October 24, 2014

First district candidates debate for final time

The Democrat running for Iowa’s first district congressional seat is calling for an increase in federal spending on public health initiatives to respond to Ebola, while his Republican opponent says more money isn’t the answer. During a debate Saturday night, Democrat Pat Murphy said mandatory federal budget cuts have reduced the government’s ability to respond.

“We actually have had a 10 percent in the Centers for Disease Control on their actual funding,” Murphy said. “It’s important to make sure they have the tools that they need so they can educate our health care workers that are on the front line.”

Rod Blum — Murphy’s Republican opponent — scoffed.

“Spoken like a true career politician. We never have enough money in government,” Blum said. “In fact, in the budget that the GOP submitted, they put more money in that budget, Pat, than President Obama requested for the CDC.”

The two candidates debated one another for an hour Saturday night on KWWL TV in Waterloo. Blum repeatedly called Murphy a “career politician” while stressing his own background as both a businessman and a political novice.

“I don’t want to go to Washington, D.C. to be important,” Blum said. “I want to go to Washington, D.C. to do something that’s important and that is get this country back on track.”

Murphy suggested his 25 years of experience in the state legislature gives him a realistic view of what can be accomplished.

“As a legislator, I understand that quite frankly you’re not going to go in and change the world, but the most important part is figuring out those things that you can work on to both improve your country as well as your district or your state,” Murphy said.

Both candidates are from Dubuque. They’re seeking the seat in the U.S. House that has been held by Democrat Bruce Braley, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Thousands sign petition calling for federal investigation of Clive man’s death


Website with petition calling for federal investigation of Brandon Ellingson’s death.

A petition calling on the U.S. Attorney General to investigate the death of a 20-year-old Clive man who drowned after falling off a Missouri Water Patrol boat in May now has more than 100,000 signatures.

Matt Boles, the lawyer for the Brandon Ellingson family, says the petition drive was launched by Sherry Henrickson Ellingson, the mother of Brandon Ellingson, “As many people who have lost their loved one want to figure out a way to direct their energies into something positive out of the tragic loss — she decided she wanted to start a petition to see if we could get a federal investigation into the actions of Trooper Tony Piercy, and then also kind of the investigation and the approach of the Missouri Highway Patrol,” Boles says.

He says he is amazed by the number of people who have signed onto the petition. “It started out with a change.org petition, and suddenly it caught wildfire about two weeks ago and it went from about 6,000 signatures to I think about a hundred and three thousand,” Boles says.

Brandon Ellingson

Brandon Ellingson

Boles says they are still taking signatures. “It’s available for anybody on-line to go and sign at www.change.org,” Boles explains, “justice-for-BrandonEllingson.org (www.justiceforbrandonellingson.org) is the actual link to his site. And it’s amazing the people who have signed from across the country.”

Ellingson was handcuffed and lost his life jacket after he fell into the water while being brought to shore on a charge of boating while intoxicated. A coroner’s inquest found the death was an accident and the Missouri prosecutor announced no charges would be filed. Boles says he is preparing to file a lawsuit in the case, but was waiting until the end of two legislative hearing that dealt with the training given to water patrol officers.

The second hearing was October 14th. “I think the take away from that was, is that there was an issue with regard to training that the leadership of the Missouri Highway Patrol was very coy about in presenting that information to the legislative oversight committee,” Boles says. “Even when pressed by representatives, they were not very forthcoming in presenting that information.”

Bole says he will use information from those hearings along with other information when he files the lawsuit that will says Brand was deprived of his constitutional rights. “The reason it’s brought under that particular provision is because the fact that Trooper Tony Piercy was operating with the full authority of law enforcement and in that capacity, and based upon his negligent action, and his actions while having Brandon in his custody and control, Brandon lost his life,” Boles says.

Brandon Ellingson graduated from West Des Moines Valley High School and was going into his junior year at Arizona State University.

Gas prices drop below $3 in most parts of the state

Gas-pumpDropping oil prices are partly responsible for a drop of prices at the gas pump. Department of Agriculture analyst, Harold Hommes, says a lot of the state is seeing gas for under three bucks a gallon. “Right now we’re finding things are fairly varied. We do have some in the low three’s yet, but most of the gasoline has crossed the $3.00 mark and has fallen into that two-70 to two-90 mark,” Hommes says.

He expects prices to continue to drop. “I do look for that trend to continue, there’s a lot of downward pressure right now on crude right now from the general economy, and recently, European recession woes,” Hommes says. He says one of the biggest factors is the substantial build up of crude oil stores. “We are producing a lot of it, and most storage hubs are sitting on ample supplies and inventories.”

Switches in production to produce heating oil can make the price go up, but Hommes says that’s no long a factor. “The heating fuel production, it’s really already occurred. And I think the industry is ready to move that and has been moving it through pipelines. It’s pretty much placed where it needs to be placed for this winter,” Hommes says.

Gas-PumpWhile the gas in your area may be under the $3.00, others may still be paying much more. Hommes says there can be wide variations on price, and sale philosophy and location are a couple of keys for the differences. “Some retailers have a bit wider margins. Some focus on narrower margins to attract customers in for other products,” Hommes explains. “But maybe the single biggest factor is location. When you’ve got to drive more than an hour to get your product from a terminal, those costs add up.”

He says competition can also be a factor in gas pricing. “And in most places in Iowa we do have that competition,” Hommes says. He says when there are a lot of stations in one area, it is hard to not match a station that drops its gas price, as customers can quickly move to the lowest priced station. Crude oil prices dropped nearly $6 or more this week — leading to the drop in gasoline prices.

The Triple-A average price for regular unleaded gasoline in Iowa Tuesday was $3.03. That is down nine cents from last week and down 25 cents from one year ago.


Supreme Court hears arguments in Sioux City traffic camera case

Michael Jacobsma presents his case to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Michael Jacobsma presents his case to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday evening on a Sioux City case involving traffic cameras.

Michael Jacobsma, a lawyer from Sioux Center, sued the city after receiving a speed camera ticket for going 67 miles-an-hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone. Jacobsma represented himself before the justices, saying he was denied due process because the ticket was mailed to him after the photo was taken without an actual officer confirming he was driving.

“Now this ordinance doesn’t require the city to prove that the owner of the vehicle was the actual driver at the time. It doesn’t have to prove that owner authorized the speeding, nor does the city have to prove in any way that the owner of the vehicle caused the speeding to occur,” Jacobsma says.

Justice Brent Appel immediately questioned Jacobsma and said he had a chance to say someone else was driving in what is called a “nominated party” defense. Jacobsma responded that the only way he saw out of the ticket was if he had filed a stolen vehicle report.

Michael Jacobsma

Michael Jacobsma

That prompted a question from Justice David Wiggins. Wiggins said other such ordinances around the state define what a “nominated party” is and he asked Jacobsma as the person who received the ticket if he knew what a nominated party was and how to present that defense. “The ordinance didn’t says anyting about what a nominated party is as far as defining it,” Jacobsma replied.

Jacobsma was asked how this ordinance is different from the school bus law where a bus driver can take a license plate number and a ticket can be issued to the owner of the vehicle. He says the driver who receives the ticket after passing a school bus has a chance to say someone else was driving and get out of the ticket.

“So that’s why I think that the Sioux City ordinance is different, because it’s creating this strict liability and vicarious liability scheme that really doesn’t have to prove any relationship at all,” Jacobsma says. “You just are liable if you are the owner and period. Except they give this one very narrow circumstance if you file a stolen vehicle report.”

Justin Vondrak, and assistant city attorney for Sioux City, presented the argument in favor of the ordinance. Vondrak says the “nominated party” defense is spelled out on the back of the ticket given for the violation.

Justice Wiggins questioned why it wasn’t more clearly spelled out in the ordinance what it means to nominate someone, and suggested that it left it open to naming anyone. “Why couldn’t he name you as the party, you were driving the vehicle. If you read the Davenport ordinance, or if you read the Cedar Rapids ordinance or the Des Moines ordinance, it says ‘you nominate the person who was driving the vehicle.’ Why couldn’t I nominate you and then you have to go into court and says whether you have to pay it or not?,” Wiggins asked. Vondrak answered, “And your honor Mr. Jacobsma fully could have done that, but he didn’t do that.”

Wiggins continued the questioning about why the options are not spelled out in the ordinance. “Don’t you think due process requires the city to give notice of what they have to do and what presumptions are there and what presumptions are rebuttable,” Wiggins asked. “Isn’t that the essence of due process to given notice from the ordinance of what you do and what you don’t do?” Jacobsma replied,” I agree that the defendant needs to be given notice of what is going one, but he had the opportunity to nominate a party — if you read the ticket and found the second option would be to name a person and sign that.”

Vondrak says Jacobsma made no effort to nominate someone else. “Had Mr. Jacobsma come to that initial police hearing and said ‘Hey I wasn’t the driver, but John Adams was,’ at that point I guarantee with 100 percent certainty that our officer says ‘oh, isn’t it your lucky day, all you have to do is put John Adams’ name right here, we’ll send him the citation and you are free to go,'” Jacobsma said.

The justices heard the arguments last night at Buena Vista College in Storm Lake. They will make a ruling on the case sometime in the future.

Police investigate extortion involving nude photos of high schoolers in Boone

Authorities in Boone say they’ve discovered an online database of nude girls while a high school boy is accused of trying to blackmail the young women in the pictures and videos. It was revealed that numerous past and present high school students were in control and operated several online-based storage accounts that contained various photographs and videos of nude juvenile females. Over 100 users had access to the accounts.

Boone Police said it appears the collection was amassed over several years by area high school students. During the investigation, law enforcement officers seized and took over several separate online-based accounts and email accounts that contained the nude pictures and videos of the female juveniles.

Several search warrants have been executed and legal processes have been put in place to maintain and secure the digital evidence. As of Tuesday, multiple females, mostly minors, have been identified on the accounts in question. The Boone County Attorney’s Office, Boone Police and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Cyber Crime Unit are working to identify each and every individual in the videos and photos.

Notification to the victims and their families has already begun. The Boone ACCESS Assault Care Center is providing victim services to those who may be affected by this incident. Additional charges could be forthcoming.

(Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)


In final debate, Hatch says Branstad ‘close to…lying’ while Branstad dismisses ‘wild accusations’

Tonight Republican Governor Terry Branstad and Jack Hatch, the Democratic challenger, met in Sioux City for their third and final televised debate. The hour-long event gave Hatch’s low-budget campaign perhaps its final chance to make an impression with voters and Hatch came out swinging, criticizing Branstad’s priority of cutting property taxes and questioning Branstad’s job creation claims.

“We can’t afford four more years of Terry Branstad and his promises kept or broken,” Hatch said.

Branstad dismissed what he referred to as Hatch’s “wild accusations.”

“And the state of Iowa is on the right track,” Branstad said.

Hatch argued it’s time to cut income taxes for middle class Iowans.

“You know we’ve done a lot of corporations,” Hatch said. “We haven’t done very much for the people who work for them and that’s going to be my focus in the next four years.”

Branstad defended the bill he signed which has begun reducing commercial and industrial property taxes.

“And I’ve had people all over Iowa say: ‘Thank you for doing something that was promised for 30 years and you’ve finally delivered,” Bransad said. “The Iowa commercial and industrial property tax is going down.”

Sioux City journalists who moderated the debate also focused attention on an issue important to the host city for the event: completing the expansion of Highway 20 to four lanes. Hatch said Iowans are “expecting to have better roads.”

“There’s no better example from Governor Branstad of his broken promises than the completion of Highway 20,” Hatch said. “I don’t know what he’s going to do now that he hasn’t done the previous 20 years as governor.”

Branstad said it will likely take a combination of things to get this and other highway projects done, including federal funding and perhaps a shift to charging the state sales tax on gasoline purchases to raise more funds at the state level.

“We’ve been working on Highway 20 for a long time,” Branstad said. “We’ve only got 45 miles left. We need to get that done expeditiously and that’s the segment from Moville to Early.”

In the 2010 campaign, Branstad promised that if he was elected he’d create 200,000 new jobs in Iowa within five years. Tonight Branstad was asked how many jobs have been created since he returned to the governor’s office in January of 2011.

“I’m proud to say that we’ve been working on this every day since we came into office and in a little over three and a half years, we’ve created 150,900 jobs,” Branstad said. “…We have created more jobs in less than four years than the previous two governors did in 12 years.”

Hatch said that’s “close to…lying.”

“He’s created less than 80,000 jobs…Even a fifth grader knows you have to subtract those jobs that were lost,” Hatch said. “And what about those 80,000 jobs that were lost? Are they not important? I’m going to be a governor who focuses on those lost jobs as well.”

Halfway through the debate, the candidates were asked to cite something they admired in their opponent and the two offered “respect” to the other for putting their name on the ballot. Branstad then looked past November 4.

“I think working together is important,” Branstad said. “Once the election’s over, we need to recognize we all are public servants. We need to serve the people of Iowa.”

Hatch said he’d put the “people’s business” first if he’s elected.

“I have to say that we both, of course, had mustaches,” Hatch said, as some in the audience laughed. “For 46 years I liked mine, but I (shaved) it off because I was looking for differences and I think in a political campaign we have to show our differences.”

Hatch is a long-time state legislator from Des Moines who told the audience last night he first came to Iowa to attend college at Drake University, then stayed after graduation. Branstad, who is seeking his sixth term as Iowa’s governor, said in his closing statement that he “grew up poor” on a northern Iowa farm, where he learned to work hard at an early age.

A Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register “Iowa Poll” conducted last week found Branstad holding a 15-point lead over Hatch. Tonight’s debate was broadcast live on KTIV TV and KSCJ Radio and co-sponsored by the Sioux City Journal and the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce.

Regents to consider tuition increase along with savings proposals

Regents-buildingThe board that governs the three state universities will discuss proposals from a consultant designed to save money along with a proposal for the first tuition increase in two years at their meeting next week in Iowa City. The Deloitte consulting firm told the Board of Regents there could be some staff cuts associated with what are called the “business practices” proposals they outlined in a meeting earlier this month.

The Regents have just completed hearings at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa to discuss the issue. Jeneane Beck with UNI says they’ll talk more about the proposals at this meeting. “The presidents of each institution will provide some general feedback that they’ve received on their campus, some overall feelings of any concerns people might have, or any support people might have for the recommendations made by Deloitte,” Beck says. “And then on November 14th at that special board meeting the board will vote whether to move forward with implementation of all if any of the eight administrative business cases.”

The cost of implementing the 8 recommendations has not been determined, and Beck says there are several variables that will determine the cost.

“There are some that maybe the universities believe they can implement on their own. There might be some that they believe they need assistance from an outside vendor,” Beck explains, “and that has yet to be determined. If you would move to using an outside vendor, those are costs that would have to be negotiated.”

The Board of Regents will also discuss a tuition increase of 1.75 percent for resident students at ISU and UNI and 1.74 percent at the U-I. Board spokesperson, Sheila Doyle Koppin, says the tuition was last raised in the 2012-2013 academic year and frozen in the next two years. The increase will add 116 dollars to the tuition bill at each school.

The board also proposes an increase in mandatory fees of 25 dollars at the U-I, $4.50 at ISU and $68 at UNI.