Recent Stories

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.

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.

Missing DNA evidence hampers wrongful conviction fight in Iowa

In June, William Beeman, who is serving a life sentence in the Iowa Department of Corrections for a 1980 murder, asked a judge to order a DNA evidence test that he contends could prove his innocence. But police agencies involved in the case say they still can’t find the evidence to test. The missing items include a rape kit recovered from the body of the victim, 22-year-old Michiel Winkel, and bloody clothes from the state park where authorities found her dead. Beeman was a local DJ in rural Muscatine County, on the state’s eastern border, when police arrested him for murdering Winkel, who had been an acquaintance. Beeman’s attorneys argue that DNA evidence could shed more light on a crime with multiple suspects, no eyewitnesses, and a confession Beeman claims was coerced by police.

Evans: University of Iowa Utility Secrecy a Blow to Public Accountability

The Iowa Board of Regents is being asked this week to consider a complex proposal to turn the operation of the University of Iowa’s utility system over to an unnamed business that will be paid to operate it for the next 50 years. The business will make a cash payment of an undisclosed size to the university up front in return for the privilege of managing the coal-burning power plant, water treatment plant and the infrastructure for distributing electricity, steam and water across the sprawling campus and hospital complex. In return, the business is guaranteed a 50-year stream of revenue from its one customer. University officials see the public-private deal as a win-win for everyone. That may be true.