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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.

Evans: Something for Legislature’s ‘to do’ list

There is a retired businessman in western Iowa who bristles every time he reads a newspaper article from somewhere in our state about government officials who have misused their government credit cards for unauthorized purchases. This man is worried such abuses could be happening at the local county hospital since top administrators were given credit cards to use. His concern grew when he learned the hospital’s board of directors does not see an itemized bill from the credit card company with each of the month’s transactions listed. Instead, board members only see a lump sum total they are asked to approve for payment. Randy Evans
STRAY THOUGHTS
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

Reynolds resists calls for emergency action to restore felon voting rights after Iowa scraps felon voter database

Iowa has halted its use of an error-ridden database intended to stop people convicted of felonies from voting, while state officials check the accuracy of its more than 100,000 entries. But the anticipated 11-month gap while the database is being rebuilt has created another concern among some of Iowa’s 99 county auditors: how to quickly verify voter eligibility before the Feb. 3 caucuses and the June 2 primaries. 

Auditors’ inability to verify eligibility against a database could mean felons may illegally register to vote or cast a ballot without being aware they are committing a crime. The additional confusion prompted renewed calls Thursday for Gov. Kim Reynolds to take emergency action to restore felon voter rights, most likely through an executive order. “The governor just needs to buck it up,” Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said.

Will Iowa outsource its protection of the elderly?

Iowa’s efforts to privatize a state agency tasked with protecting the elderly and disabled have stalled in the face of escalating complaints that the office is routinely violating federal and state law. Many of the complaints are coming from within the agency itself. Rep. Mary Gaskill, a Democrat from Ottumwa, says the Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office seems to be in disarray and is struggling with staff defections, internal complaints and an uncertain future. “I’m not happy with that,” she said. “It’s not a good situation over there.”

Newly released data from the National Ombudsman Reporting System shows that of the nation’s 50 state long-term care ombudsmen, Iowa ranks last in on-site visits made to care facilities.