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Evans: Government needs room for common sense

People like to talk about what the law says. And in Iowa, the law has a lot to say. Just look at the Iowa Code. It now fills eight volumes and costs $295 for a complete set. But common sense costs nothing — although the 18th century thinker Voltaire once observed, “Common sense is not so common.”

Two examples involving government in Iowa in recent weeks clearly show the Frenchman was on to something. For about 13 months, most state and local government boards and councils have held “virtual” meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evans: Charter schools must have sunshine, too

The 2021 session of the Iowa Legislature will end in a few weeks, and one big issue moving toward a final vote would make charter schools easier to create as an alternative to the traditional K-12 public schools. Others can debate the pros and cons of charter schools and House File 813, the bill that is awaiting debate and a vote in the Senate. That’s not my purpose here today. But I want to sound a cautionary note:

If the Legislature wants to make it easier to establish these independent schools and provide them with state tax money to operate, then lawmakers should amend House File 813 to ensure these schools are subject to Iowa’s public records laws. As written, the bill already states that meetings of the charter schools’ boards of directors would have to be open to the public.

Where, oh where, are today’s Bob Rays?

It’s hard for those of us of a certain vintage to realize it has been 39 years since Robert Ray was Iowa’s governor. In spite of the passage of so much time, his name was on the minds of many people last week. What triggered the Bob Ray memories was Gov. Kim Reynolds’ interview with WHO Radio on Thursday. Reynolds was asked about the thousands of children, mostly from Central America, who are showing up this year at our border with Mexico without their parents. They arrive hoping to be allowed to live in the United States with relatives or sponsors, freeing them from the deadly violence and the grip of poverty so common where they came from.

Non-English speakers get support understanding details of COVID vaccine

The Midwest is home to tens of thousands of immigrants — including refugees from countries like Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq. It has been a challenge to provide information about COVID-19 and vaccines to those who don’t speak English. 

The Johnson County Public Health Department in eastern Iowa has COVID-19 information available in about a half dozen languages. But Samuel Jarvis, who works for the department, said getting this translated information out during the pandemic can be really hard. “Because the information changes quickly. And really, it’s just — it has to be at a faster pace,” said Jarvis.

Looking back, virus strained Iowa hospitals of all sizes

Joel Wells says the worst moments at rural Wayne County Hospital came last fall, when COVID-19 hospitalizations were spiking statewide. Wells works as a family physician in the third decade of his career. At that time, he said he had nine COVID-19 patients. That’s a lot for a 25-bed rural critical access hospital in south central Iowa. “We had to make lots of decisions on the fly.

Evans: How you can still lose while winning in court

Many years ago, during a conversation with an old lawyer, he made a comment I still remember: “You can sue the bishop of Boston for bastardy, but that doesn’t mean you are going to collect.”

It was Frank Karpan’s way of reminding a young editor that merely filing a lawsuit is not the most important occurrence in a dispute. The outcome is. My friend’s Frank-isms have been quoted in these columns before. My favorite is the rarely wrong observation, “I never had a client listen himself into trouble, but I’ve had plenty who talked themselves into trouble.”

Frank’s comment about the bishop occurred back when it was easier to figure out winners and losers in court fights. These days, however, someone can win in court but ultimately lose, because the cost of a skilled legal defense can be staggering.