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Second proposed redistricting plan has two incumbent Congresswomen in same district

Daily Digest

Friday, October 22

2:57 p.m. - Forever chemicals linked to health issues may have spread to Iowa’s remote streams

Researchers have found the toxic substances known as forever chemicals in some of Iowa’s remote streams, suggesting the contaminants are spreading far beyond sites typically known to use them. The class of chemicals called PFAS have been used in household and industrial products for decades and are linked to a slate of health issues.

Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Iowa detected PFAS in one-third of the streams they tested. The UI’s Dave Cwiertny worked on the study.

“I think it indicates that there are likely sources that we’re not probably thinking about correctly. That there are ways these things can reach parts of the environment that don’t necessarily…aren’t tied to the ones you read about in the news like an airport or a military base.”

Cwiertny says he’s especially worried about Iowans who rely on private wells, which are much more vulnerable to contamination. He says the findings also raise concerns for people who eat fish from the state’s streams.

1:44 p.m. – State argues that lawsuit against Reynolds’ over delayed response to public records requests should be dismissed

The state argued in Polk County District Court Friday that a lawsuit over the governor’s delayed response to public records requests related to Test Iowa should be dismissed.

Suzette Rasmussen sued Gov. Kim Reynolds and her legal counsel Michael Boal, alleging they violated Iowa’s open records law.

Sam Langholz is an assistant attorney general and the governor’s former legal counsel. He says the court should dismiss the case, partly because the records were provided. He gave other reasons, too. “As you make those judgments about the importance of dealing with legislative session matters or the pandemic or economic recovery versus responding to open records requests, that starts to get into policy considerations that are inappropriate for resolution here.”

Attorney Gary Dickey says the state’s position means agencies could just withhold public records until they’re sued, and then provide the records and get the case dismissed. “Think about how remarkable the position is that the governor’s taking in this, which is, we’ve got a statute that requires not just the governor, but all public agencies to produce records in the furtherance of transparency. And what the governor’s position is, is that nobody can ever enforce that statute.”

Langholz disagreed that this would be a slippery slope affecting other public offices.

Judge Sarah Crane says she’ll issue a ruling soon on the motion to dismiss.

12 p.m. - State reports 8.2% 14-day test positivity rate

9 a.m. - Drake forfeits football game due to “COVID-19 issues”

A football game between Drake and Stetson set for Saturday in Des Moines was canceled Thursday due to coronavirus concerns among Drake personnel.

The Drake University athletics department said in a news release that the Pioneer Football League canceled the game because of “COVID-19 issues within Drake’s Tier I personnel, which consists of student-athletes, coaches, managers, and staff.”

Drake medical staff and university administrators were involved in the decision.

Under the league’s rules, Drake will forfeit the game. Coronavirus-related game cancellations at the college level have been rare this season.

Teams in the Pioneer Football League participate in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.

Entry via the Associated Press

8 a.m. - Des Moines Día de los Muertos event will honor victims of gender-based violence

The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence is hosting their first Día de los Muertos celebration this Saturday in Des Moines. It will honor victims who lost their lives due to gender-based violence.

Veronica Guevara is the coalition’s director of equity and inclusion. She says most of the lives lost could have been prevented. “We wouldn't have to hold an event like this, but I think it's important to do so because we are bringing awareness to the issue.”

Organizers say it’s meant to honor the lives lived, not the way they lost their lives.

“We're always looking to bring the community in, in very different ways,” Lindsay Pingel is the coalition’s director of community engagement. “So this is just a new way to kind of look at that. But again, just to uplift the stories of those who've been lost and taken too soon.”

The tribute will have live music, guest speakers and activities. Pingel says she hopes to make this event annual and grow it in the future.

The number for the Iowa Victim Call Center is 1-800-770-1650 or text ˜IOWAHELP” to 20121.

Thursday, October 21

4:43 p.m. – Experts say the shutdown of the Newton wind turbine factory will hurt, but doesn’t have to be devastating

The shutdown of a wind turbine blade factory in Newton will be a blow to the area, but an Iowa State University economist says it won’t have the same impact as when Maytag left the community.

TPI Composites started making blades for General Electric wind turbines about a year after Maytag stopped making washing machines in 2007. But GE won’t buy blades from TPI next year. TPI plans to stop production and lay off more than 700 workers by the end of this year.

ISU economist Liesl Eathington says that’s a lot of jobs for a city of 15,000, but the impact is more isolated because TPI has fewer ties to local suppliers.

“Because that firm was not as deeply rooted into the local economy as Maytag had been, I don’t think the consequences are going to be felt as much.”

Eathington says the economies of Newton and Jasper County have become more connected to the Des Moines area since Maytag closed, which adds stability to the local economy. She says because of the overall labor shortage in Iowa, other employers in the area are likely to recruit TPI workers to fill open positions.

Although the factory’s closing is a setback for the community, it’s not a sign that the wind industry is on the decline. In fact, Pavel Molchanov, a stock analyst who covers TPI for the investment firm Raymond James, says the industry is on a growth trajectory.

He says with GE out, a new customer could come in. “In fact, very likely there will be a replacement customer to buy blades from this factory, but it’s not going to happen instantaneously.”

4:04 p.m. – Threats made against public figures may be fueled by inflammatory political rhetoric, says political scientist

A political scientist says threats like those made against Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn may be related to an increase in inflammatory political rhetoric.

Police are investigating multiple racist threats that Wilburn received after he penned an opinion piece criticizing former President Donald Trump in the Des Moines Register. One of the threats specifically referenced lynching. Wilburn is the state party’s first Black chair.

Penn State political scientist Jim Piazza studies the relationship between political speech and domestic terrorism in the U.S. and around the world.

“The essential finding is that in countries where it is more commonplace for politicians to use hateful speech, there just was a higher incidence of domestic terrorist activity in those countries.”

Piazza’s research has found polarized societies like the United States are especially vulnerable to political violence when politicians use hateful rhetoric.

12:22 p.m. - Iowa Legislative Services Agency releases second proposed redistricting plan

Iowa’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has released its second proposal for new political boundaries. That’s after Republicans in the state Senate rejected the agency’s first plan.

The proposed congressional map looks more similar to the current map than the first plan did, but the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts would still switch numbers. And it would put 2nd District Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks into the 3rd District with Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne.

Initial counts show 58 current state lawmakers may be drawn into districts with their colleagues. The first proposed redistricting plan would have put more than 60 lawmakers in districts together.

GOP leaders haven’t said how they’ll vote on the new maps when the special session starts next week.

Democratic leaders say they’ll vote to approve the second plan.

“Just like the first map, this second map is fair and meets the legal and constitutional requirements,” says Senate Democratic leader Zach Wahls. “It addresses all of the purported concerns of the Republicans from the first map. Senate Democrats will vote for it and legislative Republicans should join us in voting for fair, nonpartisan maps.”

Updated 3:41 p.m.

11:30 a.m. - Judge limits strikers’ conduct at Deere plant in Iowa

A judge Wednesday issued a temporary restraining order that details how picketing workers at the Deere & Co. plant in Davenport must conduct themselves.

In seeking the injunction Wednesday, Deere officials alleged that striking workers had disrupted access to the Davenport Works plant and put others at risk.

District Court Judge Marlita Greve ordered the union to allow only four picketers at a time near the gates of the plant. The order also banned the use of chairs and barrel fires, and prohibited picketers from harassing or intimidating people entering and leaving the plant, the Quad-City Times reported.

Deere spokeswoman Jen Hartmann said the company sought the injunction to provide a safe environment for contractors and employees, including those participating in the strike.

The injunction prohibits picketing or congregating “near the Contractor Gate entrance,” which is regarded a neutral gate that cannot be picketed, according to Deere.

The United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America went on strike on Oct. 14 after union members overwhelmingly rejected a proposed contract. Contract negotiations have resumed.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack met with striking workers Wednesday at Deere’s plant in Ankeny. Vilsack told the union workers that he stood with them, noting the UAW had long supported him in his political career, WHO-TV reported.

A contract would cover 10,000 striking workers at 14 Deere plants, including seven in Iowa, four in Illinois and one each in Kansas, Colorado and Georgia.

Entry via the Associated Press

9 a.m. – Secretary of Ag Vilsack says genetically engineered exports to Mexico will remain strong

Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack says he’s gaining confidence that Mexico’s looming ban on genetically modified corn won’t mean U.S. corn growers will lose their biggest export market.

Vilsack toured farms and research sites in Iowa with the Mexican agriculture secretary on Wednesday. He told reporters he thinks genetically engineered (GE) exports will remain strong.

“I was certainly pleased to hear from the secretary an understanding that while there may be decisions made in Mexico not to cultivate GE corn, it doesn’t limit the ability of Mexico to import GE corn.”

More than 90 percent of U.S. corn is genetically modified. Mexico is phasing out those crops for human consumption by 2024.

9 a.m. – Vilsack says Agriculture Department will investigate seed industry monopolies

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says his agency will soon start looking into the consolidation of the seed industry.

President Joe Biden issued an executive order in July calling for competition in the seed industry. The order says four companies control most of the worlds’ seeds and prices keep rising.

Vilsack says the Agriculture Department hasn’t started investigating seed industry consolidation yet because it’s been focused on food processors. “I think the president's executive order also mentions the need for us to take a look at the patent laws. And that would be a place to start.”

Biden’s executive order calls for action to help farmers get more access to markets and fair prices for their crops. Part of that is making sure patents don’t reduce competition in seed markets.

7 a.m. – Iowans may soon have more requirements in order to receive unemployment

Gov. Kim Reynolds says she plans to increase work search requirements for Iowans receiving unemployment benefits.

Early next year, Iowa Workforce Development plans to start reaching out to unemployed Iowans each week to try to match them with job openings. The new program will also require Iowans receiving unemployment benefits to contact four potential employers each week instead of two, and will reduce the number of activities that qualify as a work search.

Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend says unemployment benefits were never meant to be long term. “Our economic recovery is contingent on getting as many Iowans as possible back into the workforce as quickly as possible. And we believe this new proactive approach of early, consistent and targeted engagement focused on reemployment will help us achieve that goal.”

Reynolds says some unemployment changes will need to go through the legislature, but she didn’t say which ones. Democratic state Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, says this approach is “all wrong” and that the state should expand child care access and support essential workers.

Wednesday, October 20

3:32 p.m. - First African American member of the Linn County Board of Supervisors won't run for reelection

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker has announced he will not run for reelection.

Walker is currently the chair of the board and is the first African American to hold the seat. He says he intends to finish out his term, which runs through January of 2023.

In a statement, Walker said he’s proud of his work to bring attention to issues of poverty and systemic inequities and to elevate young leaders in the county.

He plans to continue helping other progressive candidates get elected across the state and country. As of now, Walker says he has no plans to run for another office.

1:09 p.m. - State reports 100 additional deaths, 6,907 new cases of COVID-19 this week

State health officials are reporting 6,907 new COVID-19 infections have been confirmed in the past week. This marks a drop in new confirmed cases for the fifth week in a row.

22 percent of new cases are reported to be in children 17 and under.

The state’s 14-day test positivity rate is 8.3 percent, a decrease from last week’s rate of 9.2 percent.

557 Iowans are currently hospitalized for COVID-19. This also marks a decrease from last week when nearly 600 Iowans were hospitalized.

However, 100 additional Iowans have been confirmed to have died from COVID-19 in the past week. This brings the state’s total death count to 6,848.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 65 percent of Iowans 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

12:31 p.m. – Iowa to receive vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11 this week

Gov. Kim Reynolds says Iowa is expecting to receive its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines this week for kids ages 5 to 11.

The Biden Administration announced Wednesday that it’s ready to get Pfizer vaccines into younger children’s arms as soon as it’s approved by the FDA and CDC, which could happen in the next couple of weeks.

Reynolds says she’s encouraging parents to talk to their kids’ doctors about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “We will be dispersing them to pediatricians and pharmacies. Again, parents can visit with their pediatrician, they can have those conversations, they can ask those questions, and then they will make that decision.”

Reynolds says she’s encouraging Iowans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but she’s still considering options for pushing back against upcoming federal vaccine requirements.

11:32 a.m. – Feenstra announces reelection campaign

Iowa Republican Congressman Randy Feenstra has formally announced he is running for reelection in the state’s 4th District.

First elected in 2020, Feenstra primaried longtime Rep. Steve King, after King was removed from his committee assignments for making racist comments.

Feenstra was a business and economics professor at Dordt University and served three terms in the state Senate. He’s been endorsed by Iowa’s leading Republicans, including Gov. Kim Reynolds, and Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

No Democrats have announced plans to run against Feenstra in the reliably Republican district.

10:19 a.m. - More Iowans have been improperly denied care under state’s privatized Medicaid system, according to a new audit

A new report by the state auditor’s office has found the number of Iowans improperly denied medical care and services increased under the state’s privatized Medicaid system.

The audit looked at approximately three-year time periods before and after the state privatized its Medicaid system. It found the number of member appeals denied by the state’s Medicaid program then overturned by an independent judge increased nearly 900 percent under the privatized system.

“Comparing privatized Medicaid to non-privatized Medicaid, we have seen an 891 percent increase in judges overturning care denials, meaning that care denial for one reason or another was illegal.”

State Auditor Rob Sand says this is the fourth Medicaid-related audit his department has released. “And what we're trying to do is figure out whether or not Iowa taxpayers are getting what we're paying for with the MCOs. The answer pretty clearly is that we're not.”

In a statement, officials for the state Department of Human Services called the report “incorrect and flawed,” saying it fails to account for changes in the appeals process made when the state privatized its system.

9 a.m. - Mental Health report ranks Iowa at 23rd among states

Iowa remains in the middle of the pack in a new report called The State of Mental Health in America, which ranks the states based on 15 mental health access and prevalence measures.

Schroeder Stribling, president and CEO of Mental Health America, says Iowa places 23rd on the latest rankings. “Iowa has been staying generally the same,” Stribling says. “I think you’re in a strong position with that trend and of course, as is true for all states, you can continue to develop additional resources for people, especially as we get prepared for the current mental health crisis.”

The nonprofit organization offers a free, anonymous, online mental health screening program which has seen exceptionally heavy use in the months since the pandemic began. “We have had a more than 600-percent increase in the number of individuals using that screening program,” Stribling says. “Primarily, these are youth, ages 11 to 17, and they are looking to screen themselves chiefly for depression, anxiety or thoughts of self-harm or suicide.”

The report finds COVID-19 has brought greater morbidity and mortality, as well as disastrous effects on the nation’s mental health. “One of the things that is true for some states and true for Iowa is that there’s a real difference between urban and rural areas,” she says, “and how they can address mental health concerns and what policies and programs they need in place to do so.”

As an example, Stribling points to a recent University of Iowa study that found the rate of farmer suicides is 3.5 times higher than the general population.

Despite all of the negatives, she says there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. Much like 911, a new three-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is being created.

“There’s a new mental health crisis response system that is rolling out this year,” Stribling says. “All advocates, lawmakers, policymakers should be involved. It’s called 988. It’s been federally approved and it’s now up to the states to enact this legislation. That’s another thing that’s relevant for Iowa, which has not yet enacted legislation on 988.”

While Iowa ranked 23rd on the report this year, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were the top three states, while Arizona, Idaho and Nevada ranked last.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255, is available 24/7.

Entry via Radio Iowa

Tuesday, October 19

3:44 p.m. - Law enforcement executes warrant in connection with Xavier Harrelson case

Law enforcement officers executed a federal search warrant in New Sharon Tuesday that is linked to the Xavior Harrelson case, according to media reports.

Officials confirmed last week that human remains found in a farm field in September are those of the 10-year-old boy from Montezuma.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives executed the warrant with assistance from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and county sheriff’s offices.

Investigators are treating Harrelson’s death as suspicious.

2:46 p.m. – Iowans should get vaccinated against the flu and COVID, says Iowa’s top health official

The state’s top health official is encouraging all Iowans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu.

The current rate of respiratory virus infections in Iowa indicate this year’s flu season will be much more severe than last year’s.

“This year, we're seeing some disease trends with other respiratory viruses that would indicate that we are headed into a high volume flu year, which means that we need everyone to get their vaccine.”

During a town hall arranged by AARP Iowa, Interim state Department of Public Health Director Kelly Garcia said even Iowans who have already had COVID-19 should get vaccinated against the coronavirus, as the vaccines have been shown to further boost antibodies in most people.

“That is wonderful news for your ongoing protection, because we do know you can get COVID twice. That can happen. That's why we're having this whole booster dose conversation as well.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 64 percent of eligible Iowans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

2:17 p.m. - Large plant in Jasper County to close by end of the year

A plant closing in the central Iowa town of Newton will mean the loss of more than 700 jobs.

TPI Composites makes wind blade turbines for wind energy. Several media reports cite a notice on the state workforce development website saying the plant will lay off 710 workers by Dec. 31.

The Des Moines Register has reported that TPI supplied wind turbine blades to General Electric. TPI previously warned of not having business lined up for next year, blaming various economic factors.

TPI is among the largest employers in Jasper County.

Entry via the Associated Press

1:35 p.m. - Iowa Democratic Party chair reports racist threats on voicemail

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn says he has received threatening messages, one of which directly referred to lynching, following his editorial in the Des Moines Register that criticized former President Trump.

State Representative Wilburn, who is Black, says he received an email and two voicemails that are racist and contained racial slurs. Police are now investigating those messages.

Wilburn says he's experienced a range of emotions, including anger and exhaustion, as well as a sense of numbness over these recent threats.

“At some point, we have to say enough is enough. And my hope is that my coming forward and making this report will get others to step forward and say this is unacceptable. This is not our state. This is not our country. That’s my hope.”

Wilburn says there’s been an increase in intensity in messages meant to intimidate public officials, especially for those of color.

Additional reporting via Radio Iowa

12:58 p.m. – Grassley hopes U.S. and Mexico Ag leaders discuss GMOs while in Iowa

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is visiting Iowa this week with Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley says there are a couple things on trade he hopes the two leaders address.

“We’ve got problems with biotechnology, we’ve got problems with GMO corn not going into Mexico. Let’s see - I believe those are the two things that are standing in the way of Mexico complying to the USMCA.” Grassley is referring to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, which replaced NAFTA in 2020.

During a Senate committee hearing on the agreement, the president of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization testified that Mexico's plan to phase out the use of genetically modified corn from human consumption would jeopardize the potential for GMOs to address climate change or nutrition.

10 a.m. - Iowa National Guard members to help resettle Afghan refugees

Dozens of Iowa National Guard members are being deployed to help resettle Afghan refugees.

The Sioux City Journal reported Tuesday that about 30 members of the 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City are being deployed. About 35 others are from the 132nd Wing in Des Moines.

The Iowa members will be assigned to an undisclosed location in the United States to assist with Operation Allies Welcome, an effort to bring U.S. citizens home from Afghanistan and to resettle vulnerable Afghan refugees.

The Iowa National Guard said guard members will deploy for roughly 60 to 90 days starting next month. A spokesman for the Iowa National Guard said he couldn’t provide specific details about where the members will go.

At least 50,000 Afghans are expected to be admitted into the United States following the fall of Kabul as part of an “enduring commitment” to help people who aided the American war effort and others who are particularly vulnerable under Taliban rule, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said.

Entry via the Associated Press

8 a.m. - Whitver says eliminating Iowa’s income tax should be the goal

The top Republican in the Iowa Senate says every Iowa taxpayer should get an income tax cut, but Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, says the ultimate goal should be eliminating the state income tax altogether.

“Right now, there are about eight states that do not have an income tax. There’s another eight states that have said: ‘We want to get on a path to no income tax.’ And I would like Iowa to be included in those states that say: ‘Ultimately the goal is to get to nothing,” Whitver said during a recent appearance on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS. “How you do that is difficult. It takes time, but that should be the goal, to get rid of our income tax.”

A century ago — in 1921 — Iowa was the first state in the country to impose a cigarette tax, then in 1934 the Iowa legislature enacted a statewide sales tax and a state tax on income. Democrats say tax cuts should be targeted toward working Iowans rather than an across-the-board reduction that would benefit wealthy Iowans and corporations. Republicans will pursue “broad based tax reform,” according to Whitver.

“Wealthy Iowans work, too,” Whitver said. “We want it to apply to every Iowan and that’s what we’ve done over the last five years is cut taxes for everybody.”

In 2018, Republican lawmakers passed a tax reduction package that Democrats warned was fiscally irresponsible and would lead to underfunded schools and reduced state services. “This is a bobsled to bankruptcy is what they kept saying,” Whitver said. “In fact, the exact opposite is true.”

The state had a more than a $1 billion surplus when the last fiscal year ended on June 30th. Republicans say that should be returned to taxpayers. Whitver said getting rid of the state income tax can’t happen in one or two years, but a flat tax on income — without any deductions or credit — might be the first step.

“It’s a good idea. It’s fair. People understand it,” Whitver said. “…We have a tax code that’s a mess with credits and exemptions all over the place. We’ve had to straighten that out before we can really take the next step.”

Iowa State University economist Peter Orazem said this summer that if the state income tax is eliminated, the state sales tax would have to be raised substantially. He said Iowa’s property tax rates are a bigger deterrent to economic growth than Iowa’s income taxes.

Entry via Radio Iowa

Monday, October 18

5:08 p.m. – Iowa’s harvest continues despite the rain

Iowa’s harvest continued this past week, even with a few rainy days that cut the amount of time farmers could spend in the field.

The USDA says 43 percent of the corn has been harvested, one week ahead of the five-year average. Iowa’s corn condition is rated 63 percent good to excellent.

The soybean harvest has reached 70 percent, one week ahead of the five-year average.

3:14 p.m. – USDA to survey hemp farmers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will be sending hemp farmers a survey this week.

The first-time survey will gather information on things such as the number of acres planted, its end use, yield and total value. This kind of information has been gathered for other crops and livestock for decades, and the change shows hemp is becoming a legitimate crop.

Doug Bounds is the USDA state statistician for Kansas. He says the survey will provide producers, processors and state and federal regulators with valuable information about the budding hemp industry.

“A free and open market needs good information for everybody to play with the same rules, so that everyone knows what’s going on.”

About 20,500 hemp farmers nationally will receive the survey. A state by state breakdown of the results will be released in February.

Entry via Harvest Public Media

1:38 p.m. – Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture will join Vilsack in Iowa this week

This week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack will travel back to his home state to welcome Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development, Víctor Manuel Villalobos Arámbula.

On Wednesday, both government officials will tour Iowa State University’s Seed Science Center and Plant Sciences Institute. They also plan on speaking with Iowa farmers about the challenges they have faced during COVID-19 and what support they need in the future.

On Thursday, both Secretaries will participate in World Food Prize panels in Des Moines. They will talk about North American agricultural leaders and participate in an advisory panel for those leaders.

They will also attend the World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony to wrap up the visit.

12:47 p.m. - Iowa reports 8.6% 14-day positivity rate

8 a.m. - Remains identified as those of Iowa boy missing since May

Remains found in a field in September were those of an Iowa boy who went missing from his home in May, according to the Iowa Medical Examiner’s Office.

The Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post Friday night that the remains were those of Xavior Harrelson, who disappeared from an Iowa trailer park near Montezuma on May 27, just days before his 11th birthday.

The sheriff’s department said it would not immediately release the boy’s cause of death.

Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation, said Xavior’s death was being investigated as suspicious, the Des Moines Register reported.

A farmer found the remains in a field in September in a field about 4 miles (6 kilometers) from Montezuma, a town of 1,300 people is 70 miles east of Des Moines.

Xavior had completed his fourth grade year at Montezuma Elementary School on May 21 and was off for summer break. Hundreds of people helped search for him.

“We will never forget Xavior and his kind heart,” Montezuma Mayor Jacki Bolen told the Register after the confirmation. “The Montezuma community is greatly saddened by the news of Xavior’s passing. We express our deepest sympathy to his family and friends.”

The confirmation of Xavior’s death comes three years after another Poweshiek County resident, Mollie Tibbets, was killed as the 20-year-old University of Iowa student was on a run near her hometown of Brooklyn, 15 miles from Montezuma.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a farmhand, was convicted of murder in her death.

Entry via the Associated Press

8 a.m. - Farmers and John Deere suppliers worry about strike’s impact

Farmers and Deere & Co. suppliers are worried about what the strike at the tractor maker’s factories will mean for their livelihoods.

More than 10,000 Deere employees went on strike last week at 14 Deere factories in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia after the United Auto Workers union rejected a contract offer. The longer the strike continues, the greater the impact will be on the communities around the plants.

“If this gets sorted out in a couple of days, great,” Brian Jones, who farms in central Iowa, told the Des Moines Register. “But if it drags out for weeks, you start to get a little concerned about things.”

Lance Lillibridge, who farms in eastern Iowa near Cedar Rapids, said he worries about not having parts should his John Deere combine break down.

“We have a lot of big equipment out here that we’re using to bring in a harvest, and if a part breaks down that we can’t get, we’re done,” said Lillibridge, who is also president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association board.

Burk “Skeet” Miehe of American Pattern & CNC Works in Cedar Falls, Iowa, said his business was doing OK initially because it worked ahead to meet orders from Deere.

“If it does go longer, it could affect us,” Miehe told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

Casting Cleaning Inc. in Cedar Falls, which does chipping and grinding work of foundry castings for John Deere, was closed Friday because of lack of work, but company President Shannon Closson said it’s expected to reopen Monday.

“Long term, (the strike) would be very detrimental to our business. Short term, we’ll be able to power though and get through it,” Closson said.

At John Deere equipment dealer Sloan Implement in Fulton, Illinois, store manager Eric Maloney said the business is doing the best it can to manage through the strike, as well as supply chain problems related to the coronavirus pandemic. The dealer has been relying more than usual on repairing parts instead of replacing them.

“We’re going to just keep right on forging ahead as best we can,” Maloney said.

Entry via the Associated Press

Friday, October 15

5:00 p.m. - 8.8% 14-day COVID-19 test positivity posted by IDPH

4:03 p.m. – Recent analysis shows little progress in leveling racial disparities in Iowa’s prison systems

Iowa has made little progress in counteracting racial disparities in its prison system in recent years. That’s the finding from the latest analysis published by The Sentencing Project. According to the advocacy group, Black Iowans continue to make up 25 percent of the state’s prison population, despite being just 4 percent of the overall population.

Betty Andrews of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP says the trends are rooted in generations of discriminatory policy. “We have a historical structure that has been built on racism, slavery and bias and that has carried on into our society from years before all the way until now.”

While Iowa’s Black to white ratio in its prisons has decreased, the state still has one of the 10 largest racial gaps in the country. To counteract the trends, the report author says policymakers should reform mandatory minimum sentences and scale back prison time for drug offenses.

3:25 p.m. – African Swine Fever identified in the Caribbean

A highly contagious swine disease has reached the Caribbean. That has federal and state officials working with American meat processors to brace for a possible outbreak on U.S. soil. There isn’t a vaccine for African Swine Fever. The disease can be deadly to pigs and economies could take a hit. Some governments ban pork imports from countries with the disease.

The USDA, the Iowa Department of Ag., Tyson Foods and other partners held a mock exercise last month to test how prepared they are for an outbreak here. KatieRose McCullough, with the North American Meat Institute, says the industry found some areas it needs to work on. “Identifying maybe those employees that have hogs at home to where if they’re... are they being provided different PPE to be wearing in our facility or alternative clothing?” McCullough says the group also wants to encourage trucks to get washed as soon as they leave meatpacking facilities to prevent potential spread.

3:23 p.m. – State revenue forecasters provide financial update

The state’s revenue forecasters say Iowa is in a strong financial position. Iowa ended the last fiscal year with a record-breaking budget surplus.

The fiscal director of the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency says federal pandemic relief programs gave a “huge boost” to state revenue, along with the improving economy and pent-up demand for goods and services. Revenue forecasters believe state revenue will keep growing, but at a slower rate.

Kraig Paulsen is interim director of the Iowa Department of Management. He says federal assistance had an impact, but he says there was also “organic growth” in Iowa’s economy. “My confidence is pretty high that we will continue to have strong growth. And again, I mean, it’s up to the elected leadership. But my recommendation would be there’s absolutely significant growth in the ongoing revenue, which presents an opportunity to reduce income taxes.”

Republican leaders say their budgeting and pandemic policies led to the surplus, and are calling for tax cuts. Democrats say federal programs pushed by their party led to the surplus, and that any tax cuts should be targeted to middle class families.

8:00 a.m. – Iowa Latino Hall of Fame induction ceremony to be virtual

The Iowa Latino Hall of Fame induction ceremony this weekend will be moved online due to community health concerns.

The Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs established the Latino Hall of Fame in 2017. For the first time, the commissioners voted to move the induction ceremony online. They say it’s because the community reached out with concerns about new variants of COVID-19. Sonia Reyes is the executive officer for the office of Latino Affairs. “I think that when you move something to virtual, you don't have that camaraderie of you know, having to meet people in person and give, you know, the Latino community, we are so affectionate, so to give the hug, the kiss on the cheek, so we lose a lot of that.”

She says it’s nice that people from around the globe will be able to see it. The three inductees and three award winners will be invited back to next year’s ceremony, which is expected to be in-person.

7:30 a.m. - Reynolds, lawmakers in talks to combat federal vaccine mandates

Gov. Kim Reynolds said she’s in talks with lawmakers to combat vaccine mandates at private businesses, but she does not plan to issue an executive order on the issue.

“(Iowans) have said enough is enough,” Reynolds said during a WHO Radio interview Wednesday. “They are tired of the overreach, they are tired of the mandates.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday issued an executive order to prohibit private businesses in Texas from requiring COVID-19 vaccines. The move comes in opposition to a federal requirement that private businesses with more than 100 employees mandate vaccines or regular, mandatory testing for employees. Reynolds said Wednesday she could not issue a similar executive order in Iowa due to the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch.

iHeart Radio Host Simon Conway asked Reynolds if she could instead ask lawmakers to consider legislation against vaccine mandates during the special session on redistricting. Reynolds responded that she is having “great conversations” with lawmakers about the issue, but did not reveal whether lawmakers would take action during the special session. She told listeners to “stay tuned.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene at the Capitol on Oct. 28 to vote on the second set of proposed redistricting maps.

Entry via Katie Akin with the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

6:30 a.m. - New insurance option available for farmers from USDA

The USDA is rolling out a new insurance option designed for producers with small farms who sell locally.

It’s called the Micro Farm Policy and it simplifies record-keeping and covers post-production costs like washing and value-added programs. Iowa Farmers Union President Aaron Lehman sees this as a great option for beginning and small-to-medium-sized farmers. “For that type of farmer, there tends to be a lack of support mechanisms that are in place for more traditional farmers,” Lehman says, “and it’s a big barrier for our next generation of farmers and our farmers who want to connect with their local communities through growing local and regional food.”

Lehman says the Micro Farm Policy promises to fit well with producers who are looking to grow their operations in new directions and a wide range of Iowa farmers can use this type of insurance program.

The Micro Farm Policy will be available beginning with the 2022 crop year through Whole Farm Revenue Protection.

Entry via Radio Iowa.

6:30 a.m. - Soybean harvest past 50%, corn nears 30% as of mid-week

The weather has favored farmers and they’ve been able to bring in a lot of corn and beans.

As of Wednesday, the U.S.D.A. says close to 30% of the corn harvest is now complete statewide, which is eight days ahead of normal. That compares to the 19% of the corn that was harvest level the previous week. More than half of the soybean crop has been harvested at 56 percent. That is 16 percent more soybeans harvested compared to last week.

The soybean harvest is now nine days ahead of the five-year average.

Entry via Radio Iowa.

6:00 a.m. – Sen. Grassley responds to John Deere union employee strike

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley says the thousands of Iowa John Deere factory workers on strike are exercising their collective bargaining rights.

“And that’s a decision those workers made and under the laws we have to respect it. I don’t have anything to say about it because I don’t know the issues that are at stake and I didn’t even know they were at strike except you told me.”

United Auto Workers union members rejected a six-year contract proposal that offered up to 6 percent raises and would have ended pensions for workers hired in the future. The Republican senator says he thinks disruptions in the supply chain will affect farmers more than the strike because of the hold-up of computer chips for farm machinery. Grassley made his comments at a press conference in Des Moines following a meeting with employees at UPS.