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Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. March 12, 2023.

Editorial: Keep requirement to publish public notices in newspapers

Some members of the Iowa Senate do not think that public notices published in newspapers remain relevant and necessary. A bill filed in the newly formed Technology Committee just over a week ago moved through committee in two days and last week moved through the Ways & Means Committee in one day. Senate File 546 would result in removing a major component of government transparency. This legislation would require legal notices to be posted on a website controlled by the very government legal notices are designed to oversee and notices would not be required to be published in a local newspaper.

This is the wrong move today, tomorrow and for the future. Government transparency is more important than ever. In truth, it is critical.

While the Telegraph Herald and other Iowa newspapers have an economic interest in seeing that the public notice publishing requirement remains, the issue goes far beyond a few dollars. Maintaining the legal requirement to publish government actions and meetings in local newspapers is crucial for ensuring accountability and keeping the public informed of important information that affects people’s lives. And it is the job of our local newspapers to serve as a check on government, not the government to check itself.

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The proposed savings under the guise of modernization would come at a very high cost to Iowa’s communities.

While many people now browse digital platforms for information — including TelegraphHerald.com — not everyone has access to the internet or the technological know-how to navigate online platforms. And the staggering amount of information available online, representing every viewpoint, degree of accuracy, hidden agendas and motivations from every philosophy and side of the political spectrum, makes it more and more likely public notices posted online would be lost among the chaff. Worse, they might be vulnerable to manipulation or not easily accessible through search algorithms.

By publishing public notices in newspapers, government bodies can ensure that critical information is available to everyone in a format that has stood the test of time for accuracy and accessibility. It requires that governments provide timely information for citizens to participate in their government. The notices are appearing in the communities in or very near where the decisions are made. Public notices cover a range of activities — bids and leads for public projects, minutes from government meetings, foreclosures, petitions, election information, water-quality reports and other information that is important to citizens and vibrant communities.

The basis for public notices published in newspapers remains as important as ever:

• Requiring an independent, third party to publish the notices in accordance with the law helps prevent government officials from hiding information they prefer the public not to see. The government cannot be in charge of holding itself responsible. A public notice must be published in a forum independent of the government.

• Publishing the notice in a newspaper ensures that the information is widely accessible to the public. Unlike social media or other online platforms, newspapers are trusted sources of information that are available to everyone, regardless of whether a person has access to the internet or social media accounts. Access to public notices in the TH is free to any reader — not just subscribers.

• A public notice must be archived in a secure and publicly available format. Newspapers have always fulfilled this requirement because a public notice published in a newspaper is already archivable and accessible. This is particularly important for notices that contain information about government decisions and actions that impact individuals and communities for years to come. Requiring governmental bodies to publish legal notices in newspapers ensures that this information is always accessible.

• The public must be able to verify that a legal notice is not altered after being published. In a newspaper notice, an affidavit is provided by the publisher, which can be used in an evidentiary proceeding to demonstrate that a true copy was published as well as the exact wording that was used. Legal notices published in newspapers are subject to public scrutiny and can be easily monitored by journalists or concerned citizens.

• Many newspapers also publish the public notices on their websites and nearly all public notices across the state are also uploaded to a centralized website at iowanotices.org, a site run by newspapers at no additional cost to government or taxpayers. It is available for those who prefer accessing an electronic version.

There might be parts of the country where newspaper readership is receding, but not in Iowa. Iowa has 241 community newspapers with one or more newspapers in every county. Market research conducted in 2022 showed that 84% of Iowa adults read local print or digital newspapers. And newspaper readers are more engaged in their community. Newspapers reach 93% of Iowans who report, “I feel that I have a responsibility to help share the future of my community.”

It is true that newspapers charge a nominal fee, set by Iowa law, for publishing legal notices. This is a very small price for freedom, as it is typically under 1% of any government body’s spending. All Iowans should demand more scrutiny of government affairs, never less.

While the bill does not prohibit local government bodies from publishing public notices in newspapers, it removes the current requirement for doing so. Removing the legal requirement would most certainly result in local governments discontinuing all public notice publications in their local newspapers. But the long-term costs that communities and citizens would pay far exceed the price paid by government bodies to publish legal notices in newspapers.

We believe that requiring governmental bodies to continue publishing legal notices in local newspapers is crucial for ensuring transparency, accountability and accessibility in government decision-making. Newspapers — especially Iowa newspapers — remain a trusted source of information that is widely accessible and easily searchable.

As a newspaper, we strongly urge Iowa’s senators to vote “no” on this short-sighted bill.

Des Moines Register. March 19, 2023.

Editorial: Iowa is wrong to single out transgender children

The damage will not be easily, or quickly, undone. Nor will Iowa’s reputation for fairness soon be regained.

Iowa Republican lawmakers are discriminating against a disfavored group, transgender persons.

They are stretching or inventing facts to justify it. They are doing it despite obvious inconsistences with their professed stances on individual freedom. Some of the bills they are passing explicitly acknowledge the likelihood that they contradict laws that exist to protect disfavored groups.

They are doing it after listening to well-reasoned pleas that such laws will balloon suicide risks for transgender Iowa children, who would be denied health care and in all likelihood subjected to increased bullying by uninformed classmates.

It is wrong to ban gender-affirming care for children, full stop. It is wrong to vaguely prohibit classroom instruction on topics that might implicate sexuality or identity. It is wrong to single out transgender kids and police their bathroom use.

These proposals are wrong regardless of whether they enjoy popular support. They are the antithesis of inclusion and courtesy and robust education. They are wrong regardless of how proponents try to justify them, but it’s worth pointing out the flimsiness of some of the most popular arguments for why Iowa supposedly needs these laws.

Gender-affirming care isn’t necessary: Wrong

For nearly three years, many Republicans have been adamant that freedom means, among other things, never being required to wear a face mask, and being able to seek experimental and well-outside-the-mainstream treatments, such as ivermectin for COVID-19.

It turns out the concern is selective. When it comes to puberty blockers and other gender-affirming care, Sen. Jeff Edler warns that treatments are “experimental” and “irreversible.” This is despite a Cornell University analysis in 2018 finding that 93% of studies it examined “found positive effects from gender transition.” Democratic senators pointed to research that suicide risk is reduced 73% for a transgender or nonbinary young person who receives affirming care.

There are doctors, and national bodies in some countries, that have expressed doubts about certain treatments for minors. But pointing to those arguments hardly gives lay legislators in Iowa cause to declare the debate settled in their favor and start overriding the considered judgments of U.S. medical professionals and groups such as the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The Republican majority during this legislative session has hammered away at the theme that parents get to decide things for their children. But if Gov. Kim Reynolds signs Senate File 538, parents won’t be able to decide on whether their transgender child can receive lifesaving health care.

Gender identity and sex shouldn’t be discussed in schools: Wrong

Bills that have progressed through varying stages of the legislative process require that bathroom selection and birth certificates align, that teachers keep quiet about sex and identity, and that educators and students not be punished for misnaming or misgendering people.

Republicans say the bills don’t single out anybody because they apply to everybody. But in each case, transgender people in particular would feel the brunt of the consequences. It’s no more compelling a justification than the idea that barring same-sex marriage was neutral and evenhanded because straight men were also prohibited from marrying men.

Another measure lawmakers are working on would require “age-appropriate” instruction. And one high-profile bill asserts that “a school district shall not provide any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion, or instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through grade six.”

These requirements are unhelpful and unnecessary, but they also seem likely to chill reasonable conversations beyond their explicit scope. For example, maybe the quoted sentence above would allow an elementary school teacher to answer a question about various kinds of families. Maybe it wouldn’t. Would you be eager to test that proposition and open you and your school to disciplinary action?

It’s OK to skirt existing civil rights protections: Wrong

Senate File 482, the bathroom bill headed to Reynolds’ desk, begins, “It shall not be an unfair or discriminatory practice …” Republicans know their ideas conflict with the Iowa Civil Rights Act and federal law and with these provisions seek a leg up in inevitable lawsuits.

In subcommittee hearings, almost all of the “problems” that advocates said made the laws necessary were hypothetical – cisgender boys lying about their identity to spy on or assault girls, for instance. Testimony about real situations in Iowa revealed that schools have mostly already had little trouble figuring out fair accommodations for all students.

Discriminatory attacks represent the worst of us

This Legislature has passed other laws that could inflict real harms on vulnerable people, such as the state government reorganization approved last week, which various advocates say threatens the quality of services for blind and deaf Iowans and an employment program for people with disabilities, among other concerns.

But the flood of bills whose primary effect is to diminish the dignity of transgender Iowans is blatantly discriminatory. It makes all Iowans seem mean and ignorant. If these bills become law, they will inflict real harms on vulnerable people. The damage will not be easily, or quickly, undone. Nor will Iowa’s reputation for fairness soon be regained.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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