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New Ag Guestworker Program Legislation Headed To US House

Oct 26, 2017

A bill to overhaul the federal agricultural guestworker program cleared its first hurdle Wednesday and is headed to the full U.S. House.

The Republican-majority House Judiciary Committee passed the bill 17-16 after two days of debate and over the objections of many Democrats. It’s likely to clear the House, though its future in the Senate is unclear.

John Pemble/IPR

By a wide margin, public workers across Iowa have endorsed their union representation in recertification voting that ended this week, mandated by Iowa’s new collective bargaining law.   

But some public employees will not retain their unions, and their contracts will be dissolved. 

pills in a bottle
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A new federal grant will fund a statewide media campaign to educate teenagers and young adults about the dangers of misusing prescription opioids.

Janet Nelson at the Iowa Department of Public Health says the campaign will work to fill gaps in knowledge about prescription drugs.

"Youth, a lot of times, feel that if a drug is prescribed by a doctor, it can't be harmful," Nelson says. 

The grant will also help three counties—Polk, Jasper and Scott—develop additional strategies to reduce problems with prescription opioid abuse.

Dean Borg/IPR

Iowa’s corn and soybean crops are now racing the fall weather. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly update says all of the state’s corn acreage is mature, but most of it is still in the field.

Only 23 percent of the corn crop is harvested. That’s two weeks behind average, and the smallest percentage at this stage of the season since 2009.

It’s the same for soybeans, the latest in the last eight years, with more than a one third of the Iowa’s soybean crop still in the field.

The USDA’s report says yields are running better than expected.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A plan that officials had hoped would keep health insurance affordable for thousands of Iowans has been withdrawn, clearing the way for premiums to more than double.    

Governor Reynolds' administration had been urging the federal government to approve its so-called stopgap plan.  

The plan would have restructured benefits for Iowans getting individual insurance under the Affordable Care Act in order to draw in more young healthy people to keep premiums down.  

ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Iowa State University’s new president is Wendy Wintersteen.

She’s been in various roles at Iowa State for nearly 40-years. She is currently Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences on the Ames campus.

Wintersteen, 61, becomes the first woman to hold Iowa State’s  presidency.

Iowa’s Board of Regents interviewed the three finalists  in closed sessions Monday, then in open session it voted unanimously to make Wintersteen Iowa State’s sixteenth president.

Amy Mayer/IPR

With former Gov. Terry Branstad as the U.S. ambassador to China, some Iowans see new opportunities for the state in that country.

“At the moment, as the former governor has taken up his position as the ambassador to Beijing, China’s on a lot of people’s minds,” says Jeffrey Kappen, a Drake University professor of international business. “And I and others would argue that we have a window of time where Iowa is on people’s minds in China and we should do everything we can do take advantage of the opportunity.”

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Farm lenders in northern Iowa are taking proactive steps to prevent farm foreclosures, and a business consultant says that has kept many struggling farmers in business while commodity prices remain low.    

David Underwood in Mason City, director of CFO On Demand, follows economic trends in that part of the state.   

He says lenders have formed so-called crisis committees to work with farmers before they get into too much trouble.

doctors office
Jennifer Morrow / flickr

Navigators are getting ready to sign Iowans up for Obamacare next month despite uncertainty surrounding the health care law. They are preparing for the regular enrollment period as state and federal lawmakers continue to push for changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Karen Sullivan of Visiting Nurse Services manages a program in central Iowa that helps people sign up for insurance through the ACA. She says navigators are still scheduling appointments for November. 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

People convicted of sex crimes are still required to register as sex offenders in Iowa even if they’re appealing their convictions, according to today's ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court.

The case centers on the appeal of Brian James Maxwell, who was hired as a youth coordinator for two churches in the Winterset area in March 2014. That month he inappropriately touched a 16-year-old girl who he met through this job.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Iowa’s junior U.S. Senator Joni Ernst says she now has it in writing from the Environmental Protection Agency it will uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard. She got the news late Thursday night.

The Republican says she received a letter from EPA administrator Scott Pruitt pledging to support the RFS, which mandates the use of biofuels in gasoline. The Trump administration became the target of a heavy lobbying effort from Iowa elected officials and farm groups after it was reported the EPA would scale back the RFS. Ernst says she’s relieved.

There’s a genetic technology that scientists are eager to apply to food, touting its possibilities for things like mushrooms that don’t brown and pigs that are resistant to deadly diseases.

And food industry groups, still reeling from widespread protests against genetically engineered corn and soybeans (aka GMOs) that have made it difficult to get genetically engineered food to grocery store shelves, are looking to influence public opinion.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Actors huddle around microphones as foley artists create sound effects with musicians. They are performing a scene about a teenager running away from gunfire in Burundi. This is Pang!, a three-act play presented as radio theater on a stage at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids.

Flickr / Jimmy Emerson, DVM

A town of 6,000 people in northwest Iowa will have its first Pride Festival this weekend to provide information, fun and fellowship for LGBTQ community.

Orange City, the seat of Sioux County, is home to Northwestern College, a Christian liberal arts school. Pride organizer Michael Goll is a Northwestern graduate and graphic designer. Today he lives in Orange City with his husband.

The pair and a couple of friends decided their small, conservative-leaning community needed to celebrate its LGBTQ culture because, as Goll says, “why not?”

Amy Mayer/IPR

Plant breeder Jessica Barb is on a mission to improve how sunflowers self-pollinate, a trait that’ll be increasingly important to farmers as wild bee populations diminish. Her research tool of choice: a paper towel.

In a field outside of Ames, Iowa, she swipes the paper towel across the head of a bright yellow-and-red sunflower—bred to feed Iowa State University fans’ frenzy for all things in the school’s colors—and transfers the pollen on the paper towel to a different flower. Researchers recently unlocked the genetic code of the entire plant, which means Barb will more quickly be able to identify the specific genes that play a role in self-pollination.

Sunflowers are a global commodity crop with a growing demand, though they’re currently a minor player on the United States’ agricultural scene. The genome-mapping is likely to create better hybrid seeds, but there’s no reason to expect the picturesque crop, despite its profit potential, will quickly overtake the Corn Belt.

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The Iowa economy is still growing, but not as robustly as predicted, and tax receipts for this budget year are off to a slow start.    

That’s the conclusion of members of the Iowa Revenue Estimating Conference,  who say unless things pick up, this year’s state budget of $7.3 billion will have to be trimmed by roughly $130 million.

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says there are several drags on the economy.

Grand Design Recreational Vehicles

Forest City-based Winnebago Industries is reporting strong revenue growth for fiscal 2017. The results are driven mostly by profits from its towable recreational vehicle division.

Revenue and income at Winnebago are up substantially from a year ago. The manufacturer of RVs brought in more than $1.5 billion in revenue for the fiscal year ending August 26. That’s a nearly 59 percent increase from 2016. Operating income for the year improved by 90 percent to $125 million. Company president and CEO Michael Happe credits robust sales of its Grand Design towable division.

pills and money
Images Money / flickr

It’s less than two weeks until people have to start signing up for next year’s health insurance plans, and Iowans who buy their own insurance through the Affordable Care Act don’t know what to expect. They don’t know what system they will use to buy insurance, what plans will be available to them, or how much they will have to pay.

Iowa is waiting for a last-minute decision from federal agencies on whether Iowans will buy insurance through the ACA marketplace, or through the state’s proposed "stopgap" system.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t go forward with rules meant to make it easier for small livestock producers to report possible unfair treatment.

The agency’s decision on the proposal, which came at the tail end of the Obama administration, was announced Tuesday and met with mixed response.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds had phone conversations today with both President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about a controversial proposal to scale back the Renewable Fuel Standard, reducing the mandate for Iowa-grown biofuels.    

Iowa politicians are putting a full-court press on the Trump administration, after the EPA proposed  reducing the volume of biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol blended into gasoline.   

Reynolds called her conversation with the president “constructive and productive.”  

Sarah Boden/IPR

A group of state attorneys general, including Iowa's Tom Miller, are suing U.S. Education Sec. Betsy DeVos and her department for what they say is a failure to enforce a rule that protects student borrowers from predatory for-profit schools.

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

The West Des Moines shopping district known as Valley Junction is officially joining the National Register of Historic Places. The designation makes buildings in the neighborhood eligible for various preservation tax credits.

Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio

Houses on the near east side of Des Moines, within sight of the Capitol dome, are among the city’s oldest. They are also among the most in disrepair. Some changes are afoot to freshen the look of three low-income neighborhoods.

Stacie Phillips works amidst a whir of construction activity in the shell of a house built in 1907 from a kit popular at the time.

“It’s a wonderful old house with the original trim, the conference ceilings," she says. "It has the original, beautiful swing-out casement windows we have rehabbed. Just a beautiful plan.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

A legislative committee studying Iowa’s opioid epidemic heard testimony today on a serious side effect of increased heroin use in the state.   

Addicts share needles to shoot heroin, and public health experts say that has contributed to a large increase in hepatitis C cases in Iowa. 

Sarah Ziegenhorn with the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition told lawmakers Iowa should join other states 

and approve needle exchange programs.   

Flickr / National Renewable Energy Lab

Sen. Chuck Grassley had lunch Monday with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, on the same day he and a group of bipartisan senators sent Pruitt a letter urging him to not reduce the amount of biodiesel in the nation’s fuel supply for 2018.

A new report suggests the Environmental Protection Agency should consider lowering the legal limit in drinking water for nitrates, a chemical often connected to fertilizer use.

People who drink water with elevated, but not illegal, levels of nitrates could be at an increased risk of kidney, ovarian and bladder cancer, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group asserts. But a University of Iowa researcher who studies nitrate contamination says the connection to cancer is inconsistent and other chemicals may be involved.

Joyce Russell/IPR

More than 200 people died from opioid use last year, and in some parts of the state, by the end of this year the total number of overdoses will double. 

A statehouse committee heard two days of testimony on the growing number of deaths from prescription painkillers and heroin in Iowa.  Health care providers urged legislators to expand treatment to those addicted to opioids.

Mike Polich heads the UCS Healthcare drug treatment center in Des Moines.  

He showed lawmakers a photo of patients standing in line to get methadone, a drug that helps addicts get off heroin.

There will be new restrictions on the weed killer dicamba for the 2018 growing season, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.

The broadly defined restrictions, similar to what the state of Missouri imposed over the summer, were announced Friday in a news release. The EPA says it reached an agreement with agriculture giants Monsanto, BASF and DuPont on ways to tamp down on dicamba drift, which has been blamed for destroying or damaging millions of acres of crops in the United States.

WIKICOMMONS / Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Farmers use fertilizer because it helps crops grow. But according to a new study from Iowa State University, for some native plant species in Iowa a chemical found in fertilizer does the opposite, harming the biodiversity in Iowa’s tallgrass prairies.

Nitrogen is found in fertilizer and is hard to contain as it flows from farm fields to water and gets into the air, reaching other plants.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

A former Iowa DCI agent, who was fired after reporting speeding by then-Governor Branstad’s security detail, would not be getting his day in court soon under a motion filed this week in Polk County District Court.  

The motion filed by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says former agent Larry Hedlund’s case should be put on hold until Branstad completes his assignment as U.S. Ambassador to China.  

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