Fireworks Legalization Passes Senate Committee

A bill that would make it legal for Iowans to set off fireworks has cleared a Senate committee. Senator Randy Feenstra of Hull says it’s time to make the change. “Since it’s happening already, maybe we should put some parameters in place, which this bill does, to legalize it,” Feenstra says. If the bill becomes law, Iowans could legally set off fireworks from 9 a.m. through 10 p.m. any day of the year, plus for an extended period on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and on New Year’s. The only fireworks which are legal to sell and set off in Iowa today are sparklers and snakes. Continue Reading

Branstad Refuses to Commute Five Sentences

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has denied five inmates’ requests to lessen the long prison terms they are now serving. Of the inmates denied commutation Tuesday, two are serving life sentences for first-degree murder, including one man whose crime was committed more than 54 years ago. Another is serving a life sentence for first-degree kidnapping. Commutation denotes the modification or reduction of a punishment. Under Iowa law, first-degree murder is punishable by life in prison without parole. Continue Reading

Former Oelwein Mayor Acquitted on One Sex Charge, Mistrial for Second

The former mayor of Oelwein, on trial over accusations of sexual abuse against two minor girls, has been acquitted of one charge, while the jury deadlocked on another. Thirty-seven-year-old Jason Manus had been charged with second degree sexual abuse of a girl between 6 and 9 years old and third degree sexual abuse of a 14 year old girl. The incidents allegedly took place in 2010, but did not come to light until August of last year. Manus resigned as Oelwein’s mayor, a post he held for just a few months, days after he was arrested. The trial was moved to Chickasaw County on a change of venue. Continue Reading

House Passes Budget Bills to Fund Courts, Natural Resources Department

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa House has passed budget bills that would fund several services including the state’s judicial branch and natural resources department. The Republican-controlled House voted Tuesday for the bills, which would pay for various state departments in the fiscal year that begins in July. The chamber voted 56-43 to allocate more than $174 million to the state’s judicial branch. That would keep funding at the same level as last year. Lawmakers voted 57-42 for a bill in support of $42 million for agencies like the state Department of Natural Resources and the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Continue Reading

Eminent Domain Law Still Moving Through Iowa Senate

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Legislation that would make it harder for two energy projects to win eminent domain rights has passed another legislative hurdle in the Iowa Senate. The Senate Government Oversight Committee approved the bill Tuesday. Under the proposal, a project seeking eminent domain to build through private properties could get permission only after negotiating voluntary deals for at least 75 percent of the affected land. The proposed change could impact two current proposals, both before the Iowa Utilities Board. One is to build an oil pipeline that would ship 450,000 barrels daily from production sites in North Dakota to an oil hub in Illinois. Continue Reading

Iowa State Patrolman Administers CPR in the Middle of Interstate

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Video footage from the dash camera of an Iowa State Patrol car shows a trooper administering CPR to a man in the middle of Interstate 35. The video obtained by Des Moines television station KCCI shows Trooper Tracy Bohlen following a swerving truck and approaching the vehicle with a hand on his gun when the vehicle stopped in the middle of the road at the eastern interchange of interstates 35, 80 and 235 in Des Moines. The footage then shows Bohlen beginning to deliver chest compressions to the driver, Patrick Roark, in the middle of the road before he could be transported to Mercy Medical Center. Roark tells KCCI he is still awaiting test results, but that doctors described what happened as a heart episode. Continue Reading

Branstad Moves to End Governor Sign-Off Requirement on Abortion

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Gov. Terry Branstad wants to end to a perplexing abortion restriction adopted in Iowa two years ago. The Republican governor’s proposed Health and Human Services budget doesn’t renew a requirement that he sign off on any payments for publicly funded abortions. Lawmakers adopted that policy, which effectively halted state reimbursements for abortion under Medicaid because providers stopped submitting the claims.

Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers says Tuesday the governor sought the change because Branstad hasn’t been asked to approve reimbursement. Republican Rep. Matt Windschitl says anti-abortion conservatives still want to ensure public funds don’t go to abortions. Iowa’s Medicaid program previously paid for a small number of abortions. Continue Reading

Big Drop in HIV Diagnoses in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa public health officials say the number of new HIV diagnoses fell dramatically last year, but it’s too soon to tell if the drop represents a sustained trend. The Iowa Department of Public Health announced Monday that new HIV diagnoses decreased 19 percent from 2013 to 2014. The 99 new diagnoses in 2014 were the fewest since 88 were diagnosed in 2003. HIV Surveillance Coordinator Jerry Harms says the department will need more data to determine if the drop is the start of a long downward trend but that the 2014 numbers were promising. At the end of 2014, there were 2,369 HIV-infected people living in Iowa. Continue Reading

Branstad Urges Anti-Bullying Bill Passage

Governor Branstad is urging his fellow Republicans in the Iowa House to pass the anti-bullying bill that has already cleared the Democratically-led Iowa Senate. “This bill passed with strong bipartisan support in the Senate 43-7,” Branstad says. “We think it’s critically important that the legislature be approved this year.” Branstad has proposed similar legislation in each of the past two years and, while it’s been identified as one of his top priorities, it has bogged down in the legislature. “I just think it’s critically important that we have action this year,” Branstad says. Continue Reading