IPR News Stories

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. 

Kay Henderson

The former state senator who has agreed to advise the Iowa Senate on sexual harassment issues says it was a problem during her tenure, and she wishes she had set up a policy to address it back then.

Ambassador Mary Kramer who had a long career as a human resource manager in the private sector served in the Senate from 1990 to 2003, including two terms as president.  

In a taping for Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, Kramer said while she was Senate president, she handled sexual harassment complaints.

It’s a common story: Ambitious kids move from small towns to larger cities, never to look back. When their parents die, the family wealth that’s been built over generations through farming, ranching or agriculture-related businesses often follows the kids, draining the economic lifeblood from those rural communities.

The largest generational transfer of wealth in modern times is expected to happen in the next 10 years and rural foundations in states like Iowa and Nebraska are working hard to retain at least a bit of those hundreds of millions of dollars. 

A congressional watchdog agency called on the federal government Thursday to better protect meatpacking workers, who are often exposed to dangerous chemicals, not allowed bathroom breaks and refused medical treatment.

The General Accountability Office’s report said the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration faces a challenge when it comes to addressing safety concerns in meat and poultry plants because workers may not report problems out of fear of retaliation.

astrid gale
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Cameras and smiles were flashing at a Cedar Rapids church Saturday as more than a thousand people filed in to get their photos taken.

Parents and assistants were snapping, clapping, waving squeaky toys and stuffed animals, and talking about farts—anything to get stubborn kids to crack a smile.

Valerie Jedlicka’s family was trying to wrangle two toddlers in matching red and black plaid. After her family’s photo session in a church classroom-turned-portrait studio, Jedlicka says she’s thankful for the opportunity to create happy memories.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Iowa Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley has been….in his words…..dropped from the conference committee charged with writing a final version of the giant tax cut bills which have passed the U.S. House and Senate.       

Grassley is the current senior ranking member and past chair of the Senate Finance Committee.    

Diocese of Des Moines

The Bishop of the Des Moines Catholic Diocese is joining Catholic Bishops across the country in calling for Congress to enact the so-called Dream Act.

Bishop Richard Pates spoke with reporters after meeting with some 25 inmates of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding cell at the Polk County Sheriff’s office.

He tells the story of one young man who was recently picked up on suspicion of being in the country illegally.

Burlington Hawkeye

The Burlington Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation have lost the latest round in their struggle to keep private certain records from a fatal police shooting in Burlington. 

In January of 2015 Officer Jesse Hill accidentally shot and killed 34-year-old Autumn Steele at her home after answering a domestic abuse complaint. 

The Iowa Public Information board has hired Des Moines attorney Mark McCormick as a special prosecutor in the case, seeking the release of police body camera videos, emergency calls, and other evidence.

brad hart
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Brad Hart was elected mayor of Cedar Rapids Tuesday night.

Hart won 54 percent of the vote against Monica Vernon in the runoff election for Cedar Rapids mayor.

Hart is an attorney, and this was his first run for public office. He says voters may have wanted someone with a new perspective.

"We tried to get a message out that we’re going to be inclusive and accessible and just make the best decisions we can, and I think that resonated," Hart says.

RecycleMe Iowa

The Iowa grocery and beverage industries are gearing up again to try to repeal Iowa’s popular bottle deposit law when lawmakers return to the capitol in January.   

They released a survey today they say shows Iowans would prefer better recycling programs.      

The Iowa Grocery Industry Association and the Iowa Beverage Association are offering a bill that’s similar to legislation that advanced through one House committee last year.

TSA

As one of the year’s busiest air travel periods heats up, the Transportation Security Administration is putting in place new procedures for screening electronics. The changes were announced earlier this year and are now reaching Iowa airports.

Passengers at TSA checkpoints will now be required to do with their e-readers, computer tablets and DVD players what they have long been doing with their laptops. Carrie Harmon is the regional public affairs manager for the TSA.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Progressive groups are protesting outside of Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Des Moines and Waterloo offices Tuesday evening because of a comment he made related to the estate tax.

Grassley told The Des Moines Register scaling back the estate tax would recognize people who are investing as opposed to "those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies." The comment went viral on social media.

Iowa Secretary of State

Thousands of Iowans should be watching the mail for new state-issued Voter ID cards they’ll need at the polls starting next year if they don’t already have an official government-issued ID.       

It’s part of Iowa’s controversial new voter ID statute approved by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law by Gov. Branstad.    

Mel Andringa, Legion Arts, Flickr

The photographer who documented life in a small eastern Iowa town in a book titled “The Oxford Project,” has died.

Peter Feldstein was a professor of photography at the University of Iowa in 1984 when he asked the 670 residents of Oxford, the Johnson County town in which he lived, if he could take their pictures. Twenty years later he reshot the photos of those who remained alive and in town, and with writer Stephen Bloom, published “The Oxford Project.” In it, they told the sometimes revealing stories of people growing up and growing old in a small Iowa town.

doctors office
Jennifer Morrow / flickr

It’s one month into the sign-up period for the Affordable Care Act, and the number of Iowans who have signed up for health insurance is much higher than at this time last year.

The medical and mental health communities are doing their best to learn about and treat post traumatic stress disorder more effectively. Historically, the term "shell shocked" immediately comes to mind, and a new play by Combined Efforts Theatre in Iowa City raises some questions about the kinds of trauma that soldiers who fought in World War I experienced when the term was first introduced. 

John Pemble / IPR

This week Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds says she’s not backing down from yet another big change to Iowa’s privatized Medicaid.

“I’ve never said it was perfect," Gov. Reynolds said on Tuesday. "I’m willing to put the time and the effort into making sure that Iowans get the care that they deserve in a managed and coordinated and more modern delivery system.”

She says she’s “not going back” on how Iowa’s Medicaid is managed.

police car
Diego Parra / Pixabay

Four civil rights groups are asking the Iowa Supreme Court to ban pretextual traffic stops on the grounds they are unconstitutional and perpetuate racial disparities in the criminal justice system. 

A pretextual traffic stop is when a police officer stops a driver for a minor issue like a broken taillight with the intent to investigate a suspected criminal offense. 

"African-Americans and other Iowans of color are more likely to be stopped, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent," says Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP. 

The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy trained a record number of law enforcement personnel this year.

Director Judy Bradshaw says that’s because more Iowa law officers are leaving the profession after a relatively short time on duty. So law enforcement agencies are sending more and more new recruits to the academy for training.

Bradshaw was a career police officer with the Des Moines Police Department for 34 years.

Mighty Earth

Environmental activists were at the Tyson meatpacking plant in Perry Thursday delivering a petition bearing more than 1,000 names. It was part of a nationwide drive calling for the company to purchase sustainable grains as a way to reduce water pollution.

A group calling itself Mighty Earth is delivering petitions at seven Tyson locations across the country, A field organizer for the Iowa chapter of Mighty Earth, Elise Peterson-Trujillo, says the environmentalists are asking the nation’s largest meat producer to live by its pledge to pursue sustainable practices.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The head of the Iowa Department of Corrections briefed Gov. Reynolds today on an increase in violent crime in the state that he called shocking.  

Statistics from a national survey show that from 2006 through 2016, Iowa was one of only two states in the country where the incidence increased for all four categories of violent crime, including homicide, robbery, rape, and aggravated assault.  

At the same time, the recidivism rate is on the rise for perpetrators of violent crime. 

Milken Family Foundation

A teacher in a small school district in southern Iowa is one of 44 teachers nationwide to receive a Milken Educator Award this year. It’s her job to train other teachers.

Joni Readout is an instructional coach at Central Decatur middle school and high school in Leon. She works with about 15 other district teachers to help improve their classroom work. Her efforts were noticed by the Milken Family Foundation, which honors teacher excellence each year.

Puerto Rico’s hot winter days and warm nights have played a key role in the global seed business for more than 30 years. So, the devastation wrought on the U.S. territory by Hurricane Maria in September stretches to the croplands of the Midwest and Great Plains.

Fields in Puerto Rico are used for research, development and/or testing of up to 85 percent of the commercial corn, soybean and other hybrid seeds grown in the U.S., according to the Puerto Rico Agricultural Biotechnology Industry Association.

Emily Woodbury

Artist Rose Frantzen grew up in Maquoketa and started painting portraits when she was in high school. Since then, she’s gained national and international acclaim for her oil paintings. She lives and works with her husband, Chuck Morris, an acclaimed artist of his own right.

Iowa seems like an unlikely destination for two very successful artists who met in New York City’s Central Park, but Rose Frantzen and Chuck Morris have made Maquoketa their home, their workplace, and an artistic destination.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The presidents of Iowa’s Regents universities today made presentations to Gov. Kim Reynolds and her budget advisors, requesting minimal increases in funding for next year. 

Last year, university budgets were cut by $30 million.

Now the universities are asking for a mostly status quo budget for next year, except for new money to increase financial aid for students and for new capital projects on the campuses.   

New ISU president Wendy Wintersteen, now in her second week in office, was making her first budget appeal.          

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Reynolds today expressed confidence in Iowa’s privately-managed health care program for the poor and disabled, even as thousands of Medicaid patients are being pulled out of the new system.     

One of three for-profit companies managing the program, AmeriHealth Caritas, has dropped out.   Another company, AmeriGroup, can’t absorb some of AmeriHealth’s 215,000 patients.

As a result, at least 9,000 patients are going back to the traditional state-run Medicaid program, at least until AmeriGroup can build up capacity. 

Blank Park Zoo

One of the two female lions at Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines has become the mother of three cubs. The births come as the lion population in the wild declines dramatically.

The zoo’s lioness Neema gave birth Nov. 14 to two female cubs and one male. Neema arrived in Des Moines in June. The father, Deuce, has lived at Blank Park since 2012. They are part of a Species Survival Plan zoos have put in place to protect the great cats. Zoo CEO Mark Vukovich says the past 20 years have seen a steep decline in the number of wild lions.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A new partnership between the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, which manages the federal crop insurance program, aims to keep more of Iowa’s farmland green in the off-season.

The cover crop premium discount will give farmers five dollars per acre off on their crop insurance premium for acres they plant with cover crops.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Sarah Carlson says in a national survey farmers indicated they wanted this type of program.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

Actor Alec Baldwin, who impersonates President Donald Trump regularly on Saturday Night Live, spoke to a large crowd of Iowa Democrats Monday night. He kicked off his remarks with an 11 minute comedy routine that included his President Trump impression, before focusing on politics.

“It’s not enough to slap a new label on our brand that says new and improved,” Baldwin told the crowd. “We’ve got to back that up.”

Baldwin spent twice as much time giving a political call-to-action.

money
Jericho/Wikimedia Commons

Republican proposals to overhaul the federal tax code would give most Iowa households a tax cut next year, but the cuts would phase out for many by 2027.

Iowa Policy Project Executive Director Mike Owen says the middle class, on average, would get a tax cut in the next fiscal year.

"As time goes on, the much-advertised middle class aspects of this, which are a very small piece of the puzzle, are going to go away," Owen says. "And the big breaks will remain in place for very wealthy millionaire, billionaire families and for wealthy corporations."

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