AP NEWS

Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

November 11, 2019

Des Moines Register. Nov. 4, 2019

Motorcycle helmets save lives; Iowa needs a law requiring them, at the very least to protect children

For a brief period — from September 1975 to July 1976 — Iowa had its statutory head in the right place on motorcycle helmets. The law required them to be worn while riding.

Fatality rates for motorcycles were 40% lower during that time than for the same period one year earlier, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Unfortunately, a special interest group quickly succeeded in convincing legislators to rescind the helmet law.

More than 40 years later, Iowa is one of only three states that do not require motorcycle riders of any age to wear helmets. For about as many years, the Des Moines Register editorial board has supported a law for this state. We were reminded recently that is a position some Iowans oppose.

A Register story quoted the mother of a man who died from head injuries he suffered in a 2014 crash on Southeast 14th Street in Des Moines. He was not wearing a helmet. His mother said she sees value in wearing one, but it should be a personal decision.

“I just feel like I should have the right to decide about my own life, and I think everybody else should too,” she said.

That argument is a tough sell.

At every turn, the government rightly imposes safety requirements on the public, particularly when it comes to transportation. The goal is to save lives. Mandates also recognize that when injured people are admitted to hospitals, all of us share the burden of paying for their care. That includes long-term care for people with severe head injuries.

If you take a canoe on an Iowa waterway, state law requires you to have a life jacket on board. Children under 12 must wear a life jacket at all times in a canoe, kayak or on a paddle board.

The law requires adults to wear seat belts in automobiles and provide car seats and proper restraints for infants and young children. It is illegal to drive down the interstate with an unsecured toddler crawling around in the back seat.

“I just feel like I should have the right to decide about my own life, and I think everybody else should too,” she said.

That argument is a tough sell.

At every turn, the government rightly imposes safety requirements on the public, particularly when it comes to transportation. The goal is to save lives. Mandates also recognize that when injured people are admitted to hospitals, all of us share the burden of paying for their care. That includes long-term care for people with severe head injuries.

If you take a canoe on an Iowa waterway, state law requires you to have a life jacket on board. Children under 12 must wear a life jacket at all times in a canoe, kayak or on a paddle board.

The law requires adults to wear seat belts in automobiles and provide car seats and proper restraints for infants and young children. It is illegal to drive down the interstate with an unsecured toddler crawling around in the back seat.

So it makes no sense that parents can legally perch a young child on the back of a motorcycle, tell them to “hang on” and hit the road.

It’s inconsistent with other child safety laws and should not be allowed.

And what about teenagers?

Elected officials and safety experts have repeatedly recognized that this group of inexperienced drivers is at higher risk of accidents. Don’t let teens drive at certain times or with others in the car or with a cell phone, some lawmakers have argued — while failing to require them to wear helmets on motorcycles.

Iowa should have a helmet law.

At the very least, helmets should be required for children and teen riders. Ideally, the law should apply to everyone.

When a state passes a helmet law covering all riders, helmet use rates rise to nearly 100 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One reason is that law enforcement officers can easily determine if a motorcyclist is wearing a helmet. Applying the law only to minors would force officers to guess a rider’s age.

Helmets save lives. Study after study has concluded this. It’s why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration encourages every state to have and enforce a law requiring all motorcycle operators and passengers to wear appropriate helmets.

“Motorcycle helmets provide the best protection from head injury for motorcyclists involved in traffic crashes. The passage of helmet use laws governing all motorcycle operators and passengers is the most effective method of increasing helmet use,” the NHTSA writes.

A proposed law would no doubt meet some of the same arguments we’ve heard for years: Helmets are too hot. They restrict visibility. The government isn’t going to tell me what to do. It’s my choice.

Wearing a seat belt or driving while intoxicated is a choice, but the law punishes those who make the wrong choice and encourages people to make better choices.

Iowa’s lack of a helmet law is not admirable. It doesn’t make a statement about freedom or rejecting government intrusion. It means one thing: More Iowans die in motorcycle crashes.

It’s time for lawmakers to use their heads and pass a helmet law — at least to protect our children.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Nov. 7, 2019

Voters do the city hall shuffle

Incumbency isn’t what it once was cracked up to be.

In Tuesday’s elections, voters banished officeholders in mayoral or council races in Cedar Falls, Waterloo, New Hampton, Evansdale, Dunkerton and Waverly and the Waterloo Board of Education contest. In Elk Run Heights, the mayoral race was a tie without a runoff provision.

The most stunning upset was in Cedar Falls where the public safety officer issue proved contentious, most likely leading to the defeat of Mayor Jim Brown by council member Rob Green.

Brown raised $21,000 to Green’s $8,632, but Green, a technologist at the University of Northern Iowa, was more social media savvy. He went from civic volunteer to promoting the nextdoor.com site for Cedar Falls before winning an at-large council seat. He frequently discussed the council agenda and his rationale for decisions on that site and Facebook.

Green lauded Brown’s efforts on economic development as “tremendous,” bringing in an estimated $125 million in new taxable valuation in the past three years. He supports the PSO concept, but not its implementation, which he wants to publicly review following the resignation or retirement of 14 firefighters.

While Brown cited the efficiencies of cross-trained police officers augmenting the fire staff, the firefighters’ union countered with a lawsuit in January, accusing the city of favoritism in promotions for police. Nine days prior to the election, Scott Dix, the firefighters union chief, accused the city of a coverup regarding a trailer fire. He contended police use of compressed air foam made the situation worse, and that the city suppressed a video of the incident.

Green advocated bringing firefighters back into the conversation. He called Brown’s claim Green supported “the PSO model” in 14 of 15 votes “a lie” based on routine budget items.

Green also wants to be demoted, if re-elected, reducing the mayor’s position to part-time. The Iowa Code prohibits any change in the mayor’s status until a subsequent term. Longtime City Administrator Richard McAllister spearheaded city operations before retiring in December 2015. Ron Gaines succeeded him.

The PSO issue still could influence two council run-offs. Susan deBuhr, a PSO advocate, easily won re-election in Ward 2, but Tom Blanford fell just short with 48.7% in Ward 4. His runoff opponent Simon Harding and third-place finisher Fred Perryman opposed the PSO program.

Former at-large council member Nick Taiber, who is seeking a return to City Hall, led Dave Sires, who wants to revert to separate police and fire departments, by a 39-33 percent margin.

Taiber supported the PSO program while in office, but wants to bridge differences with firefighters that have arisen since implementation. Sires would revert to separate police and fire departments. Nate Didier, who finished third, opposed the PSOs.

Taiber also wants to study being part of a regional wastewater system. Sires prefers the city continue to go it alone.

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Des Moines Register. Nov. 6, 2019

The consequences of inaction

For years, county officials have warned it could happen.

On Monday, it did.

The Muscatine County Board of Supervisors voted to leave the five-county consortium that plays a vital role in providing help to people with disabilities and mental health problems in the Quad-City region.

Six years ago, Scott, Jackson, Muscatine, Clinton and Cedar counties banded together to meet the state’s requirement that counties work collaboratively to provide mental health services.

Almost from the beginning, there were problems. And most stem from this flaw: The Legislature doesn’t trust local governments to figure out their own budgets.

Thus, you have state-imposed caps on how much revenues counties can raise and restrictions on how much they can keep in surplus cash. At the same time, the Legislature has imposed demands for greater services.

We’re told the impact of Muscatine County’s exit still is being figured. But already, the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services Region had been planning to make $1 million in cuts. We can’t imagine going from a five-county to a four-county region will help the situation. After all, Muscatine County supervisors have complained they’re subsidizing the region, particularly Scott County.

There has been disagreement over the years about how the region is financed and who is subsidizing whom. But these arguments pale in comparison to the biggest problem that the region faces: The state is pushing it to provide more mental health services but handcuffing its ability to raise the money to do it.

To be clear, we think the Legislature was right two years ago to require regions and their member counties to help some of the state’s most vulnerable citizen by providing more services. Access centers, assertive community treatment teams and crisis intervention are all needed in our community. We also think that some regions had fund balances that were too large. But the mishmash of legislation over the years has played havoc with financial planning. First, regions were told to lower their fund balances to 20 percent of expenditures. Then, last session, the Legislature lifted that to 40 percent — all the while maintaining tight controls on how much revenues local governments could raise.

As a result, in some years counties in our regional consortium didn’t impose any property taxes for mental health services, thus lowering reserves to what they thought the state wanted. Now, we’re cutting services. And yet, according to Lori Elam, the region’s chief executive officer, the cap on revenues still leaves the consortium $3 million short of operating expenses.

It is notable, we think, that Muscatine County is leaving our consortium for one in southeastern Iowa that will allow it to collect up to $42.68 per person for mental health services. Our region only can only tax up to $30.78 per person, according to state law.

For years, counties have lobbied Des Moines to raise the cap, warning that budget cuts would happen if nothing was done — warning that counties in our region might walk away from the consortium.

Both of these predictions are now coming true.

There doesn’t appear to be much hope to raise the property tax cap in the 2020 session, either. Elam tells us the idea is pretty much dead on arrival. After all, 2020 is an election year. Instead, she said, there is discussion about possibly raising money through an increase in the sales tax.

Who knows what will happen with this idea. A sales tax increase has been talked about for years, mostly to try to pay for clean water initiatives. Perhaps, enough interests will work together to draw sufficient legislative support. Then again, an increase in the sales tax would surely raise concerns that the burden would fall too heavily on the shoulders of low- and middle-income people.

What we do know is that this week we saw just the latest consequence of inaction and confusion in Des Moines. We wonder how long it will persist.

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