April 1, 2015

Senator Grassley begins campaign for 7th term

Senator Chuck Grassley. (file photo)

Senator Chuck Grassley. (file photo)

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley held his first fundraiser last night in West Des Moines to kick off his 2016 reelection campaign. Grassley, a Republican, is seeking a seventh term. One reason Grassley says he’d like to remain in Washington D.C. is the fact his party now has a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate.

“We anticipated that would happen,” Grassley says, “and being chairman of a committee, I’m in a position to show more leadership, not just through the Judiciary Committee but being fourth in seniority of 100 senators, I think, gives me some opportunity to push.” Grassley first took office in 1959 when he was elected to the Iowa House and has served in public office ever since. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1975 and was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980.

Grassley is now 81 years old and if elected to another term, he would be 89 when that term is up. He’s currently the second-oldest member of the Senate. I don’t have a right to serve a seventh term,” Grassley says. “I hold a public trust and from time to time, every six years, you have to renew that trust. If the people continue to have trust in me, I will serve a seventh term and if they don’t, then obviously, I’ll retire.”

Shortly after Senator Tom Harkin announced in 2013 that he would not run again, Grassley said he would seek reelection because he didn’t want to leave Iowa with two junior senators just two years apart. He says that remains as a primary reason he’s seeking reelection now. Grassley says, “Public service is an honorable thing and if I can be helpful to the people of Iowa, particularly in transition while Iowa has a new senator, then I think that’s helpful.”

Republican Joni Ernst of Red Oak was elected last year to fill the seat that had been held by Democrat Harkin. Grassley says Ernst has “really picked up the ball quickly,” adding, “she’s off to a very good start, but it still hasn’t changed my mind about running for reelection.”


FEMA encourages pet owners to include them in emergency plans

State and federal officials are urging Iowans to think about their pets when making emergency plans for floods, tornadoes and other severe weather. Phil Kirk, a preparedness coordinator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says FEMA has learned through painful experience the importance of including pets in any preparations.

“There have been countless examples where citizens refused to evacuate their homes in the face of danger because they didn’t have a way to take their pets along or a place to bring them to safety,” Kirk says. “Sadly, those decisions cost some people their own lives as well as the lives of their pets. Additionally, our first responders were faced with even greater risks of trying to save those lives.” Kirk suggests pet owners try to acclimate their pets to Midwestern storms, whenever they might roll through.

“During storms in this part of the country, take them out when there’s lightning and thunder and get them exposed to it so when it really happens and there’s a need to leave, it’s not the first time that they’ve dealt with it,” he says. Kirk says FEMA has found it must include pets in any emergency preparations a family makes. “They go hand-in-hand,” Kirk says, “because there are people who will not leave without their pets and I understand that. So, we need to try to do what we can to make sure that everybody can leave and be safe.”

Kirk suggests putting together an emergency kit for the pets — as well as the family — so everyone in the home is ready to respond. He says a family needs to have non-perishable food, bottled water, medications and other material together to last for the first 72 hours of an emergency.


Campaign says cutting sugared drinks can improve your health


The “Rethink Your Drink” campaign tries to get people to cut back on sugar laden drinks.

Almost one in every three Iowans is obese, according to the latest rankings, and what we’re drinking can be just as fattening as what we’re eating.

Carol Voss, a registered dietician and a nutritionist with the Iowa Department of Public Health, says just one 12-ounce soda contains around 150 calories and 40 grams of sugar, which in itself is more than the daily recommendation. It’s much worse for the 20-ounce pops.

“If you were thinking of opening those sugar packets you find at a restaurant table, the 20-ounce bottle would be 16 of those dumped into that plastic bottle,” Voss says. “So, you can see how that might exceed what we’re supposed to be consuming.” A state survey in 2012 found that 72-percent of Iowans consumed between one and three sugar-sweetened beverages daily. For women, it was 67-percent and 77-percent for men.

Voss says a campaign called “Rethink Your Drink” is urging Iowans to consider cutting out at least some of those sweet drinks and trading them for water or a non-sweetened tea. “It’s just a way of being a little more realistic about the calories we’re taking in,” Voss says. “When people are looking at ways to balance your calories, we look at the food we eat rather than the beverages we take in and beverages can be a very easy thing to modify.”

Drinking one soda a day can equal an extra 25 pounds of weight per year. The latest “State of Obesity” report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds 31-percent of all Iowans are obese, the 12th highest rate in the country. Sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugar in the American diet, and that contributes to things like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.


U-I study finds distracted driving among teens more serious than thought

Texting and is one of the biggest distractions for teen drivers.

Texting and is one of the biggest distractions for teen drivers.

A University of Iowa study of hundreds of dash-cam video recordings of teenage drivers who were involved in crashes finds they’re a lot more distracted than originally thought.

Gail Weinholzer , at AAA Iowa, says the comprehensive research found significant evidence that distracted driving is likely a much more serious problem than previously known.

“We found that six out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes involved distraction, which is four times more than has been reported on police records,” Weinholzer says. “Of course, the average person isn’t going to admit to law enforcement that they were horsing around with other teenagers or talking on their cell phone.”

Researchers at the U-of-I analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle event recorders. “The #1 cause was interacting with one or more teen passengers, that was 15% of all crashes,” Weinholzer says. “Cell phone use, whether it be dialing the phone, talking on the phone, using it to text or something of that nature was 12% of all crashes, and daydreaming and looking around at what was going on outside of the car not relevant to the driving process was about ten percent.”

Other top distractions include: singing and moving to music, grooming and reaching for an object. An earlier federal study had estimated distraction is a factor in only 14-percent of all teen driver crashes.

This new report showed distraction was a factor in 58-percent of all crashes studied, including 89-percent of road-departure crashes and 76-percent of rear-end crashes. Parents play a critical role in preventing distracted driving, according to the motor club. “Parents need to model good behavior,” Weinholzer says. “If their teens are seeing them texting and driving or talking on the cell phone and driving, it’s no surprise that the teens are going to do that themselves. Second, parents need to limit the number of teens in the vehicle as well as the cell phone use that’s going on in the vehicle.”

Those things might be accomplished, she suggests, with parent-teen contracts and through stronger graduated drivers licensing laws. Researchers found that drivers who were using their cell phone had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 out of the final 6 seconds leading up to a crash. The researchers also measured reaction times in rear-end crashes and found that teen drivers using a cell phone failed to react more than half of the time before the impact, meaning, they crashed without braking or steering.


Greene County among school districts adding student WiFi to buses

Greene County school officials in front of wifi bus.

Greene County school officials show off technology that puts wifi in their bus.

Several of Iowa’s rural school districts are investing in WiFi school buses for students who are spending hours of their day heading to and from school or to sporting events. Tim Christensen, superintendent of the Greene County Community School District, says they’ve upgraded two “activities” buses so far that are used for hauling various sports teams to competitions.

“They leave about 3:30 to go on these trips and with a lot of homework, they sometimes don’t get back on these trips until 11 or 11:30 at night,” Christensen says. “We thought it would be a great opportunity to have wifi on the buses to allow the kids to do their homework while they’re on the trip before they got home.”

Greene County is in the third year of a Chromebook initiative where all 450 students in grades nine through 12 have been issued laptops. Christensen says students like having the ability to get online to work on reports while the miles roll by, though some also used the bus-based internet connection to watch last week’s NCAA basketball games.

“We hope they’re doing homework or some other things,” Christensen says. “We anticipate that it will hopefully keep them busy. We do have filtering on the WiFi so they do not have the ability to get anywhere that we do not want them to get to.”

While the WiFi is just on two of the district’s buses for now, Christensen says they may eventually convert the entire fleet. The technological leap didn’t come cheap, though.”We had to buy a router for each of the buses which is about $400,” Christensen says. “Basically, there’s a wireless connection through cell service, the cost of that is in the neighborhood of $1,500 a year, so, a little bit of an investment up-front and an ongoing investment but we think it’ll be worth it.”

At least three other Iowa school districts are now offering students wifi on school buses: the Cardinal Community School District in Eldon, the Carroll Community School District and the Pocahontas Area Community Schools.


Search on for owner of dog that jumped off Des Moines viaduct

Rocco after jumping off a viaduct.

Rocco after jumping off a viaduct.

A frightened young dog took a leap off a bridge in Des Moines last Sunday, surviving a two-story fall with injuries. Now, officials with the Animal Rescue League of Iowa are trying to find the owners of the Rottweiler so he can be returned home.

The Rescue League’s Josh Colvin says a passing motorist spotted the dog on the Guthrie Avenue viaduct. She called to the dog but it panicked and jumped onto the tracks far below. “It was probably pretty traumatic for the person because she actually saw it happen,” Colvin says. “The dog jumped over the viaduct and when she went over to check on him, he was still alive but that’s a long ways down and so it was very, very concerning.”

The woman contacted the Rescue League which rushed the animal to the Iowa Veterinary Referral Center, a 24-hour emergency clinic. “The injuries, we’re still a little iffy on, whether the dog needs surgery,” Colvin says. “He has some injuries to the front legs and he’s still under observation to see if there’s anything more extensive.”

Rocco after treatment.

Rocco after treatment.

The dog has been nicknamed Rocco by the Rescue League staff. He’s fully-grown, but still quite young, according to Colvin.

Pictures of the dog and the story so far have been posted to the website, IowaPetAlert.com, in an effort to locate an owner. “We’ve had the dog on there for a week and no luck,” Colvin says. “Anything we can do to get the owner to come forward and to let people know what happened and that the dog is okay. We just need them to come forward so we can get this puppy home.”

If Rocco goes unclaimed, he will go into the A-R-L’s adoption program. Iowans who would like to donate to Rocco’s care can do so at www.arl-iowa.org/donate (RE: Rocco), or call the facility at: (515) 284-6905.


Grassley calls EPA’s proposed expansion of water rules a ‘power grab’

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

The Environmental Protection Commission wants to expand its reach by broadening the Clean Waters Act, a move that’s subject of a hearing before the U.S. Senate’s Agriculture Committee today. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley strongly opposes the EPA’s move to bolster its ability to regulate how waterways are used and he says he’ll be telling the panel about the fears of many farmers over the agency’s efforts.

“It is a power grab,” Grassley says. “When you have county officers, including supervisors, coming to Washington for their annual meeting, and they tell you they oppose it because it would even affect the ditches along the roads, you know something’s wrong.” The original language of the act gave the EPA jurisdiction over “navigable waters,” which Grassley says was intended to cover big commerce ships as they made their way up the Mississippi River, for example.

“Now, look at what EPA wants to do,” Grassley says. “They want to take control of creeks that might not have water in them, which basically gives them control over almost every square inch of land within this country.” Grassley, a Republican, says he’d back up Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer who is calling for the EPA to scrap the entire Clean Waters expansion proposal.

“Hardly a town meeting goes by in Iowa that EPA regulation and specifically this one, but others as well, comes up for questions,” Grassley says. “Over the last three years, there’s been a great deal of concern at my town meetings about overregulation.” The EPA proposes what it calls an update to the Clean Water Act, called the Waters of the United States. It would broaden the definition of “waters” under agency jurisdiction, mainly through removing the word “navigable” from the act. EPA officials say the change will allow the agency to better regulate pollution by getting closer to its source.

Critics claim it is an extreme overreach, extending the Clean Water Act far beyond the intent of Congress. The ag committee meeting was scheduled to begin at 9 AM/Central time.