Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Des Moines Register. Sept. 12, 2021.

Editorial: This is not a drill. Abortion rights are in dire danger, and Iowans will have to fight to preserve them

Arguments about abortion rights in America are cacophonous, often redundant and sometimes hyperbolic. Even the most passionate advocates could be excused for mentally disengaging at times in the past half-century.

Complacency is no longer defensible. This is not a drill. The path to stripping away abortion rights — including in Iowa — is apparent, straightforward and imminent. Those who value these rights need to speak up now: to their representatives and their social circles, at the ballot box and on the streets.

The pace of developments has been dizzying, so here’s a recap of dominoes already toppled and those poised to fall:

Happening now: In Texas, acts as simple as driving a friend to a clinic could lead to financial ruin because of a new law allowing any stranger to sue and collect $10,000 from anybody who helps facilitate an abortion more than six weeks into pregnancy. Many women don’t know they’re pregnant until about then, one of myriad problems commentators have identified. Many clinics have shut down because of the prospect of liability.

It’s a cynically drafted law that five U.S. Supreme Court justices cynically allowed to take effect, saying with a shrug that unconstitutional laws enforced by vigilantes rather than by government authorities are beyond the reach of the judiciary’s emergency powers.

In December or later: The Supreme Court will hear arguments in a Mississippi case asking “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.” Roe v. Wade in 1973 said, and subsequent decisions have affirmed, that states cannot categorically outlaw such abortions. Observers expect that protection to be wiped out by June 2022 because six of the nine justices have explicitly or implicitly indicated their opposition to the Roe standard. The indifference toward abortion rights in the Texas case only reinforces that analysis.

In 2022: Iowa’s seven-justice Supreme Court will hear a third lawsuit by Planned Parenthood against Gov. Kim Reynolds, this one involving a 24-hour waiting period after an initial visit before an abortion can be performed. A district court judge struck down the law, passed in the wee hours of the 2020 legislative session, based on the court’s 2018 ruling that the Iowa Constitution provides vigorous protection of abortion rights.

But Reynolds has replaced four of the five justices who voted for that outcome, and one of them has written several times that the court shouldn’t be bashful about overruling erroneous decisions about protections secured by the Iowa Constitution. The governor herself has said that her selections brought a liberal court “more into balance.” And that was when she’d made only two selections.

Two-thirds of the Republicans in the state Legislature signed their names to a brief arguing to overturn the 2018 decision.

In 2024: Using a belt-and-suspenders approach, abortion opponents also are poised to have Iowans vote in November 2024 on amending the Iowa Constitution to take away the assurance that pregnant people can make choices about their bodies. The language will be on the ballot barring a drastic transformation in the Legislature’s political composition.

Only in the case of the final decision on the amendment — by voters — is there serious question about whether anti-abortion advocates have enough support to achieve at least some of their aims. An Iowa Poll for the Register in March found that only a third of Iowans supported amending the state constitution.

Iowa was lauded after the 2018 ruling for having some of the nation’s most robust state protections for women, shielded from mischief by federal judges. In three years, Republicans’ legislative gains and a run of retirements and tragic illnesses involving justices has placed it all in jeopardy.

Many Iowans acknowledge the potential of new life but agree pregnancy decisions are personal. What can they do?

Shout until they are heard. Public protest is a time-honored and effective tactic; the June 2020 policing law in Iowa that followed protests of George Floyd’s murder is a recent example. Attend public meetings, including lawmakers’ town halls and forums. Tell lawmakers that Iowans do not support a law like Texas’ here.

Elect state legislators who affirm and will defend abortion rights. This board has recently advocated putting Democrats in charge, but maybe some of the 30 elected Republicans who didn’t sign the brief in the Planned Parenthood case can make tough votes once the courts put them in position where the laws they enact will take away Iowans’ rights. Before, they were merely scoring political points with radical legislation that the courts were expected to block.

Elect a Democrat in Iowa’s 2022 U.S. Senate race. President Joe Biden will need a larger majority in the Senate to ensure better federal judges and justices are confirmed.

People who wish to preserve equality can rest no longer.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Sept. 12, 2021.

Editorial: Iowa’s method gold standard in redistricting

With 2020 census data now in hand, states have begun the task of drawing legislative district maps. For some states — like Illinois — this marks the beginning of what’s sure to be difficult process that will no doubt result in maps highly skewed in favor of Democrats, who control the House, the Senate and the governor’s mansion.

In fact, maps already drawn by Democrats and passed by state legislators — along party lines, of course — were immediately dubbed “strongly gerrymandered” by nonpartisan analysts. And now Republicans and other groups have filed several lawsuits. Gerrymandering is the skill honed by politicians over time to manipulate district boundaries to greatly favor one party over another.

That’s how it works in Illinois.

In Iowa, the process is just beginning, and it couldn’t look more different. Since 1970, the Iowa State Legislature has conducted redistricting via a bipartisan commission that, with nonpartisan legislative staff, draws maps based on criteria enshrined in state law. Then, the map goes to the Legislature for approval. If it fails on the first try, the Legislative Service Agency will develop a second map. If the second map fails, the Legislature can begin amending. Usually, it never even gets that far.

Iowa has the gold standard for drawing legislative maps. Illinois has one of the worst examples. Last time, Wisconsin’s maps were highly gerrymandered. This time around, many lawmakers and citizens are calling for change and a process more like Iowa’s. Wisconsin state officials should heed that call and provide fair maps for the people.

Dubuque residents interested in having a say on community transportation needs have an opportunity to weigh in on those issues. Additionally, Dubuque officials will host a virtual public meeting at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, and topics will include bike or scooter sharing programs, curb management to accommodate new roadway users, automated/connected vehicle technology, smart infrastructure to better manage parking and transit equity.

If you or someone you know faces transportation challenges, city officials would like to hear more about these difficulties. Take the survey at cityofdubuque.org/transportationsurvey or register for the meeting at https://bit.ly/3DREQwc.

Feedback will help officials draft an action plan for implementing transportation and mobility strategies in Dubuque.

Transportation needs can be a significant obstacle for workers. Addressing mobility issues could mean building the community’s workforce.

It’s impressive to hear Dubuque County Sheriff Joe Kennedy talk of his department’s success with the house-arrest program revived over the past year. Since last fall, 77 people have used it to serve their sentences, with only one whose privileges were rescinded.

That’s highly successful, and the ramifications are significant. Using a house arrest program can lower the jail population, saving money and creating a better rehabilitation system while lessening the spread of illness (such as COVID-19) in crowded, confined spaces.

Reviving the monitored house-arrest program was one of those ideas that emerged amid the pandemic and makes sense to carry forward. Those in the program are monitored via an ankle bracelet by county jail staff and can only leave home to go to work or to attend to medical needs. Another side benefit — it keeps people in the workforce at a time when they are desperately needed.

Kudos to Kennedy and his team for exploring a fresh approach to the house arrest program and making it work for Dubuque County.

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Quad-City Times. Sept. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Be wary of scammers

Over the last few weeks, we’ve learned of two costly email scams that have conned local governments in the Quad-Cities out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In Rock Island County, a scammer posing as a vendor lured the unsuspecting auditor’s office into wiring $115,000 in taxpayer money to phony accounts. And in LeClaire, a similar email scam relieved the small city of about $222,000 over a four-month period between November 2020 and February of this year. (About half has been recovered.)

Nobody should be happy when thieves are able to con public money out of local governments, no matter their methods. The public has a right to expect that the stewards of taxpayer funds take great care to guard the money we send to them.

At the same time, these email scamers are becoming ever more clever. As John Johnson, founder and president of the Docent Institute, a Bettendorf-based nonprofit that focuses on cybersecurity education, said, “not everything looks like a Nigerian prince scam.”

In other words, these types of scams aren’t always easily spotted. Nonetheless, it’s something that anybody charged with safeguarding funds should be alert to. We’re quite sure that none of our local governments wants to be the third to appear in the news this year for falling for this kind of swindle.

These scams also are becoming more frequent, too. The FBI has warned that these types of Business Email Compromise, or BEC, scams are increasingly targeting governments.

The agency said individual losses have ranged from $10,000 to $4 million. And with the pandemic prompting a shift of a significant part of the workforce to remote work, the risks have only grown greater.

If the incidents in Rock Island County and LeClaire haven’t already, they ought to alert other local governments to review the procedures and training they have in place to protect against such scams. And local elected leaders, who have the ultimate responsibility for the wise use and safeguarding of these public funds, ought to be quizzing their administrative staffs about what they have in place to prevent this.

This, of course, isn’t just a problem in the public sector. Private individuals and entities also are victims. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said in its most recent report it got nearly 800,000 complaints in 2020, a 69% increase over the year before.

The agency said that Americans were scammed out of $4.2 billion in online scams, up from $1.5 billion just five years ago. The Business Email Compromise was the biggest category, with adjusted losses last year of $1.8 billion, an increase from the year before. (Adjusted losses include funds recovered by law enforcement or banks.)

It’s remarkable how the examples cited by the FBI are so similar to what happened here.

In one example, a county government got taken last fall when it received an email with new payment instructions from a legitimate vendor email address (sound familiar?). After failing to get a $1.6 million payment, the vendor contacted the county, which then referred the vendor to the email address. It turns out, the vendor’s email address had been compromised and the payment instructions were fraudulent.

In 2019, the FBI said, a small city government got a spoofed email purporting to be from a known contractor requesting a change in payment method. The city complied, but later was contacted by the legitimate contractor saying they had not requested the change. The adjusted loss: $3 million.

Government and private experts say that additional training can help, alerting workers how to spot these types of scams and teaching them how to respond. The FBI even has a video about business email scams. The FBI also has a laundry list of commonsense tips, such as skepticism about unexplained urgency regarding payments; last minute changes and unsolicited requests to verify information.

Then, there is this commonsense advice: that employees verify all payment changes and transactions in person or via a known telephone number.

Of course, this kind of advice seems obvious once a scam has been perpetrated. And it’s easier to practice this type of diligence in an office that hasn’t been devastated by budget cuts.

In LeClaire, we’re told, steps already have been taken to put in place additional safeguards, such as multi-factor authentication and other security software applications. Rock Island County also has been investigating the circumstances of the theft there.

Again, we hope other local governments are paying attention — and that they aren’t the next to fall for these scams.

If the incidents in Rock Island County and LeClaire haven’t already, they ought to alert other local governments to review the procedures and training they have in place to protect against such scams.

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