September 21, 2014

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.

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.

Pate outlines his priorities for secretary of state’s office

Paul Pate

Paul Pate

The Republican candidate for Iowa secretary of state has released a list of proposals to deploy new technology for voter registration and require a photo ID check to ensure all voters are eligible to vote. Paul Paul, the Republican running to be Iowa’s next secretary of state, says he wants to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.

“We want to encourage voter participation and we want to maintain the integrity,” Pate says.

Pate says 93 percent of all eligible Iowa voters currently have a driver’s license and he’d seek funding from the legislature to ensure the other seven percent get a state-issued photo ID. Pate favors a state law requiring eligible voters to have that photo ID — and he says with new technology, electronic poll books for precincts on Election Day would have a photo of the voter beside their name, as another cross-check for poll workers.

“You’d have to have some proof of who you are and once that’s done, clearly we’ve done the best we can to ensure you’re a legitimate voter,” Pate says.

Pate’s also proposing that auditor’s offices in all 99 Iowa counties be equipped with software that could verify a voter’s signature on an absentee ballot.

“Dallas County, for an example, has over 50 percent of its voters voting absentee and it’s going to be growing more and more,” Pate says, “so I think we need to step up some of the protections if we can on that.”

Pate’s Democratic opponent is Brad Anderson. Anderson says he’s glad Pate has joined his call for “electronic poll books,” but Anderson says some of Pate’s other proposals, like new photo IDs and the new signature verification software, would require a dramatic increase in taxpayer spending. Pate says it wouldn’t cost that much to buy a laptop for each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Pate is a former member of the Iowa House and Senate who also served as Iowa’s secretary of state for one term in the late 1990s. He’s seeking the job again this year. The current secretary of state, Republican Matt Schultz, is not seeking reelection.

Interim panel embraces concept of growing, making medical marijuana in Iowa

Six of the 10 members of a legislative committee say it’s time for Iowa to make growing and distributing marijuana legal, if it’s used for medical purposes.

Iowa has a new law that allows possession of cannabis oil as treatment of severe epilepsy, but parents of seizure-prone children say too many barriers still exist since they have to go out of state to get it. Sally Gaer of West Des Moines has a daughter who has been diagnosed with a severe and chronic form of epilepsy.

“We can and must do better,” Gaer said Thursday.”Iowa needs to have its own cannabis grown in the state. Growing and dispensing fits in with the healthiest state initiative.”

That’s a reference to Governor Terry Branstad’s push to improve Iowa’s ranking among the state on health issues. Gaer spoke Thursday to the 10-member legislative committee assembled to review the new state law that decriminalized possession of cannabis oil and consider changes to it. Gaer said at least two dozen states regulate the production and distribution of cannabis oil, but only for their own residents, so Iowa families are left out.

“Working together, we can come up with a program that can benefit our medically fragile and the leader in the nation in safety and common sense,” Gaer said. “This program has to include growing, processing and distributing the medicine in Iowa.”

All five Democrats and one of the five Republicans on the committee voted for such a move, although the Republican who voted yes only supports providing the cannabis oil that might be produced in Iowa to chronic epileptics.

Legislative leaders appointed the 10-member committee to review the new state law on cannabis oil and consider changes to it. Their recommendations will be drafted in a report and presented to all 150 legislators in January.

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.

State senator from Davenport diagnosed with brain tumor

Joe Seng

Joe Seng

A state senator from eastern Iowa who is seeking reelection has announced he has a brain tumor.

State Senator Joe Seng of Davenport released a statement saying the tumor was discovered in tests last week and confirmed on Thursday. Seng, who is a veterinarian, says the tumor is located in his left lobe — “at the top of my head.” He plans to meet with doctors and set up a treatment plan which could include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Mike Gronstal, the Democratic leader in the state senate, spoke by phone with Seng. Gronstal said in a written statement that Seng is “tough as nails” and he’s “betting on Joe Seng to win this battle and return to the Iowa Senate for the opening gavel in January.”

Seng, who is 67 years old, is seeking a fourth term in the Iowa Senate. He does not face an opponent on November’s ballot. His senate district has an overwhelming Democratic voter registration edge.

Seng served on the Davenport City Council before he was elected to the state legislature. He owns and operates a veterinary hospital in Davenport, a bed and breakfast in Renwick, a restaurant in Davenport and a senior housing facility in his hometown of Lost Nation, Iowa.

‘Raise the Wage’ coalition challenges Iowa policymakers to live on $77 a week

Joe Bolkcom

Joe Bolkcom

Three Democrats who serve in the state senate are beginning an experiment to see if they can limit their food and transportation expenses to $77 for one week. Senator Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City is accepting the challenge to try to live on a minimum wage worker’s salary for a week, starting tonight.

“It’s an awareness raising opportunity for people that are willing to take this challenge to actually sit down and think about what’s involved,” Bolkcom says. “I’ve started on a grocery list in the last couple of days. What food products can I buy and stretch day-to-day and make last for a week?”

Bolkcom will take his lunch to work, plus he will skip his weekly Wednesday night meet-up with friends at a local Iowa City bar. He also plans to ride his bike around Iowa City as much as possible, to avoid having to fill up the tank on his car.

“You have to be a PhD in pinching pennies as a low-income person,” Bolkcom says.

State Senators Tom Courtney of Burlington and Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids will also try to live on $77 for a week. That’s how much Matt Sinovic of Progress Iowa says minimum wage workers have left for food and gas once they’ve paid for their housing.

“I would love it if even the opponents of raising the minimum wage would at least attempt this,” Sinovic says, “because I think they’d be much better informed when they come back to the legislature next session and decide whether to raise the minimum wage.”

Progress Iowa and other liberal activist groups have formed a “Raise the Wage Iowa Coalition” and they are calling on elected officials in Iowa to live on the minimum wage for a week.

“I would just challenge every Iowan to think about: ‘What would you do with $77 a week?’” says Sue Dinsdale of the Iowa Citiens Action Network. “You don’t have to literally take the challenge…Then sit back and think about your friends and neighbors that are trying to survive on that small amount of money.”

Iowa’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, the same as the federal minimum wage. Fast food workers in 150 cities across the country have walked off the job today and joined picket lines to call for raising the federal minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour.