May 24, 2015

State cancels all poultry shows in effort to stop bird flu spread

chickensThe Iowa Department of Agriculture announced Thursday afternoon an order to immediately cancel all live bird exhibitions at county fairs, the Iowa State Fair, and other gatherings of birds due to avian influenza.

Iowa Ag Secretary, Bill Northey, says they looked at a lot of factors in making the decision. “In the interest of making sure that we don’t spread this disease — that we minimize the opportunity for it to move around the state especially — it’s important for us to cancel those exhibitions and make sure we are doing everything we can in the midst of this situation to control the disease,” Northey says.

The county fairs will be the first to be impacted. “It’s sure hard to take away that opportunity that kids would have to be able show,” Northey says. “And I know we have a lot of folks who go to our county fair and our state fair to be able to see some of the birds and to talk to some of the young producers out there.” The state announced the 63rd probably case of the avian flu Thursday shortly after announcing the cancellation of poultry shows.

Northey says they want to be sure the spread of the disease is stopped as it is starting to look like it is slowing.”We still see a few cases, we’ve seen some this week, nearly every day this week a case or two. The number has slowed down, and certainly the size of the operations that have been impacted have decreased to some degree here,” according to Northey. “We’re hopeful that we are on the downhill side of this. Some of our neighboring states we are starting to see them go several days without new cases and we’re hopeful throughout the whole midwest that we are getting towards the end of this.”

Iowa State Fair Manager, Gary Slater, says they support the decision. “We’re certainly disappointed that we are not able to continue our poultry competition this year…disappointed that this one had to be canceled,” Slater says. Slater says understand the reasoning behind the decision. “Our poultry industry is very important to the economy and to the industry here in Iowa, and we certainly would not want to jeopardize anybody or anything by spreading this disease as we try to get this virus stamped out as best we can,” Slater says.

He says the decision comes in time to let county fairs know. The county fair winners move on to the Iowa State Fair to show their birds. He says they have around 100 exhibitors between chickens, turkeys, ducks and pigeons, and they have more than 1,000 animals they put on display.

The Iowa State Fair poulty exhibit dates back to 1904, and not only will the exhibitors miss having animals at the fair, but he says it takes away one of the things he and others like stop in and see. Slater says he loves going into the barn and seeing the different colors and types of chickens in the poultry barn. “It’s very entertaining to one degree, but it’s also educational, ag educational,” Slater says.

The poultry exhibits share space with the rabbits and Slater says they will work on filling out the space. “We’ll try to make sure that we have either educational exhibits on poultry and the poultry industry in Iowa, or maybe can extend a little bit the bunnies in the barn so we don’t have just part of the fair where there’s nothing in there,” Slater says. He says they’ll be brainstorming over the next few weeks to see what they can put in there.

The state now has more than 25 million birds that have been hit by the avian influenza and are in the process of being destroyed.

Top three credit reporting agencies agree to changes to help consumers

The top three credit reporting agencies have agreed to changes.

The top three credit reporting agencies have agreed to changes.

A spokesman for Iowa’s Attorney General says getting errors removed from your credit report is going to get easier under an agreement reached with the top three credit reporting agencies.

Spokesman Geoff Greenwood says 31 states are a part of the agreement to improve the accuracy of the reports. “For years we’ve been getting complaints about all of the credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and Trans Union — so for the last couple of years, attorneys general have tried to address this problem,” Greenwood says.

Credit reports assign credit scores based on a variety of factors, including how well you pay your bills, how much money you’ve borrowed. Under this agreement the credit reporting agencies must implement an escalated process for handling complicated disputes, such as those involving identity theft, fraud, or cases where one consumer’s information is mixed with another’s.

“A credit report is really important, in some respects it’s a life story of your finances,” Greenwood says. “And others read those reports when they are thinking about extending you credit for a car, or a house, or maybe even hiring you.”

Greenwood says this agreement also addresses one particular area of concern — the payment of medical bills. “In some cases consumers were still working things our with their insurance company, didn’t get enough time and it ends up being a blemish on their credit report. This institute some changes that we think will reduce those types of reports on people’s credit reports,” Greenwood says.

The credit reporting agencies now cannot place medical debt on a credit report until 180 days after the account is reported to the credit reporting agency to gives consumers time to work out issues with their insurance companies.

Greenwood says you can get a free credit report from each of the three agencies by going to the website www.annualcreditreport.com. Then you can act to clear up any wrong information. “If you see an error, contact the credit reporting agency and let them know about the error,” Greenwood says. “As part of this agreement, they are going to make it easier for consumers.”

The agreement is sending $6 million  to the states, with $106,000 coming to Iowa for Iowa’s consumer education and litigation fund. Greenwood says credit reporting agencies will implement the changes in three phases to allow them to update their IT systems and procedures with data furnishers. All changes must be completed by three years and 90 days following the settlement’s effective date.

 

Report shows Iowa with 3rd highest rate of ‘structurally deficient’ bridges

Bridge over Nishnabotna River in Crawford County. (Iowa DOT photo)

Bridge over Nishnabotna River in Crawford County. (Iowa DOT photo)

A new report shows 22-percent of Iowa’s rural bridges are “structurally deficient.” That’s the third highest rate in the nation according to the National Transportation Research Group. The report states 4,815 of Iowa’s 21,939 rural bridges are structurally deficient.

Scott Neubauer, bridge maintenance and inspection engineer with the Iowa Department of Transportation, says most of the bridges at issue carry very few vehicles.

“Over 3,800 of them have less than 50 vehicles a day and about 4,500 of them have less than 500 vehicles a day,” Neubauer says.

Most of the old bridges in Iowa deemed structurally deficient have weight restrictions posted. Neubauer says many counties don’t have enough money to fix those bridges and choose to focus on the structures that carry the heavy trucks and traffic volume. “That’s why some of these stay deficient for so long,” Neubauer says. “It’s just on such a low volume road and carries such a small amount of traffic and the traffic it is carrying, the bridge is adequate…and it’s not really a hindrance to anybody, so the county just does the bare minimum to maintain it.”

Neubauer notes the term “structurally deficient” does not necessarily mean the bridge is unsafe. “You know, just because it’s structurally deficient doesn’t mean that it can’t last in that current condition for many years,” Neubauer says. According to the report, only Pennsylvania (25%) and Rhode Island (23%) have higher rates of rural bridges that are structurally deficient.

Neubauer says it’s possible many Iowa counties in the coming years will direct more money toward repairing or replacing old bridges from funds generated by this year’s increase in the state’s gas tax.

Opponents of Bakken oil pipeline rally at statehouse

Bakken-Resistance-logoMembers of a group called the “Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition” are at the statehouse today, urging passage of a bill that would make it more difficult for the pipeline developers to seize private property.

The proposed pipeline route would cut diagonally through a 240-acre corn field on Dan Gannon’s “Century Farm” near Mingo.

“We have an issue with a for-profit corporation coming on our land to make a profit,” Gannon says. “…They, on the average, will save $5 a barrel putting it underground versus on the rail and they’re going to run 570,000+ barrels of oil through our land every day — so do the math.”

Kathy Holdefer of Mingo says the pipeline would be “several hundred yards down the hill” from her property.

“We feel that the tide has turned and…nothing like this has ever been proposed before,” Holdefer says. “I know thousands of miles of pipe are already under the soil of the state, but this is way different. This is hazardous material in a gigantic 30-inch pipe and we don’t know how that will affect us.”

Holdefer points to a recent report indicating only 20 percent of oil spills from pipelines are discovered by the pipeline operators, while the rest are discovered after the oil bubbles up to the soil surface or spills into a waterway. The American Petroleum Institute counters that pipeline spills have decreased over the past decade, to about 100 per year.

The pipeline opponents are lobbying for passage of a bill that would require developers to voluntarily acquire 75 percent of the property along the pipeline route before they could use eminent domain authority to seize the rest.

Iowa part of national lawsuit against phony cancer charities

Attorney General Tom Miller.

Attorney General Tom Miller.

All 50 states are part of a federal lawsuit against four phony cancer charities. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller discussed the case with reporters in his office today and said the operators are accused of scamming donors out of millions of dollars over several years.

Only roughly 5-percent of the money the charities collected ended up possibly helping cancer victims. “For the five year period, 2008 to 2012, they took in $187 million and paid out $5 million of that for legitimate charities,” Miller said.

The complaint alleges Cancer Fund of America, Children’s Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services and The Breast Cancer Society portrayed themselves to donors as legitimate charities.

But, according to Miller, the defendants primarily spent the money on themselves. “The money was used for extended family members’ salaries and some luxuries,” Miller said. “There was fraud in the telemarketing by others that was assisted by the charities. The charities did some telemarketing themselves and there was fraud in (that) telemarketing.”

The lawsuit alleges the telemarketers told donors their contributions would help provide pain medication to children suffering from cancer and pay for hospice care for cancer patients. Instead, the complaint alleges the defendants spent the donations on salaries, cruises, concert tickets, and dating site memberships, among other things. Miller said it’s doubtful all of the money that was donated to the phony charities can be recovered and directed to legitimate charities fighting cancer. “It’s not going to approach $187 million, but we’ll get everything that we can,” Miller said. “We also think that suing the individual personally is an important part of the remedy and deterrent.”

The complaint names Cancer Fund of America Inc., Cancer Support Services Inc., the president of these two corporations, James Reynolds Sr., as well as the CFO of both and the former president of Cancer Support Services, Kyle Effler; Children’s Cancer Fund of America Inc., and its president and executive director Rose Perkins; and The Breast Cancer Society Inc., and its executive director and former president, James Reynolds II.

 

Iowa Law Enforcement Academy director retiring June 30

Arlen Ciechanowski

Arlen Ciechanowski

The head of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy is retiring rather than face rejection from the Iowa Senate.

Arlen Ciechanowski has served as director of the agency that trains law enforcement cadets since 2011, but a key senator said last week that Ciechanowski did not have enough support in the state senate to be confirmed for another four-year term as the agency’s leader. Some senators said it was time for a “culture change” at the academy.

Concerns had been raised about the way Ciechanowski handled allegations of sexual harassment. In 2012, an agency employee who complained about the agency’s deputy director was fired, while the deputy director was reprimanded, but allowed to keep his job for another two years before he was fired.

Ciechanowski sent a letter to the governor (ILEA retirement letter 5.18.15) on Monday, saying he leaves the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy “in a better place” than when he took over.

Ciechanowski’s letter indicated he’ll retire on June 30. The governor has not announced a replacement. Branstad recently appointed retired Des Moines Police Chief Judy Bradshaw to serve as the agency’s deputy director.

 

Hillary Clinton: ‘I’m going into this race with my eyes wide open’ (AUDIO)

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stressed her connections to two presidents as she campaigned earlier this afternoon in Mason City.

“I’m going into this race with my eyes wide open about how hard it is to be the president of the United States,” Clinton said. “I have a little experience about that and I have to tell you I find it very reassuring because I have that experience to know what’s possible and how best to proceed.”

Clinton told the crowd she agreed to serve as President Obama’s first secretary of state because in America, we “close ranks after hard elections” like the one in 2008. Clinton then sent this shot at her 2016 critics.

“We can disagree and we will,” Clinton said. “We’ll have all kind of arguments, even, about the best way to do things, but we should be coming from a place of love, of loving our country and respecting one another.”

Hillary Clinton during an appearance in Mason City.

Hillary Clinton during an appearance in Mason City.

A gay married couple hosted the event at their home, for about 60 invited guests. Clinton started her remarks with a response to those who’ve criticized her for avoiding questions from the media. Clinton said she’s taking time to “talk and listen to people” — to build a “firm foundation” for her campaign.

“It really is about people-to-people connections if we’re really talking about what we want to do,” Clinton said,”but it will also give me the kind of information I need to be an even better president.”

Clinton praised President Obama for steering the economy out of the doldrums, but she said more must be done to “ignite opportunity for everybody” — not just those at the top.

“I know there are a lot of hard choices ahead of us. I wrote a book called, ‘Hard Choices’. There it is. I’ll sign that for you,” Clinton said, as someone in the crowd held up their copy. Then she returned to her message: “But I think we’re up for it. You know, I am a confident optimist.”

This is Clinton’s second trip to Iowa since she officially jumped into the race last month. Clinton will appear at another small event with invited guests in Cedar Falls tomorrow.

AUDIO of Clinton’s appearance, 33:55

(Reporting and photos in Mason City by Bob Fisher of KGLO Radio; additional reporting and editing by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)