Pilot Guest Editorial

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

The Iowa Editors - Excerpts from recent editorials in Iowa newspapers:

Open meetings:


The Legislature has developed the bad habit of moving behind closed doors to tackle some of the toughest issues facing Iowa.

Last year, its leaders put together an ad hoc committee to come up with a plan to raise teacher pay and performance.

This year, the doors closed behind an ad hoc committee on how to better safeguard natural resources from pollution while keeping the livestock industry strong.

Both committees were bipartisan and made up of members of the House and the Senate, with the governor involved to one degree or another. The public, however, was not allowed to attend their meetings. The thinking behind this approach is that the discussion flows more freely in secret, that controversial proposals can be floated without fear of political repercussions.

Which is true, but short-sighted.

Public policy is at stake, potentially affecting every Iowan. The meetings of the so-called "12 apostles" hashing out the livestock bill had nothing to do with any of the reasonable reasons - such as real-estate transactions - that a governmental body may hold a closed session under Iowa's open-meetings law. ...

To argue that the bill would never have gotten done so successfully if not conceived so privately just doesn't add up. What's more, the livestock committee would have benefited from hearing concerns from all sides on every idea under consideration all along the way.

Senior Living Trust:


Gov. Tom Vilsack signed a bill recently requiring the state to repay the money it took from the Senior Living Trust Fund once the rainy day fund is restored to its maximum level.

That's the least state government can do after legislators raided the trust, to the tune of $48 million, to help cover Medicaid expenses during the current budget crisis.

Established with a grant from the federal government, the Senior Living Trust supports programs that allow more of Iowa's elderly to live independently. The fund pays for services such as home-delivered meal programs and adult day care centers, and provides grants to convert nursing home beds into assisted living space.

The Senior Living Trust is not a piggy bank for legislators to break open to cover budget problems. The law that Vilsack signed should have also barred legislators from "borrowing" money from the trust again, when the next budget crisis hits.

Perhaps if that safety net was cut, legislators would be forced to make better fiscal decisions during boom times.

Tobacco funds:


The University of Iowa College of Medicine took a bold step this month by banning the use of tobacco industry funds for research.

On its surface, and to smoke-free advocates, this may sound like a no-brainer. How could anyone promoting health take funds from an industry that promotes proven carcinogens? But it isn't that simple, and no one should underestimate the power of a cash-strapped public agency to rationalize its funding sources.

This move sends a strong signal that Iowa's health is not for sale. It's much more than any symbolic gesture. With different leadership and different circumstances, the college may have said it could use the funds to study the damage tobacco does to Iowans . Instead, it will stay free and clear of any conflict of interest.

Turning down the deep coffers of the tobacco industry is a high price to pay for integrity, but we're glad to see a public institution taking that step.