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Higher Gas Tax or Not?

A new Loras College Poll has found a majority of Iowans support an increase in the state gas tax. Nearly 54 percent of those surveyed said they would tell their legislator to vote for a ten-cent hike in the state fuel tax. Political science professor Christopher Budzisz is director of the Loras College Poll and he says all 12-hundred Iowans who were surveyed voted in the 2014 General Election. The Loras College Poll found support among independents and among Democrats for an increase in the state tax on each gallon of motor fuel sold in Iowa. Among Republicans, nearly 49 percent opposed the idea, while over 45 percent supported the tax hike. Continue Reading

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Hand-Held Cell and Texting Bill Gets Look in Iowa Senate Committee

It would be illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving if a bill proposed by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau becomes law. Texting while driving would also become a primary offense, meaning an officer would be able to pull someone over if they suspect the driver is texting. Patrick Hoye, the former head of the Iowa State Patrol, is now chief of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau. Hoye met with members of the Senate Transportation Committee to discuss the bill. He says cell phone use while driving — to either talk or text — is just as bad as drunk driving because not only does it take one hand off the wheel, it takes the driver’s attention away from the road. Continue Reading

Ernst to Chair Green Energy, Broadband Expansion Committee

Senator Joni Ernst is now chair of a subcommittee that oversees U-S-D-A programs that promote renewable energy and broadband expansion. Ernst is a member of the Senate Ag Committee and just this past week she was named chairman of the subcommitee on rural development and energy. Ernst says identifying ways to “enhance” rural life is a priority for the subcommittee and she sees former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack — who is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture — as a partner. Ernst is also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Anti-war protesters disrupted an Armed Services Committee hearing this week and Ernst says it was an unfortunate distraction from the testimony of former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Madeleine Albright. Continue Reading

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Legislative Committee May Vote on Gas Tax This Week

The first committee votes on a bill that would raise the state fuel tax by as much as a dime a gallon may come this week at the statehouse. For several years, the idea of phasing-in a gas tax hike was considered, but never enacted. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, says this year is different.  More than 200 county and city officials, along with road builders, flooded the statehouse last Wednesday to lobby for a fuel tax increase. Paulsen, Republican Governor Terry Brasntad and Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal have all said it will require “bipartisan support” for a gas tax hike to pass the legislature, however. Continue Reading

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Southern Iowa, Northern Missouri Approaching Drought Status

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Parts of Iowa, Missouri and other Midwest states are teetering close to drought status. The National Drought Mitigation Center on Thursday classified a large swath of southern Iowa, areas along the northern Missouri border and the region east toward Illinois and Wisconsin as abnormally dry. This is one level below its moderate drought category. The label comes just a week after the center categorized the area as normal. Continue Reading

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Tests Continue on I-35; Safety During Snowstorms the Goal

With snow expected in many places this weekend, testing is underway on a project in central Iowa that could reduce the number of traffic crashes during snow storms.

Iowa Department of Transportation engineer Willy Sorenson says the idea involves the use of sensors and lasers to monitor winter pavement conditions. A mathematic formula then calculates an “advised” slower speed limit which is posted on digital signs along Interstate 35. On an icy day, for example, the signs might suggest a speed limit of 55 miles an mile. Many crashes on the interstate during a snow storm happen because some motorists are driving too slow at a time when others are going too fast for the conditions. Sorenson believes an “advisory speed” would bring the speeds of all vehicles closer together and make it safer on the interstate. Continue Reading

Established Iowa Tax Watchdog Pledges Retribution if Gas Tax is Raised

The leader of a group created nearly four decades ago to lobby for a smaller state government and reduced taxes says Iowa legislators will pay a price in 2016 if they support a gas tax increase in 2015. Rob Solt is president of Iowans for Tax Relief, a group urging lawmakers to vote against any bill that would raise the state gas tax. Here’s how the formula works: nearly half of the money raised by those taxes is kept by the state, with 20 percent going to cities and the rest going to counties. Solt suggests the state should keep less and share more with local governments. It appears momentum is building at the statehouse for a gas tax increase, however. Continue Reading

Iowa Sees Double-Digit Increase in Suicides from 2012 to 2013

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Health officials say more than 400 Iowans committed suicide in 2013, a 17 percent increase from the previous year. The Iowa Department of Public Health released data last month that reveals 445 such deaths statewide in 2013, the most since at least 1989. The suicide rate was 14.4 per 100,000 people, up from 12.8 in 2012. The Telegraph Herald reports Iowa’s suicide rate exceeds those of neighboring Illinois and Wisconsin. Officials say changes to Iowa’s mental health system might improve crisis intervention in eastern Iowa. Continue Reading

New Iowa Strip-Search Bill Mirrors U-S Supreme Court Ruling

A bill in the Iowa Legislature would allow more strip searches of inmates in city and county jails, in accordance with a U-S Supreme Court ruling. Under the bill, people arrested for simple misdemeanors such as public intoxication or possession of drug paraphernalia could be searched for contraband even without probable cause. Lisa Davis Cook with the Iowa Association for Justice objects. Iowa law already allows so-called visual searches without probable cause for more serious offenses. A-C-L-U attorney Pete McRoberts says the bill should only cover violent offenders, but Marshall County Sheriff’s Department chief deputy, Steve Hoffman, says that could pose a threat to officers. Continue Reading