Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

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News,Science and Technology

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. June 14, 2013.

Sales equalization is fair

Iowa's governor and legislators have rectified a significant inequity by requiring online-only retailers to charge sales tax on Iowa sales.

Gov. Terry Branstad signed off on the "e-fairness" legislation, aka House File 625, which levels the retail competition playing field. Online-only retailers have long been enjoying an unfair advantage with the ability to offer customers a purchase price without collecting the state's sales tax.

"By signing House File 625, the governor has helped the state make a huge leap forward in helping Iowa businesses have a fighting chance against these giant online-only companies," said Jim Henter, president of the Iowa Retail Federation.

Altogether, 232 Iowa small businesses joined with the Iowa Retail Federation, Iowa Grocers Association and the Iowa Alliance for Main Street Fairness Coalition to encourage state lawmakers to pass the "e-fairness" legislation during this past legislative session.

Of course, it's not going to sit well with some people — namely online retailers and those who use them often.

It would be nice if there were no sales tax at all, and we could afford all the services we enjoy — and the infrastructure we need — without them. That's not the reality.

Our elected officials often remind us how important small businesses are to local economies. The issue was an important one to former state representative Marv Diemer, who passed away in April.

"Why should the small businesses on Main Street and in our malls have to charge sales taxes if Internet retailers do not?," Diemer asked in a Courier guest column early last year. "It is only equitable that Internet retailers conduct business on a level playing field with all small businesses and entrepreneurs in our state."

Well said.

Eliminating the loophole and creating the level playing field was the fair thing to do.

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The Des Moines Register. June 17, 2013.

Grassley's 'court-packing' analogy goes astray

When President Barack Obama recently named three judges to a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., Iowa's Sen. Chuck Grassley likened it to President Franklin Roosevelt's infamous 1937 "court-packing" plan.

That is a bad analogy.

FDR wanted to expand the number of justices on U.S. Supreme Court to dilute the votes of the majority of the justices who were blocking his New Deal legislation. Rather than adding judges to the federal appeals court, Obama is proposing to fill three existing vacancies on the appeals court, which is allotted 11 full-time judgeships by Congress.

Filling vacancies on the federal courts is the president's constitutional duty. Unless any of the three is found to be unsuited for the bench, the Senate should confirm them.

Grassley has not said whether he will oppose any of these nominees on their own merits, but he has a better idea for where these judicial appointments should be assigned: He believes the District of Columbia circuit is underworked compared with other federal circuits. So he introduced legislation that would eliminate the D.C. circuit's three vacant judgeships and move them to other circuits with heavier workloads.

Senate Democrats see this as a partisan effort to deny Obama three appointments to a key federal court that is now made up of four judges appointed by Republican presidents and four appointed by Democrats. That, Grassley has said, is perfectly balanced. What he leaves out, however, is that there are also six semi-retired judges serving on the D.C. circuit who contribute to the court's decisions. Five of those six were appointed by Republican presidents.

Grassley's court "unpacking" plan is not a simple matter of workload rebalancing. The D.C. circuit is not like other courts of appeals. While the jurisdictions of other federal circuit courts are limited to the states within their regions, the D.C. circuit hears federal regulatory issues that affect the entire country. Indeed, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, an alumnus of the D.C. circuit, explained in a law review article that, because of the nature of the cases the D.C. circuit hears, the court is unique among the appeals courts.

In any case, if there were a workload imbalance, you might think the federal judges who administer the appeals courts would have recommended this change. But they have not. In fact, in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Chief Justice Roberts, on behalf of the Judicial Conference of the United States, recommended adding federal judgeships but said nothing of eliminating judges from the D.C. Circuit.

Grassley bristles at the suggestion that his legislation is a partisan ploy, and he points out that he has long worked for court efficiency. In fact, he got one seat on the D.C. circuit moved to another circuit in during the administration of George W. Bush. Still, Grassley voted with the majority to confirm all three of Bush's appointments to the court during his presidency, bringing the court to its full complement of 11 judges.

All of this could be dismissed as inside baseball, except that these political battles impair the work of the federal courts, which are understaffed to the point of having "judicial emergencies" in a number of jurisdictions. The Obama administration shares some of the blame because the president has been frustratingly slow to make judicial appointments. But when he makes them, the Senate should confirm them and quit stalling.

Meanwhile, if the federal appeals courts' workload in fact needs to be redistributed, the Senate should take the politics out of it by assigning an independent commission of judges and court-efficiency experts to make recommendations to Congress.

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Quad-City Times. June 15, 2013.

Farm bill gives House GOP a chance to govern

We know what the U.S. House Republican majority hates.

They've futilely voted 36 times to abandon health care reform, a measure both the House and Senate supported in 2010.

They've focused relentlessly on examining President Obama's performance, a time-honored role of Congress, but not much use in balancing the budget, resolving the immigration mess or reducing taxes.

This summer, the Senate has handed House Speaker John Boehner a long-awaited farm bill that can continue to eliminate subsidies and trim the rapidly expanding food stamp program. American agricultural producers are desperate for a long-term plan to guide their private businesses through massive market changes in this highly subsidized industry.

Boehner can continue to lead a majority that excels at expressing dissent. Or he could govern by focusing debate on actionable issues that result in passage of an actual farm bill, not just trumpeting obstruction.

The House GOP majority has been most vocal about food assistance, inaccurately demeaned as "food stamps." No one uses stamps anymore.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides debit-style cards that helped feed 46.6 million Americans in 2012. More than half of them are children.

This assistance is provided to the poorest seems, to us, the minimum effort to enable our Declaration of Independence's lofty ideals of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The Senate bill judiciously cuts $4.1bilion in SNAP spending over the next decade. House Republicans have held out for cutting five times that amount: $20 billion.

We share the House majority's general emphasis on spending cuts. Now it's time for Boehner to lead his majority away from general sentiment to actionable legislation. Just saying 'no' didn't work in the drug war. It won't work in Congress.

The Senate bill is no liberal lefty giveaway. Sen. Charles Grassley worked hard to bring bipartisan support that furthers his strong leadership of commodity price support reform to direct the most aid to small and medium producers. But it falls short of his goal to eliminate the antiquated target prices, artificial goals the global ag market long ago rendered meaningless.

Still, Grassley knows Congress' role on this issue needs to be governance, not obstinence.

"While I continue to have concerns about the potential impacts of the shallow loss and target price programs created in this farm bill, I would also agree with the overwhelming sentiment from Iowa farmers that they need to have certainty," Grassley said. "A five-year farm bill that includes my payment limit reforms, maintains the crop insurance program, and streamlines conservation programs gives that certainty."

Now it's up to Boehner and his Republican majority to prove if they're capable of governance. Thirty-six times, he chose to allow useless floor votes to posture against Obamacare. This summer, he needs to show he leads a majority capable of much more.

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Globe Gazette. June 17, 2013.

Iowa food banks get a boost from state budget bill

They are stark facts that seem contrary in a state that grows so much food for the world.

One in eight Iowans doesn't have enough food to support a healthy lifestyle. One in five children doesn't have enough to eat on a given day.

So we're glad and relieved that Gov. Terry Branstad has given his nod of approval to state money for Iowa's food banks.

Last year the governor vetoed a $500,000 appropriation for food banks from the state budget, saying voluntary contributions should finance their operations.

This year's different, the governor said recently, because "it's a one-time appropriation that's being matched by at least as much in private-sector donations."

Which means food banks around Iowa will have to raise $1 million privately to access the full amount included in the budget by the Legislature.

Raising money is nothing new for food banks. They constantly seek donations of food and the money to buy it. The food demand is constant year-round, but does get higher at times like holidays and this time of year when children are out of school and don't have access to reduced-cost breakfast and lunch programs. (Kudos to some communities which are taking up summer meal programs for students. It's certainly a big step in the right direction.)

As for the governor, we know he has concern for Iowa's hungry; he noted his support for food banks going back to his first year in office, 1983. He also pointed out that state workers are currently conducting a food drive.

But the governor also is concerned with Iowa's budget, and must see this food bank legislation as fitting with his fiscal policies because of the matching-funds requirement.

And as for the food banks, raising money and seeking food donations large and small has been and will be a way of life for those who operate the banks and the many volunteers who lend helping hands.

From postal drives to grocery store events to neighborhood activities, foods banks such as the Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank in Mason City are always benefactors of generous donations.

We trust that will continue, bolstered by this newest state support.

Hunger shouldn't have to be a daily worry for any Iowan.

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