February 11, 2016

State Treasurer proposes a retirement program modeled after College Savings Iowa

Janet Petersen, Mike Fitzgerald.

Janet Petersen, Mike Fitzgerald.

Iowa’s treasurer is pitching a plan to provide private sector workers with a retirement account, if their employer doesn’t already offer such a savings plan.

Michael Fitzgerald says “Retirement Savings Iowa” would be modeled after another program run by his office.

“We had such great success 18 years ago when we started College Savings Iowa, we now believe this is a great opportunity to give Iowans the same type of opportunity for saving for retirement,” Fitzgerald said.

The government-run program would provide retirement savings options for small businesses that do not currently offer retirement plans. Fitzgerald cited an AARP report, indicating a lot of Iowans may not be saving money for their future. “They say 42 percent of the people who work in the private sector do not have access to an employee-sponsored retirement account,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald believes the legislation should include a mandate for employers to offer the Retirement Savings Iowa to employees. However, it not apply to Iowa businesses that already offer retirement savings plans. Employers would not need to contribute to the program.

Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, is endorsing Fitzgerald’s proposal. “There are so many Iowans who work in small businesses, and women in particular, who don’t have money saved for retirement,” Petersen said. She calls the idea a “no brainer” and believes lawmakers from both sides of the aisle will support it.

“I’m hopeful this will be a bipartisan effort,” Petersen said. Fitzgerald said contributions to the savings plan would come from automatic payroll deductions. The legislation calls for $1.5 million to establish and manage the Retirement Savings Iowa program. Fitzgerald said, if approved by lawmakers and the governor, he believes the fund could be up and running by July 2017 or possibly July 2018.


Lawmaker to introduce bill allowing production of cannabis oil in Iowa

Peter Cownie

Peter Cownie

A West Des Moines lawmaker plans to file a bill today that would make cannabis oil more accessible for Iowans to use as a medicine.

Representative Peter Cownie, a Republican, talked about his decision to push the bill.

“As the father of a healthy 3-year-old son and a healthy 10-month-old son, my heart goes out the families and the sick who have tried everything in the past to help their children and loved ones to no avail,” Cownie says. “I believe it is time for the state of Iowa to act.”

Cannabis oil.

Cannabis oil.

The Iowa Legislature passed a bill that was signed into law last year that allows resident to possess cannabis oil, but those who need it for their children or their own health say it is difficult to get.

Cownie says his bill bans smoking marijuana, and only makes the oil legal. “Only cannabidiol for a variety of ailments — including epilepsy. And also will allows it to be grown and dispensed in the state of Iowa. That’s the problem that we had with the original bill,” Cownie says.

Cownie spoke at a news conference Tuesday and did not want to say a lot more about the bill until it is filed, and then he says everyone will get an opportunity to voice their opinion.

“I would ask everyone to keep an open mind on the bill. There are predispositions to the word marijuana of course. This doesn’t have anything to do with that,” Cownie says. “This has to do with the oil derived from the plant.”

He did not want to say how much bipartisan support he thinks the bill may have. “I know we have some legislative support, but it is also my own personal policy, I don’t speak for legislators personally. They all need to make their own decision on this, and hopefully we’ll find common ground,” Cownie says.

Steve Gaer

Steve Gaer

Representatives of “Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis” joined Cownie to talk about how the cannabis oil has helped them or their children.

Steven Gaer says his daughter’s seizures have been cut in half since she started taking the cannabis oil.

“This is amazing stuff with no side effects that we can’t understand why people aren’t doing more to understand it and help people get to it,” Gaer says, “because there are no side effects. It either does work or it doesn’t work, but there are no side affects to this medication.”

He says the medications his daughter started taking at nine months old to prevent seizures stopped her brain development, and she has the intellect of a four or five year old and she is 26. Gaer says the cannabis oil has helped his daughter to finally sleep through the night and she recently said a complete sentence for the first time.

“I tell people this is like non-alcoholic beer. Don’t tell me if we have non-alcoholic beer that people are going to drink and become alcoholics. There are no side effects to this medication — yet she has seen results we have not seen before. And she has permanent damage,” Gaer says. “I can’t imagine a family with a young child that could have access to this, that maybe that child could live a normal life.”

The Gaer’s get their cannabis oil from New York. Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis say a survey they conducted in December shows 76 percent of Iowans support legislation that would allow the legal production of medical cannabis for those with qualifying conditions.


Senate Democrats pass 4% increase in school spending

Herman Quirmbach

Herman Quirmbach

Democrats who control the Iowa Senate pushed through a bill today that would increase state aid to public schools by 4 percent for the 2017-18 academic year.

Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, is chairman of the Iowa Senate Education Committee.

“It is long past due that this body and our colleagues in the House, in cooperation with the governor, reinvest in Iowa’s education,” Quirmbach said. The House and Senate are still at odds over school funding for next year, so it’s unclear what a 4 percent increase would translate to in actual dollars for the 2017-18 school year.

But, Quirmbach calculates that over the last five years, when adjusted for inflation, Iowa’s per-pupil spending has increased by just $6. “Six dollars over five years…an increase of 0.1% — not per year — that’s total, over five years,” Quirmbach said. Quirmbach also cited the results of a survey that Democrats in the legislature sent to school superintendents.

“Over 90-percent of our school superintendents and principals are telling us that without a decent increase (in state aid), class sizes will increase — meaning that individual students, our children and grandchildren, will not get the individual attention that they need and that they deserve,” Quirmbach said.

Senator Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton, said while she supports the effort to address school funding in a timely manner, lawmakers should resolve the dispute over spending for the coming school year first.

“For me, we need to make sure that we have an understanding of what we’re funding for (fiscal year) 2017 before I feel we can appropriately budget for FY 2018 because the one compounds from the other,” Sinclair said.

According to Sinclair, approving state aid to schools for 2018 before setting the funding for 2017 could ultimately hurt taxpayers. “They put us in a position of either overpromising and underfunding or passing those bills back on to property tax payers,” Sinclair said.

A House-Senate conference committee is set to debate school funding for the 2016-17 academic year. Senate Democrats also support a 4 percent increase for that year, while Republicans who control the House favor a 2 percent spending increase.


Governor: Democrat attempts to stop Medicaid privatization are ‘outrageous, political’

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad isn’t happy that Democrats in the Iowa Senate are pushing a bill that would stop the Republican Branstad’s plan to move the 560,000 Medicaid patients in Iowa into private managed care plans.

Former Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat, is holding two town meetings in eastern Iowa Tuesday to talk about the issue.

“Well I’m disappointed that Senate Democrats and former Governor Culver would make this a partisan political issue,” Branstad says. “I would point out that when the Lieutenant Governor and I were elected, Culver used over 440 million dollars of one-time money for Medicaid. The Medicaid program was in jeopardy because there were not ongoing funds being used to sustain it. We dug out of that big hole that he created.”

Branstad says Democrats are trying to torpedo a “thoughtful, systematic approach” to modernizing Medicaid. “I think it’s outrageous, political and that kind of partisanship should have no place in trying to deliver the best healthcare to the citizens of Iowa,” Branstad says. He says the privatization is something 39 other states have done and shown to be successful over the way things have been done.

“We feel an obligation to provide the best medical services to the people of Iowa, and to do it in a way that coordinates those services. We’ve seen the experiences of other states that have improved health. We’ve increase the number of people on Medicaid, but their health has not gotten better.” Branstad says.

Branstad’s administration originally planned to start switching the program on January 1st, but federal officials who oversee the Medicaid program ordered a 60-day delay.

(Note: this story was update to correct the time of the Culver events from Monday to Tuesday)


Congressman King responds to ‘fury’ over Caucus Night (AUDIO)

Congressman Steve King. (file photo)

Congressman Steve King. (file photo)

Congressman Steve King today said there is “fury…boiling over” about the results of Iowa’s Caucuses, but King said he had “no ill intent” with his tweet on Caucus night that it looked like Ben Carson was dropping out of the presidential race.

Carson backers say King — who backs Ted Cruz — misled some Carson supporters into switching to Cruz.

“If I had it to do over again knowing what I know now, I would not have issued that information, however accurate it was,” King told Radio Iowa. “But knowing when I knew then, having reviewed the chronology or had access to, I would be compelled to do the same thing given the information that I had.”

King said he had a 45-minute private meeting with Carson Wednesday night in Washington, D.C. and the two emerged as friends.

“My understanding of that conversation is that Ben is satisfied, as am I,” King said early this afternoon.

Donald Trump has said Cruz and King cheated by telling Iowans heading into the caucuses that Carson was dropping out. Governor Terry Branstad has gone so far as to use the word “unethical” to describe King’s actions. King said Branstad was “out of line” to openly call for the defeat of Cruz in the Caucuses because of Cruz’s opposition to the federal ethanol production mandate.

“So now we have a governor making remarks publicly about my ethics?” King asked rhetorically during his interview with Radio Iowa. “I think he should go back and examine the ethics of the ARF organization that’s headed by his son and examine the motives of those people.”

America’s Renewable Future is a Super PAC headed by Eric Branstad, the governor’s oldest son, and it campaigned against Cruz. King acknowledges that it appears there is now a rift within the Iowa GOP.

“It’s too bad that there are those that want to try to start a fire and throw gas on it and to disparage the Ted Cruz victory and actually it drags us all down,” King said. “And I would like to think that especially the high-profile Republicans in the state are more prudent than that and it doesn’t look like they’re demonstrating that this week, at least. Maybe next week.”

King said Iowans “can be proud” of the results from Monday night and he’s willing to take the “arrows” being directed his way.

“The American people — and Iowans in particular — we like to take some pride in being very vigorous competitors, but also we ought to take some pride in being able to accept the loss as long as we did all we can do morally and ethically and vigorously to achieve our objectives,” King said. “And if the people that did not achieve their objectives aren’t able to look at their effort that way, I think that would explain some of the fury that’s boiling over here.”

AUDIO of King’s interview with Radio Iowa

(A previous version of this story indicated King had no regrets about his Tweet, but the congressman has contacted Radio Iowa this afternoon to indicate he had “no ill intent” in sending the Tweet.)

Branstad says Cruz employed ‘unethical and unfair’ tactics Monday night (AUDIO)

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad      (file photo)

Governor Terry Branstad is crediting Ted Cruz for running an “old-fashioned”, 99-county campaign that yielded victory in Monday night’s Iowa Caucuses, but Branstad is joining the chorus criticizing Cruz for “questionable” campaign tactics.

“This thing that they distributed on Caucus night saying that Dr. Carson was likely to drop out and his supporters should support Cruz, that is, I think, unethical and unfair,” Branstad said this morning. “I think there’ll be repercussions to that.”

Cruz has apologized to Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who finished fourth in the Caucuses on Monday night. Iowa Congressman Steve King, a Cruz backer, helped spread the drop out rumor and Branstad said King owes Carson an apology.

“You know, we have a strong sense of fairness in Iowa,” Branstad said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “Distributing information that was not true about a candidate right at the time people are voting in the Caucuses is an inappropriate thing.”

King tweeted: “Carson looks like he’s out” on Caucus night. King has told reporters in Washington, D.C. he had an “obligation” to tell Iowans about a report he’d seen indicating Carson was flying home to Florida Monday night rather than going to New Hampshire. Branstad is not out personally recruiting a Republican to challenge King in a primary this June.

“Yet I think there are a number of people in the renewable fuels industry that are not happy with (King),” Branstad says. “I guess time will tell what happens.”

Branstad is a critic of Cruz’s opposition to the federal ethanol production mandate. Two weeks before the Caucuses Branstad said he hoped Cruz would be defeated — a move Congressman King blasted as a “de facto endorsement” of Donald Trump.

“Well, I did,” Branstad said today of his wish for Cruz’s defeat. “Actually, I think Trump, by skipping the debate, hurt himself.”

Branstad’s 2010 and 2014 campaign managers migrated to New Jersey Chris Christie’s presidential campaign. Christie finished 10th, with fewer than 3300 votes. Branstad said Christie didn’t spend enough time campaigning in Iowa.

“None of the governors did well,” Branstad said. “…Rubio came on strong at the end because people were looking for somebody new.”

The Caucus winner was someone Branstad opposed and Christie finished next to last, but Branstad rejects the notion Monday’s Caucus results are in any way a rebuke of him.

“First of all I’m not running for president. I’ve never had an interest in running for president or national office,” Branstad said. “My focus is on my state and jobs in my state and farm income.”

AUDIO of Radio Iowa’s interview with Governor Terry Branstad

Branstad attended his precinct caucus Monday night, but he is not revealing who he voted for. Branstad said the record turn-out for Monday’s Republican Caucuses was “an encouraging sign” for the fall election, since Iowa is likely to be a toss-up state in the presidential race.

Couple sues over Hot Lotto mystery jackpot

Larry and Kathy Dawson.

Larry and Kathy Dawson.

A Webster City man, who claimed a $9 million Hot Lotto jackpot nearly five years ago, filed a lawsuit today claiming he deserved a much bigger prize.

In May of 2011, Larry Dawson won the first jackpot after a previous jackpot in the game was “rigged.” Attorney Jerry Crawford of Des Moines is representing Dawson.

“But for the rigging of the lottery by the lottery executive, our client would’ve won a cash value of $16 million, in total,” Crawford said. After taxes, Dawson collected $6 million in 2011.

Just a few months earlier, a $10 million cash value Hot Lotto jackpot was won. But, Eddie Tipton, a former executive with the Multi-State Lottery Association was recently convicted of fraud for “fixing” the game and trying to claim that prize.

Crawford believes that $10 million prize should go to Dawson. “The question that our lawsuit poses and that we think should be very easy to answer is if you can’t trust the lottery to pay you in full when you win, why should you ever play?” Crawford said.

After Tipton unsuccessfully attempted to redeem the ticket for the Hot Lotto prize and the redemption time expired, the $10 million was ruled to be an “unclaimed prize” and distributed back to the Iowa Lottery and other participating state lotteries.

Attorney Nick Mauro, who’s also representing Dawson, claims the Lottery broke its own rules. “The money that we’re talking about in this lawsuit was always intended and always earmarked to go to a jackpot winner,” Mauro said. “This money was never intended to go to the states’ general funds…or whatever the lottery does with its half of the profits. This was always intended to be jackpot money.”

Iowa Lottery officials issued a statement, saying “It is impossible to rewrite history. No one can know what would have occurred in this case had any event in it been changed. We believe that Mr. Dawson rightfully was paid the jackpot to which he was entitled.”

Crawford is surprised with the response. “We know our client won. We know their executive rigged the game. I’m a little surprised they want to be on that side instead of our side, to be honest,” Crawford said.

Crawford and Mauro spoke with reporters this afternoon in their law firm’s office in downtown Des Moines. Larry Dawson did not attend the news conference.

“He and his wife are not the kind of people who are looking for any limelight or attention. They could have been here, but they prefer not to be,” Crawford said. Crawford noted Larry and Kathy Dawson have donated a lot of their winnings to charity and they should not be viewed as “greedy” for filing the lawsuit.

“But, they also think that if somebody plays the lottery…you know, the odds aren’t exactly what we call ‘great’ to win the lottery and if you actually win, you should get your prize,” Crawford said.

The lawsuit was filed against the Iowa Lottery Authority and the Multi-State Lottery Association (MSLA). It’s the first in what could be several lawsuits filed by players claiming they were ripped off by games allegedly rigged by Eddie Tipton. The former security director of the MSLA is also accused of rigging jackpots in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma.