August 27, 2014

Unemployment tax for Iowa businesses reduced (AUDIO)

Teresa Wahlert of Iowa Workforce Development talks during Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynold's weekly news conference.

Teresa Wahlert of Iowa Workforce Development talks during Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynold’s weekly news conference.

For the fourth consecutive year state officials are reducing the tax rates businesses pay into the government-managed fund used to pay unemployment benefits to Iowans. Teresa Wahlert is director of Iowa Workforce Development, the state agency that handled unemployment checks.

“In January of 2011, the Unemployment Trust Fund level was at $446 million,” she says. “Today, and the reason we’ve been able to have this great announcement today, is today that Unemployment Tax Fund is now $1.1 billion.”

The unemployment tax rates now set for Iowa businesses are the lowest they’ve been in 12 years.

“This is clearly providing business an incentive to keep their business here, to grow their business here,” Wahlert says, “and to relocate here, when they’re asked.”

The tax rates vary and are based on the lay-off track record of a business.

The Senate Oversight Committee will convene to quiz Wahlert over her management of the agency. Due to a computer malfunction in March, Iowa Workforce Development sent unemployment checks to 85 people who didn’t seek another round of benefits. Wahlert says it’s just a cost of doing business.

IWD director Teresa Wahlert.

IWD director Teresa Wahlert.

“Nobody is going to be penalized because it would cost us way more to collect the small number — it was only about $27,000 — and on a scale of a fund that has $1.1 billion in it, it’s really quit a small number,” Wahlert says. “And so we don’t want to penalize Iowans and we don’t want to spend our time going after that amount of money when we know what happened.”

Democratic senators have quesitons about an internal office memo which directed the department’s staff to stay quiet about the glitch.

“Staffers were told to do their job,” Wahlert says, “and so a lot of times people especially with an agency that is as large as ours spend time talking and visiting about things and we want our people to work on their important assignments.”

Governor Terry Branstad says his Workforce Development director has his “full support” as she prepared to appear before the legislative committee.

“I think Teresa with her background in business and with the Des Moines Partnership has a perfect background for this job and I think she’s done a really good job,” Branstad says. “…I feel confident that she’ll be able to answer all the questions and accusations that are thrown at her.”

This past spring Democrats in the Senate accused Wahlert of trying to tilt unemployment cases in favor of businesses by firing the chief judge in charge of the administrative law judges who handle the cases and putting herself in charge.

Branstad and Wahlert made their comments this morning during the governor’s weekly statehouse news conference.

AUDIO of news conference

Branstad says Deere layoffs linked to EPA’s RFS decision

Governor Terry Branstad is blaming the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the recent layoffs at Deere and Company.

Deere announced last week that over 100 people will be laid off indefinitely from its plant in Ankeny, then yesterday, Deere announced 460 people will be laid off at its tractor factory in Waterloo. Deere cited falling commodity prices as the primary cause of its drop in farm equipment sales.

During an appearance in Le Mars Friday afternoon, Branstad blamed the drop in corn prices on the EPA’s proposal to lower the Renewable Fuels Standard.

“A few years ago we had the best corn prices we’d ever seen,” Branstad said. “And now, because the EPA has cut the Renewable Fuels Standard…the price of corn is now below the cost of production and when farmers seek they’re not going to be making money, they quit buying equipment.”

Branstad has been criticizing the EPA for proposing a roll-back of the amount of corn-based ethanol that must be blended into gasoline this year. The EPA hasn’t made that new “Renewable Fuels Standard” level final, however, and Branstad said that uncertainty isn’t helping either.

“They’ve really done real damage to the farm economy and now to jobs at John Deere and farm machinery manufacturing as well,” Branstad said.

Deere expects farm equipment sales to drop 10 percent this year. The company has laid off workers at its East Moline plant, which makes combines, as well as the tractor plant in Waterloo. The plant in Ankeny makes cotton pickers and other farm machinery, like tillers and grain drillers

“Disappointing, obviously, and disconcerting,” Waterloo Mayor Buck Clark said of the layoffs in Waterloo. “We have gone through this in the past. We hate it, but not totally, totally surprising.”

Waterloo City Councilman Steve Schmitt said while this latest round of layoffs is upsetting, he doesn’t anticipate the kind of struggle his city faced during the depths of the farm crisis in the 1980s.

“Waterloo and Cedar Falls have a much more diverse employment base now than we did back then,” he says. “Back then it was purely John Deere and Rath Packing and I think one of the things we learned out of that was to have a wide diversification of employers.”

Deere currently employs over 6000 people at its “Waterloo Works” where tractors roll off the production line. Almost 1200 have been employed at the “Des Moines Works” plant in Ankeny where 110 workers got layoff notices last week.

(Reporting in Le Mars by Dennis Morrice of KLEM Radio; additional reporting and editing by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)

Police: girl did not have cancer, mother charged in hoax

An Atlantic woman is facing charges after police say she claimed her five-year-old daughter had terminal cancer in a scheme to collect cash from local residents.

Cass County Attorney Dan Feistner says 30-year old Leatha Kaye Slauson was arrested early Friday morning. “We are confident, at least from the information that we’ve received, that the child in question was not suffering from a life-threatening cancer, as was reported by her mother,” Feistner said at a press conference Friday afternoon.

Several fundraising events have been organized in recent months to help the family with their medical and travel costs. Slauson had said donations would also help pay for her daughter’s “dream” to visit Disney World.

Feistner said the investigation into the matter stemmed from an inquiry by Atlantic Community School District officials into how to best provide for a child with special needs.

Atlantic Police Chief Steve Green advised citizens to no longer donate to the “Super Riley Fund” established for the little girl, but they should not stop contributing to other, legitimate causes. “This isn’t the first time this community has stepped up for people, we do it for everybody,” Green said. “I don’t think the hearts of the people of this community are going to be hardened by it. I think everybody’s hurt right now, but everybody’s going to heal.”

Feistner said thousands of dollars have been raised for the family, but an exact amount was not known. Two websites established for the girl, however, have totaled over $7,600 in donations.

For now, Slauson is charged with child endangerment and distribution of drugs to a child under the age of 18. Slauson is accused of giving her daughter cannabis oil.

by Ric Hansen, KJAN / additional reporting by Pat Curtis, Radio Iowa

Deere to lay off hundreds of workers in NE Iowa

DeereMore layoffs are coming to Iowa’s largest manufacturing employer, Quad Cities-based John Deere, this time hitting the Waterloo operations.

Deere and Company announced Friday they will put 460 employees on indefinite layoff.

Deere spokesman Ken Golden says it’s in response to Deere’s third quarter earnings announcement and the resulting current market demand for its products.

Deere had announced layoffs of 600 employees last week at several of their other facilities including Des Moines, Moline and East Moline, Illinois, and Coffeyville, Kansas.

The layoffs at the Waterloo operations will go into effect on October 20th.

By Scott Fenzloff, KCNZ, Cedar Falls


Autopsy finds father of man accused of killing mother died of natural causes

The autopsy report on a northwest Iowa man finds he was not a murder victim, though authorities believe the man’s wife was killed by his adult son.Autopsy results show Donald Neunaber died from natural causes.

Donald Nuenaber, along with his wife, Esther, were found dead in their rural Akron home on July 9th. Jonathan Neunaber, the son, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his mother, and is currently in the Plymouth County Jail under a bond of $100,000. His trial has been scheduled for December 9th.

 The Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Plymouth County Attorney’s office are working cooperatively to investigate the case.

(Reporting by, Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars)


Third Safe Haven baby this year turned over to DHS

Safe-HavenThe Department of Human Services says a baby has been turned over to the state — the third use of the Safe Haven law in four months. DHS spokesperson, Amy Lorentzen McCoy, says the baby was turned over one week ago.

“An individual brought a healthy newborn boy to a medical center in Iowa on August 13th and asked that the child be declared a Safe Haven baby,” McCoy says. “So the infant was released to the custody of D-H-S and a court hearing will be held to terminate parental rights within the next month.”

The state does not give out any other information on the child to keep things confidential. The first Safe Haven baby of this year was turned over to the state on June 14th, followed by the second on April 15th. Both were also boys. McCoy says thisis believed to be the most babies turned over under the law in one year. The law was created 2001 in the wake of a high-profile case involving a teen mother in eastern Iowa who killed her baby after delivering it at home.

McCoy says this is the 20th time the state’s Safe Haven procedures have been used. McCoy says having three babies turned over shows there is an awareness of the law. “I think that people do see the Safe Haven cases in the news, they understand what the program is about, and they realize that this is a ‘no questions asked’ approach for a parent in crisis who can safely hand over care,” McCoy says.

All of the babies turned over under the program have been adopted. “DHS gets custody of these children, but there are chances for the parents to still go to court,” McCoy says. “But this is really a way to protect a newborn at the time of birth to make sure that they can be safe if the person doesn’t feel that they can care for them.” She says not parents have requested a return of a child after giving it up.

Babies age 14 days or younger can be turned over without the threat of prosecution for abandonment. Find out more about the Safe Haven law on the DHS website .


Both sides react to ruling upholding ban on telemed abortions

A Polk County judge has ruled the Iowa Board of Medicine has the authority to create a rule that bans the procedure where a doctor sees a patient via a video link and gives them medication to induce an abortion. The board voted 8-2 in August of last year to require a physician see the patient in person before giving her the medication — citing concerns about safety.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland went to court try to overturn the rule, saying the vote was politically motivated and would adversely impact women seeking to get an abortion. Planned Parenthood interim CEO, Penny Dickey, talked to Radio Iowa about the ruling. “I am actually shocked and very disappointed that judge (Jeffrey) Ferrell ruled in this way. I had expected that it would be a different outcome,” Dickey says.

Dickey says the ruling, if it stands, would limit access to abortions. “It’s really unfortunate that he chose to make access to a safe, constitutionally-protected procedure in medication abortion less safe and less accessible to women who are seeking pregnancy termination,” according to Dickey.

A previous Polk County ruling allowed the telemed abortions to continue while the issue works through the court. Ferrell’s ruling today would lift the stay in 30 days pending an appeal. “We do have 30 days to file and appeal, and that if definitely our intent,” Dickey says. “And until that time, we will continue providing telemedicine, medication abortion services to women in the state.”

Dickey says they have nine locations that are now providing telemed abortions. She says the use telemedicine is expanding in almost every other case, and lawmakers and others trying to do what they can to help that expansion. “In this one particular instance is when the lawmakers, and the Board of Medicine and now obviously the judge, have decided that it is unsafe,” Dickey says. “We’ve done more than 6,000 telemedicine procedures in the state. We’ve had a high satisfaction rate with our patients. And a very successful program as it relates to providing safe medical care to women throughout the state.

Iowa Right to Life pushed to end telemed abortions and the group’s executive director Jenifer Bowen says they anticipated the ruling would go in their favor.

“We knew that this day would come because since 2008 when we first learned about this horrific plan, we have been trying to get the word out that not only unborn children were at risk, but also women who would never see a doctor and have these abortions. We knew they were at grave risk,” Bowen says. “We are very pleased to see that judge Ferrell has ruled in favor of the safety of Iowa women.”

She says this ruling is a victory, but also knows it doesn’t end the court battle. “Nothing in Iowa is every easy in this abortion fight, and so yes, we are fully anticipating the plaintiffs will appeal the decision and we are prepared for that to happen,” according to Bowen.

Bowen says the judge found the safety issue of seeing a doctor in person to be a legitimate concern. “You know often times we’re cast into a category of ‘well you only care about the baby’ or ‘you only care about saving the baby’s life,’ and …that’s never been the case. We care about the mother just as much as we do the child,” Bowen says. “And this was an opportunity to really put actions behind those words, because we were just as concerned, if not more concerned for the safety of these women.”

Bowen says Iowa Right to Life stood alone for many years in trying to point out the dangers in the procedures to women. “Planned Parenthood said for many, many years that there was not a single complication, all the while we knew they were logging in complication after complication on these abortions. We knew of gruesome stories of women who were left to deal with the dead body of their baby alone and returned to Planned Parenthood,” Bowen says.

Bowen says Planned Parenthood has “done a disservice to women” by touting the safety and lack of complications in these type of abortions.