Leader: Iowa House Committee could make Broadband Changes

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The leader of a House committee tasked with deciding whether to approve Gov. Terry Branstad’s broadband expansion bill says there could be major changes to the legislation. The Republican-led commerce committee made a last-minute change to its Monday meeting and removed discussion of the bill, which would help service providers expand broadband, also known as high-speed Internet, in Iowa. Rep. Peter Cownie, a Republican from West Des Moines and chairman of the commerce committee, says Republican lawmakers are considering whether to keep a proposed grant program that would assist service providers with the costly process of expanding broadband. Cownie says lawmakers may expand a property tax program. Democrats in the committee say they also have concerns about the grant program. Continue Reading

Iowa Gov. Branstad’s Cannabis Oil Idea Faces Roadblocks

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Gov. Terry Branstad has suggested Iowa residents could one day buy cannabis oil in neighboring Illinois, a move that industry experts say has major legislative roadblocks if it’s ever seriously considered. Branstad recently said he was open to working with officials in Illinois, which has a pilot program to produce and distribute medical marijuana. Iowa has a law that allows residents with some forms of epilepsy to use oil with an ingredient derived from marijuana for treatment. Illinois law would need to be changed to let Iowa residents purchase the oil there. Federal law would prohibit them from bringing it back to Iowa. Continue Reading

University of Iowa Students, Staff Weigh in on New President

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Students, faculty and staff at the University of Iowa are making it clear they want candidates for university president committed to addressing sexual assaults on campus and creating a more diverse and inclusive campus. The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports the university held three town hall meetings Friday as the process of finding a successor for Sally Mason begins. She retires in July. Some students expressed their desire to have a president with a faculty background and research experience rather than one coming from the corporate world. Faculty member Laurie Haag says she wants “an intellectual leader for the state” and faculty Senate Vice President Christina Bohannan is looking for someone who understands that “freedom of expression and the marketplace of ideas are not in tension with racial diversity.” Continue Reading

Gray Wolves Back on Endangered List

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Federal protections for gray wolves have been reinstated for the northern half of Iowa and portions of nearby states. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia reinstated federal protections in the western Great Lakes region on Dec. 19. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its rule on the decision Friday. The ruling once again classifies gray wolves as endangered in all of Wisconsin and Michigan, the eastern half of North Dakota and South Dakota, the northern half of Iowa, the northern portions of Illinois and Indiana, and the northwestern portion of Ohio. Continue Reading

Iowa Flood Risk ‘Below Normal’, Says National Weather Service

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Regional experts for the National Weather Service say the risk of flooding is at or below normal for Iowa this spring. Cedar Rapids television station KCRG says the reports released Thursday by service meteorologists in Des Moines and Davenport in Iowa and La Crosse, Wisconsin, covered the potential for river and lake flooding in their respective coverage areas through the end of May. They cited the general lack of snowpack in much of Iowa and said stream levels and frost depths also were near normal for this time of year. The meteorologists noted that their predictions could change with the weather. The weather service offices are scheduled to update their spring flooding outlooks on March 5. Continue Reading

Senate Panel OKs Bill that Would Ban Most Calls in Cars

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Senate panel has approved a bill that would ban people in Iowa from holding a cellphone and talking while driving. A transportation subcommittee discussed the bill Thursday. It now moves to a full committee for consideration. Current law prohibits people in Iowa from reading, writing and sending messages on an electronic device while driving, though an officer must be stopping a person for a different offense in order to enforce it. This bill would ban a person from holding a cellphone and talking while driving. Continue Reading

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Debate on Gas Tax Expected Tuesday in Iowa House

A bit of drama at the statehouse Thursday as a bill that would raise the state’s gas tax by a dime a gallon cleared a key House committee on a 13-to-12 vote. To ensure passage, Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen used his authority to permanently replace one of the committee’s Republican members who opposed the bill with another Republican who voted yes. “I’m not going to ask somebody to go flip their vote,” Paulsen told reporters before the meeting. And Paulsen temporarily replaced a freshman Republican legislator who was a “no” on the bill and Paulsen himself voted “yes” in his place. “I’m not going to ask somebody to do something I’m not willing to do,” Paulsen said. Continue Reading

More than 45,000 in Iowa Sign Up for Coverage on Exchange

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Federal officials say that over 45,000 people in Iowa have signed up for health care coverage on the federal exchange. The second open enrollment period under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul — known as the Affordable Care Act — ended Sunday. In a Wednesday news release, federal officials say over 45,000 people in Iowa signed up or were automatically re-enrolled in a plan. That’s more than the roughly 29,000 who signed up during the first enrollment. Over 2,000 people who shopped on the exchange are still enrolled in plans with an insurance cooperative that the state plans to liquidate. Continue Reading

Iowa Senate Committee OKs Bills on Minimum Wage, Wage Theft

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Senate committee has approved bills that would increase Iowa’s minimum wage and create a more detailed system for preventing wage theft. The committee on labor and business relations voted Wednesday to advance both bills. The full Democratic-controlled Senate can now debate them. The minimum wage bill would increase the state’s $7.25 minimum wage to $8.75 by 2016. Democrats previously pushed to raise Iowa’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, but they now say this new bill could have more bipartisan support. Continue Reading