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In historic shift, Boy Scouts to expand girls' participation

NEW YORK — In its latest momentous policy shift, the Boy Scouts of America will admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and establish a new program for older girls based on the Boy Scout curriculum that enables them to aspire to the coveted Eagle Scout rank.

Founded in 1910 and long considered a bastion of tradition, the Boy Scouts have undergone major changes in the past five years, agreeing to accept openly gay youth members and adult volunteers, as well as transgender boys.

The expansion of girls' participation, announced Wednesday after unanimous approval by the organization's board of directors, is arguably the biggest change yet, potentially opening the way for hundreds of thousands of girls to join.

The Girl Scouts of the USA, which had sought unsuccessfully to dissuade the Boys Scouts from making this move, said they remained committed to their single-gender mission.

"Girl Scouts is, and will remain, the scouting program that truly benefits U.S. girls by providing a safe space for them to learn and lead," the Girl Scouts said in a statement.

Many scouting organizations in other countries already allow both genders and use gender-free names such as Scouts Canada. But for now, the Boy Scout label will remain.

"There are no plans to change our name at this time," spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said in an email.

Under the new plan, Cub Scout dens — the smallest unit — will be single-gender, either all-boys or all-girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single gender or welcome both genders. The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the same Eagle Scout rank that has been attained by astronauts, admirals, senators and other luminaries.

Boy Scout leaders said the change was needed to provide more options for parents.

"The values of scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women," said Michael Surbaugh, chief scout executive.

The announcement follows many months of outreach by the BSA, which distributed videos and held meetings to discuss the possibility expanding girls' participation beyond existing programs, such as Venturing, Exploring and Sea Scouts.

Surveys conducted by the Boy Scouts showed strong support for the change among parents not currently connected to the scouts, including Hispanic and Asian families that the BSA has been trying to attract. Among families already in the scouting community, the biggest worry, according to Surbaugh, was that the positive aspects of single-sex comradeship might be jeopardized.

"We'll make sure those environments are protected," he said. "What we're presenting is a fairly unique hybrid model."

During the outreach, some parents expressed concern about possible problems related to overnight camping trips. Surbaugh said there would continue to be a ban on mixed-gender overnight outings for scouts ages 11 to 14. Cub Scout camping trips, he noted, were usually family affairs with less need for rigid polices.

The Girl Scouts of the USA have criticized the initiative, saying it strains the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scout officials have suggested the BSA's move was driven partly by a need to boost revenue, and they contended there is fiscal stress in part because of past settlements paid by the BSA in sex-abuse cases.

In August, the president of the Girl Scouts, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, accused the Boy Scouts of seeking to covertly recruit girls into their programs while disparaging the Girl Scouts' operations. On Monday, Latino civic leader Charles Garcia, just days after being named to the Girl Scouts' national board, wrote an opinion piece for the Huffington Post calling the BSA's overture to girls "a terrible idea."

"The Boy Scouts' house is on fire," Garcia wrote. "Instead of addressing systemic issues of continuing sexual assault, financial mismanagement and deficient programming, BSA's senior management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting girls."

Instead of recruiting girls, Garcia said the BSA should focus on attracting more black, Latino and Asian boys — particularly those from low-income households.

The BSA recently increased its annual membership fee for youth members and adult volunteers from $24 to $33, but Surbaugh said the decision to expand programming for girls was not driven by financial factors. He expressed enthusiasm at the possibility that the changes could draw hundreds of thousands more girls into BSA ranks over the coming years.

The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, and the BSA are among several major youth organizations in the U.S. experiencing sharp drops in membership in recent years. Reasons include competition from sports leagues, a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned and busy family schedules.

As of March, the Girl Scouts reported more than 1.5 million youth members and 749,000 adult members, down from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014. The Boy Scouts say current youth participation is about 2.35 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past.

Earlier this year, the National Organization for Women urged the Boy Scouts to allow girls to join. NOW said it was inspired by the efforts of a 15-year-old New York City girl, Sydney Ireland, to emulate her older brother, who is an Eagle Scout.

Iowa GOP lands Sean Spicer as Reagan Dinner speaker

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel will be the featured speaker at Iowa Republicans’ annual Reagan Dinner next month, but the undercard is getting most of the attention.

That’s because former presidential press secretary Sean Spicer, who has been spoofed on “Saturday Night Live,” will be giving the GOP faithful in insider’s view of the Trump White House.

Spicer, 46, who left the White House in August, gained attention from actress-comedian Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal on SNL for his often heated skirmishes with the White House press corps.

“Ironically, I think that the SNL skits have given him a celebrity status that will make people listen to him a little bit more carefully,” said Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, who got to know Spicer when he worked in communications for the RNC. “I’ve been a friend of his and kept in touch through the ups and downs and the tension of being the first press secretary for the president.”

Spicer and McDaniel will speak Nov. 8 at the annual dinner at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. All Iowa GOP federal and statewide elected officials have been invited. Tickets start at $100 at

Earlier this week, the Iowa Democratic Party announced that Alec Baldwin, 59, an actor and comedian who portrays President Donald Trump on SNL, will be the headliner at its Nov. 27 Fall Gala, formerly known as the Jefferson Jackson Dinner. A link to tickets — $50 for bleacher seats and $125 for dinner — is at

Kaufmann expects that Spicer will provide a good time for the Reagan Dinner audience and may attract Trump supporters who might not have attended previous party events.

“He may bring in individuals who make connection between him and SNL, but who aren’t passionate about politics,” Kaufmann said.

McDaniel, he added, likely will appeal to more establishment Republicans with her insight into what’s going on inside of high-level Republican politics.

He also hopes the dinner and Iowa Republicans make a good impression on McDaniel, 44, who as national chairwoman “has a lot of influence on whether Iowa maintains its first-in-the-nation status.”

“She has been very, very supportive,” Kaufmann said. The Iowa GOP also is bringing in other members of the RNC to “continue to educate them on what it takes to put on a caucus and why Iowa is a good spot to start.”

Federal official: Trump's Iowa request 'a lot of Washington gossip'

The federal official that President Donald Trump reportedly directed to reject Iowa's stopgap insurance plan referred to the matter as "a lot of Washington gossip," U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said late Tuesday.

Still, it wasn't clear if the official specifically denied the president wanted the plan killed.

Ernst was the keynote speaker at the Scott County Republican Party's fall fundraising dinner in Bettendorf on Tuesday evening, and after the event she took questions from reporters, including some about the state's attempt to get an Affordable Care Act waiver from the Trump administration.

Last week, the Washington Post, citing people it did not identify, reported that the president read an article about Iowa's request in August and then contacted Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and made it clear the plan was to be rejected.

Iowa officials said after the Post report that they still believe the request is being considered. Sen. Chuck Grassley's office reiterated that Wednesday. But the report that the president intervened gained widespread attention, with critics charging it was the latest evidence of Trump's attempt to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.

Ernst said Tuesday she spoke with Verma about the report. "I asked her about that and the way she said, 'it was a lot of Washington gossip,'" Ernst said.

Asked if Verma specifically confirmed the report, Ernst said: "She said it was a lot of Washington gossip." A request to the White House for comment on the matter last week was not answered.

Iowa's insurance division formally submitted its waiver request in August and last month got a "letter of completeness" from the administration, which state officials portrayed as a step forward.

Public comments are being taken on Iowa's request until Oct. 19, and Ernst said a decision could come by the end of the month.

Iowa officials have been pushing for a decision on the plan, which they say is a temporary fix, because open enrollment begins Nov. 1.

Medica, an insurer based in Minnesota, is the only company that has said it will sell coverage in Iowa's ACA marketplace next year. However, it has asked for an average premium increase of 56 percent, which state officials say will drive people to drop coverage.

The state's request is to create a single, standardized insurance plan which would then be marketed by insurers who choose to participate. Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state's largest insurer, has agreed to take part if the plan is approved.

The plan also requests that the federal government approve use of Affordable Care Act funding to pay for a revamped set of premium tax credits and a reinsurance program to help with high cost customers.

Drainage districts' authority to mitigate nitrate pollution debated

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Drainage districts, one of the lowest tiers of Iowa government, could play a big role in addressing ag-sourced nitrate pollution that threatens well water, aquifers and the growing “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new report from an Iowa think tank.

Drainage districts “probably have the power and the obligation” to address nitrate pollution, according to David Osterberg, co-founder of the Iowa City-based Iowa Policy Project and its lead staff researcher on energy and environment.

Historically, drainage districts have not been held accountable for ag-sourced nitrate pollution, according to a paper by Osterberg and colleagues Sarah Garvin, an IPP research associate, and Michael Burkart, a 34-year career researcher with the USDA before joining the Iowa State University faculty.

“If we’re going to start somewhere, we might as well start somewhere where we have the infrastructure in place to do something about it,” Garvin said. “It’s necessary. We’re past the tipping point.”

However, the think tank seems not to understand drainage law that allows drainage districts to assess costs to landowners and can use eminent domain to complete projects only for the “benefit of the district,” according to John Torbert, executive director of the Iowa Drainage District Association. Drainage districts’ “sole purpose of existing is to drain excess water from the land.”

“So it is a legal stretch to assume that monies could be directed toward conservation projects (because) such projects would not ‘benefit the district’ in terms of its ability to drain water,” Torbert said.

About two-thirds of Iowa land is used for row-crop agriculture, primarily corn and soybeans. Much of that land is heavily tiled for drainage to remove excess water in areas that otherwise have poor drainage and crop potential.

The think tank researchers suggested drainage districts’ statutory authority to levy fees and use eminent domain gives them the ability to clean up Iowa waters and the Mississippi River.

If they don’t, Garvin said, drainage districts could be vulnerable to legal action.

Torbert disagreed, arguing that drainage district trustees only have the authority spelled in state law and if statutes are silent on an issue — nitrate mitigation, for example, trustees cannot assume legal authority to act.

“This was specifically spelled out in the recent court decisions on the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit” as well as United States District Court decisions that drainage districts do not have statutory authority to mandate water quality measures outlined in Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Torbert said.

The Iowa Supreme Court dismissed the Water Works case against three northwest Iowa county boards of supervisors -- Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun -- for nitrate contamination in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers.

Iowa Policy Project researchers believe that in his dissent in that case, Chief Justice Mark Cady seemed to suggest that drainage districts may have an existing responsibility to address water quality for the public good.

If drainage district law had been developed “with the thought that a drainage district could be a polluter,” Cady wrote, “I am convinced our law would have developed in a way that would have recognized a clear remedy.”

Even if trustees determine that toward conservation projects ‘benefit the district’ in terms of its ability to drain water,” Torbert said landowners who question the projects could stop the projects through what is known as “remonstrance,” a process used to stop projects when landowners perceive projects are too expensive.

Osterberg cited the “public good,” especially in terms of public health, as a reason for drainage districts to mitigate nitrate pollution. He referred to drainage pipes that empty into open ditches that run into streams, rivers and lakes.

If those pipes “were any other entity doing any other kind of business, they would be regulated,” he said.

Burkart argued the convergence of low commodity prices, an emerging plant breeding and seeding industry, and the “perennialization” of commodity crops makes the timing right for new approaches by drainage districts.

One of the causes of nitrate pollution is that seasonal crops such as corn and beans go dormant in the winter. The use of perennial cover crops that would continue to draw water and nitrates out of the ground year-round would help alleviate the problem, Burkart said.