July 31, 2014

Eastern Iowa looks to be testing ground for driverless cars

Johnson County in eastern Iowa is trying to pull out into the fast lane and get ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to being the home for developing driverless cars. The Johnson County Supervisors unanimously passed a proclamation Thursday encouraging the testing of the vehicles — the first county in the nation to do so.

Iowa City Area Development (ICAD) Group president Mark Nolte, says the proclamation comes on the heels of a visit by a delegation to the “Automated Vehicle Symposium” in San Francisco last week. “We had some great discussions with some the companies that are looking to implement this technology, and so this proclamation and the ones that will follow from the city of Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty, help really show that we are serious about wanting to encourage them to come and use our roadways to get the mileage necessary for the public to adopt this new technology,” Nolte says.

It seems like something from a Jetsons’ cartoon, but Nolte says driverless cars are no longer that futuristic. “Driverless vehicles will be the next big technology that profoundly affects all of our lives — kind of like the smart phones have over the last few years,” Nolte says. “And so we’re trying to position Iowa to be the leader in this emerging technology.”

Nolte says there are sveveral selling points Iowa can offer to automakers. “We’ve got a lot of engineering research at the University of Iowa and Iowa State. The University of Iowa is home to the National Advanced Driving Simulator which is very critical as an asset for our state as we look to encourage these companies,” Nolte explains. “If you look at what’s been done in the automotive sector, what’s coming for the trucking sector. We just see that there’s as a natural fit for Iowa in this coming industry.”

He says companies like GM, Mercedes, Volvo and Google were all at the event in San Francisco, and he says they aren’t the only ones looking at the technology. “Every automaker is looking at these systems right now. I think the question is: Who is going to be first to market? And is the public ready for it? And the only way to find that out is to put these on the road and let people experience them,” Nolte says.

Nolte says getting the public used to the idea of the driverless car is a big issue. But he says there are already some systems being used and the studies have shown they increase the safety of vehicles. “We as humans overestimate our competency for safety behind the wheel,” according to Nolte. “When you compare us to these systems — we are going to have 360 degree vision, they’ll never get tired, they’ll never get distracted, they’ll be able to communicate with other vehicles with the infrastructure — they are vastly superior from a safety standpoint than humans ever will be.”

Ann Arbor, Michigan has a system for driverless cars that’s in a simulated environment that Nolte says is not as favorable to the automakers as having the vehicles run on regular roads. He says the Johnson County group might work with them on the research. Nolte says there are a few other competitors out there. “So far, three states have limited testing laws, Nevada, Michigan, California. California is having some issues rolling out the rules around this,” Nolte says. “So the feedback we’ve gotten from some of the legislative and public policy folks for the auto industry is, the first state that lets us come in and truly just adopts us and lets us log mileage on the roads will be the state we move to first.”

He says Iowa is ready to make that happen. “Current state law does not have any restrictions against this. And so, we’ve had some great conversations with the Iowa Department of Transportation and the State Patrol and the safety folks and the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the governor’s office. There’s nothing legislatively that we need to change to allow this to happen right now,” Nolte says.

He says the I-CAD Group will continue to set meetings with companies and organizations from the Automated Vehicle Symposium and they are working on establishing dates with local city councils for future proclamations to welcome driverless vehicles.


Iowa senator who battled Oprah Winfrey in 1996 has died

Berl Priebe

Berl Priebe

A former state legislator who once got in a national spat with Oprah Winfrey has died.

Berl Priebe of Algona served in the Iowa House for four years and in the Iowa Senate for 24 years. Priebe, who raised Angus cattle, took offense to a 1996 Oprah Winfrey show about Mad Cow Disease. Priebe blamed Winfrey for the dramatic drop in U.S. cattle prices. He demanded that Winfrey tell her viewers Mad Cow Disease had not been found in the United States. Winfrey responded, saying she had asked questions the American public deserved to have answered given the Mad Cow outbreak in Great Britain.

In 1988, Priebe brought an Iowa State University nutritionist before his Senate Ag Committee to complain about her warning that there might be a link between grilled red meat and cancer. Priebe quipped that the researcher “got a taste of what it was like to be on the griddle for a while.”

Priebe was one of four senators — two Democrats and two Republican — who were known as the “Montana Mafia.” The senators were known for gathering at Montana’s — a bar near the statehouse — to plot strategy for killing bills they opposed in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Former Senator Jack Rife, a farmer from Moscow, Iowa, who later became the state Senate’s Republican Leader, was a member of the Montana Mafia.

“He was a colorful character,” Rife said this morning from his eastern Iowa farm, where he is cutting hay. “I enjoyed him very much.”

Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs, the current Democratic leader in the state senate, said Priebe had the unique ability to bring the senate to a stand-still.

“He was always quite adept and quite talented at figuring out the kind of amendment to offer that would put the place in a really uncomfortable position,” Gronstal said this morning.

Priebe, who owned race horses, then would often engage in what Priebe called “horse trading” to get something he wanted, in exchange for removing the roadblock he’d designed for another bill.

“It was great when he was on your side and it was maddening when he wasn’t because he could tie the place up pretty well,” Gronstal said.

This example from Gronstal illustrates Priebe’s ability to maneuver the levers of the legislature: “Berl Priebe always passed the first bill of the session, some bill out of ag committee…every single year. Even if somebody else was ahead of him, he figured out some way to make sure that his bill was the first bill to pass in the legislature.”

Priebe was also the long-time chairman of a powerful legislative committee that has the power to reject the rules and regulations state bureaucrats propose.

Priebe died Sunday at the age of 96. A memorial service for Priebe will be held Friday afternoon in Algona.

State wins grant to continue substance abuse recovery program

The Iowa Department of Public Health has won a three-year grant of nearly $8 million for a program to help people overcome substance abuse. Kevin Gabbert is the project director for what’s called Access to Recovery or ATR. “Because every person in the recovery is different, a key component to our program is choice,” Gabbert explains. “And so with ATR, the individual receiving the service chooses what services they want to be involved in from a variety of our providers.”

Gabbert says providing support services to those in recovery can be key to helping them succeed. “Basic things like transportation — so gas cards and bus passes. Child care so an individual can go to treatment services in the evening or go to a 12-step meeting. Some of those basic things that might have been barriers otherwise if they had not had access to ATR,” Gabbert says.

The program has been running since 2010, but its grant money was running out. “There was a new grant application process that was initiated in 2014. We applied and were one of six grantees out of 30 applicants,” Gabbert says. Gabbert says they’ve seen success with the percentage of individuals not using alcohol or drugs six months after admission increasing from over 73.3 percent to 82.3 percent from 2010 to this year.

He says they expect to serve 7,000 people with the new grant. “Individuals can come to us from a variety of different referral sources. It could be from the Department of Corrections, it could be from a primary care provider, it could be from the Department of Human Services, the list just goes on and on,” Gabbert says. “Individuals can just walk into one of our care coordination providers which we have across the state.”

For more information about Access to Recovery, visit the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website.



Iowa moves up to 3rd in the Kids Count survey

Iowa moved up four spots in the annual “Kids Count” survey released today.  “We moved up to 3rd this year, we were 7th last year, so obviously a move up four places is very good,” Iowa Kids Count director, Michael Crawford says. The survey by the Anne E. Casey Foundation looks at 16 factors believed to be an indication of how well kids are doing in each of the 50 states.

Massachusetts and Vermont were ranked one and two. Crawford says the move by Iowa shows how close the states in the top 10 are. “I think some of it is attributed to the policies we have in place as far as helping children — particularly in the health areas — we ranked first in the health areas of all 50 states, which is very good,” Crawford says. “But I think also some of it has to do with the fact that maybe the other states are slipping in the work they do, so I think it’s kind of a combination of those two things has helped Iowa move up.”

The 4 health areas ranked are the number of low birthweight babies, the number of children without health insurance, the number of child and teen deaths and the number of teens who use drugs or alcohol. Iowa also saw an improvement in all four education areas. “We’ve improved the number of children going to pre-school — which is a good idea, a good thing — fourth in eighth graders improving their proficiency in their reading and math scores, and our tests. And also, we are lowering the number of kids who are dropping out of school or not graduating on time,” Crawford says.

Iowa saw the state’s marks drop in some areas. “We’ll be seeing an increase in the number of children living in poverty, which is a bad sign. And also, the number of children living in single parent homes,” Crawford says. Also on the negative side, Iowa saw an increase in the number of kids living in a situation where housing costs are a burden and the number of teens not in school and not working.

Crawford says measuring the state against the rest of the country is good, but not the only way to find out how we are doing. “I think it is import also to keep in mind, not only to compare Iowa to other states, but to compare Iowa to Iowa,” Crawford says. “Maybe compare Iowa to where we were 10 years ago, to where Iowa is now and really not look at the others states to see if our policies and programs in place are really helping families.”

New Hampshire and Minnesota rounded out the top five in the survey behind Iowa. Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi ranked lowest among the states.

Learn more about the survey here: www.aecf.org


Hatch has $183,000 cash on hand, compared to Branstad’s $4 million

Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate for governor, continues to trail Republican Governor Terry Branstad in fundraising.

Hatch raised about $269,000 from the last week in May through the middle of July. Hatch’s campaign had about $183,000 in the bank on July 14. That compares to the $4 million in cash Republican Governor Terry Branstad reported in his campaign account at the end of the latest campaign disclosure reporting period.

Hatch has raised about $983,000 since he launched his campaign last summer and the Branstad campaign is ridiculing Hatch for failing to cross the million dollar mark, which Hatch said was a milestone he hoped to cross last December. Hatch’s campaign, in turn, blasts Branstad for accepting donations from Donald Trump and other New York and New Jersey donors.

From May 28 through July 14, Hatch received over $143,000 from 23 different political action committees representing labor groups. Branstad got $75,000 from three different PACS — one represents the Republican Governors Association and another is Wellmark’s PAC.

The single-largest individual contribution during the reporting period came from Josh Nelson of Spencer, the owner of a local phone company who wrote a $50,000 check to the Branstad campaign. John Smith, the CEO of a Cedar Rapids-based trucking company, wrote Branstad’s campaign a $25,000 check. Mark Falb of Dubuque, the executive of a textbook publishing company, also contributed $25,000. Bruce Rastetter, the agribusinessman who was Branstad’s number-one contributor in 2010, wrote the campaign a $10,000 check earlier this month.

Hatch’s single-largest donation from an individual was $10,000 and it came from Toni Urban of Des Moines, who runs a retail stationery shop in West Des Moines. Her husband, Tom Urban, is a former Des Moines mayor.

This morning, hours before the detailed reports were filed on the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board’s website, Hatch declined to reveal his fundraising totals to reporters.

 “We’re going to have a campaign that’s going to work our plan and allow us to have a substantial election effort,” Hatch said during a statehouse news conference.

Father-daughter project in Janesville finds pictures of Iowa Vietnam vets

The Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. is collecting pictures of every American lost in the war — including more than 850 from Iowa. A dedicated father and daughter have tracked down pictures of all but five of the Iowans over the last two years so they can be included.

Tom Brickman from Janesville served in Vietnam with the Americal Division. “It was my daughter Sherry Kirkpatrick, she’s really the one that wanted to do it because she said ‘dad, if you hadn’t made home from the Vietnam War I wouldn’t have been born’,” Brickman explains.

They have gathered a solemn compilation of pictures from archives, yearbooks and by reaching out through the media. “And when you can see a photo of a soldier that has paid the ultimate sacrifice, you know that means so to me, so it has been a healing process for me also,” Brickman says. Brickman has good leads on two more photos, which means the tribute is almost complete.

He’s still searching for the last three pictures; of John Manson, David McCombs and Frank Smith, killed in Vietnam during 1968 and 1969. In addition to being displayed at the national Vietnam Memorial, Brickman has turned over his collection to the Grout Museum in Waterloo, for an exhibit scheduled to open next year.


If Obama doesn’t act, Perry may ‘fill the void’ and send Texas National Guard to border (AUDIO)

Rick Perry with former State Rep. Gary Blodgett & his wife, Sandy, of Clear Lake.

Rick Perry with former State Rep. Gary Blodgett & his wife, Sandy, of Clear Lake.

Texas Governor Rick Perry says he’s considering the “option” of sending Texas National Guard troops to secure his state’s southern border. Perry made his comments today during a lunch in the Clear Lake, Iowa VFW with 17 veterans and members of local law enforcement agencies.

“I think we’ve sent the message that if we don’t get the satisfaction that the federal government’s going to move and move quickly, then the State of Texas will, in fact, fill that void and address this issue,” Perry said.

Iowa’s Republican Congressman Steve King, an outspoken critic of what he calls “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, has called upon the governors of the four southern states that border Mexico to act on their own to send National Guard troops to secure the area. Perry, who discussed the issue with King Saturday night, said he first asked President Obama to send National Guard troops to the border in 2009.

“Securing that border with Mexico is not a Republican issue and it’s not a Democrat issue,” Perry said. “It’s an American issue and, hopefully, Washington and particularly the administration who has the ability to , unilaterally move pretty quick on this, if they would, but again, if they don’t, the citizens of Texas expect us to keep them safe and secure.”

AUDIO of Perry’s remarks & interaction with guests at VFW in Clear Lake, 25:00

Perry repeated his “pledge” during a late afternoon speech at a Cerro Gordo County Republican Party fundraiser.

“If the federal government does not do its constitutional duty to secure the southern border of the United States, the State of Texas will do it,” Perry said, as members of the audience rose to their feet in an ovation. “That is my promise to you. That is my pledge.”

Perry told both audiences that since the fall of 2008, illegal immigrants have committed 642,000 criminal acts in Texas, including 3000 homicides and more than 8000 sexual assaults.

“That’s why that border has to be secured, from my standpoint,” Perry said.

Perry told reporters after his luncheon meeting that the Obama Administration “has had plenty of time to respond,” but Perry didn’t reveal his own deadline for his own decision about ordering Texas National Guard troops to the border if the president doesn’t. Perry was asked about the border issue by one of the veterans who attended the luncheon in Clear Lake. Alan Atwood of Clear Lake, another veteran in the room, supported Perry in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses and Atwell hopes Perry runs again in 2016.

“Love the job he’s done as governor of Texas, hiring people from all over the United States, created a lot of jobs,” he said. “I think he’d make a great president.”

Jack Davis of Clear Lake is another Perry backer from 2012 who’d like to see Perry make another run for the White House.

“I think he speaks very straight,” he said. “I don’t think he runs around the bushes and I think he lays it out.”

Perry was the keynote speaker to a crowd of about 100 people who gathered for the GOP barbecue fundraiser at the Mason City Airport in Clear Lake late this afternoon. He touted all the Republican candidates on Iowa’s November ballot. Perry also referenced the video of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley referring to Republican Senator Chuck Grassley as a farmer who could wind up as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee if Democrats lose the senate. Perry took a black marker and wrote the word “farmer” across a Grassley poster on the wall.

“Don’t diss my farmers,” Perry said. “That’s the message we’re going to send in November, alright?”

AUDIO of Perry’s speech at the Cerro Gordo County GOP fundraiser, 12:00

Perry also became the latest in a string of Republican politicians who’ve posed for a photo with a campaign sign for Joni Ernst, the GOP candidate who is currently on two weeks of active duty with her Iowa National Guard unit. The photos are being tweeted on Ernst’s campaign Twitter account.

(This post was updated at 7:58 p.m. with additional information.)