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Why Isn’t West Des Moines Lawmaker Closely Watching High Court on Obama’s Health-Care Reform?

The U.S. Supreme Court could take a lesson from Iowa on transparency in government.

By Rep. Peter Cownie
The session is winding down. Budget bills are being debated. Legislators are becoming more agitated. The weather is getting warmer. And there is consensus to adjourn the session in the middle of April.

There are still many issues to be resolved; they include the budget, property tax reform, mental health reform, and Governor Branstad’s education package.

In the context of what the Iowa House has accomplished in the area of transparency this session, it is interesting to watch the United States Supreme Court case regarding President Obama’s health-care legislation.

Do you think U.S. Supreme Court proceedings should be available by webcast? 

Several states are suing the administration on the basis of whether or not the health-care legislation is constitutional. Notwithstanding the merits of this extremely important case, I believe it is interesting to contrast the openness of the Supreme Court with the measures the Iowa House of Representatives has taken this year.

Principally, the United State Supreme Court does not allow its hearings to be televised. I think that is unfortunate.

Senator Charles Grassley has been a vocal critic regarding the lack of transparency in the United States Supreme Court. Senator Grassley has been a longtime advocate for television cameras to be allowed in the courtroom. I agree with Senator Grassley.

Americans should be able to watch these hearings on the Internet or on their televisions. A more open Supreme Court will lead to a more informed citizenry. That alone justifies opening up the Supreme Court.

While this alone is sufficient to open up the Supreme Court, the profound implications of the current case deserve to be seen by Americans. All Americans will be affected by this law, should it be enacted, and I feel they should be able to see not only coverage of this case, but all others as well.

The Supreme Court is one of three branches of our federal government. While the Supreme Court probably receives the least amount of press coverage, this does not mean the Court is less important. The Supreme Court represents a vital check and balance in our governmental structure. This is further reason to open up the Supreme Court just as the United States Congress televises committee hearings and floor debate.

It should be noted what the Iowa House has implemented this session regarding openness and transparency. All Iowa House of Representatives floor action is now online and live via the Internet. Go to www.legis.iowa.gov to follow the action. This was a priority of Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen’s.

I was skeptical at first.

Would this lead to grandstanding by legislators who were now constantly taped? What is the cost involved? Would Iowans watch this? All of my concerns have been alleviated after three months of session.

I have heard many good reviews from Iowans who appreciate being able to watch the debate from home. They feel better educated and appreciate the transparency. This is a good change and I hope you will take the time to see your government in action.

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