April 25, 2015

Governor Walker: a national ‘Right to Work’ law a ‘legitimate’ goal

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he has the “courage…and capacity” to take on powerful interests, including unions, at the federal level. Walker, a Republican who is likely to enter the presidential race soon, signed a “right to work” law in Wisconsin this year and he sees a need for a similar federal law.

“As much as I think the federal government should get out of most of what it’s in right now, I think establishing fundamental freedoms for the American people is a legitimate thing and that would be something that would provide that opportunity in the other half of America to people who don’t have those opportunities today,” Walker said this morning during an interview with Radio Iowa.

Twenty five states, including Iowa and Wisconsin, have “right-to-work” laws that forbid organized labor from forcing non-union workers to pay union dues or fees in a workplace where employees have voted to unionize. Soon after he was elected governor in 2010, Walker gained attention and plaudits from Republicans and business interests across the country by pushing to make changes in tenure and benefits for teachers and public employees in Wisconsin.

“Really what we did wasn’t just fight unions. It was fight the stranglehold that big government special interests had on state and local governments,” Walker said today. “I think in Washington we need that even more.”

The federal government has “grown too much,” according to Walker, and, if elected president, he’d seek changes in the civil service system for federal employees.

“For example, we got rid of seniority and tenure. You can hire and fire based on merit. You can pay based on performance,” Walker said. “We found in our schools and our local and state governments you can put the best and the brightest in those positions.”

Walker and eight other potential competitors for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination will speak this evening to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. It’s an organization that represents evangelical Christians, an important voting block in the Iowa GOP. Walker, who is the son of a Baptist minister, said his faith impacts how he conducts himself and how he listens to others.

“My faith is not a litmus test. I don’t get a Ten Commandments handed down to me on a tablet, saying: ‘You should be this on this issue and that on that issue,'” Walker said. “…I’m a Christian. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. I firmly that someone can be a fellow believer and have different views than I do on policy and I don’t think that makes them any less of a believer if they differ. I just think you get to it in different ways.”

Walker vaulted into the national spotlight in January after a well-received speech at Congressman Steve King’s “Iowa Freedom Summit” in Des Moines. When asked today about his choice to literally roll up his shirt sleeves for that and other key political appearances over the past four months, Walker — whose suit jacket was hanging on the back of the chair in which he was sitting during the Radio Iowa interview — laughed.

“I give a few speeches in a coat,” Walker said, then he offered up the reason why he often goes coatless: “You’ll get the simple truth out of me. It’s usually just because I’m hot.”

Iowa’s governor signs visitation law inspired by Casey Kasem case

Kerri Kasem, on governor’s left, and Misty Davis, on right at bill signing.

Kerri Kasem, on governor’s left, and Misty Davis, on right at bill signing.

Iowa has passed a groundbreaking law that gives family members a new legal avenue to use if they’re blocked from seeing a relative who is incapacitated.

The law is inspired by the case of Casey Kasem, the legendary radio DJ who was host of “America’s Top 40.” Kerri Kasem, his oldest daughter, was at the Iowa capitol this afternoon (Friday) to watch Governor Branstad sign the bill into law.

“My dad would probably still be alive today if we had this bill in California,” Kasem said.

Casey Kasem, who died last June, suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Kasem’s wife, Jean, refused to let his children from a previous marriage see their father. Jean Kasem moved the radio legend out of a Santa Monica hospital last May and took him to the Seattle area, where he died a month later. Then she took his body first to Montreal, then Oslo, where it sat in a freezer for months until he was buried in an unmarked grave shortly before Christmas.

“This is a silent epidemic. There are so many abuses of guardianships and so many abuses of caretakers,” Kerri Kasem said. “…We have seen thousands of cases of isolation — thousands — and it’s legal. And all of the laws are on the abusers side and there is nothing you can do.”

The new Iowa law would allow relatives in a situation like Kasem’s to ask a judge to enforce visitation rights. Twenty-nine-year-old Misty Davis of Cedar Rapids hasn’t been able to see her step-brother, Jim Davis, who lives in Washington. Her step-mother — as the legal guardian for James — will not let Misty or anyone from her late husband’s family see Jim, who has an intellectual disability.

“I last saw him approximately two months ago,” Davis said today. “I get told by people where he’s at and I’ll show up randomly if it’s a public place and then within five minutes I’m kicked out or threatened with the law.”

The new law that would help Davis seek to enforce visitation rights goes into effect July 1. Until then, Davis has a list of what her stepbrother is missing: “memories, love, attention, respect, family.”

The last time Davis saw her stepbrother for an extended period of time was when they sat next to one another at their father’s funeral in January of 2013.

States selling Lottery tickets via mobile devices see ‘incremental’ sales growth

Terry Rich

Terry Rich

Iowa Lottery officials are monitoring states that are experimenting with the electronic sale of lottery tickets. Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich told legislators the state-run lottery will eventually start to lose money if it doesn’t adapt “to player expectations for convenience and use of technology.”

“A mobile device is what most millennials are using now,” Rich said Thursday. “…Only 25 percent of the people use cash when they go into a store.”

Rich testified before the Iowa House Government Oversight Committee. He told the panel an attorney general’s opinion indicates the Iowa Lottery has the authority to conduct “internet gaming.”

“We don’t plan to do that without having discussions with you, working with the other gaming entities,” Rich said. “We need to do it as a gaming policy for the State of Iowa, but with a recent ruling in 2010 or ’11, five states are doing it now pretty heavy including Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri is doing some other types of internet gaming.”

Missouri is testing a “pay at the pump” system that lets customers buy lottery tickets as they buy gas. Illinois and Minnesota now permit lottery tickets to be purchased online.

“Retail stores have not shut down because of it,” Rich told legislators. “…It’s been incremental not exponential in its growth.”

Rich believes it’s a “matter of time” before online lottery ticket sales become “socially acceptable.” Only three states — New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware — allow online poker games.

Nurses discuss ‘gold star’ of accreditation at MHIs

Employees at the state-run Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant that are being closed say the hospitals have provided high-quality care, even if the facilities do not have the “gold star” of accreditation.

Cindy Fedler, a nurse clinician, was hired at the Mental Health Institute in Mount Pleasant in 2007 — to prepare for the tests required for the accrediting process.

“That plan was aborted due to financial reasons,” Fedler said.

Fedler worked at the MHI in Mount Pleasant until April 6, when she was laid off.

“The accreditation would not have changed the way we admitted folks,” she said this week. “It would not have changed the way those who had payment, insurance — the way they paid, it would not have changed that.”

And Fedler said Mount Pleasant’s MHI met all the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “best practices” guidelines.

“The accreditation we keep hearing in the media, I want the truth to be known that that would have affected us not at all,” Fedler said, “other than a nice little title and a gold star behind our name.”

Governor Terry Branstad has said the two MHI’s are being closed because they’re antiquated and are not accredited. Ann Davison, a nurse clinician at the Clarinda Mental Health Institute, was hired in 2005 to prepare for the accreditation process there — but state officials decided not to spend the money.

“So no, we can’t get accredited if we don’t get a chance to do the test,” Davison said this week.

According to Davison, only half of Iowa’s private hospitals have paid the money and gotten accreditation.

“Are you all that concerned we’re not accredited and that’s why you’re shutting us down?” Davison asked during a senate committee meeting. “Please think about that.”

Davison and Fedler made their comments this week during testimony before the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee.

A spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Human Services says the accreditation fee is in the range of $8,850 to $11,850 per year.

Senator Ernst praises passage of bill against human trafficking

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst is praising the passage of a bill designed to help law enforcement prosecute human traffickers. “The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act also provides much need support to the victims of this, what I consider modern-day slavery,” Ernst says. “It also enhances law enforcement’s ability to bring these perpetrators to justice and brings forward stiffer penalties for criminals.”

The trafficking bill was approved in the Senate this week on a vote of 99-0. “This marks an important step to combat the spread of human and sex trafficking,” Ernst says. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to the human rights crisis happening across the country.”

In addition to the law enforcement tools and victims’ fund, the legislation qualifies child pornography production as a form of human trafficking and creates a Human Trafficking Advisory Council composed of survivors to formulate recommendations to the federal government.

GOP leader suggests Regents can shuffle budget to accommodate tuition freeze

Kraig Paulsen

Kraig Paulsen

The budget plan House Republicans released this week does not include the extra money officials who govern the three state universities requested in order to maintain a tuition freeze.

“You know I’m not so sure they’re not in a position to do a tuition freeze regardless of whatever the state appropriation is,” House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha, the top Republican in the legislature, told reporters Thursday.

In December, the board that governs the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa voted to keep next year’s tuition for in-state students at the same rate it’s been for the past two years — if legislators provide a 1.75 percent increase in state taxpayer support of the three universities. Paulsen suggests university officials can rearrange spending priorities and keep tuition rates low on their own, without additional state resources.

“I understand that the momentum of a tuition increase being tied to what we do here in the General Assembly,” Paulsen said. “They seem to be linked a whole lot.”

The Board of Regents proposal to base state taxpayer support of Iowa, Iowa State and UNI on a “performance-based formula” isn’t being embraced by Republicans or Democrats in the legislature, either. The board made the proposal, in part, to direct more money to the University of Northern Iowa and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs, the top Democrat in the legislature, said UNI is likely to get a funding boost, even if legislators reject the performance-based formula.

“There is broad recognition that UNI, because of its greater number of in-state students, is much more dramatically impacted when it comes to a tuition freeze than the other two institutions,” Gronstal said during an interview. “…There’s a consensus in the legislature that we need to deal with that inequity.”

Under the decades-old formula for distributing state funding, the University of Iowa gets 46 percent, Iowa State gets 36 percent and UNI gets 18 percent.

Senator Ernst votes against confirmation of U.S. Attorney General

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

The U.S. Senate today approved Loretta Lynch to be the new U.S. Attorney General despite “no” votes from both of Iowa’s Senators. Republican Joni Ernst spoke with Iowa reporters by phone from Washington shortly before the vote on Lynch’s confirmation.

“After closely reviewing her testimony, I am not confident Ms. Lynch will act independently from President Obama when the role requires and therefore could not vote to confirm her as attorney general,” Ernst said.

Lynch, currently the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, was confirmed on a vote of 56 to 43 — with 10 Republicans voting for President Obama’s pick to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. Iowa’s senior Senator, Chuck Grassley, voted against Lynch.

Ernst said she has “serious concerns” about Lynch’s decision to defend President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. “She agreed that it was O.K. for him to use executive amnesty in the manner that he did and because of that, I don’t see that she is operating independently. She is being influenced by the political decisions of the White House rather than relying on current law,” Ernst said. Lynch will become the first African-American woman to hold the position of U.S. Attorney General.