September 20, 2014

Charges dropped, could be refiled in Sioux City shooting

Criminal charges have been dropped against a Sioux City man who was accused in the shooting of his uncle at the victim’s home in the Morningside neighborhood on September 9th. Forty-year-old Eric Riley was charged with attempted murder and first-degree burglary in the shooting of 66-year-old Ben Steffe.

Police say Riley is a relative of the victim and the two were also business associates. Riley was scheduled to appear in court this morning, but the Woodbury County attorney filed a motion to dismiss the charges. Court documents state there is not currently sufficient evidence in the case and further investigation is needed.

Charges against Riley, who was released from the Woodbury County Jail Thursday afternoon, could be refiled in the future. Steffe was shot twice in the chest and remains hospitalized, but his condition is not being released.

(Reporting by Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City)


Census data shows thousands of Iowans still living in poverty

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates more Iowans are living in poverty now than at the beginning of the recession. Nearly 380,000 Iowans were living below the poverty line last year. That’s 12.7 percent of the state’s population or nearly one out of every eight Iowans.

The poverty rate for 2013 was the same as it was the previous year, but higher than it was in 2007. Six years ago an estimated 11 percent of Iowans were living at or below poverty level. The poverty line is considered $12,000 in annual income for an individual. For a family of four, it’s a little less than $24,000 a year. Iowa’s poverty rate is still below the nation rate of nearly 16 percent.

The Census Bureau estimates the median income in Iowa was just over $52,000 in 2013. It was over a thousand dollars more at the start of the recession in 2007



Second gubernatorial debate between Hatch and Branstad set for Burlington

The second of three face-to-face debates between the two major party candidates for governor is set for this Saturday in Burlington. The latest poll shows Democrat Jack Hatch trailing Republican Governor Terry Branstad by 23 points. “I’m excited about the way the campaign’s going,” Branstad says. “I think so far we’ve met all of the targets that we’ve set, but we still have a ways to go and we’re not going to let up.”

With just 46 days left in the campaign, Hatch doesn’t have much time to close that sizable gap. “I have to show Iowans that there’s a difference between the governor and myself, that there are two different visions for Iowa and that we have the ability to move this state forward as opposed to staying kind of stale and moving in the wrong direction,” Hatch says.

Saturday’s debate will focus on economic issues and Hatch plans to criticize the state incentives Branstad approved for the Iowa Fertilizer Plant in southeast Iowa. Hatch says it boils down to $700,000 per job. “It’s not about that I’m opposed to the fertilizer plant,” Hatch says. “I’m opposed to a deal of a corporation that we give $110 million to. It is clear this state did not need to give them that much money.”

Branstad plans to tout the deal during Saturday’s debate. “It is an example of the success we’ve had in economic development,” Branstad says. “That area, Lee County, had the highest unemployment in the state when I was elected and we’ve reduced it by nearly 40 percent.” Hatch says

Branstad is benefiting from the work former Governor Tom Vilsack did to expand the financial services and renewable energy sectors of the economy. “But today we’re coasting on a vision and accomplishments of previous governors,” Hatch said Thursday. “It’s great to be living in Tom Vilsack’s Iowa, but I’m really ready to take the next step.”

Saturday’s debate is co-sponsored by the Greater Burlington Partnership, the local alliance of chambers of commerce, as well as KWQC Television in the Quad Cities and the Burlington Hawk Eye. The debate can be seen nationwide on C-SPAN. Burlington was the state’s first territorial capital and Branstad has a family connection to the city. It’s his mother’s home town.

“I had my first haircut in Burlington and my mother talked about Snake Alley and Crapo Park,” Branstad says. “You know, I grew up in northern Iowa, but certainly I have fond feelings about Burlington and I’m glad that the debate’s going to be held there.” Branstad’s mother, Rita Garland Branstad, was born in Burlington in 1926 and her family moved to Sioux City when she was 13. Saturday’s debate starts at 7 p.m. and will last an hour. It will be held at a middle school in Burlington and organizers say they’ve distributed all 500 tickets for seating inside the debate venue.


Enterovirus not causing any major concerns in Iowa

Deputy State Epidemiologist Ann Garvey.

Deputy State Epidemiologist Ann Garvey.

A state health official says Iowa has not seen any big changes involving the outbreak of a virus that has hit over one dozen states. Deputy State Epidemiologist, Ann Garvey, says the enterovirus is common this time of year, but this particular strain known as D-68 has caused concern in other states.

“Here in Iowa we know that this strain is circulating — we are hearing about respiratory illnesses across the state — but we are not hearing that any of our health care community is overwhelmed with cases, unable to meet patient need,” Garvey explains. “While it’s circulating we’re not seeing the numbers that some of our neighboring states are seeing.”

Enterovirus is not a disease that the state or federal health officials track, so Garvey says they don’t have a concrete set up numbers on the cases. “We’re still getting calls from health care providers, just anecdotally we’re hearing some of the health care providers are seeing the cases slow. But that’s just few of the locations that we’ve spoke to,” Garvey says.

Garvey says the impact of viruses is always hard to determine, and this one is no different. “As far as why we are having less activity, there’s not a way to predict that or tell you why. We’re just not seeing it,” Garvey says.

There is no treatment for enterovirus other than rest. “So we’re just trying to recommend that Iowans take those kind of common sense measures that we use with all respiratory viruses like influenza,” Garvey says. “Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, get plenty of rest, and if we are ill, stay home.”

Garvey says most people who come down with the virus will not have serious symptoms.


Future of Social Security, Medicare dominant issue in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race

Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat, was among several members of congress who spoke at rally in Washington, D.C. yesterday. The event was organized by the liberal group Americans United for Change, which has run campaign ads in Iowa on Braley’s behalf. Each speaker, including Braley, emphasized retaining the “basic promise” of the financial safety net provided to seniors by Social Security and Medicare.

“We need to strengthen them, not destroy them through risky Tea Party schemes,” Braley said, to applause from the crowd. “Now why is that important in Iowa? It’s important because there are 500,000 Iowans who depend on Medicare and 600,000 who depend on Social Security. Many of those Iowans are people with disabilities and children.”

With a flurry of ads and campaign activity from all sides, both Braley and Braley’s Republican opponent, Joni Ernst, are being criticized on these issues and Ernst herself is currently starring in her own TV ad, saying she’ll “keep the promise” of Social Security and Medicare.

“If we’ve made promises, we need to keep those promises,” Ernst said earlier this month during an appearance at a retirement community in Des Moines.

During that event Ernst criticized Braley for saying in 2006 during his first campaign for congress that raising the retirement age could be an option for fixing the Social Security system. Yesterday, Braley said raising the retirement age was not a “solution.”

“And that’s why I have voted in the last four congresses not to raise the retirement age on Social Security and Medicare,” Braley said.

Ernst has said raising the retirement age is not an option for current retirees or those nearing retirement, but might be one of the options to consider for younger Americans in their 30s and 40s. Ernst has also accused Braley of voting to cut Medicare and Braley addressed that yesterday as well.

“Why not work to improve Medicare, make it work better by cutting out the waste, the fraud, the inefficiency which is exactly what we’ve done in the Affordable Care Act and make it work better for seniors who in Iowa are spending almost a thousand dollars a year less on prescription drugs than they did before the Affordable Care Act?” Braley asked.

Ernst has also said transitioning younger workers into private Social Security accounts is one of several options that could be under consideration as policymakers struggle to ensure the system remains solvent. Braley repeatedly calls that a “Tea Party” idea that would break the “basic promise” made to every generation of Americans.

“That’s if you work hard and you invest your money in these great programs, Social Security and Medicare, they’re going to be there when you need them,” Braley said at yesterday’s rally. “We’re here today to say: ‘Live up to that promise. Keep your hands off Social Security and Medicare.’”

Two recent polls on Iowa’s U.S. Senate race came to conflicting conclusions. One showed Braley ahead by a handful of percentage points, while the other showed Ernst ahead by the same margin. Most polling data on the race since June indicates it’s a dead heat.

Reason Foundation study finds condition of Iowa roads getting worse

Iowa’s score has fallen on a national report that ranks our highways based on their condition and cost-effectiveness. The study’s lead author, David Hartgen, with the Reason Foundation, explains how they compile the rankings which show Iowa at number-18 this year, down from 12th a year ago.

“Each of the 50 states is required to send detailed information to Washington each year on the condition of pavements and bridges and congestion and so on, and also information on their budgets,” Hartgen says. “We take that information and roll it up and compare it one state versus another, we look at how states are doing on each measure and then how they’re doing overall.”

The study shows an uptick in the percentage of Iowa’s interstates that are in poor condition. Hartgen says Iowa’s seen a doubling in the percentage of poor interstate conditions in urban areas over the course of the past year. “That suggests to me they may be letting these sections of pavement go a little too long before they’re repaired,” Hartgen says. “Usually, states want to grab those sections when they get to the fair level and not let them get down to the poor level where the costs are much higher.”

The report shows Iowa is making significant strides in trying to maintain the quality of its roads, as the state’s ranked 18th now, up quite a ways from its 33rd place showing in 2009. “Iowa’s done pretty well overall on a number of statistics,” Hartgen says. “Their budget is a little bit less, actually, per mile than the average state so they’re working on a relatively thin resource base. They scored in the middle of the pack on most of the items we looked at.”

Iowa’s highways rank 26th in the nation in the fatality rate, 35th in the percentage of deficient bridges, 17th in rural Interstate pavement condition, 37th in urban Interstate pavement condition and 32nd in urban Interstate congestion.



Large amount of possible drugs found at Rockwell City prison

The discovery of a large of amount of possible drugs at the North Central Correctional Facility in Rockwell City is under investigation. Alex Murphy, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, says 300 to 400 “unknown capsules” were found in the prison earlier this month.

 “It was discovered by the warden and his staff at the correctional facility during their routine checks,” Murphy said. The capsules have been sent to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s laboratory in Ankeny for analysis.

“If they were to be illegal drugs, we would turn our findings over to the county attorney’s office and they would decide how they want to pursue this case,” Murphy said. Details about exactly where and when the possible drugs were discovered are not being released.

More information about the case may come for several weeks.  It could take anywhere from two to six weeks for the crime lab to complete their testing on the capsules, according to Murphy. The minimum security facility in Calhoun County houses around 490 inmates who are classified as “low risk” offenders.