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.

DNR’s new team: Will ag background be a plus, or cause for concern?

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources went more than a year without a permanent director and months more filling some of the other key posts. Now, some who have regular contact with the department wonder if the new lineup will show a strong dedication to environmental protection and natural resources, or lean more toward making regulated industries happy. 

Some of those questions surround Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ pick as the new DNR director, former ag group lobbyist Kayla Lyon, who still faces confirmation in the Senate. While some question if Lyon will approach DNR issues objectively, leaders of the pork industry, for example, said Lyon’s understanding of farming already has paid dividends on topics as complex as preparing for international animal diseases. They say they don’t expect favoritism. 

No one is saying that Lyon is expected to be unfair. Only that she is unproven in a top administration job that regularly attracts controversy.

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.

Uncovering Polk County’s secret list of property owners

A corporation owned by Bonnie Netteland and her family owns 27 Polk County properties – child-care centers, apartment buildings and rental homes – worth $8.2 million. But if anyone was to search the county assessor’s website for all properties owned by Netteland Family Holdings, they’d be informed there are just seven such properties with a total value of $2.7 million. The other properties are among thousands the assessor’s office has blocked from disclosure through the website’s owner-name search engine. They include single-family homes; narrow, tiny, undeveloped strips of land; an $8.8 million housing development in Bondurant; and a $6.7 million data center owned by Principal Life Insurance Co. For almost three years, the assessor has been battling to keep secret its list of these properties and their owners.

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.

Iowa withholds $44M from insurance company that provides Medicaid, citing unresolved payment, claims issues

Iowa health officials are withholding $44 million from an insurance company that provides health coverage to Iowans under the state’s privatized Medicaid program, pointing to unresolved issues with payments to health providers. Iowa Department of Human Services staff told Iowa Total Care representatives Friday that the state will withhold about a third of the amount it would have otherwise paid the company this month. Michael Randol, Iowa’s Medicaid director, said in a letter released Friday that Iowa Total Care had not paid more than 100,000 claims that providers had submitted. 

“Ample opportunity was given (to Iowa Total Care) to remedy the issues,” Randol’s letter said. The state’s action Friday was the first time Iowa’s DHS has withheld payment to a Medicaid insurance provider. Medicaid is the $5 billion federal-state program that provides health coverage to poor and disabled Iowans. Nearly 650,000 Iowans, including children, are enrolled in Medicaid.

Evans: A Teacher Has A Lesson From The ER For All Of Us

Schools across Iowa have been dark for more than a week because of winter vacation. But a Des Moines teacher still managed to teach a very important lesson during that time – but this lesson wasn’t aimed at the kids she normally works with. It was intended for adults. Laura’s lesson is one more people should learn from, because the discussions in Washington, D.C., and at the Capitol in Des Moines would benefit from a wider appreciation and understanding of what she was telling us. Randy Evans
STRAY THOUGHTS
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

Artificial turf

Fields of Waste: Artificial turf, touted as recycling fix for millions of scrap tires, becomes mounting disposal mess

Nearly three decades ago, the federal government issued a somber warning. America’s scrap tires had to go somewhere without gobbling up landfill space. Billions of cast-off tires already had accumulated in ugly stockpiles and millions more were  “scattered in ravines, deserts, woods, and empty lots,” sparking toxic fires that burned for months, the Environmental Protection Agency declared in a 1991 report. “As costs or difficulties of legal disposal increase, illegal dumping may increase,” the agency said. But there was hope of a solution, and the EPA was all in.