News of the Day: Shoppers estimated to save $5 million in annual tax holiday
10:05 a.m. - Shoppers estimated to save $5 million in annual tax holiday
Back-to-school shoppers will get a bit of a break during the annual tax free weekend, which runs Friday and Saturday, Aug. 5 and 6.
Iowa Department of Revenue spokesman, John Fuller, says during the tax holiday, individuals can purchase clothing and shoes tax-free.
Fuller says he is often asked if the sales tax holiday includes online sales.
“And the answer to that is ‘yes’, as long as you order and pay for the items during the two-day period,” he says.
He expects a lot of Iowans to take advantage of the event.
“So the Department estimates that the Iowans will save about $5 million on this upcoming tax free weekend.”
10 a.m. – Iowa veteran reacts to passage of the PACT Act
Iowa veterans can soon get expanded health care coverage and benefits if they got illnesses caused by exposure to toxic chemicals while serving in the military. That’s because Congress passed the PACT Act this week, which says that veterans will no longer have to prove that their illness was caused by exposure to toxins. It’s expected to cost $280 billion over the next decade.
Michael Braman of Knoxville served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was exposed to toxic fumes from burn pits on military bases and says he developed asthma and digestive issues.
Braman says he’s very happy the bill passedm and that it’s a big deal for veterans. But he says politicians complaining about the cost of this health coverage upsets him.
“They’ll send us to war. They don’t care about the cost then, right? They don’t. But when we come back home, they put a price tag on everything. It’s time to take care of our veterans. It’s time to get rid of the social injustice veterans are going through.”
Braman made his comments during a taping Thursday of IPR’s River to River.
9:50 a.m. – Monkeypox declared national public health emergency
Federal officials have declared a national public health emergency for the growing number of monkeypox cases.
Federal officials say there are about 6,600 reported monkeypox cases nationwide.
About a dozen of those are in Iowa, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky says the agency estimates about 1.6 to 1.7 million Americans are at the highest risk for getting the virus.
“When we look at the population at highest risk, we're looking at both those who are living with HIV who are men who have sex with men, as [well as ] those who are high risk for HIV by virtue of the effects of their eligibility for pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV.”
Federal officials say they’ve shipped out more than 600,000 doses of monkeypox vaccinations so far.
State health officials confirmed Iowa’s first monkeypox case in early July.
Thursday, Aug. 4
2:45 p.m. – Decision around challenged book will not be reviewed by state Board of Education
The Iowa State Board of Education will not revisit a local school board’s decision to keep a challenged library book on the shelf.
Earlier this year, West Des Moines Community Schools board members denied a parent’s request to remove the book Gender Queer from the district’s ninth grade building.
Teri Patrick asked to pull the book because it includes graphic sexual images. But the district argued it is written to be an autobiography, not to be obscene.
By a vote of 5-2, the state board denied Patrick’s appeal of that decision because her child was already a student in a different building when the complaint was made.
The book is not required reading, and the district has said it would honor a parent’s request to stop their child from checking it out from the library.
2:40 p.m. – Iowa Democratic leaders comment on the Kansas abortion rights vote
Iowa Democratic leaders say a Kansas vote to uphold abortion rights this week shows the same could happen in Iowa.
Kansas voters rejected a constitutional amendment that said the state constitution doesn’t protect abortion rights. Iowans could be voting on a similar measure in two years if abortion opponents get their way.
Iowa House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst says the results in Kansas show an amendment to end abortion rights would likely fail in Iowa, too.
“We know this is an issue that Democrats are aligned with the people on and Republicans are not. And it’s my job to remind Iowans of that. One party is trying to protect your freedom, one is trying to take it away.”
The Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature has approved language for the amendment. Lawmakers would have to pass it again in the next two years to get it on the ballot.
Konfrst says lawmakers should instead consider language for an amendment to protect abortion rights.
12:35 p.m. - Autopsy: Family killed at Iowa park shot, stabbed, strangled
Three family members killed during a shooting last month at the Maquoketa Caves State Park campground were shot, stabbed and/or strangled, according to autopsy results released Thursday.
Tyler Schmidt, 42, died from a gunshot wound and “multiple sharp force injuries,” while his wife, 42-year-old Sarah Schmidt, died from multiple sharp force injuries, the Iowa Department of Public Safety said in a news release. Their 6-year-old daughter, Lula Schmidt, died from a gunshot wound and strangulation, officials said.
All three family members’ deaths have been ruled homicides. The Schmidts’ 9-year-old son, who was with his family on the camping trip, survived the attack without physical injuries, but investigators have not said whether he was in the tent when the attack happened.
The department confirmed Thursday that the killer was Anthony Sherwin, 23, of LaVista, Nebraska, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after the family was attacked early on the morning of July 22 in their tent at the park campground. Sherwin was at the park camping with his parents at the time of the attack, according to police and Sherwin’s mother.
Investigators said all evidence collected substantiates that Sherwin acted alone, but police have not indicated a motive in the killings.
12:30 p.m. – Dry conditions and drought worsen across Iowa
Dry conditions have expanded across the state, with parts of northwest Iowa continuing to experience extreme drought. Additionally, the worsening dry weather is coming at a critical time for crop development.
Parts of northwest Iowa are seeing a significant deterioration in crop quality. On a daily basis, field agronomist Joel DeJong says he sees corn leaves curling and soybean leaves turning over to protect themselves from the heat.
“Every day that we've got this, particularly the really extreme heat, I think is hurting our yield potential. Significantly more so closer to Missouri and Big Sioux than it is as you go east.”
He expects the region’s yields will be impacted more than they were during last year’s drought. That’s due to a prolonged period of higher temperatures. Compared to last year, the region has seen more 90 degree weather.
11:50 a.m. – Iowa City’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair remains in place, for now
The chair of Iowa City’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will keep her seat for now, despite calls for Amel Ali’s removal due to comments she made in a podcast.
Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague called a special meeting Thursday morning to remove Ali from the TRC. But the Iowa City Council was split on how to handle the personal back-and-forth between Ali and Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter.
In a now-deleted podcast, Ali aired frustration about working with older Black activists in Iowa City, even calling Porter a slur. Both Ali and Porter identify as Black.
Porter has been a critic of the commission since she resigned from it in 2021.
The Iowa City Truth and Reconciliation Commission will meet Thursday evening to discuss the future of its leadership.
10:30 a.m. – Rep. Ashley Hinson responds to the recently announced Inflation Reduction Act
The consumer price index was up 9% last month, which is the largest gain since 1981. In hopes of reducing inflation, Washington Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, struck a deal involving $260 billion in spending and over ten years, while raising $326 billion.
On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson told reporters the provisions that would raise taxes are a “slap in the face to taxpayers and hardworking Americans” struggling to make ends meet under inflationary pressures.
“With Americans' paychecks already stretched thin, President Biden wants to take even more of Americans’ hard-earned money to pay for his agenda.”
Hinson says she opposed the inclusion of tax credits for electric vehicles and an expanded staffing of the IRS.
According to a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School analysis, the package would reduce the deficit but would have little impact on inflation.
9:20 a.m. - State of Iowa ‘drought plan’ would guide, advise local decision-makers
The state climatologist, the Department of Homeland Security and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are developing guidelines and real-time resources for city and county officials who may have to restrict water usage during a drought emergency.
Tim Hall, hydrology resources coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the first-ever state “drought plan” would leave decisions about limiting water usage to local officials.
“We’re trying to set up a framework that will help local communities, local water utilities, emergency management folks be prepared to deal with a drought when it comes by answering those questions: ‘What should we do?’ and ‘When should we do it?’ and we can provide the data and the information that helps them make those decisions.”
In July, state officials hosted meetings in Sioux City, Cedar Rapids and Creston to hear from water utilities, local communities, county emergency managers and industries that use water. A final virtual meeting was held Wednesday with about 70 representatives of those groups.
On Thursday, Hall will be issuing a statewide summary of water resources. He said water levels in some areas of northwest Iowa are alarmingly low, but the situation isn’t currently as dire as the last major drought of 2012.
9:10 a.m. - Northwest Iowa health officials give update on monkeypox
Public health officials in northwestern Iowa released an update on monkeypox Wednesday following the discovery of a case there on July 25.
The deputy director of Sioux District Health, Tyler Brock, says there have been no new cases of monkeypox confirmed, and there is no concern about spread.
“This takes very close contact, prolonged contact, with someone who actually has it. Their body fluids, the sores, the scabs, the rashes. Getting monkeypox through some type of casual random event is really not the way this is being spread right now.”
Brock says the vaccine developed for smallpox is used for monkeypox, and there is some question about its effectiveness.
The northwest Iowa case is one of ten confirmed cases overall in Iowa. There are also seven cases confirmed in the central Iowa region, and one each in the northeast and east regions of the state. In the states surrounding Iowa, South Dakota has one case, Nebraska and Missouri each have ten cases, Minnesota has 38, Wisconsin has 19 and Illinois has 533.
9:05 a.m. – Linn-Mar Community School District sued by Parents Defending Education
A conservative nonprofit is suing the Linn-Mar Community School District over a policy that allows transgender students to request confidential support at school.
Under the rules adopted back in April, a student in 7th grade or older could ask to use a different name or pronouns without involving their parents.
When it passed, supportive school board members said it put in writing procedures that were already in place based on federal law and state guidelines.
Soon afterward, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Rep. Ashley Hinson held a closed meeting with Linn-Mar community members upset by the policy.
Now a group of unnamed parents is taking the district to court with a group called Parents Defending Education.
They claim the policy violates their right to direct their children’s education. They also say Linn-Mar is violating the First Amendment by threatening to discipline students or staff who deliberately call a transgender student by the wrong name.
District officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wednesday, Aug. 3
3:05 p.m. – Latest state COVID numbers released
State health officials report a slight increase in the number of reported positive COVID-19 tests in the past week.
As of Wednesday, there’ve been 7,313 positive tests in the past seven days.
That marks a small jump of about 50 tests from last week’s number.
The New York Times reports 260 Iowans are currently hospitalized for COVID, up from 249 last week.
State officials confirm 9,817 Iowans have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 62.6 percent of all Iowans are fully vaccinated against the virus.
3 p.m. – Chair of Iowa City Truth and Reconciliation Commission may be removed
Iowa City’s mayor has called a special meeting after a Johnson County supervisor called for the removal of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s chair. It was only last month that the commission voted to let Amel Ali lead its meetings. But this past Tuesday night, Mayor Bruce Teague called for the special meeting to have her completely removed from the commission.
That came after Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter said Ali called her a racist slur in a podcast interview. Both Ali and Porter identify as Black.
While Porter was initially a member of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, she frequently has called for the city council to disband it. She threatened that if the council didn’t remove Ali, she would. As a county supervisor, she does not have jurisdiction over the city commission.
Ali has apologized for the slur and said Supervisor Porter calling for her removal is an overreach.
The council will take up Ali’s removal Thursday morning.
10 a.m. - Grassley, Ernst among 86 senators voting to send PACT Act to president
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, a “no” last week on advancing a bill to ensure veterans exposed to toxic burn pits get medical care, has voted to send the bill to the president’s desk.
Ernst, a combat veteran, told The Gazette that her initial vote to block passage of the bill was because Democrats prevented Republicans from offering amendments to improve the legislation. Last night, the bill passed, without changes, and Ernst voted for it.
Ernst issued a written statement, saying veterans who continue to pay the price for their service deserve the life-saving benefits of the bill. Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted that he had “consistently supported” the bill, “even when it stalled,” and he’s grateful it finally passed.
Retired Navy Admiral Mike Franken, the Democrat who’s running against Grassley, said Grassley “voted right on the bill all along,” but said Grassley failed to rally his fellow Republicans in the Senate to do what was right last week.
9:55 a.m. - Grassley, Ernst express support for Pelosi’s Taiwan trip
Both of Iowa’s Republican Senators are expressing support for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
Pelosi is the highest-ranking American lawmaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years. Sen. Joni Ernst and Sen. Chuck Grassley are among more than two dozen Republicans in the U.S. Senate who signed onto a message, saying the California Democrat’s visit is consistent with U.S. policy on Taiwan.
Grassley tweeted that he doesn’t agree with Pelosi much on domestic issues, but he appreciates Pelosi for standing up to China.
China opposed her visit, and the Chinese military started military drills around the island of Taiwan as Pelosi landed. Pelosi says her visit illustrates America’s unwavering support of Taiwan’s democracy.
9:50 a.m. - Dry conditions persist; corn, soybean conditions slightly decline
Increasingly dry conditions in Iowa are impacting Iowa’s corn and soybeans.
The Iowa Crop and Weather report for the final week of July shows half of Iowa topsoil is short or very short of moisture. That’s a 12% increase from the previous week.
Drought conditions intensified in northwest Iowa last week, and the condition of Iowa’s statewide corn crop fell slightly to 76% good or excellent, according to the USDA. That’s a four-point drop from the previous week. The report indicates the conditions of soybean fields statewide declined slightly as well.
A lack of rain is putting more stress on livestock, and the USDA indicates less than half of Iowa pasture land for grazing is in good to excellent shape.
Tuesday, Aug. 3
2:30 p.m. - Creighton economist says we are probably in a recession
The latest Creighton University survey of businesses in nine Midwest states shows continued growth, but economist Ernie Goss says that growth isn’t very fast.
“We asked about confidence looking at the economy six months ahead, it was still very weak but up from last month, so things are moving along. Not like what we’d like to see, but much better than what we’re seeing in some of the national numbers have come out.”
There’s a debate about whether the country has moved into a recession. Goss says the signs point that way.
“I’ll call it recession diversity. In other words, the manufacturing sector continues to move along at the national level not quite as strong as the regional level. But even there, we’re not seeing a recession in the manufacturing sector... It’s more of other sectors: leisure and hospitality, other sectors where you’re seeing numbers well below growth neutral, in fact in negative territory in terms of GDP,” Goss says.
Goss says listen carefully to what the Federal Reserve governors say, because when they see a recession ahead they’re going to raise interest rates
2:20 p.m. – Small towns see fundraising benefits of RAGBRAI
Small towns successfully used last week’s RAGBRAI as an opportunity to fundraise for town projects.
The town of Nemaha raised nearly enough money to finish construction on its historical museum.
As one of the stops on Monday’s route, the northwest town nearly sold out of the 400 pounds of marinated turkey tenders prepared for the event.
Organizer Jim Hamm says that effort earned them more than $8,000 toward furnishing the museum, and he was proud of what the town was able to accomplish.
“It felt good, it’s a good addition. But, it's going to definitely make a big difference to have that added on to what we have. And this should come close to getting us done, I think.”
Tired as he was after the long day of selling to cyclists, Hamm says he’d do it again in a heartbeat. He hopes Nemaha gets another opportunity down the line to be on the route.
Until then, he’s looking forward to the museum’s grand opening in the next year or two.
Meanwhile, the group Moms and Grandmas for Fonda used their stop along the route to fundraise for a new town basketball court. The northwest Iowa nonprofit brought home around $600 in pickle sandwich sales. Organizer Judy Hess says every little bit will help them reach their $30,000 fundraising goal.
“Just being able to bring in that amount of money in such a short time. It's great and getting to meet so many neat people. So, it was a fun day.”
Hess says she’s proud of how her community pulled together to make Fonda fun for cyclists. Her non-profit will continue to host events like cow bingo and a chili cook off in order to raise more money for the court.
8:45 a.m. - Forecast calls for hot turning to hotter
Iowa is entering a prolonged heat wave, which is expected to last into the weekend and beyond - it may last well into the Iowa State Fair, which runs Aug. 11 to 21. Meteorologist Alex Krull, at the National Weather Service, says that during this time it’ll be uncomfortably steamy, especially across western and central Iowa.
“For the next couple of weeks here, we are going to be in a pattern that’s going to favor multiple days of having above-normal temperatures for this time of year,” Krull says. “Typically in August, Iowa will see temperatures in the upper 80s, but right now, most of our long-term guidance is indicating that we could have several days where the actual air temperatures are reaching the low to mid 90s.”
The Climate Prediction Center’s August weather forecast for Iowa indicates the state could be in for above-normal temperatures and below-normal rainfall throughout the month.
8:25 a.m. – Midwest state fairs prepare to open
The Iowa State Fair opens a week from Thursday, and state fairs around the Midwest are gearing up for what they hope are normal conditions following two years of pandemic cancellations and restrictions.
State fairs were canceled in 2020, and last year many saw scaled back events. But this year, the directors are hoping to put up pre-pandemic attendance numbers. Rebecca Clark is the Illinois State Fair Manager. She says while COVID-19 might not be as big of a concern this year, inflation might lead some people to skip the event.
“We’ve been proactive in looking for ways to make the fair affordable. So we have several days, Monday through Thursday, where adult admission is half-priced.”
Missouri saw more than 330,000 attend last year’s fair, which is about 10% lower than pre pandemic levels, and its director is expecting to be back to average this year.
In Iowa, the Iowa State Fair is reinstating its Farm-to-Fair dinner, where 400 people eat locally-grown food with the farmers who produced the food, which was canceled last year over COVID concerns.
Monday, Aug. 1
4:10 p.m. – Cedar Rapids grain processing employees go on strike
The employees of a grain processing plant in Cedar Rapids have gone on strike. Since June, Ingredion Incorporated has been in negotiation with its 127 union members over a four-year contract. The union members are represented by The Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers.
The existing contract ended at 7:01 a.m. Monday morning, and union membership voted to strike. The union local’s president was on the picket line on 1st Street. He said they’re prepared to go as long as it takes to get a contract his members can agree to.
“We’re far apart right now. We’re hoping soon they come back to the table. I don’t look for it this week, but I’m hoping next week they contact and my committee can come back to the table and start negotiating again.”
IPR News reached out to Ingredion’s corporate office in Westchester, Ill. A spokesperson said there may be temporary facility stoppages, but the company plans to continue operating the facility and fulfill orders.
11:30 a.m. - USDA getting tougher on salmonella in chicken products
The federal government on Monday announced proposed new regulations that would force food processors to reduce the amount of salmonella bacteria found in some raw chicken products or risk being shut down.
The proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture rules would declare salmonella an adulterant — a contaminant that can cause food-borne illness — in breaded and stuffed raw chicken products. That includes many frozen foods found in grocery stores, including chicken cordon bleu and chicken Kyiv products that appear to be cooked through but are only heat-treated to set the batter or breading.
The agency notified producers of the proposed changes on Friday.
USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Sandra Eskin said it marks the beginning of a broader agency effort to curtail illnesses caused by the salmonella bacteria, which sickens 1.3 million Americans each year. It sends more than 26,000 of them to hospitals and causes 420 deaths, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Food is the source for most of those illnesses. The CDC says approximately one in every 25 packages of chicken sold at grocery stores contains salmonella bacteria.
The USDA currently has performance standards that poultry processing plants have to meet to reduce contamination, but the agency cannot stop products from being sold. There is also no adequate testing system to determine levels of salmonella in meat, Eskin said.
The proposed new rules require routine testing at chicken processing plants. Products would be considered adulterated when they exceed a very low level of salmonella contamination and would be subject to regulatory action, including shuttering plants that fail to reduce salmonella bacteria levels in their products, Eskin said.
The new rules will be published in the Federal Register this fall and the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will seek public comment before finalizing the rules and setting a date for implementation.
10:50 a.m. - Budget increases for new UI hospital under construction in North Liberty
The Board of Regents has approved a 33% budget increase for the University of Iowa’s new hospital under construction in North Liberty. The increase takes the budget from $395 million to just under $526 million.
UI Hospitals and Clinics interim CEO Kimberly Hunter says inflation has hit the costs of construction just like everything else, which is compounded by the local trade labor experiencing shortages of workers. Hunter also says that they looked at putting the project on hold to wait for prices to come back down, but that a delay in getting the new facility open would further strain the UI hospital system, which is already at 99% of capacity.
The plan to build the facility was opposed by private hospitals in the area, saying the new hospital would duplicate services already provided. The State Health Facilities Council denied the first attempt to get a certificate of need for the hospital, also saying it would duplicate services. After the denial, the UIHC emphasized the teaching of new doctors and expanded access to specialized care, after which the council reversed itself and gave approval.
10:45 a.m. - House panel dismisses complaint over Axne stock trades
The House Ethics Committee has unanimously voted to dismiss a complaint against Rep. Cindy Axne after concluding there’s “not clear evidence” Axne made “willful” errors on financial disclosures.
Last year, a watchdog group accused Axne and six other House members of failing to report stock trades. Axne said she and her husband leave their investment decisions to account managers and didn’t make any stock trades themselves. Additionally, Axne said she didn’t realize she was to file public reports about any of that account activity.
Axne, a Democrat from West Des Moines, has hired a lawyer to file the reports about her investment accounts.
8:50 a.m. – It’s going to be a hot week in Iowa
Meteorologist Alex Krull, at the National Weather Service, says the switch from July to August will bring some excessively hot days, with highs in the low 90s expected Monday.
“Tuesday, we’re looking at actual air temperatures between the mid-90s and upper 90s, and that’ll send heat index values — or the feels-like temperature — above 100 degrees,” Krull says. “Then Wednesday, we’re looking at the upper 90s for the actual air temperatures, and it may be possible for us to cross over 100 degrees and we’ll likely be looking at heat index values anywhere between 105 to 107 degrees.”
Iowans will need to take precautions to cope with the steamy weather.
“If you have any plans to be outdoors during the middle of this upcoming week, please plan accordingly,” Krull says. “Have plenty of water to stay hydrated and have a place to cool down, whether that be in a car that has working air conditioning or a building that is air-conditioned and shaded properly.”
Krull says the pattern of above-normal temperatures will continue perhaps for another 10 days.
The heat wave isn’t hitting just Iowa. Above-normal temps are forecast through the first week of August from Nebraska all the way to New York.
8:40 a.m. – Decision on Iowa’s place in the 2024 presidential nominating contest to come after Midterm elections
Members of the Democratic National Committee have been discussing reworking the early calendar for picking presidential candidates since the beginning of the year. The DNC announced Saturday they will not be making that decision until after the November election.
In June, a delegation of Iowa Democrats were one of 17 states and territories to make the case to the national party to go early in 2024.
Members on that committee have talked about swapping Iowa out with a different, more diverse Midwest state like Michigan or Minnesota.
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn says in a statement to IPR that he is committed to keeping the Iowa caucuses first. He says small rural states like Iowa must have a voice in the Democratic presidential nominating process.
Republicans are keeping their calendar status quo with Iowa still going first.
8:40 a.m. – ISU to launch climate science-focused degree
Iowa State University will launch a new major this fall focusing on climate science. The one-of-a-kind program aims to prepare students to solve climate-based challenges.
The new bachelor’s degree will allow students to choose their own focus. Chair of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences Kristie Franz says it can prepare them for careers in everything from sustainable design planning to advising private industries, like insurance. No matter the career they chose afterward, the degree will give students the knowledge to strategize against climate change.
“The current generation is recognizing that, the legitimacy of the science and observing it as well just along with the rest of us. And really want to do something about it, because it's their future. And so they want to be a part of the solution.”
Franz says the coursework will consist of many classes within the university’s earth science department. It will also integrate economic and communications courses.