PILOT GUEST EDITORIAL - Ethics, school religion and fish

Tuesday, February 5, 2002

From recent editorials in Iowa newspapers:

On Mike Sexton:

Is the fox watching the hen house?

Is a determined special interest group tossing mud to advance its agenda?

Those are a couple of questions that came up recently after Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee against Sen. Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City.

On the eve of the opening of the Legislature, ICCI called into question Sexton's service as chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, a panel that handles environmental issues, while working for Swine Graphics Enterprises, a corporate hog producer.

In its complaint, ICCI said Sexton is environmental compliance director for Swine Graphics Enterprises, a corporate hog producer, and that's a conflict of interest because he heads the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which drafts regulations for factory farms.

George Naylor, a Greene County farmer who signed the complaint, noted that Swine Graphics has been fined $40,000 by the EPC since 1999.

Naylor said Sexton has used his key position to block efforts to tighten regulation of factory farms...

Sexton may genuinely believe it is in the best interest of the state to withhold more stringent laws controlling corporate hog lots. He may genuinely believe that is the view of his constituents.

Regardless, his political performance is for his constituents to evaluate.

Sexton has a pretty good argument when he points out, "In the eyes of complainants, a legislator is one who has never held a job, never married, not too smart or dumb, never had a health problem or disability and is of questionable gender."

A logical extension of the ICCI complaint would diminish the value of the Legislature and would move it closer to a full-time legislative body, similar to Congress, in which lawmaking would be the primary employment of its members.

No farmers on the ag committees.

No teachers on education committees.

No lawyers on judicial committees.

No environmentalists on environmental committees.

No way. - Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

Moment of silence:

The state legislature has no business mandating a minute of silence in Iowa public schools.

There's nothing wrong with a teacher beginning the school day by asking students to sit quietly for a moment. Many teachers already do that, and not just in the morning but at various times throughout the school day. These minutes serve just the purpose that House Speaker Brent Siegrist, R-Council Bluffs, talked about when he announced that a minute-of-silence bill will be presented this session: Students (especially older ones) use the time "to pray, to meditate or to just relax for a moment and gather their thoughts for the day ahead."

The problem comes when the Legislature tries to micromanage the classroom and require that minute of silence. This proposed law... could be used as a foot in the door by school-prayer advocates to push for mandated prayer. ...

Already, any student has the right to pray at school. And the "line" is anything but mythical; it protects each American's freedom of religion.

Another problem with the Legislature taking up this bill is that it will be divisive. This is not a year in which the House and Senate have time to waste on a proposal that seems designed to foster conflict. - Cedar Rapids Gazette

Fish kills:

Iowa passed the 1 million mark again.

The state announced recently that the nitrogen fertilizer spill into the Floyd River near Sheldon in early January claimed an estimated 1,034,843 fish. That's the second time in less than a month that more than 1 million fish went belly up in Iowa waters. In mid-December, a broken ammonia pipeline near Whittemore poisoned an estimated 1,295,205 fish in Lotts Creek and the east fork of the Des Moines River.

The state will bill Midwest Farmers Co-op for $119,508 in the Floyd River spill. Koch Pipeline's fish-restitution bill is $147,731 in the Lotts Creek incident. But the offenders could face other penalties.

"We are exploring every bit of existing authority we have and talking to federal counterparts and other states to find out what we can do to maximize penalty issues," said Ross Harrison, DNR spokesman...

It's encouraging the state is looking for ways to toughen penalties. It's time the state got serious about polluters.

Whether spills are truly accidental or caused by sloppiness, the result for Iowa's rivers, lakes and streams is the same: They are spoiled.

Fish kills aren't everyday news in Iowa. It's more like every two weeks. Last year, 24 were reported to the DNR... the smaller ones add up. The threat of the state taking stronger action can't undo damage already done, but it might inspire enough precautions to deter the next spill. - Des Moines Register