Another Week Starts at Statehouse for Legislators Wrangling Over Budget

Legislators remain at odds over the main function of the Iowa General Assembly — coming up with a state spending plan. For example, the two parties have been wrangling since January over how much state aid to forward to Iowa’s public schools for the school year that begins in August. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says Republicans are “unwilling to compromise.” “It’s kind of messy for them,” Gronstal says. “Their leadership says: ‘We’ve drawn a line in the concrete…not the sand. Continue Reading

Iowa Residents Plead Guilty in Virginia Sex Trafficking Case

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Two Iowa residents have pleaded guilty in a federal sex trafficking case in Virginia. Laura Sorensen and Aldair Hodza entered the pleas Friday in federal court in Richmond to sex trafficking and transporting a person across state lines for prostitution. Court records show Sorensen and Hodza held a 20-year-old woman captive on a trip in December to Virginia and forced her to have sex with men who answered online ads. Prosecutors say the defendants tortured the woman with lit cigarettes and other heated objects, pierced her feet with nails and poured bleach into her wounds. Continue Reading

Chicken Coop

Branstad Declares State of Emergency as Bird Flu Spreads

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has declared a state of emergency due to a bird flu outbreak that’s forcing farms to kill more than 17 million chickens and turkeys. Branstad’s proclamation announced Friday will remain in effect until May 31 unless it’s terminated earlier. The proclamation activates disaster response and recovery procedures for Iowa’s homeland security and emergency management programs. It authorizes use of state money, supplies and equipment to track and monitor bird flu, establish restrictions around affected farms and rapidly detect cases. It also allows more time to dispose of poultry carcasses. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says it’s important to step up the response as the disease spreads. Continue Reading

Ernst Praises Pacific Trade Deal

US Senator Joni Ernst is praising a proposed trade deal that she hopes will improve Iowa’s international export industries. Ernst was in the senate chambers while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed congress to approve the Trans Pacific Partnership, a controversial free-trade deal. Ernst says the deal will improve the state’s economy and criticizes those who think the deal will cost American jobs. “Our ag economy, our manufacturing base, it continues to grow in Iowa as we open up additional markets,” Ernst told KBUR, “From what we’ve seen in recent years, we’ve seen growth, instead of a loss of jobs. Now, that isn’t to say that we haven’t had other areas where jobs may have moved, but overall we’ve seen a huge boost to our economy from international trade.” Continue Reading

Wright County, Home to 15 Million Chickens, Declares State of Emergency As Bird Flu Spreads

CLARION, Iowa (AP) — A north-central Iowa county with the state’s largest chicken population has declared a state of emergency as a pre-emptive strike to keep out bird flu. Wright County Supervisor Stan Watne says about 15 million chickens are housed in 20 locations across the county. Even though the closest confirmed bird flu case is about 80 miles west, the supervisors decided Thursday to take unprecedented emergency action in advance of a disaster. The emergency declaration, usually used when a tornado strikes or a river floods, allows the three supervisors to set up an incident command and create an action plan. It may include road closures to reroute trucks carrying poultry from outside the county away from local chicken barns. Continue Reading

Bird Flu Spreading: Four More Farms Confirmed Infected

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — State agriculture officials say the deadly bird flu virus is still spreading, now suspected on two more Iowa chicken farms and two more turkey operations. Officials say initial tests indicate the virus on two turkey farms in Buena Vista County. One has 50,000 birds and the count on the other farm is still pending. A chicken farm in that county with 63,000 laying hens also tested positive. Tests also returned positive on a chicken breeder farm with 19,000 birds in Kossuth County. Continue Reading

Eminent Domain Reform Legislation Advances

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Legislation that would make it harder for two energy projects to win eminent domain rights has won preliminary approval in the Iowa Legislature. Subcommittees in the House and Senate met jointly Tuesday and approved identical legislation on the issue. Under the proposal, a project seeking eminent domain to build through private properties could only get permission after negotiating voluntary deals for at least 75 percent of the affected land. The proposed change could impact two current proposals. 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 Legislature Prepares to Adjourn, But Won’t Be Home Anytime Soon

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Staffers in the Iowa Legislature are starting some of the tasks associated with adjourning the session, even though lawmakers are not close to concluding the budget process. Student pages in the Iowa Senate were organizing boxes in the chamber Tuesday for members to pack up desks. As per tradition, they also stacked the boxes up to the balcony until they collapsed. Friday will mark the last day for lawmakers to receive daily expense payments, as well as the final day of work for many clerks and pages in the part-time Legislature. But lawmakers in the Democratic-majority Senate and Republican-controlled House have not reached a compromise deal on the state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Continue Reading

Federal Board Declines Request to Reopen Buddy Holly Crash

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa (AP) — The National Transportation Safety Board has declined a request to reopen the investigation of the Iowa plane crash that killed musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. The Civil Aeronautics Board ruled in 1959 that the most likely cause of the crash was pilot error. Snow was listed as a secondary caused. In a letter dated April 21, the agency said the evidence presented in a request from pilot L.J. Coon wasn’t sufficient to merit the reconsideration of the findings of the original investigation. Coon had contended that there were other issues involving weight and balance calculations, fuel-gauge readings and more that contributed to the crash. Continue Reading