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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

By The Associated PressSeptember 16, 2019

Des Moines Register. September 12, 2019

Questions Iowans should ask before electric scooters zip into their towns

Earlier this summer, my husband, Jim, and I took our two teenage nephews to Washington, D.C., for a vacation. Neither of the boys had been to the nation’s capital before. Jim and I, who have no kids of our own, had never traveled with the boys without their parents or grandparents. So it was a learning experience for everyone.

I didn’t take much notice of the electric scooters that were available to rent on nearly every sidewalk around the city center — but the boys certainly did. Our first morning when we were supposed to meet for breakfast, the 16-year-old came zipping up to the hotel’s outdoor café on a scooter. I almost spit out my coffee.

He had gotten up early and walked to the corner drug store, bought a pre-paid credit card, downloaded the smart-phone app for the scooter rental company, and that’s about all it took.

From that point in the trip, I observed every scooter to cross our path. They seemed frighteningly fast for such fragile-looking vehicles, although the city at the time allowed a top speed of only 10 mph. No one wore a helmet or protective gear. Most of the riders were adults — mostly tourists, but some looked like commuters, with business clothes and backpacks. Most of the two-wheelers kept to the streets but a few wove through pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks. Parked machines were everywhere — curbside, at building entrances and a few abandoned in the middle of the sidewalks.

Beyond the obvious fun factor, I could also see the value of the devices, especially in a city where traffic is difficult, parking scarce and expensive and public-transit stops might be many blocks from the destination.

I also had a lot of questions: What’s the rider’s liability if a scooter is damaged or stolen before the ride officially ends? (We spotted one scooter submerged in the reflecting pool on the National Mall.) Shouldn’t riders wear a helmet and stop riding after dark? What if the machine malfunctions and causes an accident? What if a rider accidentally runs over a pedestrian or damages someone else’s vehicle?

Some of these are questions Iowans should be asking, and soon. Electric scooter rentals are already available in Cedar Rapids through VeoRide, a private vendor that also offers bike rentals. Des Moines is just starting to consider a scooter program and has brought together a working group that includes DART, the public transit service. A public working group meeting on the topic is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Sept. 23 at city council chambers.

There are no state laws on the books governing scooter rentals — the Iowa Legislature considered a bill last year but failed to pass anything. That’s a shame, because any private e-scooter company or multiple companies could set up shop in any Iowa city that has not approved its own ordinances.

That’s what happened in a number of cities around the country, leaving them to try to retroactively impose some order on the process.

At least 19 states had adopted some sort of legislation aimed at e-scooter rentals as of August, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). None of them addressed liability issues, although California has a pending bill requiring operating companies to maintain general liability coverage. Only seven states addressed minimum age requirements for riders (Utah allows 8-year-olds to ride).

Cedar Rapids’ arrangement with its vendor, VeoRide, allows the company sole permission to operate. The company, not the city, owns and maintains all of the equipment and collects all of the profits. Any liability related to the enterprise lies with VeoRide and its customers, not the taxpayers. The city does not impose any age restrictions on scooter renters, but the company, through its operating agreement, stipulates that renters should be at least 18 and accept liability for accidents. No one enforces the age restriction, however, or asks to see proof of insurance before a rider can take off. Helmets are encouraged but not required.

Bill Micheel, assistant director for community development for Cedar Rapids, is enthusiastic about the city’s pilot program, which launched Labor Day weekend with 30 scooters. About 500 people rode them that Sunday, he said. The city will review the program in November to determine whether to continue or possibly expand it.

“Really in our minds, the only way to determine if this is a good fit, is to try it,” Micheel said.

The city received a grant to buy 100 bike racks for downtown that can be used for bike-share bikes and scooters or for private bicycles. It also created “scooter boxes,” for parking the e-scooters. Although there have been a few parking issues, compliance is in the 80% to 90% range, Micheel said.

Having on-street bike lanes, which can be used by the scooters, helps the city keep riders off the sidewalks, he said — another problem other cities have had to confront.

Being proactive and thinking about the legislation before the program launched was to Cedar Rapids’ benefit, MIcheel noted.

It’s reassuring that Des Moines is being proactive in trying to consider some of these issues, and it seems like Cedar Rapids’ program may be a good model to review. People in other Iowa cities — especially college towns — should be considering how these vehicles might fit into their communities.

The time to think about guidelines for scooters is before the teenager in your family rides one to breakfast.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. September 13, 2019

Sen. Joni Ernst works hard

Some members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives get so involved in their duties in Washington that they lose touch with the folks back home. Others spend time relentlessly courting their constituents but don’t accomplish much in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is both a hard worker and an officeholder dedicated to regular dialogue with the voters she represents. To illustrate her approach, let’s take a few moments to reflect on what the Iowa Republican accomplished in August.

Congress was in recess much of the month. Many of its members used that as an excuse to take junkets to assorted foreign venues at taxpayer expense. That isn’t Ernst’s style. She spent a large portion of August back in the Hawkeye State communicating with her fellow Iowans.

To gain insights from voters and to explain her views to them, in August, Ernst held 11 town hall meetings at locations all across the state. Last month, she also continued to fulfill her pledge to spend time in every county every year. This year, that ambitious tour has already taken her to 82 of the state’s 99 counties. In August she visited Appanoose, Butler, Calhoun, Winnebago, Franklin, Fremont, Hancock, Kossuth, Dickinson and Emmet counties.

Additionally, Ernst convened in Des Moines an important field hearing of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. The goal was to explore how the federal government could better partner with Iowans to address workforce challenges. At the hearing, Gov. Kim Reynolds had praise for how Ernst is approaching workforce issues at the federal level.

“Rather than pursuing a new federal program for every problem, we need people in Congress who, like Sen. Ernst, understand that more flexibility to the states to effectively and creatively implement solutions is a good thing,” the governor said.

Ernst has developed a reputation in Washington as not only hard-working, but also willing to collaborate with colleagues in finding bipartisan solutions for many of our country’s problems. She is making positive contribution to the nation’s legislative agenda.

In August, three of her bills were signed into law. One assists veterans faced with economic security challenges. A second helps farmers facing severe financial distress. The third makes life easier for small businesses in trouble. It simplifies their debt reorganization bankruptcy requirements so provisions meant for large corporations don’t unduly burden small enterprises.

Long ago, Charles Grassley, Iowa’s senior Republican senator, set a standard in terms of working tirelessly and being committed to frequent communication with voters that few members of the Senate can equal. Ernst has proven a worthy teammate who shares his approach to both hard work and listening to constituents. The Messenger applauds her efforts. We are lucky to have both of them representing our state.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. September 9, 2019

Grassroots effort key to new Dubuque skate park

Residents and visitors who have been in the vicinity of Dubuque’s Flora Park since midsummer have likely caught a glimpse of the city’s new 16,000-square-foot skate park, which opened in mid-July.

A steady stream of skaters has come to the park to check out its deep bowls, various pipes, ramps, boxes and other obstacles.

The park represents the hard work, tenacity and advocacy of Kids in Dubuque Skate, a local organization that raised funds for the effort. It was 14 years in the making, but the group never gave up its mission and worked to see this attractive amenity brought to the community.

City officials agreed to put $600,000 toward the park, with KIDS securing grants and donations to gather the rest of the money needed. By the time the park opened, the grassroots drive had overshot its goal and secured $265,000.

That’s an impressive effort and deserves the gratitude of the community. In addition to being a tourism draw, it provides a local outlet for kids and adults to be active and moving in one of the city’s beautiful parks.

Thanks to Jennifer Tigges, Laura Bies, Mike Heitz and all the KIDS members and supporters who brought this project to fruition.

An effort in the Epworth community to rename the local school after one of its longtime educators is an idea worth developing.

The suggestion came from Tom Wickham, another former longtime administrator in the Western Dubuque Community School District, who has begun a petition drive. Wickham believes the school should bear the name of Geraldine McCarthy, who was teaching principal at Epworth Elementary School from 1970 until her retirement in 1999. In all, her teaching career spanned more than 50 years, predating the district itself and stretching back to the days of the one-room schoolhouse. McCarthy died in 2018 at age 91, having devoted her life to education.

That sounds like a local star, worthy of recognition.

For centuries, the names stuck on edifices far and wide tended to be people who climbed traditional success ladders or amassed fortunes — like political leaders, heads of institutions and captains of industry. That left out a lot of ordinary people who led extraordinary lives and made enormous impacts on the lives of others. It also left out most women and people of color.

While all five elementary buildings in the Western Dubuque Community School District are named for the communities in which they reside, Drexler Middle School in Farley is named for a beloved local educator — Wayne Drexler, so there is precedent for such a move.

WD Superintendent Rick Colpitts said the school board will consider hearing more from the petitioners and reach a decision after that.

Here’s hoping the board runs with this suggestion and names the school after a woman who dedicated her life to educating the children who attended there. What could be more fitting?

Much has been written about the Environmental Protection Agency’s changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard and its impact on corn farmers. But the reach of those federal changes is even broader than the agricultural sector.

Dubuque city officials recently learned that the company chosen by the Dubuque Metropolitan Area Solid Waste Agency to capture and move CO2 from the landfill has pulled out of the agreement. An agreement with Trillium called for the company to build a system to compress the gas created by burning methane from deep in the landfill and then create biofuel for vehicles. The plan called for Trillium to make the capital investment and then pay the solid waste agency $300,000 in annual royalties.

But changes in the Renewable Fuel Standard have led to instability in the biofuels sector and falling prices, so Trillium backed out of the deal.

How disappointing. When citizens hear politicians talking about making changes to the EPA, it might seem like something far removed from everyday life. Yet right here in Dubuque County are two significant examples — corn farmers and the landfill (aka taxpayers) — that suffered financial blows thanks to these changes at the federal level. It’s one more reason to restore the Renewable Fuel Standard to its previous strength.

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