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Des Moines BLM Issues Travel Advisory For Black Iowans

Daily Digest

Friday, January 15

1:43 p.m. - FBI field in office in Omaha asking for tips about armed protest plans

Local, state and federal law enforcement officials are working together to brace for potential threats in Iowa leading up to inauguration day.

Following the violence at the U.S. Capitol, the FBI has warned of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitols. Officials say they have not received concrete, Iowa-specific threats, but state Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens says more officers are patrolling the statehouse and are boarding up windows at the Polk County Courthouse as a precaution.

The FBI’s Omaha field office is asking those with information about potential violence at upcoming protests or events to call 402-493-8688.

1:03 p.m. - Des Moines BLM issues travel advisory for Black Iowans

The Des Moines Black Liberation Movement has issued a travel advisory for Black Iowans starting Saturday amid concerns about the potential for increased white supremacist violence.

White supremacists were in the group that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The FBI is warning of the potential for more violence by pro-Trump extremists throughout the country around the inauguration of Joe Biden, which is scheduled for next Wednesday.

Jaylen Cavil of Des Moines BLM fears that could lead to more violence against Black Iowans.

“And we must be aware that us as Black Liberation Movement organizers, and as a Black community, as a BIPOC community here in Iowa, we need to stay safe, we need to stay vigilant, and we need to be aware of the dangers of white supremacy at all times,” Cavil said.

They’re advising Black Iowans to not travel alone or at night and to always have an exit plan. There’s also a hotline set up for people who need a ride somewhere or need a delivery of basic necessities. The advisory lasts until January 27.

10:00 a.m. - 1,347 new COVID-19 cases, 6 more deaths reported Friday

Thursday, January 14

4:39 p.m. – Sen. Chuck Grassley wonders whether an impeachment trial in the Senate is constitutional once President Trump exits office

The impeachment article against President Trump heads to the U.S. Senate after the U.S. House of Representatives passed it this week. A trial date has not been set and President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration is less than a week away. Grassley says that raises some uncertainty: “It’s a big constitutional question about impeaching a private citizen. And that's a major thing you’ve got to think about - should Congress under the Constitution even do it?”

Two political analysts say they think Grassley meant instead to question the constitutionality of conviction, not impeachment. The Senate has tried other impeached politicians after they left office, including former War Secretary William Belknap in 1876.

3:41 p.m. - Grassley opposes more small refinery environmental exemptions for biofuels
Iowa’s senior U.S. senator is warning that any more small refinery environmental exemptions granted in the final days of the Trump presidency would badly harm the biofuels industry.

The bipartisan House Biofuels Caucus wrote to President Trump this week saying more small refinery exemptions will cripple rural communities, and Republican Chuck Grassley also opposes the exemptions.

The EPA hasn’t released an official decision. The agency has granted 85 waivers to small refineries since 2016.The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take up an appeal on a 2020 decision on the renewable fuel standard from a lower court. An appellate court ruled last year that the EPA overreached in granting waivers to three refineries.

3:18 p.m. – Test Iowa sites closed due to winter storm Friday
The state has announced Test Iowa sites in Des Moines and Council Bluffs will be closed Friday due to the anticipated winter storm in the western and central parts of the state.

Test Iowa sites in Waterloo, Davenport and Cedar Rapids are still scheduled to stay open, but that is subject to change based on local weather conditions.

Those with an appointment affected by a closure will received an email to reschedule their appointment online.

3:00 p.m. - Adjutant General Benjamin delivers 2021 Condition of the Guard speech to lawmakers
In his annual speech to lawmakers, the head of the Iowa National Guard described how soldiers helped with the pandemic response, derecho recovery and more in 2020.

Adjutant General Benjamin Correll says in 2020, Iowa National Guard members drove a distance equal to 17 trips around the earth delivering PPE and transporting Test Iowa lab samples across the state.

The Iowa National Guard conducted contact tracing, delivered food to food banks, moved thousands of tons of debris after the derecho, and helped with election cybersecurity.

“Not since the historic floods of 2008 has the Iowa National Guard played such a diverse role in coming to the aid of Iowans during their time of need,” he said.

They did all this while having the highest number of members deployed overseas in more than 10 years.

Correll also says 250 soldiers and airmen are being deployed to Washington, D.C. in the next few days to help with security for the inauguration.

1:30 p.m. – Public health association pens letter to lawmakers who aren’t masking at Iowa Capitol
The Iowa Public Health Association has sent a letter to state lawmakers asking them to require and wear masks at the Iowa Capitol. The legislative session began Monday, and some visitors and Republican lawmakers have not been wearing masks.

The letter says the association is “gravely concerned about events at the Capitol contributing to the spread of the pandemic.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds has a very limited mask mandate in place for the state, but says she doesn’t control the legislature. Republican leaders claim they can’t really enforce a mask mandate. Democrats are criticizing them for not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the statehouse.

10:00 a.m. - 1,532 new COVID-19 cases, 19 more deaths reported Thursday

Wednesday, January 13

4:23 p.m. – Western Iowa continues to experience “moderate to extreme” drought conditions
Much of western Iowa saw a drought in 2020, and the drought is expected to continue at least into the spring.

Dennis Todey, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Midwest Climate Hub, says it’s unlikely things will change soon, even if a big winter storm happened. “And while a big snowstorm can provide a melt-off and provide surface water, which is a positive, our soils are mainly frozen now so we need to get thawing soils before we can get any kind of precipitation into those soils.”

Todey says scientists are most concerned about the western third to western half of Iowa because the soils are the driest there.

4:07 p.m. - Iowa's average credit scores consistently higher than the nation’s in 2020
Despite the global pandemic causing job loss, income loss and economic shutdowns, Iowa's average credit scores in 2020 were almost 20 points higher than the national average. The average balance on Iowans’ credit cards are also consistently lower than the average balance for the United States.

Rod Griffin is the senior director of public education and advocacy for the credit reporting agency Experian. Griffin says he’s not an economist, but that all could affect how Iowa will recover from the COVID-19 economy. “So I saw it as a positive sign, relatively good news is that we seem to be in a position to recover fairly quickly as we go forward.”

Griffin clarifies this does not necessarily mean a “sudden vertical improvement,” but it does mean Iowans are less likely to be over leveraged with debt.

3:45 p.m. – Iowa’s representatives in the U.S. House vote along party lines on the second impeachment of President Trump
Iowa’s three Republicans in the House voted not to impeach Trump on the grounds that he incited violence against the U.S. government, saying the process would increase divisions. The state’s lone Democrat, Cindy Axne, voted to impeach, saying Trump incited the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and cannot remain in office.

Grinnell College political scientist Peter Hanson says the votes reflect the country’s highly partisan politics. “It is hard to think of a more blatant violation of the President's oath of office than inciting an insurrection and leading a mob to attack the Capitol. If there are any grounds for impeachment in the American constitutional system, those would be grounds.”

Hanson also says the split votes from Iowa’s delegation is a reflection of the country’s intensely partisan politics. He expects the votes to be a re-election issue, especially for Representatives Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks, due to the competitive nature of their swing districts.

2:00 p.m. – Iowa Chief Justice wants to reduce children in welfare system
The head of Iowa’s court system is looking to expand programs aimed at reducing the number of children in the child welfare system that are removed from their homes.

Iowa Chief Justice Susan Christensen has a background in family law.

In her first State of the Judiciary address she told members of the legislature that keeping children with their families may be the best option even in homes with abuse or addiction.

State of the Judiciary 2021

Christensen says federal programs now allow greater access to services that can prevent family separations. She says Iowa should use that to expand the use of special courts to address child abuse and neglect.

2:16 p.m. – Iowa Chief Justice aims to restart jury trials in 2021
Iowa Chief Justice Susan Christensen says her goals this year include restarting jury trials and expanding programs to keep rural courthouses busy.

In Christensen’s first State of the Judiciary speech since she was chosen as Chief Justice she recalled the disruptions caused by COVID-19.

All jury trials were suspended until September, and then halted again after a spike in hospitalizations.

In spite of delays, Christensen says the courts have worked out systems for video conferencing and jury selection.

Christensen, who lives in Harlan in western Iowa, wants to expand a program started during the pandemic that she says will help keep rural courts relevant. It allows staffers from one courthouse in a district to work remotely for another that’s overwhelmed.

10:00 a.m. - 1,845 new COVID-19 cases, 10 more deaths recorded Wednesday

10:00 a.m. – Reynolds proposes major broadband expansion in Condition of the State
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is proposing a major investment in broadband expansion.

In her Condition of the State address Tuesday, she asked lawmakers to allocate $150 million in each of the next three years to expand access to high speed internet.

“Let’s plant a stake in the ground and declare that every part of Iowa will have affordable high speed broadband by 2025, and we’ll get there by committing $450 million over that time period. Which will leverage millions more in private investment,” she said.

Democratic statehouse leaders say they’re excited about this proposal. Republican leaders didn’t commit to spending that amount, but they say expanding broadband access is a priority.

9:00 a.m. – In Condition of the State, Gov. Reynolds asks lawmakers to offer 100 percent in-person learning
Gov. Kim Reynolds is asking lawmakers to immediately send her a bill that would require schools to offer 100 percent in-person learning during the pandemic.

Reynolds has already required schools to offer mostly in-person learning unless they get permission from the state to go fully online. Now she’s saying that’s not enough as some kids are falling behind.

“As one parent told me, options are good. But if some parents get the option to go 100% online, why don’t my kids get the option to be 100% in the classroom? And I agree,” she said Tuesday evening during her address to lawmakers.

Republican leaders say this policy is a priority for them too. But Democratic leaders say it could be unsafe for some school districts, and local school boards should get to make these decisions.

Coronavirus test positivity rates remain very high throughout the state, and Reynolds hasn’t required mask wearing in schools.

Tuesday, January 12

4:07 p.m. - Iowan indicted on six federal charges for alleged role in the U.S. Capitol attack
Forty-one year old Doug Jensen of Des Moines made his first appearance in federal court Tuesday, via a video feed from the Polk County jail. He faces six federal charges for his alleged role in the attack on the Capitol by a mob of pro-Trump extremists.

Photos and videos of Jensen during the riot were widely circulated, showing him wearing a QAnon t-shirt and confronting police officers. In one video, he apparently leads a crowd in chasing a lone Black officer up flights of stairs, just outside the Senate chambers.

According to a court filing, Jensen turned himself in to police and admitted to chasing the officer, saying he wore the Q shirt because he wanted Q to quote “get the credit.”

3:52 p.m. – State health officials announce guidelines for the next COVID-19 vaccine recipients
The state’s Infectious Disease Advisory Council has recommended the next phase include people age 75 and older and vulnerable populations at high risk of exposure.

This includes people living in certain congregate settings, correctional facility staff and inmates, workers in food production and manufacturing facilities who cannot socially distance, school staff and childcare workers and first responders.

Interim State Health Department Director Kelly Garcia says she has accepted the recommendations in full. Additionally, Garcia has added some inspectors as well as government officials and staff to the list.

State officials say they anticipate beginning vaccinations for this phase on February 1.

3:19 p.m. – Iowa Wesleyan University announces new partnership
Iowa Wesleyan University is forming a new partnership with Southeastern Community College, which leaders say will help both schools boost enrollment and share some expenses. The institutions will remain separate, but will collaborate on recruitment to encourage more students to start and finish their degrees at the schools.

Chris Plunkett is the president of Iowa Wesleyan: “From our perspective, although one of the benefits is that we remain two distinct and individual institutions, we also see ourselves under this alliance as almost a single campus.”

The partnership comes two years after Iowa Wesleyan warned a lack of funding could force the school to close within a matter of weeks. Private donations and a $21 million dollar loan from the USDA have helped stabilize the school’s finances since then.

1:07 p.m. – LULAC 2021 legislative priorities announced
Iowa’s League of United Latin American Citizens has announced its platform and priorities for this legislative session.

Iowa leaders of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, say their number one priority for this legislative session is improving workplace safety. Mitch Henry, LULAC’s state lobbyist, says they will focus especially on meatpacking plants, access to the COVID-19 vaccine and enforcing guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He says as of now, that consists of preventing “ugly bills.” “Our hope this session is that there's no…how should I say it… ugly legislation that gets through. I mean, it's kind of like preventing…trying to prevent the bad stuff getting through right now.”

Henry says LULAC will also push for a tort reform, which would make it easier for workers to prove employer negligence.

Henry says one of LULAC’s challenges will be getting the chance to talk to lawmakers. He says with a Republican majority, that may be a little more difficult. “We have to be strong, you know, we have to be realistic, too. And, hopefully, with the elections coming up next, not this coming year, but the year after, we can get some changes out there.”

10:00 a.m. - 1,199 new COVID-19 cases, 83 more deaths reported Tuesday

7:17 a.m. – Des Moines adopts new carbon-free electricity goal

The city of Des Moines has adopted a goal to use 100 percent carbon-free electricity across the community by 2035 to combat the effects of climate change.

It’s part of a resolution that was passed by the city council Monday that also aims to cut total greenhouse gas emissions in Des Moines by 45 percent over the next decade. Council member Josh Mandelbaum says he hopes more cities will follow suit and push electric utilities to move away from fossil fuels.

Des Moines utility, Mid-American Energy, says it currently generates enough renewable power to meet 61 percent of customer demand. It estimates that amount could increase to 83 percent this year.

Monday, January 11

4:56 p.m. – Political tensions from the attack on the U.S. Capitol spill into the first day of Iowa’s legislative session

In their opening speeches, Democratic leaders called on the Republican majority to do more to fight the pandemic, as an anti-mask mandate protest was underway. And they said Iowa GOP leaders must stand up to President Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.

House Republican Leader Matt Windschitl responded. “Violence and anarchy of any kind is unacceptable. It doesn’t matter what the political ideology is. So let me as majority leader of the Iowa House stand here today and say I denounce it [sic] was what happened in DC or the riots that happened over the summer.”

But on IPR’s River to River Monday, top Republican leaders from the Iowa House and Senate still refused to talk specifically about Trump’s incitement of the Capitol insurrection. They condemned violence in general and likened the insurrection to last summer’s mostly nonviolent protests against racial injustice.

4:31 p.m. – Iowan arrested and facing federal charges for involvement in D.C. Capitol riot

Photos and videos of an Iowan storming the U.S. Capitol are among the iconic images of the riot by pro-Trump extremists last week. Wearing a QAnon t-shirt, 41 year old Doug Jensen of Des Moines was photographed at the front of a crowd apparently chasing a lone Black police officer outside the Senate chamber. Jensen is now in custody and is facing five federal charges.

University of Northern Iowa political scientist Evan Renfro called the images appalling. “That this person was willing to be, the barbarian not only at the gate, but the barbarian that went through the gate! And it really is a sad and dreadful time in this country, though not surprising. And something must be done.”

Jensen is being held in the Polk County Jail. It’s not yet clear if he has a lawyer.

4:15 p.m. – Fifth round of “Farmers to Families” begins

The USDA is issuing a fifth round of “Farmers to Families” food boxes after Congress passed another coronavirus relief package in December.

Jackie Berke of Lexington, Nebraska, says about 700 residents have picked up a weekly package of produce, meat and dairy since April. The demand is so great, they’ve even started delivering.

But she says the program is only a bandaid to the U.S.’s larger economic problems as the pandemic wears on. “We're hoping that we get to sustainability and there isn't dependency on the food being there every week because there will be an endgame to this eventually.”

The USDA plans to use over $1 billion dollars in coronavirus aid on the boxes in coming months, on top of more than $10 billion dollars already spent. The latest extension of the program will last through April.

3:11 p.m. - Second round of Payment Protection Program loan applications open now for minority-owned businesses

Applications for the second round of the Payment Protection Program are open starting Monday for minority-owned businesses. Fewer Iowa banks are expected to participate in the program this time.

The latest round has $284 billion in funding. During the first couple days of the PPP, only underserved businesses can apply for their first time. Those include Latino and Black-owned businesses and women-led businesses.

Jayne Armstrong is the Iowa district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration. She says she expects fewer banks to participate in this round of the forgivable loans because some may have reached their lending capacity after last year’s loans.

Armstrong says she encourages businesses to contact their banks to see if they plan on participating in PPP this year. If not, the SBA can help point them in the direction of other potential lenders.

2:32 p.m. – Iowa Department of Education receives $345 million in COVID-19 relief

The Iowa Department of Education has received $345 million from the latest federal COVID-19 relief package to help public schools cover the cost of responding to the pandemic.

School districts can use the funding to cover everything from improving air quality in school buildings to helping students catch up for lost learning.

The money will be divided based on the district’s percentage of low-income students.

Des Moines Public Schools will be the top recipient, with an allocation of $41 million, followed by Davenport, Sioux City, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids.

2:21 p.m. – State begins releasing data about COVID-19 vaccination

More than 96,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed so far in Iowa, according to new data released by the state department of public health Monday.

State health officials have announced that they will begin sharing data on COVID-19 vaccinations. According to the statement released by the state public health department, these updates will be published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
They will include vaccine administration totals and county-level data.

IDPH says it plans to eventually start posting vaccine updates to the state’s coronavirus website. It says it is building a dashboard to be released in the next few weeks.

According to the data released Monday afternoon, 96,686 doses have been given to Iowa residents so far, and 5,652 people have completed the vaccine series. The state is vaccinating people in phase 1A. This includes health care workers and staff and residents of long term care facilities.

10:00 a.m. - 425 new COVID-19 cases, one new deaths reported Monday

7:12 a.m. Iowa lawmakers return to the Iowa Capitol amid pandemic

Iowa lawmakers will gather at the Statehouse in Des Moines Monday for the first day of the legislative session. They return to the capitol amid the pandemic and less than a week after far-right extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol.

This is the fifth year in a row Republicans will control the Iowa Statehouse and the lawmaking agenda.

This session will look a bit different because of the pandemic. Masks will be recommended but not required. Some meetings will be held on Zoom, but most will be in person.

Some lawmakers say they’re very concerned about their safety, fearing the spread of the virus as well as political violence. Republican leaders say the Iowa Capitol has had heightened security since racial justice protests started last spring.

A protest against mask mandates, vaccines and other pandemic policies is scheduled for today at the Statehouse. The organizer has stated on social media that it's intended to be nonviolent.

Opening Day of Session 2021

Sunday, January 10

10:00 a.m. - 2,989 new COVID-19 cases reported this weekend, alongside 14 more deaths

On Saturday, the state logged 1,659 more cases and three more deaths.