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Reynolds Signs 'Back The Blue' Legislation

Daily Digest

Friday, June 18

4:29 p.m. – Current heat wave raises concerns about worsening drought and effects on agriculture

There’s a heat wave striking the Midwest, and while many areas are seeing hotter temperatures this month, the threat of worsening drought looms large for farmers.

Brian Fuchs, with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's National Drought Mitigation Center, says states like Nebraska and Iowa have been fighting drought since last summer. But many areas have seen rapid expansion over recent weeks, causing problems for farmers and ranchers. “Those areas that don't have the deeper soil moisture available to them are starting to see impacts to crops already. When we look at those pasture range conditions, and see how much of them are rated good to excellent, those numbers are quite low.”

So far, outlooks show drought worsening in coming weeks. But Fuchs says rain patterns will ultimately make or break whether conditions rise to the level of drought not seen since 2012.

Entry via Christina Stella for Harvest Public Media.

3:31 p.m. – Juneteenth celebrations scheduled in Cedar Rapids

Saturday marks the first time Juneteenth will be formally recognized as a federal holiday, marking the day in 1865 that news of emancipation finally reached enslaved Texans.

This year, Juneteenth comes at a time when lawmakers across the country, including in Iowa, are passing laws restricting how race and racism can be discussed in public schools.

LaNisha Cassell is the executive director of the African American Museum of Iowa. She says the holiday is a time to celebrate while reckoning with the nation’s legacy of slavery. “You know the more we become aware about what really occurred, we’re empowered to speak out about it…But the people who don’t know, they don’t know what they don’t know. And there’s an effort to suppress as we are making efforts to…to share.”

The African American Museum of Iowa is marking Juneteenth by hosting a slate of events in Cedar Rapids, including spoken word and music performances.

12:30 p.m. - Axne-sponsored proposals included in corporate accountability package

The U.S. House has passed a proposal from Iowa Congresswoman Cindy Axne that would force big corporations to disclose if they’re outsourcing jobs and using so-called tax havens in other countries to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

“Last year 55 profitable U.S. corporations paid no federal corporate income taxes,” Axne said during a speech on the House floor. “I can tell you that’s not what happened on Main Street back in my district in Iowa. They paid their taxes.”

The plan would require corporations with shareholders to publicly disclose how many people it employs on a country-by-country basis. Axne and others say it would show how big multinational corporations open a store front in a low-tax jurisdiction to avoid paying U.S. taxes where all their sales and profits are made.

“This cost the U.S. more than $50 billion per year in taxes,” Axne said. “It hurts all of the businesses who are doing the right thing — those that are on Main Street in all of our communities, including many small businesses across this country who don’t have a subsidiary in Barbados just to avoid taxes.”

This attempt at revealing which corporations are using off-shore tax havens was included in a wide-ranging package that narrowly cleared the U.S. House this week. Another Axne proposal was included that would require public companies that are owned by investors to disclose more information about pay and benefits, training programs, workplace safety, and how much turnover there is in the corporation’s workforce. Axne said stockholders deserve that information.

“By the way, these are sets of data that are already being collected by most public companies,” Axne said. “The pandemic, though, has only driven home how important it is for companies to make sure that their workers stay safe and healthy for their company’s success. It’s obviously that companies with workers that are more engaged will do better, which is why investors want this information.”

Democrats from Virginia and Maryland are sponsoring companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Entry via O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa

11:23 a.m. - Iowa Supreme Court upholds portion of Waterloo ordinance preventing businesses from asking about potential employees’ criminal records

The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld the portion of a Waterloo ordinance that prevents businesses from asking about a prospective employee’s criminal record on a job application.

But the court found the city cannot ban employers from making hiring decisions solely on an applicant’s criminal history.

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry sued the city after it passed the measure in 2019.

Proponents say the ordinance helps address profound racial disparities in employment and wealth in Waterloo, where patterns of disproportionate policing of Black residents have contributed to persistent inequality.

10 a.m. - 575 new cases of COVID-19, 14 additional deaths reported in Iowa this week

9:43 a.m. - Court rules that lawsuit to implement water regulations to improve Raccoon River water quality can’t go forward

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that a lawsuit aimed at forcing mandatory regulations to improve water quality in the Raccoon River cannot go forward.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food and Water Watch brought the case. They argued state officials must do more to reduce nutrient pollution from farm sources to protect the river as a public resource.

In a 4-3 decision, the justices ruled the problem is too complex for a court order to solve and that it’s up to the legislature to weigh competing interests.

The ruling directs the lower court to dismiss the case.

Thursday, June 17

5:46 p.m. – Iowa City homeless services agency breaks ground on ‘housing first’ development

A homeless services agency in Iowa City formally broke ground on its latest “housing first” development Thursday.

The program will provide supportive housing to people experiencing chronic homelessness, regardless of drug or alcohol use.

The 501 Project will provide long-term affordable housing to residents, along with case management services. The apartments will cost 30 percent of a tenant’s income, regardless of how much they make. And if tenants want, the apartments will be their permanent home.

Shelter House Executive Director Crissy Canganelli says the agency has seen a significant reduction in law enforcement and emergency room interactions in its other housing first units.

“It ranges from about 70 to about 90 percent depending on the timeframe, decreases in criminal justice involvement. So nights in jail. And we’re not talking about 25 nights, down to two or something like that. This is thousands of nights down to...minimal.”

The development will have 36 one bedroom apartments. It’s slated to open next June.

2:51 p.m. - Feenstra tries again to get derecho loss coverage

Iowa farmers who are still working to recover from losses caused by the derecho last August would likely see benefits in a bill being introduced by Iowa Congressman Randy Feenstra.

The Republican from Hull says the legislation would bring derecho relief through an existing federal program that targets farmers and ranchers who were hit by other natural disasters last year. “The program is out there already through the USDA called the WHIP Plus program. It’s a wildfire and hurricane indemnity fund,” Feenstra says. “What that fund is, it’s strictly for wildfires and hurricanes, so what the bill is simply doing is adding derechos and just for 2020 disasters.”

Feenstra tried to attach a derecho relief package to the $1.9 trillion reconciliation bill last year, but failed. He says Democrats have pledged to help support the measure now that it’s a free-standing bill. “They sort of promised, saying, ‘Hey, we can’t take your amendment because we’re not taking any amendments, but if you do something else, we’re going to help,'” Feenstra says. “So now we’re pretty excited that we’ve got a stand-alone bill, working with the Ag Committee, working with everybody, hoping to get this one over the finish line.”

Feenstra says derecho assistance is still needed and could make the difference between some producers staying in business or going belly up. “It’s very significant for all of the farming community in central Iowa and so forth,” Feenstra says. “I’ve had a lot of producers talk to me saying, ‘Boy, I’m on the verge of not making it.’ We can only hope we can get this thing passed and get some help and subsidies to those who lost everything in the derecho.”

The August 10 derecho was the most destructive thunderstorm in United States’ history, causing more than $13 billion damage, most of it in Iowa. It packed peak winds of 140 miles-an-hour, the equivalent of an EF-3 tornado or a category-four hurricane.

Entry via Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton for Radio Iowa

12:17 p.m. – Reynolds signs ‘Back the Blue’ legislation, raising penalties for protest-related offenses

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a policing bill into law Thursday that raises penalties for protest-related offenses and expands some police protections.

Reynolds signed the bill at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, surrounded by law enforcement officers. “I want you to know that your governor, your legislature and your state stand behind you,” Reynolds says. “Today I am honored to sign the back the blue act, which sends that message loud and clear.”

Officers thanked her for taking steps to support law enforcement.

Black Democratic state lawmakers say this is a step backward from last summer’s police accountability bill. Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf, says this bill sends a terrible message.

“I think it’s important that we continue to remember that chokeholds and police brutality are still out there,” Thede says. “If we don’t begin to challenge the things that are happening out there, we’re going to see more and more and more of this.”

The same lawmakers also say Reynolds broke her promise to ban racial profiling by law enforcement and collect data on police stops. Reynolds included that in a bill with many of the so-called “Back the Blue” provisions, but the legislature didn’t advance that portion.

Reynolds says she plans to address that next year in a standalone bill.

10:59 a.m. – Organizers of Juneteenth celebration in Des Moines hope the event inspires change

Organizers for a first-of-its-kind Juneteenth event in Des Moines say this year’s celebration holds special meaning.

One of those organizers is Dannie Patrick. As far as she knows, this is the first time a neighborhood has organized an official Juneteenth celebration.

Patrick says the event in the city’s Sherman Hill neighborhood will also pay tribute to George Floyd, who was killed a little more than a year ago. She says to make societal change, people need to start with something as simple as understanding the diverse communities around them. And she and other organizers hope this event will prompt that.

“I think that really speaks to -- with everything going on 2020 and beyond -- it really is not about laws that change things for people. It's about people, people reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, I'm here for you.’”

The event will feature Black businesses and artists, all compensated for their time. Patrick says that was one of the most important aspects of the Juneteenth celebration, which commemorates the end of free Black labor.

10:59 a.m. – Iowa drought worsens

The drought in Iowa is deepening.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report says severe drought conditions have spread into central and northeastern Iowa, and now cover 40 percent of the state. That’s up from 10 percent last week.

Another 35 percent of Iowa is in moderate drought.

Only far southeast Iowa is not in any stage of drought or abnormal dryness.

6 a.m. - Mother sues Ankeny Community Schools, saying her child was mistreated for not wearing a mask

The mother of an Ankeny Community Schools student is suing the district because she says her child was mistreated for not wearing a mask.

Kimberly Reicks was an outspoken critic of the district’s mask requirement. In her lawsuit, she says her daughter was unfairly separated from her Kindergarten classmates when she stopped wearing a mask because of a staph infection. She also claims a teacher and principal retaliated by adding a plexiglass enclosure to her daughter’s desk after Reicks spoke out online.

All school mask mandates were immediately cancelled by a law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds on May 20.

Wednesday, June 16

3:38 p.m. – Test Iowa program to end in July

State health officials announced Wednesday that the Test Iowa program will end on July 16.

The free statewide COVID-19 testing program was launched in April of last year. The state contracted with Utah-based Nomi Health to set up the program.

Officials say demand for testing is at its lowest level in more than a year. They are also finalizing plans to provide at-home testing kits free of charge to Iowa residents when Test Iowa ends.

There are five Test Iowa sites that are still open. They are in Pottawattamie, Linn, Black Hawk, Polk and Scott counties. Closing dates for the sites vary.

3:18 p.m. – Advocacy group looks to support teachers amid news of ‘divisive concepts’ law

An Iowa advocacy group is providing support to teachers who feel targeted by a new law that limits certain teachings and trainings dealing with racism and sexism.

The law bans schools and government agencies from promoting certain ideas, including that the U.S. and Iowa are systemically racist or sexist.

Lisa Covington is a sociologist and a member of the Iowa chapter of Black Lives Matter at School, which recently held a town hall with concerned teachers.

“It’s important to note the objective of the laws, right? Because really it prohibits teachers from being able to teach facts, right? In order to do their jobs. And so we really should care about supporting teachers to help build a more equitable and inclusive society.”

Covington says the group is keeping tabs on any guidance from school districts and engaging in national efforts to oppose similar laws in other states.

The so-called “divisive concepts” law goes into effect July 1.

12:17 p.m. - Reynolds signs wide-ranging tax bill, says she’ll focus on cuts to personal income taxes in next session

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a wide-ranging tax bill into law Wednesday. It allows more income tax cuts to kick in, phases out backfill payments to local governments and shifts mental health funding from local property taxes to the state.

Reynolds called it “landmark tax reform legislation.”

“Taken as a whole, today’s bill ushers in a new era of freedom, growth and opportunity in Iowa.”

The new law also includes the expansion of a child care tax credit, more funding for affordable housing development, a tax break for food banks and many other tax changes. Many stakeholders have expressed support for the new law, but local governments have opposed the provision that phases out backfill payments to cities and counties.

Reynolds says she wants to pursue more personal income tax cuts in the next legislative session.

12:08 p.m. - Trials of men accused of killing Anamosa correctional officer, nurse have been rescheduled

The trials of the men accused of killing two employees at the Anamosa State Penitentiary have been rescheduled.

Michael Dutcher is now slated to go on trial August 3, while the trial of Thomas Woodard is set for September 21.

Court records show both trials are currently set in Jones County, though attorneys have raised concerns about finding an impartial jury in the rural community where the prison is a major employer.

Investigators say the two inmates killed a nurse and a correctional officer during an escape attempt. Both have pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnapping charges.

9:35 a.m. - Although demand for vaccines has slowed, one nonprofit is still seeing interest from members of Iowa’s Latino population

Overall demand for COVID-19 vaccines in Iowa is slowing down.

Many counties have even declined new vaccine shipments. But a central Iowa nonprofit that advocates for Latino communities is still seeing interest. They recently hit a milestone by vaccinating more than 900 Latinos and Spanish-speakers at clinics with Hy-Vee.

But there’s still more work to do, according to Jose Alvarado, the director of Latinx Immigrants of Iowa. He says the people he has spoken with all want the vaccine, but there are certain things they need before they get it.

“They just need a safe place to take the vaccine. That’s the only thing they need, you know? Even if they have documents or not. They need someone they feel comfortable [with].”

He says establishing trust has been one of the sources of their success. “They're so happy,” says Alvarado. “They feel comfortable when they show up to the clinics, all the people. Everything was in their own language, and one thing [is] that they trust us, because we have known them for years, working for them, empowering them.”

Alvarado says the organization is currently asking for donations to continue their vaccination clinics with churches and other groups.

Latinos have received about three percent of the state’s doses. They make up more than six percent of the population.

7:50 a.m. - Fire destroys pipe organ making business in western Iowa

Fire has destroyed a western Iowa business that made pipe organs for churches, schools and customers from around the world, officials said.

The fire at Dobson Pipe Organ Builders in Lake City was reported around 4 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. Firefighters found the building engulfed in flames that caused its exterior walls to collapse.

One employee of the company was burned when he discovered the fire and tried to put out the flames, according to authorities. The State Fire Marshal’s Office said it believes the fire was started by a malfunctioning fan that caused sawdust to ignite.

Lake City is about 70 miles northwest of Des Moines.

Dobson Pipe Organ Builders was founded in 1974 by Lynn Dobson, a Carroll, Iowa, native who attended Wayne State College in Nebraska, according to the business’ website. During his years at the college, he built an organ in a shed on his family’s farm that he sold to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Sioux City, Iowa, where it is still played.

Entry via the Associated Press

7:04 a.m. - Ernst says IG’s audit may find clues to COVID-19 origins

As debate over the origins of COVID-19 continues, the Biden Administration is launching an audit of federal grants that may have supported coronavirus research in China.

Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst has been pushing for an investigation of a U.S. nonprofit that sent about $600,000 in federal grant money to China’s Wuhan Institute over a six-year period.

“The information EcoHealth Alliance possesses could strengthen the case for or against the lab leak theory,” Ernst said during a conference call with Iowa reporters. “It’s absolutely critical that we get access to that information.”

The head of the EcoHealth Alliance has called the lab leak theory “pure baloney” and suggests it’s more likely China is covering up the role its wildlife markets played in spreading COVID-19 from animals to humans. Ernst is seeking other senate co-sponsors of legislation that would cut off federal grant money to organizations that fail to provide all the information federal investigators seek about federally-funded research.

“There’s no reason Iowa taxpayers should continue to foot the bill for organizations that fail to follow federal laws,” Ernst said, “particularly one that could hold answers to the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

CNN is reporting Wednesday that the Inspector General’s Office in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is launching an audit of how some organizations and subcontractors used National Institutes of Health grants over the past seven years. Several news organizations have reported recently that classified intelligence indicates three researchers at the Wuhan Institute got sick in the fall of 2019, before the COVID-19 outbreak was reported.

In May, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed an Ernst proposal that would ban any federal funds from being spent at the Wuhan Institute.

Entry via O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa

6 a.m. – Ras Smith kicks off his gubernatorial run at Waterloo event

Democratic state Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, formally launched his campaign for governor at an event Tuesday.

At an open air event in downtown Waterloo, Smith spoke of an Iowa that welcomes immigrants and refugees, that’s a scientific innovator, and a national leader on civil rights issues.

Smith said the state can transcend current political divisions by lowering barriers to equal opportunity in rural and urban Iowa, which he says share common struggles. “A lack of access to seeing your kids to school without them having to be on the bus for hours and hours and hours. I see a lack of access to technology and broadband, a lack of access to opportunity to start a family.”

Other Democrats are expected to join the race to unseat Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is expected to run for re-election, though she hasn’t formally announced.

Smith’s campaign has been called “historic.” If elected, he would become just the fifth Black governor in U.S. history.

Tuesday, June 15

2 p.m. – All 100 of Iowa’s county fairs are on for the summer

After last year’s pandemic-related cancellations, all of Iowa’s 100 county fairs are a go in 2021, and five will be held this month.

“Not to beat a dead horse about last year, but it was tough. This year, everybody’s back,” says Tom Barnes, executive director of the Association of Iowa Fairs. “…We’re hearing a lot of positive talk about people wanting to get back involved, be at the fair, help with the fair.”

Barnes says the “curve ball” of last year’s pandemic prompted fair managers to improvise. For example, many staged competitions for the livestock 4-H and FFA members raised last year.

“I believe the count was 85 or 86 fairs in Iowa did not happen at all, but did some sort of youth show-and-go type of event,” Barnes says. “…Early fairs in June was basically the guinea pigs of trying to make that happen and our later fairs learned by what the early fairs did correctly and did not do correctly.”

Barnes is also secretary of the Howard County Fair, which starts next week. Barnes says after years of emphasizing concerns about the spread of diseases among livestock, county fairs are being proactive about the human side as well.

“We still have the sprayers and the hand sanitizers and all that. We’ll be utilizing that kind of stuff here during our fair, spacing things out as best as we possibility can, but what’s really helped the fairs be able to kick off this year is the vaccination,” Barnes says. “…There were skeptics three or four months ago. Whether you believe in the vaccination or not, it did change the public’s perception of getting back into a norm.”

The Wapello and Worth County fairs start this Wednesday, June 16. The Linn, Jefferson and Howard County Fairs begin on June 23. There are 99 counties in Iowa, but 100 counties fairs since Pottawattamie County holds two — one in Council Bluffs and the other in Avoca.

Entry via Darin Svenson, KDEC, Denison for Radio Iowa

1:15 p.m. – Candidate for governor Ras Smith criticizes Reynolds’ handling of the pandemic

Democratic candidate for governor Ras Smith says he wants to improve quality of life and equitable treatment for all Iowans by empowering workers and investing in local communities.

The three-term state representative from Waterloo announced his bid Tuesday. In an interview with IPR, he took aim at Gov. Kim Reynolds’ handling of the coronavirus crisis.

“We've seen a governor who's…taking power away from local governments, who's targeting elected officials who don't want to follow corruption…or follow her…agenda. We've seen a governor who's directed the power of the Iowa government at individuals.”

Smith is the first candidate to jump into the race. Other Democrats, including State Auditor Rob Sand, are considering running. Smith will formally launch his campaign at an event in Waterloo Tuesday afternoon.

12:30 p.m. - Shooting in Cedar Rapids has ‘multiple victims,’ police say

Investigators say they are on the scene Tuesday of a shooting at a Cedar Rapids home that involves multiple victims.

Cedar Rapids Police Department spokesperson Greg Buelow said officers and emergency responders were dispatched to a home in the 4400 block of Oak Leaf Court NE after receiving a call at 8:23 a.m.

“We can confirm there are multiple victims of an apparent shooting incident,” he wrote in a text message. “This is an active investigation and further updates will be provided as information becomes available.”

Buelow said he couldn’t confirm the conditions of the victims but that he expected to release more information later Tuesday.

The home is located in a neighborhood about a half-mile from Cedar Rapids Xavier High School on the northern side of the city.

Entry via the Associated Press

12:24 p.m. – New state House Minority Leader says she is working on recruiting candidates for 2022

New Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said she is working on recruiting new candidates to run in 2022, despite the delay in drawing new legislative districts.

The release of U.S. census data has been delayed, making it impossible for the state to proceed with redistricting.

“It’s a little harder to recruit candidates without maps. And so we’re having a lot of conversations. We’re talking to potential candidates by precinct, so that when the maps come out, we can kind of know where people are right away.”

Konfrst said her message will focus on differences she sees between GOP campaign promises and their actions.

“They’re talking about the importance of child care and mental health, and small business support. We all agree those things are really important. When they come to the capitol, they do some cosmetic things to address child care, they take small steps on those issues, and then huge steps on social, dramatic, divisive issues that don’t match what they’re saying at the doors.”

Konfrst is taking over from Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, who stepped down from his position as minority leader earlier this month. The 41 House Democrats elected Konfrst as their new leader Monday.

Republicans expanded their House majority to 59 members in 2020. House Speaker Pat Grassley congratulated Konfrst in a statement, and said he’s hopeful Democrats will join GOP efforts to, “move the state forward and advance an agenda that matches Iowans’ values.”

7:23 a.m. – Rep. Ras Smith announces run for governor

Iowa House Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, is running for governor in 2022.

The 33-year-old, three-term lawmaker released a video announcing his candidacy Tuesday morning.

“We deserve a government that is worthy of our work. I’ve planted those fields, I’ve walked down those hallways, and I’ve been in those shoes, and I have faith that when we work together, when we use new eyes to look at old problems we can build a state where everyone can succeed.”

Smith raised his profile last year by helping bring together a police accountability law that passed unanimously following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Smith has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Northern Iowa and has a background as a youth counselor.

He has an in-person event scheduled in Waterloo Tuesday to kick off his campaign.

Monday, June 14

8:19 p.m. – Rep. Konfrst of Windsor Heights voted in as leader of Iowa House Democrats

Iowa House Democrats voted Monday to elect Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, as the new House Minority Leader.

Konfrst is an associate professor of public relations at Drake University. She was first elected to the House in 2018, and she served as the House Minority Whip during the last legislative session.

Speaker of the House Pat Grassley released a statement shortly after Konfrst’s election saying he looks forward to working with her.

Konfrst succeeds Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, who stepped down as the leader of the House Democrats earlier this month. He served in the role for nearly three years.

2:20 p.m. - Many Iowa music venues are still waiting on the federal funding they need to stay open

Music venues in Iowa are still waiting for federal funding to help them stay afloat through the pandemic. Without it, many venues fear they will not be able to stay open.

The federal funding for live music venues was approved at the end of 2020, but many Iowa venues are still waiting for the money to come in. That’s according to Tobi Parks, the owner of xBk, a small performing arts center in Des Moines. She’s hoping the money will come by next week.

“We are hanging on by a thread right now, and that funding needs to come as soon as humanly possible, because every month that the expenses are coming again is another month that a venue ends up, unfortunately, closing its doors.”

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant is run through the Small Business Administration. It allows for more than $16 billion in grants.

Parks made her comments on IPR’s Talk of Iowa.

1:38 p.m. – State’s largest water utility asks customers to cut back on watering the lawn

Iowa’s largest water utility is asking customers to cut back on lawn watering by 25 percent.

The Des Moines Water Works says this year’s drought has resulted in low river levels, while also increasing demand for water.

The utility says much of the increased demand is for lawn-watering. It’s asking customers to cut back watering to every other day, and for everyone to avoid watering the lawn on Mondays.

Later this week, the utility will raise metal gates on the Raccoon River near downtown, to raise the river level around its intake pipes.

The Des Moines Water Works serves about 500,000 customers in 16 central Iowa communities, as well as two rural water districts.

1 p.m. – Iowa facing a shortage of volunteer firefighters

The COVID-19 pandemic has created plenty of shortages in Iowa, including one for volunteer firefighters.

The U.S. Fire Administration reports almost 90 percent of Iowa’s fire departments are made up of volunteers.

Gene Evans is the former president and board member of the Iowa Firefighters Association. He says the pandemic has made it especially hard to recruit and retain volunteers. “People are becoming a lot more hesitant to want to volunteer just because of that additional hazard to the job.”

Evans says the firefighter association is currently pushing for legislation to offer more incentives for people to volunteer.

Evans made his comments on IPR’s River to River.

12:13 p.m. – St. Ansgar man arrested in connection with Jan. 6 insurrection

Another Iowan has been arrested and charged for their alleged role in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

According to the FBI, Daryl Johnson of St. Ansgar was taken into custody Friday and faces four federal charges, including violent entry of the Capitol building.

Investigators allege Johnson and his son Daniel, of Austin, Minnesota, posted on social media about their involvement in the violent insurrection, which resulted in the deaths of five people.

According to federal records, six Iowans now face charges for their alleged role in the insurrection, which resulted in the deaths of five people.

In the wake of the 2020 election, Iowa Republican lawmakers lent credence to the baseless claims of fraud that helped spur the deadly riot.

Updated 3:05 p.m.

7 a.m. - Vaccine demand continues to decrease in Iowa, especially in rural counties

Demand for COVID-19 vaccines continues to lag in Iowa, especially in the state’s rural counties. Vaccination rates in southern and northwestern Iowa trail those in more urban areas. In some counties, fewer than one in three residents have been fully vaccinated.

Shelley Bickel, the administrator of the Wayne County Public Health Department, says some residents continue to turn down the life-saving vaccine, even after family members have died of COVID-19. “I asked them if they're going to get vaccinated, and they said no. So I don't know where people's thinking is. I…I really don't.”

Bickel says her county has largely finished vaccinating the residents who are willing. She says lack of trust, misinformation and conservative politics have dissuaded many others from getting the shot.

Experts worry the low vaccination rates could lead to new outbreaks, or allow the virus to mutate, possibly becoming more infectious or more deadly.

6 a.m. - Illinois joins Iowa in funding efforts to reduce fertilizer runoff from farmland

More Midwestern states are dedicating money to reduce fertilizer runoff from farmland.

At the end of its legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly, for the first time ever, earmarked funding for the state’s nutrient loss reduction strategy, which aims to cut nutrient runoff into the Mississippi River.

Max Webster is the Midwest policy manager with the American Farmland Trust. He says while Illinois joins other states -- like Iowa -- with dedicated funding, the money is only for one year. “So we don't have that that long term dedicated funding like other states do. And so this work is really kind of a foundation to build upon to try to get some of those resources in place.”

“The state of Illinois is taking a step towards being a part of the solution,” says Steve Stierwalt, a farmer in Illinois who serves on the executive board of the National Association of Conservation Districts. “But when we're talking about nutrients in soil, it's a whole Mississippi watershed.”

He says federal aid would further help Mississippi basin states tackle nutrient runoff.

Entry via Dana Cronin for Harvest Public Media

6 a.m. - Iowans will no longer receive pandemic-related federal unemployment benefits

This marks the first week Iowans will no longer receive pandemic-related federal unemployment benefits.

Iowa is one of the first four states to end the $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit. Gov. Kim Reynolds said last month she is ending the supplemental program because the economy is rebounding from the pandemic, and she says the additional payments are discouraging people from going back to work.

But Iowa State University Economist Dave Swenson says he disagrees that this will help increase the state’s labor force. “Cutting off unemployment doesn't have anything to do with the labor supply. The people who have dropped out of the labor force aren't receiving unemployment, by definition, they're not in the labor force.”

Iowans who are eligible can still receive regular unemployment benefits through the state.

5:30 a.m. - Former Iowa official sues Reynolds over ouster in 2019

The former head of the Iowa Department of Human Services alleges in a lawsuit against Gov. Kim Reynolds that he was ousted because he raised concerns that one of her aides was being paid with federal Medicaid money.

Jerry Foxhoven contends in a lawsuit filed this week against Reynolds that he was fired in June 2019 “because he refused to engage in illegal activity; that is, committing Medicaid fraud,” The Des Moines Register reported.

Reynolds initially said she wanted the department to “go in a new direction” and later said Foxhoven’s dismissal was partly related to patient deaths at the Glenwood Resource Center, where Iowans with severe disabilities are treated.

Foxhoven contends he was fired because of a dispute over how Paige Thorson, a Reynolds aide, was paid.

When Thorson transferred from the Department of Human Services to the governor’s office, she continued to advise DHS on the Medicaid program. Under that arrangement, 69 percent of her salary was paid with Medicaid funds.

The suit contends that arrangement continued after Thorson no longer was assisting DHS.

Foxhoven said he was fired after he told Reynolds’ chief of staff that he would seek an opinion on the matter from assistant attorneys general assigned to his agency.

The governor’s spokesperson, Pat Garrett, on Friday declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Entry via the Associated Press