Gender reassignment surgery should not be required to be covered by health insurance.

As reported in the Des Moines Register, a jury recently found the State of Iowa guilty of illegal discrimination against a transgender man.  He had not been allowed to use the men’s bathroom or locker room, and he had been denied health insurance coverage for gender re-assignment surgery.  (See link below to Register article.)

It is morally correct and good public policy that our government not discriminate against a people based on their gender identity.  But refusal by government or private employers to cover gender reassignment surgery under their health insurance plans should not be considered wrongful discrimination, unless the plans cover other types of cosmetic procedures for people who feel similar dysphoria.  People may feel mental distress over their teeth being crooked, or their nose being too big, or many other aspects of their body, but that does not mean health insurance plans should be required to cover procedures to make people feel better about their appearance.  We have already seen that requiring health insurance plans to cover almost everything makes the premiums unaffordable for many people.  There is nothing inherently wrong with expecting people to pay their own way for cosmetic procedures.

Link to Register article: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/local/columnists/courtney-crowder/2019/02/13/transgender-prison-nurse-sues-iowa-alleged-discrimination-aclu-state-civil-rights-corrections/2863854002/

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Big marijuana bust in Iowa – Mayor found growing pot!

As the Des Moines Register reported yesterday, the Mayor of Jamaica, Iowa and her husband were busted two days earlier at about 4:20 p.m. (no joke) for growing 18 marijuana plants inside their home.   The various related charges include a Class “D” Felony for the manufacture and possession with intent to deliver less than 50 kilograms of marijuana.

It’s a shame that our laws in Iowa still make it a crime to do something that is peaceful, voluntary, and uses no force or fraud against others. Marijuana prohibition laws do little to make our state safer, and yet do great harm to people who are victimized by them.  In this case, if these two people are found guilty of the felony, they could be sentenced for up to 5 years in prison, be required to pay up to $7,500, lose their voting rights, be disqualified for military service or student loans, and more.  Compare that to the fact that nothing happens to a person in her home who is found to be brewing 5 gallons of beer – a standard home-brew batch – and possessing, say, 10 to 20 more gallons that were brewed earlier.

Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, and yet today we see the same unintended consequences resulting from drug prohibition that we saw from alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s: violence, deaths from impure products, and the arrest and punishment of people who are otherwise honest and peaceful.  Make no mistake, the violence associated with the illegal drug trade is caused by prohibition laws.  If Walgreens moves into a community, CVS doesn’t send out a gang to kill them.  When drugs are delivered to a pharmacy, both parties don’t carry weapons to protect themselves.  Instead, they call the police if someone uses violence against them.  But you can’t can’t call the police for help if you’re dealing in illegal drugs.

We need to follow the trend in other states and around the world:  Legalize recreational marijuana and treat addiction using a medical model, just like alcohol.  Let your elected representatives know your feelings.  That is the way to get these unjust laws changed.

Link to Register article: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2019/01/17/jamaica-mayor-ladonna-kennedy-pot-weed-gurthrie-county-crime-marijuana-search-ames-shooting-suspect/2606455002/

Economic Impact of Des Moines’ Water Trails project is not believable.

To the editor,

Please consider the following for inclusion in your letters section, or as a “Your Turn” essay:
It is exciting to think about the River Trails white water park that is proposed for the downtown portions of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers.  It would be a nice addition to the amenities that help keep and attract people and businesses to the Des Moines area.
But I don’t believe the results of the economic impact study that was done by Johnson Consulting for Capital Crossroads.  As reported in The Des Moines Register, the study estimates that the Water Trails project will generate $104 million of Total Direct Spending at restaurants, hotels, stores, and equipment rentals during its first five years of operation.  (See link to Register article below.)
For example, the report assumes that there will be 78,068 paying active participants of the River and Adventure Park features during the first full year of operation – spending about $78 each on food, beverage, and equipment rental.  If we assume  the recreational and related opportunities are open 365 days per year, it means that an average of over 200 people would use the facilities every day.  That doesn’t seem reasonable to me.
In addition to the 78,068 active participants, the report assumes the project will attract an additional 80,000 non-active visitors, plus 15,404 more visitors from the Iowa Events Center, for a total of 173,472 visitors who will contribute to the total economic impact of the project during the first year – spending about $100 each that they otherwise would not have spent..  (The estimated number of users increases about 6-7% per year after the first year.)
The projections include the assumption that 60,000 of the visitors will stay overnight during the first year.  That equals an average of 164 overnight visitors every day who would not have otherwise stayed overnight if there weren’t a River Trails recreation project.  The report includes other unrealistic estimates.
It is probably impossible to calculate the economic benefit of any new attraction that is added on top of all of those that already exist in our metropolitan area.  I suppose it is expected that an economic impact study be conducted before spending $117 million on a recreational project like this.  The consultants do make proper disclaimers and disclosures in their report to notify readers of how estimates were made, and that actual results may be significantly different.
It is important that we not fool ourselves into thinking that we can accurately quantify the future economic impact of such a project.  My gut feeling is that the indirect benefits of the River Trails project might greatly exceed the costs, but that the directly measurable economic benefits will not.

Congress has the power to prohibit states from giving special incentives to specific businesses.

The Des Moines Register recently published an editorial that showed how out-of control Iowa and other states are in giving incentives to businesses to locate in their state.  To help reverse this situation, Congress should exercise its Constitutional power to “…regulate commerce… among the several states…” and should limit states’ ability to bribe companies to locate in their state.  States should be prohibited from giving custom incentives to specific businesses to locate in their state.  They should only be allowed to use schemes that provide uniform incentives to all companies that locate their business or otherwise create new jobs in that state.

Link to Register editorial:  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/editorials/2018/11/20/amazon-apple-corporate-iowa-workers-education-environment-bribing-business-workforce-jobs-money-tax/2061418002/

Pay gap between men and women does not need further regulation or legislation.

According to an article in the Des Moines Register, The American Association of University Women (AAUW) issued their annual report on the “pay gap” between women and men.  According to the report, women in Iowa earn about $10,000 less per year than men. This article, and the related report, are excellent examples of misuse of meaningless statistics.  (See link below.)   Comparing the median pay for all women with the median pay for all men tells us nothing about whether or not sex discrimination is taking place. A valid analysis would compare the pay of women and men who do the same work for the same employer.  The report by the AAUW did not do that.
This report tells us more about the bias of the AAUW than it does about bias in the workplace.  As you reported, Kim Churches, chief executive officer of AAUW, said, “It’s unacceptable. There is no gender differentiation when it comes to quality, skills, and talent.  It’s time to close this gap and give every woman in Iowa and across the country the salaries they deserve.”  She advocated for more regulation.
Based on the facts given in the article, and assuming that women and men can and do perform equally, then it is fair to presume that the AAUW would agree that if any woman wants to earn the same pay as a man, then they should go for the same jobs that men go for.   When the relevant qualifications, working conditions, and job duties are accounted for, the difference in pay between women and men reduces dramatically.  The pay gap has been reducing for years.  Our current laws are working.  We don’t need to add more regulations.

Link to AAUW report: https://www.aauw.org/aauw_check/pdf_download/show_pdf.php?file=The_Simple_Truth

Stop paying rent to farmers to not pollute, start penalizing polluters

I appreciate the good intentions of farm owners Maggie McQuown and Steve Turman who are making good effort to conserve their farmland and our environment.  In their Iowa View essay published in the Des Moines Register they wrote, “…  transitioning farm practices takes time to understand and accept, and requires resources to implement. ” They urged Congress to renew and increase funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) as part of the Farm Bill.  CSP pays farmers to implement conservation practices.  They implied that their farm operator might not continue conservation practices if he loses his CSP payments.    (See link to Iowa View essay below.)

The problem with CSP, which started in 2004, is that it is not a transitional program.  It doesn’t create any permanent solution.  It creates dependency.  Conservation efforts continue only so long as payments continue.  If we stop paying the subsidies the conservation stops. We need to use both “the carrot and the stick.”  Maybe now is the time to start penalizing farmers who pollute our water and air – just like we do to every other business.

Link to Iowa View essay:
https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2018/10/29/conservation-programs-encourage-long-term-sustainability/1807142002/

Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System needs to be changed to a defined contribution plan.

Recently, candidates for office in Iowa have been asked to promise future Iowa public employees that they will make no changes to the Iowa Public Employment Retirement System (IPERS) retirement plan.  Instead, politicians need to state clearly that they make no promises to future employees about their retirement benefits.  The fact that IPERS is currently underfunded by about $7 billion shows clearly that we already have over-promised benefits when compared to what we expected taxpayers and public employees to pay.

(When government has a defined benefit plan, the participants seem to think that any over-funding is their asset, but any under-funding is a liability of the taxpayers.  In the past, when IPERS was over-funded, benefits were increased!)

The way to make sure that we don’t make retirement benefit promises that turn out to be more expensive than we expect to pay is to put new government employees on a defined contribution retirement plan – just like most employees in the private sector.  This will cause the unfunded liability to come due over the next 50+ years, but at least it won’t get worse.