Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Quad-City Times. Sept. 10, 2021.

Editorial: Tough choices on masks

A federal judge’s decision to block the Iowa law preventing local school boards from instituting mask mandates to control the spread of COVID-19 has put hundreds of board members across the state in a tough spot.

Where before they could defer to the state’s ban, board members now are faced with balancing the demands of parents who want a mask mandate with others who are arguing against it.

Already, the Des Moines, Council Bluffs, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City districts have put in place mask mandates in the wake of the ruling.

Davenport became the latest city on Thursday, after the school board voted 5-2. The district’s mast mandate starts this week.

In the Quad-Cities, board members and administrators were meeting just after the news broke about the judge’s decisions, so many other Iowa districts have not made decisions.

We’re not sure what these school boards will do, but we believe masks work. The evidence is clear that widespread adherence can limit a community’s exposure to COVID-19. In addition to the numerous studies, we also saw how last winter — when infections were skyrocketing in Iowa — the public by and large adopted mitigation practices like masking and limiting their exposure to crowds. We believe that contributed greatly to the decline in cases.

At the same time, we think the consensus for widespread voluntary masking has dissolved; thus, the divisions we see now, especially when it comes to mandating masks in schools.

We believe school districts should follow good public health advice and they ought to keep all their students safe. Having said that, we also know there are a lot of parents who are dead-set against mask mandates; and it is not clear to us how such a policy would be enforced and what impact it would have on districts as a whole.

Ultimately, it’s possible some districts may not have a choice.

In his ruling last week, District Judge Robert Pratt said by preventing schools from instituting mask mandates the state appeared to be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act requirement that schools provide “reasonable modifications” to allow disabled students equal access to educational services.

Plaintiffs in the case argued that because of the prohibition against mask mandates, disabled kids, such as those with asthma, were being put at risk. Pratt agreed with the argument, writing the state’s “ban on mask mandates in schools substantially increases their risk of contracting the virus that causes Covid-19 and that due to their various medical conditions they are at an increased risk of severe illness or death …”

The judge also made it clear that Gov. Kim Reynolds’ suggestion that kids who felt unsafe because the lack of a mask mandate could just learn online wasn’t sufficient to meet the federal law’s access requirements.

In other words, it wouldn’t surprise us if other parents were to file suit demanding that districts institute a mandate to meet ADA requirements.

Reynolds said she plans to appeal Pratt’s ruling, so we’re not sure where this will lead. But for the moment, school boards face tough choices.

We do hope as local boards consider this question the public will consider the difficult question this issue poses; also that members of local school boards are volunteers. They don’t get paid, and the reason most are there is because they care about their communities and want to be involved in the education of its children.

That is commendable, and these school board members should be treated with respect.

Across the country, we have witnessed scenes where parents have screamed at and threatened school boards that don’t side with their point of view. These scenes are repugnant, and we hope as this plays out in the Quad-Cities, we don’t see that here; we hope we see a respectful dialogue that considers the viewpoints of all involved.

The pandemic has tested us in ways many of us never thought imaginable. This is another test.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Sept. 19, 2021.

Editorial: Dubuque, Delaware counties’ sharing of engineers serves taxpayers well

Dial the clock back several years and you will find Dubuque County government mired in issues related to county roads.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Dubuque County officials endeavored to upgrade gravel roads to hard-surface roads as much as possible. County supervisors touted the investment as safety and efficiency measures that would save lives and time. Residents who regularly drove those rural roads were more than happy to leave gravel in the dust. But as those hard-surface roads aged and required repair or replacement, cracks began to appear in the wisdom of that approach.

Suddenly, the burden came to bear on the county engineer, tasked with the daunting duty of maintaining hundreds of miles of hard-surface roads in the face of tightened budgets and slowed revenue streams. By 2014, Dubuque County was spending more on roads than any other county in the state, even though it ranked 69th of the 99 counties for miles of county roads. It did, however, rank third in miles of paved roads and 98th in the miles of gravel roads.

Then, six years ago, Dubuque County began working with engineer Anthony Bardgett, and good things began to happen. Road projects were reviewed and prioritized. Work was getting done more efficiently. While quality roads are still a chief priority for county residents, the din of complaints around the issue have quelled.

All this happened with an engineering team that is shared with another county. Since 2015, neighboring Delaware and Dubuque county boards of supervisors have been splitting the services and salary of Bardgett — 70% on Dubuque County, 30% on Delaware County. A year later, the counties entered another agreement to split the services of Assistant Engineer Craig Davis, split 60% on Delaware County, 40% on Dubuque County.

Now county supervisors are considering adding another sharing agreement to the mix. Delaware’s former county surveyor retired recently, and Bardgett proposes that Dubuque County’s surveyor, Wyatt Anderson, be made full time and split his time the same as Davis does.

Supervisors are still mulling the issue, but a sharing agreement sounds like an excellent idea. Taxpayers should demand to see more of this kind of collaboration in government. What better way to save money than by sharing resources? The TH Editorial Board has long advocated for governmental bodies to look for opportunities to share personnel and seek efficiencies. Here’s a great example of how that can work.

Bardgett and county supervisors — past and present — get credit for being open to the idea and putting it to the test. That it has worked out well for the residents of both counties is a testament to the fruits of collaborative efforts.

Let’s hope this is a blueprint for how shared resources can prove positive for both sides — and for taxpayers. Other counties should take note.

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Des Moines Register. Sept. 19, 2021.

Editorial: Iowa redistricting can show again that partisanship need not be the only consideration in government

When statesman Otto von Bismarck uttered his famous maxim “Politics is the art of the possible,” he was talking about having to compromise, historians say. But compromise seems increasingly disfavored among elected officials in this country, discarded in favor of stretching laws and other rules beyond their limit to consolidate the most power possible.

Examples abound, but the clearest is likely the every-decade exercise of drawing new congressional and legislative districts. “Map proposals show how parties hope to gain from new congressional boundaries,” the Washington Post reports in a typical headline. In many states, fairness is rarely a virtue in practice — certainly less important than, say, keeping incumbents from having to move.

Gerrymandering to create deeply red and deeply blue districts is a primary driver of the polarization that plagues our politics. Primaries in such districts attract candidates that run to the far extremes of their party’s values. And the winners go to their statehouses and Washington, D.C., with the express aim of never reaching across the party aisle to compromise. The result is gridlock. It’s why Congress and too many state legislatures don’t work anymore.

Iowa is well-known and widely lauded for taking a different approach since 1980. Our constitution and state laws prescribe the primacy of population equity, respect for county and city boundaries, and recognizable shapes when state employees in the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency draw maps. They don’t look at the addresses of incumbent U.S. representatives and state lawmakers when drawing boundaries.

Iowans can share their thoughts online now about the proposed maps delivered to lawmakers Thursday. The plan is the subject of three virtual public forums, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Then a special session of the Legislature convenes Oct. 5 to consider whether to approve the plan. (Normally all this is handled in the spring of years ending in 1, but COVID-19 contributed to delays in the release of census data, and the Iowa Supreme Court prudently said it would allow the Legislature to continue its work despite a provision of the constitution putting redistricting in the court’s hands if it’s not completed by September.)

Lawmakers can evaluate the divisions however they see fit; they can approve them or ask the Legislative Services Agency to try again. After three rejections, they are permitted to adjust the lines themselves. That has never happened in four uses of this system.

Republicans control the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature, and three of Iowa’s four U.S. representatives are Republicans. The initial proposal puts Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and the Quad Cities in the same congressional district — a prospect that voting patterns suggest would reliably produce two Republican members of Congress and one Democratic one, with the district that includes central Iowa closer to a toss-up. It keeps logical county pairs such as Linn-Johnson and Polk-Dallas together in districts.

Most GOP lawmakers were circumspect hours after the maps were released, and the legislative boundary implications are complicated to sort out. But it would hardly be a surprise if Republican leaders want to see if a second try produces a more competitive congressional map.

That’s their right. Still, bipartisan approval of the first map would be a welcome symbolic affirmation of the wisdom of the 1980 Legislature to curtail partisan influence on the map drawing and give Iowans an equal voice in the election of their representatives.

If Republican legislators can’t bring themselves to stomach the first map, we call on them to pass the second or third, resisting the temptation to take up pens and draws politically favorable lines themselves. That would end Iowa’s reign as a beacon of electoral equity, where the art of politics remains possible, and toss us amid places where compromise for the good of all is a quaint memory.

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