July 29, 2014

Senator Grassley part of effort to curb sexual assault on college campuses

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is part of a bipartisan group of U.S. senators who will hold a press conference tomorrow  to announce the introduction of legislation which aims to curb sexual assaults on college and university campuses. Grassley, a Republican, says, “There’s too many people connected with higher education that feel that sexual assaults on campus is something other than a crime.”

University of Iowa officials unveiled a six-point plan earlier this year to combat sexual assaults on the Iowa City campus, including training for students to safely intervene and late-night transportation for female students. Grassley says the bill is designed to protect students and remove sexual assault from the shadows by creating accountability and transparency on college campuses. “There hasn’t been enough attention given to sexual assault on campuses, in fact, there’s even efforts that we know about actually to cover it up,” he says.

Grassley says he and his colleagues have worked together for months to examine federal, state and local policies, collect feedback, and to craft a bipartisan bill to better protect and empower students and hold both perpetrators — and institutions — accountable. “Universities are afraid their reputation will be ruined if this information gets out, particularly if it’s brought up in the criminal courts,” Grassley says. “Quite frankly, if you’re going to stop sexual assaults on the campus, you’ve got to treat it for what it is, a crime.”

As one of its primary goals, he says the legislation aims to flip the current incentives that result in sweeping sexual assaults under the rug. The news conference in Washington D.C. is scheduled for 9:45 AM/Central on Wednesday.


Dollar Tree buys Family Dollar stores

Iowans who like to shop at stores where everything’s a dollar may soon see some changes. The Dollar Tree chain is buying rival Family Dollar for $8.5 billion. There are about 40 Dollar Trees in Iowa and around 20 Family Dollars.

While the items at Dollar Tree all cost a buck or less, the Family Dollar stocks some items up to $5, and higher. The new Dollar Tree chain will become North America’s biggest discount retailer. Specifics on which stores will remain open haven’t been released.

One dead, 7 injured in Washington County accident

One person was killed, seven injured, when a pickup truck and a car collided Sunday afternoon in southeast Iowa’s Washington County. The state patrol says the driver of the pickup was in the process of turning around on a county road a few miles from Washington when the car collided with it head-on, sending both vehicles into the ditch. A passenger in the car was killed.

He’s identified as 46-year-old Dennis Albright of Washington. Four other adults were injured and three young children, all of whom were in carseats. No condition reports have been released. There’s no word on any charges.

U-I working on dust mite allergy vaccine

A vaccine that fights dust mite allergies by naturally switching the body’s immune response is being developed at the University of Iowa. Dust mites are microscopic relatives of spiders that eat skin cells and live in the upholstery of furniture, rugs and curtains.

U-I researcher Aliasger Salem says people with dust mite allergies develop skin rashes and have trouble breathing, including asthma attacks. “It can have a fairly dramatic impact on the quality of life of people when they suffer from this,” Salem says. “Having a long term solution that can help to mitigate those affects patients suffer would be a really impactful thing.”

Salem says it will be a while before the vaccine is commercially available. He anticipates the research will be used to create vaccines for other types of allergies in the future. Salem was a guest on the Iowa Public Radio program “River to River.”

Roundtable discusses impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Michele Meadors

Michele Meadors

Tomorrow marks the 24th anniversary of the signing of what some consider one of the most important civil rights laws of the 20th century. The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was authored by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin.

Michele Meadors, who serves as Miss Wheelchair Iowa, is joining Harkin, Governor Branstad and others for a roundtable talk about the ADA this afternoon at Drake University. Meadors says Harkin is a “true hero” for his years of work on the legislation.

“As much as it’s benefitted me being able to live independently in a community I love being in Des Moines and the state of Iowa, none of this would have happened had it not started out with Senator Harkin that many years ago.”

Earlier this week, President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act into law, legislation Harkin also co-authored. It aims to insure all workers, including those with disabilities, have access to 21st century job training and employment opportunities.

Meadors says she’ll be in Washington, D.C. next week and hopes to speak to several members of Congress about just that type of legislation. Meadors says, “That’s going to be one of the things that I want to push really hard for because we’re going to have a lot of disabled veterans that are going to need employment through a lot of different struggles and a lot of different technologies.”

During a conference call with reporters earlier this week, Harkin talked about the ADA, what he called “landmark” legislation. “In addition to being an Emancipation Proclamation for people with disabilities, the ADA has the very down-to-earth purpose of ensuring people with disabilities can go places and do things that all other Americans take for granted.”

In a statement, Harkin says, “Over the past 24 years, the ADA has provided opportunity and access for more than 56 million Americans with disabilities. Prior to passage of this landmark civil rights legislation, these Americans routinely faced prejudice, discrimination and exclusion and insurmountable physical barriers in their everyday lives.”

Meadors, of Des Moines, was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Iowa earlier this year in Iowa City. She was left paralyzed from the neck down following a car accident in 2011. The 46-year-old was appointed by Governor Branstad to serve on the State Independent Living Council. Meadors will represent Iowa at the Ms. Wheelchair America event in Long Beach, California, next month.


Greenhouse will supply fresh veggies to central Iowa homeless shelter

Construction is almost complete on a spherical greenhouse at Iowa’s largest homeless shelter. The 30-foot dome at Central Iowa Shelter and Services in Des Moines will have reflective coverings and be insulated to grow vegetables year-round. Assistant shelter manager A.J. Olson says people staying at the shelter tend the gardens through a paid training program and food grown in the outdoor beds helps feed more than 200 people daily.

“We’ve had really good luck this year with doing a salad mentality,” Olson says. “We had four beds that had spinach and lettuce and that kind of thing and amazingly, that went really fast in our kitchen. Fresh salad was a big hit.” Olson says by growing food year-round, the gardening program can be expanded and any extra produce can be sold.

“We serve 250 people every night for dinner, how can we help supplement what the groups bring in to serve,” she says, “so here’s a beautiful salad for you that came from our garden.”

The dome cost about $40,000 to construct. Olson says the shelter’s Mulberry Farms and Food program is entirely funded by DuPont-Pioneer.


Senator Harkin says Senator Grassley is ‘wrong’ on undocumented children issue

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley blasts the Obama administration for not telling state officials about dozens of Central American children being placed in Iowa after entering the U.S. illegally. Grassley, a Republican, says the feds were wrong to put the 139 children in Iowa homes without giving the state a heads-up to provide health care, mental health care and other state services.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, disagrees. “My colleague is just wrong in saying that somehow we ought to let everyone know where these kids are, who they are,” Harkin says. “That is wrong.” Harkin says the operation was kept secret for a reason as there have been angry protests in other U.S. cities along the Mexican border which likely traumatized the already-frightened children. “These kids need to be protected, housed and kept safe,” Harkin says. “They don’t need to be made public objects where perhaps people can go out and picket a house. Maybe some family has taken in two or three of these kids to feed them and keep them safe. This is a humanitarian gesture.”

Reports say as many as 57,000 children from Central American nations have entered the U.S., undocumented and unaccompanied, since last fall. Earlier this week, Governor Branstad said he didn’t want the children brought to Iowa, calling them “lawbreakers.” Again, Harkin disagrees: “There’s a reason for the privacy, there’s a reason to protect these kids,” Harkin says. “Keep in mind, these kids are not criminals, they’re refugees. They’re kids that are escaping murder and violence and rape and all kinds of bad things.”

The children deserve due process, Harkin says, and it needs to be determined if they qualify for asylum. “I just met yesterday with the ambassadors of all three countries, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala,” Harkin says. “Things are now being put in place to help stem the exodus of these kids from those three countries.” Grassley is quoted as saying the cost to taxpayers to care for the children could be as much as one-thousand dollars per day.