Republicans in the state Senate who are pressing to reinstate capital punishment in Iowa for “child killers” are lauding U.S. Senator Charles Grassley for introducing a bill that would apply the federal death penalty in certain cases when a child is kidnapped, raped and murdered. Senator Chuck Larson, a Republican from Cedar Rapids, says Grassley’s move will “build pressure” for state Senators to act on the death penalty at the state level. “It reemphasizes that Iowans are supportive of this legislation and (the Senate) should vote on it,” Larson says. The issue surfaced last month in the state Senate after the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 10-year-old Cedar Rapids girl named Jetseta Gage. Senator Larry McKibben, a Republican from Marshalltown, says a member of Senator Grassley’s D.C. staff called him Wednesday to outline what Grassley proposes.”They said Senator Grassley has been following the debate out in Iowa,” McKibben says. “Because of the number of crimes that are being committed nationwide, he felt it was very, very important.” McKibben says he and Grassley share the opinion that the death penalty is a deterrent. Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, has the opposite opinion, and will stand. “I think I’ve been incredibly clear about this. I do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent,” Gronstal says. “I understand people’s anger. I share their anger about this crime.” Gronstal says death penalty cases cost millions to prosecute, money he says would be better spent locking up several criminals for life. “That money is better spent providing for longer prison sentences, more treatment of people (who) are eventually going to get out of prison and better tracking when they get back to the local community,” Gronstal says. “I believe we will do better protection by pursuing that.” Gronstal says Republicans are pursing a vote on reinstating capital punishment in Iowa for political reasons. Larson, the Republican from Cedar Rapids, says a recent Des Moines Register poll found 67 percent of Iowans support the death penalty. “Iowans have a right to know where their legislators stand on this important issue,” Larson says.
Archives for April 2005
State, city and company officials braved the cold weather Thursday to break ground for a new ethanol plant near Jewell. Jewell Mayor Mick Walker says it’s worth it. He says, “This is a pretty historic day for Jewell, it’s not often we something like this on our doorstep.” Jeff Broin is the C-E-O of the Broin Company that’s building the plant. He says the plant will produce 60-million gallons of ethanol annually using 21-million bushels of corn. He says that is 200 sections of corn. He says the plant will also produce 178-thousand tons of a high protein supplement for livestock. Broin says the plant also brings a big economic impact to the area.He says the project costs 79-million dollars and will create 40 jobs with an annual payroll of one-and-a-half million dollars. Broin says the plant should be up and running by next summer.
While the Iowa House and Senate are unable to agree on a state budget, the U.S. House and Senate last (Thursday) night passed a federal budget plan. Congressman Jim Nussle of Manchester, chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, says the only spending increases are for defense; the rest of the federal government will see cuts. Nussle says non-defense federal spending hasn’t been done since Ronald Reagan was president. “This budget takes the necessary steps to get our spending back on a sustainable path and to continue to reduce that deficit,” Nussle says. The federal budget plan Nussle and other Republicans developed would freeze spending in many federal agencies and cut spending on Medicaid, which is health care for the poor. Nussle says there’s room for efficiency in Medicaid. Nussle says automatic, yearly spending increases for programs like Medicaid have grown out of control, and it’s time to cut back. “This is a reform budget,” Nussle says. “This is a budget that allows us to continue on the path that we need to head.”It also calls for a three-billion dollar cut in agricultural programs, although Nussle says that will not lead to cuts in farm subsidies. “I don’t anticipate that we will be opening the Farm Bill,” Nussle says. Democrats say the budget blueprint Nussle and other G-O-P leaders developed will lead to bigger federal budget deficits. The federal budget would equal two-point-six trillion dollars for the fiscal year that begins October 1st if the plan remains intact.
Amtrack passengers stopping in Burlington, Mount Pleasant and Osceola this weekend will get a special treat. Eliot Keller of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers says his group will present the train passengers with birthday cake in a celebration. He says it’s Amtrack’s 34th birthday and he says they wanted to get together and “celebrate the excellent service it provides.” Keller says Amtrack makes an impact on the state. He says there are six cities directly served by Amtrack. He says nearly 55-thousand people got on or off Amtrack trains in Iowa in the 2004 fiscal year. He says Amtrack spent about three-quarters of a million dollars on wages and goods in Iowa. While Keller says Amtrack is a great service, he says it clearly hasn’t been allowed to reach its potential. He says, “The federal government has decided over a number of years to keep Amtrack on a starvation diet, so it exists, but doesn’t grow.” Keller says the passenger rail service could be a lot better with some more funding.He says, “It needs new equipment, it needs money for bridge improvements, rail improvements, money for new routes.” He says there was a proposal for a new route from St. Paul to Kansas City in 1991 that would come through Iowa and be a great addition, but he says with the current funding level, it isn’t going to happen. Keller says rail service can be a viable option. He says, “People want to ride, fast ,frequent, modern trains. And if you can provide those trains as has been done in other countries, as has been done in commuter lines in some other parts of this country, ridership is up.” He says ridership continues to go up in California on the commuter trains. He says ridership is also up on the commuter trains in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Keller says we need to think of how transportation modes work together — and how passenger rail fits in — instead of thinking of them as individual entities. Passengers will get the birthday cake on the Sunday stops.
The verbal fight over the state budget turned a tad physical Thursday night. Two Republican legislators did a little chest-butting last night before other legislators restrained them. Representative Jamie Van Fossen of Davenport ran to confront Representative Paul Wilderdyke of Woodbine after a bit of a tiff over the proper way to finance the state’s premier economic development program. Van Fossen describes it as a difference of opinion — settled the way guys settle things. “Where did I learn this?” Van Fossen said. “It’s innate.” Wilderdyke, though, is sticking to a different story. “We were just joking around,” Wilderdyke said. “Is that how guys joke around?” asked Radio Iowa news director. “Yea, it was this time,” Wilderdyke replied. Van Fossen laughed. “Families always get into arguments,” Van Fossen said. Van Fossen said he didn’t fire the first shot, but regrets that it happened. The two men were sitting by one another on the House floor later in the evening, but not talking. Van Fossen was listening to a “Rat Pack” C-D. Wilderdyke was talking to another legislator. Van Fossen said they’ve put it behind them. “Shook hands and made up, like we should,” Van Fossen said as the strains of a Frank Sinatra song played in his headphones.
The UNI baseball team will begin a three-game weekend series at home against Illinois State Friday. The Panthers are in 9th and last place in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 2-10 record. Illinois State is 7th in the Valley with a 4-8 mark. UNI needs a late season push if they hope to qualify for the conference tournament, as only the top six teams in the league advance to postseason play. Panther coach Rick Heller feels his team still believes they can make the conference tournament and they’re going to find a way to get in. Heller feels that the Panthers have to play very well in their remaining 12-conference games. He says they know their margin of error is not very big and they have to come out and be focused, and know if they make mistakes they’re probably going to lose.UNI has qualified for the Valley tournament three of the last four years.
This will be the final Drake Relays in the current Drake Stadium which will undergo extensive renovations this summer and it will also be the final Relays with its current director. Mark Kostek has taken a job as associate athletic director at the school is turning the reigns over to former NCAA high jump champion Brian Brown, who is crrently on the Drake coaching staff. Kostek took over five years ago for long-time director Bob Erhardt. He ays he spent a year with Erhardt and learned how to deal with the athletes and their agents. Kostek’s first visit to the Drake Relays was in 1974 as a javelin thrower at Kansas. He says he has a real passion for the event and says he’ll continue to have that as long as his heart beats. He will still be involved with the event in his new job at Drake. He says he really likes Des Moines and says it has been a lot of fun and he’ll continue to help with the event.
There is a logjam at the top of the Great Plains Conference baseball race heading into the final weekend. Six teams are within two games of the lead and two of those, Morningside and Briar Cliff, close out the season with a doubleheader on Saturday. Morningside is 14-6 and coach Jim Sholten says his team cannot afford to look past Mount Marty on Friday. Sholten says there is plenty of motivation for all the teams in the race as the champion of the conference tournament will also get a spot in the national tournament. Briar Cliff came into today’s action with the conference lead with a rexcotd of 14-5.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says he’s introducing legislation to invoke the federal death penalty in cases where a child is sexually assaulted and murdered. He says, “The terrific onslaught of these crimes requires Congress to act promptly to keep our kids safe from child predators. The time has come to crack down on child sex predators, especially repeat offenders. That’s why today I’m introducing the Jetseta Gage Prevention and Deterrence of Crime Act against children.” The bill is named after 10-year-old Jetseta Gage of Cedar Rapids who was raped and killed in March. A convicted sex offender is charged with the crime. But, Grassley, a republican, says Gage’s death — and the failure of the Iowa Legislature to take action on reinstating the death penalty was not the impetus for the bill. Grassley says he began working on the bill in response to killings in Florida. Grassley says the bill will do three things. He says it establishes stiff mandatory minimum sentences, increases the penalties for sexual offenses against children, and reforms the court system to provide a “fair and expeditious appellant review of federal convictions.” Grassley says the maximum federal penalty now faced by sexual predators that kill kids is life in prison. He says he believes stiffer sentences will be more of a deterrent to repeat offenders. Grassley says the death of Gage supported his belief that the federal government had to take action. He says he talked with some of Gage’s relatives after President Bush’s Social Security meeting in Cedar Rapids. He says, “Their plea to me was to do whatever we could to make sure that things like Jetseta’s murder didn’t happen again. And it was a pleading that was very strong you know like, we expect you to do something about this.” Grassley says at that time he knew about the potential legislation, but didn’t have everything wrapped up and didn’t want to tell them he was going to introduce a bill. Grassley says he believes he’ll have U-S Justice Department support on the bill. Iowa’s other Senator was asked about proposals in the state legislature to reinstate capital punishment during his weekly conference call with reporters. Democrat Tom Harkin says he can remember when Iowa did away with the death penalty, nearly forty years ago — and notes that the state continues to have one of the lowest rates of serious crime in the nation. Harkin says the death penalty’s supposed to be a deterrent but clearly isn’t since without it, the crime rate has not gone up. He understands the rise in support for a death penalty following the March slaying of Jetseta gage by a friend of her mother’s at her home in Cedar Rapids. There’s been an “awful, terrible crime committed that revolts us all,” he says, decrying lawmakers who try to play on the emotions of the moment to pass something that “fundamentally alters what kind of society we are.”
Legislators control the “purse strings” of state government, but the partisan bickering over how big next year’s state budget should be is nowhere near resolution. Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, says it’s frustrating.”Perhaps my approach has been wrong to try and find common ground with them in our meetings with Republican leaders…perhaps that was a mistake,” Gronstal says. “Regardless of whether that was a mistake, it is now time for us to start to move.” That means the Senate will now start to debate bills that outline state spending plans, but with 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans in the Senate, nothing may be accomplished since it takes 26 votes to pass a bill. “I don’t know how we get out of this session,” Gronstal says. “But I do know what our priorities are and we’re going to fight hard.” Republican lawmakers like Senate Co-Leader Stewart Iverson, a Republican from Dows, are just as adamant. Iverson says Republicans have agreed to spend seven-and-a-half percent more next year on the state budget, but Democrats are asking for 10 percent. “Somebody has to look out for the people paying the bills, and that’s the taxpayers of Iowa,” Iverson said as he pounded the lectern during a Thursday afternoon news conference. “The disappointment is all we keep hearing is ‘more money’ and that’s the part that concerns me,” Iverson says. “I’m kind of at a loss to tell you what’s going to happen from here on out because I honestly don’t know.” Legislators’ daily expense money runs out tomorrow, a deadline of sorts for concluding the legislative session, but Gronstal says there’s nothing in law that prevents the legislature from meeting more than one-hundred-10 days.”Just as when I worked at a warehouse in Council Bluffs, if there was still work to be done after five o’clock, we got the work done,” Gronstal says. “I’m more than willing to stay here as long as it takes to get this job done.” Over the past two weeks, the spending impasse between the two political parties has gotten worse. Governor Tom Vilsack who is a Democrat says it’s time for legislators to get the budget written.”I think people have to work just a little bit harder to get there,” Vilsack says. “I think people need to be just a little bit more flexible to get there.” One big, unresolved issue: the cigarette tax. Senate Democrats and Governor Vilsack back the tax increase; some Senate Republicans say they’ll vote for it but a vote has never been scheduled. House Republican leaders refuse to consider a cigarette tax hike. House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, has said repeatedly the state doesn’t need to raise more taxes.