November 24, 2015

Clergy group asks Governor Branstad to welcome Syrian refugees

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

A group of Iowa clergy has delivered a letter to Governor Terry Branstad, saying they’re praying he will “reject fear and cruelty” and welcome Syrian refugees into the state.

Branstad is one of 30 governors citing safety concerns and resisting Syrian refugee resettlement. Reverend Jessica Peterson of the Congregational United Church of Christ in Newton says she signed the letter because she believes turning away refugees is “not the American way.”

“As a follower of Jesus, a refugee himself, I am called to welcome the stranger,” she says, “to offer freedom and relief to those who are persecuted and those who are oppressed.” Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz, a United Methodist minister in Des Moines, also signed the letter drafted by a group called Faith in Public Life.

“We call our governor who self-identifies as Christian to follow Christ,” he says. “We call our governor to not turn away refugees because as we all know Iowa is welcoming.” Branstad says President Obama “is in denial” about the threat Syrian refugees pose.

“We understand that one of the people involved in the killings in Paris came in with the refugees,” Branstad says. “We don’t want that to happen here in Iowa or in America and so we think it would be wise to pause and make sure that the safety of our citizens is protected.”

A national group called “Faith in Public Life” has collected signatures from about 2,000 Christian, Jewish and Muslim clerics around the country, calling on Branstad and the other Republican governors to change their minds and open their states to Syrian refugees. Catholic bishops in Iowa and across the country issued statements last week, delivering the same message.


Governor pardons Spike the Turkey & Zoe the Turkey


Zoey the turkey.

Iowa’s governor has continued an annual Thanksgiving tradition.

“This has been a tough year for turkeys, so we’re going to give a couple of ’em a special pardon here today,” Governor Terry Branstad said.

Branstad and his wife, Chris, had five of their grandchildren in the backyard of Terrace Hill this morning as the governor spared a “tom” and a “hen”.

“Now therefore, I, Terry E. Branstad, governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby proudly proclaim ‘Zoe the Turkey’ and ‘Spike the Turkey’ free from the harm of carving knives and gravy this Thanksgiving Day,” Branstad said.

The two turkeys were transferred to their new home at Living History Farms.

“A lot of kids will get the enjoyment of seeing these turkeys survive,” Branstad says. “…They deserve it considering the year that turkeys have gone through.”

Governor Terry Branstad and first Lady Chris Branstad and their grandkids.

Governor Terry Branstad, first Lady Chris Branstad, and their grandkids.

Twenty-five percent of Iowa turkey operations were hit by the bird flu this spring. Iowa Turkey Federation president Ross Thoreson says all the turkey farmers affected should have turkeys back in their barns by the middle of December.

“It’s been a tough year for turkey farmers,” he says, “and we’re just looking forward to getting back to normal and doing things that they love and that’s just raising turkeys and providing safe, nutritious food for Iowa and the world.”

Thoreson does not raise turkeys. His family operates an animal health supply company in Ellsworth. Thoreson says turkey production levels should get back to normal in Iowa by the first quarter of 2016. Branstad says that shows the “resiliency” of the industry.

“I think we learned a lot,” Branstad says. “Hopefully we can prevent this kind of tragedy from happening in the future.”

According to the National Turkey Federation, Americans will “gobble up” 46 million turkeys this Thanksgiving. That amounts to about three pounds of turkey per person. Iowa ranks number nine in turkey production.

Review shows annual cost of care at four state Mental Health Institutes

Auditor-logoA review from the state auditor’s office shows just how much the state has been spending to care for mentally ill patients who’ve been residents of the state-run hospitals in Clarinda, Cherokee, Independence and Mount Pleasant.

Only two of those Mental Health Institutes are open today. Governor Branstad closed the MHIs in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant this summer.

According to the auditor’s calculations for fiscal year 2014, it cost more than $160,000 a year to care for a resident in Mount Pleasant’s MHI. It cost about twice that much to care for a patient in the MHI in Clarinda. The state spent $440,000 per resident at the MHI in Independence.

Cherokee’s costs were highest, at more than half a million dollars per patient. However, the auditor’s report says that figure includes some of the out-patient services provided by Cherokee’s MHI, but the data wasn’t available to auditors to separate how much was spent on in-patient care and on out-patient care at Cherokee.

Spot checks by the state auditor’s office have led to changes in how staff at the Mental Health Institute in Cherokee handle prescription medications. The auditor’s review raised concerns about the inventory of prescription drugs kept at the Mental Health Institute in Cherokee. It cited a “lack of segregation.” Officials say the pharmacist and pharmacy technicians at the MHI were not routinely following established procedures, but now, one technician receives the prescription drugs and someone else logs it into the pharmacy’s inventory.

The auditor’s review also raised concerns about bookkeeping at the now-closed Mental Health Institute in Clarinda. Cash deposits were being made, but they were not within the 10-day window required by law. Staff in Clarinda started to make deposits once a week after the auditor flagged the problem.

Branstad among GOP governors seeking review of refugee resettlement

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Iowa’s governor has joined Republican governors from 26 other states in urging the president to review the resettlement program for all refugees.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and the other Republican governors co-signed a letter to President Obama. The governors say they are “deeply concerned” about the “potential” for Islamic militants to infiltrate the refugee system and stage an attack here similar to last week’s attacks in Paris.

The governors are asking for an immediate review of the way federal officials conduct background checks on all foreigners seeking to enter the U.S. as political refugees and “address the gaps acknowledged” by the FBI’s director.

The governors are calling on President Obama to immediately suspend the resettlement of refugees from just one country: Syria.

The Republican governors of Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan and Mississippi did not sign onto the letter. Neighboring Republican governors in Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois and Wisconsin did.

This past Monday afternoon, Governor Branstad told state agencies to suspend any work on refugee resettlement plans.

Branstad joins lawsuit to stop ‘WOTUS’ rule

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad has joined a federal lawsuit that challenges new federal rules on the oversight of smaller waterways, tributaries and wetlands.

“We believe its an overreach by the EPA and the Corps of Engineers,” Branstad says. “Iowa already has a nutrient reduction strategy. This is just going to slow things down and increase the costs.”

Thirty-one other states are challenging the so-called “Waters of the U.S.” rule in court. The rule is on hold as lawsuits make their way through the court system. Critics say the rule will give federal officials the authority to tell farmers what they can and cannot apply on their fields. Supporters of the rule say it will protect bodies of water from development and pollution.

(Reporting by Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City)

Three Democrats in DC to raise concerns about Branstad’s Medicaid plan

Three Democrats from the Iowa Senate are in Washington, D.C. to raise “issues and concerns” about Governor Branstad’s plan to shift 560,000 Iowa Medicaid patients into managed care plans. Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum of Dubuque says she left meeting with five agency decision-makers “feeling somewhat positive” the federal government may put the brakes on Branstad’s plan.

“They have truly great concerns right now about whether or not Iowa is truly ready to do this January 1,” Jochum says.

Senator Amanda Ragan of Mason City says she went to D.C. to make the case that it is “very unrealistic” to make this shift so quickly.

“The system really isn’t ready for this at all,” Ragan says.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad says 26 other states have moved Medicaid patients into managed care plans. But the three Democrats say only four other states have shifted all Medicaid patients into managed care plans, while the rest of the state use managed care for small groups of Medicaid patients, like those being treated for mental illness.

Senator Liz Mathis of Cedar Rapids says federal agencies are finding “inconsistencies” with what Branstad Administration officials are telling them about the plan compared to what health care providers and Medicaid patients in Iowa are saying.

“No one should be left without care. Everyone should know who they need to go to for care. They should have basic access to care,” Mathis says. “…They are most concerned about that as well.”

Federal officials plan a “site visit” in Iowa next month to talk with Iowa Medicaid patients as well as Iowa health care providers about managed care.

Branstad met with the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week about the proposed Iowa Medicaid changes and he called it a productive meeting. The three Democrats from the Iowa Senate who are in Washington, D.C. today say they can “only be hopeful” that federal officials will reject Branstad’s bid for a federal waiver, so he can implement the managed care plan on January 1.

ACLU Iowa leader says governor’s action on Syrian refugees is ‘fear mongering”

Jeremy Rosen

Jeremy Rosen

American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa executive director Jeremy Rosen says Governor Terry Branstad has taken the wrong approach in dealing with the Syrian refugees. Branstad ordered state agencies Monday to halt an resettlement of the refugees in the state.

“Well this approach is really inconsistent with the approach that Iowa has taken for the better part of 40 years going back to Governor Ray, who displayed an open and welcoming approach to refugees,” Rosen says. “We really think that’s the approach that Iowans support, and so we were surprised and disappointed by the governor’s action.”

Rosen says there is a very “establish and careful” process for bringing refugees into the country. “There are background checks, there are biometric tests to check and see whether anybody shows up an any kind of terrorist or other government watch list. There are medical screenings, there are in-person interviews with the Department of Homeland Security,” Rosen says.

The governor told reporters he is concerned following the terrorist attacks in Paris and said “I don’t want people coming here without a very careful vetting to make sure that they could have been radicalized or been part of an ISIS operation.”

Rosen says the federal government’s process does exactly what the governor wants. “The governor should really be familiar with that process and should understand that the federal government is very carefully vetting any refugees before they are resettled,” Rosen says. “I would still say that we were surprised to hear him express concern with a process that he should really be quite familiar with.” Rosen says the governor is the voice on a lot of issues for Iowans, and his approach in this situation has made concerns over the Syrian refugees worse.

“It is unfortunate that instead of putting out a well-reasoned, common sense message, he instead chose to engage in fear mongering,” Rosen says. He says the Syrian refugees are fleeing terrorism in their home country and politicians should not falsely link the tragedy in Paris with the settlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. Rosen says the governor should reconsider his decision to try and block the resettlement of these refugees in Iowa.