Editorial Roundup:

Des Moines Register. June 23, 2020.

No more waiting: Des Moines must approve real changes to policing practices

“I think there’s just no acknowledgment that a large segment of the population, this minority population, they have no confidence in law enforcement.”

Des Moines attorney Gina Messamer gave this quotation to Register reporter Stephen Gruber-Miller. It sounds as if it could be referring to the deaths of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, or a response to advocacy this month at the Iowa Statehouse and Des Moines City Hall for government action to mitigate disparate treatment of Black residents and other people of color.

It is none of those things. Messamer was reacting — one year ago — to a 4-3 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that declined to endorse greater skepticism of pretextual traffic stops, when officers pull over a driver for one reason but then use the stop to investigate something else.

Gruber-Miller’s June 28, 2019, story mentions earlier that “the city of Des Moines is considering a proposal to prohibit discrimination and racial profiling by city employees, which was widely criticized for not going far enough.”

That remains wholly true today, when the Des Moines City Council will again consider the profiling ordinance and hear complaints that it is inadequate. One of the reasons proffered by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is that the ordinance is silent on … pretextual traffic stops.

The problems in question are anything but new. The extraordinary developments nationwide in the four weeks since Floyd’s death reflect, in one sense, merely the latest evidence that existing approaches to policing and criminal justice don’t produce fairness.

It’s understandable that city of Des Moines officials and council members want time to settle on the best possible policies. But they’ve had time. They could have negotiated demands for an aggressive anti-racial-profiling ordinance weeks or months ago and patted themselves on the back for their foresight when protests erupted this spring.

They did not. The city and its leaders owe it to people of color, other residents and visitors and the Des Moines Police Department to take meaningful action without further delay.

They got off to a good start with the proposal released Thursday to have a task force study, between now and October, how police could be directed to pay less attention to marijuana possession. It’s a surprising and welcome step regarding arrests that disproportionately affect people of color, and it shows the city is listening to advocates. The council will need to follow through with urgency when it receives the task force report this fall.

With regard to the ordinance itself, its evolution since the council’s last meeting is another signal of seriousness. Several provisions have gained more teeth. For example, the new version now provides that “where use of force occurs, officers have a duty to intervene to prevent or stop the use of unreasonable force by another officer when it is safe and a reasonable opportunity exists,” where previously, employees were merely “encouraged” to step in if they saw bias or profiling.

The city must go further. Perhaps the most important step is to set up some form of independent review for police actions. Even if the police department’s Office of Professional Standards exercises perfect objectivity in assessing officers’ conduct, it’s really irrelevant: The perception persists that police tend to bless their colleagues’ choices. That make a formal system for outside evaluation a necessary investment in justice and public confidence.

As advocates for transparency, we support calls for additional data collection and disclosure concerning traffic stops. Without data, it’s impossible to determine definitively if bias exists in traffic stops and root out problems. And the city should resolve that police won’t pursue prosecutions based on pretextual traffic stops.

Above all, city officials should keep listening and stop delaying. When they meet just after the July 4 holiday, they should give final approval to an ordinance that puts justice first.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. June 25, 2020.

Lawmakers wrapped up session with increase to school funding

Iowa’s lawmakers recently demonstrated that they are capable of getting things done in a short period of time.

After an unprecedented recess prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic sent the legislators home in the spring, they returned to Des Moines during the first week of June and proceeded to wrap up all of their essential business before adjourning on June 14.

During that time they finished a no-frills budget totaling about $7.78 billion. It’s a largely status quo budget that keeps most spending categories pretty much the same.

There is one important exception, however. Funding for k-12 education was increased by about $100 million. Rural school districts, like many of those in the Fort Dodge region, will get a little extra money to compensate them for the high transportation costs they incur because of the long bus routes needed to get kids to and from school.

A state budget that increases school aid without raising taxes is a notable achievement.

There were a few things that did not get done during the legislative session that are disappointing.

Lawmakers did not act on a proposal to fund a bigger and better training building at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility. Leaders of Iowa Central Community College presented that idea to the legislature in February, saying more inmates could be earning college credits and degrees that would help them lead a productive life if a better training facility was available.

Iowa Central leaders will make their case for the facility again next year. They plan to start by asking Gov. Kim Reynolds to include money for it in her proposed budget for 2021-2022.

Bills introduced by state Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, to improve child care in the state passed the House of Representatives, but not the Senate. One of those measures would prevent parents from losing all of their child care assistance if they get a raise. Under Meyer’s bill, the child care assistance amount would be gradually trimmed down instead of being eliminated all at once, pushing the parents off of a financial cliff.

Meyer also authored a bill that had the potential to save lives. It would prohibit people from talking on the phone or using any other electronic device while driving. Unfortunately, it never came up for a vote in the House. She is already planning on introducing a new version of the bill next year.

The proposed inmate training facility, the ban on electronic devices while driving and the child care reforms have the ability to make Iowa an even better place. We hope lawmakers revisit those proposals next year.

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Sioux City Journal. June 28, 2020.

Council should pursue consultant study of bridge across Missouri River

Soon, the City Council will decide whether to pay consultant SmithGroup JJR Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin, $59,000 for further study of a pedestrian bridge across the Missouri River between Sioux City and South Sioux City.

Our vote? Yes, pay the consultant.

From the beginning of talk about the future of the former Argosy casino riverfront site, we have advocated in this space for a public, patient, creative approach to what we believe is a milestone moment in community history. As we have said before, our city must get this right. Again today, we commend the city and its consultant for study and discussion undertaken and decisions made to this point and, in general, support the strategy for development of this site taking shape.

Throughout this process, we have advocated for imaginative vision and an iconic centerpiece. A pedestrian bridge spanning the Missouri River checks both of those boxes in dramatic fashion. Without question, a bridge would be an incredible addition to our local riverfront - a unique draw sure to produce local enthusiasm and widespread attention.

We understand concerns about cost and where the money would come from, but we support further exploration of including a pedestrian bridge in the overall riverfront plan. Perhaps it isn’t doable for money or other reasons, perhaps something more doable will emerge in its place, but we believe this idea merits at least additional discussion, including study of cost and study of sources for money, such as grants, state and federal contributions, and private donations, so local property taxpayers wouldn’t be overburdened by what likely would be a substantial pricetag. (Opened in 2008, the 3,000-foot Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge across the Missouri River between Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska, cost $22 million).

Having a consultant undertake a deeper examination of the bridge would not lock the city in to a decision on whether to build it, but it would provide valuable additional information for consumption and consideration.

We urge the council to keep this dialogue alive.