June 29, 2015

Iowans react to U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Iowa for the past six years and today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages are legal in all 50 states.

“It is a great day. It is a wonderful ruling. It is the fairest ruling to make,” Tammy Steinwandt of Des Moines said moments after the ruling was announced.

In 2009, she married her partner, Melanie Muth.

“When Iowa ruled in favor of (same-sex) marriage, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh,'” Steinwandt said. “…As each state came on, it was like what a great reality…and then today…the emotions are overwhelming. It’s just amazing, absolutely amazing.”

Bob Vander Plaats is president of The Family Leader, a Christian conservative group and he calls today’s ruling a “defining moment” for the country.

“This is going to get every common sense red, white and blue American out of the woodwork to take an active role in their government and to really hold in check a government that’s gone completely out of control,” Vander Plaats said.

Vander Plaats and The Family Leader helped defeat three Iowa Supreme Court Justice who were up for a retention vote in 2010, the year after the justices had joined the 2009 ruling which paved the way for same-sex marriage in Iowa. Same-sex marriage will now be a “huge issue” in the Iowa Caucuses, according to Vander Plaats.

“It’s going to be a defining moment in our country,” Vander Plaats says. “And it’ll be a defining moment in the 2016 election.”

Nine Republican presidential candidates will attend the “Family Leadership Summit” in Ames next month that Vander Plaats’ group is hosting.

Supporters of same-sex marriage plan to rally tonight at the state capitol.

Senator Ernst says president’s hostage negotiation plan creates more risk

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst says she is “deeply, deeply concerned” about the direction the president is going in allowing U.S. families to offer private ransom payments for relatives kidnapped overseas.

“I do not believe families should be negotiating with terrorists,” Ernst says. Ernst, a Republican from Red Oak, says the president is sending a mix message. The federal government will continue its policy of not making ransom payments, but president signed an executive order creating a new office to deal with hostage families, including the facilitation of communications with terrorist groups that could theoretically be used to organize ransom payments.

“I don’t agree with what the president is doing, and I think he puts a number of these families at great peril by encouraging them to do so,” according to Ernst. “It is our responsibility to ensure that we are getting those hostages back as a federal government.”

Ernst says the president’s plan raises the risk for everyone. “I think that puts not only any hostages at increased risk — but also those families. We shouldn’t put them in that position,” she says. “It is our responsibility as a federal government to ensure that we are protecting our citizens. And when they are in hostage situations, we should be the ones who are getting those hostages back.”

Ernst says the president’s plan doesn’t help the issue. “We do not negotiate with terrorists, we don’t want to fund those organizations and we don’t want to encourage them either. I think there is a better way to do this. I do believe that the Department of Defense should really spearhead these hostage situations,” Ernst says.

Under the new directive from President Obama, families will not be prosecuted if they attempt to pay ransoms to get their relatives released.


Southern Iowa tornado called an EF-3

This home was destroyed by the tornado.

This home was destroyed by the tornado.

The National Weather Service is reporting the tornado that ripped through parts of southern Iowa Monday night covered a 25-mile long path and stayed on the ground for just over an hour.

Audio : Pat Curtis reports :45

Meteorologist Craig Cogill says the tornado hit portions of Marion, Lucas and Monroe Counties.

“The peak wind gusts were up around 142 miles an hour. That’s an EF-3 tornado, which occurred at a farmstead southwest of Lovilia,”

Trees damaged by the storm.

Trees damaged by the storm.

Cogill said. At its peak, the tornado had an estimated width of 440 yards. It generally stayed in rural areas, but eventually struck homes and businesses in Albia.

“As it impacted the southwest side of Albia…the top wind speeds we had estimated there were 103 miles an hour,” Cogill said.

Despite all the destruction, there were no reports of injuries.




Bipartisan group pleads with Branstad: keep the MHIs open

Rich Taylor

Rich Taylor

A bipartisan group of state and local leaders held a news conference in Mount Pleasant Tuesday afternoon to urge Governor Branstad to keep the Mental Health Institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda open.

A budget bill awaiting Branstad’s review would keep the Mount Pleasant and Clarinda MHIs open for a few more months, contrary to Branstad’s January decision to close the two facilities by June 30. Steve Brimhall, the mayor of Mount Pleasant, said the two Mental Health Institutes in southern Iowa provide critical services not available elsewhere.

“So until a good alternative can be worked out and agreed upon by the governor and the legislature, I urge the governor to sign Senate File 505,” Brimhall said.

Iowa Wesleyan College president Steven Titus said he’s proud of the nursing students at his college who lobbied legislators to keep the MHIs open.

“As a relative newcomer to Iowa, I have to say I was a bit surprised and a bit alarmed at the lack of mental health services in southeast Iowa,” Titus said, “and so now the thought of closing an additional facility that’s been around for over a century to help provide those services really causes me even more alarm and concern.”

Senator Amanda Ragan, a Democrat, drove from Mason City to Mount Pleasant to participate in the news conference and tout the “bipartisan compromise” legislators passed to keep the two MHIs open.

“According to Iowa psychiatrists and health care professionals, we’ve heard our state suffers from a mental health crisis,” Ragan said. “…They’re quite frankly surprised at this plan for closure.”

Travis Kraus, vice president of the Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce, read a prepared statement, saying there’s a need to enhance, improve and expand mental health care.

“As a minimum, the Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute should remain open in order to provide an opportunity for thoughtful discussion and coordination regarding changes in existing conditions,” Kraus said.

Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, pounded his hand on the lectern as he sent this message to the governor: “Let this facility live!” And the crowd applauded.

Senator Rich Taylor, a Democrat from Mount Pleasant, organized the gathering.

“It’s not that I’m not willing to change,” Taylor said. “If there is a better way, I’m all for it. I’d work toward that, but today no one has a better plan.”

Governor Branstad has said the MHIs are antiquated and should be closed. Branstad may have tipped his hand last week on the issue because layoff notices were sent to 28 MHI workers in Mount Pleasant and 53 MHI employees in Clarinda. That doesn’t please Senator Taylor.

“Sending out pink slips really kind of ticked me off,” Taylor said.

Heaton said he’s not going to be “an alarmist” about the layoffs.

“Just because the pink slips go out does not water down my optimism that he will sign this bill and provide the facilities we so desperately need here in southeast Iowa,” Heaton said.

Legislators voted to keep the Mount Pleasant facility open for another year and keep the Clarinda Mental Health Institute open through mid-December, in hopes of finding a private company that would come in to operate the facility. Branstad has ’til July 6th to decide whether to accept that alternative. Heaton made an impassioned plea at the close of yesterday’s news conference.

“He should respond to the legislative will and sign this bill and allow this facility to be open,” Heaton said. “Why swim against the current?”

Critics of the closures say they are considering a lawsuit if Branstad follows through and closes the facilities. Branstad had planned to speak to Mount Pleasant’s Rotary Club at noon today, but Branstad’s staff says the governor had to cancel in order to be in Kansas City Thursday morning for an EPA hearing on the Renewable Fuels Standard.

UPDATE: Ernst & King giving white supremacist’s campaign donation to South Carolina church

Congresman Steve King.

Congresman Steve King.

Two Iowa Republicans are redirecting a campaign donation from a white supremacist who reportedly influenced the man accused of killing nine African Americans in a South Carolina church last week.

Senator Joni Ernst and Congressman Steve King are giving the money to church in South Carolina and the families of those murdered there.

Earl Holt of Longview, Texas, is a leader of the Council of Conservative Citizens and the church shooter has said he was inspired by information he found on the group’s website. Holt’s occupation is listed as “retired” alongside the FEC’s record of his $1,000 donation to the Ernst campaign as well as those made to King.

Holt gave $1,000 to Congressman Steve King’s 2012 campaign and another $1,500 to King’s 2014 reelection effort. “Our prayers are with the families and friends of those affected by this tragedy (in South Carolina),” King said in a statement posted on his campaign website early this evening.

Holt, who has called African Americans “the laziest, stupidest and most criminally-inclined race in the history of the world,” also donated to presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum, all of whom have denounced Holt in the past two days and redirected his money to help the South Carolina church and the families of the African Americans who were slain there.

Holt has posted a statement on the website saying his group is “hardly responsible” for the actions of a “deranged” shooter “merely because he gleaned accurate information from our website.” The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies Holt’s “Council of Conservative Citizens” as the “reincarnation” of “White Citizens Councils” of the 1950s and ’60s that served as a national network for white supremacists.

(This post was updated at 7:34 p.m. with additional information about Congressman King’s announcement.)

Governor signs broadband expansion bill into law (AUDIO)

Governor Brandstad, Lt. Governor Reynolds, State Representatives Peter Cownie and Rob Taylor. (L-R)

Governor Brandstad, Lt. Governor Reynolds, State Representatives Peter Cownie and Rob Taylor. (L-R)

Governor Terry Branstad traveled to an ag equipment dealership in Perry today to sign the “Connect Every Acre” high-speed broadband bill into law. The governor signed the bill at a table set up in a machine shed which housed several large pieces of John Deere Ag equipment.

“Indeed the legislation will foster broadband expansion across Iowa, and assist in building Iowa for the future,” Branstad says. He praised the bipartisan support of the bill.

Lieutenant governor Kim Reynolds joined the governor at VanWall equipment for the signing. “The Connect Every Acre bill signed into law today will provide for the coordination and facilitation of broadband access in targeted services areas throughout the state,” Reynolds says. “It establishes a grant program to award grants to communication service providers.”

John Teeple

John Teeple

John Teeple, the director of John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group, was also on hand for the signing. “Iowa’s farms, schools and communities will be able to connect to the internet with higher capacity and speeds — enhancing distance learning opportunities and positioning rural communities to better compete in the digital economy,” Teeple says.

Teeple says the modern technology in farm equipment requires high-speed internet. “Most of the machines on display here today are equipped with advanced technologies, like cellular modems, which are wirelessly connecting them in the cab to precision farm data — such as application rates — as well as to other machine, economic, market and weather data,” Teeple says.

He was asked if the problem is lack of internet access, or download speeds, and replied that both can be issues. “We have machines today that in the field today equipped with 2-G and 3-G modems as an example, and there are definitely places in the state where there is no coverage,” Teeple explains, “And there are places where there is minimal or spotty coverage at best.”

Governor Branstad signed the broadband expansion bill into law.

Governor Branstad signed the broadband expansion bill into law.

The legislation creates a property tax exemption of 100 percent for 10 years for installations of equipment in a targeted service area and sets up a framework for a grants program for the installation of broadband service in those targeted areas. The one thing that doesn’t come with the bill is state funding, but Governor Branstad is hopeful they can win grants to get things going.

Branstad says they will look at all different sources for possible grants. “And I think there could be federal dollars available from the U.S.D.A. and other sources. We are also going to look to private sector potential sources and what the state might be able to do with different types of mechanisms,” according to Branstad.

The governor pushed for the legislation in 2014, but it failed to pass, and he says he is pleased that it passed this year. He says now that it is passed, he will look at asking the legislature for money again in the next session.

Audio: Branstad bill signing. 9:50.



Iowa Supreme Court overturns rule blocking telemed abortions

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Iowa Supreme Court building.

The Iowa Supreme Court says so-called telemedicine abortions can continue in the state. The Supreme Court says the rule created by the Iowa Board of Medicine 2013 requiring a doctor to be on hand when women are given drugs to induce an abortion is unconstitutional. The rule effectively prevented Planned Parenthood from using webcams or teleconferencing to dispense abortion-inducing drugs to patients in remote locations.

The Board of Medicine said the rule was intended to protect the safety of women. Planned Parenthood sued, saying the rule was politically motivated by the board that was appointed by Governor Terry Branstad who opposes abortion. A Polk County judge upheld the rule and Planned Parenthood appealed.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruling says the rule has very limited health benefits and says while undoubtedly everyone would prefer to see a doctor in person every time they have a medical issue, the reality of modern medicine is otherwise.” The court says the telemedicine rule would make it more challenging for many women who wish to exercise their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

Full ruling: Telemed abortion ruling PDF

 Related stories from Radio Iowa: 

Supreme Court hears arguments on telemed abortion rule

Both sides react to ruling upholding ban on telemed abortions