SEATS Letter – 2/18/13

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February 18, 2013

To:  Johnson County Board of Supervisors, Coralville City Council, Iowa City City Council

From: Barbara Beaumont (President) (626-6227, bgbeaumont@juno.com)  and Carol Spaziani (Vice President), (338-6140, spazianic@msn.com), League of Women Voters of Johnson County

Subject:  SEATS Contract Renewal

The recent disagreement over how much each participating local government should pay for SEATS service to its residents has pointed out several things:

  1. Every five years when the contracts between the cities of Iowa City and Coralville with Johnson County are up for renewal, there is a huge intergovernmental argument.  This creates high anxiety among the users of SEATS, a paratransit service of Johnson County  that provides rides throughout the county to elderly and disabled persons and to anyone living in the unincorporated area.  Most of these riders are dependent on this service, the only public transit serving the whole county, for their health and quality of life.
  2. Johnson County has four separate public transit systems serving a population of around 133,000.  The local government entities operating them have consistently:

-resented the government subsidies necessary to support public transit

-resisted all suggestions that perhaps a consolidated service might be more efficient, expand services, or avoid the repeated flaps over “fair share” funding.

3.   Policy-makers of the contracting entities appear to be more concerned about protecting their own budget territories than truly seeking to provide the optimum transit service to meet the needs of users.

4. The repeated squabbling (as opposed to good-faith, rational, scheduled negotiation) is harmful to the goal of intergovernmental cooperation –perhaps even eventual consolidation.  Most residents would say, if asked, that they wish our local governments would cooperate more.

The League of Women Voters of Johnson County (LWVJC) has been advocating for many years for either an expansion of public transit to developing areas of the county or a consolidation of existing systems.  Local governments must stop talking about transit subsidies as a naughty word and view public transit as a desirable public utility—an important one to be provided by a growing community desirous of offering  features sought by companies seeking to locate where they can attract employees.

Apparently this view is more widely held than many realize.  Witness the recommendations in May, 2012, of the “Future Transit Needs Committee” of the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County (MPOJC).  Members included representatives of Johnson County, Iowa City, Coralville, University of Iowa, University Heights, North Liberty, Tiffin, and the public.  Among the eight goals articulated by this committee and later adopted by the MPOJC Urban Policy Board were:

  1. Work with communities in Johnson County on ways to increase the SEATS on-demand system
  2. (Long Range): Consider the need for transit consolidation or a county-wide authority.

The League of Women Voters has observed that each of the SEATS contracting entities’ idea of “fair share” has some merits.  It would be a step backwards for intergovernmental cooperation if each entity opted to provide its own paratransit system, proliferating our existing four systems into six.  We urge all of you to find common ground to see that our only county-wide transit system continues as a single, merged service with one number to call for service.  We also urge you to continue to investigate ways to expand—not diminish—this important service.

Letter Regarding Gun Violence Sent to LWV President Elizabeth Macnamara

A basic League of Women Voters Principle is “The League of Women Voters believes that democratic government depends upon informed and active participation in government and requires that governmental bodies protect the citizen’s right to know by giving adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and making public records accessible.”
From this principle the League has set policies on issues, such as violence prevention and gun control.
 Violence Prevention

“Statement of Position on Violence Prevention, as Adopted by the 1994 Convention:

The League of women Voters of the United States supports violence                                     prevention programs in all communities and actions to support:

Public and private development and coordination of programs that                                                 emphasize the primary prevention of violence.

The active role of government and social institutions in preventing violent                                     behavior.

              The allocation of public monies in government programs to prevent violence.”
Gun Control

                 “Statement of Position on Gun Control, as Adopted by 1990 Convention  and amended by the 1994  and 1998 Conventions:

             The League of women Voters of the United States believes that the proliferation of handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons in the United States is a major health and safety threat to its citizens….”
The statement goes on to support regulating firearms for public safety, licensing procedures, and bans on some weapons.
From these policies, we urge the League to engage in a long-term effort to ensure that citizens have solid research upon which to discuss the effects of gun violence, as well as supporting legislation for our positions. As part of the citizen’s right to know and the constitutional right of speech, we urge the League to work for the rights of health professionals and their patients to discuss gun safety.
 Both of these should be priority actions.
The current gun violence discussions in our country are marked by a flood of conflicting “facts” and “statistics”. Public opinion is so assaulted by biased opinions on both sides of the issue, that a reasoned impartial assessment of the facts is impossible.
This is mainly due to successive Congressional acts which, since 1996, have steadily prevented impartial data gathering and research on the nature and extent of gun violence or prevention thereof, or on the effects of regulations, handling and storage of guns, individual behaviors, etc.
Prior to 1996, medical researchers studied these factors. In 1996 there was a strong effort to cut the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC). Funding was sharply reduced in 1997 with the proviso that  ”none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”  (1) This funding restriction language was added every year thereafter and is in the 2012 appropriations bill and the draft of the 2013 bill. As a result of these restrictions, research funding has dropped by over 95%. (2)
In 2009 a study on the effects of gun-carrying, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, resulted in Congress extending the restricting language above to all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH). (3)
In 2011, a provision of the National Defense Act forbade military officers from talking to their service members about their private weapons even if the officer
had concerns over suicidal tendencies of the service member. (4) This provision was extended, but testimony by retired generals caused Congress to address the military suicide issue and end this First Amendment gag in January 2013.
Several states are considering restricting, with very severe penalties for violations, any physician-patient discussions or recording of information on gun safety. One state has already enacted such a law. This will restrict data gathering on preventive gun violence techniques. (5)
Citizens of the United States depend on public health science to improve the health and safety of our people. Health researchers are ethically bound in their research data gathering, analysis, and reports to be as objective as possible in their reports.   Their work contributed to decreases in deaths and injuries from motor vehicle, fires, and water accidents, and can be effective in reducing firearm violence. (6)
Therefore, we petition the League to advocate:
1. to encourage scientific inquiry by restoring firearm violence research  funding to all of our health agencies and encouraging the dissemination of their findings to the public.
2.  to protect of the First Amendment  rights of health professionals to discuss firearm safety with their patients.
Respectfully submitted,
League of Women Voters of Johnson County, Iowa

Notes

1. Arthur L. Kellermann, MD and Frederick P. Rivera, MD,  “Silencing the Science             on Gun Research,”  Journal of the America Medical Association, Feb. 13,             2013, Vol 309, No. 6, p. 549-550.

2. Hickey, Walter, “How the NRA Killed Federal Funding for Gun Violence Research, ”  Business Insider, January 16, 2013. (WEB)

3. Kellermann, op. cit., p. 549

4. Ibid, p. 550

5. USA Today, Feb. 1, 2013.

6. Kellermann, op. cit., p. 550

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