In the midst of unremitting violence in the U.S. and abroad comes word that the Iowa Legislative Council has agreed to establish a committee to study violence in Iowa. This is encouraging news on two fronts. First, for the sake of life on this planet we’ve got to figure out the root causes of violence and address them. Second, agreement to conduct the study required bipartisan support — which was lacking just a few months ago when Iowa legislators concluded the 2016 session.
On July 13 the Iowa Legislative Council, a “steering committee” of the Iowa General Assembly during the interim, approved a one-day interim study of violence in Iowa. The date will be scheduled after the Nov. 8 election, said State Senator Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, who pushed for a three-day study. Perhaps the signs of the times convinced the council, composed of leadership from both chambers, to address a problem that isn’t going away. Dallas, Baton Rouge, Orlando, Baltimore, Ferguson … the list of cities punctuated by violence goes on. Closer to home, Dubuque’s police chief sees an uptick in violence, which is why he brought it to the attention of Dubuque area legislators last fall. Headlines in newspapers across Iowa indicate the problem isn’t isolated.
Study committee members (Jochum hopes to be one of them) will examine the causes and impacts of increased levels of violence in Iowa and potential solutions. Some components of the study:
• Development of more accurate, useful measurements of violent crime beyond annual crime statistics.
• Identification of the root causes of violence.
• Review of Iowa criminal code provisions, sentencing guidelines, and incarceration, probation and parole trends.
• Identification of any other cause and effect variables arising through research.
Leaders from both chambers of the Iowa Legislature will choose 10 study committee members. The Catholic Messenger will keep you posted on the study committee’s membership and the date selected for the study, which any Iowan can sit in on and contribute testimony to. Input needs to come from a wide variety of groups and individuals in the public and private sector. If you have ideas on the causes of and possible solutions to violence, share them with the Iowa Legislature’s leadership or study committee members, once they’re selected. Iowa Sen. Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (712) 328-2808; Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (515) 281-3221.
Just one day is being allotted for the study, so it is crucial that the issues of greatest concern — along with potential solutions — are thoroughly presented to the Iowa Legislative Council. Study recommendations will be submitted, if deemed appropriate, to the General Assembly by Jan. 1, 2017. A reasonable outcome would be creation of a task force of experts from these various disciplines and legislators who can delve into issues such as poverty, family, education, jobs, physical and mental well-being, access to guns, and more. We should take a look at what other states are doing that might help address Iowa’s specific needs.
As citizens and as people of faith, our job is to stay informed about this important issue, offer our input and to be open to the conclusions of the study. In a culture that basks in self-righteousness and self-interest abetted by social media, we’ve got to resist the temptation to be close-minded.
Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, thinks the study “will contribute to an honest conversation about the prevention of violence and public policy changes that could be helpful.” Change isn’t easy in the society in which we live, but if we live by the Gospel, it’s a fact of life.
A verse from the Book of James is worth pondering here: “… The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” (3:17-18).
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor