We MUST reverse the slide in women’s reproductive healthcare rights. Our voices MUST be heard in Des Moines. I will fight for all of you. Thank you, Martha Hedberg!
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Judicial Reform and Funding our Judiciary
The judiciary is one of our three branches of government – part of our essential checks and balances. Iowa’s judiciary has been chronically underfunded for years now. When judgeships sit empty, when the court system is starved of money, it strips away at the bedrock of our democracy: equal protection under the laws.
We must fund our courts, as well as related services – juvenile services, diversion programs, and drug courts. Currently, because criminal cases take precedence, a civil, contested divorce case may wait a year for a court date. It can take up to two years to get a case through court. That is too long. Delays have real consequences for lives.
In January, Chief Justice Cady reported that our court system employs 182 fewer people than authorized just one year ago, a 10% reduction in workforce. The system is operating with 115 essential positions unfilled, and growing. Judges are retiring, and year over year, fewer private practice attorneys are seeking a career on the bench. That all translates to fewer judges, fewer court reporters, fewer case schedulers, and fewer juvenile court officers.
Rural Iowans are receiving fewer court services than Iowans in urban areas. And a freeze on new specialty courts means that the critical services provided by a specialty court in one county – such as a drug court – are not being provided in another county. Unequal justice is not justice.
In the most recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce ratings of the 50 state court systems, Iowa fell from fourth best court system in the nation to 13th. And the racial disparities in the Iowa justice system lead me to question even that 13th place rating.
African Americans comprise approximately 3.5% of Iowa’s population – and fully one-fourth of Iowa’s total prison population. Iowa’s incarceration rate for people of color is among the highest in the nation. And what does that mean for their futures when they are released? It’s hard to get jobs; hard to feed a family; hard to get ahead.
Voting Rights: Iowa is one of only three states where convicted felons who have served their terms face a lifetime ban on voting, unless they individually petition the governor. That must change. Disenfranchisement from voting reduces connection to the community, and continues to punish someone who has already served his or her time. Governor Vilsack signed an executive order in 2005 (E.O. 42) that automatically restored voting rights to felons who completed their sentences. Governor Branstad rescinded that executive order in 2011, replacing it with E.O. 70, which mandates that felons in Iowa pay all outstanding monetary obligations to the court, in addition to completing their sentence and a period of parole or probation. They may then apply for restoration of the ability to vote, per a streamlined process instituted in 2017.
Then-Governor Vilsack’s 2005 executive order laid out the situation that continues to be true today:
“Whereas, tens of thousands of Iowans who are living, working, and paying taxes in the state are denied the right to vote as a result of a prior conviction; and
“Whereas, disenfranchisement of offenders has a disproportionate racial impact thereby diminishing the representation of minority populations; and
“Whereas, research indicates ex-offenders that vote are less likely to re-offend; and
“Whereas, restoration of the right to vote is an important aspect of reintegrating offenders in society to become law-abiding and productive citizens…”
Small Claims Court (SCC) provides a legal forum for those who have smaller claims and who cannot afford an attorney. It is intended as an uncomplicated way to resolve disputes. Mediators who work pro bono with SCC clients have noticed that, as the amount that can be disputed in SCC has risen over the years – from $1500 in the 1990s to $5000 currently – the filing fee also increased, as has participation of lawyers. The filing fee is currently $85, a burden for many potential claimants. This year, the State Legislature considered increasing the amount that can be disputed in SCC to $7500. Mediators were concerned that would be paired with another filing fee increase. Fortunately, that proposal appears to be dead.
In sum, we need to reinstate automatic voting rights restoration for felons who have served their terms; end racially discriminatory sentencing; adequately fund our court system; and ensure that it is equally accessible to all Iowans.
Extra special thanks to former state senator Jean Lloyd-Jones for her letter of support in the Gazette today! What an inspiration she is to our campaign!
“I have never voted for a woman just because she is a woman, although I believe more women in public office would be a plus. My vote is based on qualifications, experience and aptitude. Voters in state Senate District 37, a seat being vacated by Senator Bob Dvorsky, will have a chance to elect a uniquely qualified person, who happens to be female, in the June 5 primary election.
Janice Weiner stands out because of her education and experience. First, she is a lawyer, currently a rare and much-needed asset in the Iowa Legislature. Second, she has served in the U.S. State Department for 25 years, through Republican and Democratic administrations, representing our country at five embassies and two consulates general. In her last post, she was Consul General in Düsseldorf, Germany. She knows what it is to be a public servant, and to work with people from diverse backgrounds. Third, she has the temperament to be an effective leader in the Iowa Legislature. She is decisive, hardworking; always looking for a positive way to solve a problem.
She will be an effective diplomat and advocate for our community in Des Moines. I encourage voters to give this highly qualified candidate your serious consideration.”
Senior Citizens, Elder Care – Ageing Iowans
We all know senior citizens. They are our parents, our grandparents, our friends, our neighbors, our aunts and uncles. These are people about whom we care, people whose health may be starting to fail, or may be becoming increasingly fragile. I’m betting we also know someone who is not as sharp as they used to be; someone on Social Security barely making ends meet and worried that they may not be able to afford their medication if the price goes up again. We know them and we worry about them, especially if they are living alone; especially if they have recently lost their life partner. What if they fall? How often does someone check on them? Can they shovel their walk or get to the store or to the doctor in inclement weather?
This is not a partisan issue – it’s about people who matter to us, who have lived their lives and raised their children and worked their jobs. And they deserve dignity and peace of mind. They deserve for their senior citizen years to be their Golden Years – not their years of worrying if they will be able to make ends meet and if someone will care for them if they get sick.
I know from living it with my parents and with all my grandparents that for many, it is very humbling to have once held a job, to have raised a family – and to have something happen – a financial event, a health event – that causes them to realize they may no longer be completely in control. It is difficult for them to watch contemporaries die and start to feel more and more alone. It is frustrating to lose one’s hearing, for example, and if you can’t afford hearing aids, to lose out on conversation and become more isolated.
So how do we ensure that our senior citizens – the ever increasing ranks of ageing Iowans – can enjoy their Golden Years? I propose that we examine six areas:
Housing: This includes ageing in place (is it accessible or can it be made accessible?); different housing opportunities, including assisted living, independent living in senior citizen homes; co-housing; living or near relative; and accessible/affordable housing – to list just a few. There is no “one size fits all” solution. It is often better for the person to remain in familiar surroundings if that can be done safely, with any services required (and less expensive).
Services: Meals on wheels, which can be the only contact an elderly person may have in a given day; visiting nurses; senior citizen centers; contacts with other human beings; basic home assistance – cleaning, laundry, changing lightbulbs, fixing a faucet, organizing medications and making sure they are being taken). This may not be the same in rural settings as it is in some rural settings, where distances are greater and services may not be as readily available.
Mobility: Transportation outside the home, including to social events and doctor’s appointments; and the ability to be mobile inside the home are both keys to independent living and being able to age in place. Transportation also matters for caregivers.
Health care: This is the time of life when people have more serious health events, but not everything is covered, either by Medicare or Medicaid. Medicare still has the donut hole for prescription drugs. Privatized Medicaid in Iowa is a disaster for so many – and many nursing homes have a preponderance of Medicaid patients. If they can’t pay the bills with what the MCOs pay them, then what? And how do we ensure that those who have health events, and are ready to go back home will have the support they need? For that, the CARE Act is a start.
Database and help accessing that database: Many programs are available to senior citizens; many qualify for services under the ADA as well. Yet at a time in life when both technology and change can be overwhelming for some, it can be difficult to get a comprehensive overview of what is available. One stop shopping and someone to help would be ideal. Johnson County is trying hard with their Livable Communities website and a new position designed to help people navigate it. It is a good model to watch.
Caregivers: We already have a shortage. Caregiving must become a respected profession, with a reasonable wage, or people will constantly move on. The shortage will only increase as the baby boomer generation retires and ages. We need new models, we need to work with community colleges, and we need to find ways to support and offer support and continuing education to existing caregivers.
Population Decline / Joblessness
Iowans know how to get the job done, but top-down decisions from economists and large business interests have made getting a job much, much harder to do in the first place.
Community development is economic development. With the recent reorganization of the USDA, rural Americans have lost a critical voice in Washington. Federal grants and loans for small town businesses, rural water improvement and non-agricultural development are disappearing, and while these grants and loans have never been easy for rural Iowan communities to get, we cannot wait for the ax to fall. We must act now.
For over 25 years, the Iowa Rural Development Council has drawn members from all 99 counties to trade knowledge, innovation and experience with a single mission: to help Iowa’s communities develop with an eye toward the future. But in 2005, all state and federal funding for the IRDC was withdrawn.
State funding for the IRDC must be restored and the Iowa Economic Development Authority must partner with the IRDC to empower communities with fully funded programs designed and tested by the communities themselves. Hospitals must be reopened and modernized; schools must also be modernized; SAVE dollars can help here. Broadband is also a must as an indispensable part of this infrastructure. Main streets must be revitalized. And the hardworking people of Iowa must be put on a fair footing to compete in the global market. State funds, partnerships with community colleges and research, multiplied with local know-how is the surest solution for Iowans’ economic future.
One possible solution is a regional rural jobs and innovation accelerator program like the national one, which was a huge success: https://www.arc.gov/funding/RuralJobsandInnovationAcceleratorChallenge.asp
Land is livelihood and opportunity for rural Iowans. It is also sacred trust. For the modern farmer, crop-destroying hail storms, market downturns, family illnesses and plain bad luck are near certainties. That is why Iowa farmers, pressed to cultivate for maximum marketability rather than sustainability, spend millions of dollars each year applying chemically what more diverse crop rotations would restore freely.
America’s health and welfare depends on the food we grow, and the tools we use to grow that food must ensure the future of that trust for generations to come. That is why Iowa farmers work year after year to implement the newest technologies and methods to protect their harvest. Our machinery and seed is, bar none, the best in the world. But we can, and must, do more.
The air we breathe and the water we drink must be as safe and free from toxins as the food we serve our families. Our rivers and streams must be restored to the same quality that our forebears enjoyed.
That is why the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy must continue to be funded by public-private partnerships, and its methods followed. More education is required, with community input and based on science.
And the Master Matrix is broken. Until it is fixed, with real standards and increased local control, no new CAFOs should be approved.
Putting our Faith in Each Other
Immigrants from around the world work hard to come to America. They take responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities – those they join and those that they form. Their traditions join the traditions of Native Americans, European Americans, African Americans and Asian Americans to strengthen and enrich the fabric of a nation, our nation, which is unique in the history of the world. Immigrants have never taken from nor diminished our culture – they have always inevitably added to it and strengthened it in every way.
That is why Iowa’s cultural traditions of hard work, responsibility and community-mindedness uniquely equip us to overcome the prejudices of our forebears and build lasting, vibrant communities that will carry on those traditions.
Just as each immigrant puts their faith in a nation of promise, we must put our faith in the promise of each other – by encouraging immigrant businesses and making everyone more prosperous; by expanding immigrant education and fostering ingenuity; and by opening the doors of our churches, synagogues, community centers and colleges with all of the neighborly affection that makes our communities so special.
1. Expand Telehealth systems to underserved areas (underscores need for rural broadband)
2. Have doctors, dentists, and mental health professionals available, if need e, on a “circuit” basis in rural areas.
3. Provide viable ambulance and EMT services to all rural areas, so 911 means something.
Washington and Iowa
Iowans need to start expecting more from their state legislators and less from Washington. It’s no surprise that Washington’s concerns are far from Iowans. Iowa’s local legislators must be partners in the community, and so, each state-level elected official must perform 1 week of public service in a community that is not their own and so foster the understanding that some of us may be rural Iowans, and some of us may be urban Iowans, but we are all Iowans.
I can either write volumes about healthcare, or keep it short and sweet. I choose the latter.
Healthcare for all: I believe that everyone should have the right to healthcare, and access to healthcare. It should not be dependent on employment, or quality of employment, or where you, as an Iowan – as an American – live or work. It should not depend on accident of birth or how much you earn.
Healthcare for the whole person: I also believe that healthcare must cover the whole person. In addition to what “traditional” health insurance covers, mental health care, dental care, vision and hearing should all be part and parcel of healthcare. It is good for people, and healthy people also happen to be good for our economy. I don’t ever want to see another “go fund me” site for someone who experienced a medical emergency or had an accident. That is not how we take care of our people.
Piecemeal history: The consolidation of the system that ties health insurance to employers dates back to World War II. The federal government was rationing goods, even as factories ramped up production, and they needed to attract workers. Factory owners needed a way to lure employees (money did not help, since people could not buy more goods because of rationing), so they turned to fringe benefits, offering increasingly generous health plans. Then, in 1943, the IRS ruled that employer-based health care should be tax free.
No one thought this through; there was no grand plan. It developed by accident as a response to economic conditions and availability of goods at the time.
We need healthcare that all can access. It can be Medicare for all, it can be a universal healthcare system, or some hybrid. The important thing is that we finally decide, as have most other “first world” countries, that our people have a right to health care, regardless of whether they are in the top 1% or the 99%. It will help our people, be an equalizer, and propel us forward. It is the right thing to do.
The #NAMIwalks kickoff luncheon today was nothing short of inspiring. The people who spoke and shared their stories demonstrated just how important it is to have an organization like NAMI that creates community and advocates for mental health.
Earlier, I was fortunate to talk with Leslie Carpenter, an amazing woman, mental health advocate, and President-elect of the Johnson County NAMI board. Leslie’s tireless advocacy, together with her husband Scott, focuses on the need to help the seriously mentally ill. Thank you, Leslie. #RadicalEmpathy
Watch our discussion here:
Clean water is one of those basics in life, like clean air to breathe. We need to be able to open the tap and safely drink the water. We need to support local infrastructure and must drastically reduce the amounts of fertilizer and pesticides flowing into our waterways.
Support local infrastructure: Good water treatment plants reduce the amounts of objectionable elements to levels considerably lower than those deemed safe. The price you pay per 1,000 gallons of clean water in, for example, Iowa City, which invested $65 million in its water treatment plant, is .30. Yes, 30 cents. Yet people continue to buy water in one-way plastic bottles – the equivalent in water bottles is $30,000 for 1,000 gallons. Let’s not make Coke (Dasani) and Pepsi (Aquafina) any richer than they already are. Let’s use tap water, thereby putting money into local infrastructure and reducing the avalanche of one-way plastic bottles that will never be biodegradable. We can put some of those funds to use to create, for example, county or regional funds to help smaller municipalities upgrade their water treatment plants. Ultimately this will save us money, bring us clean water, help the environment, and crucially, help our smaller, more rural communities with infrastructure.
Reduce fertilizer and pesticide use: When applied directly to a plant, the amount of fertilizer needed per acre is a mere 5-10 lbs./acre, whereas as much as 200-300 lbs./acre is spread today. The spreader does not “know” where the plants are, with the result that the bulk of the fertilizer gets washed into the watersheds. Precision farming is coming – the ability to ensure that only the plants get the fertilizer. I suggest taxing the fertilizer and pesticide companies and using that tax to fund watershed pollution monitoring. We need to reduce their use. Alternative crops that can help replenish the land and/or organic farming require a longer time horizon and money – but produce excellent alternatives that can, in few years, earn top dollars per acre, and greatly reduce water pollution.
Bring back wetlands: Wetlands busting efforts years ago increased the amount of land available for farming, but robbed us of nature’s natural water purifiers. They are the most economical way to remove nitrogen from the water. Bringing back those wetlands is not cheap, but it is a necessary and natural solution. And yes, we also need plant buffers.
Place a moratorium on new CAFOs: The run-off from CAFOs affects water quality, and they affect the air we breathe. The Master Matrix is broken – when 97 percent of applications are approved, including in sensitive areas, it needs to be revised and reformed. Local governments such as county supervisors must have a say. They know their counties and their constituents. They also know what can happen to property values. We need a moratorium on new CAFOs until a solution is found.
Keeping our kids and families safe from gun violence
We must take action to keep our children and our communities safe. Responsible gun ownership for hunters, sportsmen, and self-defense is, and will remain, part of our culture, and the 2nd Amendment is secure. That does not mean we cannot make our communities safer. Common sense measures from Moms for Gun Sense and the Gabby Giffords Law Center include:
- Closing loopholes in our background check system that allow minors, felons and domestic abusers easy access to guns, as well as those with a history of serious mental illness.
- Promoting gun safety so that America’s children will no longer be exposed to unacceptable levels of risk.
- Supporting reasonable limits on where, when and how loaded guns are carried and used in public.
- Enacting enforceable laws that address gun trafficking and fraudulent purchasing to keep illegal guns off our streets.
- Banning and buying back assault and assault-style weapons; weapons of war are for the military.
- Limit magazine size.
- Require a waiting period before purchasing a gun.
- Institute a reporting requirement for lost and stolen guns.
- Pursue and fund research into gun violence as a public health issue.
- Follow the SMART program to keep kids safe, reduce the rate of accidental deaths and injuries from unsecured guns, and lower the rate of suicide, as well as the use of weapons in domestic abuse:
S – secure guns (locked and unloaded with ammunition stored separately);
M – model responsible behavior;
A – ask about unsecured guns in other homes (e.g., where your kids will play);
R – recognize risks of teen suicide; and
T – tell peers to be smart, too.
Trade unions brought us the 40-hour work week, paid annual and sick leave, health and safety regulations in the workplace, disability pay – and the very concept of the weekend. It is so important that we not forget all they have brought us all. They are also key to keeping quality employees. In the public sector, for example, when teachers or staff sit across the bargaining table, we should never underestimate the relationships, mutual respect and trust that are built. It is key to recruiting and retaining the best.
The Republicans in the Iowa Legislature gutted Chapter 20 public sector bargaining in the 2017 session and introduced clear union busting provisions. Have you ever heard of an election where there is both a supermajority requirement AND every member who does not vote counts as a “no” vote? Neither had I. If we want excellence in education and the public sector in general, we need to revive a functioning Chapter 20. Unions also play a key in private sector businesses and industries. Workplace safety, qualified workers and a livable wage are all at the top of their agenda.
Changes needed to revitalize Chapter 20 public sector bargaining:
- Eliminate “divide and conquer”: Public safety workers have been exempted from the changes to Chapter 20, but retain solidarity with others. This is a short-sighted approach. Teachers are just as important for our children and our future – and all too often, their safety. We must not devalue them.
- Reclaim current “permissive” bargaining items as “mandatory” bargaining items. Currently the only item mandatory for teachers and staff is base wages, to include hours, in-service training, leaves, seniority, grievance procedures, vacation, holidays, overtime, health and safety, association rights, and class size.
- Reclaim insurance as a mandatory bargaining item.
- Make permissive (currently excluded items that as recently as 2016 were mandatory): insurance, leaves for political purposes, supplemental pay, transfer procedures, evaluation procedures, early retirement, and staff reduction language.
- It is reasonable to cap bargaining at the level of funding that a school district is receiving. But that is no excuse for the State Legislature to underfund schools or push more responsibility to the counties and cities in a transparent attempt to break the back of unions or underpay teachers.
- Education is our future, and we need to treat and pay those who educate our young people as the professionals they are.
- Worker’s compensation/disability: Retain current standards; do not attempt to intimidate claimants by criminalizing a potentially incomplete claim. Return to pre-2017 standards with respect to disabilities and how they are categorized.