Iowa

Iowa House votes for changes in liquor liability law for bars, restaurants

Brian Best

The Iowa House has voted to limit liability for bars and restaurants accused of over-serving a drunk customer.

However — unlike the Republican-led Senate — House members have voted to let juries award an unlimited amount of money for “substantial or permanent” damages from a drunk driving accident, like the victim’s death or significant medical bills. Otherwise, “non-economic” damages when bars or restaurants are accused of over-serving a customer would be limited to $250,000.

Representative Brian Best, a Republican from Glidden, was given the task of managing the bill and he was the only supporter who spoke during debate.

“If someone drives down the road and they’re texting and they t-bone another car or cause an accident that causes a lot of property damage, we never go back on the cell phone company,” Best said. “We don’t go back on where they bought the cell phone.”

Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from Greenfield who’s a retired state trooper, voted against the bill. Baudler saod current law works and doesn’t need to be changed.

“I’ve seen so much drunken death on the highways in 32 years as a trooper that I don’t think this is going to do anything to reduce drunk driving,” Baudler said. “Might even make it easier for drunk driving.”

Representative Marti Anderson, a Democrat from Des Moines, is the former chief of the state’s Crime Victim Assistance Bureau. A couple she counseled after their five-year-old girl playing in her own front yard was killed by a drunk driver spent well over $150,000 on counseling and her funeral.

“The grief and loss by her parents was profound,” Anderson said. “…The liability level for these cases should be determined by the courts based on the specific facts for each case.”

Best said “bad actors” will still have to pay, but Best said liquor liability insurance for bars and restaurants — called “dram shop” insurance — is a century-old concept that needs to be updated.

“I don’t believe that bars intentionally overserve,” Best said. “I think there’s many times when, I know from personal experience, bar owners will call a spouse or take the person home themselves if they’ve had too much to drink.”

The bill passed the House last night on a 61-36 vote. It goes back to the Senate, which must consider changes made to the bill in the House.

New law gives clear parameters for psychiatrists warning police about dangerous patients

The mental health reform bill the governor signed into law last week may ease the way for Iowa psychiatrists to report potentially dangerous patients to the police.

A court recently ruled mental health professionals could be sued if someone under their care ends up harming themselves or others. Emily Piper, a lobbyist who worked on the bill, says the new law spells out when a psychiatrist could be sued for not speaking up.

“We want those parameters to be really clear,” she says, “so that when you get into the position of making that professional judgement, you are not exposing if you did not believe those parameters were met.”

Under the new law, a psychiatrist who doesn’t report to police would be immune from a lawsuit unless a patient was threatening a clearly identifiable victim or victims. And reporting threats would still be voluntary. Piper says the law balances the safety and confidentiality concerns.

“We think that it creates a better partnership between those mental health professionals and law enforcement in terms of somebody who is clearly exhibiting signs of either injuring themselves or others,” Piper says.

Other states have passed similar laws recently.

Piper is a statehouse lobbyist for the Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association, the Iowa Psychiatric Society and the Iowa Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

House votes for new whistleblower protections

The Iowa House has unanimously passed a bill designed to shield “whistleblowers” in state government from retaliation if they go to the state auditor with complaints.

“It’s a short and simple bill, but it is very good public policy,” says Representative Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton.

Kaufmann is chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee. The panel held three hearings this year to review activity at the Iowa Communications Network. Network employees went to the governor’s office last summer to report concerns about the agency’s manage. The state auditor’s office investigated and discovered the network’s manager went on a vacation to Belize at state expense, tried to sell state-owned property on eBay and hired unqualified cronies who got huge raises.

The bill would make it clear the name of any whistleblower employed in state government may be kept confidential in investigations by the state auditor. The names of other witnesses interviewed by auditors could be kept secret, too. Kaufmann says his panel took a bipartisan approach to addressing concerns raised by mismanagement of tens of thousands of dollars in the Iowa Communications Network.

“We partnered together to find and seek ways to make government better, so that a situation like this might not happen again,” Kaufman said. “I’m not saying we’ve totally closed that option from every happening, but I think this bill puts us a lot closer to being there.”

The bill specifies that managers in state government are not to cut pay, demote or fire employees who disclose information to the state auditor.

Council member says Cedar Rapids should have a medical marijuana dispensary

Dale Todd

A Cedar Rapids City Council member wants Iowa’s medical marijuana law expanded after his city was passed over for a dispensary. Councilman Dale Todd says population should have been a greater factor in awarding the licenses.

“By not locating these dispensaries in places where there’s market share and a population is going to make it tough for these dispensaries to succeed,” Todd says. He says leaving out the state’s second largest city doesn’t help the people there who will need to use the products.

“The worst part is it’s going to make it challenging for some of the patients who need this medication,” according to Todd. The Department of Public Health awarded the maximum five distribution licenses allowed by the law to Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Windsor Heights, Waterloo and Davenport, with a goal of geographical diversity. Todd

hopes the state opens more dispensaries and expands the list of qualifying conditions. Todd’s son has epilepsy, which could make him eligible for a prescription.

“One of the options and one that we would encourage would be to ask the Iowa Legislature to evaluate this law and hopefully open up some other locations based on population and need and access,” he says. Todd has been pushing for medical marijuana access for years. His son has epilepsy, a condition that could qualify him for a prescription.

Governor to sign suicide prevention, mental health care reform plans into law

Lawmakers say the stories they’ve heard from patients and families are spurring some major reform of Iowa’s mental health care system.

Mary Neubauer of Clive wrote a widely read obituary for her son, Sergei, in late September after he took his own life.

“I’ve told legislators I’m not asking them to do anything for me. It’s too late for us and for Sergei,” Neubauer said recently. “…We have the opportunity to save lives. I want us to do better and I am not alone.”

Senate President Charles Schneider of West Des Moines met with Sergei Neubauer’s parents shortly after the young man’s funeral. Schneider said the meeting helped him better understand the limited options for Iowans who need in-patient treatment, but not in a hospital psych ward.

“That’s the problem that they experienced when they were trying to find help for their son,” Schneider told Radio Iowa, “so that’s how it helped me and I’m sure that story, if it helped me, probably helped every other legislator they talked to.”

This is how Neubauer explained her family’s predicament during a news conference in early March: “When it became obvious that Sergei needed long term, residential mental health care for his illnesses, it simply didn’t exist in Iowa and that is a horrible feeling.”

Neubauer will be at the capitol again this morning as Governor Kim Reynolds signs two bills into law. One will require school employees to undergo at least an hour’s worth of suicide prevention training each year. The other seeks to address flaws in the system for treating mentally ill Iowans. Representative Shannon Lundgren of Peosta emphasizes that both bills passed the legislature unanimously.

“It was because of those people back home that were pushing and saying: ‘We’re not getting the right services at the right time and we have nowhere to go,’” Lundgren told Radio Iowa.

Representative Timi Brown-Powers of Waterloo said during a meeting earlier this year she kept her head bowed as Neubauer spoke of trying to find treatment for her son’s depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

“Although we’re ripping a scab off of a wound, that’s how we get stuff accomplished down here and those stories do matter,” she said during an interview with Radio Iowa.

University of Northern Iowa political science professor Christopher Larimer said studies confirm personal stories rather than raw statistics are what move people to action.

“Where there’s any sort of human suffering or injustice, those individual stories are going to matter more,” he said.

Advocates who worked on these two bills say the next step is to lobby legislators to provide more money for the mental health care system.

“We’ve reached a tipping point on this issue,” Peggy Huppert, the state director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said at the beginning of this month. “Mental illness affects tens of thousands of Iowans and they’re raised their voices to say in unison: ‘More must be done.’”

Governor quashes DOT idea of Interstate 80 as toll road

Governor Kim Reynolds.

Governor Kim Reynolds is giving a thumbs down to the idea of charging motorists traveling on Interstate 80 a fee.

“I don’t think Iowans are interested in tolls,” Reynolds said. “I have no interest in tolls.”

Making Interstate 80 a toll road was listed by Iowa DOT officials as an option for financing expansion of the route. Representative Gary Carlson, a Republican from Muscatine, says as the DOT begins planning for the future, officials are “trying not to shut off any ideas.”

“So those types of things get brought up in those discussions,” he says, “but in the particular idea of putting a toll road on Interstate 80, I just don’t see that happening in my lifetime.”

Carlson, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, says due to congestion on Interstate 80, expanding the corridor from four-lanes to six-lanes through eastern Iowa is a “very real possibility.” But Carlson says using traffic tolls as collateral for loans to finance road construction isn’t working well in other states.

“Iowa’s road system has really been based on pay-as-you-go,” Carlson says. “I think that has been prudent and I don’t see really any directional change from that.”

Senator Tod Bowman of Maquoketa, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee, says placing toll booths along Interstate 80 is a non-starter in the legislature.

“I haven’t heard from any of my constituents that want that and so I’m not going to be supportive of it,” Bowman says. “And I don’t believe the DOT should be going in that direction.”

Bowman says legislators might revisit the issue in the future if vehicles get so sophisticated that a toll could be charged automatically — but only to the out-of-state vehicles traveling through Iowa.

Legislators start week with tax and spending plans unresolved

Jack Whitver

The 2018 Iowa legislative session is entering its 12th week, but Republican lawmakers who control the debate agenda in the House and Senate have not yet revealed a final tax-cutting plan.

There have been no public hints about the size of their state spending plan for next year either. Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver of Ankeny says there are other priority issues, but those are the two biggest.

“It’s all intertwined,” he told reporters late last week. “We have to come to an agreement on what that tax plan will look like at the same time, probably, that we’re setting our budget targets.”

Whitver indicated Senate Republicans will also meet in private this week to decide whether to advance legislation that would use public money to cover private school tuition.

Trish Wilger, executive director of Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education, says putting state tax money in an “educational savings account” would let parents choose the school that best fits their child.

“This doesn’t have to be an us-versus-them issue,” Wilger said last week. “It’s about offering parents access to a variety of the high quality options that are out there.”

Opponents say the $4,000 “vouchers” would divert taxpayer money to religious schools and would hurt public schools.

“If we are able to find such resources, I would strongly advocate that those resources be designated to benefit the nearly half million public school students,” Melissa Peterson of the Iowa State Education Association says.

In February, Republicans in the Iowa House tabled a plan that would have given the parents of a new private school student $5,000 in state tax money to cover tuition and other expenses.

Four NW Iowa cities now report counterfeit cash being passed

This is a fake bill that recently was passed in Le Mars.

Another community in northwest Iowa is reporting the appearance of counterfeit cash. A bank and a business in Le Mars were both passed bogus bills in the past few weeks. Fakes have also turned up recently in Spencer, Storm Lake, and Graettinger.

Le Mars Police Chief Kevin Vande Vegte says everyone should know some key ways to distinguish real from fake currency.

“The bills will have a watermark so if you tip them, you should see a shadow of a different picture in there,” Vande Vegte says. “The bills will have a change of color, so looking straight on a particular point in the bill will be a constant color if you turn it at a 45-degree angle.”

One of the recent incidents in Le Mars involved a fake $50 bill, which was clearly a counterfeit, while the other case involved a $100 bill that was marked “For Motion Picture Use Only.” Unfortunately, he says that movie currency looks realistic and is readily available over the internet.

The chief says anyone who handles money should keep a sharp eye out for the counterfeits.

“A big one you can’t forget is just the feel of the bill,” Vande Vegte says. “How does it feel in your hand? Does it feel too heavy? Does it feel too light? When you hold a bill in your hand, you should feel ridges because the U.S. Mint puts raised ink on those bills.”

Magic marker-style pens that are made specifically for checking the authenticity of bills are a must for any business that takes in a lot of big bills.

“You can buy these readily online and they’re inexpensive,” Vande Vegte says. “In fact, we looked yesterday and there was a 5-pack for $7, so you can jump right on the internet and buy them.”

The chief says he believes the two recent cases in Le Mars are -not- connected as the types of fake cash passed were so different.

School districts could share social workers under new legislation

The Iowa House has voted to give Iowa school districts with arrangements to share staff — like a superintendent — the authority to hire a licensed social worker who’d work with students in both districts.

Representative Jacob Bossman, a Republican from Sioux City, was just elected to the House last month.

“There is a fiscal impact, however I believe that is a small price to pay to ensure our youth in Iowa public schools have access to the mental health services that so many desperately need,” Bossman says. The bill does not require that schools hire a social worker.

“This isn’t something that every school district is going to pursue, but it provides one more option to that access and I thik that’s something that we all should strongly support,” Bossman says.

Representative Phil Miller, a Democrat from Fairfield who served on his community’s school board, is another first-year legislator who won his seat in a special election.

“Having a social worker in a school is a very good idea, especially today when we have lots of things that our students are faced with,” Miller says.

Representative Marti Anderson, a Democrat from Des Moines, is a licensed social worker who served as president for the National Association of Social Workers chapter in Iowa.

“I have seen the wonderful work that school social workers do,” Anderson said, “and I urge the body to adopt this and make that good service available to more of our children.”

The bill passed the House on a 96-to-0 vote. It now goes to the senate for consideration.

Deere CEO addresses tax reform & massive quarterly loss

Tax reform and how it will affect the bottom line were topics addressed at Wednesday’s John Deere annual meeting in the Quad Cities.

Sam Allen, chair and CEO of Iowa’s largest manufacturing employer, was asked about the $900-million hit Deere reported in its first quarter earnings due to tax reform.

Deere spokesman Ken Golden says in the long run, the drop in federal taxes will be good for the company, for Deere dealers and for farmers.

“Each year until the new tax reform law went into effect, depreciation was an annual decision,” Golden says. “We saw customers waiting to make their decision on buying equipment based on what was going to happen to the law. The permanence is really what Mr. Allen was talking about in smoothing out this kind of impact that depreciation has on large equipment purchases.”

Deere opened the shareholders meeting with a video celebrating the 100th anniversary of entering the tractor business.

Tony Knobbe is one of the organizers of this year’s Gathering of the Green. He invited Allen and the audience to next month’s convention for John Deere tractor collectors. Knobbe is very proud of the theme the group selected — “Legend, Made Legacy.”

“If you look in their annual report, on the second page you’ll read, ‘The Hundred Year Legacy of the John Deere Tractor’,” Knobbe says. “And down here, it says ‘The Legend Runs On’. I know we didn’t steal it from them because this wasn’t produced when we produced our theme.”

During the meeting, Sam Allen quoted an old letter from a Deere board member. It was written before the company bought the Waterloo Gas Engine Company in 1918, and said, “The tractor will never replace the mule.”

Report finds drug, alcohol and suicide deaths among minorities in Iowa lower than most states

A new report finds surprisingly large increases in the number of deaths by alcohol, drugs or suicide among racial and ethnic minority groups nationwide, but the figures in Iowa are an exception.

Albert Lang, senior communications manager at Trust For America’s Health, says Iowa’s numbers in all three categories over the past few years are among the lowest in the country.

“We saw very minimal increases in drug deaths, same with suicide,” Lang says. “There was about a 10% increase in alcohol deaths in the state but because the number was kind of low, it was just 11 per 100,000 people, that 10% is just one additional person so it’s not quite enough to ring the alarm bells in Iowa like the rest of the country.”

While it’s not a critical issue now, the report projects that Iowa’s drug, alcohol and suicide death rate could rise by 36% in the next decade. “Synthetic opioids are becoming cheap and more available and they’re far more deadly than the prescription drugs and other kinds of opioids people were using 5 or 6 years ago,” Lang says. “It just takes a very small amount for someone to overdose on them.”

The national figures in the report look bleak. Alcohol, drug and suicide deaths increased at a record pace in 2016 — by 11% — and represent more than 14,000 additional deaths over 2015. For two years in a row, increases in these deaths have been at record highs.

“Iowa, across all deaths, is in the bottom five of states, meaning, they have one of the five best rates when it comes to alcohol, drug and suicide deaths,” Lang says. The study is being released by the non-profit, non-partisan Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust.

See the full report, “Pain in the Nation: The Drug, Alcohol and Suicide Epidemics and the Need for a National Resilience Strategy,” online at: http://www.paininthenation.org.

‘Significant footprint’ to remain in Iowa, but executive suite in Florida after Rockwell Collins acquired

More details emerge about the reorganization plan once Cedar Rapids-based Rockwell Collins is acquired by United Technologies.

About 8,000 people work for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, making it the city’s largest employer. The new company will be called Collins Aerospace Systems. According to Thursday’s announcement, executives will be based in Florida, and the new company will be divided into six units. The avionics and missions systems units will be based in Cedar Rapids.

A company news release indicated a “significant footprint” would be maintained in Cedar Rapids, but there was no indication of how many people would remain on the job in Cedar Rapids facilities.

Collins Radio was founded in Cedar Rapids 85 years ago. Rockwell bought the company 45 years ago.

Board of Regents president promises long-range tuition plan

The president of the Board of Regents says the group that oversee the three state universities wants to provide students and their parents with more predictability when it comes to tuition increases.

Board president Michael Richards says they should now how much funding they will get from the state by mid-April, and be ready to set next year’s tuition at its June meeting. “We must get this right and will only approve rates one time this year. We need the proper mix of financial resources at our universities. This must be done collectively, it takes all of us working together to maximize the resources of our public universities,” Richards says.

He says the board has been considering tuition increases below four percent and a long-term tuition strategy. “This fall we intend to announce a multi-year tuition model, with a baseline percentage increase for the next five years, starting with the 2019-20 academic year,” Richards says. “We will do further study this year to determine the range of increase each year.”

Richards says they have listened to concerns about raising tuition in the middle of a year. “We want to come up with a plan that allows for students and their families to know what tuition rates will be and what will be projected for the next several years,” Richards says.

Regent Larry McKibben of Marshaltown is a former state legislator and says the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa need more state support to maintain their quality. He says the state should take money from its cash reserves instead of another budget cut to the schools for this year.

“So now were are talking about a 35 million dollar cut in the budget mid-year and they have tens of millions of dollars in a rainy day fund,” McKibben says. “I have said and I have communicated to some of my former colleagues in the legislature that that is not acceptable as far as I am concerned,” McKibben says. McKibben says legislators and lawmakers are blaming the down farm economy for budget woes — but he says it’s soemthing else.

“It is all about priorities — it’s all about the priorities of whether we do this or whether we use some of the funds out of the rainy day funds. And we know with the federal change in tax law we know that we will have more revenue coming into the state of Iowa because of the reduction in the amount of the federal deductibility,” McKibben says. He says the reserve funds are the answer to funding the schools.

“There is no reason for a mid-year budget cut. There is absolutely no reason for a mid-year budget cut,” McKibben says. McKibben says some of the schools have already lost faculty to higher paying jobs in other states, and that will continue if the state does not give them more funding.

Report examines impact of irrigation in farming on weather changes

Corn in central Iowa.

The quantity of corn and soybeans grown in the Midwest and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions have radically changed in the past century.

A new report compares how the two impact climate change. Summers in the Corn Belt have had more rainfall and higher humidity, but a small decrease in temperature. Researchers at MIT looked at whether greenhouse gas emissions or more intensive farming played the bigger role in those changes. Ross Alter is the lead author of the study.

Alter says, “We provided very strong evidence that agricultural intensification is a stronger forcing of these observed changes than greenhouse gas emissions were.” More plants taking up water ultimately means more moisture in the air, increasing rain and moderating temperatures.

Iowa State University agronomist Rick Cruse says irrigation specifically, not just crop expansion, may be the real culprit. Cruse says, “This study suggests that there’s evidence that we ought to be considering agricultural impacts, especially in areas that are having a new or a major or significant, different form of crop cover, or water irrigation occurring.” Cruse says that’s because irrigation and the overall amount of water in the region affects plant activity that ultimately drives the changes.

The research also indicates agriculture may have masked potential increases in temperature that the greenhouse gas emissions alone might have caused. Cruse, the director of the Iowa Water Center, was not involved with the research but has worked with climate scientists.

Bill would extend allowed bus-riding time for elementary students

Elementary students in rural Iowa could ride the bus two-and-a-half hours a day if a bill that cleared the Iowa Senate becomes law. That’s half an hour longer — per day — than is currently allowed.

The bill also would let school officials create even longer bus routes, but only if there’s advance notice to parents and the public. Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen voted no.

“Republicans, you said at the beginning of session that Iowans were going to have to tighten their belts,” Petersen said, “but this bill asks Iowa kindergarteners to tighten their belts and we hope that they don’t pee their pants in the process.”

Senator Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton, said it’s best to let local school boards make the decision about the duration of school bus rides.

“I’m offended that we would sit here in our superiority and suggest that we care more about those children’s needs than their parents or their grandparents or aunts or uncles or neighbors who are the ones serving on those school boards and making those decisions,” Sinclair said.

Under the bill, all students would be allowed to ride the bus for 75 minutes to school and 75 minutes home. Under current law, elementary kids may ride no more than an hour on the way to school and on the way home. Supporters of the bill say putting elementary and high school kids on the same bus might let some schools consolidate routes and save money.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Bill calls for headlights during daytime storms, fog

Police would be able to issue 30-dollar tickets to drivers who fail to have their vehicle’s headlights on anytime it’s raining, sleeting, snowing or foggy during the day.

“It’s a common sense safety measure,” said Senator Tim Kraayenbrink of Fort Dodge.

Under current law, headlights are to be on from sundown to sunrise and on during the day when visibility is less than 500 feet due to weather conditions. Supporters of the bill says judging visibility distances can be subjective and it makes sense to make it clear headlights should be on during the day when it’s foggy or precipitation is falling — like it was yesterday morning as senators drove to the capitol in Des Moines.

“It’s very timely…that we’re talking about this issue,” Kraayenbrink said.

Senators tacked language onto the bill to make it clear drivers encountering bad weahter during the daytime won’t have to override automatic lighting systems. Those daytime “running lights” triggered by sensors in most modern vehicles will meet the requirements of the bill. The proposal now goes to the House vote review.

State Patrol stresses importance of slowing down in winter driving conditions

There have already been several multiple car-accidents on state roadways this winter and driving conditions are expected to be less than ideal in the next couple of days.

Iowa State Patrol spokesman Nathan Ludwig says the winter weather is just one factor in two of the big accidents on I-35 which involved 70 cars and then more than 90.

“I think it’s a combination of things — once you go a couple of weeks with not having any adverse weather and then you throw a couple inches of fast-moving snow at Iowa motorists, it tends to add to the accident things,” Ludwig. He says going too fast for the weather conditions is probably the biggest factor in most accidents.

“I talked to some motorists who were involved in the 92-car pileup up by Huxley on Saturday, and some of them did say they slowed down to 50, 55 miles-an-hour,” Ludwig says. “Slowing down in one thing, but the other thing is keeping a good following distance between you and the car ahead of you. And motorists just need to know that when you are on the interstate, things like this can happen.” Ludwig says you also need to expand your awareness in winter driving conditions.

“The biggest thing that people forget to do when they are on the interstate is they don’t look down the road — they look where they are at,” Ludwig explains. “So that’s what we are telling motorists, look up ahead, because if there is a crash we are going to ask you to slow down a little sooner.” Sergeant Ludwig says freezing rain adds another dimension to winter driving.

“It can be deceiving. So, if it looks icy we are asking you to slow way down because it’s going to take some time for you to get to a stop. You’re not going to have any control over your vehicle,” Ludwig says. He says if others are still passing you by as you slow down, keep your speed down, because you may see them in the ditch down the road.

“As soon as the accident happens, they want to hop out of their car and take a look at their vehicle,” Ludwig says. “But if you are in an accident — call 9-1-1 and stay in your vehicle — because it’s going to be safer than being outside of your car.” Also be aware that some spots are more prone to freezing than others.

He says watch out for bridges and overpasses, don’t use the cruise control. Also, keep a firm grip on the wheel and light foot on the gas pedal, and remember that four-wheel drive doesn’t matter on a sheet of ice. Ludwig says traveling 70 on dry pavement, requires an overall stopping distance of around 350 feet, while traveling 50 miles-an-hour on dry pavement, requires an overall stopping distance of around 198 feet. Those distances all increase when you are driving in wet, icy conditions.

Fires in Sioux City, Knoxville, Cedar Rapids leave three people dead

Three people died in three separate fires across the state this weekend.

Sioux City Police are investigating the death of a person whose body was found inside a burning car Sunday evening. The victim’s name has not been released.

A fire destroyed a house in Knoxville early Sunday. Seventy-year-old Charlene Selmyhr was outside the home when crews arrived, but she became unresponsive in a police car and died later at a hospital.

And in Cedar Rapids, 57-year-old Thomas Jones died Saturday when a fire broke out in his unit at the Shamrock Apartments. The causes of all three fires remain under investigation.

Freezing rain expected to hit Iowa in two waves

Many schools and businesses are closed in northwest Iowa, not because of the Presidents’ Day holiday but due to the wintry weather.

Two rounds of freezing rain are expected over the next 24 hours that’ll coat a wide section of Iowa in a layer of ice. Meteorologist Alex Krull, at the National Weather Service, says many roads are already in poor condition.  “We currently have freezing drizzle out in northwest Iowa,” Krull says. “Significant ice accumulations are already occurring. We have several reports of roads that are 100% ice-covered. In Carroll and Pocahontas counties in northwest Iowa, we’ve had emergency managers report that the roads are completely impassable.”

Temperatures are warmer in central and southern Iowa, at least for the moment, and most of the precipitation that’s now falling is just rain, but that won’t be the case after the sun goes down. “Round two this evening, we’re expecting to start after 9 P.M. which will impact more of southwest, west-central, central and northeast Iowa,” Krull says. “As temperatures drop below freezing, we’re expecting precipitation and substantial ice accumulations that will continue into Tuesday morning where we’re expecting implications for some travel hazards.”

That second round of freezing drizzle may be much more serious as it will cover areas of the state with larger population centers. “We’re looking for more ice accumulations along a line essentially from Des Moines up through Marshalltown, Waterloo and into Decorah,” Krull says. “We’re looking at anywhere from 15/100ths to 25/100ths of an inch of ice in that area. We’re definitely concerned as this will be impacting the Tuesday morning rush hour commute as well.” Heavy ice that coats trees could bring down limbs onto power lines and cause outages, while all roads, sidewalks, parking lots and driveways will be exceptionally slippery.

“If you must drive during this event, make sure you give yourself extra time,” Krull says. “Leave plenty of room between you and the other vehicles around you as well as give our snow plows plenty of room to do their operations as well.” Keep close tabs of road conditions at the Iowa Department of Transportation travel website, 511ia.org or get updated forecasts from the National Weather Service at weather.gov.

Making is legal for Iowans to bring out-of-state beer and wine into the state

It’s currently illegal for Iowans to buy wine or beer in another country or even another state and bring it into Iowa. Senator Roby Smith of Davenport is sponsoring a bill that, essentially, would let Iowans transport 48 cans of beer or six bottles of wine across the state line.

“This would bring common sense regulations to Iowa,” Smith says.

Smith’s proposal also would deal with wine collectors who live out of state and want to move to Iowa — with more than just six bottles of wine. Under current law, bringing just one bottle of wine into the state is against the law. Smith says he’s personally heard from people living in Illinois who say they can’t move to Iowa because of the current law.

“This is something that just makes it common sense to welcome servicemen and welcome anybody to Iowa on this and that’s what we’re getting at with this bill,” Smith says.

Smith’s bill would have a state official issue permits for out-of-staters to move themselves and their wine collections into an Iowa home. Senator Jim Carlin of Sioux City was part of a three-member subcommittee that reviewed the bill Monday afternoon and he signed off on all the changes.

“This just recognizes consumer realities of purchasing beer, liquor and wine across state lines,” Carlin says.

Under current law you may bring one bottle of liquor into Iowa from another state and four bottles into Iowa from another country. Smith says it appears to him leaving beer and wine out of the mix was simply an oversight. Another border-state senator suggests Iowa retailers who sell beer and wine may resist the change because they don’t want their Iowa customers going across the border to a competitor to buy beer and wine.

Bill would allow school bus rides longer than 75 minutes

Legislators are considering a proposal that would give Iowa schools authority to extend the riding time on bus routes.

Under current Iowa law, elementary students may ride no more than an hour on the bus at a time. The length of a single bus ride for high schoolers may be no more than 75 minutes. Senator Ken Rozenboom, a Republican from Oskaloosa, favors allowing longer bus routes.

“A Greene County school that has the elementary and high school co-located, if they were allowed to add 15 minutes to the elementary transportation time — taking it from 60 minutes to 75 minutes — it would allow them to eliminate two bus routes and save approximately $100,000,” Rozenboom said. “And that puts money into educating children instead of riding around on a bus.”

A bill that would let ride times for students be 15 minutes longer to school and 15 minutes longer on the way home has cleared the Senate Education Committee. The legislation also let school boards set even longer bus routes if they notify parents at least 30 days ahead of time and hold two public hearings before the change would take place.

Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, was skeptical.

“I haven’t heard from any parents saying: ‘I want my kid on the bus longer,’” Bowman said. “…Haven’t heard from any superintendents saying they need a longer period of time and I haven’t heard from any constituents saying this is a need and I certainly haven’t heard from any students saying: ‘I want to be on the bus longer.’”

Bowman, though, wound up voting to advance the bill out of committee. The measure is now eligible for debate in the full Senate.

Vision Zero focused on ending bicycle deaths

After an unprecedented number of Iowa kids on bikes were hit by cars and killed during 2017, a conference today will zero in on “Vision Zero,” an effort to eliminate all such deaths statewide.

Troy Carter, director of Iowa Safe Routes to School, says the annual meeting is gathering community leaders, researchers, teachers, parents and law enforcement.

“Last year in the state of Iowa, we unfortunately had five children under the age of 18 that were killed on our roads on their bicycles,” Carter says. “So, we are focusing on bicycle safety education. We have developed a curriculum along with the Department of Transportation that we distribute.”

In a typical year, two or three children may be killed statewide in bike/car accidents. In addition, 11 adult cyclists were killed by vehicles in Iowa last year, also an increase from the average of around seven. The day-long conference will feature representatives from the Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Group and the Healthiest State Initiative. Carter says they’re united for a purpose.

Carter says, “The Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau has put forth, along with the Department of Transportation, a goal of Vision Zero, for zero fatalities on Iowa’s roads.” Iowa Safe Routes to School is a division of the Coralville-based Iowa Bicycle Coalition. Carter has run Safe Routes since 2015.

“We do bicycle safety and pedestrian education all across the state of Iowa,” Carter says. “We are awarded a grant from the DOT to set up walking school buses, do community workshops and things along those lines that pertain to children under the age of 12.”

The conference runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Iowa State Fair beefing up security budget

A security upgrade is in the works for the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Fair spokesperson Mindy Williamson says a 20% boost to the fair’s security budget has been approved and the extra money will be directed toward personnel, training and equipment. Williamson calls it a precautionary move.

“I think this is just a different world we live in today and something that’s been needed at the fairgrounds, but there weren’t any specific events or anything that happened,” Williamson said. The increase in funding will allow the fair to hire sworn police officers, both full-time and part-time.

According to Williamson, the Iowa State Patrol, Des Moines Police and the Polk County Sheriff’s Department will continue to help with security during the Iowa State Fair.

“So, this is just another way to enhance that and be a little more proactive than reactive, given some of the world events that we have seen,” Williamson said. The new public safety force will oversee security for more than 350 events that happen on the fairgrounds each year, including the Iowa State Fair in August. Considering how many people attend the 11-day run of the fair, police have not had to deal with many serious issues.

“We’re thankful to have, you know, a million people who come visit the fairgrounds and less than two-percent of those people have something, an incident, where they’re working with our police officers on the grounds,” Williamson said. “So, great people come to the Iowa State Fair.” The 2018 Iowa State Fair is scheduled for August 9-19.

DOT’s lighting experiment reduced snow plow accidents

The Iowa Department of Transportation has installed flashing white and blue lights as a safety feature on the back of 220 snow plows.

“We find that about 75% of our collisions with snow plows are either rear-end collisions or side-swipe collisions,” says Iowa DOT director Mark Lowe.

There’s been a dramatic decrease in wrecks involving the Iowa DOT snow plows now equipped with those white and blue flashing lights on the back. Three winters ago, the agency’s snow plows averaged a wreck every 2,800 hours of operation.

However, last winter, the snow plows with flashing white and blue lights on the back had far fewer wrecks — about once every 8,800 hours on the road.

“With just the amber, it’s not as visible as the white and blue,” Lowe says. “I can’t explain why, but we know that it works and we’re cool with that.”

It costs about $500 to install the flashing blue and white lights on a snow plow. Legislation to be considered today in a state senate subcommittee calls for equipping the other 650 DOT snow plows with flashing white and blue lights.

Lowe says the lights can help reduce vehicle repair costs. For example, it costs $20,000 to replace the salt spreader on a snow plow if it’s damaged in a wreck. And, since snow plows are large, Lowe the costs for other drivers who collide with a plow are significant in terms of property damage to their vehicle and personal injuries.

Traffic camera ban clears Iowa House committee

Speed cameras in Cedar Rapids.

A House committee has narrowly approved a bill that would ban traffic enforcement cameras.

Representative Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, is not a fan of the automated systems that issue tickets for speeding and running red lights.

“It is truly a permit to speed because if you have enough money and you can just pay these tickets that don’t go on your record, you don’t have to fear your insurance being dropped or your license taken away, if doesn’t affect you,” Kaufmann said. “But if you’re someone with a low income, if you’re someone who cannot afford a $125 ticket when you’re going to work and you made a mistake, this is going to seriously affect you, so this is a law that is not applied equally.”

The traffic camera ban cleared the House Local Government Committee on an 11-to-10 vote. Critics of the ban says it would be better to establish new state regulations for where the cameras may be placed and to require the fines be used for road improvements or law enforcement budgets. Representative Art Staed, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said traffic cameras are a good tool for police, if used properly.

“I think it would be wrong at this time to ban all of these cameras that protect lives, save lives, reduce speeds throughout the state,” Staed said. “There are many, many uses for law enforcement cameras that are legitimate.”

A proposal that would continue to allow traffic enforcement cameras, but set up new state regulations for their operation cleared the Iowa Senate last year. That plan currently is eligible for debate in the House Transportation Committee.

Vandals hit Field of Dream’s movie site

The “Field of Dreams” baseball diamond near Dyersville that was the set for a 1987 movie has been vandalized.

A vehicle left tire ruts in both the infield and outfield. Dyersville Police say it appears the damage was caused by a single vehicle, making one pass through the field. It happened sometime Monday night.

Field of Dreams officials say they will work on repairing the damage before opening day, which is April 1.

Winter hits western edge hard, rest of state hanging onto warmth

A snowplow camera view from Iowa Hwy 10 in Northwest Iowa.

Getting around on the western side of the state today is a challenge as the winter storm moved in brought large amounts of snow with it.

The Winter Operations Administrator for the Iowa Department of Transportation, Craig Bargfrede says drivers are facing winter conditions in that area.

“Basically from the Sioux City area heading up towards the Minnesota border and then a little further east along the Minnesota border,” Bargfrede says.

DPT traffic camera view of I-29 in Sioux City.

He says South Dakota has closed Interstate 29 roughly outside of Sioux City north. Bargfrede says they’ve issued an advisory for the Iowa area. “In that Sioux City area and just south along I-29 we have areas where we are saying travel is not advised due to the blowing and drifting,” Bargfrede says, “but we have not officially closed I-29 if you will.”

Things are much better as you head east, and he says they’ve caught one break from the weather.

“The fortunate thing is that most of the rest of the state of Iowa, the air and temperatures have remained high enough that we’re not seeing the icing occur that we had originally forecasted,” Bargfrede says.

An I-80 traffic camera view near Grinell shows the contrast in conditions.

Bargfrede says drivers in areas where there is bad weather need to be patient.

He says you need to be careful operating around the plows and don’t crowd them or try to pass when the visibility is low. The Iowa State Patrol issued a tow ban for all of northwest Iowa.

Reports from Le Mars showed they had received seven inches of snow by 12:30, and the snow was till falling. The city of Le Mars pulled plows off the streets until the visibility improves.

Bill would cut penalty for possessing small amount of pot

Brad Zaun

A bill to ease the penalty for first-time possession of a small amount of marijuana has cleared a Republican-led subcommittee in the Iowa Senate.

Being caught with an amount of pot that’s five grams or less would be a simple misdemeanor if the bill becomes law. Republican Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale says that kind of a youthful indiscretion is penalized too harshly under current law.

“This charge follows these younger people or these adults that make these decisions which ruins, I think, their opportunities with jobs and employment,” Zaun says.

The bill cleared a three-member senate subcommittee Thursday, then it faces review in a full Senate committee. A similar bill cleared the Iowa Senate three years ago when Democrats held a majority of seats. Republicans now occupy 29 of the 50 seats in the state senate and Zaun is aware of the opposition from other Republicans.

“I know this is an uphill climb,” Zaun says.

A recent analysis from the American Civil Liberties Union found that while the same percentages of whites and blacks use marijuana, black Iowans are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Collision course? Competing bills about traffic cameras advance

A bid to ban all traffic enforcement cameras in Iowa is among the first bills to get some traction in the 2018 Iowa legislature. Subcommittees in both the House and Senate have approved the ban.

However, competing legislation to keep the cameras, but require fines be funnelled into law enforcement budgets has also cleared a House subcommittee.

Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, has been seeking a “traffic cam” ban for years and he led a discussion of his bill this morning.

“I think what’s given this effort more energy this year…is what happened in Cedar Rapids where they’ve decided to hire a collection agency and when these people are coming in and they did not pay their tickets to the vendor or the city, they’re not going to get their tax refund,” Zaun said.

Senator Rich Taylor, a Democrat from Mount Pleasant, said the cameras do not take into consideration adjustments drivers make based on traffic conditions.

“Why don’t we just put a GPS on everybody’s car? We’ll have no human equation. If you go over the speed limit, you get a ticket,” Taylor said. “Now if there’s a fire truck coming behind you and you have to speed up to get out of his way, doesn’t matter. You still get a ticket.”

Law enforcement officials say the speed cameras are critical in areas where it’s unsafe for officers to conduct traffic stops. Cedar Rapids Police point to curving Interstate-380 through downtown Cedar Rapids as an example.

“I think there are folks that as much as they dislike the technology and dislike their use, that there are appropriate areas for their use,” Gary Grant, a lobbyist for the City of Cedar Rapids, told senators on the subcommittee.

Grant called traffic cameras “an important tool for law enforcement.”

“As law enforcement budgets get tighter and tighter, we need to give them force multipliers when they’re out on the street,” Grant said.

Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, said he’s sympathetic to the idea technology can help law enforcement be more efficient, but he backs the ban.

“Our current system of traffic cameras isn’t acceptable to the broad mass of citizens,” Schultz said. “This way won’t work.”

Representative Ashley Hinson, a Republican from Marion, said there’s “passion on both sides of the issue,” but she favors more regulation rather than an outright ban of the cameras.

“I think it’s kind of a knee-jerk reaction to do an all-out ban,” Hinson said. “Why don’t we see if this addresses those concerns first, and then take the next step if it’s needed.”

Legislators have been debating this issue for years, without taking action. In 2012, the Iowa House voted to ban traffic cameras, but the Iowa Senate never considered the bill.

Two boys charged with vandalism that killed thousands of Sioux City bees

Destroyed bee hives in Sioux City.

Sioux City police say tips from the public have led to the arrest of two boys in the destruction of honeybee hives last month.

The unidentified boys — ages 12 and 13 — are suspected of the burglary and vandalism at the Wild Hill Honey operation on December 27th. All of the company’s hives were destroyed and half million bees perished in the cold.

The boys are charged with felony criminal mischief, third-degree burglary, agricultural animal facility offenses and possession of burglary tools. Damage to the business was estimated at more than $60,000.

No further arrests are anticipated.

Groups push for more laws regulating livestock operations

A coalition of more than two dozen state, local, and national organizations rallied at the statehouse today urging passage of a package of bills they say will strengthen regulation of large hog confinement operations known as CAFO’s.

The coalition says they have diminished the quality of life in the Iowa countryside. The Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture is calling for a moratorium on new large hog operations until fewer than 100 Iowa waterways remain impaired.

It’s one of several bills offered by Senator David Johnson, an Independent from Ocheyedan , he says will strengthen the regulation of hog farms.  “It’s time to get tough on poor siting of hog confinements — including those being built in environmentally sensitive areas, and locating CAFO’s where the smell and sound of someone else’s money is in your bedroom every night,” Johnson says.

Johnson say more large hog operations are going up in areas of the state where the environment is sensitive. “In northwest Iowa CAFO’s are creeping into Dickinson County where the Iowa Great Lakes and other natural features draw more than a million visitors every year,” Johnson says. “Some people there wonder if CAFO’s and Iowa’s famous vacationland can co-exist.”

Under the bill, the moratorium would last until Iowa redesigns the so-called Master Matrix plan adopted in 2002 that helps to determine if a livestock operation can be built. Critics say the plan is not working to limit the locations of livestock operations.

The chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, Ken Rozenboom, a Republican from Oskaloosa, has assigned a bill for consideration — be says he has concerns. “I just don’t think that’s the right way to approach whatever problem they’re trying to address,” Rozenboom says, “we are trying to grow Iowa, not hurt Iowa.”

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says there are roughly 13,000 CAFO’s in Iowa, and the number continues to grow.

Warmer weather predicted to wipe out deep freeze

Iowans are facing another day of some bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Andrew Ansorge says the coldest conditions overnight we’re recorded in northern and western Iowa.

“Estherville was down to minus-11, Forest City minus-12, and Logan was down to minus-13,” Ansorge said. “So, there was definitely some cold air across the state.” Estherville posted a wind chill reading of 35-below zero.

While high temperatures today across much of Iowa will only reach the single digits above zero, a roughly 40-degree warmup is on the way. “As we go into Wednesday and Thursday, we’re going to see temperatures go into the 20s and 30s and by Friday, across much of the state, we’re probably looking at temperatures in the 40s,” Ansorge said.

This morning, some light snow and flurries were flying around the state. The next chance for significant snowfall is several days away. “The next big system we’re looking at is probably going to be this weekend,” Ansorge said. “There’s still quite a bit of differences in the track of how the low pressure will move across Iowa, but there’s a chance for rain and snow across the state. As we get closer to this weekend we’ll be able to hammer down more on those details.”

Ansorge said, right now, it appears the colder air associated with the system that might bring snow this weekend will not be as bitter or as long lived as this current round.

Special election today for Sioux City area House seat

A special election for an Iowa House seat in northwest Iowa today is a test for Iowa’s two major political parties.

Republicans hope to retain the seat, vacated when Republican Representative Jim Carlin of Sioux City won a special election last month to become a state senator. Democrats point to the results of that December race, as their Democratic candidate won the half of the state senate district that’s up for grabs today.

Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill says the election for Iowa House District 6 will be held in 10 precincts in the Sioux City area, “which includes parts of Morningside (neighborhood in Sioux City), Sergeant Bluff, Salix and Bronson, basically.”

The race has generated a good amount of “early” votes, according to the county auditor.

“On Saturday, the (Woodbury County) Courthouse and out at Morningside Bible Church where we had a satellite site, we had about 300 people vote, so that was pretty impressive,” Gill says. “It was definitely worth the effort.”

This is the first election in Iowa to be conducted under the new rules of the state’s new “voter verification” law.

“It’s a soft roll-out,” Gill says. “Folks will have to produce an ID, but if they don’t have one for this election, they’ll just have to simply sign an affidavit saying they are who they claim to be.”

The candidates competing for the House seat are Republican Jacob Bossman, an aide to Senator Chuck Grassley, and Democrat Rita DeJong, a retired principal. There’s been a flurry of activity in this three-week special election campaign, with spending from outside groups like Americans for Prosperity and campaigning in the district by most of the Democratic candidates for governor.

Call goes out again for blood donors as supply drops

While many government offices are closed today, LifeServe is open and holding blood drives at several Iowa locations on this Martin Luther King Junior holiday as blood supplies are getting dangerously low.

Danielle West, spokeswoman for the Des Moines-based LifeServe, says December and January are typically the worst months of the year for donations as so many people are on vacation, traveling or the weather’s bad.

“We want to remind people how important it is to give blood because the need at hospitals is still the same no matter how many donors are coming out,” West says. “We’re definitely seeing our blood supply go lower and lower than we’d like it to be so we’re reminding people to come out and donate if they can.” While donations are needed of all blood types, West says a few types in particular are more urgently sought.

“O-negative is the universal blood type so anyone can receive O-negative, and O-positive is the universal positive blood type,” West says. “Those are usually the most critical but really all of our blood types are lower right now than we’d like them to be.” Donating a single pint of blood may help save the lives of as many as three hospital patients. Iowans shouldn’t be too concerned about the amount of time they’ll have to commit to donating a pint.

“You can be in and out in 45 minutes to an hour and that’s from start to finish,” West says. “Really, the donation process where you’re actually on the chair is five to ten minutes total. You start with registration, we do a short questionaire, a mini-physical, you’re in the chair for five to ten minutes and then we have snacks and goodies at the end of every donation.”

LifeServe has offices in Ames, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Mason City, Marshalltown and Sioux City, and serves hospitals across Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.

“We partner with around 120 hospitals which means we are their sole provider and they only get blood products from LifeServe,” West says. “If we don’t have what we need on our shelves to support them, we have to go find it elsewhere, which is not what we like to do or where we’d like to be.”

To schedule an appointment, call 800-287-4903 or visit www.lifeservebloodcenter.org.

Eight more flu deaths confirmed in Iowa

The Iowa Department of Public Health has confirmed 8 more flu-related deaths — bringing the total confirmed since October to 14.

The deaths reported were four women and one man in central Iowa, two women in southwest Iowa, and one man in eastern Iowa. The average age of those who died was 85, and five of the eight who died from the flu had other underlying health conditions.

In at recent interview on the flu situation, Health Department medical director Doctor Patricia Quinlisk says getting the flu vaccine is still the best way to combat the flu. There were reports early in the flu season that the vaccine is not as effective as it could be, but she says it still provides a lot of protection.

“Somewhere between 30 and 70 percent of stopping you from getting seriously ill,” Quinlisk says. “But it’s not going to stop every sniffle, it won’t, but it will still give you protection. It might mean that rather than being hospitalized you won’t be hospitalized. Rather than being sick for seven days, you’ll only be sick for three days.”

The Health Department says the predominant flu strain this season is AH3N2, which typically causes serious illnesses, hospitalizations and even death, particularly for those who are very young or old and those with weakened immune systems.

Doctor Quinlisk says getting kids vaccinated is important for them and others. “Children tend to be the major spreader of these viruses in our communities. Therefore by vaccinating our children we’re actually protecting the whole community — including grandma at the nursing home — because we stop the spread of the virus,”Quinlisk explains.

Flu symptoms may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches There are a lot of other illnesses going around and Quinlisk offers some advice to know if you might have the flu.

“Basically what I tell people, is if you have symptoms below the neck , you’ve got a fever, you’ve’ got aches and pains, you’re so tired it’s hard to get out of bed — that’s a pretty good indication that you need to stay home. You probably have something more than just a mild cold,” according to Quinlisk. “But if all you have is symptoms above the neck — a little bit of a runny nose, maybe a little bit of a sore throat, but otherwise you feel fine — you are probably okay to go to work.”

Quinlisk says it’s important to contact your health care provider as soon as possible after flu symptoms begin, especially if you are at high risk of complications and serious disease. Anti-viral medications given within a day or two of when your symptoms start can help cut the severity of the flu. And whether you have the flu or another illness, Quinlisk says follow the three C’s.

“Make sure you cover your cough, clean your hands and you contain your germs by staying at home when you are ill,” she says. Temperatures have dropped once again to below freezing. Quinlisk says the cold weather forces people to stay in side closer to each other and that can increase the spread of the flu.

“The other thing it does is it lowers the humidity in the air, which dries out our nasal mucosa and the back of our throats, and that makes it easier for those viruses to invade into your body and make you sick,” according to Quinlisk. “That’s why it’s really important this time of year to keep hydrated, drink plenty of fluids and to keep your house humidified keep that humidity in your house high enough that you fight off those viruses.”

For more information on the flu visit the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website.

Board of Health approves medical marijuana rules

The State Board of Health approved the rules for the manufacture and sale of medical marijuana during its meeting Wednesday.

 The director for the medical marijuana program Randy Mayer says the rules approved by the board had a few changes based on feedback from the single company that has been licensed to make the product.

“They were very specific about some things that could make their operations a little easier and a little bit cheaper,” Mayer “So we did accept a lot of their comments and make some changes about how they operate and what their security looks like and things like that to make it a little easier and less expensive for them.” Mayer says with the rules now in place, they can move to the next step.

“The next big project that we will be working on is licensing the five — up to five dispensaries — that would be selling the products to the patients and their primary caregivers across the state,” Mayer says. MedPharm Iowa was the only company to complete the licensing process to grow marijuana and manufacture cannabis oil here after nine companies had expressed interest.

Mayer expects there to be interest in the dispensary licenses, even though it is going to take some work to get the business going.

“We only have about 250 patients and primary caregivers registered right now, it’s going to take a number of years to build that patient base,” Mayer says. “So there are some fees associated with running dispensary and somebody’s going to have to have substantial collateral I think to get a dispensary running while waiting for the patient base to get built up to where I think it is going to start being profitable for them.”

The director of the Health Department says the manufacturer of medical marijuana is going to have to pay around $200,000 in fees. Mayer says dispensaries will also have to put up a lot of money for their license, as they estimate the fees to be in the range of $120,000 or so per year. The companies will be required to pay a $7,500 application fee, and pay a $10,000 bond for each background investigation of the company owners. The state will pay the company a refund if the background investigation costs less. They will also have to pay a $200 deposit on background check fees for each employee of the company.

Mayer says they will release the application for dispensaries in the last week of January and he says this may be the only time a company has a chance to receive a license. “We anticipate that unless someone is issued a license and they return it to us — or for some reason they fail to follow the rules — we won’t refuse to renew a license for one of those licensees,” according to Mayer. ” So, I think that people understand that you need to get the license up front when we are offering it at this point.”

The manufacturing company by law is supposed to have the product ready for sale by December 1st 2018. “That’s probably the earliest that we will have product available for people to start purchasing. I know a lot of people are waiting for that date, so I think that that’s an important message to get out,” Mayer says. A state representative who is a pharmacists says there are some estimates that it will cost the state one million dollars to implement the medical marijuana plan.

Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announces 2018 class

The 2018 inductees for the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been released.

Cindy Stanbro, executive director of the Iowa Rock and Roll Museum in Arnolds Park, says it’s a long list of bands, musicians, singers, deejays and others, which includes: “David Ellefson, The Nadas, Marilyn Maye, The Bushmen, Rob Lumbard, Buckeye, Crusin’, Rick Hillyard, A Stitch ‘n Tyme, The Torkays, Lavendar Hill Band, The El Riadas and Dean Davis, who’s getting a Lifetime Achievement Award.”

More than 320 artists have been inducted into the Iowa Hall since its inception more than 20 years ago. Stanbro explains how inductees are picked, once they’re nominated.

“They have to have at least 25 years experience in the industry and have made a significant impact,” Stanbro says. “The board of directors gets together and we review all the submissions and we look at the influence they’ve had on other artists, their length of career, regional and national tours, success of recordings, and how they’ve impacted rock-n-roll music in Iowa.”

Tickets for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction celebration will go on sale in March. The event is scheduled for September 1st and 2nd in Arnolds Park. Learn more at www.iowarocknroll.com.

(By Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)

Warm weather set to give way to snow and ice

Parts of Iowa will see high temperatures in the low 50s this afternoon, but highs Friday may only be in the teens.

A cold front is approaching that promises to drop up to six inches of snow on areas of the state. Meteorologist Mindy Beerends, at the National Weather Service, says the rain will gradually change to freezing rain and then to snow as the storm system progresses.

“The snow’s going to start moving into west and northwestern portions of Iowa late tonight and will continue that transition from northwest to southeast through the morning on Thursday,” Beerends says. “The heaviest band of snow we’re expecting is somewhere in west-central Iowa up through portions of north-central Iowa.” She says residents in several counties and communities need to prepare for another round of slippery snow.

“The heaviest band we’re looking at should fall in west-central Iowa up through north-central Iowa, somewhere along a Denison to Fort Dodge to Algona to Forest City line,” she says. “At this time, they’re looking at four to six inches.” Depending on how quickly the storm system moves, a wide section of western and central Iowa could be getting whalloped with rain, freezing rain and snow during Thursday’s busy morning commute.

“There will be a transition period where roads could get icy as much colder temperatures move in and a period of light snowfall,” Beerends says. “Even during that time, with the strong winds that are expected, there could be difficulty with travel even in regions that aren’t expecting the heavier snowfall.” With such warm weather today, most of the snow will melt and the roads will be wet and slushy, setting up potential driving hazards when the much-colder air arrives.

“We’re still looking in that timeframe of late tonight up through Thursday and definitely the morning commute in most locations, especially the western half of the state, could have problems,” Beerends says. “I encourage everybody to take it slow in areas where visibility could be reduced and suspend travel, if needed.” See an updated forecast at weather.gov.

State files lawsuit against former Sioux City recycler

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has filed a lawsuit against a former Sioux City council member who owned several defunct electronic waste recycling businesses.

The lawsuit alleges Aaron Rochester and his companies, Recycletronics, Siouxland PC, and The Name Ministries, illegally dumped and stored waste at licensed and unlicensed locations in Sioux City, Akron and South Sioux City, Nebraska.

The lawsuit says Rochester and his companies collected waste disposal fees and then illegally stored or disposed of millions of pounds of electronic components, including hazardous waste. Information in the suit says the properties in Iowa contain more than 12 million pounds of electronic waste and another 4.5 million pounds at two sites in Nebraska.

It also says that Rochester and his former business owe the state more than $75,000 for a 2011 loan for equipment used to recycle electronic waste.

(Story and photo by Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City)

Governor Reynolds calls for tax changes, outlines budget proposals

Governor Kim Reynolds.

Governor Kim Reynolds began this year’s “Condition of the State” address by acknowledging she’s the first female among Iowa’s 42 governors to deliver the annual speech.

“What a country and state we live in, where a small town girl from rural Iowa can become governor and have the opportunity to serve Iowans at the highest level,” Reynolds said. “I hope that can be an inspiration to every waitress, every grocery checker, every overworked and stressed out mom, and the little girls who dare to dream: In Iowa, if you’re willing to work for it, those dreams can come true.”

Reynolds also mentioned the “#MeToo” movement, praising women who’ve “found the courage” to report sexual harassment.

“Throughout history, sexual harassment has been a stain on our culture, a destructive force—in politics, media and entertainment, in workplaces large and small—in all facets of life. And it must stop,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds called on “all of us in public office” to serve as models for the public and private sector.

“As a woman, a mother of three girls, a grandmother, wife, sister, and daughter, I understand we’re at an unprecedented moment in time,” Reynolds said. “I also understand that this is not a partisan issue. It can’t be fixed by legislation or rule-making alone. You cannot legislate kindness or respect or morality. They must be taught. And that means the solution starts with every individual, man or woman.”

Reynolds used her speech to hail Republican initiatives passed in the 2017 legislature, like the changes in Iowa’s collective bargaining law. Then Reynolds sketched out what she described as “unfinished business” in the GOP agenda.

Reynolds called on legislators to make passage of a plan providing more state tax dollars for water quality projects their first priority.

“Improving water quality is a shared goal of Iowans.  Urban and rural stakeholders have worked collaboratively making great strides,” Reynolds said. “My hope is that a water quality bill is the first piece of legislation I sign as Governor.”

Next on the list: tax policy. She’s calling for an end a controversial state tax deduction for federal taxes. It makes Iowa’s top income tax rate look higher than it actually is when compared to most other states. Most other states do not have the deduction.

The governor released a proposed state spending plan for the coming year as well as cuts in the current year’s state budget. Her recommendation is that Iowa’s public K-12 schools get a 1.5 percent boost in general state aid, along with $35 million dollars to use as the schools wish. The $35 million annual allotment had been reserved for efforts to reduce class sizes in the early grades and state law does not call for the allotment to be included in the next state budgeting year.

Reynolds message: ‘dream big…anything can happen’

Governor Kim Reynolds. (file photo)

History will be made in the Iowa Capitol today when Kim Reynolds becomes the first female governor to deliver the annual “Condition of the State” address.

Reynolds told reporters yesterday she’ll emphasize that when you “challenge yourself, big things can happen.”

“It’s more about acknowledging that, you know, as a small town girl from rural Iowa, if you dream big and work hard, anything can happen,” Reynolds said during a statehouse news conference, “and I think that applies to anybody.”

This will be the third major speech Reynolds has delivered since she took over as governor in late May. Over the past several weeks, Reynolds has said she’ll use today’s address to unveil the “broad ideas” she has for tax cuts.

“Delivering my vision for not only tax reform, but for Iowa moving forward,” Reynolds said Monday.

Reynolds has been arguing cutting the state’s income tax rate will make Iowa more competitive. She’s also been promising to focus the tax relief on “working class families.”

“We ought to do everything we can to make sure they can keep more of their hard-earned money,” Reynolds told reporters on Monday. “People are working hard and what I still here is they’re struggling to make ends meet.”

Reynolds has hinted water quality and developing a more skilled Iowa workforce are among the other “pressing issues” she’ll discuss today. The annual “Condition of the State” address also requires a look back at 2017 and Reynolds has been telling crowds these are “exciting and critical times for Iowa.”

“We have a great story to tell,” Reynolds said yesterday. “Iowa has so much capacity and opportunity within our borders.”

Republican legislative leaders have been talking about reducing Iowa’s income taxes and an analysis obtained by a blogger indicated the GOP would like to phase out the state inheritance tax as well. Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix said yesterday that voters sent Republicans to Des Moines to cut taxes.

“Tax relief is about emboldening our middle class and encouraging our citizens to invest in themselves, their local businesses and in our state,” Dix said yesterday during a speech on the legislature’s opening day.

Democrats in the legislative warn against mimicing the 2012 tax cut package in Kansas that’s left a current 900 million dollar state budget deficiet there.

“It would be irresponsible for Iowa to go down that road. Iowans want us to make wise decisions to improve our state. We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of others,” Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, said during her opening day speech in the Iowa Senate.

3 nominated for district associate judge position

SIOUX CITY | Three Sioux City lawyers have been nominated to fill the upcoming district associate judge vacancy.

The Woodbury County Magistrate Nominating Commission chose Mark Cord, David Dawson and Matthew Pittenger from the 12 applicants.

The district judges of the Iowa Judicial Subdistrict 3B will meet to select one of the three nominees for the position, which will become vacant in February when District Associate Judge Timothy Jarman retires.
District associate judges hear serious and aggravated misdemeanor cases, small claims, hospitalization cases as well as juvenile cases and civil suits for judgment of up to $10,000.

New effort tries to help farmers hit by opioid addiction

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A recent study finds opioid addiction is hitting farm families much harder than the rest of rural America and a new outreach campaign is targeting

A recent study finds opioid addiction is hitting farm families much harder than the rest of rural America and a new outreach campaign is targeting those populations in Iowa and elsewhere.

Will Rodger, director of policy communication for the American Farm Bureau Federation, says the research found 74% of farmers and ranchers may have a problem themselves or they know someone who’s already hooked.

Rodger says, “Most of them are going to know somebody who is strung out on drugs or who is trying to get clean, one way or the other.” The survey by the Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union found that rural adults do recognize opioid abuse can start accidentally with the use of what are deemed as “safe” painkillers.

“We’re not talking about recreational drugs,” Rodger says. “We’re talking about folks who have fallen into addiction through little or no fault of their own. They got injured, they started on a course of opioids and for whatever reason, whether it’s bad treatment or genetic susceptibility or a combination of the two, they’ve gotten to the point that they can’t get off the drugs.” The campaign called “Farm Town Strong” provides resources for those in rural America who need help battling opioid addiction.

“It puts together a number of resources that people can turn to so that if they do have an addiction problem or know someone who does, they can get ahold of people who can give them treatment, help them with prevention, folks who can serve as sounding boards so they can figure out what their next step needs to be to get well again,” Rodger says.

The leaders of the Farm Bureau and the Farmers Union are holding discussions on overcoming the opioid crisis at the bureau’s annual convention, underway through Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee.

(Thanks to Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton)