Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

August 12, 2019 GMT

Des Moines Register. August 7, 2019

Parents cannot afford to stay home with children, and they need options for safe day care.

Register investigation into child deaths at day cares is another reminder that all of us need to do more to help families

Many politicians talk about “family values. Those who truly value families advocate for higher wages, affordable housing, funding for food assistance, higher education and child care subsidies.

That’s because the economic reality in this country forces most parents into the workplace. Couples with children can rarely afford for one parent to stay home, an option that is virtually impossible for single parents.

Among their biggest challenges: Finding affordable, quality child care. That is not easy, assuming it’s available at all.

A recent Des Moines Register investigation by reporter Jason Clayworth found: An Iowa child care worker who took meth, hallucinated and then reported to police a bleeding man had emerged from a wall. At another day care center, a staff member yanked a child by the arm and dislocated his shoulder. At an in-home day care, police found baggies with heroin residue in a bedroom dresser.

Then there are the fatalities.

At least four times in the past 18 months, a child has died at an Iowa day care where authorities had previously warned providers they were caring for too many children.

Among the children who died was 17-month-old Tucker Schneider. His caregiver, Trina Mazza, had been warned twice that state law allowed her to care for no more than five children at her unregulated day care in Johnston.

On the day of Schneider’s death, Mazza was allegedly caring for seven children. She now faces a charge of felony child endangerment causing death.

Prosecutions in cases like this are important — to not only hold accountable wrongdoing, but to send a message to providers and parents that laws intended to keep children safe will be enforced. In fact, state investigators should forward any safety-related problem at any day care to county prosecutors for follow-up.

This newspaper’s reporting found caregivers sometimes flout state oversight requirements when caring for more than five children. State leaders should consider requiring registration for anyone whose primary income is derived from child care, even if they’re caring for five or fewer children. Family members could be exempted.

Registration would create a record of all paid caregivers and allow for the creation of a comprehensive database parents could use to find out about overcapacity warnings and other problems.

Of course, being identified or regulated by the state does not guarantee safety. Of the seven children known to have died in Iowa day cares in 2018-19, five were in regulated day cares.

Also, accidents and unexpected deaths will happen. About 250 children under the age of 1 die in Iowa each year, including many related to sleep environments. About 50 children between the ages of 1 and 4 die each year.

Many of these deaths are no one’s fault and on occasion they will occur in day cares.

Yet government should do all it can to try to ensure children are in the safest environments possible. Parents need to do that, too.

Entrusting someone to care for your child comes with the responsibility of checking the state’s child abuse registry, online court filings, inspection reports for regulated day cares, talking to other parents and stopping by a center or home unannounced to see what’s going on.

Also, working parents need more options for child care, particularly in rural areas. How do we get more providers? By attracting more quality caregivers and helping parents pay for care.

Iowa should make changes to the Child Care Assistance program, which uses federal and state money to help low-income, working families pay child care expenses. Expanding eligibility for aid and paying higher reimbursements to approved providers could help more residents pay for care and encourage more competent individuals to offer it.

Because working families — the bedrock of our state — need help. The same young mother politicians demonize for relying on public assistance cannot go to work if there’s no one to care for her infant. And she should have a safe place to take that child when she’s punching the clock.


Quad City Times. August 4, 2019

Tear down voting rights wall

A new report released last week shows just how steep the hill is for people who have felony convictions to get their voting rights restored.

The report, issued by the Campaign Legal Center and the Civil Rights Clinic at Georgetown Law, found that a majority of states, 30 in all, condition a person’s voting rights on their ability to pay fines, fees or restitution that resulted from criminal convictions.

The report says that, in 2016, an estimated 6 million people in the United States had been disenfranchised because of felony convictions while 10 million people owe more than $50 billion in fines and fees related to criminal convictions.

We in Iowa know full well the impact a felony conviction has on a person’s right to vote: They lose it. It’s that simple, and only the governor can restore that right.

Along with Kentucky, Iowa is the only state that takes such a harsh line.

The good news is that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has proposed a constitutional amendment to rid the state of this terrible practice, and the House, on a 95-2 vote, passed a measure last session that took the first step toward getting it on the ballot. The Senate did not act.

This editorial board has long encouraged the state to jettison this antiquated language in its constitution, and we continue to praise the governor for the courage it took to take on this cause, to make tangible the value of forgiveness and redemption.

Unfortunately, the earliest this measure could go to the voters is in 2022.

As we understand it, the amendment the House approved also would require that people with felony convictions complete the requirements of their parole and probation.

Frankly, other states take a more charitable — and, in our view — a more meaningful point of view. In 16 states, people convicted of crimes have their voting rights restored once their incarceration ends. Illinois is among those states.

In fact, Nevada and Colorado just this year enacted laws that re-enfranchise people once they are released from prison. (Two states, Vermont and Maine, don’t revoke voting rights at all.)

Unfortunately, the debate at the end of this year’s legislative session in Iowa appeared to be moving even further in the opposite direction. Some Republicans want to require that financial restitution payments also be made before voting rights are restored.

Florida lawmakers took this route, requiring the payment of their financial obligations before restoring voting rights, thus thumbing their noses at the will of the state’s voters who the year before approved a constitutional amendment intended to restore rights to people who had completed their sentences.

The state legislature is dominated by Republicans, who apparently buy into the questionable notion that newly enfranchised felons are more likely to vote for Democrats. Gov. Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, signed the bill into law in June.

If Iowa lawmakers truly want to erase the outdated and punitive language in our constitution that disenfranchises 52,000 Iowans, they should do more than just pass a measure that gains them a headline but still puts significant obstacles into the paths of people who are striving for a second chance. They should realize that, in many instances, people leaving prison just aren’t able to pay these obligations — in many cases, they aren’t even able to find work. (The Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization, estimated last year that the jobless rate among the formerly incarcerated is five times the rate of the U.S. population as whole.)

Restoring voting rights to a person trying to re-enter society is no small matter. Some studies say that people leaving prison find immense satisfaction in getting their voting rights back — and that they are less prone to recidivism as a result.

There still are five months to go before the next legislative session convenes. When it does, we expect this issue will be prominent.

If Iowans are to be given a chance to vote on this constitutional amendment by 2022, legislation must pass in the upcoming session and in either 2021 or 2022. That leaves little room for error. But it won’t do much good to use one hand to tear down the barriers to voting if the other is used to create new ones.

We hope in the months before the next session that Iowans will make this point to their representatives and senators.


Fort Dodge Messenger. August 6, 2019

Iowa Central is getting stronger

It continues to be vital to our region’s success

Iowa Central Community College is a remarkable success story. After more than a half century serving north central Iowa, this exceptional educational institution continues to grow stronger.

This summer, an array of projects are underway that when finished will not only address some important maintenance and safety needs on campus, but also enhance the college’s ability to help its students make full use of the diverse opportunities it affords.

Visitors to the main Fort Dodge campus will see that a major new building is under construction. When completed in 2020, this $8.5 million structure will house an assortment of services that are crucial to a successful experience at the college for students. Among the key functions that will be based in the Greehey Family Student Success Center are the academic resource center, career services, the retention center, health services, mental health resources and veteran affairs.

According to officials at the college, bringing a variety of student services under one roof will make them more readily available to students as they navigate an educational environment that may be quite different from their recent high school years. And for those older students some assistance may be needed in coping with a return to a school setting. That too, will be close at hand. The intent quite simply is to make sure that whatever type of help Iowa Central’s students might need to succeed will be easy to find and access.

Doing whatever it can to help its students reach their educational goals is at the heart of Iowa Central’s game plan. In doing so, it is making a huge contribution to the well-being of communities throughout the region. For them to thrive, it is crucial that they have workforces with the skills employers require. The college is helping make that possible by offering programs that address those needs and doing all that it can to enable its students to complete their educational journey successfully.

Not only does Iowa Central provide affordable educational opportunities for adults of all ages, but it also helps make certain that workers with the right technical skills are available to present and potential employers. That has made the college an absolutely vital part of the economic growth strategy for our part of the Hawkeye State.

Voters showed their recognition of Iowa Central’s importance by approving a $25.5 million bond proposal a bit more than a year ago. That investment in the college’s future is being put to good use and is making the institution more robust.

The Messenger applauds the enhancements underway at Iowa Central. This college is a very well-run institution. It uses efficiently and innovatively the monies it receives from property taxes, state general aid, tuition and fees, and donations from its many community supporters. It is a key asset as we build a vibrant future for our region in the years ahead.