River to River

Ryan Harvey / Flickr

Iowa is one of only a handful of states where it isn't legal to cash out an online fantasy sports bet. That could change this legislative session. Rep. Jake Highfill, a Republican from Johnston, introduced legislation that would legalize cash prizes for participating in the games online. Rep. Guy Vander Linden of Oskaloosa, says that type of gaming needs regulation.

Remi Itani / International Organization for Migration / Flickr

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, fleeing war, poverty, and ecological disaster. The influx has sparked a crisis, as European counties struggle to cope with the human flood. It's also creating division in the European Union over how best to deal with resettling people. 

Senator Chuck Grassley is caught in the middle of the controversy over whether or not to hold hearings on D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Jim McCormick, political science professor at Iowa State University says that the move to block hearings on the nomination is “odd.”

From tomorrow on, the previously state-run Medicaid system will be managed by private companies called "managed care organizations," or MCOs. In the lead-up to the switch, many of those who benefit from Medicaid have struggled with getting information about coverage, payment, and benefits.

dagnyg / Flickr

Johnston father of three, Nathan Gibson, would like to take his daughters to fire handguns at a shooting range, but under state law they can't handle pistols until the age of fourteen.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Gibson and one of Gibson's daughters about their effort to eliminate the handgun use age limit. 

Pete Zarria / Flickr

Last weekend in Cedar Rapids, two people died of gunshot wounds in separate incidents. Community leaders gathered for a press conference Monday to discuss possible solutions. Among them was Dedric Doolin, Cedar Rapids Branch President of the NAACP and Director of the Area Substance Abuse Council. He says the problem of gun violence isn’t new and neither are attempts to solve it—from law enforcement, individuals, religious organizations, and non-profits.

Payton Chung, Flickr / Wikimedia Commons

When filmmaker Ronit Bezalel first arrived in Chicago as a film student in 1994, all she knew about Cabrini Green was its reputation. "I could see Cabrini from the windows of the 'L,' and people told me to avoid it at all costs. I wanted to know why I couldn't go there."

Senate Democrats / Flickr

President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, a choice deemed appropriate by Republicans like Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah. Tim Hagle, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa,  says that doesn't mean the Senate will hold a hearing.

"We've had a variety of ways that the Senate has approached that duty over the years. [...] Given the stakes this time, Republicans seem, at least for now, to be willing to say, 'We're just not going to move forward on this.'"

Ben Kieffer

The shooting in Ferguson, Missouri and the unrest that followed sparked a vigorous debate in the country about the role of law enforcement.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and producer Emily Woodbury visit the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) at Camp Dodge in Johnston to find out how training is changing due to the national debate over the role of law enforcement.

Tom Woodward / Flickr

This year marks the second year in a row that all three of Iowa's regents universities have made an apperance in the NCAA tournament, and for the first time, part of the tournament is being held in Iowa. Rick Brown, veteran sports journalist, says the trio of Iowa coaches has made this type of prominence possible for the state.

University of Iowa student Emily Roberts met a 19 year old who lives in Afghanistan online, through a language learning exchange. The two became fast friends. 

"Sultana and I were talking and I was asking her questions so she could practice her English. I asked her what her perfect day was," Roberts says. "She said, 'well, I would wake up in the morning and study physics all day.' I thought that sounded like a terrible day, but that's when I knew I had to try to get her here." 

Herry Lawford / Flickr

Dr. Stephen Nelson first became aware of the LGBT healthcare disparity through another boundary that frequently occurs between doctor and patients--race. The director of the Sickle Cell Clinic at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, he found his patients shared a common thread.

Julie Falk / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders dished out humble pie to pollsters this week, when he claimed victory in Michigan, after no poll showed him leading, or even closing the gap with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Polls showed Clinton leading in the state by double digits in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Iowa State University Political Science Professor Jim McCormick says, as in most elections, it boiled down to economics in a state hit hard by the recession, with companies moving overseas and the challenges facing the automotive industry.

Kari Nousiainen / Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode

On Sunday morning, August 16th, three days after his 41st birthday, Wade Franck was hit by a drunk driver while riding in the Urban Assault Ride in Des Moines. His girlfriend, Jess Rundlett was behind him as the car approached, going very fast.

"It nearly hit me. I remember feeling the mirror whiz by my elbow, and by the time I thought to yell to Wade a warning, he had already been hit and was flying through the air," Rundlett says. "He was hit so hard that his shoes were knocked off and he flew about 30 feet."

Wade Franck died two days later.


A federal appellate judge here in Iowa is a potential nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

On this news buzz edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Tony Gaughan and Dennis Goldford of Drake University about the interest in Judge Jane Kelly, and also why Iowa's Patty Judge is challenging Chuck Grassley for his Senate seat.

Also this hour, a check on the health of the Midwest economy, fascinating insights into the new global media ecosystem, and the first annual Pho King Cook-off in Des Moines.

It’s known that alcohol impairs the ability to drive, but what about marijuana?

On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer talks with researchers at the National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) about a first-of-its-kind study showing how marijuana impacts a person's ability to drive.

They found that participants who consumed only alcohol weaved more than those who consumed only vaporized cannabis.

"We didn't see a lot of those lane departures that we see with alcohol," says lead researcher Tim Brown. Adding that, "We still see weaving within the lane."

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

For the first time in Iowa history, a Republican lawmaker introduced a medical marijuana bill in the statehouse. Peter Cownie, a Republican from Des Moines, introduced House Study Bill 607, now House File 2384, which would allow for the manufacture and distribution of cannabis oil in Iowa. The bill originally had ten conditions but the version that passed the Commerce Committee included only three--epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and terminal cancer.

Billionaire Donald Trump won seven of the Super Tuesday primary contests to take a commanding lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also claimed victory in seven of the states voting Tuesday, making it all but impossible for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to overtake her in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Astrid Westvang / Flickr

Launched in 2014, the Iowa Job Honor Awards celebrate Iowans who have overcome significant barriers to employment as well as honoring the employers who hire them. Those honored over the years include people who have overcome physical and mental disabilities, criminal convictions, limited English proficiency, homelessness, and long term unemployment.

Thomas Life

Reading education has come a long way since the days of Dick, Jane, and Spot, but many children still struggle to become readers. In fact, according to the Iowa Department of Education, nearly one in four public school third-graders did not meet state standards for reading proficiency in either 2014 or 2015. 

Mark Fischer / Flickr

Senate Republicans say there will be no hearings, no votes, and no new U.S. Supreme Court justice until the next president is sworn in next year.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with legal experts Todd Pettys of the University of Iowa and Tony Gaughan of Drake University about the impact Justice Scalia's death will have on current cases before the court, many of which are expected to now come down 4-4. Pettys says there could be an even number of justices until April of 2017.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, all eyes were on the Senate Judiciary Committee and its chair, Republican Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. Would the committee hold a hearing to vet President Obama’s nomination for the next Supreme Court Justice? A series of ambiguous statements from Grassley around the state last week are now clear: the Republicans of the committee will not hold any hearing until the next President is elected. Chris Larimer, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Northern Iowa, says that’s a risk.

John Pemble

The number of heroin overdose deaths in Iowa has increased six-fold from 2007 to 2013.

Kim Brown, of Davenport, lost her son Andy Lamp to a heroin overdose in 2011, and she now advocates for greater access to Naloxone, a common overdose reversal drug, as well as a “Good Samaritan” law, which is intended to protect those who report an overdose from arrest or prosecution. She believes that passing these laws in Iowa could prevent future deaths from heroin overdose.

Tom / Flickr

The Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed the first confirmed infection of the Zika virus in Iowa Friday. Brad Blitvich, associate professor of Veterinary Science at Iowa State University, who studies mosquito-borne illnesses, joined host Ben Kieffer to discuss its implications.

Is this case a danger to other Iowans?

Photo Courtesy of Karim Abdel-Malek

Santos and Sophia are soldiers that will never see combat. That’s because they exist solely as simulations in the University of Iowa’s Virtual Soldier Research Program. Thanks to a new $2.6 million grant from the Office of Naval Research, they’re equipped to model even more behaviors to prevent injuries for real-life marines.

Karim Abdel-Malek, the director of the program, says the stream of new designs of army equipment necessitates lengthy, costly trials that take up Marines’ valuable time.

Jared Wong / Flickr

The organization AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, says 42 percent of Iowa’s private sector workers do not have an employer-sponsored retirement plan. State Senator Janet Petersen and Iowa’s State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald are working to change that. They’ve proposed a state-run plan for private employees, something more than 20 states are also considering. 

Werner Benger / NASA Blueshift - Flickr

Last week a team of scientists at LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, announced they successfully recorded gravitational waves resulting from two black holes merging into one. The existence of these waves, otherwise known as ripples in the fabric of space-time, were first proposed by Albert Einstein in 1916.

Phil Kaaret, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa, says that this discovery “opens a new way of looking at the universe,” and that “it’s just beginning of discovery.”

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Even though lawmakers in the Iowa Senate voted to stop privatization of the state's Medicaid program last week, the measure is unlikely to pass in the Iowa House. The system is still slated to switch to private management on March 1 unless the federal government steps in. 

University of Iowa Muslim Student Association

The University of Iowa is reconfiguring two former offices in its Iowa Memorial Union to be used as full-time prayer spaces, primarily for the school's Muslim faculty, staff, and students. For Muslims, prayer is a ritual performed five times daily.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer sits down with Saad Ansari, president of the University of Iowa Muslim Student Association, to discuss the need for a space for private prayer on campus.

Nicu Buculei / Flickr

Every four years, the post-caucuses sigh of relief comes with a pessimistic prognostication: the caucuses are done for. Much like pre-caucus think pieces on why Iowa doesn't deserve its first-in-the nation status, the proclamation comes from political pundits, deflated candidate volunteers, and strung-out news junkies.