Civic News & Info
Statement from Governor Pat Quinn On FEMA Denial of State Disaster Assistance Request PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Andrew Mason   
Monday, 19 March 2012 12:17
SPRINGFIELD - March 11, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today issued the following statement regarding FEMA’s denial of the state’s request for federal assistance for people and businesses in Southern Illinois that were impacted by the Feb. 29 tornado.

“I am extremely disappointed that FEMA denied our request for federal assistance that is needed to help people in Harrisburg, Ridgway and the other communities devastated by this deadly tornado. After personally surveying the damage and talking to many residents who lost their homes, I firmly believe federal assistance is crucial to help them begin the recovery process.

“I support Senator Dick Durbin’s efforts to encourage federal officials to reconsider their decision. In the meantime, I have directed Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Jonathon Monken to continue working with local officials to ensure that we do everything possible to secure critical assistance.”

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Iowa Legislative Update PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Peggy Huppert   
Monday, 19 March 2012 12:14

The week started out in an exciting way! We had four advocates speak in favor of a statewide ban on using nicotine or tobacco products on all K-12 school property at a public hearing in the House of Representatives on Monday night. Three of us were the final three speakers of the night and we definitely had an impact on legislators who were present. We anticipate an amendment will be filed to the House Education Reform bill on this next week. Watch for an Action Alert!

The House was supposed to debate the Health & Human Services spending bill yesterday, but didn’t. That bill zeroes out spending for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. For more on this issue, check out my opinion piece that was published in last Saturday’s Des Moines Register here.

More ammunition for our position came this week in the form of a new report from the US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. Dr. Benjamin said youth tobacco use is a “pediatric epidemic” and a grave threat to public health. Why then is the Iowa House Appropriations Committee proposing eliminating all funding for tobacco prevention and cessation?  To see the press release sent out by the Iowa Tobacco Prevention Alliance yesterday tying the Surgeon General’s report to the situation in Iowa, click here.

 
Olson's Observations PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Steven Olson   
Monday, 19 March 2012 11:15
A public hearing on the House Republican amended education bill took place Monday at the
State Capitol. Although the Republican version of the Governor’s bill was officially slated for debate, the
hearing involved points on the Senate Democrat version and the Governor’s original plan as well. The
House amendment contains a delay on the third-grade “retention” which would go into effect in 2016-17
and removal of a section of the Governor’s plan expanding online-only education.
I have received many comments from my constituents concerning the Medicaid cost containment
proposals impacting physicians. The reduction is a change
in the way Iowa pays for services where the patient is
covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. Currently, a
physician bills Medicare first and then bills Medicaid for the
remainder of the bill. As I understand it, a provider can be
paid more by Medicaid and Medicare for these “cross-over
claims” than what the state would pay if the patient was just
eligible for Medicaid. We are concerned about the level of
Medicaid reimbursement. You may be aware that states are
not to pay more than what Medicare pays. That is a problem
for states like ours, where Medicare rates are among the
lowest in the nation. I am hopeful that, by the time the Legislature has adjourned for the year that we will
have found a way to address your concerns.
For the most part the House this week has been taking up a lot of non-controversial policy bills,
but in the coming weeks debate could become a little more heated.
If you have concerns or questions I can be reached at the Capitol by emailing
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
Former NBC Legal Exec Warns of Looming Threat to Free Speech in the U.S. PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Monday, 19 March 2012 11:07

The man who served as NBC-TV’s legal counsel for 25 years warns the FCC is poised to resurrect broad censorship rules that were revoked in 1987 because of their chilling effect on both free speech and the television press.

Corydon B. Dunham says the proposed new Localism, Balance and Diversity Doctrine could eventually also affect news on the Internet. The FCC is reportedly planning to transfer the broadcast spectrum used by local television to the Internet to make it the nation’s primary communications platform, and the agency has started to regulate the Internet.

In his new book, Government Control of News: A Constitutional Challenge (http://freespeech.authorsxpress.com/), Dunham recounts the evolution of government control of television news and the Fairness Doctrine. The book, the result of a study initiated at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institute, examines the history of the Fairness Doctrine – the rules by which the federal government regulated TV journalism. Similar rules had governed radio news since 1934 and were applied to TV in 1949 by the Federal Communications Commission.

“TV was a powerful new medium and there were only a few broadcast stations in many communities. It was thought that this gave unusual power to station and network owners,” Dunham explains. “The government justified the Fairness Doctrine as a way to ensure stations aired opposing viewpoints on issues.”

But what was touted as an attempt to encourage robust discourse became a tool for censoring the news, Dunham says.

“If a complaint was made about a view that had been broadcast, the FCC investigated. If it concluded that a view should be changed, it ordered that. If it concluded other views should be presented, or even related issues, it ordered that,” Dunham says.

Failure to comply could result in no license renewal, renewal for a shorter period of time, or a “negative record” applied at renewal time.

In 1987, the FCC unanimously revoked the Fairness Doctrine, with court approval, after finding it had deterred news reporting on controversial issues, and had repeatedly been used to suppress viewpoints and help some officials pursue their own political objectives, Dunham says.

After two decades of failed attempts in Congress to revive the Fairness Doctrine, support began building anew. In 2008, the FCC released a new proposed body of rules for TV news – the Localism, Balance and Diversity Doctrine.

“It has many of the same characteristics of the old Fairness Doctrine and can be expected to have similar results,” Dunham says. “News broadcast by television stations would have to meet government criteria for ‘localism’ – local news production and coverage – as well as a regulatory balance and diversity of viewpoints. A three-vote majority of five FCC commissioners at a central government agency would make local news judgments and override those of thousands of independent, local TV reporters and editors.”

It would also be enforced by having a local board at each station monitor programming, including news, and recommend against license renewal if the station did not comply with FCC policy.

In 2011, the FCC-sponsored Future of Media Study recommended the localism doctrine proceeding be ended. The present chief of the White House regulatory office has long recommended that the government regulate news to advance its political and social objectives, Dunham says.

“There is unprecedented silence from the FCC about its plans for television news in this country,” Dunham says.

TV is not the only medium potentially affected.

“At the end of 2010, the FCC decided to take over regulation of the Internet in this country. It will regulate its traffic and gain some power to review content,” Dunham says.

“The president, Congress and the FCC have also agreed to transfer the entire broadcast spectrum (currently used by TV stations) to the Internet over the next 10 years. If the localism doctrine is adopted, it could apply to the Internet and its participants as users of the FCC-controlled spectrum.”

Dunham says requiring journalists to comply with a central government agency’s policy on how to report the news means those journalists will no longer be free and independent.

“As the Fairness Doctrine broadcast history shows, the threat of loss of license will deter station news coverage, particularly of controversy, and the public will lose news and information.

“If the broadcast press is not free and independent of government, it cannot act as a watchdog for the public, which is its constitutional role.”

About Corydon B. Dunham

Corydon B. Dunham is a Harvard Law School graduate. His “Government Control of News” study was expanded and developed for the Corydon B. Dunham Fellowship for the First Amendment at Harvard Law School and the Dunham Open Forum for First Amendment Values at Bowdoin College. Dunham was an executive at NBC from 1965 to 1990. He oversaw legal and government matters and Broadcast Standards. He was on the board of directors of the National Television Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Corporate Counsel Association, and American Arbitration Association among other posts.

 
Iowa Wins Three National Transparency Awards PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Meghan   
Monday, 19 March 2012 11:01
Alexandria, VA – – Sunshine Review, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to government transparency, released the winners of the third annual Sunny Awards and among the winners were two counties and one school district in Iowa. The award, which honors the most transparent government websites in the nation, went to 214 government entities including    Johnson and Scott County and Ankeny Community School District.

“The Sunny Awards recognizes governments that are doing an exemplary job at proactively disclosing information to taxpayers,” said Michael Barnhart, President of Sunshine Review. “We at Sunshine Review are proud to acknowledge those who are doing it right and setting a transparency standard that all governments can, and should, meet.”

For the 2012 awards, Editors at Sunshine Review analyzed more than 6,000 government websites and graded each on a 10-point transparency checklist. Editors looked at content available on government websites against what should be provided. They sought information on items such as budgets, meetings, lobbying, financial audits, contracts, academic performance, public records and taxes. The winners of the Sunny Award all received an “A” grade during the extensive grading process.

Six states earned nearly half of the 214 Sunny Awards given. The leading states were Florida (28), Texas (21), Illinois (19), Virginia (14), Ohio (10) and Pennsylvania (10). In addition, ten states earned an “A” grade for their state government website including, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, New York, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington and West Virginia. The winners also included school districts and city and county governments.

Since beginning the Sunny Awards in 2010, Sunshine Review has given 365 Sunny Awards to local and state governments. In 2011, Florida once again took home the most awards with other leading states including Texas (12), Utah (10), Illinois (7), Virginia (6) and California (5).

“The winners of the Sunny Award know that information empowers every citizen to hold government officials accountable. Sunshine Review applauds the winners of the Sunny Award and encourages every government to allocate the resources to improving their website transparency,” said Barnhart.

The Sunny Awards announcement preludes the launch of “Sunshine Week,” March 11-17, a period nationally recognized by hundreds of media and civic organizations, that celebrates the efforts of activists and the strides taken towards open government.

Sunshine Review is a nonprofit organization dedicated to state and local government transparency. Sunshine Review collaborates with individuals and organizations throughout America in the cause of an informed citizenry and a transparent government. Since its inception in 2008, Sunshine Review has analyzed the websites of all 50 states and more than 6,000 state and local entities.

To see a full list of winners click here
For more information, visit www.sunshinereview.org.
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