Iowa City Press-Citizen. Oct. 6, 2014.
Time to improve Iowa's standards for egg production
Looks like Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad tried to cross the wrong road when he had Iowa join a dubious, multi-state lawsuit against California for daring to require that — starting next year — all eggs sold in that state need to come from chickens housed under more humane conditions.
On Oct. 2, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed the case and ruled in favor of the California state government, the Humane Society of the United States and the Association of California Egg Farmers — which had joined together to defend California's right to set higher standards for the eggs sold within the state's borders.
In 2008, California voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that banned "extreme confinement" cages and crates for egg-laying hens, pigs and calves bred for veal. The law later passed by the California Legislature requires that, starting in 2015, eggs sold in the state must come from chickens raised in cages where birds have enough room to spread their wings.
The lawsuit, originally filed by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, argued that such a rule amounts to California trying to regulate production that happens outside its borders. Attorneys general from the large-scale egg-producing states of Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama and Kentucky signed on — claiming such regulation violated their sovereignty. Branstad himself had Iowa's name added to the list after Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller showed no interest in joining the suit.
U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller not only ruled that the Koster, Branstad and the other attorneys general have no standing to bring suit, but the judge also ruled their argument had no merit.
"It is patently clear plaintiffs are bringing this action on behalf of a subset of each state's egg farmers," Mueller wrote in the decision, "not on behalf of each state's population generally."
Such a ruling was hardly a surprise.
The courts have long held that states can enact food and safety regulations in the public interest, inasmuch as the regulations don't discriminate against businesses in other states. So as long as California's law is enforced uniformly for in-state and out-of-state producers alike, it was likely to pass that non-discriminatory muster.
Still, we agree with the idea that it's preferable to have the nation adopt a higher, uniform standard and level the playing field among the states. Two years ago, in fact, there were positive signs that such minimum standards for hens would be adopted nationwide. As in California, key national representatives from the humane community and egg industry managed to find common ground on requirements that would replace the battery cages with a housing system that provides each bird with about double the space.
The idea at the time was to phase in the requirements so that the eventual costs to consumers would be somewhere between 2 cents and 10 cents more per dozen eggs. Unfortunately, such a national standard for egg production wasn't included in the final version of the farm bill.
And with the current level of dysfunction in Congress, it's unlikely such a nationwide standard will be passed any time soon.
Because Iowa is the nation's largest egg-producing state, we hope our state lawmakers eventually agree to set such minimum, humane standards for egg production here. But in the meantime, Iowa's governor shouldn't be joining any lawsuits to stop any other state from taking such a worthwhile step forward on its own.
With the recent ruling, it now looks like Iowa egg producers — if they want to continue to ship the estimated 30 percent of the state's eggs to California — are going to have to figure out how to meet the new requirements for that marketplace.
The Hawk Eye. Oct. 6, 2014.
4-H is about helping youths achieve
National 4-H Week is a good time to celebrate the enormous contributions 4-H makes to our community and nation.
It's hard to imagine anyone in Iowa who doesn't know a bit about 4-H, but this week is an appropriate occasion to reflect on the important contribution this organization makes by helping young people develop skills and values that will serve them well for a lifetime.
It has been more than a century since 4-H got its start in Iowa in 1901. Today it is the largest youth-development program in the Hawkeye State. About one-quarter of the state's young folks are involved in 4-H. Those 125,000 youthful participants from all 99 of the state's counties are supported in their activities by more than 11,000 adult volunteers.
The member projects that are a key component of the 4-H program help young people develop important life skills that center on positive self-esteem, communications and decision making. Those who partake of the 4-H experience learn how to conceptualize a task and carry it through to successful conclusion. Many of the most successful members of our communities first began to hone their organizational and communications skills in 4-H.
The underlying theme of 4-H is captured succinctly in the organization's motto: "Make the best better." Growth through learning, teamwork and communication is at the very core of 21st-century 4-H.
The Messenger salutes the many 4-H members, volunteers and others who participate in or help support the myriad 4-H programs. Their investment of time and energy in 4-H today will pay dividends far into the future both for them and the communities they call home.
The Des Moines Register. Oct. 5, 2014.
Iowa must stop 'highway robbery'
For years, the debate over civil-forfeiture laws has focused on the motives of law enforcement officers who seize large sums of cash from motorists who are never convicted of a crime.
That's understandable, as the rationale for these traffic stops and the subsequent seizure of citizens' money and property needs to be closely examined. But it's time for the debate to move beyond that. Law enforcement in Iowa and around the nation need to recognize that regardless of their intent, officers cannot continue to trample the rights of citizens through these government-sanctioned roadside shakedowns.
It's a major issue in Iowa partly because Interstate Highway 80, a major route for drug traffickers, includes 300 miles that stretch between Davenport and Council Bluffs.
Since 9/11, police throughout the United States have seized more than $2.5 billion through the U.S. Justice Department's Equitable Sharing Program without obtaining search warrants or criminal indictments. The Washington Post recently reported that half of those seizures were for less than $8,800, so this massive, well-coordinated money-grab clearly is not aimed at the Colombian drug cartels.
Among the innocent victims identified by the Post is Ming Tong Liu, a restaurant operator from Georgia. Last year, he was driving to Louisiana where he intended to purchase a restaurant for $75,000 in cash. He was stopped for speeding in Alabama. A sheriff's deputy charged Liu with driving 10 mph over the limit, then searched his car without a warrant and decided to lay claim to the $75,000 he found in the back seat. Liu had to hire an attorney and wait 10 months to get his money back.
The average person would call that highway robbery. The Justice Department calls it "law enforcement."
Unfortunately, Liu's case is not unusual. The Post reviewed hundreds of cases that follow the same pattern: The police stop a vehicle for a minor traffic violation. Officers quickly issue a ticket or a warning. Then the officers detain the drivers for "suspicious" activity, which can include nervous behavior or trash on the floor of the car. Based on that, the vehicle is searched, and the police confiscate whatever cash or contraband they can find.
Not everyone is outraged by these practices.
Several years ago, a group of 17 Mexicans — all in the United States without permission — were traveling together in a vehicle on Interstate 80 when they were pulled over in Iowa by a Cass County sheriff's deputy. The occupants of the vehicle ranged from 12 years to 59. Some had only $1 in their pockets, but collectively, they had over $1,000 — all of which the deputy seized before turning everyone over to the federal government for deportation.
The Mexican consul later contacted Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller for help in persuading the Cass County prosecutor to return the money. A deputy attorney general told the Mexican official that the prosecutor — later forced out of office for widespread ethics violations — was "well qualified" to handle the matter. Miller's deputy then sent a joking email to a colleague, saying he had "congratulated" the county attorney for not taking the individuals' shoes and coats.
Instead of seeing this as a troubling constitutional issue, the government taking people's property without proving the money was obtained illegally, Miller's staff thought it was a big joke.
The Des Moines Register's Grant Rodgers reported last week that John Newmerzhycky and a friend were pulled over last year on Interstate 80 in Poweshiek County by Iowa State Patrol Trooper Justin Simmons. They were traveling to California from a World Series of Poker event in Illinois. In their rental car, they carried $100,000 in their poker winnings.
Simmons gave Newmerzhycky a warning for failing to use his turn signal when changing lanes. Simmons then asked Newmerzhycky if the car contained anything illegal or any large amounts of currency.
Newmerzhycky said no — which was untrue. Simmons asked if he could search the car or bring a drug dog to the scene. Newmerzhycky refused permission several times, but Simmons continuing to press him.
Eventually the trooper said, "OK, John. You seem like you're really nervous. ... I see your pulse is running here. ... What I'm gonna do is just have you sit in (the patrol car) here real quick. I'm gonna call the dog ..."
At a recent deposition, one of the state troopers involved in this stop described how the drug dog, Laika, typically indicates the presence of narcotics in a car. Depending on the location of the drugs, the trooper said, the dog may sit and stare, or she will stand on her back legs, or maybe she will lay down.
After Laika "alerted" on the car, the troopers searched the vehicle, found the $100,000 and a device used to process small amounts of marijuana for smoking. (Newmerzhycky and his passenger both have California medical-marijuana cards.)
Newmerzhycky was charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, and the troopers kept the $100,000. Eventually, the state agreed to return $90,000, but a third of that went to the attorneys for Newmerzhycky and his passenger who secured the recovery. Now, quite predictably, the state is facing a lawsuit.
The evidence shows Trooper Simmons refused to accept no for an answer to his request for a search, escalating the conflict until Newmerzhycky showed signs of nervousness. The trooper then used that as the rationale for calling in Laika, and then, for reasons that have yet to be explained, the state decided to keep the $100,000 that the troopers found in the car.
In their zeal to seize cash — some of which is retained by law enforcement agencies — the police have turned the war on drugs into a profit center and are treating law-abiding citizens and small-time offenders as if they were drug lords.
If the police cannot be trusted to act responsibly, state and federal lawmakers need to intervene. They need to ban the use of seized cash by law enforcement agencies at all levels, thereby eliminating the profit motive. Then they need to change the current guilty-until-proven-innocent process that puts the burden on citizens to prove they earned their money legally. It should be the government's obligation to prove that money was not earned legally.
Until that happens, members of the public will continue to put their civil liberties at risk every time they get behind the wheel and drive. That's not the way we should treat people in the United States — by trampling on their constitutional rights.
Sioux City Journal. Oct. 2, 2014.
Home Base Iowa deserves local support
In May, we praised Gov. Terry Branstad and the Iowa Legislature for passage of Home Base Iowa, a package of measures designed to make our state more attractive to veterans as they transition from military service to civilian life.
In our view, Home Base Iowa was the signature accomplishment of the session.
Because we believe this program speaks to the responsibilities we have as a nation for meeting the needs of veterans and we appreciate the economic potential of the program for our state, we applaud an initiative to build local participation.
City leaders recently launched a campaign designed to match returning military veterans with local employers in need of workers. The city hopes to become designated a Home Base Iowa community by enlisting participation in the program from at least 10 percent of local businesses.
"Veterans recruited by the program will bring our local companies strong skill sets, including leadership, integrity and loyalty," Mayor Bob Scott said.
For participation, Home Base Iowa asks employers to set a goal for the number of veterans they intend to hire by the end of 2018 and to post their job listings on the Home Base Iowa website.
We commend the city for promotion of the program and encourage local employers to consider making a commitment to Home Base Iowa and tapping into the attributes and skills embodied and possessed by men and women who served our country in uniform.
Since Branstad made Home Base Iowa a priority in his January Condition of the State Message, we have watched the public and private sectors of our state rally behind it in enthusiastic fashion. In support of the program, Iowans within and outside government have in a matter of months identified and embraced an opportunity and strategy, guided legislation to passage, created a private fundraising vehicle and embarked on a national information campaign.
The fact this program resonates in Iowa speaks well of our state and local governments, our businesses and our people.