Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

The Des Moines Register. Dec. 17, 2015 Patrol forfeitures target out-of-state drivers. A spokesman for the Iowa State Patrol told the Des Moines Register this year that the agency was not targeting out-of-state drivers for traffic stops. He didn't mince words, either. "I can tell you, we're...

The Des Moines Register. Dec. 17, 2015

Patrol forfeitures target out-of-state drivers.

A spokesman for the Iowa State Patrol told the Des Moines Register this year that the agency was not targeting out-of-state drivers for traffic stops.

He didn't mince words, either.

"I can tell you, we're not targeting out-of-staters," Sgt. Scott Bright said. "We're out there enforcing the law, and they make a traffic stop, and that's when they find the criminal activity that's occurring coming across the interstates."

Now consider the sworn testimony of Trooper Eric Vander Weil, an Iowa State Patrol officer who stopped John Saccento and Robert Pardee in June 2012 as they traveled along Interstate 80 in a Toyota with California plates.

Vander Weil testified that he pulled the car over as part of his "interdiction" work for the patrol, the purpose of which, he said, was to stop out-of-state cars for traffic violations to determine whether the occupants were engaged in other, more serious crimes.

Vander Weil acknowledged he was "typically not stopping (cars with) in-state license plates for interdiction activities." He then went even further, saying "the traffic stop for Mr. Pardee and Saccento was really just the avenue through which I could conduct a criminal interdiction investigation."

Court records indicate that since joining the patrol's interdiction team, Vander Weil has issued more than 2,000 citations and warnings, and 92 percent of them were written to out-of-state drivers.

In 2013, the Register reported that of the roughly 22,000 warnings and citations issued by the patrol's interdiction teams since 2008, 86 percent went to out-of-state motorists.

Those statistics, and Vander Weil's sworn testimony, plainly contradict the patrol's official, public stance that it doesn't target out-of-state drivers.

But what's even more concerning than the patrol's outright denial is its determination to continue down this path that, oh, by the way, sometimes results in the agency laying claim to huge amounts of cash belonging to motorists who have not been convicted of a crime.

In Pardee's case, he was charged with possession of marijuana after Vander Weil detained him and a canine unit sniffed out small amounts of the drug inside Saccento's car. In searching the car, Vander Weil also found $33,100 in cash.

Pardee was acquitted of the drug charge, but the patrol laid claim to the $33,100, which Pardee said was his. After a judge upheld the patrol's seizure of the money, Pardee appealed, arguing the money would never have been found had the trooper not detained him to wait for the canine unit.

On Dec. 11, the Iowa Supreme Court sided with Pardee. The ruling said the trooper's rationale for detaining Pardee — the car's cluttered, lived-in look and Pardee's nervousness — were not evidence of criminal activity and couldn't be used to justify a search.

Justice David Wiggins went even further than the majority, saying "pretextual stops" — the practice of pulling people over for minor traffic violations to facilitate a search for evidence of other crimes — violates the U.S. Constitution.

The case now goes back to Poweshiek County District Court for a new hearing on whether the money should be returned to Pardee.

In the wake of this ruling, a spokesman for the Iowa State Patrol said the agency isn't likely to make wholesale changes in the way troopers do their work.

"This decision is based on the specific facts in the case," said Sgt. Nathan Ludwig. "It does not 'dismantle' anything."

And that is precisely why the Iowa Legislature needs to act.

Lawmakers need to prohibit these pretextual "fishing expeditions" by the police; the targeting of out-of-state drivers; and the seizure of money and property belonging to people who have not been convicted of a crime.

They also need to address the "profit motive" of police agencies by ensuring that whatever cash and property is lawfully seized is not used to enrich the agencies responsible for the seizures.

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The Mason City Globe Gazette. Dec. 16, 2015

Worth County sees growth in two projects.

Growth in Worth County is evident in two highly visible yet distinctly different projects.

One fits perfectly with Iowa's push for alternative fuels while the other will help expand distribution of highly popular craft beers. Both will help bolster the county's economy and, in one case, create a substantial number of jobs.

Iowa's alternative-fuels industry is hailed by experts, even presidential candidates alike. One reason is plants like New Haven Chemicals, which is close to opening at the Manly Terminal.

It will produce a catalyst in biofuels, sodium methylate, with officials expecting production to start Feb. 1. The plant will produce 24,000 metric tons of the liquid chemical yearly, expected to be enough for the 15 biodiesel companies within about 100 miles of Manly.

That demand is one reason New Heaven's parent company, TSS Group of Saudi Arabia, chose the United States and specifically Manly for its second plant and first in the United States.

"We decided to stop bringing it from outside," said New Heaven Chemicals Director Prasad Devineni. "And Iowa being one of the biggest biodiesel-producing states, it made perfect sense to look at a plant right here."

Manly was especially attractive for TSS Group because the main component of sodium methylate, methanol, is already stored at the Manly Terminal. Many biodiesel plants are also located in northern Iowa.

Officials estimate the facility will generate gross revenues of $15 million to $20 million.

Iowa shows continued financial support for alternative-energy projects, and New Heaven Chemicals landed multiple economic incentives to come to Manly.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority provided a package of $128,000 in loans and $402,000 in tax incentives. Half of the loans do not have to be repaid if goals are met, including creating 16 jobs paying at least $14.79 an hour.

In addition to state incentives, Worth County approved $30,000 in cash and a five-year tax-increment financing rebate of 100 percent.

As always, a driving force has to be behind such projects, and in this case it is Winn-Worth-Betco - the economic development agency for Winnebago and Worth counties. Director Teresa Nicholson said the organization quickly saw that Manly provided a strategically beneficial location to the company, questions were answered to its satisfaction and the match was made.

"The products they produce here can be delivered within 100 miles and used within that 100 miles, so we were very happy that they chose our location," Nicholson said.

It seems to be a match that will be productive for years to come.

In Northwood, a small brewery is taking giant steps to allow for distribution of its tasty craft beers. Workers at Worth Brewing Co. were busy recently hooking up several giant double-wall stainless steel tanks in the new brew room in the 800 block of Central Avenue - directly across the street from the original tap room that has found great success under the passionate guidance of owners Peter and Margaret Ausenhus.

The expansion - three to four times the size of the original - will give Worth Brewing the ability to "start to sell kegged beer in the region of northern Iowa and southern Minnesota," hopefully by spring, said Peter Ausenhus, the brewmeister. As it is now, the brewery sells everything it makes on location.

"We run out of beer over there," retail manager Tyler Trenhaile said of the current location.

And with good reason: The brewery not only has a strong local following but continues to gain national recognition, such as recently being named one of Food & Wine Magazine's 50 Amazing Nanobreweries in 50 States.

Peter Ausenhus said there are more than 4,000 breweries in the country, "so to be named as one of the good small brewers is a gratifying honor to have."

While no one can tell the future, there's a pretty good chance these two Worth County businesses will see success in expanding their markets.

We commend those who have a hand in helping them grow.

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The Quad City Times. Dec. 18, 2015

University of Iowa stinks of cronyism.

Cronyism and political patronage bear a distinctive stench. And the University of Iowa's odor is wafting across the state.

Politically connected university administrators, in 2013, pulled an end-run on the Board of Regents, doling out no-bid contracts for polling and "grassroots advocacy" to a firm owned by former state GOP Chairman Matt Strawn, says a recent Associated Press investigation. More than $320,000 in university funds have since poured into Strawn's firm and associated, GOP-controlled businesses. And the propaganda campaign falls under UI's vice president of external relations Peter Matthes, who just so happened to work for the state Senate Republican caucus during Strawn's tenure as party chairman.

Even the method of doling out the cash hits the nostrils with an ugly funk. The initial $24,900 handout fell a cool $100 below the threshold to require the services to go out to bid. Once up and running, the scheme became a cash-cow for Strawn. And, after everything, the university is throttling transparency and refusing to release Strawn's polling data.

As if this bit of putrid meat wasn't rank enough, state Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter, this week, told Iowa Public Radio that he was in the dark about the sweetheart deal all along.

Rastetter correctly asserts that the deal should have been sent out to bid in the first place. But the situation exposes a fatal flaw in the bidding process, which, in this case, failed to protect taxpayers and students from some good-old boy backslapping.

Strawn's non-competitive selection had nothing to do with political favoritism, parroted university spokeswoman Jeneane Beck. His firm "provided better communication options across multiple platforms," she said.

For all of their attempts, university officials can't bury this fiasco in jargon.

Clearly, the Board of Regents should overhaul bidding thresholds. A system that permits unceasing extensions of a one-time deal — particularly one clearly designed to circumvent transparency — shouldn't exist.

Lower the limit — $10,000 sounds about right. Release the information gathered under the deal. And, while they're at it, board members should pursue more rigorous external auditing.

Simply patching the now-exposed shortcomings aren't enough. This deal stinks.

Every administrator with knowledge of the Strawn deal should be investigated. Anyone who willfully dispensed taxpayer funds like candy should be given a one-way ticket to the unemployment line.

This isn't a partisan issue. We're not attacking Republicans for the sake of it. We're not taking a swipe at Gov. Terry Branstad or his political machine.

The coordinated, intentional circumvention of public accountability should raise the hackles of every Iowan, regardless of political stripe. The potential use of public funds to reward partisans should anger each and every taxpayer. And the university's half-baked excuses to flout the state Freedom of Information Act serves only to keep this farce rolling along.

Something reeks in Iowa City. The funk won't lift until University of Iowa comes clean.

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The Sioux City Journal. Dec. 10, 2015.

Budget realities require conservative, disciplined approach.

First, the good news. Iowa state revenue is up this year over last year and is predicted to grow by 4 percent next year.

The bad news? Projections for fiscal 2016 and 2017 revenue growth continue to shrink.

In March, the state Revenue Estimating Conference forecast 5.2 percent growth for this fiscal year. In October, the estimate fell to 3.4 percent. Last week, the REC reduced its projection again, this time to 3.3 percent.

In October, the REC projection for fiscal 2017 revenue growth was 4.2 percent. Last week, the REC revised its estimate for next year down, to 4 percent.

"We're continuing to grow, which is a good thing, but we're growing more at a moderate to slow pace than an exuberant pace," David Roederer, REC member and Gov. Terry Branstad's management director, said last week.

The revenue numbers should give state leaders pause as they approach the start of a new legislative session and budget decisions.

Past commitments for commercial property tax and education reforms, an expected increase in Medicaid spending and requests for increased funding from state agencies will put budget pressure on Iowa legislators. Slower revenue growth will ratchet up the pressure.

Don't get us wrong. Overall, we believe, Iowa is in sound fiscal shape. At the end of the last fiscal year, the state had more than $700 million in reserve accounts.

Still, the need to keep our state's fiscal foundation strong through the next budget year and beyond demands a conservative, disciplined approach by legislators.

One area sure to be contentious again next year is education.

During the last session, the split-control Legislature didn't agree on state aid to public schools until June 1, some seven weeks after the April 15 date by which local school districts must certify budgets for the next school year. In the end, lawmakers passed a 1.25 percent increase in state aid, plus a one-time investment of an additional $55 million. Later, Branstad vetoed the one-time money.

As we have said before, state government next year should commit to moving up the decision on state aid for public schools so superintendents and school boards have the information they need to make decisions and craft their own budgets as early as possible.

In a June 18 editorial, we suggested legislators reach agreement on K-12 school funding by no later than the end of March. If both sides embrace the need to do better for local school districts by improving the time frame for a decision on state aid, this should be an achievable goal.

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