Evans: Iowa’s universities need to learn an important lesson

In recent years, Republicans and Democrats in the Iowa Legislature often agree on little. But they were nearly unanimous this spring in supporting an important piece of legislation — a bill requiring faculty and administrators at the state universities to go through training about the First Amendment and the rights it contains. Anyone skeptical of the need for the new law received a wake-up call last week when the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis handed down a decision against the University of Iowa. The decision should embarrass and anger Iowans. In a blistering 3-0 ruling, the court said university administrators engaged in clear discrimination against a student religious group based solely on the views of the organization and its leaders.

Since 2018 law, Iowa utilities are doing a lot less to help customers save energy

Iowa’s largest utilities have dramatically scaled back efforts to help customers conserve energy since a 2018 law gutted the state’s efficiency requirements. MidAmerican Energy reported kilowatt-hour savings for 2020 that were 64% lower than what the utility achieved the year before the law took effect. Alliant Energy’s savings were down 40% during the same period. “That’s just staggering,” said state Sen. Rob Hogg, a Cedar Rapids Democrat who voted against the legislation. “At the very moment when our country needs to be increasing energy efficiency quickly, this is terrible.”

Most states require utilities to make regular investments in energy efficiency programs such as lighting and appliance rebates, which can help keep costs down for all customers by delaying the need for more expensive infrastructure upgrades.

Evans: Government cuts corners on public participation

Several times a week, someone contacts me because they had difficulty learning about a government meeting or ran into obstacles trying to get government records. These calls and emails to the Iowa Freedom of Information Council come more frequently than just a few years ago. This is a troubling trend because there is growing citizen distrust of government at all levels. It should not be this way. Government officials in Iowa already have the power to make these citizen frustrations disappear — if they want to.

Evans: A church and its misplaced priorities

Talk about lousy timing. The biggest religion story in Iowa last week was a jaw-dropper. Attorney General Tom Miller announced he has concluded a three-year investigation of sexual abuse allegations against priests in the four Roman Catholic dioceses in our state. 

Miller’s staff examined church records, some dating to the 1930s, that involved about 100 priests. His office also received and looked into 50 allegations against 36 priests, many of whom were the subject of earlier complaints. Most of the cases involved priests who are now deceased or retired.

Evans: Governor is right that we need more transparency

Gov. Kim Reynolds talked last week about the importance of government leaders keeping other government officials looped in as decisions are made and events unfold. The governor was more correct than she probably intended. I will get to that shortly. But first, here is some important background on the governor’s statement — because she and I see eye to eye on this, at least as it relates to the issue that provoked her displeasure with federal officials. Reynolds was talking about the federal government’s secret chartered flight with migrant children from California that landed in Des Moines in the middle of the night on April 22.

Iowa solar installers forced to adapt as lawmakers let solar tax credit expire

Iowa solar installers say the expiration of a state solar tax credit could make solar panels a tougher sell for residential and small business customers. The Iowa Legislature adjourned last month without extending the state’s popular solar tax credit, which is scheduled to sunset at the end of the year. 

The program has had a growing waitlist in recent years as demand has outstripped a $5 million annual cap put in place by lawmakers. More than 750 customers who have already applied are now unlikely to receive the incentive. 

The program’s future was unclear for years, and some solar installers had already started to change their sales pitches to customers, emphasizing benefits such as self-sufficiency and resilience instead of long-term cost savings. “Now, we just talk up the benefits of the system,” said Andrew Fisher, a solar energy specialist with 1 Source Solar. “It’s more about creating energy on your own and energy security.

Evans: Americans deserve answers, not more politics

Plenty of stray thoughts have been swirling through my noggin lately. Thoughts like: What would Americans and members of Congress think today if the federal government decided against creating the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John Kennedy? What would we think today if the House and Senate two decades ago rejected an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the aborted airliner attack on either the White House or Capitol? What would Americans and members of Congress think if the government refused to convene a special commission after World War II to investigate the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor?