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Commentary: Training A Skilled Workforce

Friday, Aug, 29 2014

By Iowa Senator Bill Dotzler

Studies repeatedly find that employers are unable to find workers with the skills to fill job openings, education and training don't match workplace needs, and workers are not aware of programs that can train them in new skills.

Remedying those problems is the most important thing we can go to strengthen Iowa's middle class and grow our economy.

Middle-skill jobs are on the rise and are expected to make up 62 percent of Iowa positions in four years. However, only about a third of Iowa workers qualify for them, according to a report on Middle-Skill Jobs in Iowa.  Middle-skill jobs encompass a wide range of occupations, from computer specialists and radiation therapists to carpenters and machinists—positions that require some education beyond high school but not a four-year degree.

This year, we continued our work to expand training and apprenticeship programs that will prepare more workers to fill openings for good jobs in their communities.

We're keeping tuition affordable with a boost in funding for Iowa's community colleges, the first place many Iowans go to further their education, training and career opportunities.  We're investing in internships so that Iowa students studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can get hands-on experience in these growing fields.  And we're increasing the number of skilled workers by committing more than $40 million to job training efforts.

We are also improving and expanding apprenticeship programs, which provide supervised on-the-job training and technical classroom studies.  Last year, Iowa had 662 apprenticeship programs, with more than 8,100 apprentices.

By investing in apprenticeships, we will make sure local employers have the skilled workers they need.  Plus, it’s a good deal for trainees.  They are paid to learn a skilled trade and earn a nationally recognized credential.

In addition to state support for apprenticeship programs, Iowa recently was awarded a $6.1 million federal grant that will place 1,500 Iowans in apprenticeship-based occupations in high-demand industries.

Learn more about the opportunities apprenticeships provide Iowa workers at www.iowaworkforce.com/apprenticeship.

The preceding is a legislative update from Senator Bill Dotzler, representing Waterloo, Evansdale, Elk Run Heights and Gilbertville in southeast Black Hawk County.  For newsletters, photos and further information, go to www.senate.iowa.gov/senator/dotzler.

To contact Senator Dotzler during the week, call the Senate Switchboard at 515-281-3371.  Otherwise he can be reached at home at 319-296-2947.  E-mail him at bill.dotzler@legis.iowa.gov.



Senator Dotzler is an Assistant Majority Leader and chair of the Economic Development Budget Subcommittee. He also serves on the Appropriations, Economic Growth, Human Resources, Labor & Business, and Ways & Means committees.

posted by: Dennis Lowe 4 days ago Comment On This Post


Commentary: College Sexual Assault

Tuesday, Aug, 26 2014

Injustice 101: Denying Sexual Assault is a Serious Crime by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Heading off to college triggers a range of emotions for students and their families.  For those moving to campus, lugging boxes from the parking lot to the dorm adds to the knot of anxiety that won’t seem to go away.  And for every student, turning the page on life’s next chapter elicits a mix of pride, excitement and uncertainty.

Incoming freshmen may worry about meeting and making new friends, finding their way around campus, keeping up with studies, and struggling with homesickness and new beginnings.

It’s not an easy transition for parents, either, no matter if campus is across town or a day’s travel away.  Parents naturally worry about their children but understandably expect that they’re sending their college-age children into a safe environment.

As the first weeks of college get under way, students will get caught up in the excitement of their home-away-from-home and the newly found freedoms it brings.  College life offers so many enriching opportunities for students to build relationships and lay the foundation for their futures.

Personal safety may not rank among the highest of priorities when new friends head off to socialize around athletics and the many other activities and programs of college life.

But when the unthinkable happens, victims have a right to know that they will be treated with respect, and sexual assault will be treated like the crime it is, not swept under the rug or treated like a charge of plagiarism or cheating on a test.  The best prevention is the deterrent effect of swift but fair punishment of perpetrators.

Underreported or unreported rapes that occur on college campuses are part of the problem.  That sweeps an ugly reality under the rug.  It’s time for a reality check that takes fairly into account the rights of victims, while assuring due process for the accused.  The stigma attached to rape has discouraged victims from reporting sexual crimes in communities and institutions of American society, including the U.S. military.

Like so many areas of wrongdoing, transparency is key to shedding light on the issue. Improving reporting tools will help bring this issue out of the shadows so universities can work to build a safer environment.  This summer I joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers to introduce federal legislation that would hold colleges accountable for responding to sexual violence, including measures to improve reporting, counseling and prevention.

Our bill would require colleges and universities to conduct anonymous surveys, polling students about sexual misconduct on campus.  Results would be published online.  Prospective students and parents would be able to factor in these surveys during their college search.  Transparency is a remarkable disinfectant to help root out wrongdoing.

The bill also would put teeth in the law that requires colleges and universities to report campus crimes, including financial penalties for noncompliance.  It would require confidential advisors for students to call upon for counseling or to report a sexual assault.  On-campus advocates would help vulnerable young men and women get through the difficulty, doubt and uncertainty.  It also would set the standard that sexual assault is a crime and ensure that colleges inform students that it will be treated as such, including full cooperation with local law enforcement when the victim chooses that path.

Many colleges are taking steps to address sexual violence.  For those that need incentives to do more, our bipartisan legislation would spell out the consequences in federal statute.

Our institutions of higher learning ought to implement the highest standards of ethical conduct and expectations for respectful, lawful behavior among the nation’s next generation of leaders.

There’s no excuse for flunking the fundamental standards of fairness and justice that every college student deserves.  Denying a problem exists is Injustice 101.

Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford, is Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee.

posted by: Dennis Lowe 7 days ago Comment On This Post


Commentary: Labor Day 2014 Op-Ed

Tuesday, Aug, 26 2014

This Labor Day, as we head to parades and barbecues to celebrate the achievements of America’s workers, economic anxiety will be hanging over our heads.

Millions of workers across the country are struggling to support their families and are barely scraping by.  Wages have not kept pace with productivity and while CEOs, corporate shareholders and the 1% are enjoying record profits, many hardworking people struggle to put food on the table and gas in the tank.  Working families are frustrated because despite our hard work, our sacrifice and our innovation, too, many of us are not reaping the fruits of our labor.  It’s time to give working families a raise!

Our wages haven’t remained stagnant by chance.  The rise in political and corporate attacks on working people has meant that for decades wages have declined or remained flat.  The drop in labor union participation over the years has contributed to falling labor standards in Iowa and across the country.  Good jobs with good benefits have become harder to come by.  Although working people are now more productive than ever, they are not seeing the rewards.  Instead of relying on one well-paying job to support themselves, many people are working multiple jobs and are still unable to make ends meet.  All of these factors are threatening to kill the American dream for millions of hardworking families.

It is time for working families to come together to push for a more equal economy.  This November, let’s elect leaders who put the needs of workers in Iowa first.  Americans of all political stripes, whether they are progressives or members of the Tea Party, are looking for candidates who understand their economic struggles. Working people want elected officials who will stand with us rather than with the wealthy and corporations to reverse the trends of the last few decades.  We want leaders who support unions and recognize the importance of organizing and collective bargaining in ensuring safe workplaces and fair wages.

Improving the lives of workers by raising wages is not a lost cause.  There have been signs of hope across the country this year.  From Massachusetts to North Carolina, to Minnesota and Kansas, in dozens of towns, cities and states, local government officials have responded to the needs of workers in their districts by increasing wages.  All candidates running for office this fall would be wise to adopt a working families agenda that raises wages, enacts family-friendly policies in the workplace, and invests in research, education and infrastructure to create good jobs that pay well and are funded by closing tax loopholes for big corporations.  Candidates should pursue policies that ensure workers have access to paid sick days, increase the minimum wage for low-wage workers and protect workers from retaliation for attempting to form a union.

Every day, workers labor and strive to achieve the American dream.  This Labor Day should be a celebration for working families and all we can accomplish.  Together we can counteract widening income inequality and diminishing economic opportunity.  Will you join me in the fight?

Ken Sagar, President Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO

posted by: Dennis Lowe 7 days ago Comment On This Post


COMMENTARY: Don't Let Big Oil Bully Biofuels

Monday, Jul, 21 2014

By U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Amy Klobuchar

It’s vacation season across America.  That means family road trips are underway and the traveling public is paying even closer attention when they pull up to the pump.  America’s road warriors have long cherished affordable gas prices.  Today’s drivers also value clean-burning fuel choices that help the environment and boost America’s energy independence.

Look back four decades through the rearview mirror.  History shows how the 1973 oil embargo exposed the economic risks and geopolitical vulnerabilities associated with perilous dependence on foreign oil.  While gas shortages roiled consumers, the embargo gripped the U.S. economy and foreign policy with steep consequences. Since then, policymakers have worked to bring greater stability to U.S. energy security, such as creation of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and more domestic production, conservation (fuel economy standards) and diversification, including incentives for homegrown, clean-burning, renewable biofuels.

Most recently, Congress created the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in 2005 to promote the development and use of domestic renewable biofuels.  We also supported the expansion in 2007 to bring 36 billion gallon of renewable fuels online annually by 2022.  The federal law has helped to displace oil imports, increase domestic energy security, create jobs in rural America, curb pollution with cleaner-burning fuel and lower prices at the pump for consumers. Pure and simple, the RFS is good for America’s energy, environmental and economic stability.  In recent years, Congress also has enacted provisions to promote the installation of blender pumps at gas stations nationwide, providing consumers with a greater choice of fuels.

And yet, the nation’s energy policy is running into some bumps in the road. For starters, the EPA last fall pitched a misguided proposal to greatly reduce the RFS for fiscal 2014.  The proposed rule would lower the volume targets for advanced biofuels from 3.25 billion gallons to 2.2 billion gallons.  This proposal is causing uncertainty that may scare off future investments in this promising, innovative industry.

Biofuels also are facing stiff resistance from big oil. This time, it’s not OPEC putting a stranglehold on the marketplace, it is instead the powerful oil industry that reports show is blocking the pipeline for biofuels to get to market.

Last fall, we asked the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate possible anticompetitive practices by the oil industry.  We shared concerns we heard that oil companies allegedly are mandating retailers to carry and sell premium gasoline, which as a result prevents the use of the retailer from selling renewable fuels without installing expensive infrastructure upgrades. By forcing a franchisee to carry premium gasoline as a condition of carrying regular gas, the oil company may be using its economic power to leverage unreasonable, discriminatory arrangements that are in violation of federal laws. The Department of Justice and FTC responded with assurances that they are taking steps to identify, prevent and prosecute practices in the petroleum markets that violate anticompetitive or fraudulent business practices.

It’s a long standing tactic for these big international oil companies. On the one hand, big oil argues that the RFS is broken because the industry says it can’t mix the higher blends. On the other hand, those same companies appear to be doing everything they can to prevent any widespread investment in infrastructure by their franchisees and smaller stations who are buying and selling their gasoline.

Big oil companies can cry crocodile tears, but it’s their self-inflicted actions that are standing in the way of meeting the requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard, not ethanol producers.  Big oil can’t argue it should be repealed because it doesn’t work when it is the ones responsible for ensuring that consumers don’t have the choice for higher ethanol blends.

That’s why we kindly suggest the decision-makers at the Justice Department and FTC take a close look at a recent investigative study conducted by the Renewable Fuels Association. Its fact-finding analysis shows how oil companies appear to be blocking the sale of greater volumes of renewable fuels through bullying business tactics.  Big oil likes to say it has no control over what’s offered at the pumps of retail gas stations and franchisees.  But the facts say otherwise.

The report’s “Consumer Choice Report Card” shows less than one percent of branded stations offer E15 or E85.  Specifically, of nearly 48,000 retail gas stations carrying a “Big Five” oil company brand, less than 300 offer E85 or E15.  That flunks any reasonable standard of fairness in the marketplace.  The report flushes out fuel supply contracts, franchise agreements and other documents that show how big oil flexes its authority to undermine the sale of E85 and E15 renewables.

Tellingly, according to the report, independent stations are four to six times more likely to offer E85 and 40 times more likely to offer E15 than stations selling a “Big Five” oil brand.  It would be foolish to view these findings as a fluke.  Facts are hard to fabricate.

America has mapped out a long-term strategy to pump up competition in the transportation fuels sector, secure innovative cleaner renewable fuels to protect the environment and boost more domestic oil production to help immunize the economy and consumers from dependency on foreign oil.

Let’s not let big oil spoil the route to greater, cleaner energy independence. U.S. energy security is not for sale.  It’s time to hand over the keys to consumers and let renewables and traditional fossil fuels compete side-by-side at the pump.

posted by: Dennis Lowe 1 month ago Comment On This Post


Commentary: U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley

Saturday, May, 24 2014

I’m blessed to be spending part of my holiday weekend with my family and I hope many Iowans are able to do the same.

But no matter what we’re all doing, each of us is exercising the freedoms that generations of America’s veterans have fought to provide us.

I know all Iowans will join me in remembering those heroes who have given their lives in the past year—and all veterans who have served throughout America’s history.

posted by: Dennis Lowe 3 month(s) ago Comment On This Post


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