December 17, 2014

Group will push legislature for medical marijuana law

Sally Gaer (file photo)

Sally Gaer (file photo)

A group of Iowans announced a campaign Tuesday at the state capitol dedicated to promoting regulated access to medical marijuana for patients suffering from a variety of medical conditions. Lawmakers passed, and the governor signed a very limited bill into law that allows the use of cannabis oil for patients with chronic epilepsy.

Sally Gaer is the mother of a child with the form of epilepsy and now is a member of the group Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis. “We have more folks who would like access to cannabis as medicine to use for their medical conditions…they’ve been in contact with us and so we decided to form this group, and it encompasses more than intractable epilepsy,” Gaer explains.

Founding members of the group include Easter Seals of Iowa, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Iowa Chapter; Epilepsy Foundation of North Central Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska; Epilepsy Families for Medical Cannabis.

Gaer says one of their objectives is to change the classification of marijuana from a schedule 1 designation. “Schedule 1 says that marijuana has no medicinal value, which is quite untrue and inaccurate,” Gaer says. The also want to create a Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee within the Department of Public Health. “That are physicians and pharmacists and scientists and law enforcement and drug enforcement, so everybody is on the same page,” Gaer explains. “And they would make the decisions as far as processing, growing and dispensing the cannabis medicine in the state so that the legislature is not making every little minuscule decision.”

One of the arguments against approving medical marijuana is that critics say that will then lead to approving recreational use of the drug. “None of us are really for recreational marijuana in any way, shape or form,” Gaer says. “My story has been all along, they already get it. They can walk outside and in five minutes get their hands on illegal recreational marijuana, to their detriment. I still don’t have access to medicine for my daughter.”

Gaer says even with the law allowing Iowans with intractable epilepsy to treat their conditions legally with medical cannabis oil, Iowans still cannot safely, affordably, and legally get medical cannabis in other states. She says part of the problem is that the state-issued medical cannabis “cards” needed are still not available. And although 23 states have legalized the sale of medicinal cannabis, it’s sold almost exclusively to in-state residents. “Drug abusers still get it, and the people that need it still can’t,” she says.

Gaer says the extra support could help get something more done in the upcoming legislative session, and that’s why they are making their support know now. “I think there are some legislators working and figuring out what this should look like, and if we can get a bill introduce right away this session and get work going on it, so we are further ahead than we were last year,” Gaer says.

Last year’s legislature was working with the knowledge that many members would be on the ballot in the fall, and she hopes with the election over, there’s more chance of getting the issue moving. “You know, that was what we heard from the get go last year, well this is an election year, this probably won’t happen. And our thought was exactly it’s an election year this should happen,” Gaer says. “So, hopefully we won’t have that oh my gosh what will this do to the election in the fall if I do anything about this, hopefully it will more about helping people.”

Gaer says medicinal marijuana is widely supported by most Iowans, as a 2014 Des Moines Register poll found that 59 percent of Iowans support its use. A follow-up poll by Quinnipiac found that 81 percent of Iowa voters support legal access to medical cannabis under a doctor’s treatment plan.


Iowa State University seeks millions for new ‘Student Innovation Center’

Proposed ISU Student Innovation Center.

Proposed ISU Student Innovation Center.

Iowa State University’s president is asking the governor and legislators for $40 million in state tax dollars to construct a new building on campus. Steven Leath made his request for construction of a “Student Innovation Center” directly to Governor Branstad Monday afternoon.

“We have really antiquated facilities in the middle of our Armory. Many of the colleges can’t fit students in and they’re really not safe or capable for some of the new projects so we’d like to build a Student Innovation Center,” Leath said. “This building is 100 percent for students. This isn’t a faculty building or anything else. This is a student building.”

The project’s total cost would be $80 million and Leath is promising that ISU will raise half that — if state policymakers put up the rest.

“We do have a donor who’s pledged $20 million for this facility. It’s the largest gift…we have received to date for an academic building. It’s pending, you know, that the building gets funded (by the state), but the money is real. They’ve already signed all the pledge forms,” Leath said. “…We’re really, really excited about doing this project.”

Iowa State University’s enrollment has grown by 6000 students in the past three years and Leath said the majority of those are students in the colleges of engineering and agriculture.

“One of the reasons I think we get 95 percent job placement is we hear constantly from employers that out students have a lot of hands-on skills,” Leath said. “Most of them come out (of ISU) and they’ve done projects, capstone projects, and they’ve learned with their hands.”

Leath warns the “antiquated” facilities on the Ames campus, however, will hold future students back and that’s why the new building is on his wish list.

“There’s probably not been more excitement about a project at Iowa State than this one, ever,” Leath told Branstad and the governor’s top staff. “And with the student numbers and the crampness on campus with all the numbers, the students really want to see this.”

Leath made his request during an-hour-and-15-minute-long budget presentation from all three state universities. Neither the University of Iowa nor the University of Northern Iowa are asking lawmakers to provide more money this year for construction of new buildings on the campuses in Iowa City and Cedar Falls.

Branstad says ‘big event’ this summer for presidential prospects would be fine, without Straw Poll

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad says he’d like to see the Iowa GOP hold an event this summer to showcase all the party’s presidential candidates — but the party should not conduct a Straw Poll. An Iowa Straw Poll has been held in Ames since 1979 in each summer before the GOP has had a contest for its presidential nomination.

“I think a lot of people like the idea of having an event like we’ve had in Ames for many years, but I believe a number of the candidates have chosen not to participate because they don’t think it’s necessarily representative,” Branstad says. “The most important thing is to keep the Iowa Caucuses first in the nation and the first real test of candidates.”

George W. Bush won the Iowa Straw Poll in 1999 and went on to win the Iowa Caucuses as well as the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2000. Neither of the Iowa Straw Poll winners since won the Caucuses or the party’s presidential nod. In fact, John McCain skipped the Straw Poll in 2007 and Mitt Romney did not participate in 2011. Branstad says a “fun, summertime event” could be staged and give all the candidates “an opportunity to be exposed to Iowa voters.”

“And obviously this is a decision to be made by the Republican State Central Committee, not me,” Branstad says. “But I think that we want to be welcoming to all candidates. I want to encourage ‘em all to come and participate and I think you could have an event like that without actually taking a Straw Poll.”

Branstad has said before that the Straw Poll has “outlived its usefulness,” and he proposed a series of regional events for candidates, but is now expressing support for a “big event” for all the candidates this summer. Branstad says holding the Straw Poll could conflict with recent changes in Republican National Committee rules for state-level voting contests in 2016 that determine how many delegates a state gets to send to the party’s national convention.

Branstad made his comments during his weekly statehouse news conference.

AUDIO of news conference

Education Department to end automatic early school start waivers

Department of Education director Brad Buck (left) with Governor Terry Branstad honoring Teacher of the Year Clemencia Spizzirri.

Department of Education director Brad Buck (left) with Governor Terry Branstad and 2015 Teacher of the Year Clemencia Spizzirri.

After years of debate on the issue, the director of the Iowa Department of Education is telling school districts it is going to be tougher to get a waiver to start classes earlier in the fall. State law says schools can start no earlier than the week that includes September 1st, but early start waivers have been routinely granted.

Education Department spokesperson, Staci Hupp Ballard, says they are not doing away with waivers. “The change is that school districts that are interested in pursuing waivers will need to demonstrate evidence of significant negative educational impact as required by law,” Ballard says.

Ballard says the leader of the department Brad Buck issued the notice to the districts after receiving a request from the governor. “The governor requested director Buck’s action on this, but we also want to make sure that school districts, in terms of timing, have plenty of time to make adjustments to their calendars before they submit them to us next spring,” Ballard says.

Governor Terry Branstad has long-sided with the state’s tourism industry on the issue, which argues it loses millions because of early school starts, plus many summer venues lose part of the workforce when high-schoolers return to class. Many of Iowa’s school districts will begin the next academic year before the Iowa State Fair ends, something that has always peeved Branstad who has been a champion of the annual event.

Ballard says the move will have a big impact based on the waivers issued for this school year. “This year, 2014-15, 336 of 338 school districts received waivers, there were just two districts that did not obtain one,” Ballard says. Director Buck sent out the letter today, and Ballard says they are working on the details of what will qualify districts to get a waiver. “Those criteria are under development right now, and we will know more early next year,” Ballard says.

The department has already heard from schools.”So far we’ve heard positive feedback and we’ve heard negative feedback from the districts,” according to Ballard. The State Board of Education voted 5-2 in August against runs that would have modified the start dates. A proposal to change school start dates also failed to make it out of the last legislative session.

Governor’s letter on School Start Date PDF

Education Dept Letter on school start waivers PDF

Governor brings two 2014 campaign veterans into state goverment

Governor Branstad has appointed two Republicans who were hard at work on the 2014 campaign trail to state government posts.

Jake Ketzner, Branstad’s 2014 campaign manager, also managed Steve King’s successful congressional campaign in 2012. Ketzner is now on Branstad’s statehouse staff, serving as legislative liaison. It means he’ll be the day-to-day point person in negotiations between the governor and legislators.

Adam Gregg, the man who had been Branstad’s legislative liaison, resigned last spring to run for attorney general. Gregg lost his race to incumbent Tom Miller and Branstad has now appointed Gregg to be the state’s public defender. Gregg will arrange legal representation for defendants who cannot afford to hire their own attorney.

A digital Iowa driver’s license under development

dotState officials are drafting plans for digital driver’s licenses, so you could show your photo ID by pulling out your smart phone. Iowa Department of Transportation director Paul Trombino showed a mock-up to the governor and his aides on Monday.

“This is a digitally-encoded drivers license. It’s on your cellphone, so you can carry it around with you,” Trombino said. “It has as much, if not more, digital encoding than the one in your wallet.”

Trombino said it could be used at a traffic stop, at the airport or anywhere else you’re asked to show identification.

“It really opens up the doorway, I think, for a lot of different types of transactions,” Trombino said.

Trombino expects the digital license would be available to motorists in addition to that small, plastic version for your wallet, at no additional charge. Some motorists are already showing proof of insurance with an app on their smart phones.

Governor talks about road funding, trip to New York (audio)

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

Governor Terry Branstad was asked once again today about the possibility of raising the gas tax and he stuck with his statement that there needs to be a mix of solutions to raise more money to improve roads.

The Republican says he has started talking with legislative leaders in both parties and isn’t going to lay out a specific plan at this time. “I’m not going to try to dictate what those elements should be. I want it to be truly a bipartisan consensus and get input from all four caucuses in the legislature. I think that is the best way to try and get something done,” Branstad says.

Branstad says more fuel efficient vehicles and the use of other fuels have cut the amount of gas tax taken in that is used to fund road repairs and that’s why there needs to be another solution. He says there are a few things he wants to see out of any plan that comes forward.

“I think it needs to be done on a pay-as-you-go basis, not with borrowed money, and it needs to be protected by the constitutional provisions of the Road Use Tax Fund so it can’t be used for another purpose,” Branstad says.

The governor says there’s a reason he isn’t naming the ideas he likes. “It would be a target to shoot at, and I think it would be much better if instead we approached it with an open mind and accepting input from all different persuasions on this issue,” according to Branstad. ” I’ve had some discussions, for instance, even with the people representing the truck stops who you would think generally would be against this. But they also have some ideas of some things other states of done that we also might consider.”

The governor will be thinking about trade for most of the rest of this week as he heads out on an economic development trip to New York City Tuesday. “We have a whole series of call, primarily in the insurance and financial services industry,” Branstad says. The state economic development director and insurance commissioner are going on the trip and will join the governor as they visit various companies. “I can’t divulge the names of the companies. Some of them already have operations in Iowa, we hope they will expand their employment base and make additional investments. Others we hope they will chose Iowa,” Branstad says.

The governor says the state already has a strong base in the insurance industry and financial services and they will be calling on those types of companies, and he says the insurance commissioner also has some additional meetings he got to along with the joint meetings.

Audio: Governor Branstad’s meeting with reporters. 27:00