April 27, 2015

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.

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.

House Oversight Committee focuses on Hot Lotto mystery

Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich.

Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich.

The Government Oversight Committee in the Iowa House is asking questions about the case involving a lottery contractor who is charged with trying to illegally claim a Hot Lotto jackpot. Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich met with the committee today and offered a briefing on security and the four-year-long timeline for the case.

“Iowa stopped this fraud and what we believe was a fraud on the Iowa Lottery…thanks to the structure that we had,” Rich said.

A handful of states allow lottery winners to remain anonymous, but Iowa law requires public disclosure of the winner’s name. Rich said that’s one factor that helped prevent Eddie Tipton, an lottery contractor, from claiming the Hot Lotto prize. Rich said the other major factor is that no one person has all the “keys” to lottery security systems, to prevent the kind of fraud alleged in this case.

“A test for us to show a great team is a great team when you have adversity and trying to figure this thing out,” Rich said.

Tipton was an IT expert who worked for the Multi-State Lottery Association and who was prevented by law from buying Iowa Lottery tickets. He has been charged with two counts of fraud. His trial has been delayed until July and Rich told legislators he was limited in what he could discuss about the case. Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton who is an attorney, nonetheless pressed for an answer.

“Have you been able to determine did he just get lucky — you know, what a coincidence — or was he able to somehow hack the system or do something that allowed him to…get that winning ticket?” Wolfe asked during the committee meeting.

Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from Greenfield, said he wants Rich and other key lottery officials to come back to testify to the Oversight Committee once the trial is over to get more answers.

“It’s really, really suspicious,” Baudler said.

If Tipton did something to game the system, Baudler wants to know all about it.

“I think a lot will come out in court and a lot of people that I talk to want to know the answer to that question,” Baudler said.

Steve Bogle, the Iowa Lottery’s security chief, is among those who’ve been called to testify and he’s careful in how he talks about the allegation that Tipton may have rigged computer software to generate the winning numbers on that ticket.

“We’ll just have to wait to see what happens, comes out at the trial, what proof is presented on whether or not he did it or not,” Bogle told reporters this morning after the House Oversight Committee meeting.

Tipton isn’t the only person charged in this case. A man from Houston, Texas, who once employed Tipton is charged with fraud, accused of working with attorneys in New York and Canada to try to claim the prize without revealing Tipton’s identity.

The ticket Tipton has been accused of buying went unclaimed for nearly year. Then, just before the ticket was to expire on December 29, 2011, a New York attorney tried to claim the prize for a trust incorporated in Belize. Iowa Lottery officials refused to turn over the $14.3 million Hot Lotto jackpot because the people involved in the trust refused to reveal their identities.

Governor Branstad’s anti-bullying bill in jeopardy

Chris Hall

Chris Hall

A bill that has been one of Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s priorities in each of the past three years is in limbo in the Iowa House. A bill designed to address concerns about bullying in Iowa schools cleared the Iowa Senate nearly a month ago on a 43-7 vote, but it hasn’t been considered in the Republican-led House.

“I have concerns about whether or not we’re inducing more risk of lawsuits and liability with the way it’s written right now,” House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, said Wednesday.

Democrats in the Iowa House tried to force Paulsen to bring the bill up for debate yesterday and were joined in the effort by the Republican chairman of the House Education Committee, but Paulsen and 51 other Republicans in the House united to block the move. Representative Chris Hall, a Democrat from Sioux City, said it’s important to draw attention to the impasse.

“It’s reaching the point of absurdity, folks,” Hall said just before the House adjourned Thursday. “Most of us agree that legislation cannot and will not resolve each and every issue of bullying, but we can also agree that our updates…can help.”

Back in January, Governor Branstad got a standing ovation from legislators during his “Condition of the State” speech when he called for passage of the anti-bullying bill. Branstad has said he and his staff have worked to address concerns raised in the past two years and the “time has come” to pass the legislation. Paulsen, the legislature’s top Republican, said the bill still has flaws.

“By us creating new standards and requirements for the schools, I’m not sure they have complete control over that side of the equation,” Paulsen told reporters.

Representative Hall, the Democrat who led the effort to try to force debate on the bill in the House, said House Republican leaders are “doubling down” on irresponsibility.

“House leaders have caved to Bob Vander Plaats and the far right fringe,” Hall said. “Perhaps it’s time to accept the reality that compromise won’t come from this chamber and kids won’t be a top priority within this House.”

Bob Vander Plaats — a Republican candidate for governor in 2002, 2006 and 2010 — is president of The Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization. The group is registered as opposed to Governor Branstad’s anti-bullying bill. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition are also registered opponents of the bill. Groups that represent Iowa educators and school boards support it.

Lawyer talks about Rayhons verdict

Rayhons after the verdict.

Henry Rayhons after the verdict.

Former state Representative Henry Rayhons declared “the truth finally came out” yesterday when a jury acquitted him on sex abuse charges. Rayhons, a 78-year-old farmer from Garner, had been accused of having sexual contact with his wife, Donna, who had Alzheimer’s. Prosecutors argued she lacked the mental capacity to consent.

Joel Yunek, the lawyer who defended Henry Rayhons in court, says the Rayhons family hopes this case “generates a discussion” about this sensitive issue.

“Should spouses be required to walk into a lawyer’s office and sign some sort of a document that says, ‘In the event I become demented, that I have a certain score, that I hereby give you the consent,’ and would that be enough, frankly under the state of the law?” Yunek said after the verdict. “They could say, ‘Well, you signed that when you were healthy, but would you have the consent to do that now?'”

Yunek’s own mother died Sunday of complications related to Alzheimer’s. Yunek says patients with Alzheimer’s and other conditions that cause dementia “aren’t zombies.” “They have feelings and they have emotions, Those are very basic things, but those basic things are what you should be celebrating, not what you should be disregarding,” Yunek said. “We shouldn’t be warehousing these people…Let ‘em live their life to the fullest extent that they can.”

Henry and Donna Rayhons were widowers when they married in 2007. Donna’s daughters placed her in a nursing home about a year ago. She died last August and her side of the family does not plan to comment on Wednesday’s verdict.

(Reporting and photo by A. J. Taylor, KIOW, Forest City)