May 30, 2015

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)

State creates ‘Child Abduction Response Team’

CART trailer.

CART trailer.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) has formed what’s called a “Child Abduction Response Team” or CART.

Iowa DCI special agent in charge, Michael Motsinger, says the team was created in response to the kidnapping and murders of Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook-Morrissey in Evansdale and the abduction and murder of Kathlynn Shepard in Dayton.

Motsinger says there will be six regional CART offices that will help boost the manpower law enforcement has when an abduction is reported. “The biggest thing is just getting there and assess to see what is going on. We really stress the quick reaction, sitting down with the family, and what I mean with assessing are, could they be with a friend, could they be at the local neighbor’s house and just walked in,” Motsinger explains. “Just doing those quick things so we can establish right away, do we have a true child abduction, or is the child missing.

DCI Special Agent in Charge, Michael Motsinger.

DCI Special Agent in Charge, Michael Motsinger.

DPS unveiled a CART trailer today that Motsinger says will have computers and other equipment and serve as a mobile command post if they determine a child has been abducted. “We’ll have tracking software, we’ll have mapping software, we’ll have a big plotter so we can print off a big map of the area so we can get a better idea of where we need to go,” Motsinger says.

Nineteen other states have created CART teams, and Motsinger says they talked with them and reviewed how those teams work to set up the Iowa team. “And even going back and talking about how we responded at Evansdale and Dayton, and what can we do to get better. And so we’re kinda trying to combine all of that,” Motsinger says. “It’s a process that will always evolve, we’re always learning and we’ll always go back to our local partners to see what we can do to get better.”

Motsinger showed off the new CART trailer outside a Des Moines hotel as 120 law officers from across the state were inside training to work with the CART team. “We won’t actually work out of this trailer, it’ll basically be bringing this command center and everything we have inside the trailer and then we can go to a conference center and set everything up,” according to Motsinger.

Back of CART trailer.

Back of CART trailer.

He says it’s important to have a separate command center to keep local officials from being overwhelmed during the abduction investigation.

“Just because there’s a child abduction doesn’t mean they don’t respond to an more calls. So, they’re still going to be doing their normal job duties on top of a abduction,” Motsinger say. “We hope by having this command center we relieve a lot of the pressures off the smaller departments that don’t have as many dispatchers to do everything that we done for a child abduction because they still need to do their own job.”

Motsinger says having CART officials in six regions across the state allows them to respond quickly and figure out what has happened when it’s important to act quickly.

“Very critical the first two or three hours to get there and respond and assess to see what is going on so the chances of recovering that child obviously increase,” Motsinger says.

CART deployment can be used for all missing children cases and is not dependent on an Amber Alert being issued. DPS purchased the CART trailer with a $25,000 grant of forfeiture funds. Motsinger says they hope to have the Iowa CART team earn national certification.