The Hawk Eye. Aug. 5, 2012.

Court got it wrong

It's unfortunate the Iowa Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, ruled the disciplinary action taken against two Atlantic School District employees can remain a secret.

The employees were part of a strip search, in violation of school policy, of five female students after another student reported $100 missing from her purse. The money was not found.

Assistant principal and activities director Paul Croghan approved the strip search. It was conducted in the girls' locker room by a female employee. Croghan eventually resigned from the district.

The American Civil Liberties Union sought to know what disciplinary action was taken against them, if any. The district court ruled in favor of secrecy. The Supreme Court agreed. Barely.

The court said that information can remain confidential under the Iowa Open Records Act provision that allows "personal information in confidential personnel records of public bodies" to remain secret.

Chief Justice Mark Cady, in a dissenting opinion, said the majority opinion takes a step backward from the new age of open government. "It's a step in the wrong direction," he wrote.

Cady's right. This is one instance where there is compelling public interest in how the school district handled the matter. That public interest outweighs the desire for secrecy.

What if the district did nothing to punish the employees? What if they went to the other extreme?

Keeping the public in the dark doesn't allow the people of Atlantic to know how the school board dealt with a very serious matter.

So now the Iowa Legislature should act. Swiftly, just as it did last session in creating a new state commission charged with ensuring transparency in government.

There are occasions when disclosure serves the public's best interest. This is one of them.

Taking disciplinary action against school employees because of some transgression they imposed on the children under their care is a matter that shouldn't be hidden from the public.

But the majority of the justices said there was not a need to balance the public's need to know with the right to privacy of the individuals.

We disagree, and hope lawmakers see to it to lean on the side of disclosure in cases like this.

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The Des Moines Register. Aug. 3, 2012.

Spiker's troubling display of intolerance

Iowa voters drew a line in the sand a half century ago when they approved a constitutional amendment that removed partisan politics from the selection of judges. A.J. Spiker, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, crossed that line Wednesday when he issued a statement calling on voters to vote against the retention of Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins on Nov. 6.

Wiggins is one of seven justices who ruled unanimously in 2008 that Iowa's Constitution protects the legal rights of all Iowans regardless of their sexual orientation.

Spiker's statement is a blatant and unprecedented move by a party leader to inject partisan politics back into the judiciary. The amendment to the Iowa Constitution replaced partisan elections of judges with a process where judges are chosen based on their merit. It was a huge step forward in making Iowa's court system among the most respected in the nation.

On Wednesday, the top officer in the Republican Party invited Iowa voters to take a huge step backward.

"The Republican Party of Iowa believes we must be a state based on laws and not the whims of unelected activist judges attempting to impose their personal views on the public," Spiker's statement said. "The people of Iowa are tired of increasingly powerful bureaucrats arrogantly and deceitfully instituting law when they have no justification or ability to do so."

The statement reads like the sort of screed that is dashed off in a moment of passion but is shredded when better judgment prevails. Spiker had no such second thoughts, however.

It is hard to believe such intemperate and intolerant words would come from the leader of a party that is rightfully proud of its heritage of defending individual liberty in this state going back to the Civil War when Iowans volunteered to fight for liberty for enslaved African-Americans. It is a libel on the Iowa Supreme Court's heritage of defending the rights of minorities dating back to Iowa's roots as a U.S. territory.

The statement recklessly throws around words like "arrogantly" and "deceitfully" to undermine the legitimacy of the judicial branch of government. His reference to "whims of unelected activist judges" exposes unvarnished contempt for judges and a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the courts in a constitutionally divided government like ours.

It is getting particularly tiresome to see the label of "judicial activism" applied to unpopular rulings. It should be clear to all by now that "judicial activism" is in the eye of the beholder and usually describes rulings the person dislikes.

The label was used in 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court said blacks-only public schools were unconstitutional. It was used in 2000 when the court stepped in to stop the vote recount in Florida and declared George W. Bush president. It was heard in 2008 when the court ruled the Second Amendment protected individual gun owners. It was used in June when the court upheld the health insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

Whether you agree or disagree with those decisions, it would have been wrong to suggest that the judges responsible for them should have been removed from the bench. It is equally wrong to call for punishing Iowa judges for a decision some do not agree with.

You can disagree with the Iowa Supreme Court's decision without wanting to remove the justices who supported it. Unfortunately the voters did that two years ago by removing three justices who happened to be up for retention that November. That was wrong. Now some people want to repeat the wrong.

Sadly, the leader of the Iowa Republican Party wants the party to lead the charge. We hope other Iowa Republicans who disagree with Spiker's attack on judicial independence will come forward and say so.

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Ames Tribune. Aug. 3, 2012.

Wind energy tax breaks are bipartisan in Iowa

The wind that the Midwest is famous for has pushed Iowa Republicans into the uncomfortable position of opposing their party's presumed presidential nominee.

On Monday, Shawn McCoy, a spokesman for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's Iowa campaign, told The Des Moines Register that Romney favored allowing existing wind energy tax credits to expire at the end of the year.

U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, an Iowa Republican, responded by saying, "It's the wrong decision. Wind energy represents one of the most innovative and exciting sectors of Iowa's economy."

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who wrote the original wind energy tax credit legislation, reportedly threatened his fellow Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee that he'd join with the Democrats in voting to keep the credits. Some Republicans on the committee had tried to remove the wind energy tax credit from a package of tax breaks under consideration.

"It's not right to single out one energy incentive over the others before a broader tax reform debate," Grassley said in a statement Wednesday.

The package, including a one-year extension of the tax credits at a cost of $3.3 billion, was passed Thursday by a bipartisan vote of 19-5. The full Senate is expected to take up the credits when it returns after the summer break.

Also Thursday, Gov. Terry Branstad suggested in an interview with Radio Iowa that perhaps Romney needs to be "educated as to how important this is." Branstad blamed "a bunch of East Coast people" in Romney's campaign for the candidate's position on the wind tax credits.

The Iowa Republicans are right. Wind is important. It's big business here, and Iowa is a leader in the industry. The Iowa Wind Energy Association reports that the state's 2,893 turbines, 100 of which can be found near Colo, provide 20 percent of the electricity produced in the state. Power generated in Iowa is second only to that in Texas. The industry employs between 6,000 and 7,000 Iowans, and landowners who lease land for the turbines collect $14.46 million a year.

Iowa is also a swing state in this presidential election year, and Iowa voters like wind energy. A poll conducted in July by the American Wind Energy Association found that 57 percent of Iowans — and 59 percent of independent voters — would be less likely to vote for a candidate who did not support expanding wind power generation.

So there are a multitude of practical reasons for a candidate running for president to support the wind energy industry. President Obama is a staunch supporter, and on Friday released a new Web video in praise of the industry and its potential to generate both clean energy and jobs.

There are also very real geopolitical and global reasons to support wind energy. Most people agree that ending or reducing U.S. dependence on oil from unstable regions is a good idea. Developing more of our own energy sources is a necessary step toward that end. And, unless 98 percent of climate scientists are wrong, we as a species need to curb our appetite for fossil fuels, the burning of which is contributing to global warming. Wind is clean, and we'll never run out of it.

But wind energy is also a young industry, competing with the deeply entrenched fossil fuel industry — which also receives billions in government subsidies every year. Wind needs a help a little longer to get established.

It's something Democrats and Republicans, at least in Iowa, can agree upon: Pulling the plug on wind energy at this point in its development is a bad idea.

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Quad-City Times. Aug. 5, 2012.

Drought foils vacation plans for farmers ... but not for Congress

Congress surrendered to partisan squabbling again, leaving Washington for a monthlong recess without addressing the problem that has desperate Quad-City ag producers lining up at Farm Service Agency offices.

Staff in those offices won't be taking August off.

"Oh my gosh. We've got folders stacked everywhere," said Tom Lane, director of the FSA office in Maquoketa. More than 100 producers have come in to seek waivers to allow grazing and baling on conservation acres, environmentally sensitive areas they're paid not to farm. They now can bale about half the growth on wetland or waterway acres, retrieving low-nutrient fill that helps hungry livestock survive, but with little nutritional value to grow a herd.

"A lot of people are getting pretty desperate for hay," said Diane Burke, Conservation Reserve Program technician for the FSA in Clinton County.

The next step is culling herds to reduce reliance on expensive feed.

Lane says Jackson County livestock producers, "are doing their due diligence to get herds down to manageable size. It's going to be tough."

The rules are complex, and FSA staff must interpret them individually for each producer. And none of this work provides a long-term solution.

That's the job Congress left behind for its August recess. The Senate approved a five-year farm bill June 21, giving the House a month to follow suit.

A last-minute compromise failed, as did a one-year extension. Rep. Bruce Braley joined with some Republicans to get the farm bill on the agenda over Speaker John Boehner's objections, but couldn't garner enough GOP support.

Discussion of a short-term disaster-relief plan also fizzled.

The enormously complex farm bill approved by the Senate includes cuts to food stamp programs, limits on subsidies and an emphasis on more insurance. The atmosphere in Washington and the looming August recess made it impossible to proceed.

Apparently, canceling a planned vacation wasn't an option for the House. Congressmen return home to campaign and commiserate with constituents about partisan gridlock.

When they visit their ag communities, they won't find anyone on vacation. They'll find livestock producers scrambling for feed. They'll find FSA staff combing through maps and contracts to figure how much grass producers can cull from marginal land to limp through the drought.

Worse, these producers have no idea how to plan for next year. Should they abandon CRP set-asides and plant enough grass to weather another drought? Should they invest in feed to maintain a herd in anticipation of soaring livestock prices?

Will Congress eliminate ethanol provisions that consume a portion of the corn crop?

These questions, and many more, depend entirely on the actions of House members sent on vacation by leadership at a time when American farmers need them most.