republicans “to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony” about the so-called Steele dossier, Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI “urging an investigation into Christopher Steele.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein was not consulted about the referral, which she accurately characterized as “another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”

Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that privatizing Medicaid “will save the state 80 percent less money this fiscal year than originally predicted,” Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register. The Branstad/Reynolds administration has claimed since 2015 that shifting care for one-sixth of Iowans to private companies would result in big savings for the state. Officials were never able to show the math underlying those estimates. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds and the DHS now portray the miscalculation as an honest mistake, which a more “comprehensive methodology” will correct. The governor would have been wiser to pull the plug on this disaster last year.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will address those failures in more depth. But now it’s time to hold myself accountable for the 17 Iowa politics predictions I made at the beginning of 2017. Did I improve on my showing of seven right, two half-right, and seven wrong out of my 16 predictions for 2016?

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17 Iowa politics predictions for 2017

Two weeks late and humbled by the results from previous efforts to foretell the future, I offer seventeen Iowa politics predictions for the new year.

I struggled to compile this list, in part because it’s harder to come up with things to predict during a non-election year. I didn’t want to stack the deck with obvious statements, such as “the GOP-controlled Iowa House and Senate will shred collective bargaining rights.” The most consequential new laws coming down the pike under unified Republican control of state government are utterly predictable. I needed time to look up some cases pending before the Iowa Supreme Court. Also, I kept changing my mind about whether to go for number 17. (No guts, no glory.)

I want to mention one prediction that isn’t on this list, because I don’t expect it to happen this year or next. I am convinced that if the GOP holds the governor’s office and both chambers of the Iowa legislature in 2018, they will do away with non-partisan redistricting before the 2020 census. I don’t care what anyone says about our system being a model for the country or too well-established for politicians to discard. Everywhere Republicans have had a trifecta during the last decade, they have gerrymandered. Iowa will be no exception. So if Democrats don’t want to be stuck with permanent minority status in the state legislature, we must win the governor’s race next year. You heard it here first.

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Prairie Meadows IRS problem: Business decisions could end tax exemption

Tom Witosky retired from the Des Moines Register in 2012 after 33 years of award-winning reporting on politics, sports and business. He is the co-author of Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality published by University of Iowa Press. -promoted by desmoinesdem

If it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck — even if it looks like a horse and a slot machine.

That adage appears to be the bottom line for U.S. Internal Revenue Service officials, who, after close to 20 years of allowing Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino to operate as a non-profit under U.S. Chapter 501(c)(4), now want a share of the $2.2 billion largesse the so-called “racino” generates annually.

Here is a piece of advice about the ongoing controversy: Nothing is going to change for several years unless there is a settlement that won’t change much of anything.

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