Des Moines Register. June 17, 2020.

No more meetings. No more stalling. Sign an executive order now, Gov. Reynolds

On July 4, 2005, former Gov. Tom Vilsack signed an executive order restoring voting rights to felons.

Interestingly, he says he doesn’t really remember the moment he signed it. What he does remember: the many, many letters he received afterward. They came not only from individuals whose rights had been restored, but from spouses and parents.

They captured how appreciative people were “for the action and opportunity because it enabled their son or daughter or husband to feel whole again,” Vilsack told an editorial writer on Tuesday. “If you can’t participate in democracy, it’s hard to feel totally connected and feel like you are, indeed, a citizen. They were just really incredible letters.”

He said the date of July 4 was by design. A day to celebrate independence was a fitting day to celebrate democracy and give people the ability to participate in it.

“It’s about freedom, liberty and being a citizen. They were some of the most heartfelt, honest, tear-jerking letters about the importance of what we had done and what a difference it made in the mental health of someone’s spouse and how excited they were about being able to vote.”

Those of us who have voted for years may take the exercise for granted. People who have lost the right to vote fundamentally understand how precious it is, he said.

That executive order feels like a lifetime ago. Much has changed in Iowa on the issue of felon voting rights since then, and not for the better.

When Gov. Terry Branstad took office in 2011, he immediately rescinded Vilsack’s executive order. Iowa rejoined the few states where people with felony convictions are permanently disenfranchised. Today, Iowa is the only state in the country that bans all felons from voting unless they apply to the governor’s office and are approved to have their rights restored.

This is disgraceful.

Yet Republicans in the Iowa Legislature again this session refused to move forward a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to felons. They spent their time passing a bill requiring that, if a constitutional amendment ever does pass, felons would have to pay restitution before regaining their voting rights, and felons convicted of some crimes would be excluded altogether.

Then there is Gov. Kim Reynolds. For at least three years, she has been saying this issue is a priority for her. Lawmakers in her own party have snubbed her, and now she’s feeling mounting public pressure to sign an executive order. Days after telling Black Lives Matters leaders and other advocates privately that she would work on an order, she said publicly that she would sign it.

But she didn’t say when. Or what the order would contain.That is concerning.

“We’re working on this right now, sitting down with various groups, listening to what they think is important, what’s contained in that executive order,” she said Tuesday, “and then I’ve got my legal team working on it.”

Reynolds does not need more meetings or legal advice.

Iowans do not need more talk or stalling.

They need Reynolds to pick up a copy of Vilsack’s executive order, change a few dates and sign it. That executive order was a mere two pages. It is straightforward, without strings, and as relevant today as it was 15 years ago.

It recognizes “the right to vote is the foundation of a representative democracy,” and “disenfranchisement of offenders has had a disproportionate racial impact thereby diminishing the representation of minority populations.”

It directed the Department of Corrections to submit a monthly record of eligible offenders to the governor’s office to review for restoration. Individuals did not need to apply individually.

Simple. And exactly what should be replicated today. Immediately.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. June 16, 2020.

Soldier Creek project has potential to improve water quality here and downstream

Improving water quality throughout the state of Iowa is a massive task that has to start in small ways with projects that will add up to make a difference.

One such project is getting underway in Webster County right now. A team of scientists is studying ways to control erosion along Soldier Creek. Thanks to major storms over the last half century, the usually placid stream has on occasion had torrents of water rushing at high velocity through it. The result is erosion and sometimes whole sections of the stream bank caving in.

A team from Impact7G, of Clive, is now studying the creek and finding ways to curtail the erosion. Their work will improve the water quality of the creek, and the quality of bodies of water far downstream, ultimately impacting the Gulf of Mexico.

Any effort to improve water quality is worthwhile. But what makes this project even more special is the fact that it is essentially free.

It is essentially free thanks to a relatively recent change in the rules of a low interest loan program operated by the state government. Fort Dodge and other cities borrow money from that fund to upgrade their water and wastewater systems. The new rules now enable communities to get even lower interest rates and to use the money they save to do water quality projects.

“You essentially get a free project,” Fort Dodge City Engineer Tony Trotter said.

The Soldier Creek project is the fourth one done in Webster County using that program. The others were completed at Snell-Crawford Park and at Badger Lake in John F. Kennedy Memorial Park.

Officials in Fort Dodge and Webster County took quick advantage of this new water quality program. The beneficial results of doing so will be obvious years into the future. We thank them for having the foresight to take on these projects.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. June 21, 2020.

Dubuque County supervisors right to consider postponing salary increases

When Dubuque County supervisors squared up with Sheriff Joe Kennedy last week to talk salary increases, it couldn’t have been an easy discussion.

After all, as Kennedy noted, this has been a tough year to be a member of law enforcement, and members of the county sheriff’s department continued to serve on the front lines amid a pandemic.

But holding elective office means having difficult conversations sometimes, particularly when it involves taxpayer money. The issue pressed by Supervisors Jay Wickham and Ann McDonough was a discussion that needed to happen, whether or not other elected officials agree.

Earlier this year, county supervisors voted to increase the sheriff’s salary by 3% and the salaries of the county auditor, attorney, recorder and treasurer by 1.5%. That decision followed some contentious back and forth with the county compensation board — which has become an annual argument — whose members called for larger raises.

Then, March came roaring in and the whole world changed. McDonough and Wickham are now wondering if the county should rethink giving any raises at all, under the circumstances.

That’s a wholly sensible consideration.

Too often, public bodies do not emulate the ebb and flow of the communities around them. Ask almost any business in the county right now, and no one will tell you it’s business as usual.

In a matter of weeks, unemployment in the county shot up by double digits. From mid-March through mid-June, more than 13,300 new unemployment claims were filed within Dubuque County. About 6,000 people in the county still were receiving unemployment benefits last week. Claims filed in the month of April alone exceeded those filed in all of 2019. The loss of nearly 9,000 jobs in the county represents about 16 years of growth.

These are highly unusual times. As government reacts to shore up its own revenue shortfalls, officials might have to take the highly unusual step of postponing increases. That kind of discussion already has happened in corporate boardrooms and business offices throughout our community.

County Auditor Denise Dolan was critical of the supervisors bringing up the issue of postponing salary increases when the county had been “throwing money ... towards expenses for COVID(-19).”

County supervisors have been marshaling resources to fight the virus for three months now, not just throwing around money. They have increased testing in Dubuque County, provided help for struggling businesses and been at the forefront with the local health team communicating with the public about the pandemic.

Yes, the supervisors — like every public entity — must be transparent and accountable for every dollar of county money spent. But spending related to public health in a pandemic is a responsibility of government.

No one is suggesting county officials are not worthy of salary increases. This move is about the pandemic, not performance.

Local government — cities as well as counties — should consider postponing pay increases in light of this economic and health crisis.

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