Has Biden put us in another Ruth Bader Ginsburg mess?

Do you remember that phrase our nation’s founders wrote in the preamble to the Constitution 237 years ago? The one about forming a more perfect union?

We have hit some speed bumps in that quest, a couple that would rattle your teeth. I wonder when, and how, or if, we are going to get back on the road.

Consider these potholes our nation has banged into on that road to a more perfect union:

President Joe Biden, in front of a television audience in the tens of millions, stumbled and stammered and had his train of thought rumble off the tracks in one of the most embarrassing performances since I was told to sing a solo in front of my classmates in fourth grade.

Donald Trump, the president’s opponent in that debate two weeks ago, had trouble uttering a truthful statement — except when he stated, “I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence. I don’t think he knows what he said, either.”

Abortion ruling raises questions — lots of questions

Through the years, justices on the Iowa Supreme Court typically avoid harsh or overzealous language in their decisions.

That is why two separate dissenting opinions jumped out Friday when the court issued its long-anticipated decision on the Legislature’s latest attempt to ban nearly all abortions in Iowa.

By a 4-3 split, the Supreme Court decided the 2023 law is a rational response to a legitimate state interest, protecting the lives of unborn children. The law prohibits abortions once “cardiac activity” in the fetus is detectable by ultrasound, usually about six weeks after conception. The law provides exceptions for rape or incest, when the fetus has an abnormality incompatible with life, or when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life.

The authors of the two dissents were Chief Justice Susan Christensen of Harlan and Justice Edward Mansfield of Des Moines. They were joined by Justice Thomas Waterman of Davenport. Their 56 pages of analysis and commentary provide important insight into this divisive issue.

Rules optional for some, mandatory for others

You know how some memories stick with you for no logical reason? One such memory involves my dad in the 1960s when I was a teenager.

After World War II, my father worked for the City of Bloomfield, eventually becoming operator of the city’s water treatment plant.

Pop graduated from high school on the eve of the Great Depression. His most intense period of book-learning after high school came in the 1960s when Iowa decided to require state licenses for operators of municipal water treatment plants and sewage treatment plants.

After so many years away from the classroom, this was a time of anxiety as Pop prepared for the licensing exam. He attended classes at night and had his nose in textbooks other evenings.

I mention this, because this was about 60 years ago. More recently, a different and far larger contingent of Iowans has been experiencing anxiety over state regulations. But this time the anxiety involves people angry the government is turning its back on the same reasons for requiring Iowa cities and towns to have state-licensed operators of their water treatment and sewage treatment facilities.

Guns win. Americans lose.

by Ed Tibbetts, Iowa Capital Dispatch
June 21, 2024

They sounded like they cared.

In the aftermath of a mad gunman’s horrifying massacre of 60 people at a concert in Las Vegas seven years ago, members of Congress from Iowa sent this message: It made no sense that bump stocks — the device that allows semi-automatic weapons to act like machine guns — could be legal under federal law.

Sen. Chuck Grassley said, “modifications to legal firearms that effectively convert them into something that the law prohibits certainly deserve scrutiny.”

Sen. Joni Ernst was one of nine GOP senators who asked the Trump administration to review an Obama-era finding that bump stocks were legal.

“I do think there can be some action,” Ernst said. “We’ve just got to figure out what that action is.”

Turns out, they figured out exactly what to do: Nothing.

We need to accept outcomes we dislike

Most people go through life never stepping foot inside a courtroom. Most people, that is, except for attorneys, judges, journalists, the few of us chosen to be jurors, and an even more select group, those who are accused of crimes.

If I were talking now with my dear parents, may they rest in peace, I would quickly assure them that my many days spent in courtrooms have been in a professional capacity, not as a defendant trying to avoid the slammer.

As a reporter and later as the boss of reporters, I have had an up-close vantage point to watch our court system as it works. I claim no special expertise. But 50 years in a ringside seat on the judiciary have given me perspective that is worth sharing.

Justice’s distress signal should distress us all

Here is a tidbit from my years as a newspaper reporter and editor:

I never voted in a primary election, never attended the Iowa caucuses, never stuck a candidate’s sign in my yard, never had a bumper sticker on my car, never signed a petition, never donated to a campaign.

When Sue and I married, she got something more in the deal than my sparkling personality. She knew she could not have any yard signs, because people driving past our home would not know which part of the yard was for her opinions and which was for mine. To eliminate any confusion, there were no yard signs. Period.

Live-streaming gov’t meetings should be the norm

You don’t often hear anyone extol the benefits of the Covid pandemic. But I did few weeks ago — when I stood before the Storm Lake Kiwanis club and talked about government transparency in Iowa.

I did not wade into the debate over masks, social distancing or vaccinations. It was a polite audience, but I was not silly enough to needlessly venture onto that thin ice.

What I said about the pandemic was this: State and local governments embraced, even if grudgingly, the benefits of live-streaming their board meetings during the pandemic so the public could watch from wherever they were.

Gov’t officials forget, again, they work for us

The Legislature took an important step two weeks ago in voting to toughen penalties for state and local officials who violate a key government transparency tool, Iowa’s open meetings law.

Unfortunately, lawmakers’ actions may not be enough to reverse the love for secrecy that too many government boards and councils demonstrate. The latest example comes from Des Moines.

City officials moved discussion of possible changes in Des Moines’ “standard development agreement” away from a meeting of the City Council that any interested citizen could attend. The discussion was held, instead, during two private meetings of council members the public did not know about.

Our grammarian governor plays politics with words

“Unsustainable” is a fascinating word, especially when it is used in government and politics. Merriam-Webster, the dictionary folks, tell us unsustainable means something cannot be continued or supported.

But in governmental affairs, that definition sometimes gets changed. Instead of something truly being incapable of continuing, the word often means the person using the term simply does not want that “something” to go forward.

Understanding this distinction can help us better parse the statements our politicians make. Here is a real-life example to illustrate this difference:

Back in December, Gov. Kim Reynolds ended Iowa’s participation in a summer food program for low-income families with school-age children. The governor made the decision even though the bulk of the expense would be paid by the federal government.

About 240,000 Iowa children from needy families are affected by her decision. Their parents would have received $40 per month during the summer for each child who qualifies for free or reduced-priced school lunches. The program’s purpose was to help these needy families feed their children during the summer when classes are not in session and the kids are not eating at school.

In Iowa, the federal government offered $29 million for food assistance this summer. State government would have been responsible for covering $2 million in administrative costs.

Iowa House votes down measure that would have required more inspections of puppy mills

Iowa Capital Dispatch
April 10, 2024

The Iowa House rejected a proposal Wednesday to require annual inspections of all state-licensed dog breeding facilities by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

“Who doesn’t love puppies? We all love puppies, but sadly, Iowa is closing in on number one in the nation for unscrupulous puppy mills,” Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said.

He offered an amendment to a larger agriculture policy bill, House File 2641, that would require an on-site inspection of every state-licensed dog-breeding facility every 12 months, as well as require on-site inspections if there was reasonable cause.

Currently, the law says the department “may” inspect breeding facilities.

Jacoby wrote to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds last summer to call for better enforcement after the seizure of more than 120 dogs from a breeding facility in his Johnson County district. Inspectors reported many of the animals were in distress and Jacoby said a dozen of them died.

Republicans opposed the amendment.


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