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Stray Thoughts columnist Randy Evans writes about a bill up for debate at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines. IowaWatch file photo

Evans: Iowa’s compelling interest in equality for all

Members of the Iowa Legislature are in the midst of tying themselves into knots over the issue of equality, and that’s unfortunate. The knot-tying involves what these lawmakers call “religious freedom.”

That has a patriotic ring to it. Who would disagree? Our constitutional right to freedom of religion sets the United States apart from many nations. But when you analyze what this legislative initiative really involves, it is too reminiscent of America’s past – a past when some people regularly were subjected to discrimination when they tried to find lodging for the night, or sit at a lunch counter for a meal, or to be hired for a job.

Jury orders Monsanto, BASF to pay peach farmer $250 million in punitive damages

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – A federal jury determined that German agribusiness giants Bayer and BASF will have to pay $250 million in punitive damages to Bader Farms, the largest peach farm in Missouri, for damage caused by their dicamba-related products. The verdict comes at the end of a three-week trial of a case where Bader Farms alleges it is going out of business because of damage incurred by the companies’ dicamba herbicides moving off of neighboring fields and harming their 1,000 acres of peach orchards. 

On Friday, the jury ruled that both Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer in 2018, and BASF acted negligently and Bader Farms should receive $15 million in actual damages for future losses incurred because of the loss of their orchard. 

Bader Farms will receive a total of $265 million. BASF and Bayer will have to sort out what portion of the damages each company pays. 

Bader Farms is among thousands of farms, comprising millions of acres of crops, that have alleged dicamba damage since 2015. “It sends a strong message,” said Bev Randles, an attorney for Bader Farms. “The Baders’ were doing this, not just because of themselves or for themselves, but they felt like it was necessary because of what it means to farmers everywhere.

Iowa bill would give apartment-seekers more information on energy bills

Iowa lawmakers are considering a bill that would require owners of large rental buildings to disclose typical utility costs to apartment-seekers. The legislation has momentum in large part due to a Des Moines-area property manager who has been a champion for energy efficiency in his buildings. “Rental housing is the low-hanging fruit” of energy efficiency, said Keith Denner, president of Professional Property Management. The problem is that property owners often aren’t rewarded for those investments. Residents are typically the ones who realize the cost savings, and they rarely have the information to factor utility bills into rental decisions.

Managers at state-run center for disabled Iowans directed public funds for lubricants, pornographic photos, suit claims

The top officials at a state-run institution for people with severe disabilities directed the purchase of sexual lubricants, silk sheets or boxers and pornographic images in preparation to study patients’ sexual arousal, according to a new lawsuit filed by former employees at the facility. The lawsuit, filed Monday by six former employees at the Glenwood Resource Center, claims former Glenwood Superintendent Jerry Rea and other managers purchased a dedicated computer, software program and joystick for the sole purpose of sexual arousal research at the facility. The former employees, who include former Glenwood center doctors and top administrators, further claim in a 37-page lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa that the medically fragile patients’ medications were changed to prepare for the study. “They intended to use, and did use, highly vulnerable GRC patients as the ‘guinea pigs’ in research experiments,” the suit says. The lawsuit was filed in the midst of an ongoing federal investigation into the Glenwood Resource Center.

Toll continues to mount for pedestrians and bicyclists, the victims in one in five traffic deaths

Policymakers have eagerly promoted walking and bicycle riding as a way to get healthy exercise while reducing traffic congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions. But those activities are becoming increasingly dangerous in America. More than 6,200 pedestrians were killed by traffic collisions in 2018, the last year for which federal statistics are available, continuing the rising trend of recent years. That’s the highest it’s been since 1990, and a 53 percent increase since 2009. Up until then, the number of pedestrian deaths had been steadily falling.

Evans: It’s time to overhaul, or end, the caucuses

For 40-plus years, Iowa has been pulling the wool over the eyes of the free world every four years. It is time our state’s political leaders put aside their love of the national spotlight and retire the much-ballyhooed Iowa caucuses – or overhaul the process to address the obvious flaws that exist with the event. I say that, not because some people think Iowa is the wrong location for the first stop in the process of choosing the Democrats’ and the Republicans’ nominees for president. Randy Evans STRAY THOUGHTS Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He is a former editorial page editor and assistant managing editor of The Des Moines Register.

Report card for the states rates those with best and worst laws to cut traffic deaths

Drunk drivers, motorcyclists and young or distracted motorists make up the majority of those involved in fatal vehicle crashes, and many states are failing to pass key safety measures that could prevent such deaths, according to a new report by a highway safety group. The nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety each year releases a report card grading states on their legislative efforts to reduce traffic deaths. The group’s 2020 report credits seven states—Rhode Island, Washington, Delaware, Maine, Oregon, California and Louisiana, along with the District of Columba—with having the best laws to reduce crash deaths. Twelve states—South Dakota, Wyoming, Missouri, Montana, Arizona, Ohio, Florida, Nebraska, Nevada, Vermont, New Hampshire and Virginia—ranked worst in the report card. In 2018, the most recent year for which federal data is available, 36,560 people died in traffic collisions in the U.S. The figure marks a 2.4 percent decrease from 2017, but is still high compared to earlier in the decade.