July 31, 2015

Iowa Senators vote for federal transportation bill

Senator Joni Ernst. (file photo)

Senator Joni Ernst. (file photo)

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Red Oak, voted for the Senate transportation bill today. Ernst talked with reporters before the vote, and says she decided to move ahead after addressing some questions with Iowa groups.

“With the assurances that have come from the various groups in Iowa — they are okay with the measures that are in the bill — so, I am going to support it. I think we have to have a multi-year bill,” Ernst says. Ernst was asked about concerns raised by some over 18-year-olds being allowed to drive trucks.

“I haven’t seen any studies to contradict that. I think younger that drivers are fine,” according to Ernst. “We have laws in place already that will be followed, so I feel very confident.” Ernst says the bill isn’t perfect, but she says they needed to take action.”I look at this as a good bill, again a multi-year bill, that’s what we are striving for, and hopefully we can find a consensus on it,” Ernst says.

She says the six-year bill gives more certainty to state transportation departments as they set their schedules. “We have it fully funded for three of those years. It’s not the perfect solution, but it is a multi-year solution,” Ernst says. “It will considerably help our states and make sure that they have funding available for the projects.”

Iowa’s other U.S. Senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, also voted for the bill. The U.S. Senate also passed a three-month extension of the current funding bill to keep transportation money available until a long-term bill is passed.

The U.S. House has left for its August recess, so a long-term bill would not move forward until the fall.


Senator Ernst and others introduce bill to cut Planned Parenthood funding

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst takes questions at the news conference.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst takes questions at the news conference.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst took the lead today in introducing a bill that would cut federal funds to Planned Parenthood in the wake of the release of videos showing leaders in the organization talking about harvesting body parts from aborted babies to be sold.

Ernst was joined at a Washington, D.C. news conference by 7 other Republican Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“The recent footage depicting Planned Parenthood’s role in the harvesting of organs — heart, liver, kidneys — of unborn babies is morally reprehensible and vile,” Ernst says. “The American people, Republicans and Democrats alike, are horrified by the utter lack of compassion shown by Planned Parenthood for these women and their babies.”

Ernst says people in both parties are upset by the videos, including a Democrat candidate for president. “In fact, now Hillary Clinton is calling these Planned Parenthood images ‘disturbing.’ And I agree. These videos are hard for anyone to defend, and hit at the moral fiber of our society,” Ernst says.

Ernst says the bill she is backing will take away federal dollars from Planned Parenthood. “In addition to defunding Planned Parenthood, our legislation ensures that federal funding taken from Planned Parenthood will be made available to other entities that provide health services for women,” Ernst says.

She says the bill won’t hurt the availability of health services for women.”I want to make clear that there will be no reduction in overall federal funding to support womens’ health,” according to Ernst. Ernst was asked if the bill would also include state funding.”What we are discussing right now is just that federal legislation, and then how those state dollars, local dollars are handled, is another issue that will have to be addressed later on,” Ernst says.

She was also asked if she is against all research using fetal tissue. “That is a separate issue. What we’re seeing right now is absolutely reprehensible. There are a number of questions that have been raised by these videos,” Ernst says. “I have joined and led 49 other Senators in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell asking that she take a look at this. We want to make sure that any documents regarding this issue are preserved and that she is doing a thorough investigation. And we will see what the results are after she does that.”

Other Republican Senators who appeared with Ernst are: Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas; Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota; Deb Fischer of Nebraska; Johnny Isakson of Georgia; James Lankford of Oklahoma, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign released this statement from Jill June, the former president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, in response to the Republican Senator’s news conference:

“Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are nothing but a callous and political attempt to put ideology ahead of the health and well-being of Iowa women. We’ve seen this movie before. Senator Ernst and other Republican senators should drop their latest attack on Planned Parenthood that provides health care each year to nearly 60,000 patients in Iowa and surrounding states, including in hard to serve rural areas. Hillary Clinton believes health care should be left between a woman and her doctor – full stop. It’s time politicians stop trying to insert themselves in these personal decisions and instead focus on the issues Iowans elected them to solve.”

Creator of Decorah eagle camera dies

Bob Anderson on the Great Spirit Bluff.

Bob Anderson on the Great Spirit Bluff.

The man who brought worldwide attention to an eagle’s nest in Decorah has died. The Raptor Resource Project’s blog reports eagle camera creator Bob Anderson died unexpectedly Monday.

Anderson’s internet bird cam of the Decorah Eagles went live in 2011 and the birds almost immediately became one of the world’s largest wildlife education programs.

The former director of the MacBride Raptor Project in Solon, Jodeane Cancilla, says the eagles’ bird cam was an important resource. “To be able to know that that was being seen throughout the world — wow — I mean, that’s such a wonderful learning opportunity,” Cancilla says.

She says countless school kids and others were able to experience and learn about nature through the eagle cam. “So many schools had it plugged in when they were studying birds and were able to watch those. And, many of the programs I’ve done over the years have all referenced Bob’s work when they come down and see Spirit, the Bald Eagle at the Raptor Center,” according to Cancilla.

Cancilla says Anderson’s death is a tremendous loss for the state of Iowa and the raptor world. He was also very dedicated to many other projects including ospreys and peregrine falcons.

Photo courtesy of the Raptor Project’s Facebook page.

Board of Regents to consider tuition increase for the spring semester

Regents-buildingThe three years of tuition freezes at the three state universities could be coming to an end.

Materials released by the Board of Regents in advance of their meeting next week call for a 3 percent tuition increase for the spring semester of 2016 at the University of Iowa, Northern Iowa and Iowa State University.

Board president Bruce Rastetter said in June they would hold the line on tuition for the fall semester, but said a freeze for the spring was up in the air after the 2015 Iowa Legislature approved only a portion of the funding they were asking for. Legislators approve $6.5 million dollars in funding, while the regents had requested $21.7 million.

The proposal says the increase would add 100 dollars to the cost of tuition for full-time undergraduate students. The board will meet via telephone on August 5th.

Some farmers have an eye on August hoping for rain to finish crops

A cornfield in northeast Iowa.

A cornfield in northeast Iowa.

A majority of the corn and soybeans in the state remain in good to excellent condition according to Monday’s U.S.D.A. weekly crop report.

Some farmers though are worried about whether they’ll get enough moisture to see their crops reach their full yield potential.

Iowa State University Extension Agronomist Paul Kassel monitors 10 counties in northwest and north-central Iowa. “Our crop looks excellent. The concern right now is dry weather. We have some areas that have only had a couple of inches of rain in July. And some of that is starting to show up as wilted areas and stressed areas in some of the lighter soils,” Kassel say.

He says other areas have the same concern. “There are some areas that are a little drier even –.for example some of the Iowa Great Lakes area — Estherville, Spirit Lake, Milford area are a little drier yet,” according to Kassel.

Kassel says anyone driving by looking at the soybeans and corn might wonder why farmers are still concerned. “Soybeans are shading the rows and the corn is a really good color and so forth. You know, we’ve had some dry August in this part of the world, and typically the rainfall chances go down in August… and so that is in the back of everyone’s mind,” Kassel says. “We have a beautiful crop, but if we don’t get some additional rainfall through August we could see our yield potential go down.”

The crop report shows corn across the state is rated 83 percent in good to excellent condition. Soybeans are rated 76 percent good to excellent.

ISU researcher finds link between insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s

Auriel Willette

Auriel Willette

A researcher at Iowa State University finds a link between the insulin that regulates blood sugar in our bodies and Alzheimer’s disease. ISU’s Auriel Willette conducted the study with a researcher from the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute.

“In certain brain regions that are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, they show that these neurons are using less and less blood sugar. And so, these problems with using blood sugar were also selectively related to — in these same people — to having problems with memory,” Willette says. People who are obese tend to become insulin resistant, which could lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Willette says the link between the insulin resistance and memory issues was apparent. “Immediate memory over the course of a couple of minutes, all the way down to 20 minutes later,” Willette says. He says this study may be enough warning for people to think more about losing weight now, to prevent the possible onset of memory issues later.

Willette wants to do more work on the impact of blood sugar levels on the brain. “Some subsequent work that I want to do is trying to see…if you are overweight or if you are obese, if you do engage in moderate exercise, could that have an affect on the brain where we don’t see the relationship we’re seeing here?,” Willette says.

Willette says having less sugar means the brain has less energy to relay information and function, but there’s a lot that isn’t known. “We as brain scientists know very little about the dynamics of how this works,” according to Willette. “We are just now kind of beginning to understand this as to how we perceive food and things along those lines.” He says this new link involving brain sugar and insulin raises more questions.

“In relation to how insulin might give us that extra jolt of energy to be able to figure something out or to remember something or to make a new memory — things along those lines — we really don’t understand much of how that works at all. It’s just a really, really new field, and so know we are just trying to puzzle out what it all means,” Willette explains.

Willette’s findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology.

Report finds success in state gambling treatment program

The 1-800 Betts Off website has information to help problem gamblers.

The 1-800 Betts Off website has information to help problem gamblers.

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s annual report on problem gambling treatment is showing continued success. Eric Preuss is the program manager for the Office of Problem Gambling Treatment and Prevention.

“What we’re finding of those folks who are being involved in treatment and successfully completed treatment, they are seeing a reduction in the number of days gambled over the past 30, and we’re also seeing better employment rates,” Preuss says.

The report and analysis, which were compiled by the University of Northern Iowa Center for Social and Behavioral Research, found 92 percent of those treated reported reduced signs of problem gambling.

You can all the 1-800-BETTSOFF if you think you may have a gambling problem. Preuss says they create a treatment program for each individual. “It’s really based on where they are at when they come into the program,” Preuss explains.”Each program conducts an assessment that looks over six different areas of their life. Each of those areas are assessed, as far as behaviors, living arrangements, what might be going on in their work environment, what might be going on at home, if there is any mental health disorders or substance abuse disorders that might be going on.”

All of the services are outpatient, but he says they have a number of ways to work with individuals. “Whether it would be the use of e-therapy services or distance-treatment services. Where an individual might for example, be commuting across the state or have a job that takes them away from their home environment for a period of time. Where they can connect to groups and to individual appointments via phone or via other secure technology,” according to Preuss.

Preuss says there trying to educate people more about the resources available. “Ninety-percent of Iowans are very familiar with BETTS OFF, they know it is available, they know help is available through BETTS OFF, but 44 percent of Iowans did not know that the department offered assistance for individuals within the state of Iowa to actually get treatment,” Preuss says. He says they want people to know that treatment is successful.

“By getting the report out we’re hoping that number one — that they can see that we’re having a lot of folks who are having a lot of success with gambling treatment. That they are meting their recovery goals and they are able to live their lives in a way that’s not burdened by the gambling behavior,” Preuss says.

You can see the gambling treatment report on the Iowa Department of Public Health website at: www.idph.state.ia.us. To learn about treatment options or to speak with someone about problem gambling concerns, visit www.1800BETSOFF.org or call 1-800-BETS-OFF.