October 25, 2014

Increase approved for school bus inspection fee

Ed-Dept-sealThe state Board of Education approved a change Thursday to increase the fee charged to inspect school buses. Department deputy director, Jeff Berger, says the fee will go from $28 to $40.

“So per bus it’s an additional 12 dollars, and most districts are saying that’s just kind of the cost of doing business. They see the inspections as a way to ensure that the buses are running correctly and so I think we’re hearing that they are willing to cover that,” Berger says.

The additional money will allow the state to hire a third inspector and Berger says there is legislation in the works to require inspections of other school vehicles. Current law requires the inspections only for vehicles that carry over nine people.

“All of those smaller vehicles that are nine passengers or less will be inspected as well,” he says. “So we’re covering currently every vehicle that transports a kids is inspected twice a year at minimum.” Berger says they just want to be sure the vehicles are in good shape to avoid any problems.

“There were a couple of incidents in other states where students were injured or killed in bus accidents. Buses are still one of the most secure and safe methods of transporting any type of person. We have had none of that in Iowa, fortunately our fleet is very safe,” Berger says.

“But I think there is natural concern, any time you are transporting children you’ve got to make sure the safety factor is there.” Berger says the additional inspections and charges will likely be implemented for the next school year.

Refinery closings, oil cost, reasons for jump in gas prices

Gasoline prices have taken giant leaps in Iowa lately, rising more than 20 cents a gallon in some cities this week and nearly 40 cents a gallon in the past month. Gail Weinholzer, spokeswoman for AAA-Iowa, says there are two primary reasons for the price hikes.

“Crude oil prices have increased dramatically over the past couple of weeks,” Weinholzer says. “It was selling at $92 a barrel, now it’s selling at $98 a barrel. Secondly, we’ve had some refinery closures, for routine maintenance as well as repair issues, six refineries across the United States and two in the Chicago area that would affect Midwest supply.”

Weinholzer says Iowans will likely be in for more price increases at the pumps in the next few weeks. “It should continue so long as the refineries are not back online,” she says. “As soon as those repairs and maintenance issues are addressed, that will provide some relief but crude oil prices, the fact they’ve been heading northerly, that’s going to have a negative impact for some time.”

Gasoline prices in Iowa are averaging $3.42 a gallon, four cents cheaper than the national average. A week ago, Iowa’s average price was $3.24 a gallon. A month ago, it was $3.14.

Cedar Rapids had the state’s biggest jump in prices, bouncing 39-cents a gallon since a month ago.

By Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City

Harkin unsure how $3 million campaign fund will be spent

Senator Tom Harkin says he does not yet know how he’ll spend the $3 million in his campaign fund. Harkin announced last Saturday that he would not run for reelection and today Harkin was asked during taping of an Iowa Public Television program what he’ll do with that money.

“I have to be honest with you, Kay, I don’t know. I mean, I’ve asked my campaign people to find out. I don’t even know what I can do with it. I mean I’m sure there are certain ethics rules and certain guidance things like that. Sitting here, honestly, I don’t know,” Harkin said.

A reporter asked: “What’s your inclination?”

Harkin replied: “Well I don’t know yet, until I find out what the parameters are.”

Harkin isn’t ruling out the prospect of donating the money to The Harkin Institute at Iowa State University, Harkin’s alma mater. But Harkin’s also holding out the possibility he may move The Harkin Institute to Drake University.

“I feel I have an obligation not to leave my papers anywhere where there would be restrictions on it, on my papers or on the research that may be done with them,” Harkin said. “I want full, unfettered academic freedom for my papers. To this extent, that has not been forthcoming from the president of Iowa State.”

According to Harkin, the original idea for the institute came from Ames.

“I did not go to Iowa State to ask for this,” Harkin said today. “They came to me a couple of years ago.”

During a news conference after taping IPTV’s “Iowa Press” program, a contributor to www.TheIowaRepublican.com asked Harkin if he is personally asking for donations to the institute.

“The answer to that is no…Jeff, there’s been a lot of stuff that I’ve read that you’ve written, that others have written that, you know, there’s a little snippet of truth and then you build things around it that just aren’t so…I’ve always appreciated muckrakers, O.K.?” Harkin said, laughing. “They have a role to play. I don’t mind that, but I’m not going to take all my time here getting into who did this and what did this and all that kind of stuff.”

Harkin said today that he will not raise any more money for his campaign fund, but will continue to raise money for the “TOM-PAC — a political action committee. TOM stands for “To Organize a Majority.”. Later this month Harkin is scheduled to hold a fundraiser featuring Lady Gaga.

“One of my deepest, darkest secrets: I am a Lady Gaga fan,” Harkin said, laughing. “Actually, she is pretty good.”

Lady Gaga is scheduled to hold a concert in Washington, D.C. on February 25. According to politicalpartytime.org, tickets to the Harkin fundraiser are $1500 each.

Felony proposed for first offense of child porn possession

A group of advocates for teenagers who’ve been sexually exploited is pushing for tougher penalties for the possession of child pornography. Terri Bailey is a counselor who works with runaways and kids in the foster care system who’ve been exploited by pimps.

“I think it would definitely, with a steeper penalty, deter people from creating these human trafficking rings if they knew they were instantly going to be slapped with a felony charge,” Bailey says.

Under current law, people caught for the first time with images of child pornography are charged with an aggravated misdemeanor. Those caught a second time are charged with a felony. The Iowa Foster Care Council’s “Achieving Maximum Potential” coalition — representing over 5000 Iowa kids — is pushing to make a first offense a felony. Bailey says the kids hope it will motivate more prosecutors to go after the pimps.

“When you’re on the streets and you don’t have anywhere to sleep or eat, these people — these pimps — come and approach them and say: ‘I’ll give you a nice play to stay. You know, I’ll take care of you.’ Then a couple of weeks, a month down the road (they say): ‘Now it’s time for you to pay me back,'” Bailey says. “So they pay back by being a prostitute.”

Bailey says teenage prostitutes often are pressured to appear in videos or pose for photographs. Bailey is working with a young woman who was a victim of human trafficking.

“She was approached in a Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids. I mean, you’d think Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids would be safe,” Bailey says. “She was 15 years old.”

According to Bailey, the average age of entry into prostitution is between 11 and 14 years old.

A bill that increases the penalty for a first offense of child pornography possession to a felony has cleared an initial hurdle in the Iowa House. Representative Chip Baltimore, a Republican from Boone, is the bill’s chief sponsor.

“I personally view possession of child pornography as a very serious offense,” Baltimore says, “and an aggravated misdemeanor, to me, seems to be somewhat out of line with the victimization of a child.”

The bill now must clear the House Judiciary Committee before it can be considered by the full House.

Supreme Court rules is dispute over broken drainage tile

The Iowa Supreme Court has issued a ruling that has an impact on water and railroads. In the spring of 2007 Union Pacific workers noticed a hole in the roadbed under their tracks in Hardin County and filled the hole with rock.

The railroad did not know the hole was caused by the collapse of a nearly 100-year-old clay drainage tile, and the rock repair caused water drained by the tile to back up and flood farm ground. The local drainage district fixed the broken tile and sent a bill to the railroad.

The total bill — including crop losses — was over $100,000. The railroad refused to pay, saying state law requires them to repair bridges and culverts, and a tile is not a culvert.

The district court sided with the drainage district and said the railroad had to pay. But the Iowa Supreme Court ruling says the legislature was very specific in making the railroads responsible for bridges and culverts, and did not use the word drains to cover repairs to any pipes that drain water. For that reason the court said a tile is not a culvert and the railroad is not required to pay for tile repairs.

The court information says there could be hundreds of such tiles under the railroad bed that will be impacted by the ruling.

See the complete ruling here: Tile ruling PDF

Former Adair County employees accused of taking money

Two former government employees in southwest Iowa are accused of selling nearly $20,000 worth of county-owned scrap metal to a local salvage yard and pocketing the money for themselves. An investigation by the State Auditor’s office was launched after the Adair County Auditor received an anonymous letter outlining concerns with the sale of old iron and used bridge planks.

Deputy State Auditor Tami Kusian says Duane Jameson and Cindy Butcher, who worked in the Adair County Engineer’s Office, sold the materials over a 10 year period. “The checks were being written to the two employees and we identified those being deposited in their accounts,” Kusian says.

Jameson was the Road Superintendent, while Butcher was the Engineer’s Office Shop Clerk. Both were fired last week. Kusian says the checks issued to Jameson and Butcher ranged from roughly $200 to $7,000.

The state investigation covered the period between December 2001 and December 2011. Kusian says they identified $19,734 of undeposited collections. The State Auditor’s report has been turned over to the Adair County Attorney and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

Kusian says Adair County authorities learned of the alleged activity in January.

 

Iowa health care advocates attend conference in Washington

A health care activist from eastern Iowa is in Washington D.C. for this week’s Families U.S.A. conference. Karen Metcalf, spokeswoman for the Quad Cities-based group Progressive Action for the Common Good, says the 18th annual summit is gathering hundreds of health care experts, advocates and professionals from across the nation.

Metcalf, who lives in Bettendorf, says, “It’s been the premiere organization nationally to try to engage people at all levels, be they political, grassroots, health care providers, whatever, to work toward more broad health care coverage, health care justice, health care fairness.”

Workshops at the event are focused on the ongoing implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, particularly the problems with expanding Medicaid in the states, as well as other aspects of health care delivery to Americans of all ages. Metcalf says, “There are going to be challenges with getting people who are currently healthy, young people in particular, to understand it’s better to be insured than to pay the very minimal penalty that is in the law.”

She says that will be the subject of an educational campaign later this year, aiming to convince everyone to get at least some health care coverage. “It’s certainly going to be a work in progress and there are going to be challenges moving forward,” Metcalf says. “I think we’re going to see a sea change come 2014 in terms of how people look at each other. They will begin to see that we’re all in this together rather than we’re all individuals fighting a system.”

The conference in the nation’s capital opened Thursday and runs through Saturday.