December 22, 2014

Five containers for Iowa meth lab cleanup placed in Iowa

The containers are 7’x7’x9’ and are under 24/7 supervision and in locked and secured areas

The containers are 7’x7’x9’ and are under 24/7 supervision and in locked and secured areas

Five massive, metal containers are being placed around the state to help authorities safely clean up meth lab sites. The containers, which have an exhaust system, will be located in areas near Montrose, Clinton, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Council Bluffs.

Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Dan Stepleton will manage the three eastern Iowa containers, which are all being provided by the federal government. He says the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is also paying for small trailers at each site which will be used to haul the hazard materials from the meth lab site to the container. “Then, when the container’s full, we’ll call the DEA and they’ll have someone come and empty the container. The whole bill is paid for by DEA,” Stepleton said.

In addition to making the cleanup of a meth lab less dangerous, the containers will serve as a big cost saver. According to Stepleton, the new containers will save “hundreds of thousands” of local and state tax dollars a year. Previously, local and state agencies had to hire a chemical contractor for the cleanup process.

Law enforcement officers in Iowa discover up to 300 meth labs a year with each one costing around $5,000 to clean up. The five containers are being placed in areas where authorities respond to the highest number of meth labs. Officials hope to install more containers around the state in the future.

Casey’s sees impact of lower gas prices on sales

Caseys-signLower gas prices have had an impact on the Ankeny-based Casey’s convenience store chain. Casey’s chief financial officer, Bill Walljasper, talked about the impact today in a conference call on the company’s second quarter financial report.

“During the second quarter we experienced a strong fuel-margin environment resulting in an average margin of 19.5-cents-per-gallon, compared to 16-cents-per-gallon in the same period a year ago. Year-to-date, the fuel margin is 16.2-cents-per-gallon, well ahead of our annual goal,” Walljasper says.

Walljasper was asked if the lower fuel prices have left customers with more money to spend inside the stores, and he says in the short term that appears to be the case. “Discretionary income in our customers has increased because of lower retail prices,” Walljasper says. “And even subsequent to the second quarter we have seen retail prices drop significantly. Right now in our Ankeny area we are below $2.40 per gallon. And we definitely have seen an increase in gallons-per-transaction with respect to the lower retail fuel prices.”

He says total fuel gallons sold were up 8.7 percent for the quarter. He says the fuel saver program they run with Hy-Vee also help push fuel sales along with the gas price drop. The sale of products inside the stores were up 13.6 percent, led in part by the increased sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products. “Premium cigarettes are really as I mentioned, are really moving, and that could be a function of having more dollars in our customers pockets and they are trading to those types of brands,” Walljasper says. He says they saw around a 4 percent increase in customer traffic in stores in October as gas prices were dropping — which he says is the highest it has been in the last year.

The company says the earnings per share of stock in the second quarter were up 27 cents compared to the same quarter one year ago at $1.28 a share. Walljasper says the strong gas sales and margins help offset some of the increases in the commodities used to make their food products.

The leader of the Iowa Lottery said earlier this week that a drop in gas prices is one of the reasons for an increase in scratch ticket sales.


A digital Iowa driver’s license under development

dotState officials are drafting plans for digital driver’s licenses, so you could show your photo ID by pulling out your smart phone. Iowa Department of Transportation director Paul Trombino showed a mock-up to the governor and his aides on Monday.

“This is a digitally-encoded drivers license. It’s on your cellphone, so you can carry it around with you,” Trombino said. “It has as much, if not more, digital encoding than the one in your wallet.”

Trombino said it could be used at a traffic stop, at the airport or anywhere else you’re asked to show identification.

“It really opens up the doorway, I think, for a lot of different types of transactions,” Trombino said.

Trombino expects the digital license would be available to motorists in addition to that small, plastic version for your wallet, at no additional charge. Some motorists are already showing proof of insurance with an app on their smart phones.

Retiring Congressman Latham’s advice to congress: listen more

Congressman Tom Latham during his retirement speech Monday.

Congressman Tom Latham during his retirement speech Monday.

Colleagues in congress paid tribute to Republican Tom Latham Monday as he prepares to leave the U.S. House of Representatives after 20 years as a member of the institution.

Fellow Republican Congressman Steve King of Kiron praised Latham’s “quiet” yet effective influence behind the scenes.

“Everybody that comes to this place has their own style and their own way of getting things done,” King said. “But the people that have worked with Tom Laatham for these years know that it isn’t always an issue that’s run up to the flag pole. It doesn’t come necessarily with lights and blaring horns, but it gets done.”

Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa City called Latham a “humble Iowa guy” who has been a “model” of how to work in a bipartisan way.

“It seems as though our politics in America has just gotten uglier by the day, sometimes, and even in the middle of all of that Tom Latham has stood tall. He’s stood proud as an Iowan. He’s got a lot of common sense, like most Iowans do, and he works with the other side,” Loebsack said, “because he knows that the job is to get things done.”

Congressman Steve King congratulates Tom Latham after speech.

Congressman Steve King congratulates Tom Latham after speech.

Latham offered a bit of parting advice.

“I never learned a thing when I’m talking,” Latham said, pausing before adding: “You learn things when you’re listening to other folks and I think we should all maybe step back and listen to each other more.”

Latham’s best friend, House Speaker John Boehner, was on his way to the White House when Latham’s tribute was held on the House floor late yesterday afternoon. Latham said there could be “no better friend” than Boehner.

“The thing I’ll miss most are my good friends here and that part of it really is hard because it becomes an extended family over time,” Latham said.

Latham called serving in congress “the honor of my life.”

“I’m extraordinarily proud to have served here…and will always feel that my time was well spent here, but more so today, I’m excited about the future,” Latham said.

Latham, who is 66, has represented more than 60 of Iowa’s 99 counties. Latham announced last December that he would not seek reelection and is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, children and grandchildren.











Governor encourages students to try computer coding

Gov., Branstad, Lt. Governor Reynolds, Valerie Jansonius, Megan Weis.

Gov., Branstad, Lt. Governor Reynolds, Valerie Jansonius, Megan Weis.

Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds are encouraging young people to try their hand at writing computer code.

The governor talked about the issue during his weekly meeting with reporters. “This week marks the Hour of Code campaign, where students from all over the world will code together, including students from Iowa,” Branstad says. “The Hour of Code is sponsored by and is an opportunity for…every K-through-eight student to experience the simplicity of computer programming.”

Branstad says coding is part of the focus on STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds leads the governor’s STEM effort. “You know, awareness is growing that the basic understanding of coding is really important for today’s students. In Sioux City for example, the district is establishing a specialty elementary school in computer programming,” Reynolds explains. “Kids already are using Java-based script programs to better engage in math and reading instruction.”

Reynolds says the idea for the special school came from Hanah Rens, a student at Sioux City East High School who is the student member on the state Board of Education. “When the Sioux City Chamber was down here, Hanah was talking to us about it then. That she was passionate about coding and she wanted to do everything that she could, to not only to encourage that in Sioux City, but to help encourage that all across the state of Iowa,” Reynolds says.

Megan Weis shows how to code an app for a soccer game.

Megan Weis shows how to code an app for a soccer game.

Megan Weis, a seventh grader in West Des Moines, joined the news conference to talk about coding and what it means to everyone.

“Have you ever wondered about how all you apps actually work and how your phone knows exactly what you want it to do? The answer is through coding, and it is important we learn more about this because it is our future,” Weis says.

Weis is 12 and says a teacher got her interested in coding through the code dot org website. “There are tutorials that show you how to make a game, an app, a website or even a robot,” Weis explains. “And who wouldn’t be excited about making their own app or game?”

Weis likes to play soccer and demonstrated an app that plays soccer, and showed how easy it is to edit the app.

Valerie Jansonius teaches technology at a Waukee elementary school and says when she started teaching second graders she knew nothing about how to code, but quickly learned how to teach it to students through websites. Jansonius says you can start teaching

Valerie Jansonius.

Valerie Jansonius.

coding to students of all ages.

“There are courses honestly for pre-readers, so as young as four…but the course on code-dot-org is specifically for K-through-eight students,” Jansonius says. “And anyone can go in, they don’t have to go to school. Just go to code-dot-org and they explain everything there.” She says the programs are tailored to the skill of the students. “The first graders that I did it with, I mean, many of them are readers, but they have block arrows that they move around to problem solve the puzzles. So they use that versus the more difficult wording and scratch,” Jansonius says.

Other states have allowed computer coding to be a part of the math requirement for students. Lieutenant Governor Reynolds says that is something they will be considering. “We’re looking at all of the options, but that’s what they’ve done in some of the other states, they’ve allowed computer science to qualify as a math course or science course. That’s part of what we’ll be doing as we continue to research this and take a look at what other states have done, take a look at the statistics, the metrics they have put in place,” Reynolds says.

The governor says they’ve found that some of the agricultural courses are also important in the STEM field and they need to look at everything to ensure they are best preparing the students for today’s jobs.

The Hour of Code encourages schools to take an hour to have students go on-line and work on code to help them understand it.


Harkin: no regrets about retirement, but ‘Steak Fry’ might be revived

Tom Harkin, Hilliary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Ruth Harkin (R-L) Photo by Debbie Noe.

Tom Harkin, Hilliary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Ruth Harkin at this year’s Steak Fry. (R-L) Photo by Debbie Noe.

As congress faces a Thursday deadline to pass a federal budget plan, Senator Tom Harkin is in the middle of the negotiations, focused on health-care-related spending, but he’s not regretting his decision to retire at year’s end.

“Yeah, I’m going to miss it, sure, because I enjoy this. I enjoy being a enator. I love the senate, It’s dented a little bit, banged up a ittle bit, but it’s still functional,” Harkin said during an interview Friday on IPTV. “…But, again, it’s time for me to move on. It’s time for me to retire. It’s time for young people and new people to come in.”

The current federal spending plan expires this Thursday, December 11. Harkin thinks congress may vote for a one-week delay that keeps the current spending levels in place, then vote next week on a long-term, comprehensive spending plan.

Harkin’s voluntary exit from the senate comes 42 years after he first sought to enter congress. Harkin ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972, but lost. He ran again in 1974 and won.

“In my first political campaign I spent $20,000. Now that was kind of a wave year. That was an anti-McGovern wave year. Two years later the wave went the other way with Watergate. I think in that year I spent a little over $100,000 in winning a congressional seat,” Harkin said. “Think about that compared to today.”

Nearly $62 million was spent on this year’s battle between Joni Ernst and Bruce Braley to claim Harkin’s seat. After 10 years in the U.S. House, Harkin won the Iowa senate seat in 1984 and defeated three Republican congressman along the way to stay in the senate. He’s served as chairman of the Ag Committee and lead drafting the Farm Bill and he’s currently chairman of the committee that helped draft the Affordable Care Act, but Harkin called passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act the “premiere” accomplishment of his political career.

“I’ve been very blessed and the people of Iowa have given me the opportunity to stay there long enough to see what it has done to this country,” Harkin said. “It’s amazing the changes that have been made.”

Harkin plans to take a two-month-long vacation, then return to Iowa in March for work at the Harkin Institute which was established at Drake University last year.

“The Institute at Drake is totally bipartisan. We have a bipartisan board. In fact, I have a former chair of the Iowa Republican Party on the board. I have Republicans on the board,” Harkin said. “I want it to be a totally non-partisan entity and Drake has set it up that way.”

One of the Harkin Institute’s panel discussions this past summer featured both Harkin and Republican Governor Terry Branstad. Archivists from Drake University and the U.S. Senate have been working in Harkin’s office over the past few months, starting the process of converting Harkin’s work papers from 40 years in congress to a digital forum.

“Once in a while they come across some very interesting tidbits, shall we say, of legislationa nnd letters and things like that that I had forgotten about long, long ago,” Harkin said. “I’m sure there’ll be some surprises.”

All that material will be stored at Drake and a semi will transport between 400 and 500 boxes of documents from D.C. to Drake at the end of this year. The Iowa Democratic Party faces big decisions after election losses last month, but Harkin — who has been the party’s top elected official — plans to focus on what he calls the “bipartisan” work at the Harkin Institute rather than steer selection of a new party chairman in January.


“I am a Democrat and I love my party and I want them to have good policies and good candidates, so I hope to be supportive in some way, but I don’t intend to be any kind of ‘godfather’ or something like that,” Harkin said.

Harkin’s annual “Steak Fry” fundraiser has been a launching pad for Democratic presidential candidates over the years. Bill and Hillary Clinton were the speakers this past September at what was billed at the time as the final Harkin Steak Fry.

“People are talking to me about maybe revisiting that, ‘Never again,'” Harkin said, laughing. “…Stay tuned on that one.”

If Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016, Harkin believes she’ll have competition from people like former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. Harkin’s wife, Ruth, endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2008 and Harkin has offered Clinton some advice about running in the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.

“I said: ‘Don’t just go to Des Moines or Waterloo or Cedar Rapids or Dubuque. Go to the rural areas. Start out in smaller communities in Iowa,'” Harkin said. “‘Let them know you care about rural America and small towns and communities. You can get to the cities later on, but plant your flag in rural Iowa.'”

Harkin ran for president himself in 1992. The experience taught him what a “complex country” we live in and it made him a “better senator.”

“Honestly, I really wasn’t prepared to run for president. I hadn’t really spent a lot of time thinking about it before. I’d thought about being a senator or being a congressman and I was really just focused on Iowa,” Harkin said. “…I think I could have been a pretty decent president, but I wouldn’t have had another happy day in my life.”

Video of Harkin’s weekend appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program is posted here.

Des Moines Spanish educator named ‘2015 Teacher of the Year’ (audio)

Governor Terry Branstad and Teacher of the Year, Clemencia Spizzirri.

Governor Terry Branstad and Teacher of the Year, Clemencia Spizzirri.

A woman who began her teaching career in Ecuador and eventually made her way to Des Moines was named the 2015 Iowa Teacher of the Year today.

Governor Terry Branstad talked about the teacher in front of students in the gym at Merrill Middle School in Des Moines. “She exemplifies what great teaching is all about. In her application she explained that she works to involve students in real world experiences that go to the heart of what education is meant to be, and at the same time motivating them to reach higher levels of achievement and to become life-long learners,” Branstad says.

The governor then revealed the teacher’s name. “I am pleased to join in honoring Merrill Middle School’s Clemencia Spizzerri,” Branstad says. Spizzerri came out of the bleachers and addressed the students.

“I am humbled and honored to be standing here with all of you, receiving this prestigious award and sharing my vision of how education has shaped my life, and inspiring me to become the teacher that I am today,” Spizzerri says.

Clemencia Spizzirri talks to students after being named Teacher of the Year.

Clemencia Spizzirri talks to students after being named Teacher of the Year.

She talked about winning the award after posing for pictures with the governor and school administrators. “It’s really beyond words, it is a true honor. It is really an amazing journey and I am looking forward to learning so much form the expertise from other teachers as well,” she says. The 38-year-old Spizzerri has taught Spanish at Merrill for five years and administrators say she is know for helping needy children and families understand the importance of education.

She was the youngest of seven children who grew up in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Spizzerri says her mother and her older brother helped her read and understand books and she says she then saw how poverty prevented many in Ecuador from getting an education. “The country that I come from, actually education is a privilege that not everyone can achieve,” Spizzerri says. “So my views on education were, I can empower children through education, I can help them to break that cycle of poverty, so that was what inspired me.”

Merrill Middle School students in Des Moines react to the announcement.

Merrill Middle School students in Des Moines react to the announcement.

Spizzerri says it’s important to teach students about diversity. “Because I think that right now we are in a very global and knowledge-based society where we need to advocate our students be global learners to perform at their best,” Spizzerri explains. She has taught English and basic life skills to refugees from other countries and says learning the language is one of the things that hinders newcomers to the country.

“Language barrier yes can be one, but also I think that one of the barriers would be that we need to advocate ourselves more in regards to multicultural understanding, empathy and self awareness,” according to Spizzerri.

Spizzerri lives in Waukee with her husband and three children. The Iowa Department of Education says as the Teacher of the Year she will travel the state and talk with others and be an ambassador to education. The Teacher of the year Award was established in 1958.

Audio: Teacher of the Year announcement. 15:00.