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Iowa Supreme Court Issues Statement On How It May Handle Redistricting Process

Daily Digest

Friday, April 9

4:19 p.m. – The effects of the August derecho that swept through the Midwest could still be lingering as farmers head out to plant

The USDA estimated Iowa farmers were unable to harvest hundreds of thousands of acres of crops last year because of the powerful wind storm. Leftover seeds could create open-pollinated corn called “volunteer corn,” which competes for sunlight and nutrients.

Iowa State University extension agronomist Mark Licht says the downed corn left kernels and ears remaining on or near the soils’ surface, so some kernels won’t be as productive. “For all practical purposes, we consider them a weed because they are taking water, they're taking nutrients away from the intended corn or the intended soybean crop.”

Licht expects many derecho-affected areas where corn was planted to be switched to soybeans. That’s because the herbicides farmers will use to kill that unproductive corn won’t also kill the soybeans.

3:37 p.m. – Advocacy organizations criticize Reynolds’ comments on bringing migrant children into Iowa

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ rejection of a federal request to accept migrant children into Iowa has sparked some criticism from a number of advocacy groups in the state.

Reynolds said on a radio talk show this week that Iowa already has a problem placing foster children in homes, and the welfare of migrant children is “not our problem,” but rather President Joe Biden’s.

“I truly believe that unaccompanied children are our whole country's concern,” says Kerri True-Funk, the field office director at the Des Moines Office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

“I hope that the governor will, you know, think about the message that is being sent to the people of our state. And so that maybe framing this issue a little bit differently, would be more productive in the conversation.”

True-Funk clarified Iowa does not have enough capacity and resources to house many migrant children, but the state should look at expanding that in the future.

3:34 p.m. – Iowa health officials announce virtual COVID-19 information sessions

State health officials have announced they will host three virtual information sessions on the COVID-19 vaccine.

The sessions will be held in conjunction with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and University of Iowa. They will include medical experts who will provide safety and efficacy information on the vaccines. Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions.

The sessions will take place on April 17, 19 and 24. Spanish-language interpretation will be available for the April 24 session.

Those interested can find more information and join a session on their website.

1 p.m. - Senate and House GOP differ on state spending on U-I, ISU, UNI

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate are proposing different levels of state taxpayer support of the Iowa’s three public universities.

House Republicans have a budget plan that would provide no additional money to the University of Iowa, Iowa State University or the University of Northern Iowa — and they’re calling for student tuition and fees to remain the same in the next academic year.

Rep. Whitver, R-Ankeny, said the Senate GOP budget plan includes a budget boost for the three universities of $10 million. “There is disagreement there, at least in our initial budget proposals,” Whitver said on an episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS. “I think it’s difficult to give them zero new dollars and freeze tuition. They have to be able to fund their universities somehow, but…like everything in the budget, we’ll continue to talk with the House about that.”

Rep. David Kerr, R-Morning Sun, said House Republicans settled on a tuition freeze and no new state money for the three universities partly because they’ll get federal money from the American Rescue Plan. “And then when you add the declining enrollment,” Kerr said. “…In 2016 and 2017, there was approximately 82,000 kids enrolled in the Regents universities, now we’re down to 75,000, a little over.”

A spokesperson for the board that governs the three universities said everyone has “the same goal of keeping college affordable and accessible for students,” but the responsibility of setting tuition rests with the Board of Regents, “to avoid politicizing Iowa’s tuition rates.”

10 a.m. - 7 additional deaths, 519 new cases of COVID-19 reported Friday in Iowa

Friday's COVID-19 numbers for Iowa [From Thursday 10 a.m. to Friday 10 a.m.]:

  • 519 new cases
  • Total: 355,845
  • Seven new deaths
  • Total: 5,843 228
  • hospitalized 1,748,225
  • number of doses administered 711,748
  • individuals fully vaccinated

Thursday, April 8

4:53 p.m. – Iowa Supreme Court issues statement about how it may proceed with the redistricting process this year

The Iowa Constitution requires the redrawing of legislative districts — typically approved by lawmakers — to be completed by September 15. But this year, the U.S. Census data required for that work could arrive after that deadline. If that happens, redistricting falls to the state Supreme Court.

The Court’s statement says it would likely implement a process that follows the state’s redistricting law “to the extent possible.” But it’s not clear if lawmakers would still have a role in the process.

The Senate Republican leader released a statement indicating he wants the legislature to play a part in re-drawing the maps. The Senate minority leader, a Democrat, said the Court should ensure the new maps are fair.

4:11 p.m. - Black Lives Matter activists protest at the Iowa Capitol Thursday

Black Lives Matter activists are asking lawmakers to reject bills that would increase police protections, raise penalties for protest-related crimes, and limit diversity and inclusion lessons.

"I’m telling you from firsthand exposure to the legislators that are passing these bills — they won’t care about their Black and brown constituents unless they’re forced to," says Angelina Ramirez, who organized the protest and works at the state capitol. "Unless they’re pressured to. We must be that catalyst."

Harold Walehwa was also a protest organizer. He says these bills would take rights away from Black and brown Iowans. “We’re literally in the middle of the Derek Chauvin trial, but we’re trying to pass bills to increase qualified immunity? What kind of sense does that make? Booooo. Why would y’all be trying to increase the protection police officers have instead of trying to go for accountability?”

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, says the legislature is on a tight schedule and the trial of the officer charged with killing George Floyd isn’t a factor in the timing of police legislation.

The protest was nonviolent, but Iowa state troopers arrested an 18-year-old. Witnesses say she asked for troopers’ names and badge numbers. The state patrol hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Entry updated with additional quote 7:10 a.m. Friday

1:45 p.m. – Iowa House subcommittee advances budget proposal impacting the state's public universities

The Iowa House is advancing a budget proposal that would increase funding for education programs by more than $24 million, but it would not increase support for the state’s three public universities.

Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa had requested increases ranging from $4 million to $18 million, along with funding, to restore cuts made last year.

Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, questioned whether flat funding would cost the state more later.

“Will we have to invest even more, to make up that difference, if we want our universities to be the economic producers that we know they can be?”

Rep. David Kerr, D-Morning Sun, chairs the Education Appropriations subcommittee. He says no increase was proposed because enrollment dropped at the Regents universities, and because they received additional COVID-19 relief funding from the federal government.

The bill now goes to the full House Appropriations Committee.

12:58 p.m. – In response to vaccine hesitancy, Iowa DHS considers changing policies to encourage employees to get COVID-19 vaccineThe Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) is considering policies to encourage more employees at its six facilities to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

DHS employs more than 1,800 people at its six facilities, and its most recent numbers indicate that 36 percent of those employees have declined to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

At a DHS Council meeting, department spokesperson Matt Highland said the state is considering requiring employees to use their own paid time off to quarantine if they are exposed to the virus once the vaccine is more widely available.

“We're getting to a point where everyone will have had the opportunity,” he said. “Wanting to use those tools to prevent the spread, we're going to start adjusting policies like that to really help to incentivize our team members to get their vaccinations. It's the right thing to do.”

According to a Des Moines Register Iowa Poll released last month, 27 percent of Iowans say they do not plan to get the shot.

10 a.m. - 1 death, 666 new cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday in Iowa

9:16 a.m. - Bill would let third party services make alcohol deliveries

Uber Eats, Door Dash and other services that deliver food would be allowed to deliver beer, wine, and liquor from restaurants, grocery stores and other retailers if a bill that’s cleared the House becomes law.

Under current state law, bottles of alcohol may only be delivered by people employed by the retailer and that person must be driving a vehicle owned by the store or restaurant when making the delivery. Rep. Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City, said most restaurants and grocery stores that sell alcohol just don’t have enough employees to make home deliveries.

“We’re working through the end of COVID, I hope, if it helps people from staying out of a grocery store, if it helps with an employee shortage that we have in the state of Iowa,” Sexton said. “These are some of the little things we do that I think we make life better for Iowans and, ultimately, that’s the reason why we’re here.”

The legislation requires delivery services and retailers to have written agreements in order to allow a third-party to deliver alcohol. Those agreements, listing names and addresses of the businesses and the delivery services involved, would have to be submitted electronically to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division.

“We were doing Zoom calls with people in California and all over the place in order to make sure we got this right,” Sexton said.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. A year ago, Governor Reynolds temporarily allowed restaurants and bars to sell carry-out cocktails as part of her public health emergency proclamation. Then, last summer, Iowa became the first state in the country to pass a law making cocktails to-go legal.

Wednesday, April 7

2:26 p.m. - Hawkeye Express fan train ceasing operations on game days

The train that has carried thousands of Iowa football fans from Coralville to Kinnick Stadium on games days will cease operations, the athletic department announced Wednesday.

The Iowa Northern Railway’s Hawkeye Express has made the 10-minute trip on game days since 2004. The athletic department and railroad said now is the time to end the train rides because of the likelihood of continued social distancing this season and the need for equipment upgrades and increases in operating expenses.

An average of 3,700 fans boarded the train in Coralville on game days in 2019. Fans weren’t allowed to attend games in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“The Hawkeye Express has been a wonderful part of our Hawkeye football game day experience,” Senior Associate Athletic Director Matt Henderson said. “While it was a difficult decision to make, we all agree it is the right decision.”

The Hawkeye Express ran on track owned by the Iowa Interstate Railroad, which operates between Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Chicago.

Fans who rode the Hawkeye Express are encouraged to use public parking lots around the stadium.

Entry via the Associated Press

1:58 p.m. – Reynolds says she opposes use of vaccine passports

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Press Conference | April 7, 2021, 11:00 a.m.

Gov. Kim Reynolds says she strongly opposes the use of vaccine passports.

A vaccine “passport” is a document that would prove someone has received a COVID-19 vaccine that may allow them to travel or do other activities. Other Republican governors have also opposed the use of vaccine passports.

Reynolds says she is prepared to take action against their use through either the legislature or executive order.

“There's all kinds of questions that are really raised with moving in that direction, privacy implications, HIPAA, first and fourth amendment rights, Americans with Disability,” Reynolds says. “I think when what you're doing, when you move forward with something like that, is you're creating a two-tiered society.”

The White House said earlier this week that it will not require vaccine passports, and will defer to private companies to decide if they want to require proof of vaccinations.

1:58 p.m. – Reynolds announces the creation of a new DOC position intended to address prison security

Gov. Kim Reynolds says the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) is creating a new position to address prison security in response to the March 23 attack by inmates at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, during which two staff members were killed.

Reynolds says the state will also conduct internal and external investigations to find out what improvements can be made in the state’s prisons.

“Together we'll address any issues the investigations may reveal, and we'll do what's necessary to protect our people. Nothing, nothing is more important than that.”

Iowa House Republicans are proposing a budget increase of more than $20 million to the DOC.

Union leaders representing the state’s corrections officers say that isn’t enough to provide safe working conditions.

1:04 p.m. – Grassley says Biden’s infrastructure plan doesn’t make biofuels enough of a priority

Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator says President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion proposal for jobs and infrastructure falls short on issues important to rural America.

Biden’s proposal invests in rebuilding crumbling roads and bridges and in bringing broadband infrastructure to underserved areas. But Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley says biofuels don’t appear to be a priority.

“We should be investing in biofuel infrastructure, which is proven to reduce emissions,” says Grassley. “It's disappointing, then, to see the president's opening proposal doesn't include biofuels.”

Congress is in recess, but Grassley says when he returns to Washington, he would like to see bipartisanship because “presumably” the infrastructure package will have a bill.

10 a.m. - 13 deaths, 759 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Iowa Wednesday

6:40 a.m. – Iowa Senate Republicans pass bill that shifts mental health funding to state

Republicans in the Iowa Senate passed a bill Tuesday night that shifts mental health funding from local property taxes to the state, and ends state payments to local governments known as the backfill. It also creates a property tax credit for low-income Iowans 70 and older and speeds up income tax cuts.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, calls it bold tax reform that will give $100 million in property tax relief.

“People need property tax relief. People also come forward, year after year, and say we need a better way to fund mental health. We do that in this bill right here.”

Democrats voted against the bill. They said the local property tax funding of mental health is a reliable source of support, and the state should add to it instead of replace it. They also expressed concerns about ending the backfill payments to local governments.

Tuesday, April 6

5:24 p.m. - Iowa Senate Republicans vote for amendment stating constitution doesn’t protect abortion rights

Republicans in the Iowa Senate voted Tuesday to add language to the Iowa Constitution that says it doesn’t protect abortion rights.

This is the first time Republicans in both the House and Senate voted for a constitutional amendment to limit abortion rights. But they approved different language, so the amendment won’t move forward in the process unless they come to an agreement.

Republican lawmakers have argued the constitutional amendment is needed to undo a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that protected a fundamental right to abortion in the state.

“This is just part of a broader and even more extreme agenda where the focus will be on passing law after law to make legal abortion care inaccessible,” says Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines.

If the House and Senate pass identical language this year or next year, they would have to pass it again in two or three years. Then it would go to Iowa voters to decide. A recent Iowa Poll published in the Des Moines Register found fewer than one-third of Iowans support the move.

4:05 p.m. – Leader of the labor union representing Iowa corrections officers says a proposed budget increase for next year is not enough

Danny Homan is president of AFSCME Council 61 in Iowa. He says understaffing contributed to a prison guard and nurse being killed at the Anamosa State Penitentiary last month. He wants state lawmakers to add more officers, restart a training program, and launch an independent review of the March attack.

A bill advancing in the Iowa House (LSB1005YA) would increase the Corrections budget by more than $20 million. Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, says that would nearly recover two years of unmet salary increases for prison workers. “I think this puts out there in big, bold letters that we support our law enforcement people. We support our justice people.”

But Homan says it’s not enough. “I hate to be a guy that turns my nose up at getting $20 million of additional funding, but that $20 million doesn’t cover the salary increases of the last two years.”

In a statement, Republican leaders promoted the budget proposal as the largest increase for Corrections since 2012.

10:38 a.m. - Campers in Iowa state parks will pay more in fees this year

Campers looking to overnight in Iowa’s state parks this year will pay more do so. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has raised camping fees at the state’s parks this year for the first time in more than 20 years, The Gazette of Cedar Rapids reported.

The move comes after the state Legislature passed a measure in 2018 allowing the department to set its own fees. Under the agency’s new four-tier pricing structure, out-of-the-way parks that get fewer visitors won’t see a rate increase. But larger parks that draw more visitors see nightly fee increases from 25 percent to 55 percent. For example, at Lake Macbride State Park near Solon, fees for a site with electric, water and sewer service went from $19 a night to $26 per night.

“The more amenities people have, the fee will reflect that,” Todd Coffelt, chief of the State Parks, Forests and Preserves bureau, said.

The extra money raised by the increases will go toward renovations of state parks, upkeep, staffing and promotions of lesser-visited parks, Coffelt said. The fee increases follow the state park system’s windfall from last year, when COVID-19 led many to look for nearby outdoor vacations. The Iowa DNR brought in nearly $2.3 million in camping fees between July 1 through October 30, 2020 — a 33% increase over the same period in 2019.

Entry via the Associated Press

10 a.m. - 507 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Iowa Tuesday

7 a.m. – Activists call for removal of two officers from de-escalation training team

During a Des Moines City Council meeting Monday night, more than 30 local activists and community members called for the police to remove two officers from a de-escalation training team.

Sergeant Michael Fong and Officer Sean O’Neill are two of five officers leading the training. In 2018, the city paid an $800,000 settlement in an excessive force lawsuit that involved Fong and another officer. O’Neill was accused of racial profiling in a lawsuit that led to a $25,000 settlement.

Commenters told council members that placing those officers in charge of training is an insult to efforts to end violence and racism in policing.

In a previous statement, City Manager Scott Sanders said he is supportive of Fong’s assignment because of his extensive experience in military and law enforcement training.

Monday, April 5

1:29 p.m. – Iowa pharmacists says COVID-19 vaccine ‘no shows’ cause supply issues, could lead to wasted vaccines

COVID-19 vaccine appointments are now open to all eligible Iowans, but some pharmacists say they’re experiencing issues with no shows.

As COVID-19 vaccine appointments open to all eligible Iowans, demand still far outstrips supply. That’s led some people to schedule an appointment for a first dose at a pharmacy far from their home, then shop around for a second dose somewhere closer.

Kate Gainer is the CEO of the Iowa Pharmacy Association. She says this causes supply issues for pharmacies.

“Pharmacies receive their allocations of the vaccine for second doses based on how many first doses they give. Every dose is reported. And those shipments are based on how many given doses are reported.”

Gainer says Iowans should try to go to the same location for both their vaccine doses, and they should cancel any appointments they will not use to ensure doses are not wasted.

1:23 p.m. – Advocacy organization for sexual assault survivors uses new project to represent ‘silent survivors’ in the Latino community

A sexual assault advocacy organization has set up life-sized, teal, wooden silhouettes around central Iowa to represent silent survivors.

The group, known as LUNA, is a culturally-specific organization that focuses on survivors in the Latino community.

Mary Chinchilla is the sexual assault program director at LUNA. She had the idea for the project after she noticed many survivors do not speak out about their experiences.

“It's to create awareness that we still have those victims in the shadows, and to encourage them to come forward.”

Chinchilla says the project is inclusive of all survivors, but sometimes those in the Latino community face more barriers when reporting sexual assault. Through this project, she wants survivors to know they are not alone.

LUNA is hosting other awareness events throughout the month.

10 a.m. - 152 new cases of COVID-19 reported Monday

7 a.m. – Southwest Iowa counties badly affected by 2019 flooding show different economic trends

Two southwest Iowa counties badly affected by flooding two years ago show different trends in their economies as they continue to recover.

Economic data shows Fremont County gained businesses from 2019 to 2020 while Mills County lost businesses. The flood-ravaged towns of Hamburg and Pacific Junction largely mimic those trends.

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson says Hamburg will likely be able to bounce back because it was not substantially destroyed like Pacific Junction.

“Small communities that get hit hard never come back the way they were before,” Hamburg says. “It just depends on how much was destroyed as far as built capital.”

A couple of new businesses have popped up in Hamburg and more are on their way.

Kayti Hayes co-owns the specialty coffee shop Relax and Unwind with her husband, Josh. They started off as a mobile business, but opened a shop in Hamburg last October.

“Josh was really wanting to come back to his hometown because he doesn't want to see Hamburg die,” Hayes says. “He wants to see it thrive. And so we can be another business that adds a couple more employees to help out around town.”

Hamburg is also getting a golf simulator. And there are plans for a hotel, since the town’s only motel closed and is up for sale.

Swenson says that’s a sign of restoring parts of the lost economy, but it doesn’t necessarily signal economic development.

7 a.m. – Researcher at Missouri university developing technology that could use decomposing waste to power vehicles

A researcher at Missouri University of Science and Technology is working on a way to use decomposing plants and animal waste to power vehicles. Farms may be the first place the technology could be put into practice.

Methane from decomposing plant and animal waste in landfills or compost piles could be used to power vehicles, including farm implements. The technology is under development at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Fateme Rezaei is a professor of biochemical engineering at Missouri S&T. She is developing an on-board fuel tank that would separate carbon dioxide from the biogas:

“In order to get it converted to other materials or other products and use the methane that has already been separated from CO-2 to run our vehicle,” Rezaei says.

Rezaei says abundant animal waste and crop leftovers could make the technology economically viable in rural areas.

Entry via Harvest Public Media

6:30 a.m. – State lawmakers consider bills that would allow use of autonomous delivery services, increase penalties for trespassing

Companies like Amazon and FedEx are lobbying for autonomous personal delivery devices to start operating in residential areas of Iowa communities. The House has passed a bill allowing for these robot deliveries, and now a Senate committee has modified the bill. It would allow these personal delivery devices to operate on the side of roads as well as sidewalks.

The House has also passed a bill adding penalties for those who trespass and take animal, plant or land samples from an agricultural-producing property. It also includes penalties for taking a photograph while trespassing that extends to non-agricultural property as well.

Hear more about these bills with the Under the Golden Dome podcast.

6 a.m. – COVID-19 vaccine eligibility expands to include Iowans ages 16 and up

Monday marks the first day that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility will expand to all Iowans 16 and older.

But local and state health officials are warning Iowans demand will continue to exceed supply for a while. And they may need to be patient when finding an appointment.

“It's very much that same concept is that we continue to ask our community to be patient,” says Nola Aigner-Davis, who is with the Polk County Public Health Department. “We are so happy and excited that people want to get vaccinated, but it will just take time.”

Aigner-Davis says that’s why it’s crucial all Iowans continue to follow COVID-19 mitigation strategies, even if they are vaccinated.

Those 16 and older have been authorized by the FDA to get the Pfizer vaccine. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been approved for those 18 and older.

According to state data, more than 30 percent of eligible Iowans have been fully vaccinated so far.

For more on this: Iowans 16 And Older Are Now Eligible For A COVID-19 Vaccine

Sunday, April 4

10 a.m. - 68 additional deaths, 431 new cases of COVID-19 reported Sunday

On Saturday, state health officials reported 3 more deaths and 549 new cases of COVID-19 in Iowa.

6 a.m. - Ex-Superintendent Of Sioux City Wastewater Plant Sentenced

A former supervisor at Sioux City’s wastewater treatment plant has been sentenced to three months in jail and fined $6,000 for his role in the manipulation of water sample test results.

Jay Niday, 63, was sentenced Thursday after he pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy and falsifying or providing inaccurate information, The Sioux City Journal reported. He will also serve two years of probation after completing his sentence.

Prosecutors said Niday and Patrick Schwarte, a plant shift supervisor, manipulated chlorine levels between 2012 and 2015 to make it appear the city was meeting federal E. coli standards.

Niday’s attorney, John Greer, of Spencer, Iowa, said the motive was unclear because Niday did not receive any financial gain. He said Niday found out Schwarte was manipulating the results but didn’t stop the practice.

Schwarte was sentenced in November to two years probation and a $5,000 fine for the same two charges.

Entry via the Associated Press