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Truck drivers, bus drivers, and other operators of commercial vehicles could be more likely to lose their licenses for texting while driving, under legislation the Iowa Department of Transportation will ask state lawmakers to approve this year.  

Operators of commercial vehicles in Iowa are already pulled over and fined for texting or operating a handheld mobile phone, but it’s a general citation for violating federal rules.   

Iowa law does not spell out a specific cellphone citation for operators of commercial vehicles.   

Christopher Gannon / courtesy of ISU

An Iowa State University professor’s lecture on what people ate during the Great Depression will be getting an audience well beyond her classroom.

History professor Pamela Riney-Kehrberg teaches a class called America Eats, which she describes as a food history of the United States. It caught the attention of C-SPAN, which filmed her this fall giving a lecture on the Great Depression.

Riney-Kehrberg says both food and the Great Depression seem to be topics that interest a broad array of people, which is why it felt like a good fit for C-SPAN’s national audience.

Iowa Caregivers

A new report is praising Iowa as one of three states developing solutions to the problem of a shortage of direct care workers. Advocates for caregivers in the state say they need legislative support to enact them.

doctors office
Jennifer Morrow / flickr

More than 56,000 Iowans are enrolled in an individual health insurance plan for 2018 through the Affordable Care Act, according to Medica, the only insurance company left on Iowa's ACA exchange. 

An Iowa Insurance Division spokesman says that number is, "roughly in line with the 18,000 to 22,000 [consumers] we expected to leave the market." 

Emily Woodbury / Iowa Public Radio

A Johnson County-based nonprofit is joining with the Iowa Department of Corrections to produce an on-line resource guide for people who are being released from prison. The organization is trying to compile a complete list of support services available in the state.

The group Inside Out Reentry Community formed in 2015 to assist recently incarcerated men and women find jobs, housing, counseling services and even clothing after their release. Its director Mike Cervantes says there is plenty of support for these people, but it’s not always easy to find.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts consumers will be paying less for beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey in early 2018 than at the start of 2017. Not so for eggs.

pills in a bottle
nosheep / Pixabay

The number of opioid-related deaths is expected to increase in Iowa this year compared to 2016. There were 180 opioid-related deaths in Iowa last year, and the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) is projecting that number will hit 201 by the end of 2017.

Eighty-six Iowans died of opioid overdoses in 2016, and IDPH expects about 96 opioid overdose deaths in 2017. 

Michael Leland / Iowa Public Radio

It’s been 725 days since Des Moines has received more than three inches of measurable snow. The last time this happened was in the 1920s.  Kelsey Angle from the National Weather Service says a lack of snow could hurt next year’s farm crops.

“If we continue to see a deficits in regards to precipitation and particularly snowfall as we head throughout the winter months, that could have some serious consequences as we go into the spring and the summer," he says.

Overall, central Iowa is below the average of 40 inches of annual precipitation by six inches. 

University of Iowa Health Care

Programs offered by the University of Iowa to draw more young people into the so-called STEM fields appear to be working. The number of students attending STEM-related workshops sponsored by the U of I during the past year increased substantially.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Advanced biofuels have been touted as the next step beyond the corn-based ethanol that’s the bulk of the country’s renewable fuel for cars and trucks. These next-generation options were supposed to bring jobs to rural communities and provide farmers with fresh revenue sources, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles.

UnityPoint Health

UnityPoint Health is about to make available in Cedar Falls a medical clinic with dedicated service hours for LGBTQ patients. It will be a first-of-its-kind within the hospital chain.

Beginning right after the first of the year, the UnityPoint clinic on Prairie Parkway in Cedar Falls will offer evening hours for LGBTQ patients two Wednesdays a month. Dr. Eric Neverman, a specialist in pediatrics and internal medicine,  will help staff the clinic. He and the rest of the providers there have completed what’s called Safe Zone training.

johnson county building
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Johnson County is continuing to advocate for a higher minimum wage despite the Iowa Legislature’s reversal of local wage increases earlier this year.

Two economists involved with the county's Minimum Wage Advisory Committee told the board of supervisors Thursday the county has not seen adverse impacts from raising its minimum wage to $10.10.

John Pemble / IPR

Republican Governor Kim Reynolds says the state is making “steps in the right direction” in curbing a culture of sexual harassment at the Iowa capitol.

Reynolds will serve in the state’s top job during her first legislative session when lawmakers come back to the capitol in January. Hanging over the session is the aftermath of a $1.75 million sexual harassment court settlement to a former Iowa Senate Republican caucus staffer.

“I don’t think it was handled appropriately but first of all let’s just say this is not a partisan issue,” Reynolds tells Iowa Public Radio.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Ambassador Terry Branstad is back home in Iowa for the first time since assuming his post in China, arriving for his brother’s funeral in Winnebago County on Monday, and planning to spend the holidays here. 

Branstad traveled back to the state with his wife Chris, daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters.   They will attend Christmas Mass at Christ the King Church in Des Moines and return to China on January 3rd.

Branstad was working at a desk in the governor’s offices Wednesday, catching up on ambassador business.   

Grand Design Recreational Vehicles

What a difference a year makes for recreational vehicle maker Winnebago Industries. The Forest City-based manufacturer begins fiscal 2018 well ahead of its earnings for last year at this time.

USMC/Wikimedia Commons

Kim Reynolds’ administration is backing off proposed rules for guns in Iowa day cares, something the Department of Human Services up to now has not addressed.    

DHS was scheduled to present the proposed rules before state lawmakers last week, but the item was  pulled from the Administrative Rules Review Committee agenda.  

At her weekly news conference, Reynolds said they want to hear from all stakeholders first.

“We hadn’t done that,” Reynolds said.   “We want to make sure we're looking at that from all perspectives.” 

chuck grassley
John Pemple/IPR file photo

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley says he is not questioning the White House’s vetting of potential federal judges after three judicial nominees were recently rejected. 

Grassley says it’s not that the rejected nominees lack legal capabilities, rather, they "probably lack good judgment." 

"And you want judges that are going to have good judgment—more important, a better word would be judicial temperament, meaning they’re going to leave their own views out of cases," Grassley says. 

foxhoven
John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Iowa Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven says the state can fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) into April.

Congress has yet to renew federal funding for the program, which is called hawk-i in Iowa. It provides health insurance for about 60,000 kids from low and moderate income families in the state.

Foxhoven says he thinks CHIP will be reauthorized, but he says Congress has been unpredictable.

Joyce Russell/IPR

State legislators of both parties Monday grilled representatives of the for-profit companies who manage Iowa’s health care program for the poor and disabled, after a report was released about how many patients are losing health care services.  

The director of the Managed Care Ombudsman Program presented the report to the legislature’s Health Policy Oversight Committee.

It showed that denial, reduction, or termination of services is the number one complaint of Medicaid recipients under the privatized program.

iprimages

Statehouse Republicans are interviewing candidates, hoping to have a new human resources professional on hand before the legislature reconvenes next month.  

The new position is being created after a former GOP Senate staffer won a $1.75 million settlement alleging a sexually-charged work environment.

Des Moines University

The osteopathic medical school Des Moines University is using grant money to launch a pilot project to address a shortage in Iowa of mental health professionals. It’s designed to train future primary-care doctors in treating psychiatric illness.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture faces a lawsuit that argues the federal agency must bring back a proposed rule that defined abusive practices by meatpacking companies.

Farmers from Alabama and Nebraska and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a nonprofit that works on competition issues in agriculture, filed the suit Thursday in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Peyton Manning, the NFL quarterback-turned-pitchman, apparently has another side hustle: Certifying shipments of grain as organic for a Nebraska-based agency called OneCert.

Problem is, OneCert president Sam Welsch doesn’t remember hiring Manning for his business, which is accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect everything from small vegetable farms to processing plants and international grain operations.

grinnell walk
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Five years after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, some Grinnell residents are asking their neighbor, the president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), to speak with them about curbing gun violence.

Iowan Pete Brownell is CEO of Brownells, an international firearm business with a large warehouse and retail store in Grinnell. He was elected president of the NRA in May.

university of iowa
Vladimir Kulikov / Wikimedia Commons

A now-defunct student organization is suing the University of Iowa in federal court for religious discrimination. Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) lost its status as a registered student organization after it allegedly denied a leadership position to a gay student. 

According to the lawsuit, BLinC told a member he wasn’t eligible for a leadership position because "his decision to enter into same-sex relationships was inconsistent with BLinC's religious beliefs."

inkknife_2000/flickr

A north Iowa business consultant is painting a picture of deteriorating finances for Iowa farmers, as the agricultural economy continues to languish.    

David Underwood of Mason City  is one of three members of the Revenue Estimating Conference, which this week predicted essentially flat state tax collections this year due in part to weakness in the farm sector.      

Underwood said up to now, farmers had enough reserves to get them through the recent lean times.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The value of Iowa’s farmland has increased 2 percent over the past year, but the uptick may not indicate improvements to the overall farm economy.

The annual Iowa Land Values Survey found the small increase this year after three consecutive years of farmland values slipping.

Chatterkick

The Technology Association of Iowa is launching a first-of-its-kind podcast in the state highlighting women leaders in high-tech. The project is known as “Technically Iowa.”

The series of interviews for the podcast is hosted by a woman who is already at the forefront of using technology to start a business. Beth Trejo is CEO and founder of the Sioux City-based social media agency Chatterkick. She says the goal of the show is to develop a network of women techies.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

 

The so-called “Unity Commission” formed by the Democratic National Committee is recommending historic changes in the way Democrats conduct the Iowa Caucuses.

The state party would be required to let people who cannot attend the neighborhood meetings on Caucus Night cast their presidential preference vote.

"We've got to figure out what that process is," says Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price. "Our goal is to make sure that with the changes we make to this we don't lose the spirit of our caucuses."

ipers press conference
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Two Democrats say the upcoming legislative session may threaten retirement benefits for Iowa’s public employees. State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald and State Senator Matt McCoy say there are signs that Republicans want to make major changes to the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) next year.

"Some current legislative proposals to change IPERS, including a bill that was introduced last session, could break the promise we have made toward hardworking Iowans," Fitzgerald says. 

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