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Published February 18, 2024 at 2:18 PM CST

📻 Get all of the day’s news from across Iowa. IPR reporters and our partners file the latest headlines throughout the day to keep you informed.

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IPR News

Major disaster declaration approved for 4 Iowa counties

Posted May 24, 2024 at 3:22 PM CDT

The White House has approved a major disaster declaration for Adair, Polk, Story and Montgomery counties following the destructive tornadoes that hit Tuesday.

The declaration frees up assistance from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration to help pay for things like temporary housing, replacement of property and medical and legal expenses.

In Greenfield Thursday, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell encouraged storm victims to closely document their losses andreach out to her agency for assistance.

“The money can flow very quickly. Once people register, they can see some financial reimbursement and support usually within a few days.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds is also adding ten more counties to her state disaster declaration, putting a total of 42 counties on the list of areas that saw major damage from severe weather this week.

State assistance includes grants of up to $5,000 for individuals in households with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level. The money is available to help with expenses such as home or car repairs.

IPR News

Cedar Valley Boys and Girls Club introduces mental health component to summer programming

Posted May 24, 2024 at 3:22 PM CDT

The Boys and Girls Club of the Cedar Valley has partnered with the University of Iowa to introduce a mental health care component to its list of activities this year.

Staff have been educated in identifying mental health crisis signs, as well as trained in how to help kids talk about those struggles.

Director of Operations Bailey Moore says mental health care is particularly important for his program since many of its kids don’t have access to those resources otherwise.

“I wouldn’t want to say that they all face traumas or terrible hardship, but a number of them have and a number of them can. We’ve got several single-parent households that rely on us for support, and that’s what we want to be for the kids in our community.”

Almost 950 kids have been involved with the program this year.

IPR News

Severe thunderstorms complicate Greenfield cleanup efforts

Posted May 24, 2024 at 3:00 PM CDT

The severe thunderstorms that hit Iowa Friday morning complicated tornado cleanup in Greenfield.

Crews had to go back through town to clear roads after strong winds shifted debris that was piled up for removal.

Tetanus shots are available at the elementary school in Greenfield, while supplies last, to prevent infection for people who have cuts or scrapes from moving debris.

According to Adair County Emergency Management, the community no longer needs physical donations, but is asking for financial contributions. A fund to assist tornado victims has been created through the Greater Greenfield Community Foundation.

IPR News

Deadly Greenfield tornado classified as EF-4

Posted May 24, 2024 at 11:59 AM CDT
Haley Williams (right) hugs her mother in Greenfield.
Amanda Alden
Haley Williams (right) hugs her mother in Greenfield.

Weather officials have updated their assessment of the Greenfield tornado that killed a total of five people in Adams and Adair counties. The National Weather Service now says it was an EF-4 tornado with winds of up to 185 miles per hour.

At its widest point, the Greenfield tornado covered nearly a quarter mile and stayed on the ground for around 44 miles.

The same storm Tuesday afternoon produced an EF-3 tornado that traveled more than 30 miles through rural Adams County in southwest Iowa. Another tornado that hit Johnston north of Des Moines was an EF-2 that carved a 41-mile path into Story County.

In all, the tornadoes destroyed or caused major damage to more than 200 homes, according to an expedited disaster request sent to FEMA by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

IPR News

3 teens die in Des Moines crash

Posted May 24, 2024 at 11:58 AM CDT

Three teenagers are dead and another is in critical condition following a crash in Des Moines.

A Des Moines Police detective spotted a stolen car in traffic near downtown early Wednesday morning. After spotting a patrol car, the driver took off at what police called a high rate of speed.

They say officers did not initiate a pursuit but a few minutes later, they found the car crashed around two miles away.

Police say their preliminary investigation indicates the car left the street, struck a tree and everyone inside was thrown out.

One 18-year-old, identified as Jamarious Jackson, was dead at the scene. Two 15-year-olds died after they were taken to a local hospital. Another 18-year-old remains in critical condition.

IPR News

Thousands of Iowans without power after early morning severe weather

Posted May 24, 2024 at 11:57 AM CDT

Thousands across Iowa lost power Friday morning after another round of severe thunderstorms swept the state. Wind gusts reached 70 miles per hour in some places.

MidAmerican Energy estimated nearly 30,000 customers were without electricity after the storms passed through. Nearly 3,000 Alliant Energy customers were affected by outages.

According to reports to the National Weather Service, semis were turned over on Interstate 29 in western Iowa, in central Iowa on I-35 and on Highway 20.

Trees were knocked down in several cities across the state, including Ames, Indianola and Pella.

Harvest Public Media

Grass lawns are a landscape staple, but an environmental reckoning may change that

Posted May 24, 2024 at 11:57 AM CDT

Dozens of municipalities across the Midwest — including Mount Pleasant — are considering loosening ordinance restrictions on the height of grass or even what can be grown.

Movements like “No Mow May” and initiatives to plant pollinator gardens are gaining traction, as people question the value of the traditional turfgrass lawn that dominates the landscapes of communities.

Yet just how a yard should be maintained often is a matter of differing opinion, even among neighbors.

Read the full story from Harvest Public Media.

Radio Iowa

Only 33% of the state remains in some sort of drought

Posted May 24, 2024 at 11:54 AM CDT

Continued rains across the state brought more improvement to U.S. Drought Monitor data released Thursday.

DNR hydrologist Tim Hall says the two most severe categories of drought are no longer found on the map. Sixty-seven percent of the state now has no form of drought. Only 3% had no drought in January.

Hall says the northeast part of the state is still the driest area, but it’s a lot better now. He says his discussion with the state climatologist indicates Iowa could see spring flip from record dry to record wet measures this year.

The plentiful rain has had some farmers worried about finishing planting, and at times it leaves ponds of water in fields. Hall says he’s not worried about that at this point.

“The fields in the areas that routinely run into inundation problems are seeing that right now with the rain we’ve had, but I don’t think it’s a widespread or catastrophic problem around the state. I think we’d become used to the dry conditions over the last four years, and we just have gotten out of the habit of seeing saturated fields and standing water.”

Hall says it’s good to see the groundwater and stream flows come back to normal for the first time in a long time. June is normally the wettest month of the year, so the pattern is likely to continue.

Radio Iowa

Flooding may make for a challenging holiday weekend for boaters

Posted May 24, 2024 at 11:54 AM CDT

All the recent rain has pushed up water levels in Iowa’s lakes, rivers and streams, flooding many waterways — with a busy boating holiday just ahead.

Susan Stocker, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ boating law administrator and education coordinator, says Iowa has more than 211,000 registered boats, and anyone who plans to get on the water over the next few days will need to be very careful.

“All of the debris that has been on the shorelines is now floating in the water and coming downstream, so we need people to be very vigilant — on the lookout — when they’re out boating, because you may see a small branch up above the water but people don’t realize that that’s attached to potentially a 40-foot tree.”

Because of all that flooding, she says Iowans may need to do a little homework before heading off with their watercraft. Ramps may be closed due to high water.

Memorial Day weekend is often the first time of the year on the water for many boaters, and Stocker suggests they take time to review Iowa’s boating laws and plan to have patience at the ramp and on the water.

She said to give both the boat and its trailer a close inspection before use.

IPR News

Waterloo VNA closing after 93 years

Posted May 24, 2024 at 11:53 AM CDT

The Waterloo Visiting Nurses Association will close its doors after almost a century of work in the area.

The chapter has provided much-needed health services to Black Hawk County and beyond through two world wars, the Spanish flu epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic.

That will end at the end of the month. Like many nonprofit health organizations, the Waterloo VNA has seen diminishing private donations and minimal Medicare reimbursement.

VNA Executive Director Annette Burke said that, in addition to a lack of staff, are both reasons their doors are shutting.

“It’s very difficult to get and retain nurses and nurse’s aides. They are the ones who are the meat of the industry.”

The VNA has provided health services ranging from nutrition classes to immunization clinics primarily to underserved communities.

IPR News

Half of Greenfield still without power

Posted May 23, 2024 at 3:18 PM CDT

Officials with the National Weather Service say the Greenfield tornado was one of three long-track tornadoes that hit the state Tuesday, traveling a combined 130 miles on the ground. Fifty percent of the community remains without power.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is asking FEMA to approve federal assistance for people now recovering from the storm. Her disaster request includes an estimated $11 million worth of damage. In all, it says 202 homes in four counties had major damage or were destroyed.

Reynolds toured Greenfield with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and says, considering the wreckage left behind by the tornado, the cleanup effort has been dramatic.

“I was on the ground yesterday and I can’t even tell you the amount of debris that was collected and hauled off. You couldn’t even see what was left of the homes in a lot of areas and especially the downtown area where a lot of the homes were impacted right next to the hospital.”

The hospital will remain closed indefinitely because of damage to the roof and windows, according to a county emergency official.

There is an ongoing curfew as part of security precautions in Greenfield. All volunteers coming into the town must check in to be credentialed. Emergency management coordinator Jeremy Cooper says that’s partially in response to reports of looting the first night after the storm.

IPR News

DOT employee killed on job honored

Posted May 23, 2024 at 9:56 AM CDT

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has ordered all flags in Iowa to be flown at half-staff on state buildings and grounds through sunset today to honor a DOT employee killed on the job.

Matthew Dickerson of Neola was struck in a work zone along Interstate 80 near Council Bluffs a week ago.

Reynolds urged all drivers to be alert when approaching any work area at any time and said workers deserve drivers’ full attention and respect.

The Iowa State Patrol says a UPS driver from Pennsylvania hit Dickerson while trying to pass a semi. His funeral is scheduled for Thursday morning in Council Bluffs. The 36-year-old leaves behind a wife and two daughters.

IPR News

Greenfield tornado kills 4, injures at least 35

Posted May 23, 2024 at 9:56 AM CDT
Destruction in Greenfield. Officials say they’re still not ready to give an exact number of people killed or injured in Tuesday’s tornado.
Grant Gerlock
/
IPR
Destruction in Greenfield. Officials say they’re still not ready to give an exact number of people killed or injured in Tuesday’s tornado.

Officials are now confirming a tornado that struck the southwest Iowa town of Greenfield killed four people and injured at least 35 others.

On Wednesday, residents continued cleaning up debris from dozens of homes that were leveled by the storm.

Electric crews worked on rebuilding power lines while workers in skid steers cleared debris so that people could see what was left behind.

After touring the damage, Gov. Kim Reynolds thanked weather forecasters for early warning on the timing of the storms.

“Based on the early, advanced notice that we were able to get, many of our schools got those kids out of school early. And it hit here at three, so that would have been the time that the kids would have been on the bus and heading home and it would have been devastating.”

Authorities say they are withholding the names of the four people killed while their families are notified.

Reynolds says the state is working with federal officials to speed up a presidential disaster declaration for Greenfield, which would free up support for local residents and businesses through FEMA.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Hy-Vee announces shuttle, free grocery and pharmacy delivery in wake of closures

Posted May 23, 2024 at 9:55 AM CDT

Local leaders have won some concessions from Hy-Vee as the grocery chain prepares to close three locations in Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Waterloo.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell says meetings with Hy-Vee were positive. The company was willing to work with the city as an important source of food leaves.

According to an email obtained by IPR News, Hy-Vee will shuttle people from these areas to other Hy-Vee locations. It will offer free grocery and pharmacy delivery to these areas and also increase its contributions to the local emergency food system.

The grocery chain has not said how long these will remain in effect.

Hy-Vee says the three locations did not meet financial expectations over the past years. All three are set to close in a month.

IPR News

13 Iowa City protesters file lawsuit against police for no-trespass order 

Posted May 22, 2024 at 4:21 PM CDT

Thirteen Iowa City protesters say the University of Iowa Police Department infringed on their civil rights by issuing no-trespass orders following a protest this month.

On May 6, protesters supporting Palestine built an outdoor encampment in a park on campus. The park is public and frequently used for protests. Less than an hour later, police ordered protesters to remove the tents. The lawsuit claims protesters complied and left the park.

That week, protesters were forbidden from being on University of Iowa property for six months or risk arrest. The no-trespass order prevents six protesters from attending their classes and three from working their jobs on campus. The lawsuit says this further chills their participation in First Amendment activity.

In addition to damages, plaintiffs are asking for a judge to declare what their rights were with respect to the protest.

The University of Iowa says its policy is to not comment on litigation.

IPR News

Iowa Environmental Protection Commission refers SW Iowa fertilizer spill to attorney general 

Posted May 22, 2024 at 4:18 PM CDT

The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission is referring a case involving a large fertilizer spill in southwest Iowa to the state Attorney General’s Office, which can enforce higher penalties.

Bradley Adams, an attorney with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says the discharge of urea ammonium nitrate at NEW Cooperative’s Red Oak facility in March caused significant harm to the East Nishnabotna River.

“A 265,000 gallon fertilizer discharge that results in the death of approximately 750,000 fish is an extreme outlier compared to other cases involving fertilizer discharges.”

Dan Dix, the general manager of NEW Cooperative, says the co-op has been taking action based on recommendations from the DNR and a third party, including excavating approximately two feet of affected soil along the creek bed.

“In southwest Iowa, we’ve had a lot of rain. And so, it’s a little of an evolving situation daily, but we continue to work through the process and overall, the remediation is substantially complete, we believe. And we hope it will be fully complete very, very soon.”

Dix says the co-op has cooperated with the DNR and will do so with the Iowa Attorney General's office going forward.

IPR News

Search-and-rescue efforts continue in Greenfield following tornado that killed multiple

Posted May 22, 2024 at 4:15 PM CDT
Gov. Kim Reynolds was in Greenfield to tour the destruction. She issued a disaster proclamation on Tuesday night, activating state resources for the storm cleanup, and is now working on a request for federal help.
Grant Gerlock
/
IPR News
Gov. Kim Reynolds was in Greenfield to tour the destruction. She issued a disaster proclamation on Tuesday night, activating state resources for the storm cleanup, and is now working on a request for federal help.

Officials in Greenfield say they’re still not ready to give an exact number of people killed or injured in Tuesday’s tornado.

Iowa State Patrol Sergeant Alex Dinkla told reporters Wednesday morning that they’re still conducting search-and-rescue work in town.

“We’re looking to make sure all residents are accounted for. When we have this many homes that have been destroyed and just fully demolished, we want to make sure every resident, every person, is accounted for.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds toured the community this morning and told reporters that several people were flown from Greenfield to hospitals as far away as Des Moines. She issued a disaster proclamation on Tuesday night, activating state resources for the storm cleanup, and is now working on a request for federal help.

“We’re hoping by no later than tomorrow, we’ll have those numbers in so that we can get them to the White House and get a presidential disaster declaration as quickly as possible.”

Rep. Ray Sorenson, R-Greenfield, praised Greenfield residents for reacting quickly to the storm. He says many used personal vehicles to move injured people to a place where they could get medical attention.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Waterloo receives $1 million EPA grant to address abandoned brownfield sites 

Posted May 22, 2024 at 4:14 PM CDT

Waterloo has received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address several former industrial sites throughout the city.

The grant will be used to identify and clean up soil contaminants on four so-called brownfield properties in the city.

The sites are mostly vacant or abandoned. The city already has initial plans to convert one building into senior housing.

Other sites will most likely be demolished, with new housing construction anticipated.

Waterloo city administrator Noel Anderson says the grant should spur downtown growth, as developers have been wary of industrial areas in the past.

“It's hard to get private developers to go in and invest on those types of sites when they could just go to a cornfield or greenfield and know nothing’s wrong.”

Evaluation of the sites is expected to begin in the spring. Part of the grant money will be used for community engagement as the properties are developed.

IPR News

National Weather Service surveying storm damage around the state

Posted May 22, 2024 at 4:13 PM CDT

Teams with the National Weather Service are out surveying storm damage around the state.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Allan Curtis says damage patterns will need to be assessed to determine the strength of any tornadoes that touched down on Tuesday.

Curtis says the good news is that NWS saw these conditions forming days in advance.

“All the ingredients were starting to line up: that cold front, the front coming through, wind speeds throughout the atmosphere. Kind of everything was, again, for better or worse, lining up for some potential high end weather and obviously that is what transpired.”

Curtis says the line of storms was moving between 50-60 miles per hour, which didn’t give people a lot of time between initial warnings and when tornadoes struck.

IPR News

MidAmerican Energy loses 6 wind turbines to tornado

Posted May 22, 2024 at 4:12 PM CDT

MidAmerican Energy says it lost a total of six wind turbines in Tuesday’s tornado in Adair County.

Company spokesperson Tina Hoffman says they were located at the Orient and Arbor Hills wind farms. She says several turbines measured wind speeds of more than 100 miles an hour before they lost contact with sensors and the structures were destroyed.

Hoffman says MidAmerican has operated wind turbines since 2004, and has only had one other instance of a collapse – also caused by a tornado. She says the company will inspect all of their wind facilities affected by the storm before resuming operations.

No MidAmerican staff were hurt during the tornado.

IPR News

Feenstra speaks on Farm Bill

Posted May 22, 2024 at 11:53 AM CDT

The U.S. Farm Bill has been introduced in the House. The previous Farm Bill from 2018 expired last fall and was extended through September. The new bill is nearly 1,000 pages and estimated to cost $1.5 trillion over ten years.

Iowa’s 4th District Rep. Randy Feenstra, who serves on the House Agricultural Committee, says the most important part of the plan protects farmers and producers through a safety net that includes crop insurance, in addition to improving exports and preventing animal illnesses.

“We're being devastated by the bird flu, and we surely don't ever want to see African swine fever come into our livestock, and that's the main goal that we're trying to achieve.”

Feenstra made his comments while on a campaign stop in Denison earlier this week. A news release issued Wednesday says Feenstra worked on a total of 25 bills contained in the Farm Bill.

The package of legislation also includes cuts to the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP and overturns California’s Proposition 12 mandates.

IPR News

Multiple killed, injured by Greenfield tornado

Posted May 22, 2024 at 9:33 AM CDT

Officials say several people were killed by a tornado that struck the city of Greenfield late Wednesday afternoon.

Iowa State Patrol Sergeant Alex Dinkla says police will release an exact number later Wednesday morning. Many people were also injured.

A 10 p.m. - to 7 a.m. curfew is in effect, and only Greenfield residents will be allowed into the city until further notice. Dinkla says people throughout the community have been helping each other.

“The Greenfield community has shown incredible unity during this challenging time, with neighbors and friends displaying remarkable compassion, empathy and support.”

Dinkla says more information will be released Wednesday on how people who want to help with cleanup and recovery can lend a hand. A food and water dropoff site has been set up at the Iowa Department of Transportation facility east of Greenfield on Highway 92.

Greenfield’s hospital was damaged, and officials set up a triage center at the high school for people who needed medical attention. Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster emergency proclamation to allow state resources to be used to respond to storm damage in 15 counties.

IPR News

16,000 homes, businesses without power following severe weather

Posted May 22, 2024 at 9:32 AM CDT

About 16,000 homes and businesses in Iowa are still without power Wednesday morning after Tuesday’s severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

MidAmerican Energy says multiple tree crews have been working to remove branches from power lines before service could be restored. It expects to have more customers back online by noon.

Some isolated customers in areas of heavy storm damage may be without electricity until Thursday.

Radio Iowa

Potential for dangerous storms Tuesday afternoon

Posted May 21, 2024 at 3:52 PM CDT

The National Weather Service is warning Tuesday’s “round two” of stormy weather will be more significant.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Brooke Hagenhof says a very large, low-pressure system is moving across the central plains into the Midwest.

“The reason why it’s so significant is that we’re getting caught up with the warm front and the cold front, which is why we had two rounds.”

The warm front entered Iowa overnight, causing storms and early morning flash flooding. Tuesday’s afternoon cold front could potentially bring large hail, damaging winds and tornado threats.

Radar data indicates some areas of Jasper and Marshall counties got up to seven inches of rain Tuesday morning. Volunteers have been sandbagging in Parkersburg to try to keep the city’s water treatment plant from flooding.

IPR News

Heavy rainfall threatens northeast Iowa corn planting

Posted May 21, 2024 at 3:51 PM CDT

Intense rainfall over the last 24 hours in northeast Iowa has tightened planting deadlines for farmers and threatened already-planted crops. 

Portions of the region have received over half a foot of rain since early Tuesday morning, which has flooded many cornfields and made planting impossible.

Corn planting is already behind the state’s five-year average, and the deadline is around the end of the month.

Iowa State Field Agronomist Terry Basol says if the rainfall continues, farmers may have to ask some tough questions.

We’re getting close to the end of May, and so the next question is: How late is too late to plant corn to make sure we can get it to the end of the season?”

More heavy rain is expected over the weekend. Monthly rainfall totals for the area have already exceeded ten inches.

IPR News

Des Moines police sexual harassment lawsuit settled for $2.4 million

Posted May 21, 2024 at 10:42 AM CDT

The Des Moines City Council has approved a settlement in a lawsuit involving four women who accused the police department of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Their complaint against the city filed in 2021 accused Des Moines Police Department leaders of ignoring decades of harassment against female employees, including groping, verbal abuse and preferential treatment of male officers.

The settlement approved by the city council awards the women a total of nearly $2.4 million.

The city does not admit liability, but is changing some procedures following the lawsuit.

Apart from the financial settlement, the city has agreed to involve the human resources department in harassment investigations and will require training for officers who respond to claims of harassment and discrimination.

IPR News

DVIP gears up to provide sexual assault services for eight SE Iowa counties

Posted May 21, 2024 at 10:41 AM CDT
Iowa City's Domestic Violence Intervention Program is building sexual assault services for the region. T
Zachary Oren Smith
/
IPR News
The University of Iowa has tasked an Iowa City domestic violence support service to take over sexual assault support services in southeastern Iowa.

Iowa City’s Domestic Violence Intervention Program hopes to fund sexual assault services for eight counties in southeastern Iowa with $400,000 from the Attorney General’s Crime Victim Assistance Division. The grantee is expected to be announced at the end of June.

By Sept. 30, DVIP must fill the service gap left by the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, which the University of Iowa closed in April.

DVIP’s Alta Medea says the organization is training staff for the transition while it waits for the grant.

“We’ve had folks reach out for help, and so we are in the process of cross-training our current staff to be able to support and refer to appropriate programs and advocates in the area to support them the best.”

Medea says an advisory council will convene this month to shape how the organization will work across the region, and this week it will start accepting applications for the director who will lead the new sexual violence support service department.

Read the full story.

Radio Iowa

Dry weather leads to record number of wild turkeys hunted in Iowa

Posted May 20, 2024 at 2:58 PM CDT

Iowa’s spring turkey hunting season wrapped up with a record harvest of 16,059 birds, topping the record of 14,843 set last season.

DNR Wildlife Research Biologist Jim Coffey says the records are one good thing to come from the dry weather.

“We’ve had three good years of back-to-back hatches, and then just some exceptional weather that just made for good turkey hunting conditions.”

The weather allowed more young turkeys to survive after hatching.

“Typically cold, wet weather is not good for ground nesting birds, so in drought conditions we tend to see a bump up in production. It can be too dry as you get farther west — that can have an impact — but we kind of hit the sweet spot the last few years.”

He says more hunters chased the elusive wild turkeys, which are more difficult to hunt given their good eyesight and hearing. The DNR saw an increase in license sales.

“We always usually see a little bit of an uptick in hunter numbers when we see an uptick in populations.”

Coffey says the turkey numbers could be strong again next season, depending on the weather. This season, hunters reported taking turkeys in all 99 counties — with a high of 649 birds bagged in Clayton County to a low of three in Osceola County.

IPR News

Storms likely Monday and Tuesday evening

Posted May 20, 2024 at 2:58 PM CDT

The National Weather Service is forecasting unsettled conditions in Iowa on Monday and Tuesday.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Andrew Ansorge says the first round of storms should develop Monday evening in the western and northern parts of the state, carrying possible high winds and hail.

Localized rainfall could lead to flash flooding in some areas.

Ansorge says more rounds of storms will move through Tuesday afternoon, first in eastern Iowa then later in western Iowa. The weather service says there is a possibility of tornadoes tomorrow, and Iowans should have a source of weather information available.

IPR News

Iowa among states awaiting ruling that could expand requirements for gun sale background checks

Posted May 20, 2024 at 10:52 AM CDT

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird is among attorneys general from 21 states awaiting a ruling from a district court judge in Arkansas that concerns a lawsuit challenging a new rule intended to close the so-called “gun show loophole.”

The rule is set to go into effect on Monday. It expands requirements for background checks during gun sales.

Richard Rogers, a board member and lobbyist for the Iowa Firearms Coalition, says the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is exploiting a small change under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

“They’re using that as a lever to try to vastly expand their authority over individuals who were never intended by Congress to be considered firearms dealers.”

There was a hearing in the case last week. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley has joined Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina to try to strike down the rule.

Harvest Public Media

A USDA statistics service canceled some of its agriculture reports. Now lawmakers are pushing for their return

Posted May 20, 2024 at 10:50 AM CDT

Farmers, ranchers and agriculture groups will no longer be able to get county estimates for crops and livestock from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The department’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is stopping those estimates this production year, along with the July Cattle Report and the Cotton Objective Yield Survey.

Troy Joshua, director of NASS' Statistics Division and executive director of USDA’s Agricultural Statistics Board, said the decision was not made lightly.

Joshua said NASS received the new budget six months into the fiscal year at a level 22% lower than what was requested. That amounted to an 11% cut, or roughly $23 million below last year’s budget.

Before canceling the reports, he said the department made internal adjustments, including cutting back on travel and stopping modernization projects. The county crop and livestock estimates cost about $7 million to run annually, while the cattle survey costs about $550,000.

A bipartisan group of more than 70 federal lawmakers expressed concern in a letter sent to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking him to reverse the decision. They stated that the reports offer transparency and market anticipation for the whole agricultural sector.

Legislators requested NASS officials work with Congress and stakeholders to find other cost cutting routes and continue publishing the surveys. In the letter to Vilsack, lawmakers pointed out the division made plans to stop the July Cattle Survey in 2016 but brought it back after facing opposition to the move.

Read the full story from Harvest Public Media.

IPR News

Nursing home minimum staffing requirement finalized 

Posted May 20, 2024 at 10:49 AM CDT

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have recently finalized minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes.

The new rule requires nursing homes to provide about three-and-a-half hours of nursing care per resident per day, and requires them to have a registered nurse on duty at all times.

The new requirements will be phased in over the next five years.

John Hale, a consultant and advocate for older Iowans based in Ankeny, applauds the new rule. He says the next step is to find ways to recruit more health care workers into nursing homes.

“I think that's a matter of working conditions, working flexibility. It's a matter of pay and benefits. So I think the solutions are there. They simply need to be worked on.”

The nursing home lobby has pushed back on the minimum staffing requirement. Brent Willett, president and CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association, which represents the majority of Iowa’s nursing homes, says many nursing homes can’t meet the requirement and that the federal government needs to allocate more resources to help address chronic staffing challenges.

“What we don't see in the rule today is funding or investment in the training, recruitment, training and education expansion for nursing and other direct care professions.”

IPR News

Iowa Environmental Council to petition EPA to protect Driftless waters

Posted May 20, 2024 at 10:49 AM CDT

The Iowa Environmental Council is petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to better protect drinking water in northeast Iowa’s Driftless Area.

The IEC and 12 other environmental groups are appealing to the EPA under the Safe Waters Act to better protect northeast Iowa waters from the waste produced by large commercial animal feeding operations.

The IEC had unsuccessfully petitioned for similar protections in 2022. Alicia Vasto, the council’s water program director, says because of animal waste, wells in the region are at a high risk for nitrate contamination compared to the rest of Iowa.

“The wells in the Driftless are more likely to have nitrate contamination than wells across the state, so that’s a major cause for concern in this area.”

She says the region needs special protection because its bedrock is porous, which means contamination moves fast.

“It’s a very vulnerable kind of landscape because it allows for this quick movement, and that means that pollution can move very quickly as well.”

Nitrate contamination has been linked to a variety of cancers and birth defects.

IPR News

Reynolds signs bill putting new regulations on hemp products

Posted May 17, 2024 at 4:02 PM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a bill barring the sale of hemp-infused “consumables” like gummies or drinks to anyone under the age of 21.

The new regulations on hemp products in the state also restrict the potency of some hemp products that contain the psychoactive substance THC to four milligrams of THC per serving, or 10 milligrams per container.

In a statement, Reynolds says she has concerns about the bill after hearing from people for and against it, but signed it to protect minors from dangerous and intoxicating products.

The law’s supporters have said it’s needed to make sure people don’t misuse hemp products as a substitute for the state’s medical cannabidiol program. Hemp producers say it will hurt a dwindling number of growers in Iowa.

The law takes effect July 1.

IPR News

Reynolds signs bill eliminating several human rights commissions

Posted May 17, 2024 at 4:02 PM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed into law her bill that eliminates or makes changes to more than 80 state boards and commissions — part of her effort to streamline state government.

Iowa-Nebraska NAACP President Betty Andrews opposed the bill because it gets rid of commissions for underrepresented groups and gives some of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s power to an agency director. She says it silences minority voices and neuters the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

“It sends a sad, unwelcoming message to communities of color, to people with disabilities and women, that civil rights and their interests are not a priority at the highest level of state government.”

Reynolds says the Iowa Civil Rights Commission is made up of part-time members, and a full-time director can better handle some of its duties.

Andrews made her comments Thursday on IPR’s River to River.

IPR News

Reynolds signs bill giving more money to charter schools

Posted May 17, 2024 at 2:27 PM CDT

Charter schools will receive a bit more money per student next year under a bill signedFriday by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Charters currently receive an amount equal to the state cost per pupil. Now they will also get more of the additional funding public schools receive for things like professional development.

It amounts to around $180 per student, depending on the district. The extra dollars will also follow students who change districts through open enrollment.

Reynolds says the money will encourage more groups to open charter schools in Iowa.

“We are getting a lot of interest. We had eight apply and eight approved. It went through the Department of Education. They have standards they have to meet.”

The new law also requires a public school putting property on the market to sell it to an educational institution, such as a charter or private school, if it is the highest bidder. Reynolds says two of the eight new charter schools approved this year by the Iowa State Board of Education plan to open their doors in August.

The governor also announced a $7 million grant program to help charter schools cover infrastructure costs. The program is paid for with pandemic relief funding.

Existing charters can qualify for up to $200,000. New charter schools can receive up to $500,000 to cover costs such as buying or renovating a building to use as a school.

IPR News

Iowa Senate majority leader diagnosed with brain tumor

Posted May 17, 2024 at 1:47 PM CDT
jack whitver
John Pemble
Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver's voter registration is being challenged.

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver says he’s been diagnosed with a brain tumor. He says he’ll continue to serve in his leadership role as he goes through treatment.

In a statement, Whitver said he was diagnosed with the tumor after the legislative session ended in April. Whitver says he’s begun radiation therapy and is responding well to the initial treatments.

“I appreciate the kind words and prayers my family and I have received. We ask for continued prayer and support as we continue this treatment.”

Whitver and his wife have three kids. The 43-year-old Republican from central Iowa is a lawyer and business owner who was first elected to the Iowa Senate in 2011. Whitver was elected to the Senate’s top leadership position in 2018. He was also a starting wide receiver on the Iowa State football team.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Hinson co-authors Maternal and Child Health Stillbirth Prevention Act on its way to Senate floor

Posted May 17, 2024 at 1:46 PM CDT

A bill aimed at preventing stillbirths passed the House this week. Iowa’s 2nd District Rep. Ashley Hinson is one of its authors.

The Maternal and Child Health Stillbirth Prevention Act will make its way to the Senate floor after a 408-3 vote in the House. The act would free up federal funds for research into causes for stillbirths and prevention programs.

Speaking at her weekly media call on Friday, Hinson said another facet of the bill would be addressing maternal care deserts in rural parts of Iowa.

“We’ve been making an effort to get more midwives certified so they can help provide some of that emergency care before they may have a chance to get to a hospital.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ranks Iowa last among all 50 states in access to an OB.

Tri States Public Radio

New Iowa law could close Lee County’s second courthouse after 176 years

Posted May 17, 2024 at 12:15 PM CDT

Lee County’s official county seat is Fort Madison, but a state law established in 1848 allowed the county to operate a second courthouse in Keokuk, when traveling was more difficult and time-consuming. It’s operated both for 176 years.

But now, Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a bill that would allow Lee County to consolidate its operations into one location.

Lee County Board of Supervisors Chair Garry Seyb believes taxpayers will benefit from the change.

“Right now, with Lee County looking at ways to be more efficient and to reduce our tax burden on our citizens, that's one way that I believe that we may be able to accomplish that.”

Seyb also says that determining where to locate the county courthouse could take years of meeting and reviewing requirements before the site is chosen.

Read the full story.

Harvest Public Media

How researchers are using satellite images from NASA to address big ag issues

Posted May 17, 2024 at 9:53 AM CDT

NASA Acres aims to address some of the most pressing problems facing food production — getting important data points from satellite images of Earth. But connecting those dots will take a lot of work.

“We want to hear what producers need,” said Tom Wagner, associate director of NASA Earth Action. “We want to build the tools to address their challenges.”

Wagner spoke at an event at the University of Illinois, marking NASA Acres' one-year anniversary. The university is one of ten involved in the consortium’s 14 research projects, which will convert the data NASA gathers into information that farmers can use.

Research projects are focusing on a range of agricultural issues, including forecasting crop yields; monitoring the impact of regenerative ag methods such as no-till and cover crops; and tracking nitrogen levels in crops due to fertilizer usage.

University of Illinois researchers, for instance, are combining NASA satellite data with ground sampling and hyperspectral imaging conducted from airplanes to determine whether crops are getting too much or too little nitrogen.

Read the full story from Harvest Public Media.

IPR News

A property tax increase to support conservation projects will be on Johnson County voters’ ballots this year

Posted May 17, 2024 at 9:36 AM CDT

Johnson County voters will be asked this November to support a property tax increase to fund conservation projects. The $30 million bond would allow a county board to acquire and develop lands with public access in order to protect water quality, maintain natural habitat and develop trail and park projects.

Nick Pfieffer, a board member of the Our Land Our Water Our Future campaign, says conservation projects are key to attracting new residents and visitors.

“Having these amenities — having access to great trails and great water trails and parks and recreation services — make this a great place to live, and therefore, make it a great place for people who want to come visit for a weekend.”

Campaign chair Josh Schamberger said projects will continue to clean up water and mitigation for flood efforts through wetland areas.

Johnson County voters said yes to a $20 million conservation bond in 2008, which helped acquire over 1,000 acres of non-farmable land for public use and funded 9.2 million miles of trails.

IPR News

Reynolds to use COVID relief funds to pay for opioid addiction prevention, treatment programs

Posted May 17, 2024 at 9:14 AM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds says she’ll use federal COVID relief money to pay for opioid addiction prevention and treatment programs after the Legislature failed to allocate opioid settlement funds.

She said she’s disappointed that the Legislature didn’t send a bill to her desk that would have distributed $12.5 million from national lawsuits against prescription opioid sellers.

Reynolds says she’ll put $17.5 million into prevention and recovery programs, including funding for an opioid use prevention public health campaign and a residential addiction treatment center for youth and young adults.

The biggest amount — $10 million — is for a state grant program to help pay for physical infrastructure for treatment and recovery providers.

Radio Iowa

Orange City Tulip Festival features new flower for first time in U.S.

Posted May 16, 2024 at 1:38 PM CDT

The 83rd annual Orange City Tulip Festival began Thursday. A brand-new tulip has been developed, and although it is not in bloom, the bulbs are available for sale.

Tulip Town Bulb Company owner Keri Drescher says the Dutch Heritage Boosters asked if they could partner with her for the new tulip.

“I didn’t know a lot about it, but basically it’s new to the U.S., and it’s exclusive to Orange City.”

Heritage booster member Jodi Vander Zwaag said they got the idea when the Consulate General from the Netherlands visited Orange City last year and told them something surprising.

“When we were in the park, he mentioned that we should baptize a tulip and we’re like, ‘Oh.’”

After figuring out what this meant, they got in contact with a bulb company in the Netherlands that develops exclusive bulbs. They found out the process takes between seven to ten years, but there was a bulb available with orange in it if they wanted it. They named it the Oranjestad DHB, which means Orange City Dutch Heritage Boosters.

Vander Zwaag says that the final act is to baptize the tulip. She learned one was just baptized this spring in Chicago, and involved the consulate pouring champagne on the tulips.

The Oranjestad DHB tulip is bright yellow, with orange to apricot tips, and can be purchased at the festival, which runs through May 18.

IPR News

Participants in central Iowa guaranteed income program say the money helped them find safer homes, better jobs

Posted May 16, 2024 at 9:26 AM CDT
Tanya from Windsor Heights speaks to an audience gathered to hear a panel of women talk about how they used monthly basic income payments from UpLift.
Grant Gerlock
/
IPR News
Tanya from Windsor Heights said receiving $500 per month from UpLift gave her the freedom to quit a "dead-end job."

Some of the people receiving $500 monthly payments through a central Iowa guaranteed income program say the money has been life-changing.

There are 110 people in low-income households participating in the UpLift program in Polk, Dallas and Warren counties.

At an event in Windsor Heights Wednesday night, five women who used only their first names spoke about how they’ve used the money.

Nicole from Des Moines is using the money to start a nonprofit working with the elderly.

“It may seem like something small, but it’s something big because it’s not just for our household. It just goes out into the community. It goes out to our children. Then it’s that generational wealth that is just going to keep on going.”

Skye from Altoona, a single mother of two, says UpLift helped pay for the car that got her to a class that landed her a new job at a hospital.

“I got to experience my first graduation ever by getting this certificate. My kids got to see it. My kids got to be there and see Mom graduate.”

Early data shows the largest share of money, 42%, is spent on food.

There may not be another program like UpLift anytime soon. Statehouse Republicans passed a law this year that prohibits cities and counties from enacting guaranteed income programs.

UpLift organizers say the program will finish out payments as scheduled through next spring thanks to support from private donors.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Reynolds calls Trump’s hush money trial a ‘travesty’

Posted May 16, 2024 at 9:25 AM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds is calling former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial a “travesty” and a “sham,” the same words Attorney General Brenna Bird used when she was at the trial in New York this week.

Reynolds says she hasn’t talked to Bird about her trip to New York, but says she supports Trump and that the criminal charges against him are eroding people’s confidence in the judicial system.

Asked if she would go to the trial in New York to show support for Trump, Reynolds said she’s focused on signing remaining bills into law to close out legislative work. She says she doesn’t need to go to New York because she can speak out against the trial from Iowa.

“It is a sham. It’s an egregious act that’s taking place, and however you feel comfortable in helping relay that to the American people or to your constituents, that’s an individual decision. But I think I’ve been pretty clear on where I stand with it.”

The Republican Attorneys General Association paid for Bird’s trip to New York. Reynolds says the Republican Governors Association hasn’t offered to send governors to Trump’s trial.

IPR News

Reynolds signs bill creating new label requirements for meat, egg alternatives

Posted May 16, 2024 at 9:25 AM CDT
governor kim reynolds signs a bill into law surrounded by people at a farm
Katarina Sostaric
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Wednesday that requires meat and egg alternatives to be clearly labeled.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law at a farm in Ladora Wednesday that creates new labeling requirements for meat and egg alternatives.

Starting July 1, lab-grown and plant-based meat and egg alternatives sold in Iowa stores will have to be labeled with words like “fake,” “imitation,” “meatless” or “vegan.”

Reynolds says it’s about transparency and making sure consumers know what they’re getting.

“It’s about the common sense idea that a product that’s labeled chicken, beef, pork and so on should maybe actually come from — get this — an animal. Right? That’s what we’re kind of up against sometimes, right?”

The law also prohibits school districts, community colleges and public universities in Iowa from purchasing lab-grown meat and any foods misbranded as a meat or egg product. And it requires the state to request a federal waiver to ban the use of federal food assistance to buy imitation egg products.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Waterloo launches emerging farmer program

Posted May 16, 2024 at 9:24 AM CDT

After enormous interest in urban garden spaces among immigrant communities last growing season, Waterloo is helping those farmers sell their produce through its Emerging Farmer Program.

The program is partnering with area co-ops and farmers markets to bring immigrant farmers’ crops to larger markets.

Bethany Fratzke, the Community Health Program Manager for Black Hawk County, says the benefits of the program could have a positive impact beyond the growers.

“The interest is not only going to be impacting the farmers and their immediate families. The impact that this is going to be able to have on the whole community and increasing health outcomes.”

Of last year’s 48 community garden plots, 34 were farmed by immigrants. Many of those farmers grew crops important to their cultures, such as callaloo.

IPR News

Three Iowa towns brace for Hy-Vee closure

Posted May 16, 2024 at 9:23 AM CDT

Cedar Rapids has five weeks until a neighborhood grocery store closes, limiting residents’ options for food and an accessible pharmacy.

Hy-Vee announced the closures of three of its stores in Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Waterloo, saying they didn’t meet financial expectations over the past several years.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell says this will put a bind on residents as they search for necessities.

“We have a triage mentality. What do we need to do in the next month to identify that critical need, and then work with our local nonprofit partners as well as city staff, county and state officials to find out how we can make this transition easier?”

The city is looking at easing the transition by possibly maintaining Hy-Vee’s current lease and equipment to help set up a new grocery in the location. O’Donnell says the city is actively searching for a new store to partner with the city to prevent a food desert.

Rep. Sami Scheetz, D-Cedar Rapids, says he and other leaders are also looking for short and long term solutions.

“This is not just an urban problem in Davenport, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids with this closing. This is an acute problem in rural Iowa as well.”

To meet immediate needs, Scheetz says city leaders are looking at whether emergency funds could cover a temporary expansion of summer grocery-buying benefits for impacted residents. But longer term, he says residents need a new grocery store.

Scheetz pointed to a bill that would have created a grocer reinvestment fund to help stores pay for things like equipment. He says such a fund could give low-margin grocery stores the support they need to stay open. The bill did not advance this legislative session.

IPR News

Feeding America report finds 1 in 9 Iowans are food insecure

Posted May 15, 2024 at 2:29 PM CDT

A new report has found about one in nine Iowans are food insecure — the highest number since 2017.

Nearly 11% of all Iowans and more than 15% of Iowa children are considered food insecure, according to a new report by the nonprofit Feeding America, which used the most recent data available from 2022.

Michelle Book, president of the Food Bank of Iowa, says food insecurity continues to be a growing problem because wages aren’t keeping up with cost of living.

“For the most part, the jobs that are open are jobs that pay part-time wages. They don't offer benefits. They don't offer consistency or stability.”

Book says the report shows food insecurity rates are highest in Iowa’s southern rural counties that have higher poverty levels and less access to charitable services.

IPR News

Iowa Workforce Development to host job fair in Perry

Posted May 15, 2024 at 2:24 PM CDT

Iowa Workforce Development will host a job fair in Perry on Thursday. Joe Noble of Iowa Works says the event is one of several designed to assist workers at the Tyson plant in Perry, which is scheduled to close at the end of June.

Noble said when the event was announced, Iowa Works was contacted by around 190 companies looking for workers. He said Iowa Works narrowed the field to avoid forcing people to move for new jobs.

“Our team has done a great job with really trying to select some employers that are really best applicable for the individuals who are being impacted, both in proximity to Perry, the pay and benefits being offered and the training opportunities, company culture and capacity to support non-English speaking individuals.”

The Tyson plant is Perry’s largest employer, with around 1,200 employees. The job fair is Thursday from noon to 5 p.m. at the National Guard armory on Willis Avenue.

IPR News

Reynolds signs bill to reorganize Iowa’s mental health service regions

Posted May 15, 2024 at 11:42 AM CDT

Iowans seeking treatment for mental health and substance use disorders will now seek that care through one of seven unified districts.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill in Cedar Rapids Wednesday that reorganizes the state’s 13 mental health and disability service regions and 19 integrated provider networks that oversee substance use disorder.

Reynolds said navigating services has been too difficult for patients and providers for too long.

“This is another significant step forward to continue advancing the cause of good behavioral health for every single Iowan today and for generations to come.”

Emily Blomme, the CEO of Foundations 2 Crisis Services, says the bill is a step in the right direction.

“We appreciate the state’s efforts to not only provide critical services in times of a behavioral health crisis but long term coordinated support to help individuals achieve stability and remain mentally well."

Current funding for all of the services would be merged into one behavioral health fund controlled by the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services.

The new law also pulls disability services out of the mental health regional system and puts it under DHHS’ Aging and Disability Services division.

IPR News

Iowa joins lawsuits to block replacing diesel trucks with EV

Posted May 15, 2024 at 11:41 AM CDT

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird says Iowa has joined lawsuits against the Biden administration and California to block their mandates that would replace many diesel trucks with electric trucks.

The regulations require an increasing share of new delivery and semi trucks to be electric over the next few years to help combat climate change. Bird says California doesn’t have the right to tell Iowa truckers what to drive.

Dale Decker, the CEO of a trucking company based in Fort Dodge, says it would take more than $1 trillion to upgrade the country’s electric grid to support all electric trucks.

We’d like to have electric stuff. We’re looking at electric yard trucks ourselves. But it just does not seem like a practical application to mandate across the board electric trucks nationwide.”

Bird joined the lawsuits with several other Republican attorneys general. According to a Des Moines Register count, she’s joined lawsuits against the Biden administration at least a dozen times since taking office in 2023.

Radio Iowa

Republican Attorneys General Association arranges Bird’s trip to Trump’s trial

Posted May 15, 2024 at 11:39 AM CDT

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird attended former President Donald Trump’s trial in New York on Monday at the invitation of the Republican Attorneys General Association.

She briefly answered a question about the trip during a news conference in Ankeny.

“I went to New York to show my support for President Trump and to witness what was going on there in that courtroom in Manhattan.”

Bird told Iowa reporters “no taxpayer funds” were used for the trip. A spokesperson for her campaign later identified RAGA as the group that paid for it.

Bird spoke with New York reporters Monday and said Trump’s trial was “a travesty” and the charges against the former president were “a scam.”

IPR News

Iowa attorney general declines to disclose what funding was used to pay for her to attend Trump’s hush money trial

Posted May 15, 2024 at 9:33 AM CDT

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird declined to say at a Tuesday news conference who paid for her Monday trip to New York to attend former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial.

There, she called the criminal charges against Trump a “scam.”

Bird’s office previously said no taxpayer dollars were used for her travel.

At an unrelated news conference on Tuesday, Bird was asked who paid for the trip, and if she was invited by Trump.

“No taxpayer funds were used, and I went to New York to show my support for President Trump and to witness what was going on there in that courtroom in Manhattan.”

When reporters repeated the questions, Bird walked away without answering.

IPR News

Federal Disaster Declaration issued for eight Iowa counties

Posted May 14, 2024 at 2:21 PM CDT

Eight Iowa counties have received a Federal Disaster Declaration after damaging storms on April 26.

Gov. Kim Reynolds made the announcement Tuesday. Now, FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration will help people and businesses impacted by the weather.

The counties included in the declaration are Polk, Clarke, Harrison, Mills, Ringgold, Shelby, Union and Pottawattamie, where a tornado severely damaged the small town of Minden.

The governor’s office says the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant program is no longer available where FEMA is helping out.

IPR News

Drake University receives $28 million gift for new student center

Posted May 14, 2024 at 2:21 PM CDT

Drake University in Des Moines says a $28 million donation will cover the remaining cost of building a new student center on campus.

The largest single-donor gift in the school’s history comes from Greg Johansen, who graduated from Drake in 1973 and went on to found GRX Holdings, a company that operates nearly two dozen pharmacies in central Iowa.

Johansen says the center will give student organizations a new home on campus.

“It’s been sort of catch-as-catch-can for their meeting spaces and documents and the things that each organization needs to function. This is going to give that space and so hopefully that will help the organizations flourish.”

The student center is under construction in a former residence hall. University President Marty Martin says the donation will allow Drake to complete the project debt-free, so it won’t affect the general budget.

Martin says the project includes space for student groups and an intercultural center.

“It invigorates the life of our students, creates that central location that we’ve never really had where they can gather and do the things that really make a valuable contribution to their formation as Drake alumni.”

Among other projects, Johansen’s gift to Drake will support the women’s basketball program and the installation of solar panels on a university building.

IPR News

63 Iowans sign letter calling for investigation of Red Oak fertilizer spill

Posted May 14, 2024 at 2:20 PM CDT

A group of Iowans is asking the state to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation of the March 11 fertilizer spill in Red Oak that killed wildlife along a 60-mile stretch of the East Nishnabotna River.

Professor Neil Hamilton, director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University, drafted a letter signed by 62 other people and addressed to the Department of Natural Resources and top state officials. It asks the DNR to hold any responsible parties to account and, should circumstances warrant, refer the matter to the Iowa Attorney General’s office.

“But we ask them to also look at the adequacy of the storage rules for handling agricultural chemicals like the fertilizer involved here. My gosh, you would think a system would have something in place that would warn it when a 500,000 gallon tank was half emptying itself over the course of a weekend.”

The DNR’s Environmental Protection Commission will consider referring the case to the Attorney General at their meeting on May 22. Hamilton says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could also get involved, as the damage occurred in Iowa and Missouri.

IPR News

Officials issue arrest warrant for Pieper Lewis following probation violation

Posted May 14, 2024 at 2:19 PM CDT

The Iowa Department of Corrections has issued an arrest warrant for a Des Moines teenager convicted of fatally stabbing her abuser when she was 15. Pieper Lewis, now 19, has been missing for more than a month.

According to an arrest warrant obtained by The Associated Press, the department alleges Lewis did not attend meetings with probation officials and allowed her ankle monitor battery to die.

Lewispleaded guilty in 2022 to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury and was sentenced to five years of supervised probation, even though prosecutors recognized she was a victim of human trafficking.

Since last November, she has attended a residential program in Atlanta for victims of sexual exploitation. She was kicked out of the facility in March for breaking program rules.

Lewis previously tried to escape a Des Moines women’s center.

IPR News

Community asks for transparency from Western Iowa Tech amid human trafficking lawsuit

Posted May 14, 2024 at 2:18 PM CDT

Community members say Western Iowa Tech Community College needs to be more transparent about lawsuits filed by international students who accused the school of human trafficking.

They took their concerns to the college’s board on Monday.

The school recently reached a $3 million settlement with 13 Chilean students who said they were forced into manual labor jobs to pay off tuition. Three others haven’t settled yet.

Rosanne Plante, a former instructor and Sioux City lawyer, told the board the issue has tarnished the school’s reputation.

“You don't reach a settlement of $3 million without spending a significant amount of money on lawyers and without determining that it's far better to settle than it is to have your dirty laundry aired.”

A lawsuit is still pending against Sioux City area companies and individuals involved with the former program. Meanwhile, a separate case involving students from Brazil is ongoing and scheduled to go to trial next May.

Radio Iowa

Special Olympics Summer Games begin Thursday in Ames

Posted May 14, 2024 at 9:18 AM CDT

The Iowa Special Olympics Summer Games will get underway in Ames this week.

Special Olympics spokesperson Megan Filipi says the state summer games is the organization’s largest state competition of the year.

The games will be held May 16 - 18, with 2,500 athletes competing on the Iowa State University campus.

IPR News

Grassley visits ethanol plant on 99-county tour

Posted May 14, 2024 at 9:17 AM CDT

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley was in Iowa Monday for part of his tour of the state’s 99 counties.

One stop was the Verbio ethanol plant in Nevada, where Grassley got a first-hand look at its ethanol and sustainable natural gas production. Grassley has thrown his support behind an effort to get U.S. corn ethanol certified as a sustainable aviation fuel under a climate model that mandates lower carbon emissions in the production cycle.

He says currently, one of the only U.S. facilities producing sustainable aviation fuel has to look elsewhere.

“They are importing their ethanol from sugar made in Brazil, because it’s got a lesser carbon footprint. So we’re going to start relying on foreign imports to have this when it can be done here?”

Grassley is critical of production rules farmers must follow to qualify for tax credits under the Federal Infrastructure Law, saying they don’t take different growing conditions into account.

After the tour, Grassley took questions, including one about the prospects for a divided Congress passing a new Farm Bill this session.

“I think there are people making good-faith efforts, but just so dug in. And this being an election year, particularly presidential election year, even makes it more difficult, not only for a Farm Bill, but for a lot of major pieces of legislation.”

Grassley says in his 44 years in the Senate, he’s never seen a Farm Bill pass without bipartisan effort. The latest extension of the 2018 Farm Bill expires at the end of September.

IPR News

Iowa ACLU, Public Justice sue Black Hawk county sheriff for excessive jail fees

Posted May 14, 2024 at 9:15 AM CDT

The ACLU of Iowa and the nonprofit Public Justice are taking the Black Hawk County Sheriff to court over what they say are excessive fees charged to people as they leave jail.

Counties have the option to assess jail fees under state law. Most of the money must be used to cover costs for things like room and board and medical care.

The lawsuit is aimed at stopping Black Hawk County from requiring people to sign confessions of judgment before they are released, agreeing to pay $70 per day for their jail time.

The complaint was filed on behalf of single mother of three Leticia Roberts of Waterloo, who, after serving two sentences for OWIs, was charged $730.

“It makes me upset, because a sheriff’s office is supposed to uphold the law and not bend it. As a mom, it makes me upset because that’s money that could be going to feed my children.”

ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen says many people sign the order before it is reviewed by a judge because they believe they have no choice.

“In those circumstances, they have no bargaining power, no attorney, zero meaningful understanding of what they’re doing and what they’re giving up.”

In a statement, Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson claims signing the agreements on release is optional, not required. He says the amount is appropriate to help cover costs for room and board.

According to the complaint, Black Hawk County is collecting around $300,000 per year in jail fees, which is much more than similar-sized counties.

IPR News

Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder announces retirement

Posted May 14, 2024 at 9:02 AM CDT

The Iowa Hawkeyes women’s basketball head coach Lisa Bluder announced her retirement Monday afternoon.

University of Iowa Athletics says Bluder is retiring after 40 seasons coaching women’s college basketball, including the last 24 at Iowa.

“It has been the honor of my career to be a part of the Iowa Hawkeye family. There is no denying that this past season was incredible for so many reasons.”

Longtime assistant coach Jan Jensen has been named head coach and will enter her 25th year of coaching at UI for the 2024-2025 season.

IPR News

Veteran Health Care testing AI tech for diagnosis

Posted May 14, 2024 at 8:59 AM CDT

Artificial intelligence, or AI, could factor more into the care for Iowa’s 182,000 military veterans.

Mahsaw Mansoor, a resident physician at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said through her work in the veteran health care system, AI technology is being tested to recognize eye degeneration in people with diabetes, all without a physician being present.

“If we can deconstruct that work — especially in a state like Iowa, where the majority are coming from rural areas, small towns — I think it’s hard to imagine a reality where we are not going to be improving the status quo.”
 
She also said the VA is testing out using AI to flag veterans who might be at higher risk of suicidal ideation.

She made her comments at a hearing Monday in Iowa City called by Iowa’s 1st Congressional District Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who chairs a House subcommittee that looks at veterans’ health care.

Miller-Meeks was an ophthalmologist before going to Congress. Pointing to Iowa’s health care worker shortage, she said she supports tools that can open Iowans to the care they need.

“You want to have access to health care even if you live in a rural area, so how do you do that? And one of the ways to do that is through AI.”

IPR News

Iowa attorney general attends Trump hush money trial

Posted May 13, 2024 at 2:58 PM CDT

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird accompanied former President Donald Trump to his hush money trial in New York on Monday.

Her office says no taxpayer dollars were used for her travel, but didn’t say how the trip was paid for.

“I am glad to stand with President Trump in New York today in opposition to the lawfare being waged against him,” Bird said in an emailed statement.

She says the criminal prosecution amounts to election interference. Bird supported Trump during the Iowa caucuses, and he predicted on caucus night that Bird will one day be Iowa’s governor.

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart said Iowans “deserve an attorney general that’s focused on serving her constituents — not her political ambitions.”

IPR News

Lawsuit over Reynolds’ decision to terminate enhanced unemployment benefits early is dismissed

Posted May 13, 2024 at 2:22 PM CDT

A federal judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit against Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds that argued her decision to terminate enhanced pandemic-related unemployment benefits early was unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs claimed they were wrongly denied federal unemployment money when Reynolds ended the extra payments in June 2021 instead of waiting for the September expiration date.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose wrote in her order filed last week that the federal CARES Act allowed states to end the benefits with 30 days’ notice. And she wrote there’s nothing to support the plaintiffs’ claim that ending the benefits was an illegal taking of their property.

Reynolds says in a statement that the federal government tried to pay able-bodied people to stay home during the pandemic. She says Republican governors were “getting people back to work when it was desperately needed.”

Side Effects Public Media

What to know about bird flu, your food and risk to humans

Posted May 13, 2024 at 10:51 AM CDT

The H5N1 bird flu has been common across wild bird populations for the last few years, leading to the culling of millions of chickens in the United States.

Now the virus has been found in dairy cows for the first time this March. There’s also been one documented case of bird flu in humans.

Lizzy McGrevy, Side Effects Public Media’s community engagement specialist, spoke with health reporter Ben Thorp to discuss the bird flu’s transmission, risks and impact on food.

Read the full story from Side Effects Public Media.

IPR News

Caitlin Clark set to make WNBA season debut 

Posted May 13, 2024 at 10:01 AM CDT

A little more than a month after she ended her decorated college career in the NCAA championship game, Caitlin Clark is set to make her regular season debut in the WNBA. The former Hawkeye star is learning on the fly how to translate her game to the professional ranks.

Clark was picked first in the WNBA draft after going back-to-back as the National Player of the Year in women’s college basketball.

A few weeks later, she’s adjusting to a new league and a new team: the Indiana Fever.

Following Indiana’s final preseason game, Clark said one of the biggest changes she’s noticed from college to the WNBA is the physical defense.

“I don't think it's something that you don't see in college, I just don't think you can get away with that in college… I think it reminds me of international basketball a lot. People are physical and it doesn't always get called.”

Clark scored 21 points and 12 points in two preseason games with the Fever. The team opens the season on the road against the Connecticut Sun.

IPR News

Plans to move forward after RVAP closure remain unclear

Posted May 13, 2024 at 9:59 AM CDT
Amy Smith works with a number of minors who are victims of sexual assault. In her Keokuk office, she keeps a number books for the children she works with.
Zachary Oren Smith
/
IPR News
Amy Smith works with a number of minors who are victims of sexual assault. In her Keokuk office, she keeps a number books for the children she works with.

The Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP) has provided support for survivors of sexual assault for more than 50 years.
RVAP, which serves survivors in eight Iowa counties, will close, leaving questions about those services and their future.

The university called the closure of RVAP a “transition,” saying services will continue through the Iowa City-based Domestic Violence Intervention Program.

An IPR News investigation found RVAP’s interim director recommended to a university administrator in February that the school stop housing sexual assault services. Shortly after, university officials began meeting with the leaders of the two programs about the closure.

The April announcement about the transition included limited information on layoffs and available funding. The university also did not alert many long-term partners, particularly in rural counties, about the closure.

The announcement strained relationships with clients, advocates and partners, including law enforcement agencies. It is against this backdrop that DVIP has been tasked with building a sexual violence support service from the ground up. And it has to do so before the university closes RVAP on Sept. 30.

Read the full story.

Side Effects Public Media

CDC tool determines how zip code, medications factor into to heat risk

Posted May 13, 2024 at 9:58 AM CDT

Roughly 2,300 people in the U.S. died due to extreme heat in 2023. That risk is likely not going away soon, as scientists say climate change is causing more intense and frequent heat waves.

To address that, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released new tools to help people plan for higher temperatures across the country.

The tools include heat risk forecasts, links outlining medications that could make you vulnerable during a heat wave, and a list of actions individuals can take to stay cool.

The goal is to help people stay safe and address a rising number of heat-related emergency room visits and deaths in recent years.

In the Midwest, 70 people died from exposure to excessive heat in 2018, which increased by around 70% in 2022, reaching 120 deaths, according to the CDC.

While southern states had the largest volume of ER visits for heat-related illnesses between 2008 to 2020, the Midwest has seen the largest average annual increase in visits during the same period.

Read the full story from Side Effects Public Media.

Harvest Public Media

Midwestern downpours have gotten even heavier

Posted May 13, 2024 at 9:57 AM CDT

The heaviest downpours that hit the Midwest and Great Plains each year have gotten even heavier over the decades.

Climate Central — a nonprofit group that compiles weather data — says global warming is “supercharging” heavy precipitation days. In the Midwest, the wettest days each year now bring 45% more precipitation than in the 1950s.

The Great Plains has seen a 20% increase.

Getting a lot of rain in a short amount of time can cause problems for farmers, and for infrastructure and habitat, such as street flooding and erosion.

Harvest Public Media

Drought lingers in parts of the Midwest and Great Plains

Posted May 13, 2024 at 9:56 AM CDT

Planting is well underway across the Midwest and Great Plains, and farmers in several regions are having to make adjustments as much of the Corn Belt enters a third year of drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows significant areas of Kansas and Iowa are still in severe drought, just a step below extreme drought, which Iowa escaped for the first time in two years after an extended period of rain. Portions of Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin are also affected.

Dennis Todey, director of the USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub, said the area has been parched for a historically long time.

“We would probably have to go back to some period in the 1950s or even some in the 1930s to compare with what we’ve seen in the way of longevity and precipitation deficit we’re dealing with.”

The dry conditions have extended from Todey’s home base in Ames to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to as far south as the Ozarks, with a few wet pockets further east in Illinois and Indiana.

Todey says with less precipitation over the past few years, groundwater for corn could be a problem this season, as well.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Iowa attorney general announces antisemitism task force

Posted May 10, 2024 at 3:53 PM CDT

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird announced Friday that she’s starting an antisemitism task force.

She condemned the spike in antisemitism that’s been reported across the country since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. Bird says the task force will work on training prosecutors and law enforcement to handle hate crimes, and on training universities to root out anti-Semitic speech.

She says hate and antisemitism have no place in Iowa.

“We’re going to do everything that we can to stand strong and make sure that Iowa is a beacon of light for the rest of the country to follow when it comes to getting rid of this anti-Jewish hate, the antisemitism that we are seeing creeping into our society.”

Bird says she’s not planning a task force to address the spike in anti-Muslim incidents. She says she hasn’t heard those reports, and that people “must, at this important time in our history, focus on antisemitism.”

IPR News

DMACC to open job resource center in Perry

Posted May 10, 2024 at 2:42 PM CDT

DMACC plans to open a resource center at their Van Kirk Academy in Perry to help workers at the Tyson plant find new job opportunities.

Tyson, the largest employer in the city, announced this spring that the plant will close June 28.

Academy site director Eddie Diaz said the academy hosted a job fair in April, where they gathered input on what careers people are seeking.

“A lot of these folks were interested in training in manufacturing, so we’re going to offer welding. A lot of these folks were also interested in CDL, so we’re going to offer what we call a ‘Jumpstart CDL’ that focuses on helping English language learners to get ready for CDL courses.”

Diaz says there are several information sessions scheduled, and DMACC will also take walk-in clients at Van Kirk Academy on 2nd Street in Perry. He says DMACC has been working with Iowa Workforce Development, the City of Perry and several organizations to aid workers at the Tyson plant.

IPR News

Hy-Vee to close 3 stores 

Posted May 10, 2024 at 2:08 PM CDT

Hy-Vee announced this week that three grocery stores in Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Davenport will close in June.

Emmaly Renshaw of Feed Iowa First said the Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids is one of the few grocery stores in one of the most underserved neighborhoods in town. The closure will mean longer travel for access to food and pharmacy.

With the closure, when we look at the availability of food to those neighborhoods to families and households who lack transportation, there’s a big concern there.”

Hy-Vee wrote in a statement that the three locations did not meet financial expectations over the past several years. It says employees will be offered positions at other stores at the same pay and benefits.

A Hy-Vee spokesperson said no other closures are anticipated, and residents impacted by these closures will have access to free pharmacy delivery. Hy-Vee also offers grocery delivery.

IPR News

Youth mental health care clinic closes

Posted May 10, 2024 at 2:02 PM CDT

A northeast Iowa residential health care program for young women will be transitioning away from those services in the coming weeks.

The residential program at Bremwood in Waverly, which has been operating for over 150 years, was taken over by Lutheran Services of Iowa about two decades ago and has since become a haven for girls and young women experiencing mental health crises.

That will all change May 15 when the program shifts its focus from residential care. Lutheran Services of Iowa CEO Renee Hardman says one of the big reasons programs like hers are shuttering is due to outdated care models.

“Residential care, the way it has traditionally been provided, is a bit outdated given the needs and demands of what these young women need.”

About 15 patients and 50 staff have been affected.

Radio Iowa

Iowa Peace Officer Memorial Ceremony honors Algona, DMPD officers

Posted May 10, 2024 at 1:04 PM CDT

The names of two Iowa policemen have been added to the Iowa Peace Officer Memorial on the state capitol grounds. Iowa Public Safety commissioner Stephen Bayens hosted a ceremony at the site this morning.

“This observance serves as a stark reminder of the sacrifice made by those who are called to wear the badge.”

The families of Algona police officer Kevin Cram and Des Moines police officer Phoukham Tran were seated near the granite markers that now bear the names of their loved ones. Cram was shot to death last September as he was serving an arrest warrant on a suspect who’s been charged with Cram’s murder.

Tran, the Des Moines policeman, died in November after a long struggle to recover from being struck by a drunk driver as he directed traffic outside the Iowa State Fair. Bayens said Tran’s critical head and internal injuries forever changed his life.

Gov. Kim Reynolds noted that Tran arrived in Iowa in the 1980s as a refugee from Southeast Asia before he was recruited into the Des Moines police cadet program.

Thursday’s Peace Officer Memorial ceremony included a 21-gun salute, taps and a rendition of “Amazing Grace” by a group of bagpipers and drummers.

Radio Iowa

Rains wash away Iowa extreme drought for first time in 2 years

Posted May 10, 2024 at 8:09 AM CDT

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map of Iowa shows no red areas indicating extreme drought.

DNR hydrologist Tim Hall says the state has been seeing red for a long time.

It’s a big turnaround, but not all the color has washed out of the drought map. Hall says half the state is still impacted by drought conditions, but that area will continue to shrink if Iowa gets more rain.

Hall says Iowa needs weekly rains every month to turn things around.

He says the depth of the drought is evident in the lack of any major flood issues.

“Go back to this winter when we had all that snow in January that melted very quickly and we had no flooding. And we’ve now had a couple of above-normal precipitation months, and yes, we got some flooding, but nothing even approaching widespread or catastrophic flooding.”

Half of the state’s annual rainfall usually comes in May through August, and Hall says if Iowa remains above normal in any of those months, the state could go a long way toward pushing all the drought colors off the map.

IPR News

Department of Justice sues Iowa to block enforcement of immigration law

Posted May 9, 2024 at 4:06 PM CDT
Immigrants and advocates held rallies and marches in four Iowa cities on May 1 to protest a law set to take effect July 1 that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport immigrants who illegally re-entered the country.
Lucius Pham
/
IPR News
Immigrants and advocates held rallies and marches in four Iowa cities on May 1 to protest a law set to take effect July 1 that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport immigrants who illegally re-entered the country.

The U.S. Department of Justice and civil rights groups filed two separate lawsuits on Thursday to block enforcement of a new Iowa law that would let state officials arrest and deport immigrants who are in Iowa after previously being deported or denied entry to the country.

Both lawsuits say the Iowa law violates the U.S. Constitution because only the federal government has the authority to enforce immigration laws. They’re asking a federal court to block the law before July 1, when it’s set to take effect

The ACLU and the American Immigration Council filed a lawsuit on behalf of Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, where Erica Johnson is executive director. She says immigrants with legal status could face deportation.

“It’s also just an incredibly inhumane law that puts lives and families at risk. It takes people, including children, who have been living here peacefully and contributing to their communities, sometimes for decades, it sets them up for deportation.”

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird says “Iowa stands ready to defend our immigration law that keeps Iowa communities safe.”

Read the full story.

IPR News

Glenwood Resource Center closure in progress

Posted May 9, 2024 at 1:31 PM CDT

State officials say preparations are underway to close the Glenwood Resource Center next month.

The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services is planning to close the state-run facility for Iowans with severe disabilities by the end of June.

The closure process includes finding the remaining 28 residents new homes and laying off 235 staff members.

Iowa HHS director Kelly Garcia says state officials have worked with Glenwood staff to see if there is potential to move to another state position.

“We have a number of team members that are remaining employed with us in HHS, just serving in new and different capacities.”

The troubled facility was the subject of a federal Department of Justice investigation in 2020 that found residents were subjected to harmful experimentation and poor medical care.

IPR News

ACLU, American Immigration Council file lawsuit against Iowa’s immigration law

Posted May 9, 2024 at 12:23 PM CDT
Immigrants and advocates held rallies and marches in four Iowa cities on May 1 to protest a law set to take effect July 1 that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport immigrants who illegally re-entered the country.
Lucius Pham
Immigrants and advocates held rallies and marches in four Iowa cities on May 1 to protest a law set to take effect July 1 that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport immigrants who illegally re-entered the country.

Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday to block enforcement of a new Iowa law that would let state officials arrest and deport immigrants who are in Iowa after previously being deported or denied entry to the country.

The law is supposed to take effect July 1, but the groups are asking a federal court to permanently bar Iowa officials from enforcing it.

The ACLU and the American Immigration Council filed the lawsuit on behalf of Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice. They say the law violates the U.S. Constitution because only the federal government has the authority to enforce immigration laws.

They also allege it would allow Iowa immigrants with legal status to be arrested and deported.

The U.S. Department of Justice is also expected to sue the state to block the law from taking effect.

IPR News

Developers of ‘seed vault’ win Iowa’s 2024 World Food Prize

Posted May 9, 2024 at 12:19 PM CDT

The scientists who led the creation of a massive seed vault in Norway are the winners of the Iowa-basedWorld Food Prize for 2024.

American Cary Fowler and Geoffrey Hawtin of the U.K. and Canada helped found the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which will serve as a gene bank, with more than one million seed samples are preserved there for 6,000 different crop species from around the world.

Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who leads the World Food Prize Foundation, announced the winners Thursday at the U.S. State Department. He says the vault helps protect the global food system from extreme weather patterns.

“They recognized early on that crop diversity and genetic resources are absolutely essential to long-term global food security in the face of climate change and other existential threats.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said genetic diversity allows farmers to adapt to new pests and more extreme weather.

"That is only possible with crop diversity if a variety with a vital gene hasn’t gone extinct by the time that we need it most."

The World Food Prize is awarded in honor of Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, who was raised in northeast Iowa. Fowler and Hawtin will be recognized at an event in Des Moines in October.

IPR News

Reynolds signs bill into law allowing community colleges to determine state aid

Posted May 9, 2024 at 12:16 PM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds has officially given the state’s community colleges the ability to develop the formula that determines state aid.

Reynolds signed the bill into law Wednesday alongside community college leaders from around the state.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch reports the legislation does away with the state’s fixed funding distribution formula. It instead has the presidents and CEOs at each of the state’s 15 community colleges come together to develop a formula each year.

At least ten leaders must approve the formula by the end of October for it to be adopted, and if an agreement cannot be reached, the Iowa Department of Education would instead establish one.

IPR News

Another disaster proclamation issued for four counties 

Posted May 9, 2024 at 12:13 PM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds issued another disaster proclamation for four counties impacted by severe weather on Monday night to allow residents of Clark, Marion, O’Brien and Pottawatomie County to apply for grants and disaster aid.

On Monday night, another tornado touched down just east of the community of Minden, where almost two weeks ago, another tornado killed one person and either destroyed or damaged almost half of the town.

The governor has issued 15 state disaster declarations this spring.

IPR News

All four Iowa representatives vote against move to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson

Posted May 9, 2024 at 12:09 PM CDT

The U.S. House voted Wednesday night to kill a move by Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson, including all of Iowa’s delegation: Zach Nunn, Ashley Hinson, Randy Feenstra and Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

Miller-Meeks, who represents Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, said in a statement that the House should be focused on other priorities.

“I came to Washington to fight for Iowans as they make tough decisions to put gas in their cars or groceries on their tables. Instead, we are yet being faced with another unnecessary and distracting vote by self-serving members of the House.”

The vote to "table" or kill Greene's motion to vacate the speaker's chair was 359 - 43.

IPR News

Memorial convoy organized along final route of trucker found dead in April

Posted May 9, 2024 at 10:52 AM CDT

A show of solidarity is expected Friday for a western Iowa trucker whose body was found in a field last month.

Mitchel Riesgraf, the Iowa chair of CDL Drivers Unlimited, organized “The Convoy for Truth: A David Schultz Memorial.” Truckers plan to drive a continuous loop along Highway 20 from Early to Rockwell City for five hours starting at 3 p.m. The 50-mile roundtrip trek is part of the route last taken by Schultz when he disappeared in late November.

“This convoy is to add pressure that people want answers. There's been a lot of rise around this subject and around David Schultz’ case. We just hope that people actually care about the men and women that serve this country and keep everything supplied so we all can live nice lives.”

Schultz’s family says a second autopsy is planned after his funeral on Friday morning in his hometown of Wall Lake. Authorities say a preliminary autopsy indicated no foul play in his death. Final results haven’t been released yet.

IPR News

With opioid settlement money still in limbo, Iowa’s first youth substance use treatment center seeks other sources of funding

Posted May 9, 2024 at 8:27 AM CDT

A group building Iowa’s first substance use treatment center focused on youth and young adults is looking for more funding after the Legislature failed to allocate money from lawsuits against opioid makers.

The failed opioid settlement bill would have sent $3 million to Youth Shelter Services, the final amount needed to start a nature-based treatment center in central Iowa this fall.

But Andrew Allen, president, CEO and an alumnus of YSS, says he now has to find the remaining funding for the Ember Recovery Campus somewhere else.

Allen says he’s disappointed the Legislature couldn’t reach an agreement to distribute funding for addiction prevention, treatment and recovery. He says there’s increasing opioid use among youth.

“Not having access to those funds after a second session of talking about it really concerns the field.”

The bill failed in the final hours of the session when the House and Senate disagreed on creating an advisory council to oversee opioid settlement grants.

IPR News

Reynolds signs bill to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to one year

Posted May 8, 2024 at 3:47 PM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a bill into law that would extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year.

Iowa is one of the last states to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage benefits to up to a year after someone gives birth.

In a statement, Reynolds called the new law “pro-family” and said it sets new families on a path to prosperity and opportunity.

However, the new law lowers Iowa's income eligibility cutoff for pregnant people to get on Medicaid from 375% of the federal poverty level —the highest in the nationdown to 215%.

Democrats and family policy advocates have criticized this change, because the new income limit means an estimated 1,700 Iowa moms and babies each month will no longer qualify for Medicaid coverage.

IPR News

National Park Service signs agreement to establish Meskwaki historical preservation office

Posted May 8, 2024 at 3:12 PM CDT

The National Park Service has signed historic preservation agreements with ten Native American tribes, including Iowa’s Meskwaki Nation.

The agreement means preservation, education and archaeological duties that once were the state’s responsibility will fall under direct control of the Meskwaki.

Johnathon Buffalo, the historical preservation director for the tribe and currently its only historical preservation officer, said he’s been trying to establish the office for about a decade.

“We’ve failed three times, but this time, the tribe succeeded.”

Buffalo added that one of his first projects as an official Tribal Historical Officer will be hiring an archaeologist. He says a preservation office is foundational to tribal government.

“The THPO should be on the ground level of any tribal development. It’s a very important job, and I think we will succeed.”

Radio Iowa

Motorcycle accident deaths up 

Posted May 8, 2024 at 2:45 PM CDT

There have already been nearly 20 motorcyclists killed in accidents this year. The governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau and the Iowa DOT are trying to raise awareness of the problem.

Bureau spokesperson Colleen Powell said some people are not following basic safety rules.

“We know speed has been a factor even in our passenger cars, that people are just driving way too fast, excessive speeding. We may also be seeing that on motorcycles.”

Powell says 74% of motorcycle fatalities were also unhelmeted, which nearly doubles the national average.

Iowa is one of three states without a helmet law.

“Right now it's people's choice, but we always encourage people to be protected, the same way we encourage people to wear seatbelts when they’re in a vehicle.”

Motorcycles make up less than 1% of all registered vehicles in the state and vehicle miles traveled, but last year, motorcycle deaths accounted for 16% of total traffic fatalities.

IPR News

Reynolds signs literacy bill 

Posted May 8, 2024 at 11:18 AM CDT
Gov. Kim Reynolds sits in on a first grade reading lesson at an elementary school in Adel.
Grant Gerlock
/
IPR News
Gov. Kim Reynolds sits in on a first grade reading lesson at an elementary school in Adel.

A bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Kim Reynolds includes a plan to test K-12 teaching candidates on what’s called the science of reading, which is part of an effort to boost reading scores, especially for young readers across the state.

To mark the bill signing, Reynolds made a stop at Ms. Koelker’s first grade classroom in Adel, where students were reviewing letter combinations.

The Adel-De Soto-Minburn Community School District (ADM) is in year three of a renewed emphasis on phonics that the district says is helping raise reading scores. Reynolds says it’s a model of what she’d like to see statewide.

Under the new law she signed, college teacher prep programs will test students on research-based reading instruction. She says that will give state officials an idea of how well new teachers understand the way students learn to read.

“This will start that process. They’ll test and it’ll be the aggregate and that will give them some idea if the methods they’re using are working.”

The law also requires schools to make individual plans to help K-6 students catch up on reading if they’re behind.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Iowa will distribute more than $680,000 to four crisis pregnancy centers

Posted May 7, 2024 at 4:04 PM CDT

The Iowa Department of Human Services has contracted with four crisis pregnancy centers so far under its More Options for Maternal Support (MOMS) program.

According to records obtained by IPR, the state will distribute more than $680,000 over the next two years to Informed Choice of Iowa, Lutheran Services in Iowa, Bethany Christian Services of northwest Iowa and Alternatives Pregnancy Center.

Iowa lawmakers established the MOMS program in 2022. It funds anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers that have been criticized by Democrats, abortion rights supporters and leading medical organizations. They say the centers’ religious ideology can negatively influence guidance they give pregnant clients.

Last session, lawmakers passed a bill that would allow HHS to distribute the funds directly to centers rather than hire a third-party administrator after state officials failed twice to find an organization that met the law’s requirements.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Report shows higher rates of respiratory issues, heart disease near MidAmerican’s northwest Iowa coal plants

Posted May 7, 2024 at 4:04 PM CDT

A new report released Tuesday by the Iowa Environmental Council shows higher rates of asthma, COPD and heart disease in northwest Iowa.

MidAmerican Energy operates two coal plants in Woodbury County, just south of Sioux City.

Josh Mandelbaum, with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said the plants are “massive” carbon polluters.

“They're impacting the climate, but on a local level, they are having an immediate and significant impact on the health of the communities surrounding these plants.”

The study says from 1999 to 2020, pollution from the plants caused 165 premature deaths in the region, and 1,400 overall.

Mandelbaum says there are better alternatives to provide energy and urged MidAmerican Energy to retire the plants. A spokesperson for the company says they plan to phase out all coal-fired plants by the year 2050.

MidAmerican Energy released a statement yesterday saying, in part, they diligently operate all facilities in a manner that fully complies with state and federal environmental laws, regulations and requirements. They also operate the generation facility in Sioux City significantly less due to the use of wind and solar resources.

IPR News

Another tornado touches down near Minden

Posted May 7, 2024 at 4:03 PM CDT

Ten days after a powerful storm tore through parts of western Iowa, another tornado touched down late last night.

Officials in Pottawattamie County say seven properties and a hog confinement were impacted by another twister that tracked just east of Minden. No one was hurt. The National Weather Service deployed a field assessment team to survey the damage and find out more about the tornado’s speed and length.

Crews from local and state emergency management, FEMA and other organizations are still assessing the damage left behind after a deadly tornado struck on April 26. A 63-year-old man died the next day at a hospital in Omaha.

IPR News

Iowa joins 20 other states suing to block gender identity from being protected under Title IX

Posted May 7, 2024 at 4:02 PM CDT

Iowa is joining 20 other states suing to block changes to federal rules against sex discrimination in education.

The rules finalized by the U.S. Department of Education clarify that gender identity is covered under Title IX protections, which puts into question Iowa’s ban on transgender girls participating in girls sports and another law that requires students to use school bathrooms according to their sex assigned at birth.

Opponents say those laws create a hostile environment for trans and nonbinary students.

But in a statement, Attorney General Brenna Bird called the Title IX changes a “radical gender ideology mandate.”

Iowa is joining a lawsuit led by Arkansas and Missouri that aims to block the federal rules before they take effect in August.

Harvest Public Media

Vilsack says cutting SNAP benefits is 'not the right policy' for Farm Bill

Posted May 7, 2024 at 11:48 AM CDT

As Farm Bill negotiations hit full force in Washington D.C. in the next few weeks, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he’s not on board with making cuts to a food assistance program for lower-income Americans.

Vilsack praised Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s proposal, which outlined Democrats’ priorities for the massive omnibus legislation, which is passed roughly every five years. The chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee released her 94-page proposal earlier this week.

It includes maintaining a five-year reevaluation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As part of debt ceiling negotiations last summer, Democrats agreed to raise the work requirement age limit for the program to 55. Some Republicans had long pushed for that, arguing increasing the age could help lift Americans out of poverty. With negotiations ramping back up ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline, some GOP congressional members want further cuts.

“It’s breaking a deal — and it’s not the right policy,” Vilsack said on Friday while visiting Venice, Ill., a small town just outside St. Louis.

Read the full story from Harvest Public Media.

IPR News

Orgs operating in Iowa react to new EPA rules for coal plants

Posted May 7, 2024 at 9:30 AM CDT
The Sierra Club's Emma Colman holds the megaphone for student activist Hannah Hayes, from Des Moines, at a rally.
Trevor Tejeda Gervais
/
Data Driven Narratives
The Sierra Club's Emma Colman holds the megaphone for student activist Hannah Hayes, from Des Moines, at a rally in Omaha.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently released new rules that the Biden administration says will help reduce pollution from coal-fired energy plants and improve public health. Coal plants that plan to operate beyond 2039 must reduce carbon emissions by 90%.

Emma Colman, who oversees the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign in Iowa, said she’s pleased with the government’s mandate requiring coal plants that plan to stay open beyond 2039 to cut or capture 90% of emissions by 2032.

“I really hope that this pushes MidAmerican to make the right decision to retire their coal plants and invest in a just transition because renewable energy is the future.”

MidAmerican Energy plans to retire its five coal plants in Iowa by the year 2050. A spokesperson says the company is reviewing the rules and has made tremendous progress in reducing emissions due to wind and solar energy.

On Tuesday morning, the Iowa Environmental Council will release a report on pollution and lung disease in Woodbury County, where two coal plants are located.

IPR News

Nitrate levels high in surface water following rainy period

Posted May 7, 2024 at 9:26 AM CDT

The Iowa Water Quality Information System is registering high levels of nitrate in surface water, particularly in the north central part of the state.

Iowa's drought has allowed nitrate from ground-applied fertilizer to build up. The sensor network shows recent rains have washed these chemicals into surface waters, impacting the safety of drinking water and degrading their quality in the ecosystem.

The University of Iowa’s David Cwiertny, director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, says the same process that washes nitrate into water sources also flushes other chemicals like pesticides into surface water.

“Whenever we have water that’s moving from land to our rivers, our streams, our lakes, we tend to put a lot of attention on the nitrogen and phosphorus. But there are going to be other things.”

Higher nitrate levels will mostly impact towns that use surface water as a drinking source, like Des Moines.

Federal law limits the amount of nitrate present in drinking water to below 10 parts per million. Drinking water above that limit has been associated with blue baby syndrome, a condition that can be deadly for infants.

Radio Iowa

Governor, attorney general react to pending federal lawsuit over Iowa’s immigration law

Posted May 6, 2024 at 9:39 AM CDT
Migrant rights advocates held events in several Iowa cities Wednesday evening to protest a new law that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport some immigrants.
Lucius Pham
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IPR News
Migrant rights advocates held events in several Iowa cities Wednesday evening to protest a new law that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport some immigrants.

The federal government intends to file a lawsuit on Tuesday to block enforcement of an Iowa law that makes illegal reentry into the U.S. a state crime.

The law, signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in April, also lets Iowa judges issue deportation orders for people arrested in Iowa who entered the country illegally. Delegates at the Iowa GOP’s state convention cheered the governor this weekend when she mentioned the law.

“Now the Biden administration and the Department of Justice are threatening to sue me and the State of Iowa for, get this, for punishing people who are breaking the law. You can’t make it up,” Reynolds said. “I will never back down and I will never apologize for keeping Iowa and Iowans safe and for standing for the Constitution.”

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird told state convention delegates the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border is “out of control” and she’ll defend the new state law in court.

In a letter to state officials, the U.S. Justice Department said the Iowa law conflicts with federal immigration law and interferes with the functions of the federal government. A federal lawsuit is blocking a similar law in Texas from going into effect.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government, not states, had authority to set immigration policy. Since then, four new justices have been appointed to the court.

Harvest Public Media

Hemp acres shrink in the Midwest

Posted May 6, 2024 at 9:38 AM CDT

Farmers in the Midwest and Great Plains are planting much less hemp than they were two years ago, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Unlike in other Midwestern states like Illinois and Iowa, Kansas saw a rise in harvested hemp since the USDA started keeping track in 2021. In Iowa, farmers harvested just 51 acres of hemp in 2023, according to the most recent data. That’s down from 120 in 2021.

Scott Booher wasn’t surprised to see the decrease. He and his wife Megan grow just under an acre of hemp to make medicinal products for their company Four Winds Farm in Amana.

“We knew three other people who started growing hemp just because we were,” Booher said. “A lot of the hemp farmers around here thought there was going to be somebody who was just going to buy all the hemp.”

While Booher raises floral hemp mostly for its oils, he said he’d like to see more industrial hemp products used to replace plastic. He said that will help farmers see the opportunity in the crop.

Read the full story from Harvest Public Media.

IPR News

Money from opioid settlements ‘in limbo’ following failure to pass law to allocate funding for addiction treatment

Posted May 6, 2024 at 9:37 AM CDT

A bill that would have allocated funding for addiction treatment from lawsuits against prescription opioid sellers failed to pass during Iowa’s recent legislative session.

Iowa is expected to receive about $174 million from the opioid settlements, with half going to the state and half going to local governments. The bill that failed in the final hours of the legislative session would have distributed $12.5 million to opioid use disorder treatment and prevention programs.

House Speaker Pat Grassley recently said on Iowa PBS that those funds are “in limbo” now because the House and Senate couldn’t reach an agreement. He says the House doesn’t want the Department of Health and Human Services to decide where the money goes without input from the Legislature.

“At least for a few years to get it off and running with these new moneys that we are seeing to states, we wanted to at least set up an advisory board that the Legislature would have some input on. We couldn’t come to agreement with the Senate.”

The Senate removed the proposed advisory council from the bill, and then the House refused to pass it.

The Midwest Newsroom

To stay open, rural nursing homes in the Midwest prioritize nurses

Posted May 6, 2024 at 9:36 AM CDT

Nursing home closures are creeping across Nebraska and other parts of the Midwest.

Since 2020, 13 Nebraska nursing homes have shuttered, according to the American Health Care Association (AHCA). During that time, 25 Kansas nursing homes, 27 in Missouri and 36 in Iowa closed their doors.

According to the Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA), 22 nursing homes in Iowa closed in 2022 alone because of poor quality of careand low occupancy.

Staffing shortages and quality of care concerns are the leading reasons long-term care facilities shut down, according to the AHCA and the CMA. The pandemic didn’t help matters, stretching employees and resources to their limits.

Even before COVID-19, many nursing homes struggled to meet the “sufficient” recommended staff-to-patient ratios, said Mark Parkinson, CEO of the AHCA and National Center for Assisted Living.

Depending on the state, the required ratios can run from no minimum to one CNA per every five residents. Failure to maintain recommended ratios can hinder a company from bringing in new residents. That leads to narrower profit margins, Parkinson said.

The shortage of all nursing home staff is a problem, but an “acute problem” is finding registered nurses (RNs), Parkinson said. And, for prospective health care workers, nursing homes often don’t top the list of desirable places to work.

Read the full story from the Midwest Newsroom.

Harvest Public Media

Wool prices are so low, Midwest sheep producers have to find new uses — or raise sheep without it

Posted May 6, 2024 at 9:35 AM CDT

When Tom Cory, owner of Cory Family Farm in Elkhart, first started raising sheep in the early 1960s, the wool brought in enough money to pay for winter feed.

“Today, I can’t even pay for half of their shearing,” he said, despite receiving a federal wool subsidy. “That’s how it’s changed.”

Cory and his wife, Mary, like most producers in the Midwest, raise sheep for meat – not high-quality fiber. But as prices for medium and coarse wools have dropped in recent years, many feel like this byproduct is a burden rather than a bonus — with some dumping wool in ditches or burning it just to get rid of it.

The prices are connected with global forces far from farms in middle America.

“We’re at a huge slowdown for wool processing worldwide,” said Jaelyn Whaley, a sheep field specialist with South Dakota State University Extension. “But here in the U.S. a lot of it has to do with the fact that our coarser wools were what got exported, and our export markets still have not really recovered.”

Read the full story from Harvest Public Media.

IPR News

Cleanup underway, roads reopened in Minden

Posted May 3, 2024 at 5:26 PM CDT
Donations fill a gymnasium at the
Sheila Brummer
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IPR
Donations fill a gymnasium at the Neola Area Community Center.

The mayor of Minden says surrounding communities are pitching in to help the town of 600 recover from last Friday’s devastating tornado.

Mayor Kevin Zimmerman says two-way roads into Minden have reopened and debris cleanup is underway. Most utilities have been re-established to the homes and businesses still standing, but he said restoring water service has been one of the town’s bigger tasks.

“The water plant got destroyed. We brought in a temporary water plant from the state and we’re trying to get to the point where we can start pumping our own water.”

He says the building housing the lift station was also destroyed, but the town is able to pump sewage using generator power. Zimmerman says they have plenty of donated drinking water.

“It isn’t what we need today, it’s what we’re gonna need tomorrow. We have insurance on the buildings and we got insurance on this and that. But there’s a lot of people that don’t have a home right now that were renters and/or landowners who are still waiting on insurance, and they don’t have a place to live.”

Zimmerman says people can contribute through the Community Foundation for Western Iowa. The relief fund is being managed by Mid-States Bank. Over 50 families in Minden lost their homes to the EF-3 tornado.

IPR News

Pro-Palestine demonstration held on University of Iowa campus

Posted May 3, 2024 at 4:11 PM CDT

A coalition of students in Iowa City is holding a “People’s University for Palestine” demonstration this weekend.

Reports from across the country have depicted college students occupying space on campuses, but organizers with Iowa City Students for Justice in Palestine say the event is about education and will not include tents or other structures, per the University of Iowa’s rules.

“The goal for our event today is to make sure that students who haven’t felt that there is space to learn about our demands, to learn how to advocate for our demands or to be educated about Palestine at all to have a chance to learn more,” said UI graduate student Clara Reynen.

Students munched on meat skewers and slices of watermelon as they heard lectures on how Israeli attacks in Gaza since the Hamas attack on Israel in October have come to kill 35,000 people, according to the Ministry of Health there.

Iowa City’s Newman Abuissa, an Arab American who moved from Syria more than 30 years ago, said “there is a massacre going on every day in Gaza.”

“Children are being killed by our tax money and our weapons. So as an American, I feel responsible for what is going on in Israel.”

Iowa City SJP has a long list of demands that range from having the UI call for a ceasefire in Gaza and divestment from companies like Collins Aerospace. The event on Friday included a Jewish history lecture.

The events will continue Saturday and Sunday at the UI Pentacrest.

IPR News

A new program will give tax credits to farmers who would produce ethanol for sustainable aviation fuel, but experts are skeptical of the benefits

Posted May 3, 2024 at 2:27 PM CDT

The Biden administration has opened the door for Iowa’s corn ethanol industry to be a player in the growing market for sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF.

This week, the U.S. Treasury Department released guidance on a SAF subsidy program that allows corn-based ethanol to qualify for tax credits.

Monte Shaw, head of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, is critical of a requirement that farmers employ no-till, cover cropping and efficient fertilizer application to hold carbon in the soil.

“They required you to do all three to get the credit. It’d be very hard for farmers. Different soil types, different parts of the corn belt with different weather, different climate, to have a one-size fits all policy out of D.C.”

Silvia Secchi, professor of Geographical and Sustainability Science at UI, says there’s literature that questions how effective such practices are in sequestering carbon. She says the program also relies on self-reporting.

“Who is monitoring that this cover crop is actually happening? And if these farmers are getting subsidies for cover crops and no-till, we know that those are not good practices because they’re only annual practices. So it’s not a very effective use of public money.”

The subsidy plan is based on an update to a widely accepted climate model that covers lifecycle emissions of ethanol and other biofuels.

IPR News

High schools revising graduation rates after discovering decade-long error that left some students out

Posted May 3, 2024 at 11:28 AM CDT

State education officials are revising the Iowa high school graduation rates for past years after learning the data used to come up with the number left out some students who had dropped out.

Students who transferred districts but never finished high school were not included in the graduation rate. Officials say the error goes back to at least 2013. The dropout rate was not affected by the mistake.

The Iowa Department of Education says for any given year, the mistake affected around 1,000 students out of approximately 38,000 high school seniors.

After fixing the data, the state graduation rates for 2021 and 2022 fell by more than two percentage points.

For 2023, the corrected four-year graduation rate was 87.5%, a slight increase over the previous year. The department says it is also higher than some neighboring states, but lower than both Missouri and Wisconsin.

Harvest Public Media

Layoffs and a new name may shake Schwan’s image

Posted May 3, 2024 at 10:08 AM CDT

Schwan’s started delivering ice cream in 1952. Over the next 70 years, the company became beloved for its yellow trucks, friendly delivery people and frozen food.

In 2018, South Korean food manufacturer CJ CheilJedang agreed to pay $1.8 billion for a majority stake in Schwan’s. The Schwan family spun off the home-delivery business and kept 100% ownership.

Schwan’s Home Delivery changed its name to Yelloh in 2022 in an effort to appeal to a broader customer base in what is now a crowded food delivery space. The following year it cut 750 employees and closed around 90 delivery centers.

Today, customers in all but 18 states rely on UPS to deliver their Yelloh frozen products, instead of the familiar yellow trucks. Iowa is one of the states that still receives deliveries from Yelloh trucks.

Read the full story from Harvest Public Media.

Radio Iowa

Reynolds says law enforcement prepared if pro-Palestinian protests ‘cross the line’

Posted May 3, 2024 at 9:21 AM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds said unlawful activity will not be tolerated during the three days of pro-Palestinian demonstrations planned on the University of Iowa campus.

The group sponsoring the gatherings does not plan an encampment, but is calling for people to gather on the lawn around the Old Capitol building from noon until 7 p.m. Friday as well as Saturday and Sunday to call for an end to the war in Gaza.

Reynolds said people have a First Amendment right to protest, but must do so peacefully.

“We’re not going to allow hate speech. We’re not going to allow destruction. We’re not going to allow what we see happening in some of the universities across this country. It’s ridiculous. It’s putting people at risk.”

Reynolds indicated law enforcement is prepared to respond, if needed.

“We’re going to be respectful and as long as they abide by the laws and do it peacefully, then great, but if it crosses that line, we will be ready.”

Reynolds cited a law passed in 2021 that increased the penalties for protest-related crimes like rioting, vandalism or blocking a highway. Reynolds criticized Columbia University officials in New York for letting the situation there “go way too far.”

Iowa City’s “Students for Justice in Palestine” group is made up of students, faculty, staff and others in the community, according to its online mission statement. The group says “from sit-ins to educational sessions,” it strives to support “the liberation of Palestinians and all oppressed people across the world.”

IPR News

Over 200,000 Iowans have been disenrolled from Medicaid since ‘unwinding’ process began last year

Posted May 3, 2024 at 9:20 AM CDT
The number of Iowans disenrolled from Medicaid under unwinding has far exceeded the state's initial projection.
National Cancer Institute
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Unsplash
The number of Iowans disenrolled from Medicaid under unwinding has far exceeded the state's initial projection.

This week marks one year since the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services started disenrolling people from Medicaid as part of the process of “Medicaid unwinding.”

Under the national public health emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic, states were only allowed to disenroll people from Medicaid under very limited circumstances. That changed last year, when the federal government lifted that rule.

According to state figures, at least 283,000 Iowans have been disenrolled in the last year under unwinding. But Elizabeth Matney, the state Medicaid director, says that number is actually lower, since 50,000 Iowans who were incorrectly disenrolled were reinstated during a 90-day grace period.

“There is a fairly expedited process to get back on, and those are the individuals that we see reinstated.”

Primary Health Care CEO Kelly Huntsman says some of the central Iowa health center’s patients missed state notifications and didn’t realize they had lost coverage until they showed up for an appointment.

“When the state sends out the letters, sometimes they've changed addresses once or twice since then. And many of our patients are non-English speaking.”

Matney says based on recent state and federal data, officials believe most Iowans who were disenrolled were eligible for other types of health coverage.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Des Moines’ Easter Lake named one of the most accessible parks in the country

Posted May 3, 2024 at 9:19 AM CDT

A beach and recreation area in Des Moines that was rebuilt over the last two years is described as one of the most accessible parks in the country.

The North Shore Recreation Area at Easter Lake was designed to give people of all physical abilities access to the playground, beach and boat docks. Sidewalks reach all points, a zero-entry ramp leads into the water and there’s a wheelchair-accessible pontoon boat.

Grant Kvalheim, president of Athene, the lead private donor for the $8 million project, said at a dedication event Thursday that he hopes there will soon be more parks like Easter Lake’s in the state.

“I think the goal is that it will be the first of its kind, that other communities in Iowa and across the nation see what’s been done here and want to incorporate these kinds of features into parks in their neighborhoods.”

One result of the project is an accessibility checklist that will be applied to all Polk County park projects going forward.

A public grand opening for the park at Easter Lake is planned for Sunday.

IPR News

Hinson backs Antisemitism Awareness Act, supports revoking visas of some protesting international students

Posted May 2, 2024 at 4:34 PM CDT

Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District Rep. Ashley Hinson is backing a bill that establishes a standard definition for antisemitism in education.

The Antisemitism Awareness Act has passed through the U.S. House of Representatives and would require the Department of Education to officially adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

Speaking during her weekly press call, the Republican representative said the bill could help educational institutions at all levels control the ongoing pro-Palestine protests.

“This will provide a consistent basis for the Department of Education, schools, colleges and universities to better police this antisemitic discrimination and harassment.”

The group’s definition of antisemitism includes “dehumanizing, demonizing or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective,” among other examples.

Hinson also said she also supports revoking the student visas of some protesting international students.

“Those who are sympathizing with Hamas terrorists, who chant ‘Death to America,’ and pose a threat to others on campus, should be put on a plane back home and never allowed back to the U.S.”

The bill passed 320-91, with 70 Democrats and 21 Republicans voting against it.

IPR News

Waukee holds special census

Posted May 2, 2024 at 12:20 PM CDT

A special census is underway in the Des Moines suburb of Waukee to capture growth the city believes was missed when the last count was done.

The census found just under 24,000 people in Waukee in 2020, but city manager Brad Deets estimates it is actually closer to 30,000 based on building permits and other factors.

It's costing the city around $600,000 to hold the special census, but Deets expects it to more than pay for itself just in state funding for road maintenance.

“When you’re talking, perhaps looking at anywhere from 6,000 to 7,000 additional people, that turns out to be about $1 million a year.”

Waukee residents are already receiving questionnaire cards in the mail. Next month workers will start going door to door to finish the count.

In all, ten communities in the Des Moines metro are in line to hold special censuses through spring 2025. The others include Altoona, Ankeny, Bondurant, Clive, Grimes, Johnston, Norwalk, Pleasant Hill and Polk City.

IPR News

Cedar Rapids fundraising effort to replace thousands of trees lost to derecho

Posted May 2, 2024 at 12:07 PM CDT

A fundraising effort to replace thousands of trees lost to the 2020 derecho in Cedar Rapids has entered its final phase.

The nonprofit Trees Forever organization has raised $3.5 million during the “silent” phase and needs to raise $13.5 million more to meet the $37 million goal for the Re-Leaf Cedar Rapids Program.

Deb Powers, interim CEO of Trees Forever, said the organization will get most of the money through major federal grants.

“We've achieved a $6 million grant, $3.5 million grant through the city and the city has committed $10 million to this campaign. This is the peoples’ phase.”

ReLeaf Cedar Rapids has already planted 19,000 trees. The goal is to plant 40,000 over ten years.

Cedar Rapids lost an estimated 720,000 trees — 65% of its overall tree canopy — to the derecho.

IPR News

Recovery efforts continue in Minden following tornado destruction

Posted May 2, 2024 at 9:32 AM CDT
Samaritan's Purse command center in Oakland.
Sheila Brummer
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IPR News
Samaritan's Purse command center in Oakland.

Help continues to come from near and far to try and assist the western Iowa town of Minden after an EF-3 tornado destroyed about 50 homes on April 26.

One person later died of their injuries. At least 40% of the small town of 600 sustained some sort of damage.

The group Samaritan’s Purse mobilized at least 40 people to the area, including Steven Lee of Overland Park, Kan.

“It's critical. You can only imagine what people are going through in a situation like this.”

Other volunteers have come as far as North Carolina. In the nearby town of Shelby, the local RV park and Country Inn is gathering goods and donations and even offering a free place to stay for storm victims.

Manager Michelle Coloney said they have everything a family might need, including for their pets.

“Families can come and get what they need, whether it be food, clothes, baby items… I've got a church in Missouri, where my in-laws are at. They're collecting stuff and whatever may be needed.”

Minden is still closed to the public so crews can remove major safety hazards. Officials in Pottawattamie County say a multi-agency resource center will be available on Saturday at the Church of Christ in Minden from 9 a.m. until noon, where any county resident impacted by the tornado outbreak can learn more about the assistance available. This includes mental health, temporary housing and legal help.

A Pottawattamie County spokesperson has said monetary donations are the best way to help Minden recover.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Advocates protest law allowing local, state officials to deport undocumented immigrants

Posted May 2, 2024 at 9:06 AM CDT
Migrant rights advocates held events in several Iowa cities Wednesday evening to protest a new law that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport some undocumented immigrants.
Lucius Pham
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IPR
Migrant rights advocates held events in several Iowa cities Wednesday evening to protest a new law that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport some undocumented immigrants.

Migrant rights advocates held events in several Iowa cities Wednesday evening to protest a new law that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport some undocumented immigrants.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the law last month, and it’s set to take effect July 1.

Reynolds said the people targeted by the law illegally entered the country.

“If they’ve been deported, and they’re back in, then we’ve made it a state crime. It is the humanitarian thing to do. When you look at what’s taking place at the southern border, it is a national security issue, as well as a humanitarian crisis.”

Reynolds says she welcomes legal immigration, but she says the new law sends a message that undocumented immigrants shouldn’t come to Iowa. Migrant rights advocates say the law is likely unconstitutional, and that it’s driving fear and confusion in immigrant communities.

Read the full story.

IPR News

U.S. House, Senate ag leaders propose 2024 Farm Bills 

Posted May 2, 2024 at 8:57 AM CDT

The U.S. House and Senate agriculture committee leaders released summaries of their proposed 2024 Farm Bills Wednesday.

The current Farm Bill, which expires on Sept. 30, is an extension of the 2018 law. Ag groups have complained about Congress taking too long to draft a bill.

Iowa State University Extension Economist Chad Hart says it’s all part of the process. He says the two chambers now have to reconcile differences in their respective bills.

“What you're gonna find, if you look through their outlines, is a lot of similarities. There is a lot of agreement on where they wanna make some changes. But the Devil’s always in the details, and especially when it comes to… I’m going to point to the Nutrition Title and the Conservation title. I think that’s where you’re going to see the biggest disagreement as we’re moving forward on the Farm Bill debate.”

Hart says 75% to 80% of the funding in past Farm Bills has been tied up in the Nutrition Title, which includes domestic food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps.

IPR News

Reynolds signs tax cuts into law

Posted May 2, 2024 at 8:56 AM CDT
governor kim reynolds signs the tax cut bill at her desk while surrounded by lobbyists and republican lawmakers
Katarina Sostaric
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IPR News
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed another round of tax cuts into law in her office with lobbyists and Republican lawmakers.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a nearly billion-dollar tax cut into law Wednesday, which will lower the state’s personal income tax to a flat rate of 3.8% next year.

The top income tax rate is currently 5.7% and would have dropped to a flat 3.9% in 2026 under a previously passed law. The new law will deepen and accelerate those tax cuts.

Reynolds says every Iowan who pays income taxes will see significantly lower tax rates starting next year. She says the eyes of the nation have been on Iowa for its several rounds of tax cuts in recent years.

“While they’re paying attention to Iowa, I think it was imperative that because we could, that we go ahead and continue to reduce those tax rates so we can continue to be that narrative across this nation.”

Reynolds says she’s not done, and has previously said she wants to eliminate the income tax in the next few years.

She also signed a bill into law Wednesday that will provide tax incentives for economic development projects that invest at least $1 billion.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Reynolds signs laws requiring health insurance plans to cover breast cancer screenings, biomarker testing

Posted May 1, 2024 at 1:12 PM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed two bills into law that would require most health insurance plans to cover breast cancer screenings and biomarker testing.

One new law requires most plans to cover supplemental and diagnostic breast examinations in addition to mammograms.

The other law requires coverage of biomarker testing, which screens someone for certain genes and proteins. This can provide more information about how to better target and treat illnesses like cancer.

Reynolds says the testing has helped her husband Kevin’s treatment. He was diagnosed with lung cancer last year.

“We personally got to use it, so I can tell you that it definitely makes a difference. And it really ties the treatment to a specific marker, so it really does matter.”

Both bills passed the Legislature with strong bipartisan support.

IPR News

Soil toxins concern Waterloo residents 

Posted May 1, 2024 at 1:11 PM CDT

Waterloo residents are beginning to talk about revitalizing their city’s old industrial areas, but concerns are mounting about the safety of those sites.

Residents in the northern part of the city are coming together to tear down the Chamberlain ammunition plant and put affordable housing in its place. The plant has been abandoned for roughly 40 years.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency named the Chamberlain compound a brownfield site several years ago due to the toxicity of the soil, preventing any immediate development of the property.

Margo Collins-Draine, who has lived in the neighborhood since the late '60s, said she would like to see more help from the agency beyond just a warning sign.

“They’re coming in and giving consultations, but they’re not putting their money where their mouth is. They need to do more as far as funding sources to help the city out.”

The site is currently fenced off without signage indicating the danger.

Harvest Public Media

The mortality rate is higher among rural adults — and the gap with urban areas is growing

Posted May 1, 2024 at 1:11 PM CDT

A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds rural working-age adults are dying of natural causes at a faster rate than their urban counterparts — and that gap has widened dramatically over the past two decades.

Rural adults ages 25 - 54 died of natural causes at a 6% higher rate than urban residents in 1999. Twenty years later, that number grew to 43%, according to the report.

Those mortality rates, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control, decreased over the two decade span for urban adults in the age group.

“The more rural the area, the greater the increase in prime working-age natural cause mortality rates (or smaller the decrease) over time,” according to the report.

The study did not conclude what’s behind the rising mortality rate for rural adults, but its authors said hospital and physician shortages are likely a factor. Differences in state rollouts of Medicaid expansion also could influence how often people seek care, according to the study.

Read the full story from Harvest Public Media.

IPR News

Sierra Club pushing to reestablish Iowa’s wildlife corridors

Posted May 1, 2024 at 1:10 PM CDT

The Sierra Club is trying to boost wildlife corridors to avoid the local extinction of insects and animals and increase biodiversity.

Sioux City biology professor David Hoferer, who serves on the executive committee of the organization, is trying to recruit property owners in western Iowa to connect their land through conservation or wetland preservation.

“Think about little butterflies, native bees, our pollinators. They can only fly so far, so if they can't find that next habitat patch, whether it's a prairie or woodland, they basically… starve and die.”

Hoferer and his students at Briar Cliff University are creating wildlife “stepping stones" in urban areas of Sioux City. The pockets of habitat will give native insects and plants a chance to thrive and create food sources for mammals and birds.

Hoferer says Iowa is the most altered state in the union, with 90% of land used for farming and only 2% set aside for natural areas, a combination that can lead to local extinctions and a lack of genetic diversity. At one time, Iowa was home to bison, black bears and wolves.

“We benefit just as much as the wildlife when we bring habitat back. If we restore areas for wildlife because we have really overdeveloped the land in Iowa, not only can this place be healthy again for wildlife, but it'll be much healthier for us, too.”

IPR News

Iowa Supreme Court finds state auditor may have violated public records law

Posted May 1, 2024 at 9:35 AM CDT
Madeleine C King
The Iowa Supreme Court has directed a lower court to hold more proceedings to determine if State Auditor Rob Sand violated Iowa’s public records law.

The Iowa Supreme Court has directed a lower court to hold more proceedings to determine if State Auditor Rob Sand violated Iowa’s public records law.

The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously reversed a district court ruling Friday that found Sand was justified in not providing some emails in response to a public records request.

Justice Matthew McDermott wrote the auditor’s office may have unreasonably delayed the release of one email and improperly applied exemptions to withhold nine other emails. And that the district court should get more information from Sand to determine if he violated the public records law.

The court ruled one email was properly withheld.

The case stems from a conservative law firm’s request for auditor’s office emails with and about two reporters. The Kirkwood Institute sued Sand, a Democrat, for initially refusing to provide 11 of the emails.

Read the full story.

IPR News

Iowa Wesleyan University unable to repay $26 million USDA loan

Posted April 29, 2024 at 12:10 PM CDT

Iowa Wesleyan University is still on the hook for a $26 million loan it took from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2016. But a review of its liquidation effort and the remaining property it has to sell shows the USDA is unlikely to get its money back.

Documents obtained by IPR News show the college’s real estate sales made less than 15% of what it owes.

To date, most of the campus has been sold. Mount Pleasant Municipal Utilities is expected to close on its purchase of the old gymnasium, the last of the university’s unsold buildings.

The gym's sale is not closed so no price has been announced. But it is unlikely to cover the roughly $22 million still owed to the USDA.

Bob Miller, the chairman of Iowa Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees, says the university board doesn’t have other assets to liquidate.

“Iowa Wesleyan does not have the ability to pay it back. We have no remaining assets to pay it back. Banks have bad debts. They have to write off losses. And there's nothing remaining that can be done about it."

The board aims to close its books by the end of May.

IPR News

IDOT warns buyers of odometer fraud

Posted April 29, 2024 at 11:47 AM CDT

An investigator with the Iowa Department of Transportation is warning buyers looking for a low mileage vehicle that odometer fraud is still common.

Matt Dingbaum with the Iowa DOT’s Bureau of Investigation says illegal devices that can access a car’s computer are available online.

“They plug in just like an OBD reader, like a mechanic would, and… as long as you have the software to that manufacturer, you can scroll down to the odometer, and you just put in the odometer what you want it to show, hit the button and it’ll flash and you can take your vehicle from 200,000 down to 30,000 in just the matter of a minute or so.”

Earlier this month, a 69-year-old Cascade man was sentenced to six months in federal prison for tampering with the odometers of at least 47 vehicles. Dingbaum says buyers can use sites like Carfax to check a vehicle’s mileage. They can also go to the DOT’s websiteor the National Odometer and Title Fraud Enforcement Association.

IPR News

House Speaker Mike Johnson visits Iowa City to support Rep. Miller-Meeks 

Posted April 29, 2024 at 11:46 AM CDT

Speaker of the U.S. House Mike Johnson visited Iowa City over the weekend with fellow Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

Republicans were split on Johnson’s recent $95 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel. But Miller-Meeks has been a stalwart, and Johnson says his job is to support incumbents like her.

While Miller-Meeks said she doesn’t support a blank check, she said a classified briefing made the need clear.

"These are serious consequences if we cannot give Ukraine the leverage to then also seek peace. They need to have the ammunition, they need to have the weapons.”

Outside the hotel, a crowd of about 200 people were gathered. Mimi Daoud of Cedar Rapids says she opposes the $17 billion for Israel, saying it would lead to more innocent Palestinian lives lost.

Miller-Meeks is in for another competitive race this November and has been facing attacks from Democrats saying she wants to end in vitro fertilization, or IVF, treatments.

"No one has signed on to that bill. That bill has not advanced in Congress, and so I think it is disingenuous — if not an outright lie — to conflate those two issues. And why do people conflate those two issues? They do it to divide people."

Democratic challenger Christina Bohannan has attacked Miller-Meeks for cosponsoring a Life at Conception bill in 2021. The bill doesn’t mention IVF, but critics argue it could have banned the practice if passed.

IPR News

Disaster proclamation issued for Pottawattamie County following Minden tornado destruction

Posted April 29, 2024 at 11:45 AM CDT
Donations fill a gymnasium at the
Sheila Brummer
/
IPR
Donations fill a gymnasium at the Neola Area Community Center.

Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for Pottawattamie County in western Iowa, where authorities declared a state of emergency for the small town of Minden. A severe tornado killed one person and damaged or destroyed 180 houses and businesses.

Avery Assmann, 16, says her family and four dogs were in the basement when the tornado struck. She says her home is still standing, but others weren’t as fortunate.

“There's a lot of trees down. A lot of people's houses are down. A lot of people's siding is gone. But the house isn't gone. There are two houses that came off their foundation. So, they're just like in people's yards, but it's very scary to see the town like that.”

Assmann was at the Neola Area Community Center, where people from Omaha to Des Moines dropped off donations for storm victims.

Read the full story.

Side Effects Public Media

How the FTC’s ban on noncompete agreements will impact doctors, nurses

Posted April 29, 2024 at 11:44 AM CDT

The Federal Trade Commission approved a ban on noncompete agreements across nearly all industries in a 3-2 vote last Tuesday. The ban would impact the health care industry when it goes into effect in four months.

But the FTC is bracing for all but certain legal challenges that could delay or prevent the ban from ever taking effect.

Noncompetes agreements often prohibit employees from leaving a job and taking another in the same industry within a specific geographic location or period of time or both.

There is a looming doctor shortage in the Midwest, according to federal estimates. By 2025, many of the region's states, particularly Indiana, Missouri and Ohio, are expected to have more demand for primary care doctors than supply. Some advocates argue noncompete agreements might be one of several reasons for that shortage.

This has led to bipartisan efforts in some states to limit those agreements over the objections of health employers, who argue noncompetes protect businesses and prevent staff shortages.

Read the full story at Side Effects Public Media.

IPR News

Hinson discusses committee fentanyl report tying fentanyl distribution to China

Posted April 26, 2024 at 4:31 PM CDT

Second District Rep. Ashley Hinson spoke Friday about a recent report tying fentanyl distribution across the United States to the Chinese Communist Party.

During her weekly media call, the Republican representative went into detail about her committee’s findings. Hinson serves on the Select Committee on the CCP.

She says the report reveals the Chinese government is supporting the manufacture of materials to make fentanyl through tax rebates and helping import the drug into the United States.

“Communist China is directly subsidizing fentanyl production, protecting fentanyl suppliers and intentionally trafficking these deadly drugs across our borders.”

The report proposes multiple solutions, including establishing a special opioid task force and imposing sanctions on entities involved in the fentanyl trade.

IPR News

Wrestlers file lawsuit against Hinton school district following hazing incident

Posted April 26, 2024 at 2:50 PM CDT

Two northwest Iowa wrestlers and their families have filed a lawsuit against the Hinton Community School District, coaches and staff.

Des Moines attorney Alison Kanne, who is representing the plaintiffs, says a pattern of abuse started even before serious allegations came to light, and nothing was done to stop it.

“It's not a game when kids are coming home with bruises and they're too afraid to change clothes in the locker room. That means that there's a problem. Those teachers and coaches have a responsibility to identify the problem and talk with the parents about it. Talk with the kids about it and talk to the school about it. You can't just ignore it and say, ‘Oh, well, boys will be boys.’”

Police in Coralville launched an investigation after a video on social media showed a wrestler being held down and tasered during a wrestling tournament in Coralville. Kanne says the cases were transferred to Plymouth County and charges were recently filed in juvenile court.

Head coach Casey Crawford resigned, as did the athletic director and high school principal, but Kanne says Crawford shouldn’t be allowed to continue teaching.

Kanne also represents a family who is suing the Roland-Story School District for mishandling an assault case involving a state champion wrestler, who pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after originally facing a felony. She believes bullying continues to be a widespread problem, even with heightened awareness.

Lawyers for the Hinton School District say they plan to “zealously defend” the claims made in the lawsuits, but it’s against policy to comment on pending litigation.

Radio Iowa

Fines to double for illegally driving through quiet zone railroad crossings

Posted April 26, 2024 at 9:29 AM CDT

Fines will increase for motorists caught ignoring crossing gates and flashing lights and illegally driving across railroad tracks in 21 “quiet zones.”

Trains approaching railroad crossings in these zones are not required to sound the horn in an effort to reduce noise in urban settings.

Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, said doubling the fine will hopefully be a deterrent.

“It’s just simply a matter of safety of being able to keep people from trying to beat the train because they didn’t hear the whistle,” Shipley said during the Senate debate on the bill that the governor signed into law a week ago.

Cities are able to install flashing lights and gates to establish a “quiet zone” at a railroad crossing, but Rep. Derek Wulf, R-Hudson, said it’s expensive.

“This increase of penalties will help these communities stomach that potential cost, which can range anywhere from $30,000 to $1 million.”

The fine, starting July 1, will be $520 for illegally driving through a railroad crossing in a quiet zone when the warning lights are on.

Three railroad crossings in the city of Hiawatha were recently designated as quiet zones. Cedar Rapids officials hope to take similar steps for some railroad crossings, including one that’s near a 267-room hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids.

IPR News

Preliminary autopsy of missing trucker found in field shows no signs of trauma, injury

Posted April 26, 2024 at 9:17 AM CDT

The State Medical Examiner’s office has positively identified a body discovered in Sac County as that of a missing trucker from western Iowa.

David Schultz, 53, of Wall Lake, disappeared in November while delivering pigs. On Wednesday afternoon, his remains were found in a farm field.

A preliminary autopsy showed no signs of trauma or serious injury. However, more test results are pending. Dental records were used in the identification process.

His wife, Sarah Schultz, said her husband’s body was found a mile-and-a-half from his abandoned semi.

The Midwest Newsroom

Iowa air scores well in latest American Lung Association report 

Posted April 26, 2024 at 9:16 AM CDT

The American Lung Association’s latest air quality report awards Iowa mostly high scores.

The report released this week grades counties on ozone – or smog – and particulate matter, like soot from wildfires or coal-burning power plants.

Iowa counties earned As and Bs across the board. The only “C” grade was for Polk County in the particulate matter category.

Association spokesperson Juanita Mora says particulate matter poses grave health risks for asthma, heart attacks and other health problems.

“To the brain, so cognitive delays. Strokes are at risk as well, and it’s lung cancer that we fear as well, too, with long term pollution.”

The American Lung Association says more than 39% of people in the U.S. live in areas with poor air quality. Spikes in particulate matter levels are mostly to blame.

Read the full story from the Midwest Newsroom.

IPR News

Directed by the Board of Regents, public universities close DEI offices

Posted April 26, 2024 at 9:15 AM CDT

Iowa’s public universities report they are close to having fully implemented the Board of Regents directives on diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Five months ago, the board called on universities to abandon DEI programming deemed unnecessary for accreditation or compliance.

University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook says his institution is taking resources out of its closed DEI office and putting them to work training leadership in student organizations that can offer affinity groups formerly catered to by DEI staffing.

Robert Cramer, who sits on the Board of Regents, said it puts power in students’ hands.

“You get the university to take a step back and empower these students, train these students with leadership so the students can lead all these different affinity groups.”

Regent David Barker raised the concern that the five months taken to implement the directives coincided with the passage of a new state law that may require more strict limits on existing programming. Barbara Wilson, the president of the University of Iowa, said while lawyers will determine the finer points, in complying with the Regents’ directives, the universities are substantively complying with new state law.

“I think much of what we are doing is in the spirit of the law, frankly, and so I think it will be good for us to work together to figure that out.”

All three universities closed their DEI offices. For the UI, that led to the elimination of five unfilled positions, saving $360,000. Among the other changes, the universities say policies will prevent any requirement to use pronouns and will cultivate new programming on building civic dialogue on campuses.

Harvest Public Media

An ancient farming method is finding new life improving soil and burying carbon

Posted April 26, 2024 at 9:14 AM CDT

As the country tries to meet its climate goals, tackling emissions from farming will be key. One climate-smart agriculture strategy — using biochar — sequesters carbon while recycling agricultural waste and improving soil.

Agriculture is the fifth-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., so finding ways to cut down carbon while farming is key to meeting national climate targets.

But there’s a lot more to the climate-friendly practice. Biochar proponents say it creates a sustainable cycle of benefits on farms, also helping recycle waste, lessen the need for fertilizers, improve soil and even potentially help crops survive longer in droughts.

Read the full story from Harvest Public Media.

IPR News

Body of missing trucker found

Posted April 25, 2024 at 3:17 PM CDT

The body of a missing western Iowa trucker has been found, according to the wife of 53-year-old David Schultz of Wall Lake, who disappeared more than five months ago while hauling pigs.

Sarah Schultz said that her husband was found in a farmer’s field in Sac County Wednsday afternoon, and he was identified by his boots.

After Schultz’s semi was found abandoned on Highway 71 northeast of Sac City, volunteers spent several days searching for him. They combed through 100,000 acres.

The Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation says a body was found near the intersection where the semi was discovered and was taken to the State Medical Examiner for an autopsy, but no other details were being released at this time.

Schultz said during a news conference Thursday morning that she hopes authorities can uncover what happened.

“My biggest thing was to find him, just to not wonder where is he every day. You know that's a big step. I hope that we can find out what happened and why.”

She said she feels some kind of foul play was involved with her husband's death. However, authorities haven’t provided an update on the case.

IPR News

Waterloo task force to create sustainable solutions for homeless population 

Posted April 25, 2024 at 3:17 PM CDT

The City of Waterloo plans to create a task force to create sustainable solutions for the Cedar Valley’s homeless population.

The group will identify and catalog Waterloo’s available homeless resources, which range from transportation to shelter and rehab services.

Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said the task force will look at solutions both inside and outside the city.

“There [are] about eight or nine different areas that we’re going to take a look at, from some of the data about our homeless community to the services currently provided, to what other communities are doing to help serve our homeless population.”

The group will begin its work in May.

IPR News

Economist says Iowa must expand how it addresses affordable housing shortage

Posted April 25, 2024 at 12:20 PM CDT

As Iowa continues to struggle with a shortage of affordable housing, one person studying the topic says the state needs to look at several ways to address the problem.

Jenny Schuetz, an economist and Brookings Institution senior fellow, will visit Des Moines to speak at the Polk County Housing Trust Fund’s annual Housing Matters Symposium on Friday.

She says many people only think of government subsidies when discussing affordable housing, which is too narrow of a definition.

“Most people who have relatively low incomes don’t actually live in subsidized housing, they just live in the unsubsidized older homes. The amount of subsidies we have is relatively small compared to the number of people who would want to live in it if they could.”

She says with rising land prices, more communities should consider zoning changes to allow building on smaller lots. She also says that more resources should be dedicated to rehabilitating older homes in rural areas to keep them safe and habitable.

Radio Iowa

Project to map Iowa’s shallow groundwater resources

Posted April 25, 2024 at 10:08 AM CDT

The Iowa Legislature has set aside $250,000 to start developing accurate maps of Iowa’s underground water resources.

State geologist Keith Schilling, director of the Iowa Geological Survey, which will develop the maps, says there’s an increasing demand for Iowa groundwater.

“We know something about Iowa’s shallow underground water resources, but not everything we need to know… What we really need to do is to connect the dots and understand how much of this groundwater is available, what’s the recharge rate that occurs, how much is discharged to the streams and how much is being used in order to develop some idea of the long term sustainability of our groundwater supplies.”

The Iowa Geological Survey has the equipment, supplies and technology that can be used to evaluate water supplies above the bedrock surface.

Schilling said understanding the basic distribution of Iowa’s shallow groundwater resources may prevent potential disputes over water access in the future.

“As users increase, the aquifer itself is not changing shape. There’s only so much water there. We need to understand how much water’s there and how sustainable its use is.”

Radio Iowa

NASA regains link with distant Voyager spacecraft with part built at UI

Posted April 25, 2024 at 9:59 AM CDT

A research scientist at the University of Iowa is delighted NASA engineers were able to reestablish communication with the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which has flown further into space than any human-made object.

Bill Kurth says Voyager, which he started working on at the UI five decades ago, is now 15 billion miles from Earth.

“That’s 165 times farther from the sun than we are. That means if we send a signal to Voyager, it takes almost a day to get to Voyager and if Voyager responds, it takes almost another day for it to come back.”

Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, were launched in 1977 and are now well beyond the edge of the solar system. This past November, Voyager 1 went silent after a memory chip in one of its three onboard computers failed. But a few days ago, the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was able to restore the spacecraft and regain the ability to receive and transmit messages over the incredibly great distance.

“The team at JPL has worked miracles over the decades. They’ve basically pulled both of these spacecraft out of the fire a number of times and I was not terribly surprised that they could do it again.”

Kurth started working on Voyager as a UI graduate student in 1974. He’s now the principal investigator for the plasma wave science instrument on the spacecraft, which was designed and built at Iowa. When the Voyagers were launched, they were designed to visit the planets Jupiter and Saturn, and perhaps be able to go on to Uranus and Neptune.

Voyager 1 is expected to continue soaring into deep space, and NASA says its generators may continue to have power to run its instruments through 2036.

IPR News

Western Iowa Tech Community College agrees to pay $3 million to international students who filed human trafficking lawsuit

Posted April 25, 2024 at 9:53 AM CDT

A community college in northwest Iowa has reached a settlement with international students who accused the school of human trafficking.

The board of directors of Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City voted to approve paying $3 million to 13 students from Chile who filed a lawsuit in November of 2020.

The students who took part in a Federal J1 student program said they were promised a free two-year program with internships, but were instead forced into jobs involving manual labor to pay off their tuition.

In a statement, the college acknowledged the program did not meet its high standards, but denied the plaintiffs’ allegation.

A lawsuit is still pending against the Sioux City area companies involved with the program.

A separate case involving students from Brazil is still ongoing.

IPR Talk

New research shows signs of resistance to invasive garlic mustard

Posted April 24, 2024 at 2:35 PM CDT

New research into garlic mustard may change how conservationists deal with the invasive species.

Garlic mustard produces compounds that may be toxic to competing plants. Cathy McMullin, an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Iowa State University, says that over time, plants that are exposed to these compounds develop a resistance to them.

McMullin also says older populations of garlic mustard produce less of these harmful compounds. So over time, gardeners can expect their populations to stabilize.

“This is likely due to the cost of producing these allele chemicals. They take a lot of carbon and a lot of nutrients to produce them. And if the yields are diminishing then selection kind of suggests it’s not worth producing these anymore.”

For those trying to keep new garlic mustard from taking root, spring is the right time to pull it out of the ground. For more mature garlic mustard, McMullin recommends removing the seed head, preventing it from maturing and entering the seed bank.

McMullin made her remarks on Talk of Iowa.

IPR News

Public university students say they feel free to express their opinions

Posted April 24, 2024 at 2:26 PM CDT

Students and employees of Iowa’s public universities say they feel free to express their opinions in class and on campus. That’s according to a new study aimed at measuring the Board of Regent’s policy changes surrounding free speech protections on campus.

This is the second of two surveys. The first was conducted in 2021.

In just three years, the survey documents a 10% increase in the number of students who say they feel comfortable expressing opinions related to things studied during classes. The number of students who disagree has fallen by 10%.

The survey also found that 80% of students say their university does not restrict speech on campus. The number of students who did think the campus restricted speech decreased by 13% since the 2021 survey.

Surveyed faculty and staff said their university provides a free and open environment to express ideas, opinions and beliefs.

Radio Iowa

Penalties for trespassing to hunt in Iowa are going up

Posted April 24, 2024 at 1:40 PM CDT

The fines for trespassing to hunt deer will go up significantly on July 1. The law — and the fines — have been expanded to include trespassing to hunt any wildlife.

Under the new law, a trespasser can be arrested and officers will be able to confiscate animals from hunters who trespass on private property — and assess more fines based on how many animals the hunter has taken.

Sen. Tom Shiple, R-Nodaway, says it’s a “big deal” in southwest Iowa.

“I think raising these penalties is very important to those people in areas where they have people coming in from all over the country just deciding it’s their ground to play on.”

Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, is more skeptical.

“I didn’t hear any good arguments in committee or elsewhere that would necessitate us raising the fines for trespass,” Weiner said, “or that there have been really egregious instances.”

Rep. Mike Vondran, R-Davenport says trespassing is trespassing, and that the law is needed.,

The governor signed the bill into law Friday. It raises the fine to $500 for a first offense of trespassing in order to hunt. It’s currently $265. The fine for a second violation would be $1,000.

TSPR

Hip Hop Orchestra Experience coming to southeast Iowa

Posted April 24, 2024 at 1:24 PM CDT

Combine classical music with hip-hop, throw in a bit of dance, and what do you get?

An audience in southeast Iowa is about to find out.

Hip Hop Orchestra Experience will collaborate with the Southeast Iowa Symphony Orchestra for a show on Friday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center.

JooWan Kim, artistic director for Hip Hop Orchestra Experience, said the seeds for the group grew out of his days as a graduate student, when he got fed up with what he calls the oppressive aesthetic of concert music.

IPR News

Unpredictable rainfall, lack of moisture slow planting season

Posted April 24, 2024 at 11:37 AM CDT