September 21, 2014

Branstad ‘willing to look’ at production of cannabis oil in Iowa (AUDIO)

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

Governor Terry Branstad is not immediately ruling out a request from the parents of children with chronic epilepsy who want to buy cannabis oil grown and produced in Iowa.

“I’m willing to look at all proposals,” Branstad says. “I just want to make sure that the safety of Iowans is protected and that we don’t have unintended consequences.”

Branstad signed a bill into law this spring that decriminalizes possession of cannabis oil as treatment for severe epilepsy, but caregivers must go out of state to buy the product. Last week, six of the 10 members of a legislative committee appointed to study implementation of that law said it’s time for Iowa to make growing and distributing marijuana legal, if it’s used for medical purposes.

Governor Branstad was opposed to decriminalizing cannabis oil possession earlier this year, but then changed his mind after meeting with the parents of children with chronic epilepsy who believe the oil can help reduce the duration and severity of seizures. Now those parents are pushing to get cannabis oil produced here.

“I think you’ve got to be very careful because you don’t want unintended consequences, you don’t want marijuana being grown and then being used illegally,” Branstad says, “so I think it would really depend upon how carefully and strictly it could be managed and controlled.”

The caregivers of children with chronic epilepsy say they’ve seen how cannabis oil is helping children in Colorado, for example, who’ve been able to take cannabis oil.

Branstad made his comments in answer to a question posed during his weekly news conference.

AUDIO of Branstad’s news conference



Hillary Clinton hints about ‘it’ a lot in speech at Harkin Steak Fry (AUDIO)

Hilliary and Bill Clinton at the Tom Harkin Steak Fry.

Hilliary and Bill Clinton at the Tom Harkin Steak Fry.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given the broadest hint yet that she is a likely 2016 candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

“Hello Iowa,” Clinton said, before declaring: “I’m back.”

Clinton spoke this afternoon at Senator Tom Harkin’s 37th and final “Steak Fry” fundraiser. She hadn’t set foot in the state since the might in 2008 when finished third in Iowa’s Caucuses. News of her visit sparked a firestorm of speculation about her intentions for 2016, and Clinton sent them soaring soon after she started speaking this afternoon.

“It is true, I am thinking about it,” Clinton said, to cheers. “But for today, that is not why I’m here.”

Although she never defined what “it” meant, her comment was interpreted by the crowd as a declaration and they roared in response. Harkin, in his introduction of Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, reworked the “comeback kid” title Bill Clinton earned during his 1992 campaign, calling Bill AND Hillary the “comeback couple.”

“I’m here to tell you that there are many more chapters to be written in the amazing life of Hillary Clinton,” Harkin said, as the crowd cheered.

Clinton mentioned “that young senator from Illinois” who wound up beating her here in 2008.

Tom Harkin, Hilliary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Ruth Harkin (R-L) Photo by Debbie Noe.

Tom Harkin, Hilliary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Ruth Harkin (R-L) Photo by Debbie Noe.

“We went from rivals to partners to friends and sometimes we would even reminisce a little about old days and let me tell you: he sure loves Iowa,” Clinton said, and the crowd cheered. “Now when Tom Harkin called and asked me to come, I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to say. I’ve got a few things on my mind these days.”

And, after talking about the anxiously-awaited arrival of her first grandchild, Clinton joked about all the attention her appearance at Harkin’s event had generated.

“You know, it does really feel just like yesterday when I was here at the Harkin Steak Fry, or as my husband likes to call it: ‘The Harkin Stir Fry,’” Clinton said, laughing along with the crowd.

AUDIO of Hillary Clinton’s speech, 23:00

Bill Clinton was the final speaker at the event, but he focused instead on the 2014 election and did not mention having his wife serve in the same office he held from January 20, 1993 ’til January 20, 1999. Both Clintons paid tribute to retiring Senator Harkin, praising his “progressive” voice and record over the past 40 years in congress.

Signs leading into final Harkin Steak Fry.

Signs leading into final Harkin Steak Fry.

Harkin delivered a speech that was a sort of retrospective of his political career, his voice sometimes cracking with emotion as he started with his first unsuccessful campaign for congress back in 1974 and his decision in 2013 not to seek reelection.

“You empowered me to make a difference and I can never properly thank you. I just want you to know how grateful I am,” Harkin said. “I have done my best to carry forward the populist-progressive banner of fighting for working people in this country and fighting for people who didn’t get a fair shake: the least, the lost and the left behind.”

But, Harkin — who is 74 years old — said there “comes a time to gracefully bow out” and let new leaders step forward and that’s why he decided not to seek reelection this year.

Third district congressional candidates clash over balanced budget amendment

The two major party candidates seeking Iowa’s third congressional district seat differed sharply over key fiscal issues during an hour-long televised debate last night on Iowa Public Television. For example, the candidates were asked if they support a balanced budget amendment. Democrat Staci Appel went first.

“I think we need to have a balanced budget that carves out for Social Security and Medicare,” Appel said.

Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson, a panelist, asked: “So you would vote, if it had those conditions, to amend the U.S. constitution, requiring a federally balanced budget.”

Appel replied: “I do not believe I would.”

Republican David Young said he would, under certain conditions.

“To make sure that in wartime there could be a possibility of busting those caps if there were emergencies and we had to protect our homeland, things like that and we had to make sure that our priority was the mandatory spending, the benefits that folks receive under Social Security and Medicare,” Young said.

Appel interjected: “A balanced budget amendment could be a 20 percent across-the-board cut. That would affect Social Security, Medicare, our education budget. We have to be extremely careful when we do things like that.”

Young replied: “That’s why you make sure the mandatory spending is a priority.”

As for worries about the solvency of Social Security and Medicare, Appel said Medicare costs could be cut if the government could negotiate the bulk purchase of prescription drugs.

“I would keep my promise to seniors and the 40-year-olds and the 50-year-olds that are paying into the system,” Appel said. “Social Security and Medicare’s not a goal. It’s a promise. The best way to shore up Social Security and Medicare is to create great paying jobs, so there’s more people paying into the system and that’s the best way to do it.”

Young said he’d be willing to consider a variety of options to fix the systems for future seniors.

“We need to do what conservative President Ronald Reagan did along with liberal Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill did and they got together and put everything on the table,” Young said. “And then you can take things off the table. I would take raising the retirement age, right away, off the way.”

But Young said he’d consider getting rid of the income cap and requiring wealthier Americans to pay Social Security taxes on all their income. Appel then suggested Young would vote to “privatlze” Social Security. Young said that won’t be an option under consideration.

“I think seniors need to know where he stands on these issues,” Appel said.

Young responded: “Can you quote where I said I wanted to privatize Social Security?”

Appel replied: “You applauded it and I will make sure that after (the debate) that we will give all the citations.”

Young continued: “I’d like to know where I said that.”

Kathie Obradovich of The Des Moines Register, a debate panelist, asked: “Is that off the table for you, any sort of private account for Social Security?”

Young replied: “It’s become such a political issue, it’s amazing that so many Americans when they want to get a better investment on their dollar, they look to mutual funds or stocks, but it’s been so politicized, it’s going to be taken off the table.”

Both said, if elected, they would vote to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, although Young would only vote for a bill to raise the minimum wage if tax cuts for small businesses were included in the legislation. On the gas tax, both expressed concern about the condition of roads and bridges, but Appel said she would oppose any increase in the gas tax. Young said it’s time for a more creative way to finance the nation’s transportation system to take into account electric cars and propane-fueled vehicles that are running on fuel that isn’t subject to the federal gas tax.

The debate was held at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs and Iowa Public Television will rebroadcast the event tonight at 7 p.m. The two candidates are seeking the seat currently held by Republican Tom Latham. Latham announced last December that he would not seek reelection in 2014.

DNR plans to cut number of deer licenses as herd thins

State wildlife officials say hunters in Iowa have sufficiently thinned down the deer herds, so they plan to scale back the number of hunting licenses that will be issued to stabilize the population. Iowa Department of Natural Resources director Chuck Gipp says all signs indicate the statewide deer population declined between 2006 and 2013.

“Reported harvest is down by 33 percent. Number of road kills of deer hit by vehicles is down by 39 percent,” Gipp says. “The number of deer that are observed by bow hunters, which is a good way because they’re up in the tree individually, is down by 22 percent.”

Some parts of Iowa are still overrun by deer, what are considered “hot spots,” while the animals are very scarce in other areas. Gipp says striking a balance with hunters isn’t easy. “We’re getting shot at from both sides, some people are saying there’s not enough deer and others say there’s too many depending on where you sit on this issue,” Gipp says, “We feel very comfortable where the deer herd is and we still have to work on those hot spots.”

He says the DNR may expand the number of so-called depredation licenses issued which allow landowners to kill animals that cause property damage. The DNR plans to scale back the number of “antlerless” deer licenses, which were designed to thin herds by targeting female deer.

Board of Regents pass budget amid concerns about new funding formula

The Board of Regents approved its budget request to the legislature today, but not until two regents raised questions about the new funding formula. The plan allocates 60-percent of the funding to the three state schools based on their in-state enrollment, and that would take more than $12 million from the University of Iowa and give it to Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.

Regent Subhash Sahai of Webster City expressed concern. “I think taking out that sum of money, that large an amount from S-U-I and going to the other two schools is going to have a great impact. I just struggle with that. I’ve been struggling with that ever since, and I have not voiced my concerns outside of this meeting now,” Sahai says.

Sahai says he would like them attempt to keep from taking the money from the U-I. Regent chair, Bruce Rastetter of Alden reminded Sahai that they are seeking more money to help the U-I in the transition. Rastetter says there is request for an additional 12-million-971 thousand dollars in their budget to “keep the University Iowa” whole this year.

Sahai says there’s no certainty that the school will get the extra money. “The question is, what if they (legislature) don’t approve it, do we still take the money from S-U-I and give it to the other schools,” Sahai asked. “The proposal approved by the board in June would be a three-year transition to that at a maximum of two percent,”Rastetter responded.

Sahai says that does not calm his concerns. “We’re hoping that we’re getting more money, I sincerely hope that we do. To me, I just feel uncomfortable deep inside that that’s too much money to ask for,” Sahai says. “I’m hoping that next time that a decision of this magnitude is made that we at least have two readings on it so we have a chance to think about that and listen to all sides.”

Regent Robert Downer of Iowa City says he also has some concerns about the plan, but told fellow regents he would vote for the budget plan. “However, this should not be construed as my support for the reduction of that amount from the University of Iowa if this supplemental funding is not approved,” Downer says. “In the event that it is not approved, I will continue to attempt to modify the actions that were taken by the board.”

Downer voted against the plan when it passed, and reiterated Wednesday he doesn’t believe it will work. “I do not agree that the effect of this model is to incent the institutions to achieve the objectives of the state and the board. Particularly as this is laid out in the details,” he says.

Downer says the change will hurt “flagship programs” at the University of Iowa. He cited the reorganization of the nursing program to increase the emphasis on masters and PHD programs, which he says resulted in only 10 percent of those enrolled being full-time students. Downer says the definitions set forth in the plan would in his opinion significantly underfund the recently reorganized program approved by the board. “And this clearly does not reward the University of Iowa for this program which does constitute an improvement to health care delivery for Iowans throughout the state,” Downer says.

Downer says there are other such examples of programs that will be hurt by the funding formula. “I urge the board to revisit the metrics of this funding mechanism to prevent the occurrence of this unintended and unavoidable consequence,” Downer says.

The board approved the $649 million operating budget at their meeting in Ames.


Average price to rent corn, soybean ground in Iowa: $260 an acre

A new government report finds the average price to rent Iowa farmland has gone up slightly this year.

According to the USDA.’s Agricultural Statistics Service, rental rates are averaging $260 an acre in Iowa this year for corn and soybean ground. That’s about five bucks an acre higher than last year. The most expensive farmland in the state is in Grundy County, where the average rental rate is $322 an acre. The cheapest is in Appanoose County, where rent was $149 per acre on average. Find the stats for all 99 Iowa counties here 

The USDA report concludes the average price to rent pasture land in Iowa is $50 an acre.

An Iowa State University Extension survey released in April concluded farmland rental prices statewide had declined “moderately” from 2013. It was the first reported decrease in rental rates for corn and soybean fields since 1999. A retired ISU economist said the decrease was due to lower commodity prices for the crops that will be grown on that rented ground.

The ISU and USDA reports did find the same average rate of $260 an acre for row crop rentals.

Debate over implementing Iowa’s cannabis oil law continues

Parents of children with severe epilepsy went to the statehouse Tuesday to complain about a state agency’s rules for implementing the new state law that decriminalizes possession of cannabis oil.

The Iowa Department of Public Health has developed an application that parents will fill out to get a photo ID through the Iowa DOT. They’ll be able to show that ID to prove to police in Iowa that an Iowa doctor has recommended the cannabis oil as treatment for their child’s chronic epilepsy. Kim Novy of Altoona is urging officials to automate the process.

“I would appreciate the process to be as efficient and uncomplicated as it can possibly be,” Novy said today. “Free time isn’t a luxury for me.” Novy is the mother of 12-year-old twin daughters who have been diagnosed with a rare and severe form of epilepsy. She spoke to a legislative committee that reviews agency rules.

Deborah Thompson, the Iowa Department of Public Health’s policy advisor, said her agency doesn’t have the money to make the application process paperless.

“We hear that you want it to be easy and we’re trying to appease that, but some resources would be necessary to automate it further,” Thompson said.

A few accommodation has been proposed for the children who’d be taking the cannabis oil to try to reduce the frequency and severity of their seizures. The cards will be issued on an annual bases. The Iowa Department of Public Health first proposed that the child undergo a physical each year the card is renewed, but that requirement has been removed.

The agency hopes to start accepting applications by January 30. That’s about seven months after the bill legislators passed on the subject was signed into law by the governor.