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Chair Of Iowa Democrats Rural Caucus Announces Run For Senate

Daily Digest

Friday, July 30

5:01 p.m. – State-run rental assistance program has cleared its backlog of applications

A state-run rental assistance program has cleared its backlog of applications, according to a spokesperson for the Iowa Finance Authority. The federal moratorium on some evictions is set to end this weekend, and the rental assistance is available to some Iowans who are behind on rent.

The Des Moines Register reported a few weeks ago that the state was struggling to distribute pandemic-related rental assistance funding that came from the federal government. IFA set Friday as its target date for getting through its backlog of a few thousand applications.

Still, the state has distributed just about $9 million of the nearly $200 million available for rent relief. IFA spokesperson Ashley Jared says that money went to more than 3,000 households in 91 counties. Polk County has a separate program that’s given out more than $16 million in rent relief.

Jared says the state hasn’t yet decided whether it’ll apply for a second round of federal rental assistance funding.

4:21 p.m. – Six affordable housing complexes in Iowa plan mass evictions

As some Iowans brace for an uptick in evictions after the federal moratorium ends this weekend, residents of six affordable housing complexes in the state are facing unrelated mass evictions.

Iowa Legal Aid is working with tenants at three apartment complexes in Des Moines, two in Davenport and one in Storm Lake who are facing mass evictions, potentially affecting nearly 600 households.

Litigation Director Alex Kornya says these are happening because of various issues like changes in ownership, planned renovations and rent increases, as well as severe safety issues at a housing complex in Davenport. “It is just an extremely unfortunately timed set of events because it was already going to be bad enough, but now we have this unexpected additional strain on the market for extremely vulnerable people.”

Kornya says there’s already an affordable housing crisis in the state, and there’s no guarantee these apartments will remain affordable after being renovated.

4:09 p.m. – Meskwaki Nation in Iowa re-issues mask mandate

The Meskwaki Nation in Iowa is re-issuing a mask mandate inside all tribal organization buildings.

The decision comes in response to the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus and the CDC’s new guidance saying that people in high-transmission areas should wear masks, even if they’re vaccinated.

Rudy Papakee is the health director for the Meskwaki Health Clinic. He says the vaccination rate is around 85 percent on the Meskwaki Settlement. Masks are an added precaution to help slow down the delta variant. “Prevention works. Masks are one of the number one keys to help stop the spread and the vaccines are working as well.”

The mandate does not apply to businesses on the settlement, such as the hotel or casino. As a sovereign nation, the Meskwaki are not bound to a state law banning cities and schools from requiring masks.

2:08 p.m. - Iowa law enforcement states support for protecting DACA recipients

Law enforcement officials across Iowa have stated their support for protecting recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force is made up of police chiefs and county sheriffs across the United States. Following a recent federal court decision that declared DACA unlawful, almost all Iowa members of the task force have stated they support DACA, citing it as an important aspect of public safety.

In written statements, six of the seven law enforcement officials on the task force emphasized how DACA has improved trust between immigrants and law enforcement. If taken away, that relationship could deteriorate, which is why many want DACA to be permanent.

A spokesperson for the immigration task force says most members in the country share these opinions, no matter political party or geographic location.

The Polk County Sheriff did not offer a statement regarding DACA.

11:30 a.m. - Canadian wildfires smoke causing air quality issues in Iowa

An air quality alert has been issued for most of Iowa Friday, as smoke from Canadian wildfires drifts south, bringing high, unhealthy air particulates with it.

The air quality index shows the state’s air is unhealthy for sensitive groups, including those with asthma and heart and lung diseases. Children and older residents could also be affected.

Iowa health officials said residents should stay inside as much as possible and limit physical activities outdoors. Residents were also advised to keep windows closed and air conditioning on.

The alert is in effect until late Friday afternoon, when the haze was expected to begin clearing.

Entry via the Associated Press

9 a.m. - Reynolds among Republicans urging Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade

Gov. Kim Reynolds is among a dozen GOP governors who are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn previous rulings on abortion and give states the authority to regulate the procedure.

Reynolds signed onto a legal brief that argues the court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision is an “unwarranted intrusion” on states’ rights. Reynolds also released a written statement, saying the ruling has “stymied” state efforts to enact abortion restrictions.

An Iowa-based spokesperson for Planned Parenthood said it’s clear the governor’s goal is to ban abortions in Iowa.

Reynolds is among about 250 Republican office-holders from around the country who’ve expressed support for Mississippi’s law that bans most abortions after the fifteenth week of a pregnancy. The Supreme Court has scheduled legal arguments over Mississippi’s law during the court’s next term, which begins in October, with an opinion expected by next June.

Entry via Radio Iowa

6 a.m. – Chair of Iowa Democrats Rural Caucus joins race for Senate

Another Democrat has joined the race to challenge longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley. Rural Western Iowa Physician and Minden City Councilmember Glenn Hurst declared his candidacy Thursday.

Hurst is also chair of the Iowa Democrats’ Rural Caucus, and he says he believes expanding health care access is key to saving small communities and winning over rural voters.

“I stand firmly on the belief that to save our rural communities, we are going to have to invest in Medicare for All. That is the solution for rural Iowa. That along with other components such as supporting our labor movement.”

Former Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer and former Crawford County Supervisor Dave Muhlbauer have also jumped in the race. Grassley has not yet said if he’ll run for an eighth term.

Thursday, July 29

3:47 p.m. – COVID-19 hospitalizations in Iowa continue to climb

As of Thursday state health officials say 158 Iowans are hospitalized with the virus.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Iowa have been increasing since late June when they hit a record low of 46.

Melanie Wellington is an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. She says she’s concerned Iowa is headed towards a surge in hospitalizations like the one experienced in Missouri. “Community transmission is definitely on the rapid rise and vaccination in the state remains relatively low. And that is a recipe for a lot of people getting infected, and those who are not vaccinated are at high risk of being hospitalized.”

Wellington says the best chance to reverse the current trend is for more Iowans to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Currently, 61 percent of adult Iowans are fully vaccinated.

2 p.m. - Unknown if classes can begin on time after Iowa school fire

School officials in southwestern Iowa have said they don’t know if classes will be able to begin as planned on Aug. 23 following a fire that damaged Atlantic Middle School.

The school’s roof caught fire Tuesday afternoon, television station WOI reported. While the full extent of damage is not yet known, officials said the building suffered extensive water damage.

“There’s a lot more steps to the process,” Atlantic Community School District Superintendent Steve Barber said. “Right now, we’re unsure of the status of the building.”

No one was injured in the fire. The cause of the fire is still unknown, officials said.

Atlantic is about 74 miles southwest of Des Moines.

Entry via the Associated Press

12:54 p.m. - Trial delayed for one of the Anamosa inmates accused of killing prison staffers

One of the inmates accused of killing two prison staffers will not go on trial next week.

Michael Dutcher’s bench trial was slated to begin Tuesday, but the proceeding has been delayed after he waived his speedy trial rights.

Dutcher and inmate Thomas Woodard are accused of killing a correctional officer and a nurse during an escape attempt. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Woodard is scheduled to go on trial in September.

9 a.m. - Reynolds ‘close’ to filling vacancies so public health board can operate

Gov. Kim Reynolds says she’s filling openings on the state Board of Public Health so it can conduct business this fall.

“We’re really close,” Reynolds told reporters Wednesday morning. “I think if not, we are at a quorum right now.”

When the terms of several board members expired at the end of June, it left just four members on the 11 person board. The panel’s July 14 meeting had to be cancelled.

Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst and other Democrats say that’s unacceptable. “It doesn’t seem to me that it’s too heavy of a lift to ask our governor to fill vacant positions on a public health board in the middle of a global pandemic,” Konfrst said.

The governor told reporters the board was able to conduct business in meetings every other month throughout the pandemic and had its last business meeting in May. “They decided not to meet in June,” Reynolds said. “They knew that they would have appointments that would be expiring the end of June, so if they felt that need to meet, they could have done that.”

The board is now scheduled to meet in early September, 119 days after its last meeting in May. The panel’s members have the power to propose and repeal state regulations and to advise the governor on health related topics. Last fall, the group passed a resolution urging Reynolds to adopt a statewide mask mandate.

Entry via Radio Iowa

6 a.m. - 13 additional deaths, 2,158 new cases of COVID-19 reported last week in Iowa

Wednesday, July 28

4:38 p.m. – Hot temperatures pose threat to state prisons

Dangerously high heat is posing a threat to vulnerable people across Iowa this week as heat indices soar above 100 degrees.

The temperatures are especially concerning for some of the state’s prisons, which lack air conditioning. Living units at the prisons in Mount Pleasant and Anamosa don’t have AC. Mark Dotson is a formerly incarcerated Iowan who spent time at Anamosa. “You can't keep it cool. And I mean it gets so hot in there the walls sweat. And your toilet sweats because it's…the fluid in there makes it cooler so it creates condensation. And I mean, you'll have pools of water on your floor. That's how bad it gets in there.”

Dotson says he’s worried the heat could further enflame tensions behind bars. Advocates are raising concerns about recent restrictions put in place after two inmates allegedly killed two guards earlier this spring.

4:31 p.m. – Gov. Reynolds responds to return of state troopers from U.S. Mexico border

Iowa public safety officials say the 27 state troopers and one agent deployed to the U.S. Mexico border this month worked as a “force multiplier” for Texas law enforcement.

Department of Public Safety officials say the 28 Iowans worked in Texas for 12 days to try to prevent high-speed car chases and theft, provide humanitarian assistance, and investigate human smuggling.

The additional cost for the mission to Iowa taxpayers is estimated to be about $200,000.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds says there’s a crisis at the southern border that’s affecting Iowans. “It is an investment that I believe was well spent in helping really secure the southern border, the humanitarian efforts that were put in place—I felt that it was the right thing to do.”

Reynolds said the biggest impact to Iowa is seen in increased drug overdose deaths. But she and the public safety commissioner later said they believe the rise in overdose deaths is largely due to the pandemic.

The leaders of the Iowa Democratic Party’s Latinx Caucus say Reynolds is using fear to divide people and that her rhetoric is hurtful and dangerous for the state’s Latinx community.

3:32 p.m. - Board of Regents approves tuition increases at Iowa’s public universities

The Iowa Board of Regents has approved tuition increases at the state’s three public universities.

In-state tuition and fees will go up by 3.5 percent at Iowa State University, 3.4 percent at the University of Iowa and by 1.3 percent at the University of Northern Iowa.

In a statement before the unanimous vote, Regents president Michael Richards said the board’s goal is to keep tuition affordable. “Nevertheless, even with cost-cutting and flat appropriations for the last two years, our costs continue to rise. We still need financial resources to provide a quality education for our students.”

The universities had requested an $18 million increase in the state budget, but the Iowa legislature held funding flat for next year.

3 p.m. - EPA fines Oelwein company for hazardous waste violation

A northeast Iowa company, accused of creating hazardous waste, has reached a monetary settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

DCW Casing in Oelwein allegedly made the hazardous waste, in violation of federal rules. The company makes a blood product. DCW settled with the EPA by paying a civil penalty of slightly more than $80,000, plus bringing the facility into compliance with federal rules.

Two other businesses in the country have made similar settlements. They are located in Kansas City, Kansas and Vinita Park, Missouri.

Entry via Radio Iowa

2 p.m. - Congressman Feenstra gets derecho coverage in House bill

Congressman Randy Feenstra has gotten language included in a House agriculture bill for wildfires and hurricanes that would also cover the 2020 derecho-related losses.

“I am very pleased to see the committee come together working on this bipartisan legislation for our farmers and our producers. I am also so very pleased to see the legislation include production losses caused by high winds and derechos,” Feenstra says.

Feenstra has been pushing for several months to get the derecho coverage after the derecho caused the loss of 850,000 acres of crops. “This was the most costly thunderstorm in U.S. history — costing about $7.7 billion. I am very pleased that our committee is continuing these efforts to ensure that Iowa farmers and farmers across the country receive disaster relief they need to offset these massive losses by these events,” Feenstra says.

Entry via Radio Iowa

11:48 a.m. - Football field at U Iowa to be named for Duke Slater

The football field inside Kinnick Stadium at the University of Iowa will be named after hall of fame lineman Duke Slater. Plans were approved by the Iowa Board of Regents Wednesday.

Slater went to high school in Clinton and was a tackle for the Hawkeyes in the early 1920s. He was the team’s first Black player to be named an All-American. He was also the first African American lineman to play in the NFL and was named to the pro-football hall of fame last year.

He earned a law degree from the university and was the first Black judge on the Cook County Superior Court in Chicago.

Slater also has a residence hall named after him on the U of I campus and a statue outside the north endzone of Kinnick Stadium.

10 a.m. - AAA survey finds Iowans confident to travel again

After more than a year of masks, hand sanitizer and carry-out meals, a survey by AAA-Iowa finds Iowans are more than ready to return to vacations and traveling.

Meredith Mitts, a spokesperson for the motor club, says traveler confidence is soaring. “What we have seen from our travel surveys that we field quarterly is that three-quarters of Iowans are more comfortable taking a trip and traveling now than they were three months ago,” Mitts says, “which is really exciting for the travel industry and for anyone who’s been itching to travel.”

Over the course of the past three surveys, she says Iowans’ comfort level has significantly increased as their concern about COVID-19 waned. “Some of our top reasons are: People are confident in the COVID-19 vaccinations,” Mitts says. “They are more confident in the safety measures that have been implemented nationwide. They are also less afraid of the dangers of the virus now that it’s not quite so new and unknown and as we know a little bit more what to expect.”

Of those who are already or plan to be vaccinated, 44 percent say travel was a motivating factor in doing so. Where are Iowans wanting to go? “The top couple of destinations we’re seeing for Iowa is major cities and metro destinations, whether that’s going to Des Moines or coming to a neighboring state and going to visit Minneapolis or Chicago,” Mitt says. “We also are seeing a rise in national and state parks, followed by beach or lake destinations.”

The survey also finds a growing number of Iowans are back on board with the idea of taking a cruise. “Our data shows that almost half, about 42 percent, feel comfortable taking an ocean or river cruise,” Mitts says, “with about one-third of Iowans planning to take a cruise in the next couple of years.”

The survey shows two-thirds of Iowans have already traveled or plan to take a trip in 2021, while more than half of those will take their next trip between July and September.

Entry via Radio Iowa

Tuesday, July 27

3:58 p.m. – Gov. Reynolds calls new masking guidance “not grounded in reality or common sense”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance Tuesday recommending people in counties with substantial to high community transmission of COVID-19 wear masks indoors, even if they’re fully vaccinated. According to CDC data, 47 Iowa counties have substantial or high community spread.

Federal health officials are also recommending universal masking for everyone in schools, regardless of community transmission levels or vaccination status.

In a statement, Gov. Kim Reynolds called the updated guidance “counterproductive to our vaccination efforts.” And said she’s concerned the new guidance could fuel mask mandates in schools across the country. Iowa enacted a new law in May making it illegal for schools to require masks.

The state’s vaccination numbers have plateaued in recent weeks. 58 percent of Iowans 12 and older are fully vaccinated, with rates widely varying county to county. Reynolds is encouraging all Iowans to get the shot.

3:12 p.m. – Father and son charged with involvement in Jan. 6 attack on Capitol plead not guilty

A father and son are pleading not guilty to charges related to their alleged involvement in the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The charges against Daryl Johnson of St. Ansgar and his son Daniel, who lives in Austin, Minn. include violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

According a criminal complaint, they were seen on video inside the Capitol and said on social media that they were among the first people inside the building.

2:28 p.m. – Prosecution argues that Bahena Rivera should not get a new trial

Prosecutors sought to poke holes in new testimony presented in court Tuesday in the case of Cristhian Bahena Rivera.

His attorneys want another trial after new evidence surfaced related to the 2018 death of Mollie Tibbetts. Bahena Rivera was convicted in May of killing her, but his attorneys argue other testimony links Tibbetts’ disappearance to an alleged sex trafficking ring.

Prosecutor Scott Brown questioned state investigator Trent Vileta about the purported links.

“Any connection at all through your investigation to Gavin Jones, Dustin Hansen, James Lowe or anyone else, other than Cristhian Rivera?”

“No. Cristhian Rivera murdered Mollie Tibbetts.”

Prosecutors repeatedly disputed that Tibbetts’ case is linked to the recent disappearance of Xavior Harrelson, a young boy from the same county. They maintain Bahena Rivera is solely responsible for her death.

11:16 a.m. –Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on the lack of competition in the cattle market

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is gearing up for a committee hearing Wednesday on issues with competition in the cattle market.

Four large meatpackers control most of the beef slaughter. The cattle industry says this causes less competition and lower prices for their cattle.

Grassley – a Republican – is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. During a call with reporters, he said farmers only get a small fraction of every dollar Americans spend on food.

“Meanwhile, the retail price of beef for consumers has increased and remains very high. Now I'm not upset about the Grassleys paying more for beef. But I'm upset when the farmers aren’t getting a profit.”

Grassley says he hopes evidence on the lack of competition will come out of the committee hearing. The Senate Ag. Committee held a hearing on cattle markets last month.

9:45 a.m. – Iowa organizations to receive federal funds for crime victims’ services

Iowa organizations that support crime victims’ services will receive new federal funding, after President Joe Biden signed a law to redirect dollars to the Crime Victims Fund.

The VOCA Fix Act is a bipartisan bill that provides financial support to victims of crime. Iowa’s Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst are original cosponsors of the bill.

The Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) plans to apply for some of the newly directed funding. Alta Medea-Peters, the director of community engagement, says they are thankful to have access to more federal funding, but it won’t be available for two more years.

“The good news of the VOCA Fix Act being signed into law is that, in two years’ time, we will not be facing the same cuts that we're facing now.”

Medea-Peters says before they can apply for funding, DVIP will see a 35 percent cut in federal funding from the previous administration. Leadership will focus on how to fill those gaps before planning use for the future funding options.

9:21 a.m. - Mathis announces run for Congress

Iowa state Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, says she is running for Congress in Iowa’s 1st District.

Mathis has represented part of Linn County in the state senate since 2011. She was elected to a third full term in 2020.

Mathis becomes the first major Democrat to announce plans to challenge first-term Republican representative Ashley Hinson. Both Hinson and Mathis are former news anchors at KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids. Mathis more recently was a director at a child advocacy non-profit in Cedar Rapids.

8:30 a.m. - New type of tick raises concern for cattle producers

A new breed of tick is being found in the U.S. for which Iowans, especially cattle producers, need to be watchful.

Professor Grant Dewell, an Iowa State University Extension beef veterinarian, says it’s called the Asian longhorned tick, but to see its tiny antennae which resemble horns, you’d need a powerful magnifying glass. “It could potentially be here,” Dewell says. “It’s really hard to see, compared to other ticks. Most ticks we’re familiar with are the size of a pencil eraser or something like that. This Asian longhorned tick is about the size of a sesame seed.”

The tick is native to East Asia and it is spreading across the United States. It’s been identified as far east as Arkansas and as far north as New York. “It’s something that we could easily miss if it was here, if we’re not really paying attention to it,” Dewell says. “As much as we move cattle nowadays, where cattle are moved all over the U.S., somebody sure could have imported a breeding animal from the East Coast and brought (the tick) here, so it’s just something we need to keep an eye on.”

Lyme disease and anaplasmosis are associated with most ticks. Dewell says the Asian longhorned ticks may carry those and other blood-borne diseases that are not common in the U.S. People should be aware of the risks, but he says cattle producers need to be vigilant for this tiny-but-dangerous insect.

“They tend to target livestock. They will attach to people if given the opportunity but they don’t target people,” Dewell says. “Like most ticks, whatever you offer them, but they tend to focus on livestock. They’re typically in tall grass and brushy areas where they can easily move from that forage onto the host.”

A single Asian longhorned tick female can essentially start a new tick population on her own, as Dewell says she can lay up to 2,000 eggs without ever finding a mate. That’s why he says identifying new infestations and preventing the spread is essential.

If you think you’ve found one, contact the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic at Iowa State University.

Entry via Radio Iowa

7:30 a.m. - Police chase crosses Iowa bike race path

A police chase briefly crossed an Iowa bike race’s path Sunday, according to law enforcement.

The chase started after a state trooper tried to pull over a driver in northwestern Iowa’s Buena Vista County, The Des Moines Register reported. Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Alex Dinkla told the newspaper that the driver took off on a gravel road after the trooper smelled marijuana in the car.

The driver briefly crossed the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa route south as it fled.

Another trooper set a trap to deflate the car’s tires, which caused the car to flip and hit a tree in front of a home. The driver bailed before the car rolled and was arrested, Dinkla said.

Entry via the Associated Press

7 a.m. - Waukee school board debates equity standards because of new Iowa law

School districts are busy revising policies around diversity and inclusion because of a new state law (HF802) that bans what it calls stereotyping or scapegoating based on race or sex.

The Waukee school board held a long discussion Monday night about whether a revised set of equity standards comply with the law.

More than 440 people signed an online petition in support of the Waukee standards, which include recognizing discrimination and learning civil rights history. Michelle Berends asked the school board to keep them in place.

“The school district’s equity standards are not propaganda or a political stance. They are about respect. Respect for our neighbors, for families and their children, for real people and their lived experiences.”

Board member David Cunningham questioned how the district defines equity and suggested that conservative community members might reject the standards without more input. “We run the risk that if we don’t do this right, we’re going to lose a section of our population. Okay? So we need to include everybody if we’re going to have a definition and an equity policy.”

The Waukee board plans to vote on the changes at their meeting in two weeks.

Updated with additional information at 10:26 a.m.

Monday, July 26

4:02 p.m. – Des Moines to begin testing wastewater for COVID-19

The city of Des Moines is joining a national effort to test wastewater for COVID-19, to track the spread of the virus and its variants.

Over the next two months, the Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority will send multiple samples a week to a national lab.

The federal program will cover some 100 million people across all 50 states. The effort is ramping up at a time when some states, including Iowa, are scaling back their testing and reporting of cases.

1:06 p.m. - Iowa Democrats call on Reynolds to fill vacant seats on state public health board

State Democrats are calling on Gov. Kim Reynolds to fill the vacant seats on the Iowa State Board of Public Health.

The bipartisan board oversees state health department policy and advises the governor on public health issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s made up of a bipartisan mix of eleven medical professionals, public health experts and members of the general public.

It was unable to meet earlier this month as seven of its eleven seats are vacant.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, called Reynolds’ deferrals to fill the empty seats “simply unacceptable.”

“It doesn't seem to me that it's too heavy of a lift to ask our governor to fill vacant positions on a public health board in the middle of a global pandemic. It seems like one of the easier things that you could do.”

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Marion, is a ranking member on the Senate Human Resources committee. Mathis said Democrats started pushing Reynolds’ office to fill empty seats during the last legislative session. “This is mismanagement, and it is going to slow any kind of potential solutions for what will go on with the pandemic and in overall public health.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Reynolds’ office has not returned requests for comment.

11:56 a.m. - Iowa Latino advocacy organization to host climate and environmental justice committee meeting

The Iowa League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, is hosting its first statewide conversation Wednesday about the environment and Latinos’ place in it.

“With the pandemic and climate change, and just the compounded disasters over existing environmental issues, it felt very evident to bring all these local efforts into a statewide collective.”

Newly appointed Climate and Environmental Justice State Director Cristina Muñoz De La Torre says the topic will be how to balance protecting the environment while also protecting the people who work for industries that most impact it, like agriculture and meat packing. Both sectors have large Latino populations.

“My long term vision that I hope that they'll be able to fill in and change as we have this conversation is to, first of all, have a Latino and BIPOC network for climate and environmental justice to support ongoing local efforts in Iowa.”

That way, Muñoz De La Torre says, they can better advocate and organize around environmental issues in Latino communities.

11 a.m. – Next few weeks could be key in the direction of Iowa’s drought

Iowa’s dry conditions held about the same in the last week with around 70 percent of Iowa in some form of drought — and around 25 percent with severe drought conditions.

DNR hydrologist, Tim Hall, says the overall picture is still better than we had one month ago. “The numbers are better from this time in June until now. We’ve reduced the coverage of drought across the northern part of the state — so the rains have helped,” Hall says. “All of southeastern Iowa across the southern tier of counties is free from drought and dryness.”

He says the average streamflows across the state are around normal — which is a little misleading. “It’s really wet in southeastern Iowa. It’s kind of dry in north-central Iowa — so the average number belies the fact that there are areas of the state on either end of the extreme. Still the area that we are concerned about that were are trying to keep a careful watch on is north-central Iowa down through central Iowa through the Des Moines River and the Raccoon River,” Hall says.

Hall says the long-term forecast is a concern. “So taking us through the end of July there’s very little rain in that forecast for most of the state of Iowa. So, dry conditions, not a lot of rainfall. We might expect to see a deterioration on the landscape that would be reflected in the drought monitor,” Hall says.

Hall says we are in a situation where things can flip in a real positive direction or go the other way in a real negative direction depending on how much rainfall does come. “We might expect to see some downgrading of parts of the state here in the next couple of weeks unless we get some rain,” according to Hall. The new drought monitor will come out Thursday.

Entry via Radio Iowa

6:30 a.m. - Iowa’s State Board of Health too short of members to meet

A state board meant to help oversee the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has not met since May because it does not have enough members.

Seven of the 11 seats on the Iowa State Board of Health are vacant, The Des Moines Register reported.

The board, which advises the Iowa Department of Public Health, is required by law to have 11 members, including a mix of medical and public health professionals, substance-abuse treatment experts and the general public.

The governor appoints the board’s members.

State Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Marion, said in a news release she was “appalled” that Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has left the board short-handed. “This would be a problem anytime, but it is especially troubling during an ‘all hands on deck’ moment for Iowa health care,” Mathis said.

Reynolds’ spokesman, Pat Garrett, did not respond to requests for comment, The Register reported.

State law requires that one political party may not have more than half a state board’s members, plus one. The State Board of Health currently has three Republicans, one political independent and no Democrats.

The board’s last meeting was May 12. Its next scheduled meeting is Sept. 8.

Entry via the Associated Press

6 a.m. – Applications for $100 million state broadband expansion program close Wednesday

Broadband providers are wrapping up their applications this week to get a slice of the $100 million the state legislature has allocated for broadband expansion.

The legislature approved $100 million for broadband expansion this year to bring minimum download and upload speeds of at least 100 megabits per second to more Iowans.

“We’re anticipating that we’ll have a good selection of applications and a lot of really interesting projects to share with folks. We’ll be posting those online in the coming weeks so that the public can see what the applicants are proposing and where they’re going to build out across the state.”

Matt Behrens is the deputy chief information officer for the state of Iowa.

“What we’re really focused on right now are those incredibly difficult to serve areas, the ones that have no service at the present time. But this legislation that Governor Reynolds signed this year also expands eligibility under the grant program to areas that may have some slower broadband, but still have an opportunity to receive grant funds to build out at that faster 100-100 speed.”

The deadline for challenging the state’s designation of which areas can qualify for broadband funding passed last week. More than 100 customers and a few dozen providers submitted appeals. They say some areas designated as having adequate internet service, and are therefore not eligible for grants, are actually underserved with slow speeds.

Behrens says the appeals represented just over 2 percent of the state’s census blocks.

6 a.m. – Advocates expect to see spike in evictions when federal hold expires this month

The federal hold on some evictions expires at the end of this month, and advocates are expecting a spike in eviction filings.

As of Thursday, the state of Iowa had distributed more than $7 million of the nearly $200 million it received to help Iowans who are behind on rent payments. An Iowa Finance Authority spokesperson says the agency is taking steps to speed up the process and hopes to get through a backlog of applications by July 30.

Polk County has a separate effort that’s given about $16 million to renters, much more than the state’s program for all the other 98 counties. Eric Burmeister is executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, one of the program’s partners. “So that’s our hope, is that we’ve reached a big chunk of those folks with the rental assistance. If not, I think we’re prepared here in Polk County to meet that surge.”

Iowans facing eviction in any county can go to the Iowa Finance Authority’s website for more information about assistance.

Sunday, July 25

6 a.m. - Over 100 people protest vaccine mandates at Iowa Capitol

More than 100 people gathered outside the Iowa state Capitol Saturday to rally against mandates requiring people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, such as the ones some Iowa hospitals have issued.

One of the speakers at the rally, Republican state Rep. Jeff Shipley, called vaccine mandates “a crime against humanity.” People in the crowd held signs that said “stop vax bullying” and “mandates belong in socialist countries.”

The event was organized by a group called Informed Choice Iowa that opposes mandatory coronavirus vaccinations and vaccine passports. Brei Johnson with that group told the Des Moines Register that she believes vaccinations should be discussed between a health professional and patient, not made a condition of employment.

“You can take off a mask but you can’t undo a vaccine. That’s a slippery slope to what comes next,” Johnson said.

Earlier this month, the owner of seven MercyOne hospitals and related clinics said all employees would be required to get vaccinated or risk termination. The hospitals and clinics are in Clinton, Dubuque, Dyersville, Mason City, New Hampton, Primghar and Sioux City.

The Iowa Department of Public Health said nearly 47 percent of Iowa residents have been fully vaccinated against the virus, which has killed 6,170 people across the state.

Entry via the Associated Press