Sioux City Journal. June 22, 2014.
It's time for state to commit to Highway 20 completion
We join proponents across our region in expressing disappointment and frustration at the fact no new money was included for four-laning of Highway 20 in the Iowa Department of Transportation's new five-year plan.
Last year's 2014-2018 five-year plan contained money for the completion by 2018 of four-lane work between Moville and Correctionville. That money remains in the new 2015-2019 five-year plan.
However, the new five-year plan adopted by the Iowa Transportation Commission earlier this month contains no new money for additional four-lane work on Highway 20 between Correctionville and Early. Once the Moville-to-Correctionville section is done, the 29 miles between Correctionville and Early will remain the last two-lane stretch of Highway 20 in Iowa.
"Everybody is totally upset that we aren't moving any farther," U.S. 20 Corridor Association President Shirley Phillips told the Journal's Bret Hayworth for a June 11 story.
This isn't the time for taking a break from work on Highway 20. To the contrary, with only 29 miles of work awaiting funding for a project whose roots stretch back more than 50 years, this is the time for an expedited, final push to completion.
To those ends, we encourage all project backers, including local and area state legislators, to redouble their already-commendable efforts in support of Highway 20 before transportation commissioners adopt a new five-year plan next year.
Keeping its profile high will boost prospects for a seamless continuation of work.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we also advocate again today for more state road-and-bridge work money in general. We have to believe an increase in state revenue for roads and bridges would mean more funding and a faster finish for Highway 20.
The Legislature again this year failed to do anything about the crucial need for more transportation infrastructure funding. According to the Department of Transportation, the annual deficit for road and bridge needs in Iowa is almost $1.5 billion; for critical needs, more than $200 million.
As we have said before, we support an increase in the gas tax, but we remain open-minded to alternatives. What we do not wish to see and what shouldn't be acceptable to Iowans is a prolonged status quo.
It's time for commitments from Iowa, both to completion of Highway 20 and to meeting the state's fundamental responsibility for providing a safe, modern overall system of roads and bridges.
Fort Dodge Messenger. June 22, 2014.
Ag trade is bright spot for U.S.
The United States buys far more products from abroad than it exports. In 2013, for example, the U.S. trade deficit was nearly $475 billion according a report published in May by The Associated Press.
The overall track record of American companies in selling what they produce to the vast number of consumers who live outside U.S. borders has been unimpressive. A recent analysis or trade released by The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that only 1 percent of our nation's companies are exporters.
This longtime pattern of importing substantially more goods and services than are exported is one of the reasons the U.S. economy remains sluggish. It contributes to a disturbingly persistent amount of unemployment and underemployment.
The dismal trade picture would be much worse if it were not for the impressive success of American farmers and ranchers and agricultural industries in finding and cultivating foreign markets.
Late last month, the USDA released its Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade report. It documents that the agricultural sector of the American economy a trade bright spot. Additionally, it projects even more positive news in the years ahead.
The USDA is estimating that in the current fiscal year agricultural exports will reach $149.5 billion. That's even better than the department's earlier projections by about $6.9 billion. The volume of U.S. agricultural exports is projected to be 31 percent higher in 2014 than it was in 2013. The USDA analysis concludes that 1 million American jobs are supported by agricultural exports.
The bullish current-year picture for agricultural exports is part of a multiyear trend. According to the USDA, the 2009-2013 was the strongest five-year period in agricultural trade history.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack underlined the importance of these numbers in a statement issued May 29.
"This report indicates that the volume of U.S. agricultural exports has increased, which demonstrates an increasing global appetite for high-quality, American-grown products," he said.
He also said his department will be able to maintain and enhance its efforts to promote agricultural sales abroad as a result of provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill.
"USDA is able to continue support for trade promotion and market expansion for U.S. agricultural products overseas - programs that return $35 in economic benefits for every dollar invested," Vilsack said. "These efforts will ensure that America's farmers and ranchers are well-positioned to capitalize on emerging export markets and continue to drive economic growth in rural America."
That's news farmers and ranchers across the U.S. should celebrate. It's especially significant here in the Hawkeye State. Analysts estimate that every third row of Iowa crops is destined for a market outside the United States.
It is no exaggeration to claim that the prosperity of the Iowa farmer is closely tied to the economic well-being of consumers in a large number of faraway lands. It promises to be an increasingly important economic story in the decades ahead.
Too few of the goods this country produces are competitive in foreign marketplaces. That makes the record American farmers are achieving in exports all the more remarkable. It is an encouraging achievement at a time when sluggishness elsewhere in the U.S. economy remains a serious national concern.
Quad-City Times. June 18, 2014.
Iowa faces HIV reality
One Iowa man can celebrate his freedom in a court verdict all Iowans should celebrate for its insight into contemporary HIV treatment and compassion for those under treatment.
Five years ago, Nick Rhoades, of Plainfield, was serving a 25-year prison term for a sexual encounter that did not transfer HIV to his partner. This year, Rhoades stood with Gov. Terry Branstad as he signed a bill updating the 1998 law that sent Rhoades to prison.
Rhoades' decision to publicly challenge his conviction shook up lawmakers enough to revise the old law and move Iowa from one of the most archaic to one of the most progressive states regarding HIV.
The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday rejected Rhoades' guilty plea, even after he admitted having an HIV diagnosis and had sex without disclosing the diagnosis to his partner. The partner was not infected.
In 2008, a district court had accepted Rhoades' guilty plea and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. The same court later suspended that long prison term and replaced it with probation. But the conviction remained intact.
Rhoades appealed and the Supreme Court agreed he was represented ineffectively by a defense attorney. The specific concern? The attorney advised the plea, but never challenged two key aspects of Iowa's HIV infection law.
The Supreme Court said Iowa law requires evidence of intentional exposure to body fluids exchanged during the sexual encounter. It's not enough to simply admit unprotected sex. The evidence must specify if partners exchanged fluids. Rhoades' plea included no such evidence.
Moreover, the court notes the law requires that HIV transmission was possible during the sexual encounter. The court record includes evidence that after three years of treatment at University Hospitals, Rhoades' HIV infection "was nondetectable." With no evidence of fluid exchange and medical evidence that questions whether transmission was even possible, the justices vacated the guilty plea and sent the matter back to district court.
"The minutes of testimony do not establish a factual basis that an exchange of bodily fluid took place. Nor do the minutes of testimony show the likelihood of sexual activity in this case could result in the transmission of HIV," Justice David Wiggins wrote.
Lawmakers earlier this year revised the state code by adding a tiered penalty system that reflects if the HIV infection was intentional and if transmission of the virus actually occurred. It also includes hepatitis, tuberculosis and meningitis to the list of criminalized intentional infections.
In 1998, most Iowans still regarded an HIV infection as a death penalty. It still was seen as a threat only to gay men. Thanks to Iowa justices and lawmakers for affirming that HIV infections occur regardless of sexuality and can be managed with treatment.
The law still punishes those who purposely or recklessly infect their sexual partners. Thanks to Rhoades, astute lawmakers and Gov. Branstad, it no longer imprisons people who never infected anyone with anything.
Iowa City Press-Citizen. June 19, 2014.
Equity law will help Iowa break its glass ceiling
Only two states have failed to elect a woman to either the governor's mansion or the U.S. Congress: Iowa and Mississippi. It's not a statistic that Iowans should be proud of.
Iowa, however, also is the only state in the nation to require gender balance on boards and commissions at every level of government — state, county and local. And for that, Iowans should be proud.
Two years ago, legislation went into effect designed to keep Iowans from being appointed or reappointed to a board or commission if their participation would result in more than 50 percent representation of their gender. The hope was to increase the number of qualified women serving on local, county and state boards and, thus, increase the number of qualified women who might be ready, willing and able to make the jump into elected office.
Non-compliance with the law, however, has no ramifications for cities and counties. And the law includes a practical exception for when a "political subdivision has made a good-faith effort to appoint a qualified person to fill a vacancy on a board, commission, committee or council in compliance with for a period of three months but has been unable to make a compliant appointment."
As a result, very few counties and cities are achieving that equity target two years after the new legislation took effect.
According to a study by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, Johnson County is just one of just four counties (out of 99) that have reached the equity benchmark. Coralville and Tiffin, likewise, are two of just 17 cities in Iowa (out of 200) that have the required gender balance on key boards and commissions. (Other local cities are very close to meeting that goal.)
The ISU study, which surveyed the makeup of nine key boards and commissions for more than 200 cities in Iowa, found that statewide, 37.1 percent of the seats were held by women, and 27.9 percent of them had female chairpersons.
Valerie Hennings, scholar-in-residence at the ISU center, which conducted the study, said the results are optimistic because a diverse range of cities and counties — large and small, from various regions throughout the state — are able to comply with the gender-balanced legislation.
Such gender equity can't be required for elected offices, of course. And Iowans currently have three opportunities to break the state's congressional glass ceiling in November:
— Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks is running to oust incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack in the Second Congressional District.
— Democrat Staci Appel is running in the Third Congressional District.
— And Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst has her sights set on defeating U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley for an open U.S. Senate seat.
But we think the law requiring gender to be a consideration on the local, county and state committees is an important step toward helping Iowa meet the goal of, by 2020, having women make up 50 percent of the Iowa Legislature and the state's congressional delegation.
And we're happy our local governments are working so hard to comply with that law.