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Watchdog Group Says Axne, 6 Other House Members Didn’t Disclose Stock Trades

Daily Digest

Thursday, September 23

3:55 p.m. – Women’s wrestling to become part of University of Iowa athletics department

The University of Iowa announced Thursday that it’s adding women’s wrestling to its athletics department. The UI is the first school in the Power Five athletic conferences to add the sport.

Starting the program is part of a settlement agreement for a Title IX lawsuit brought by female athletes who alleged the school isn’t offering equal opportunities in sports.

Athletics Director Gary Barta said the department had been considering adding women’s wrestling long before the lawsuit. “As part of the Title IX lawsuit settlement, we agreed to add a women's sport. And our decision was to add the sport of women's wrestling. Again at the University of Iowa, we believe that sport makes the most sense in terms of adding.”

Barta called the announcement “historic,” saying it would help fuel the “explosive” growth of women and girls’ wrestling. The UI will begin a national search for a new coach this fall, with plans for official competition to begin in 2023.

3:24 p.m. – Lawsuit filed against DNR for decision on cattle feedlot near Bloody Run Creek

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit against the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It’s accusing the DNR of using bad information to approve a large-scale feeding operation in an environmentally sensitive part of northeast Iowa.

Supreme Beef near Monona has plans for an 11,600 head cattle feedlot near the headwaters of Bloody Run Creek in Iowa’s driftless region. This northeast part of the state is known for its karst topography, where groundwater flows more easily. Environmentalists and neighbors are concerned the over-application of manure used as fertilizer on crops could be detrimental on the prized trout stream.

The lawsuit, filed in Clayton County court, says the proposed CAFO used a skewed nutrient management plan riddled with incorrect information and miscalculations. The Iowa DNR said it did not have comment at this time. Meanwhile, the Committee to Save Bloody Run plans to start a water testing initiative for streams in the area so they can quickly identify when pollution occurs in the future.

3:07 p.m. – Rep. Cindy Axne’s financial transactions part of ethics investigation request

An ethics watchdog group is calling for an investigation into Iowa Democratic Congresswoman Cindy Axne’s failure to report dozens of financial transactions.

The Campaign Legal Center says Axne’s undisclosed transactions could be worth more than $600,000. A spokesperson for the 3rd District representative says any errors were unintentional.

Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann agrees it’s worth investigating, especially since Axne sits on the House Financial Services Committee. “I don’t think she gets to play average Iowan in terms of her lack of knowledge.”

Kaufmann says if the alleged ethics violations are true, the penalty should be more than a “slap on the wrist.” Axne is one of four Democrats and three Republican representatives named in the report.

11:23 a.m. - Hundreds of refugees, many from Afghanistan, are expected to arrive in Iowa in October

Iowa expects to resettle refugees from Afghanistan, but there are still a number of unknowns about the specifics.

Iowa still doesn’t know exactly how many Afghan refugees will arrive in the state, but as it currently stands, the state will see most of them arrive next week and into early October.

Resettlement agencies anticipate hundreds of arrivals with a combination of regularly scheduled refugees and those emergency evacuees from Afghanistan.

Mak Suceska is the bureau chief of the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services. “As a state, we will be resettling a lot more than initially anticipated. The number does fluctuate very quickly, I would say, and very persistently. It's a fluid situation, and it could change on a dime.”

He says the majority of Afghan arrivals will be humanitarian parolees. That means they have temporary approval to be in the United States due to an emergency in their country of origin.

8 a.m. - Watchdog group says Axne, 6 other House members didn’t disclose stock trades

A nonprofit called the Campaign Legal Center has filed an ethics complaint against Iowa Congresswoman Cindy Axne and six other House members, accusing the group of “failing to report stock trades in a timely manner.”

NPR was first to report Axne, a Democrat for West Des Moines, along with three other Democrats and three Republicans in the House were being cited by the group. A law passed in 2012 requires members of congress to file a public report when they buy and sell stock. According to the Campaign Legal Center, Axne didn’t report any stock transactions in 2019 and 2020.

A spokesperson for Axne said the congresswoman has publicly disclosed her assets, but “does not personally manage or execute the stock trades” for her retirement account or accounts she has with her husband or her small business. Axne’s spokesperson said the congresswoman will “take all necessary steps to ensure disclosures of stock trades are accurate and in accordance with the law.”

The chairman of the Iowa Republican Party said it is clear Axne “hid stock trades from public scrutiny” and he called her explanation for he lapse “a pathetic excuse.”

Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican from Ottumwa, is updating her financial disclosure form after the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported she failed to list her $25,000 salary as a state senator on the document. A spokesman for Miller-Meeks told the Gazette the congresswoman had no outside income, assets or liabilities to disclose.

Entry via Radio Iowa

7 a.m. - Public hearing and comment period for proposed political boundaries for Iowa ended Wednesday

More than 250 written and spoken comments were submitted to the state about Iowa’s new proposed political boundaries ahead of Wednesday evening’s deadline.

The vast majority of comments expressed support for the redistricting maps drawn by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Many commenters said the new legislative and congressional districts appear to fairly reflect the population shifts of the last decade.

A few people opposed the maps. Steve Woodhouse raised concerns about an oddly shaped legislative district, and about the 4th Congressional District spanning 44 counties. “Whoever is elected to that seat is going to have to represent a very diverse and large area, and I don’t really think that’s fair, because it’s going to be difficult for any rural residents in that district to get any attention or anything like that.”

The Iowa Legislature will decide next month whether to approve or reject the first set of redistricting maps.

Wednesday, September 22

4:08 p.m. - Two Iowa businesses make plans to hire incarcerated individuals

Two businesses in Iowa are turning to incarcerated individuals to fill job openings. This month the Iowa Prison Industries board approved two requests from private employers to hire inmates.

The Iowa Prison Industries board has signed off on plans for Diamond Crystal Brands and Timberline Manufacturing to hire workers currently serving time at the women’s prison in Mitchellville.

By law, prison officials have to take steps to ensure the contracts aren’t displacing civilian workers. Dan Clark, the director of Prison Industries, says the businesses have been struggling to fill job openings. “The company’s been suffering, as many companies are…to hire enough employees to support their business. Last I talked, they needed to hire more than 40 people.”

The women will earn competitive wages and get work experience that may help them continue working with the same companies once they’re released.

4:04 p.m. - Immigrant advocacy organization to open second ‘house of hospitality’ for new immigrants and refugees

An immigrant advocacy organization has announced it will purchase a second home where new immigrants and refugees in Iowa can stay.

The Iowa City Catholic Worker will close on its second “house of hospitality” by the end of the year. The first bed-and-breakfast style home has been at capacity “pretty much all the time,” according to Kim Novak. She’s with Iowa City Catholic Worker House. She says the houses are a way to address immigrants’ and refugees’ needs that are not fully being met.

“For us, that really came to look like refugees that were coming to the area that needed a little bit of help, not just with housing, but also with things like getting kids in school.”

It's completely free for individuals to stay at the house and receive other assistance. Iowa City Catholic Workers say they want refugees and immigrants to feel welcome in the state.

3:14 p.m. - State’s largest hospital faces staffing shortages at critical time

As the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations reported statewide reaches record highs for this year, Iowa’s largest hospital says it’s facing staffing shortages.

The state is reporting this week that 638 Iowans are hospitalized with COVID-19.

Suresh Gunasekaran is the CEO of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He says, in addition to taking care of more COVID-19 patients, the hospital is also seeing an increase in non-COVID-19 patients.

“There are bed challenges that are being caused by not having enough staffing. And we see that by increased transfer requests from various different parts of the state when they're unable to staff the same number of beds that they were last year.”

Gunasekaran says this has been hard on health care workers. “We are paying a pretty heavy price in terms of the mental health of our workforce in terms of the physical workload that they see day in and day out.”

2 p.m. - State reports 81 additional deaths, 12,163 new cases of COVID-19

State health officials report that more than 12,000 new COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the past week as the spread of the coronavirus remains high across Iowa.

More than a quarter of the new cases are reported to be in children 17 and under.

81 additional Iowans have been confirmed to have died from COVID-19 in the past week. This brings the total death count to 6,482.

The state is reporting 638 Iowans are currently hospitalized with the virus. That’s the highest number of hospitalizations reported so far this year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 63 percent of Iowans 12 and older are fully vaccinated. And all 99 of Iowa’s counties have high or substantial levels of community spread.

11:09 a.m. – Mercy Iowa City announces vaccine requirement

Mercy Iowa City announced Wednesday that it is requiring all employees, contractors, students and volunteers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by December 20.

The requirement applies to both the hospital and its clinics.

A vaccine mandate announced earlier this year had applied to other hospitals in the Mercy network, but not the Iowa City location.

In a statement, the hospital’s president says requiring the shots will protect not only the workforce but patients as well. Individuals can apply for a medical or religious exemption.

10:01 a.m. – State Medical Director to step down

Iowa health officials have announced State Medical Director Caitlin Pedati will step down in late October.

Pedati started the position as the state’s top medical expert in June 2018 and has been central to Iowa’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pedati previously worked for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. She replaced previous state medical director Patricia Quinlisk, who held the position for more than two decades.

State officials did not give a reason for Pedati’s departure and did not say where she is headed next, only that she will "pursue new career opportunities."

7 a.m. - Ankeny and Johnston school boards approve mask mandates

Two more suburban Des Moines school districts will require masks starting Thursday. Both districts are named in a federal lawsuit where the judge ruled that universal mask-wearing must be an option for schools to protect students with disabilities.

The Johnston school board approved a mandate for all students and staff. It would end if the level of coronavirus transmission in Polk County drops from high to moderate.

The Ankeny school board voted 5-2 to approve the mandate, after more than two hours of public comment where opponents sometimes drowned out supporters.

Jeff Wells of Ankeny told the board the district should try to make room for all students to learn in-person. “As I mentioned, I have healthy children, and I could easily just bury my head and focus on myself. But the right thing to do is provide the safest environment for all staff and children. Especially those who cannot protect themselves.”

But Ankeny parent Kendra Parker told the school board her daughter with a sensory disorder is likely to struggle academically if she has to wear one. “Not one child or person’s rights outweigh another, so how does implementing a mask mandate not go against what the restraining order is trying to justify?” Parker’s example is being used by state attorneys to resist the federal judge’s ruling.

The Ankeny policy does allow for religious and medical exemptions.

Since a federal judge blocked enforcement of Iowa’s ban last week, at least 20 districts have approved some form of mask requirement.

7 a.m. - Recent ransomware attack shows ag industries’ vulnerabilities

A farmers association in central Iowa is the latest to be hit by a ransomware attack. An Iowa cybersecurity expert says while the impact to the food supply chain is unclear, recent attacks on the ag. industry show it’s vulnerable.

New Cooperative in Fort Dodge took its systems offline and that contained the threat.

Iowa State University electrical and computer engineering Professor Doug Jacobson says the impact of the hack is unclear. “There's always a potential impact. You know, some of it’s confidence. A place like a cooperative holds a lot of farmer data. It's unclear how much of that data may have been compromised.”

Jacobson says the food system is not highly interconnected like the power grid. And a co-op can move more easily to pen and paper unlike a hospital. But it’s still vulnerable to ransomware attacks.

In May, the world’s largest meat processor JBS was hacked and had to temporarily shut down.

Tuesday, September 21

3:18 p.m. – Iowans voice support for proposed political boundaries at second public meeting

Iowans have expressed support at two public hearings for new proposed political boundaries drawn by the Legislative Services Agency.

Most of the 11 people who talked at the public hearings said they believe the new proposed legislative and congressional districts were drawn fairly.

Shannon Patrick of Iowa City says he is glad to see that Cedar Rapids and Iowa City would be moved into the same congressional district, because a lot of people commute between those cities. “I think it makes sense to treat this area as an emerging and growing together, basically a single metropolitan and economic area, in the same way that I see you grouped Dallas and Polk County, to reflect that growth there.”

No speakers opposed the first set of maps, and most of the speakers also praised Iowa’s nonpartisan redistricting process and urged state lawmakers to continue that tradition.

Terese Grant is president of the League of Women Voters Iowa. She says the proposed maps fairly reflect the state’s population shift from rural communities to metropolitan areas. “So we need to encourage our legislators to vote to adopt this plan drawn by the LSA when they convene in special session on October 5. We need to continue to be the gold standard for the rest of the country.”

Both public hearings ended early because only a handful of people signed up to speak.

The final virtual public hearing is Wednesday at 6 p.m. Iowans can submit written comments on the Iowa Legislature’s website until Wednesday evening.

12:12 p.m. - Racial and ethnic minorities may be able to get assistance buying a home in Iowa

The state is testing out a new program to help racial and ethnic minorities in Iowa buy homes. The loan assistance program will go toward down payments and closing costs.

The Minority Down Payment Pilot Program is part of a larger statewide investment in housing relief. About $1 million was awarded to the program from federal COVID-19 relief funds. It’s run through the Iowa Finance Authority.

“Homeownership is a major driver of wealth generation in the state, and minorities are far behind others in homeownership,” says Communications Director Ashley Jared. “So that's really the goal of this program, is to help spur that.”

Since the program is so new, Jared says they haven’t had many people apply yet. They are working on getting the word out and translating the information.

10:42 a.m. - Iowa farm cooperative hit by ransomware, systems go offline

A ransomware attack by the BlackMatter gang forced New Cooperative, an association of Iowa corn and soy farmers, to take their systems offline but it said it created workarounds to receive grain and distribute feed, a person close to the business said.

Member-owned New Cooperative said in a statement that the attack was “successfully contained” and that it had quickly notified law enforcement. It said it took its systems offline out of “an abundance of caution” and was working with data security professionals to quickly remedy the situation. It did not specify when the ransomware was activated.

The attack hit just as Iowa’s corn and soy harvesting is getting under way.

Security researcher Allan Liska of Recorded Future said the criminals demanded a $5.9 million ransom for a decryptor key to unlock files they scrambled. He said a sample of their malware was uploaded to a research site either late Friday or early Saturday.

Security researchers believe BlackMatter may be a reconstituted version of the ransomware syndicate DarkSide that disrupted the Colonial Pipeline last spring then announced it was disbanding. BlackMatter claims on its darkweb site not to target critical infrastructure, though many would argue that New Cooperative is exactly that because it provides feed to livestock.

In a post on its darkweb site, BlackMatter threatened to publish 1 terabyte of data it claimed to have stolen from New Cooperative if its ransom demand was not paid by Saturday.

The person close to New Cooperative with knowledge of the case, speaking on condition they not be further identified, would not say whether a ransom was paid.

Based in Fort Dodge, New Cooperative stores and markets the grain it collects and offers feed, fertilizer, crop protection and seed, according to its LinkedIn site.

Entry via Frank Bajak for the Associated Press

10:11 a.m. - Reynolds and 25 other governors ask Biden for border security meeting

Gov. Kim Reynolds joined 25 other Republican governors in calling for a meeting with President Joe Biden about immigration and drug trafficking at the southern border.

“My first responsibility is to the health and safety of Iowans, and the humanitarian and national security crisis at our nation’s southern border is affecting all 50 states,” Reynolds said in a Monday news release.

Immigration has surged at the southern border in recent months according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In August, there were nearly 209,000 encounters between law enforcement and migrants. In August 2020, there were 50,000 encounters.

Last week, the New York Times and other outlets reported that thousands of migrants from Haiti were gathering under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, overwhelming the capacity of border patrol agents there.

Reynolds sent Iowa State Patrol troopers to Del Rio to assist with border patrols in July. The mission ran for 10 days and cost Iowa about $300,000. 

Beyond just surging immigration, Reynolds identified drug trafficking as a border issue directly affecting Iowans, pointing to increased seizures of fentanyl and methamphetamines in the first half of 2021.

“While governors are doing what we can, our Constitution requires that the President must faithfully execute the immigration laws passed by Congress,” the letter from the 26 governors reads. “Not only has the federal government created a crisis, it has left our states to deal with challenges that the federal government has a duty to solve.”

The letter asks Biden for a meeting in the next 15 days.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki did not directly address the governors’ request for a meeting in a Monday briefing. She told the White House press corps on Monday afternoon that this is not the time for Haitian immigrants to come to the U.S.

“We don’t have the immigration system up and running in the way we want,” Psaki said, noting that a Trump-era law remains in place that allows the expulsion of migrants due to public health concerns.

Entry via Katie Akin for the Iowa Capital Dispatch

9:52 a.m. - A 21-year-old Mount Mercy student has died from COVID-19

A 21-year-old student at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids has died of COVID-19.

According to the school, Ashley Hudson was studying education and was an aspiring kindergarten teacher.

Mount Mercy held a vigil for the student Monday night and is offering grief counseling free of charge to the campus community.

Social media posts from Hudson’s family show she had been placed on a ventilator and fought the disease for weeks.

State data shows that 6,401 Iowans have died of COVID. Sixty-five percent of Iowans aged 18 and older have been fully vaccinated.

7 a.m. – First public hearing about Iowa’s new political boundaries ends early

Five people spoke Monday night at the first virtual public hearing about new proposed political boundaries for Iowa.

Most of the speakers urged the state to keep Iowa’s redistricting process as nonpartisan and as fair as possible. Some asked questions, but none of the speakers commented directly on the proposed redistricting maps.

The meeting lasted for about half an hour, even though three hours were scheduled for people to comment. The Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission waited a few minutes to see if other speakers would enter the virtual hearing before deciding to end it.

The next public hearing is Tuesday beginning at noon. The third public hearing is Wednesday at 6 p.m. Iowans can also submit written comments. Public hearing and comment information is available on the Iowa Legislature’s website.

Monday, September 20

12:20 p.m. - State reports 9.4% 14-day test positivity rate

10 a.m. – Public hearings about Iowa’s proposed political boundaries start Monday

A series of public hearings about new proposed political boundaries for Iowa begins Monday.

Last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency proposed new boundaries for Iowa’s legislative and congressional districts.

While the maps could be a game changer for state politics, Drake University Political Science Professor Rachel Paine Caufield says the map drawers are prohibited from considering political data.

“I find it really refreshing and fascinating that Iowa uses this process. And I think the voters should feel reassured that this process really is producing the most fair congressional districts possible.”

Maps are drawn to reflect population shifts within the state over the past decade.

Starting this evening, Iowans can join virtual public hearings to voice their opinions on the maps. That could include discussions of how the new boundaries would affect political representation for various communities in the state.

The first public hearing is from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. The second hearing is Tuesday from noon to 3:00 p.m. The third hearing is Wednesday from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The hearings are all virtual. Iowans can also submit written comments online until Wednesday at 6:00 p.m.

The maps and the details for how to participate are on the Iowa Legislature’s website.

9 a.m. - Two Democrats seek spot to challenge GOP Sec. of State Pate in 2022

Two Democrats have announced they intend to try to unseat Republican Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate in 2022. Both were speakers this weekend at Polk County Democrats Steak Fry.

Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker is in the middle of his fourth term as commissioner of elections in Clinton County. “We need a voting advocate running elections in this state,” Van Lancker said.

Van Lancker accused Republican lawmakers of implementing “ugly stuff” to try to undermine confidence in elections.

“In fact, our state is home to some of the most cynical and short-sighted political attempts to manipulate turn out than anywhere in America right now,” he said.

According to Van Lancker, some mail-in ballots will go uncounted due to an election law change Republicans passed this year. “Ending counting absentee ballots at the end of an Election Night is absolutely irresponsible when we have bar code technology that tells us when a voter returns their ballot in good faith,” Van Lancker said.

Joel Miller has been Linn County Auditor for more than 14 years. “Let’s make voting easy again,” he said.

Miller criticized Republican lawmakers for cutting the early voting period in half since 2016 and for limiting every Iowa county to having just one drop box for absentee ballots.

“Folks, let’s call that for what it is: voter suppression,” Miller said. “It’s a coordinated attack on Iowans and our current secretary of state seems very comfortable standing by while our right wing legislature chips away at our voting rights.”

Miller reminded the crowd that he was sued for defying Pate’s order not to mail out absentee ballot request forms that included the voter’s registration number and home address.

“I was sued for expanding voter participation and keeping voting safe during a deadly pandemic,” Miller said of the lawsuit he lost. “I am proud to face that lawsuit any day of the week.”

During a speech in Coralville Saturday, Pate touted Iowa’s voter I.D. law and criticized the Freedom to Vote bill Senate Democrats have drafted.

“Right now they’re trying to do end runs on the Constitution. They want to steal our elections from the states,” Pate said. “They want to nationalize elections.”

Pate did not mention the two Iowa Democrats who’ve announced they hope to challenge him in 2022. Pate urged his fellow Republicans to remember to vote this November in city and school board elections.

“The school boards…we have people there trying to tell us how to run our lives in a fashion that we don’t support,” Pate said. “so this vote is important.”

Paul was among the speakers at the 2022 campaign kick-off for Republican Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks reelection.

Entry via Radio Iowa

7 a.m. – Federal infrastructure bill includes billions of dollars to modernize electric grid

The infrastructure bill moving through Congress includes billions of dollars to modernize the electric grid. One of the goals is to make the system less vulnerable during severe weather.

The bill includes $73 billion to modernize the electric grid. U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm says the money could be used to move power lines underground, so they would be less susceptible to severe weather. Granholm says other countries are already doing it.

“There's a lot of effort of undergrounding distribution and transmission wires, where you can put soil over the top and just farm on top of it and have the farmer compensated for this line that goes underneath the ground that you can't even see. “

Chris Meyers, the general manager for the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, says it’s too expensive to put power lines underground without government help. The $1 trillion bill is still awaiting a vote in the House.

Entry via Harvest Public Media

7 a.m. - UIHC sees a spike in the number of unvaccinated pregnant people in the ICU

Hospitals around the country are seeing a spike in unvaccinated pregnant women with COVID-19. That includes Iowa’s largest hospital.

In the last month, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has cared for six unvaccinated pregnant women with COVID-19 in the medical intensive care unit.

Joel Kline is a critical care physician. He says these women come in very sick -- they need to be intubated and put on a ventilator. He adds the women had emergency C-sections to deliver their children early.

“Even though, of course, an early delivery is risky, we know that low oxygen level for the fetus is much more devastating. So we're making that choice.”

Kline says most pregnant women with COVID-19 have stayed in the hospital’s ICU for at least 10 days. He’s advising expectant mothers to get the vaccine as soon as possible.

Nationwide, less than a quarter of all pregnant women are vaccinated. But recent studies have shown the vaccine is safe in pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all pregnant women get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Sunday, September 19

12 p.m. - Miller wants to extend run as Iowa AG beyond 40 years

The nation’s longest-serving attorney general is seeking another term in Iowa

Seventy-seven-year-old Tom Miller said Saturday that is will seek in 11th term in office in 2022 because he has “unfinished business” he wants to take care of.

Miller has already held the job for nearly 40 years. He was first elected in 1978 and served until 1991, when he left the office after losing the Democratic gubernatorial primary. He was re-elected in 1994 and has been serving ever since.

“I believe we’re doing some of the best work we’ve ever done in the AG’s office, and we have one of the best groups of people on our staff ever,” Miller told the Des Moines Register in an interview. “I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m energized by what I’m doing. And we’ve got a lot of unfinished business, in my opinion.”

Miller said he wants to play a role in deciding how Iowa spends the hundreds of millions of dollars it is due to receive from settlements with the makers and distributors of opioid painkillers. And he wants to continue his work with antitrust cases involving technology giants Facebook and Google.

Miller is one of the few Democrats to hold a statewide office in Iowa, but he says he tries to keep politics out of his job.

“We made a basic decision that’s served us through today, and that was to use the office to serve the interests of ordinary Iowans,” he said.

Entry via the Associated Press

Friday, September 17

3:04 p.m. – Candidates running for Congress say they’re focused on Iowa constituents, not the redistricting process

Candidates running for Congress in Iowa say they will remain focused on their current constituents as they wait for the redistricting process to play out.

The proposed maps released by the Legislative Services Agency Thursday would mean major changes for the seats. Notably, the proposal would create a much more Democratic 1st District and a much more Republican 2nd District.

U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson, R-01, declined to say whether state lawmakers should approve the first round of maps, saying it’s their decision. “As you know, I’m not actually involved in that redistricting process. And the Legislature is going to do their job. I’m focused on serving my district, not drawing it, and I’ve been completely focused on doing the job Iowans elected me to do. When that map came out yesterday I was in the middle of a town hall.”

Iowans will be able to weigh in on the proposals during virtual hearings ahead of a special legislative session next month. The first online forum is slated for Monday.

2:48 p.m. - State reports 6,401 total deaths, 581 hospitalized with COVID-19

11:07 a.m. - Iowa’s unemployment rate holds steady at 4.1%

Iowa’s unemployment rate for August held steady at 4.1 percent as the number of unemployed residents increased slightly, a state agency reported Friday.

The number of unemployed Iowans increased by 300 to 67,900, according to Iowa Workforce Development. The number of residents with jobs dropped by 1,600 to stand at 1.59 million.

Iowa’s unemployment rate is ranked 17th nationally. Nebraska had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate of 2.2 percent.

The national unemployment rate for August was 5.2 percent.

Entry via the Associated Press

11 a.m. - Midwest farmers don't need to worry about China’s record corn harvest

China is expecting its biggest corn harvest ever, but Midwest producers are not expecting that to decrease demand for imports from the United States.

Collin Watters is the director of exports and logistics at the Illinois Corngrowers Association. He says China’s demand for corn has been increasing in recent years, so much so the country has all but depleted its strategic reserves.

“I think there’s probably a compelling argument to be made that those strategic reserves should be replenished. That may also kind of contribute to imports.”

Watters says he doesn’t expect China’s bumper crop to affect Midwestern corn prices or exports. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is projecting this year’s corn harvest in the United States will be the second biggest ever.

Entry via Harvest Public Media

10:52 a.m. – Number of Iowans hospitalized for COVID-19 is straining state hospitals

The number of Iowans hospitalized for COVID-19 remains above 500, and one expert says it’s straining the state’s hospital system.

Theresa Brennan is the chief medical officer at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. She says the hospital’s ICU is currently dealing with an influx of COVID-19 patients. That’s on top of dealing with a higher than average number of non-COVID-19 patients.

Brennan says UIHC is receiving requests for transfers from hospitals across the state and country.

“We're seeing more commonly that hospitals are transferring patients because they don't have the ability, either by space, or, more commonly, by staffing to take care of the patients.”

Brennan says hospitals are facing staff shortages as some are missing work after testing positive for the coronavirus, and others are leaving the field from mental burnout.

She made her comments on IPR’s River to River.

8 a.m. - More school districts introduce mask mandates

Three more Iowa school districts will begin to require masks in response to this week’s ruling by a federal judge temporarily blocking enforcement of the state’s school mandate ban.

Starting Monday, West Des Moines and Davenport will ask all students, staff and visitors to wear masks indoors, which matches CDC guidelines.

So will Linn-Mar Community School District, but only for preschool through 6th grade.

The Waukee school board discussed a mandate Thursday night, but it didn’t pass.

So far since the ruling, at least 10 districts have put mandates in place.