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Editorial: Some progress made this session

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa Legislature wrapped up its dreadfully short four-month session last week that, while displaying a few bright spots, was mostly defined by a general stasis on most of the state’s major political issues.

Perhaps the most significant legislation to emerge from Des Moines was the overhaul of the state’s penal code concerning the transmission of HIV and other infectious diseases, a law that essentially criminalized HIV-infected citizens of the state. Previously Iowans who passed HIV to others inadvertently, or even just engaged in sexual intercourse while having HIV, could be thrown in jail for 20 years. Now, if the disease is transmitted, the maximum sentence is five years, while lack of transmission is only considered a serious misdemeanor, an unequivocal civil-rights accomplishment that the Legislature should rightfully be proud of. 

Other positive developments include the continued tuition freeze for the regents’ universities in the form of increased funding for public education, the banning of the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, forcing higher education facilities to develop ways to give college credit to military veterans for skills acquired in their service, requiring the Iowa National Guard to issue an annual report on sexual assault to the Governor’s Office, and more stringent penalties for human traffickers.

The Legislature also, however, put several bills out to pasture that could have significantly ameliorated several of the state’s major crises. A 10-cent gas-tax increase, which could have been used to improve the state’s dismal infrastructure, went nowhere. The expansion of high-speed Internet access to every corner of the state failed and a proposal to expand the state’s pre-K programs and mandate Taser training for state law-enforcement officials who use the device also fizzled out.

The state also failed to pass government-accountability bills, which would end closed-door settlements with public employees in order to hide corrupt practices from coming to light and enact legal protections for whistleblowers. In addition to this, the Legislature also failed to act on legislation that would have forced school officials to inform parents of bullying incidents involving their children and expanded the definition of bullying to include cyber bullying.

The Legislature also horribly blundered with its implementation of tax breaks for the NASCAR Speedway in Newton and the Knoxville Raceway (totaling around $12 million) — yet another depressing example of local municipalities willingness to engage in deleterious sports welfare.

The most high-profile “reform” of the legislative session, the legalization of medical cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy, while certainly a welcome relaxing of the state’s draconian drug policy, was simply a canard masquerading as reform. At this point in the debate over U.S. drug policy, anything short of full decriminalization (or for that matter legalization) is a disappointment.

What’s more disappointing, however, is what the Legislature refused to even debate. On the state’s minimum wage, standing at the painfully low $7.75 an hour, the lawmakers refused to budge.

Rapists can still seek and gain custody of the children they conceive via rape. And the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, headed by Republican Matt Schulz, continues its overzealous pursuit of phantom voter-fraud cases, which simply displays a certain disdain on the part of the state for the practice of democracy.

It is impossible to deny that advancements were made over these past four months. But when the Legislature reconvenes in January, it will have much to accomplish in order to improve the lives of the citizens it is supposed to represent.


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