July 1, 2015

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



Bear hit on Highway 20 near Jesup, more bear sightings reported (video)

Bear in the backyard of Diane Steffen's home in Osage.

Bear in the backyard of Diane Steffen’s home in Osage.

A young black bear was found dead Sunday night on Highway 20 in northeast Iowa. Kevin Baskins, with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says it was likely hit by a vehicle.

“We have no idea who (hit the bear) or what kind of vehicle, but the bear obviously had suffered some very serious wounds from the collision,” Baskins said. The bear’s age is unclear, but it wasn’t a cub and it wasn’t a full grown adult.

“The bear was about five foot in length and maybe 150 pounds,” Baskins said. The bear was hit near Jesup in Buchanan County.

A similar size black bear was recently spotted about 75 miles away near Dubuque. There could be one or two other bears in Iowa. One was recently photographed by Diane Steffen as the bear nibbled on bird feeders in her back yard in Osage.

“We had previous reports of a bear in the Rockford-Rockwell area to the south of (Osage), so we think that’s the same bear,” Baskins said. “We just don’t know whether this one over by Jesup was one of the bears spotted in Dubuque. We were fairly confident there were a couple of bears in Dubuque and this certainly could have been one of them.”

Bears can travel up to 30 miles a day. Bear sightings are becoming a bit more common in Iowa as their populations grow in neighboring states. “Both Minnesota and Wisconsin have healthy bear populations,” Baskins said. “Anytime you have populations of wildlife, including bears, where the populations grow, you’re going to have some individuals who just strike out on their own. Usually, they’re young males.”

Here is video of a bear sighting North of Greeley last week captured on video by Delaware County Sheriff John LeClere:

Huckabee blasts media for exposing young Duggars to ‘living hell’

Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee — the former governor of Arkansas — is standing by his defense of an Arkansas family after revelations the family’s teenage son molested underage girls.

Last month, Josh Duggar — one of the stars of a cable TV reality show called “19 Kids and Counting” — confessed to molesting four of his underage sisters and a babysitter when he was a teenager after a magazine published police records of the case. In late May, Huckabee called Duggar’s behavior “inexcusable”, but not “unforgiveable.” Today, Huckabee stood by those remarks.

“I never regret standing with friends of mine, in this case someone that I knew since serving in the legislature,” Huckabee said. “You know, I just feel for his sisters who have been unfairly been paraded through a living hell becaue the media’s not interested in truth. They’re interested in exploiting a very unfortunate situation.”

Huckabee is campaigning in southwest Iowa today. Huckabee said the country “is in more trouble now than it was eight years ago” when he won the Iowa Caucuses and is “hurting” for new leadership.

“In the history of the Caucus no one has ever received more votes in a Republican Caucus win than we did in 2008,” Huckabee said. “But I’m mindful of the fact that we can’t count on any of that being automatic. We have to go back and win it and earn it just like we did eight years ago and that’s why I am, will be and can be depended upon to spend a lot of time in Iowa between now and February.”

Huckabee met with about 50 people at a cafe in Clarinda late this morning for nearly 90 minutes, with a stop this afternoon in Red Oak and early this evening in Creston — the same type of retail campaigning he engaged in during his 2008 run.

“Not everybody will come out of Iowa alive,” Huckabee said. “…We need to come out of here like a rocket and that’s our goal, to win the Caucus.”

Reporters asked Huckabee for his thoughts on Donald Trump’s entry into the Republican race. Huckabee noted Trump has indicated he’ll use his own wealth to finance his campaign. Huckabee joked that anyone who had thought about contributing to Trump’s campaign now is more than welcome to donate to the “Huckabee for President” effort.

(Reporting by Chuck Morris, KMA, Shenandoah)

State regulators approve new rule for Jordan Aquifer water supply

DNR-signState regulators approved a new rule Tuesday to do more to control on one of the largest water sources in the state. The rule sets up a system for existing and future wells that tap into what’s known as the Jordan Aquifer.

Diane Moles of the Department of Natural Resources, says the rule approved by the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) will address the continued increase in water use from the aquifer. “What this rule is meant to do is to look at the use of the Jordan Aquifer in the state and make sure that we are protecting it on a sustainable basis for future use,” Moles says.

The rule creates a tiered group that uses past history on the aquifer to see how water use is impacting the level of water remaining. “So where the water level is at, is that so much below where the water level was in 1978? And as it gets more and more apart, then restrictions may be put on how much is available. The system may have to put in a water-use conservation plan, a water reduction plan,” Moles says.

The Jordan Aquifer covers a large area of the state from northeast Iowa where it is at the surface, all the way down to southwestern Iowa. “It’s not used too much in southwest Iowa, but in central Iowa where we are at here, it’s about 2,000 feet down. So, think of a table top that’s tilted going from the northeast down to the southwest,” she explains.

They have identified the parts of the state where the tier system will be in place. “We’ve got three areas of concern — the Johnson County area, Linn County area and Fort Dodge, the Webster County area there ,” according to Moles. “And in those areas — we call them protect sources — in essence what that means is the department will be doing all the permitting there, the counties will not be permitting Jordan wells in those areas. And they are specifically delineated in the rule.”

Mole says they don’t keep track of the number of people using water from the Jordan Aquifer, they count the number of water systems, and there are around 100. “They’re not just public water supply systems, they can be industry…this Jordan Aquifer is not typically used for irrigation in these areas. There are a wide variety of uses that it could be and certainly public water supplies are a part of that,” Moles says.

She says the goal is to keep the water from running dry for any of the users.”Making sure it’s sustainable,” Moles says. One of the EPC members asked why there were so few public comments on the rule. Moles says they did a wide variety of outreach to explain the issue and had good support from the public and business in what they are trying to do to keep the water supply viable in the Jordan Aquifer.

The EPC met at the DNR Air Quality Bureau in Windsor Heights.