September 17, 2014

Branstad touts new ‘center’ to deal with work skills gap

Governor Terry Branstad is proposing creation of a new, state-run clearinghouse to help direct workers and students into college training programs and apprenticeships so they can land a job.

“One of the challenges the lieutenant governor and I hear as we travel the state is we have good jobs, but we can’t find people with the right skills,” Branstad says.

The “Center for Human Capital Enrichment” that Branstad envisions would be run by two stte agencies — the Iowa Workforce Development agency and the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Branstad says educators as well as business people would be involved in the public-private partnership.

“Make sure that we’re doing a better job of preparing people and matching people with the kills with the jobs that are available in the state of Iowa,” Branstad says.

It’s more about coordination than about spending more money, according to Branstad, who says he may be able to order creation of this new center himself and appoint its leaders from government and the private sector himself rather than depend on legislators to pass a bill outlining the center’s structure and objectives.

Branstad outlined his idea Tuesday  during a speech to the Greater Des Moines Partnership which is an alliance of 21 central Iowa chambers of commerce. Jack Hatch, the Democrat running against Branstad this year, is set to address the same group on Thursday.

Grassley blasts Braley for no vote on EPA ‘overreach” bill

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has issued a carefully worded written statement that takes aim at a vote Democrat Bruce Braley took in the U.S. House last week.

Republicans in the U.S. House voted to block the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing rules that farmers fear would give the agency authority to regulate water in ditches, farm ponds and tile lines. Grassley called that House bill “a thoughtful approach to the problem” and an “easy” yes vote for “anybody who has talked to Iowans in the last couple of months.” Braley, who is running for the U.S. Senate this year, voted no. Grassley didn’t mention Braley by name, but Grassley said in the statement that it’s “too bad the entire Iowa delegation didn’t get the message” to vote yes.

In a written statement, Braley’s staff noted Braley had supported an amendment to the bill instead. It would have barred the E-P-A from adopting rules that would change the Clean Water Act exemptions currently on the books for farmers. A spokesman for Braley said that approach would have protected farmers, but ensured polluters “like Big Oil” are held accountable for Clean Water Act violations.

Bruce Neiman, a livestock farmer from Manchester who is president of the Delaware County Farm Bureau, says based on an email he got from Braley’s congressional office, he had expected Braley to vote yes.

“It was just the opposite of the way he voted,” Neiman says. “and so after the second time reading it, I said: ‘Well, I guess an actual political flip-flop right in front of me.’”

Neiman lives in Braley’s congressional district, but has not supported Braley in the past. Neiman is backing Joni Ernst, the Republican running for the U.S. Senate this year and he believes Ernst would join those who are trying to reign the EPA.

“Anymore, there’s a very limited ag population let alone rural population so if we don’t find people that we can count on then we’re in a very difficult position because there’s been a lot of EPA — I’m going to call it static,” Neiman says. “I mean, when they’re concerned about dust coming out of a field, they’ve gotten everybody’s attention in production agriculture.”

Ernst told a group of farmers in Independence, Iowa, last Friday that the EPA was “overreaching” and she accused Braley of voting no on the bill because Braley has the backing of an “extreme environmentalist” from California. The EPA is one of the federal agencies Ernst has said she’d like to see eliminated and Braley’s spokesman calls that a “radical Tea Party” idea that would get rid of rules that “keep Iowa drinking water clean.”

Branstad: allow GPS surveillance of some accused domestic abusers

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad says it’s time to give judges the authority to order electronic surveillance of some of the men and women who are accused of stalking or domestic abuse in Iowa.

“I think it makes sense to have GPS tracking of people that have a no-contact order,” Branstad says.

The governor doesn’t envision putting an electronic bracelet on every Iowan who is the subject of a “no contact” order, but he says judges should have the discretion to order it in certain cases.

“One of the big tragedies that we’ve had occur is when somebody that’s had a no-contact order violates it and then murders their estranged spouse or partner or whatever,” Branstad says. “And this would be a way to make sure that you knew where they were and that they were not violating the no-contact order.”

There have been 253 domestic abuse homicides in Iowa in the past 19 years. Advocates for domestic abuse victims say electronic monitoring isn’t effective and accused abuser who are deemed a threat should be kept behind bars until trial. In addition to electronic monitoring for accused abusers, Branstad says those convicted of violent sexual crimes should be required to serve out their full prison sentence, too.

“If they fall in that category of being a violent sexual predator, they would not be eligible for ‘good time’ and ‘honor time,’” Branstad says.

Branstad cites the 2013 case involving Michael Klunder (rhymes with “thunder”) of Stratford. Klunder had been released early from prison after serving about half his sentence for kidnapping two toddlers. Klunder kidnapped two girls in Dayton and one escaped, but Klunder killed 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard before hanging himself. The Republican-led House this spring passed a bill to get rid of time-off-for-good-behavior for violence sex offenders, but the bill failed to pass the Senate where Democrats hold majority control.

Study: more Iowa adults gambled in 2013

A just-released study estimates nearly 1.8 million Iowans gambled last year. Researchers found nine percent more Iowa adults gambled in 2013, compared to 2011. Eric Preuss of the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Gambling Treatment and Prevention program has reviewed the data.

“People are frequenting the casinos and using the Iowa Lottery maybe more than what they have in the past,” Preuss says, “which may be a sign that things are getting better, economically, in Iowa.”

The survey found nearly 78 percent of Iowans had gambled at least once during 2013. Most said they did it for fun or entertainment, but researchers concluded about 369-thousand Iowans could be “at risk” of becoming “problem” gamblers. Preuss says those are Iowans who exhibit at least one of the symptoms of an addiction.

“Thinking a lot about gambling, that they’re gambling larger and larger amounts of money. They may even have failed attempts to cut back on their gambling. They may become restless or irritable when they stop gambling,” Preuss says. “There may be a sense that they’re gambling to escape problems, personal things that might be going on with the family or with work.”

Other warning signs include going back to a casino to try to win back what they’ve lost or lying to family and friends to hide gambling losses.

The survey was conducted by researchers at the University of Northern Iowa. It found the most popular form of gambling in Iowa was a lottery ticket.  Click here to read the full report (Gambling Attitudes & Behaviors: A 2013 Survey of Adult Iowans).

Braley concerned about ‘scope’ of Obama’s ISIL request

Congressman Bruce Braley says there is “bipartisan concern” about President Obama’s new plan of attack against Islamic terrorists who’ve ruthlessly taken control of parts of Iraq and Syria.

“Democrats and Republicans are going to be spending a lot of time digging deeper into the president’s proposal because of the scope of the committment he’s asking for and because of the concerns many of us have about what exactly is going to happen with that money,” Braley says.

Last Wednesday President Obama asked congress to authorize spending half a billion dollars to train and arm rebels inside Syria who are fighting the Islamic State. Braley says the U.S. already spent far more than that to train “nearly a million” Iraqis to police and defend their own country.

“And recently they were rolled back by somewhere around 15,000 terrorists associated with ISIL,” Braley says. “So from the standpoint of the America people I think we need to have some real firm answers about how this committment is going to protect American security interests, stabilize the government of Iraq — and it’s absolutely clear that a military solution alone is not going to solve this problem.”

According to Braley, Iraq’s central government must show a willingness to allow all factions to be represented, rather than favor one side or another in the centuries’ old conflict between the two main branches of Muslims — the Sunnis and the Shias. Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo, is running for the U.S. Senate. However, as a current member of congress, he attended a security briefing held last week for members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“There were a lot of things brought up — obviously things that I can’t talk about,” Braley says. “But there was bipartisan concern about the scope of the request, what would be accomplished with the financial resources the president is asking us to commit.”

President Obama has also authorized air strikes into Syria. Obama has also said a coalition of countries would join the effort “to ensure the U.S. doesn’t act alone.” That’s a key question that needs to be answered, according to Braley.

“Do we have the support of key allies?” Braley asks. “Do we have the support of the American people and what is our exit strategy?”

Braley says congress should take some sort of a vote to authorize expanded U.S. action against the Islamic militants, which President Obama refers to as ISIL, but Braley says it’s unclear whether congress will have all the information it needs in order to take such a vote before the election.

The leaders of 30 countries gathered in Paris yesterday to talk about combatting the threat of the Islamic terrorists known as ISIL. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, plus the leaders of key European countries, the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the key Arab states of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are there.

Braley faces Republican Joni Ernst in this fall’s election.

Hatch says new cannabis oil law ‘needs more work’

Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate for governor, says allowing the production of cannabis oil in Iowa is a logical step after decriminalizing possession of the marijuana derivative. Hatch, who is a member of the Iowa Senate, voted this spring for the new law that shields Iowans who have severe epilepsy from prosecution if they use cannabis oil as treatment for their seizures.

“I think what was finally negotiated showed a willingness on the part of Republicans and Democrats to solve a problem,” Hatch told reporters today. “Clearly we have not. It needs more work.”

The parents of children diagnosed with a rare and severe form of epilepsy are asking Iowa officials to allow marijuana to be grown here, so cannabis oil can be produced and purchased here. Hatch said those parents make a compelling case, because if they go to Colorado to buy cannabis oil, they have to bring it back through Nebraska, where it’s illegal. Some states where cannabis oil can be legally purchased also restrict sales to residents of that state.

“So we really haven’t done very much,” Hatch said. “I think the obligation and the committment we made to those families has got to be fulfilled and if it means that we have to produce it here and dispense it here under tight regulations, then that needs to be part of our obligation.”

Governor Branstad this morning said he’s willing to discuss the idea, but he wants to ensure “the safety of Iowans is protected.” Hatch suggested Branstad’s living in a time warp when it comes to pot.

“He still falls in this category of this cultural recognition that marijuana was a recreational drug and he’s got to get over that,” Hatch said. “It now has sound medical purposes and our consumers are needed it. Our families need it.”

Hatch also faulted the governor for failing to speed up the process for issuing the I-D cards that will protect epileptic patients from prosecution if they’re caught with cannabis oil. The state law on the subject took effect July 1st, but officials at the state agency in charge say those cards won’t be issued until January 30.

Pushing ‘age appropriate’ financial literacy in all K-12 classes

A group of educators and representatives from Iowa banks and credit unions is recommending a series of steps to boost what K-12 students in Iowa schools are taught about managing money. Iowa Department of Education director Brad Buck convened the 13-member “work team” in January.

“We must do more to help our students understand the power of financial literacy,” Buck said this morning during the governor’s weekly news conference.

Buck, who is 45 years old, said he’s a case study in how little has been taught in Iowa schools on the subject.

“I had taken (advanced placement) courses in high school. I was on track to go to college and I did earn a college degree and still on my first day of teaching when I went to the school’s business office and was instructed to fill out forms about things like my tax-sheltered annuity, I drew a blank,” Buck said. “I went home and called my parents. There I was, a college-educated rookie teacher and I didn’t know the basics about saving money.”

Buck said Iowa schools must do more to ensure “age appropriate” information about financial literacy is included in teaching at all grade levels. Buck has put a person in the Iowa Department of Education in charge of the push to get financial literacy information into Iowa classrooms and his agency is creating a new website with information for teachers.

The financial literacy “work team” has issued a final report which can be found here.