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Iowa House Republicans Include Child Care Assistance, Telehealth Legislation In Proposed Health Services Budget

Daily Digest

Friday, April 23

3:55 p.m. – Iowa Democratic lawmakers tour Anamosa State Penitentiary

Iowa Democratic lawmakers who toured the Anamosa State Penitentiary Friday say the prison is unsafe, understaffed and overcrowded. They say those conditions and a lack of state funding contributed to the killings of two employees by two inmates last month.

In a press conference outside the prison, Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, called for increasing funding for the prisons by tens of millions of dollars in order to hire more staff and buy new safety equipment. “Corrections officers and the people who make this penitentiary work, they are your family, they are your friends, they are your neighbors and they are public safety workers. They are keeping this state safe. And the decision to underfund this system has had deadly consequences in the state of Iowa.”

Republican state leaders have said more funding is needed for the Department of Corrections, but haven’t yet agreed on how much.

2 p.m. - Utility announces plans for huge solar farm in eastern Iowa

An Iowa electric power provider has announced new plans for a huge solar farm in eastern Iowa.

The solar farm will be located in Linn County near Coggon and will provide 100 more megawatts of power to Central Iowa Power Cooperative members, cooperative CEO Bill Cherrier told television station KCCI.

Cherrier said the solar field will begin operations in 2022, and is projected to create 350 construction jobs at its peak.

News of the new project follows the utility’s construction of a more than 300,000 panel solar power farm south of Wapello. The 100 megawatt Wapello Solar Facility covering 800 acres in Louisa County began delivering power to the Iowa grid last month.

Cherrier said there’s a significant shift happening across the country from fossil fuel power generation to renewable-based power.

“We’re seeing wind and solar being some of the largest additions in capacity for utilities across the united states right now, so CIPCO is not going this alone,” he said. “We see a lot of the other utilities in Iowa going in the same direction.”

Entry via the Associated Press

10:16 a.m. – COVID-19 vaccination clinic for Iowa’s AAPI community planned for Saturday in Des Moines

Iowa’s Filipino-American Society is hosting a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Des Moines Saturday aimed at Asian American and Pacific Islanders. Organizers are concerned some people in the AAPI community may not feel comfortable seeking vaccines.

Luisita Thompson is the founder and executive chair of the organization. She said the mobile clinic Vaxi Taxi reached out to them about organizing the event to reach immigrant communities who may feel more comfortable going to an event hosted by an Asian organization.

“When we have this opportunity, when they reached out to me, my first answer was like, absolutely, absolutely,” Thompson said.

At the event, there will be several interpreters working in a number of Asian languages, as well as Spanish and French. Larry McBurney is the executive co-chair of the group and helped plan the event.

“We felt like there were quite a few obstacles in the way of AAPI and minority populations from getting their COVID vaccine, one of those biggest hurdles being the language barrier,” McBurney said.

Administrators will be able to administer more than 300 doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the event.

10 a.m. - Five additional deaths, 431 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Iowa Friday

6 a.m. - Teen died of carbon monoxide poisoning at Iowa hog plant

A 17-year-old girl who died after helping to clean a hog confinement building in Kossuth County was overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning, authorities said Thursday.

Victoria Marie Parra-Lerdo was found unconscious Monday night in the building in rural Swea City. She was taken to the Kossuth Regional Health Center in Algona, where she was pronounced dead, the Kossuth County Sheriff’s office said.

Autopsy results from the Iowa Medical Examiners Office said Parra-Lerdo’s death was accidental.

A power washer was being operated in the building’s hallway near where Parra-Lerdo was working, and inadequate ventilation caused her to be overcome by the fumes, authorities said.

Property tax records show the deed holder of the facility is Cottonwood Investment Company, and it is managed by Christensen Farms of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, The Mason City Globe-Gazette reported.

Parra-Lerdo was not employed Christensen Farms. Her mother owns the company that was cleaning the facility.

Entry via the Associated Press

Thursday, April 22

9:01 p.m. – Speakers tell Iowans to keep up the fight for racial equity at Des Moines vigil

Speakers from different faith and advocacy organizations reminded Iowans to continue the fight for racial equity at a vigil Thursday night in Des Moines.

More than 100 people listened as the speakers discussed the struggle many Black Iowans still face. They cheered when State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, mentioned the guilty verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd.

“That was not justice. That was a step to going to justice. Because unless you have accountability, you cannot have justice. And that was a step to accountability.”

Abdul-Samad says communities of all backgrounds need to come together to support one another in holding those in power accountable.

5:05 p.m. – Final candidate to be the next University of Iowa president has interview

The fourth and final candidate vying to be the next University of Iowa president is one of the school’s own: Daniel Clay, dean of the UI College of Education, met with campus leaders and took questions Thursday. With an academic background in psychology and counseling, Clay has served as the dean of education since 2016.

Clay says he would be a successful leader of the school because he knows its transformational value as a first generation graduate. “Higher ed changed the trajectory of my life and my entire extended family. Mentors who saw in me things that I didn’t see in myself and donors who saw the need to support people with the potential but without the means, like me.”

The presidential search committee will meet next week to discuss the candidates and review campus feedback. The Board of Regents is expected to hire the next president next Friday.

3:19 p.m. – Iowa House Republicans include child care assistance, telehealth legislation in proposed health services budget

Iowa House Republicans are including child care assistance and telehealth legislation in their proposed health services budget. This comes after the Senate refused to pass those bills.

The House GOP’s proposed $2 billion health budget would raise reimbursement rates for child care providers and ease the “cliff effect” that exists for those receiving child care assistance. It would also require insurance carriers to give mental health providers equal reimbursement for telehealth and in-person services.

Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, says the House will stand firm on this legislation.

“Now this will be the third time that telehealth language for mental health parity has shown up in the House. We have included that, and we hope the Senate will understand the need for that across Iowa.”

The Senate included legislation in its health budget that would require more verification of Iowans’ eligibility for food assistance and Medicaid. House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, says he’s open to a public assistance oversight provision, but didn’t commit to the Senate’s proposal.

“I would say that we are open to making sure that there’s a mechanism in place that the department will be able to follow — that when the federal dollars stop coming in — that we can have those mechanisms in place to make sure that the people that should be on the program are,” Grassley says.

3:07 p.m. – ACLU of Iowa sues the state for denying Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery

The ACLU of Iowa is suing the state for denying Medicaid coverage for transgender Iowans to receive gender-affirming surgery.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Aiden Vasquez, who requested Medicaid coverage for surgery to treat gender dysphoria, but was turned down.

Vasquez was part of an earlier lawsuit that was dismissed because he hadn’t been denied coverage yet. Now that he has, Vasquez says he is suing to force the state to recognize that gender-affirming surgeries are medically necessary.

“I would like everyone to understand that we are not talking about cosmetic surgery or something superficial,” Vasquez says. “This has affected my whole entire life in a negative way, has threatened my mental wellbeing.”

Vasquez says he and other transgender people have suffered from not being able to get the care they need.

“It’s hard knowing that the state has gone out of its way to discriminate against me and block my medical care just because I’m transgender, when other Iowans on Medicaid are able to get coverage for the surgeries they need.”

The policy against covering gender-affirming surgeries was overturned in a case upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court, but the legislature later revised the state civil rights law to counteract the ruling.

The ACLU plans to argue that the law change and the Medicaid policy both violate equal protection under the Iowa Constitution.

2:46 p.m. - GOP lawmakers trimming Governor Reynolds’ housing package

Republicans in the Iowa legislature are scaling back the governor’s proposals to address Iowa’s housing shortage.

House Republicans are proposing a $25 million increase in state tax credits to companies that build low and moderate income housing for renters and buyers. Senate Republicans are proposing a lower, $15 million increase in the workforce housing program.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, said the state should be getting millions to boost housing through already-approved federal pandemic relief, as well as President Biden’s proposed infrastructure package.

“We didn’t want to live in a vacuum and not realize that there’s a lot of other federal monies out there that will be coming down,” Dawson said.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, is supporting the plan, with reservations. Dotzler said an immediate boost to the state’s workforce housing tax credit program is essential to attracting new businesses.

“That’s one of the real limiting factors that we’re seeing with some of these new start-ups is one of the questions that they ask is: ‘Do you have affordable housing?'” Dotzler said.

Dawson said once rules are developed for how states may spend federal money on housing programs, the legislature will review the issue in 2022 and could dedicate more state money for housing.

Entry via Radio Iowa

2:14 p.m. – Meskwaki leader and Native American rights activist Donald Wanatee dies

Meskwaki leader and Native American rights activist Donald Wanatee has died at age 88.

Wanatee helped shape a number of policies, including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, as well as efforts to give tribes authority to operate their own schools.

Iowa State University professor emeritus of anthropology David Gradwohl remembers him as a dedicated advocate.

“Particularly Native American rights, but also human rights,”Gradwohl said. “He was involved with human rights issues for other groups around the United States and for Indigenous people around the world.”

According to a statement from the Meskwaki Nation, Wanatee was also a proud Navy veteran, and is survived by his wife, children and many grand- and great-grandchildren. A traditional funeral will be held Friday.

12:02 p.m. – Iowa’s GOP leaders say they will not address COVID-19 safety concerns raised by state regulators

GOP leaders at the Iowa Capitol are refusing to address concerns raised by workplace safety regulators about conditions that “may expose workers to COVID-19 hazards.”

The letter from the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration says leaders should address issues like a lack of social distancing, and should require the reporting of positive coronavirus tests.

Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver of Ankeny downplayed the letter and did not commit to new measures.

“We came in here, we put in measures like no clerks, we moved subcommittees online…and I think we’ve had a very successful session to this point,” Whitver says. “We’re going to continue to do that until we’re done.”

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, responded to Whitver's comments, saying “I would hope you’d re-read the letter from Iowa OSHA and see what you could do in the final days of the legislative session to make this a safer workplace for everyone.”

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, says he has taken “appropriate steps” to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus throughout the session.

At least ten people who work at the statehouse have tested positive since January.

10 a.m. - 6 additional deaths, 497 new cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday

8:49 a.m. Governor says after Chauvin verdicts, it’s time for country to heal, move forward

Gov. Kim Reynolds says the jury’s decision finding former Minneapolis police officer Dereck Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd shows that the justice system works.

“A jury of his peers found him guilty on all three charges,” Reynolds said in response to a reporter’s question at a news conference on Wednesday. “…It’s time that we all come together as a country, heal and continue to move forward.”

Last June, Reynolds signed a police reform law that, among other things, forbids Iowa police from using choke holds in most situations. In January, Reynolds called for a statewide ban on racial profiling in policing, but the Republican-led legislature has not advanced the idea.

“We’ll continue to work on it,” Reynolds said. “We’re still in session. We’re still working through the process and we’ll see where it goes.”

The House and Senate are pursuing other ideas, like broader liability protection for police and increased penalties for rioting, but a final plan has not emerged.

Entry via Radio Iowa

Wednesday, April 21

5:29 p.m. – Des Moines Water Works plans to build set of new groundwater wells as water from rivers becomes increasingly unusable

The Des Moines Water Works is advancing a plan to build a set of new groundwater wells to lessen its reliance on rivers that have been polluted with agricultural runoff for years. A utility official says the $30 million investment is needed because the rivers are increasingly unreliable and unsafe.

Nitrates aren’t the only issue for the Des Moines Water Works. Harmful algae blooms have increasingly become a concern as well, making water from the Des Moines River unusable for almost a third of last year.

Water Works CEO Ted Corrigan says that’s part of why the utility wants to build new groundwater wells, instead of relying on surface water from the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers.

“A reason why we’re looking at spending $30 million to build wells is because for 110 days last year we could not use the Des Moines River as a water source for the Des Moines metro area. That is shocking.”

Corrigan says shifting towards groundwater represents a philosophical change for the utility, and an expensive one. But he says he doesn’t see water quality in the rivers getting better without significant regulation or another lawsuit.

4:23 p.m. – Iowa House approves broadband expansion funding

The Iowa House of Representatives has approved $100 million for broadband expansion. The Senate has agreed to vote for that amount too, according to a spokesman for the Senate GOP.

Gov. Kim Reynolds asked lawmakers to spend $150 million in each of the next three years to expand access to high-speed internet across the state. One of her state agency heads has said Iowa might use federal pandemic relief funding to make up the difference.

The bill that sets out the rules for these broadband grants has passed the House and Senate and is waiting for Reynolds’ signature. Most of the funding would go toward developing internet service with download and upload speeds of at least 100 megabits per second. Some grants will allow for lower upload speeds if they’re in the most difficult to reach areas.

3:54 p.m. – Des Moines Water Works official hopes for more statewide monitoring for PFAS

A Des Moines Water Works official says he hopes to see more monitoring statewide for the substances known as forever chemicals, which have been linked to a host of health concerns. Last month the utility announced it had detected low levels of the chemicals, called PFAS ,in its tap water.

Later this summer, the Department of Natural Resources will conduct PFAS sampling at dozens of public water systems. Water Works CEO Ted Corrigan calls the state’s plan a good step, but just the beginning. “I think it’s a reasonable first step. I definitely don’t think it will be the be all and end all of PFAS sampling. I think you’ll see us doing a lot more PFAS sampling in the state as time goes on.”

PFAS have been used in consumer goods for decades and has been linked to a range of health concerns, including fertility issues and cancer. Researchers have also found the chemicals in private wells in Iowa, which don’t have be tested like public water systems do.

2 p.m. – Leader of Iowa National Guard urges all eligible Iowans to get vaccinated

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Press Conference | April 21, 2021, 11:00 a.m.

The leader of the Iowa National Guard is encouraging all eligible Iowans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as demand for the vaccine appears to be decreasing.

Adjutant General Benjamin Corell says he contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized for a week last November. He says he still continues to experience shortness of breath.

Corell says he was vaccinated in March and that half of the current Iowa National Guard members have still not been vaccinated.

“For those of you sitting on the fence, wondering about getting vaccinated, do it. It's the right thing to do for you, your family, your neighbors and our communities.”

Last week, 43 counties declined all or part of their vaccine allocation so that supply did not exceed demand.

According to state data, 53 percent of Iowans age 18 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

12:27 p.m. – Applications for pandemic recovery grants will soon be available for Iowa restaurants

Restaurants and related small businesses will soon be able to apply for pandemic recovery grants funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund will also be open to businesses such as food trucks, coffee shops, bakeries and breweries.

Jayne Armstrong is district director of the Small Business Administration in Iowa. She says the grants can be used to pay debt, payroll and other operating costs. “We definitely want to make sure these businesses make it through this recovery period, and that they get all the resources they can to help them.”

In the first 21 days, priority will go to women, veterans and socially or economically disadvantaged business owners. “We are really trying to make sure that the smallest of small businesses that have been especially hard hit have access to this grant as well,” says Armstrong.

The restaurant fund will pay up to $10 million per business. But companies that received forgivable Paycheck Protection loans will have that amount deducted from their grants.

11:22 a.m. – Organization looks to build nonprofit grocery store in Cedar Rapids area devastated by 2008 flood

A local community organization detailed plans Tuesday to build a nonprofit grocery store in the urban core of Cedar Rapids, a key step for redevelopment in a flood-damaged neighborhood.

The group Matthew 25 is in the process of raising $1 million to open a grocery store in the Time Check neighborhood in the northwest part of the city.

The area was hard-hit during the 2008 flood, with many homes destroyed or bought out by the city. Time Check resident SanDee Skelton says the development can help breathe new life back into the neighborhood.

“Let’s all help this to be a healthy neighborhood and keep ourselves healthy, and care for our neighbors like we did years back,” Skelton says.

Matthew 25’s Clint Twedt-Ball says his organization sees opportunity here.

“We’re really here to talk about what an amazing neighborhood this is, the assets that it has of being near the river, near parks, right close to downtown, and thinking about all of the ways that we can build on that to bring it back and to make it even better.”

Matthew 25 has raised nearly $800,000 so far. Funds will also go to building and rehabbing affordable housing in the area.

10 a.m. - Seven additional deaths, 631 new cases of COVID-19 reported Wednesday

Tuesday, April 20

9:30 p.m. – Des Moines activists say Chauvin verdict is relief, but urge others to continue to demand justice

A small crowd gathered at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines Tuesday night in response to the conviction of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

Pascha Morgan, who helped organize the event, says the verdict felt like a momentum swing in favor of racial justice.

“It’s like in a basketball game. You make the basket, you feel that relief and that joy. You know you still have to go down to the other end of the court and defend, but at that moment you can feel that elation. And it’s okay. And it makes you want to run down to the end of that court and finish this game.”

Morgan says Floyd’s death caused more people to become aware of racial injustice, but he feels lasting change will take more time.

Josie Mulvihill urged the group to demand justice for others who have recently died at the hands of police.

“We still have to remember Adam Toledo. We still have to remember Daunte Wright,” Mulvhill says. “We even have to focus in locally about what’s happening because it’s not far away in Minneapolis or Chicago or Ohio. It’s happening here, too.”

Mulvihill called the verdict an immense relief, but bittersweet because incidents of police violence have continued across the country.

7:34 p.m. – 'A starting point' activists in Waterloo react to Chauvin verdict

In Waterloo, the Cedar Valley Antiracism Coalition held a rally and march after news of the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial.

Joy Briscoe directs the 24/7 Black Leadership Advancement Consortium. She said until the verdict was read, she hadn’t realized how much pressure she was feeling, not knowing what the jury would decide.

“That signifies to me that again, today is a starting point,” Briscoe says. “We have to continue to have conversations, we have to continue to seek policy that creates change and we have to build off of it.”

Briscoe echoed one of the speakers at the rally who said people have short attention spans, and it’s essential to begin immediately planning the next steps in work toward racial justice.

6:43 p.m. – Iowa lawmaker says Chauvin verdict is not the end of the fight for racial justice

One Iowa lawmaker wants to make sure people remember that the guilty verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin does not mean justice is completely restored.

State Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, says he had to go on a walk after the jury delivered its verdict to “shake off some anxious energy.” And he wants Iowans to remember there’s still more work to be done.

“I think this is another opportunity for Iowa, like we did last June, to lead our nation and show what it looks like to move forward as the United States and I'm excited about that,” Smith says. “I think as Iowans, that's something we pride ourselves on is rolling up our sleeves and getting to work and so hopefully tomorrow morning, we wake up prepared to do that.”

Smith says he encourages Iowans to engage in other areas where inequities exist, like the criminal justice system.

5:08 p.m. – Food assistance and Medicaid verification legislation revived in state Senate budget bill

Senate Republicans are making another attempt to pass legislation that would require additional verification of Iowans’ eligibility for food assistance and Medicaid. They advanced it Tuesday as part of the proposed $2 billion health services budget.

Sen. Mark Costello, R-Imogene, says “What our goal is with that is to try to make sure that the people who are eligible for these services get them, and the people who are not eligible don’t get them, and to find that out quickly.”

Tom Chapman, a lobbyist for the Iowa Catholic Conference, says the bill could result in people who need public assistance losing that help.

The full Senate previously passed this legislation as a standalone bill, but the House never advanced it. It appears to have support from Gov. Kim Reynolds because it’s in her proposed budget.

5:06 p.m. – Sen. Chuck Grassley wants more “regulatory certainty” for the biofuels industry

Republican Chuck Grassley says he’s sending a bipartisan letter to the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He’s asking the EPA to set the mandate for corn-based ethanol at at least 15 billion gallons. That’s stated in the law that establishes biofuels policy. He’s also asking for the EPA to set a higher volume of biofuels that refiners must add to their gasoline. “Administrator Regan has said that the RFS is a priority for the administration. So our letter is asking him to demonstrate that priority and make sure that biofuels stay a priority.”

Grassley made his comments on his weekly call with agriculture reporters Tuesday.

3:47 p.m. – Iowa Democrats call for federal investigation into killings at Anamosa State Penitentiary

Iowa Democrats are requesting an independent federal investigation into the killings of two prison staffers by two inmates last month and into the safety conditions of the state’s correctional facilities.

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, along with Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, and House Minority Leader Todd Pritchard, D-Charles City, made the request Tuesday to the U.S. Departments of Labor and Justice.

They say the state has failed to correct safety issues, pointing to past Iowa OSHA violations showing prisons lacked reliable emergency communications equipment.

2:26 p.m. – Iowa State University plans to administer several thousand doses of COVID-19 vaccines a week

Mass vaccination clinics for students at the state’s three Regents universities were disrupted when health officials paused the use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week.

Erin Baldwin, Associate Vice President for Student Health and Wellness at Iowa State University, says the university was still able to administer more than 1,000 doses last week as state health officials have provided additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine. “Our goal overall is to administer several 1,000 doses a week. And that will, of course, depend on availability, but we've been able to get started over the last several weeks.” The University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa say they’ve also switched to using the Pfizer vaccine for now.

The university is planning to administer around 3,000 vaccine doses this week.

2:21 p.m. – Bill to end open enrollment restrictions at five Iowa schools heads to governor’s desk

A bill that would end open enrollment restrictions at a handful of school districts is headed to Gov. Kim Reynolds after it was passed Tuesday by the Iowa House.

Davenport, Des Moines, Postville, West Liberty and Waterloo are allowed to block open enrollment for affluent or native-English-speaking families as a means to desegregate the student population. But under the bill passed in the Iowa House, open enrollment must be open to all families in those five districts, and students could apply to change schools for next year.

Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, says that undercuts the districts which have already set their budgets.

“We’re moving the goalposts on them,” Smith says. “We’re shuffling dates, changing expectations of them and asking them to just kind of deal with it.”

Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, says that should not limit students’ options.

“Our education should be about the kids and not the school districts themselves,” Hite says.

Reynolds is expected to sign the bill, which would take effect immediately. It would also change the application deadline, giving families in the five districts more time to apply for open enrollment.

10 a.m. - 5 additional deaths, 549 new cases of COVID-19 reported Tuesday in Iowa

6:55 a.m. – Des Moines community activists call for removal of DMPD officer from de-escalation training

Community activists in Des Moines are continuing to pressure the city council to remove a city police officer from a group leading de-escalation training for the city police department.

Dozens of speakers during Monday night’s council meeting called for Sergeant Michael Fong to be taken off of a five person de-escalation training team.

Fong and another officer were part of an excessive force lawsuit settled by the city for $800,000. Activists also want Officer Sean O’Neill, who was named in a racial profiling lawsuit, taken off the training.

Dani Ausen told the council that the department should look for more qualified trainers.

“If we cannot look into the current police force and find five officers to run a de-escalation training that have no incidents of use of excessive force or racist profiling, well that just proves that we have bigger problems to address within the DMPD,” Ausen said.

More than 70 people signed up to address the council Monday. Because of a 30 minute rule for public comment, each person had just 25 seconds to speak. Mayor Frank Cownie said the council would revisit that rule before the next meeting in two weeks.

The Des Moines Register reported last week that city manager Scott Sanders defended Fong’s appointment in an email to council members, saying it was an appropriate management decision.

Monday, April 19

5:02 p.m. – Third University of Iowa presidential candidate forum held

The third candidate interviewing to be the next president of the University of Iowa has spent much of her career teaching disability and employment rights law. Wendy Hensel is currently the chief academic officer at Georgia State University in Atlanta, which prides itself on campus diversity and helping underserved students succeed.

At a public forum Monday, Hensel said she’d like to help the UI close demographic gaps in graduation rates. “Georgia State is a leader in that space, and graduate students in our university, at the same rate, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status, despite educating more Pell-eligible students than the entire Ivy League combined.”

The fourth and final candidate for the post is scheduled to visit campus later this week. The state Board of Regents is on track to hire the next president on April 30.

4:36 p.m. – OSHA finds COVID-19 hazards at the statehouse

The Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration sent a letter last week to the Republican leaders of the state legislature that says conditions at the statehouse “may expose workers to COVID-19 hazards.”

The letter says the January 26 inspection didn’t find a violation of state law related to COVID-19, but did identify potential hazards. They include a lack of social distancing and no consistent health screenings, such as temperature checks, for all entering the building.

Employees aren’t required to report positive tests to leadership, and there’s no determination of whether cases are work-related. Iowa OSHA asked legislative leaders to address these issues. A spokesperson for House Republicans called it a “politically-contrived investigation” and says leadership has taken “extensive efforts” to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The letter doesn’t mention masks, but masks aren’t required at the capitol. Iowa Capitol officials have reported ten people tested positive for the coronavirus since the session started in January.

12:22 p.m. – Cedar Rapids to pay $8 million to man who was paralyzed by officer during a 2016 traffic stop

Cedar Rapids has agreed to pay an $8 million settlement to Jerime Mitchell. A white police officer shot Mitchell, who is Black, during a traffic stop in 2016, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

Mitchell and his wife filed a lawsuit against Cedar Rapids and Officer Lucas Jones four years ago, and the case was set to go to trial this week.

Cedar Rapids’ insurance carrier has agreed to pay $8 million to the Mitchells without admitting fault or liability, according to a statement from the city. The settlement still needs approval from the city council to move forward.

In a statement, Mitchell says his lawyers proved Jones was an “untruthful” police officer. Mitchell’s attorney, Larry Rogers Junior, says the settlement will help provide for future health care needs. But he says the most significant result of the lawsuit was getting the officer fired.

Jones was fired last summer after internal investigators determined he lied about turning off his audio recording equipment and violated department policies during a different traffic stop.

11:53 a.m. – West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce to highlight minority-owned businesses at first Black and Brown Business Summit

The West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce will host its first-ever Black and Brown Business Summit this week. The event will highlight minority-owned small businesses in the state and offer networking opportunities for those businesses to continue to grow.

Organizers say they thought Iowa would be the best place to start the national conversation about how to ensure Black and Brown-owned companies flourish in the business world.

George Herrera will be a keynote speaker at the event. He is an entrepreneur and served as the CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“It's important that, you know, we continue to have these types of comprehensive dialogues, you know, to see, you know, how we can really, really, really start to elevate and empower the minority business community economically, I think we're making, I'm glad we're making headway politically, in some cities, we still have a long way to go.”

The summit will start with a pitch competition this Thursday.

The organizers hope to make this an annual event.

10 a.m. - 168 new cases of COVID-19 reported Monday in Iowa

9:43 a.m. – Johnson County Supervisor resigns

Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig is resigning from her position.

Rettig made the announcement over the weekend, citing personal health concerns that stem from Lyme Disease. Rettig also stated she wanted to step down as the coronavirus crisis was “concluding.”

Rettig was first appointed to the board in 2009 and her current term runs through 2022. County officials will determine whether to fill the vacancy by appointment or special election.

8 a.m. - USDA expected to announce updates to carbon market programs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to announce updates to a program that could result in more farmland being set aside for conservation.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is continuing his push for carbon markets to help the Biden administration reach its goal of net zero emissions for U.S. agriculture. Carbon markets reduce greenhouse gas emissions by placing limits and allowing for the trading of emissions units.

Vilsack is a vocal proponent of a carbon market for U.S. agriculture. He told Illinois Public Media last week it’s a win-win situation, and that having another income source will help American farmers.

“That basically allows me to have additional flexibility in my operation so I’m not solely dependent on the price of corn or soybeans on a particular day, that could be impacted by things that happen halfway around the world.”

Vilsack says the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill will help promote a carbon market by improving broadband access to farmers who live in rural areas.

Entry via Harvest Public Media

7 a.m. – National program introduces new resources to support Spanish-speaking LGBTQ teens in Iowa

A national program is reaching out to Iowa’s Latinx LGBTQ youth with a new resource. They started outreach in Iowa due to a lack of support in the state.

The goal of Q Chat Space, a bilingual chat room, is to reduce isolation for LGBTQ teens.

Deborah Levine is the founder of Q Chat Space. She says the team focused on Iowa because they couldn’t find many resources for young LGBTQ people who speak Spanish, who may be especially in need during the stress of living through a pandemic.

“We were in the middle of the pandemic planning and launching this new program, because we knew that those youth were even more isolated, and really needed to make sure that this program is in place,” says Levine.

Juan Carlos Vega is the Latinx and Spanish language outreach and engagement specialist for Q Chat Space. He says he noticed that most resources for LGBTQ people are also geared toward white communities.

“The few LGBTQ resources available, or LGBTQ competent resources in Iowa, very few are really competent to deal with Latinx, Hispanic, immigrant and Spanish speaking communities,” says Vega.

Levine says she hopes a national organization reaching out specifically to Iowa will inspire more support systems in the state.

6 a.m. – State lawmakers consider budget bills and department nominees

Budget bills are coming from state House and Senate committees with many similarities but some important differences. The Senate proposes more funding for the regents universities but less for the Department of Corrections. Eventually a compromise needs to be reached for these budgets to be passed. It’s a process common to the end of the session.

Also common in the final month are Senate confirmations of the governor’s department nominees. This year, two department directors don’t have the support of Democrats as their names come before a committee. Confirmation requires a two-thirds majority vote and if Democrats unite during the final floor vote, a nominee will be removed from their position.

Hear more about the goings-on in the Iowa legislature on this week's episode of Under the Golden Dome.

Sunday, April 18

5 p.m. - Police de-escalation trainer’s background raises concerns

Des Moines police are facing pushback after putting a sergeant who has been disciplined for excessive force on a five-person team that leads de-escalation training.

City Manager Scott Sanders defended the decision to make Sgt. Michael Fong a trainer this past week in an email that the Des Moines Register obtained through a records request. He wrote that he and Police Chief Dana Wingert met privately with “sincerely concerned residents,” but he told the mayor and council members in the email that he didn’t find their arguments persuasive.

Members of the advocacy group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and others have repeatedly and publicly asked that Fong and another officer, Sean O’Neill, be removed from their roles in the department’s de-escalation training. O’Neill was named in a racial profiling lawsuit that the city paid $25,000 to settle in 2018.

Fong began conducting de-escalation training last year, said Des Moines Police spokesperson Sgt. Paul Parizek.

In 2018, a civil court jury found that Fong and another sergeant used excessive force and committed battery in 2013 when they pepper-sprayed and beat a white northeast Iowa man in downtown Des Moines before dropping him on his face while he was handcuffed. Des Moines paid $800,000 to settle its portion of the lawsuit. The victim, Dustin Burnikel, was awarded $200,000 in damages.

In the email to city officials, Sanders argued that it would be inaccurate to “assign the $800,000 settlement, or even a significant portion of it” to Fong because Burnikel was “interfering with a valid arrest which even the jury found valid.” A jury acquitted Burnikel of all charges, including interfering with official acts.

Records made public in Burnikel’s case revealed that in 2007 Fong was suspended for five days after striking a handcuffed suspect.

“He did have an incident in 2007 in which he struck a detainee who was physically agitating the situation by forcefully shoulder checking Fong into the wall,” Sanders wrote city officials. “Fong admitted the mistake and accepted the consequences.”

Entry via the Associated Press

10 a.m. - 3 new deaths, 706 new cases of COVID-19 reported Sunday

On Saturday, eighte additional deaths and 115 new cases were reported. More than 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Iowa.

6 a.m. – Protesters gather in Des Moines Saturday for ‘Back the Black’ event

Hundreds of protesters gathered in downtown Des Moines Saturday in what organizers called a “Back the Black” event. The event was held in response to the recent fatal shootings of Black men by police in Minnesota, Chicago and Tennessee.

The crowd called out the names of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo and Anthony Thompson Jr. as they marched from city hall to police headquarters.

One of the speakers at the march said the incidents continue a trend that sparked protests across the country nearly a year ago.

“Even when we come out here in the streets, even if we say their names they’re never coming back. Do you understand that?”

Protesters renewed calls to defund the police department and for Des Moines officials to decriminalize marijuana. They also called on the city to fire any police officers who have records of violence or racism.