Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Des Moines Register. May 20, 2021.

Editorial: Law banning face mask requirements caps off months of pandering, reactionary government by Iowa Republicans

Words that are the law today in Iowa, banning school districts and local governments from requiring face masks, were not publicly available before midday Wednesday, an approach that fits neatly with the executive and legislative branches’ approach to governing.

Legislation to take that choice away from school districts, cities and counties sped through the chambers of the Statehouse until House Speaker Pat Grassley hand-delivered the paperwork to Gov. Kim Reynolds for a post-midnight signing in front of cheering, sign-holding supporters.

Serendipitously (from some points of view), the budget gridlock in Iowa’s all-Republican-controlled government extended the legislative session long enough for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give an inch and state decision-makers to take a mile.

Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, explained that individual Iowans lobbied him and colleagues in large numbers to permit parents and children to decide whether to wear masks at school — an example of representative democracy in action.

“The state of Iowa is putting parents back in control of their child’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions,” Reynolds said in a news release.

Indeed, it’s apparent that Statehouse Republicans do listen closely to their loudest constituents. Over and over since January, they’ve served up what they said Iowans demanded:

Laws making it harder to vote, to appease believers in former President Donald Trump’s lie that the presidential election was stolen.

A crackdown on protests, instead of addressing the racial justice inequities voiced by the protesters.

Limitations on curriculum that challenges conventional narratives about American and Iowa history, because such perspectives make people uncomfortable.

Declarations that public health takes a back seat to individuals’ choices when it comes to vaccination and masks.

In those cases and others, Republicans demonstrated responsiveness. But they could have aspired more toward leadership. By telling the truth about the election. By passing Reynolds’ proposal to ban racial profiling by law enforcement. By defining free speech to include discussion of shortcomings in our past. By acting with restraint rather than abandon in shedding COVID-19 precautions — even precautions that could protect kids’ mental health and learning.

“If we are so selfish that we can’t even put a mask on to protect somebody who might die because she will get this virus ... . We’re here to represent not only the popular interests of our constituents, but we are here to do the right thing by our communities,” said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, during Wednesday’s debate.

Republicans might respond to this with the same accusation they leveled at Democrats who suggested alternatives during debate: that Democrats’ stances reflect contempt for regular Iowans and their decision-making. But majorities can be mistaken. And minorities have rights that sometimes deserve vindication over the masses’ wishes.

After the earliest weeks of the pandemic, state leaders made the restoration of old routines their guiding virtue, often reversing course with almost no warning. They blew up schools’ careful plans to reopen in July. They doubled down by requiring full-time in-person instruction by February (just as Reynolds, pointing to declining cases, quietly allowed a statewide mask requirement to expire). Reynolds then declined federal aid for testing at schools and ordered that the unemployed stop receiving bonus federal benefits in June. And the Iowa Department of Public Health went well beyond the CDC’s guidance in suggesting an end to mask mandates last week.

Now educators are left holding the bag, again, required to explain a literal overnight policy shift to families worried about potential transmission, their children’s blood vessels and stigma for those continuing to mask up. But now maybe Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham can still book Reynolds for Thursday night.

Speaking of Fox News, House and Senate Republicans resisted Reynolds’ misguided invitation to discriminate against transgender girls who play sports. If only they had similarly declined to indulge unscientific, hurtful and selfish ideas in the rest of their work.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. May 23, 2021.

Editorial: Grant County solar array siting process raises questions

Construction of a 1,400-acre solar farm could create jobs, provide economic growth and bring a surge of renewable energy to Grant County, Wis. But the path to development of this project sidestepped usual protocols that typically provide greater opportunity for public input.

Wisconsin’s state regulatory agency, the Public Service Commission, signed off on the $250 million Grant County Solar Energy Center, expected to break ground this fall. Only the request didn’t come from Alliant Energy, which will eventually own the solar farm. It was developer NextEra Energy Resources that proposed the 200-megawatt facility and took it to the state for approval.

When the request comes from an independent power producer, the rules change, and critical information is left out of the discussion. Instead, NextEra was not required to disclose project costs nor demonstrate that the array is preferable to alternatives or even that a solar farm is needed at all. All those factors would have been given a public airing had Alliant or another utility constructed the facility.

The so-called “site and acquire” business model allows a state utility company to purchase a solar or wind installation from an energy developer, and then pass along the cost to ratepayers.

This process is an end-around state regulations meant to protect consumers, and Wisconsin should crack down and prohibit this approach. If the state requires disclosure of certain data points before a state utility is granted approval of a development of this nature, the same rules should apply to a third-party go-between.

Neighbors are understandably upset. While steps toward creating more clean, renewable energy are positive, the people of Potosi and the surrounding area deserve to have their questions answered — beginning with the need for a solar farm of this size.

Citizens have questioned the size of the array, noting that much of the research provided to neighbors is related to far smaller installations, raising concerns that a far bigger array could have more negative consequences. A group organized at grantcountysolarenergy.com suggests the development should include independent research by a third party, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on the health care impacts of such a development.

State regulations have long been in place to protect consumers from unwarranted utility rate hikes. Those same rules should apply even when an independent power producer is part of the process.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. May 21, 2021.

Editorial: Growing trail system is tribute to the work of many. Newest section shows value of city, federal teamwork

In the late 1990s, the trail system in Fort Dodge was small and it was not interconnected. It essentially consisted of the Phinney Park Trail and the nature trail that extends from Snell-Crawford Park to a spot north of town.

Things have certainly changed. Today it is possible to go from Iowa Central Community College on the city’s west side all the way to Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex north of town without leaving a trail. But that’s not the end of the growing trail system.

A three-mile section along the Des Moines River debuted with a Tuesday morning ribboncutting. This section consists of 10-foot wide paved trails, with guard rails and retaining walls where necessary. Also included are parking areas, a kayak portage and a boat ramp.

It cost $7.8 million, with the cost split evenly between the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This latest section of trail demonstrates the value of building a good relationship between the city and the federal government. During one of their first lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., some 20 years ago, local leaders learned that a lot of things could be done along the Des Moines River through what was then called the Neal Smith Greenbelt program, named after a former Iowa congressman. The greenbelt program was kind of dormant at the time, but Fort Dodge officials pursued it and got then U.S. Rep. Tom Latham to appropriate some money for it.

The result of that effort was dedicated Tuesday and now awaits walkers, runners and bicyclists.

The trail system is also a tribute to the volunteers, elected officials and others who envisioned trails where there previously were none. There have been many people involved in that effort over the past 20 years., and their efforts have paid off for the community.

The end result is a first class trail system that will make Fort Dodge a better place to live, work and play.

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