April 16, 2014

Suspect arrested in northern Iowa carrying African drug

A Minnesota man was arrested Tuesday on drug charges involving a plant native to Africa.

The North Central Iowa Narcotics Task Force says in the course of an ongoing narcotics investigation, they arrested 38-year-old Dayax Abdi Ahmed of Apple Valley near the intersection of Interstate 35 and State Highway 105 near Northwood.

They say Ahmed was found to be in possession of multiple pounds of “khat” with an estimated street value of $8,000.

It’s a flowering plant that is native to the Horn of Africa that contains an amphetamine-like stimulant which is said to cause euphoria and manic behaviors. It’s mainly ingested by chewing the plant.

Khat is a Schedule One controlled substance. Ahmed is being held in the Worth County Jail.

By Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City

Legislators, governor fight over budget for University of Iowa

Republicans in the Iowa House have voted to try to change the terms of a deal that would freeze in-state tuition for students at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa this fall. Senator Brian Schoenjahn, a Democrat from Arlington, is asking Republican Governor Terry Branstad to intervene.

“The House Republican vote is an attempt to pit our universities against each other and pit Iowans against each other,” Schoenjahn said this morning. “Governor Branstad, a tuition freeze is one of your top legislative priorities and it’s in serious trouble.”

The board that governs the three state universities has offered to freeze tuition for the second year in a row if legislators provide a four percent budget boost for each of the schools, as well as an additional$4.4 million for the University of Northern Iowa. Governor Terry Branstad has signed onto that deal and Senate Democrats have as well, but House Republicans late last night voted to scoop into the University of Iowa’s allotment to provide the extra money to UNI, putting Iowa’s budget boost at two percent rather than the four percent going to the other two institutions.

Representative Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mount Ayr, said the U-of-I is sitting on a “tremendous” cash reserve.

“Ready cash that they can use as compared to the other two institutions,” Dolecheck said.

Representative Chip Baltimore, a Republican from Boone, scoffed at the idea the University of Iowa would be damaged with the House GOP’s plan.

“Their entire budget for the fiscal year is $3.1 billion and we’re trimming ($4.4 million) from the increase they say is necessary to freeze tuition in this state — 0.15 percent,” Baltimore said.

House Republicans also rejected an attempt to include an anti-bullying proposal in the budget bill that passed the House Tuesday night at about 10:15 p.m. on a party-line vote. Governor Branstad, for the second year in a row, has asked legislators to pass anti-bullying legislation, but House Republicans have yet to bring a bill up for a vote in the full House.

Report: Iowa could be better prepared to battle superbugs & the flu

Iowa ranks in the middle of the pack in a report that rates the states’ ability to prevent, control and treat outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Rich Hamburg, deputy director of the Trust for America’s Health, says the study finds many gaps in efforts to keep ahead of so-called superbugs, salmonella, the seasonal flu and more.

“Iowa received five out of ten points on this report,” Hamburg says. “What we’ve seen is that a majority of states scored five or lower out of ten possible points.”

Iowa’s among 14 states with that half-and-half rating. Among the areas where the report found Iowa lacking, the state does not cover routine H-I-V screening under Medicaid. Iowa also doesn’t mandate that health care facilities report infections.

On the plus side, he says Iowa is proactive in educating the public about the HPV vaccine for teens and didn’t cut the level of funding for public health services in the past fiscal year.

Hamburg says, “Iowa and the other states are addressing some of the policies that need to be addressed in order to be more adequately prepared to respond to and prevent infectious diseases but there’s still a long way to go.”

In one area where the state was lacking, the report says Iowa failed to meet the recommendations of having most young children, between 19 and 35 months, vaccinated against whooping cough.

“The Centers for Disease Control recommends a 90% rate of vaccination,” Hamburg says. “Iowa had 88.2% so it didn’t receive a point on the report.”

The CDC also recommends a state vaccinate at least 50% of its population for influenza. Iowa had 50.4% vaccinated for the flu, so it met the recommendation, but just barely.

While Iowa scored five out of ten on the report, as did most states, the highest-ranked state was New Hampshire with eight out of ten, and three states only scored two out of ten — Georgia, Nebraska and New Jersey.

See the full report at: www.healthyamericans.org


Chalk artists from across Midwest flock to Iowa festival

Chalk art by Nina Scott in 2013The eastern Iowa town of Mount Vernon is holding what it calls a “Chalk the Walk Festival” over two days next month where hundreds of artists will use chalk to create detailed works of art, literally, on the street.

Joe Jennison, spokesman for the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group, says it will be Iowa’s largest-ever street art or Madonnari festival.

“We’ll have about 500 artists total that’ll be on the streets of Mount Vernon,” Jennison says. “We block off three city blocks and we have dozens and dozens and dozens of 8-foot by 10-foot pieces that are created by artists from all over the Midwest who come in and do this.”

Many of the artists will re-create famous works of art in chalk while others will make original works on the concrete. Jennison says a select few artists will focus on very detailed art that appears three-dimensional. He says one lady who will be in Mount Vernon is exceptionally gifted at that.

“Last year or the year before, she did a pond and when you look at it, you don’t necessarily see the 3-D image but when you take it through the camera, there’s all these pictures of people fishing in her little pond,” Jennison says. “It does look very 3-D. The pole is part of the art so she shows you how to make it look like you’re holding the pole.”

In addition to the individual works of chalk art, there’s also one large collaborative work that measures 20-by-40 feet where everyone takes a small square and colors it in.

The first year of the festival, the subject of that giant work was Iowa native Grant Wood’s piece called “Stone City.”

“I am on my hands and knees doing a two-foot by two-foot square,” Jennison says. “On my left, are little five-year-old and seven-year-old girls, and on my right are a 70-year-old Indian couple and all of us, on our hands and knees, are creating art together.”

Mount Vernon’s 9th annual Chalk the Walk fest is scheduled for May 3rd and 4th. This year’s event will be a juried art festival and will include awards for 22 artists and more than $1,200 in cash prizes.

For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/chalkthewalk



Dubuque and HUD settle housing discrimination case

The City of Dubuque has settled with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, following allegations that the city discriminated against African Americans applying for rental assistance. The City of Dubuque denies they violated fair housing laws, but through a voluntary compliance agreement, will be required to change the rules that gave preference to residents.

Heading up the changes will be Alvin Nash, Dubuque’s Director of Housing and Community Development. Nash estimates he’ll be able to bring Dubuque’s housing program into compliance within three years. “We have an opportunity here to go forward, fix the situation, and develop a model program. I’m going to try (my) best to turn a negative consequence into a positive opportunity, that’s all you can do,” Nash said.

Beginning in 2007, the city agency that distributes Section 8 housing assistance implemented rules giving preference to people who could prove residency in the City of Dubuque. As a result, people applying from outside the state, most of whom were minorities, experienced longer wait times. “I did not find any proof that the allegations were justified in regard to intent. But they were justified in terms of, yes, there was negative impact that affected the African American applicants, especially those from out of town,” Nash said.

According to the report, African Americans represented 31-percent of families participating in the Section 8 housing program in Dubuque in 2010. A year later, after a voucher freeze that gave preference to in-state applicants, the African American participation in the program declined to 21-percent.

Senate confirms ex-GOP lawmaker as state utility regulator

The Iowa Senate has narrowly confirmed Governor Branstad’s nominee for an opening on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Former State Representative Nick Wagner of Marion needed 34 votes to win confirmation to the post. He got 35.  Fifteen Democratic senators voted against Wagner who had been a point-man for House Republicans on budget matters until he lost his bid for reelection in 2012. Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, said it was difficult to work with Wagner.

“I found Nick was a person that was not wililng to listen,” McCoy said. “He took very difficult and very hard-line positions.”

Senator Dan Zumbach, a Republican from Ryan, suggested those traits as positives, not negatives.

“In any of these appointed positions we want people that think clearly and see things clearly and make clear decisions and so for some of the very reasons you may have some level of frustration with Nick Wagner, I see as qualities,” Zumbach said.

Branstad wanted to appoint Wagner to the board last year, but Democrats in the senate balked, so Branstad withdrew Wagner’s nomination, then used his authority as governor a few weeks later to put Wagner on the board as an interim appointment while legislators weren’t in session. Wagner is an electrical engineer by training.  As one of three full-time state utility regulators, he could earn an annual salary of between $84,000 and $128,000.

In other decisions today, the senate confirmed another state legislator to a job on the Public Employment Relations Board.  Michael Cormack, a Republican who used to live in Fort Dodge, had been working for the Branstad Administration, in the Iowa Department of Education.  He has been confirmed by the senate to be the chairman Public Employment Relations Board.


Court rules aggravated misdemeanor convictions don’t make Iowans ineligible to vote, serve in public office

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled a Des Moines Democrat’s second drunken driving conviction does not disqualify him from seeking a seat in the Iowa Senate.

Former State Senator Tony Bisignano is the man who has the second offense “Operating While Intoxicated” conviction on his record. Bisignano’s opponent in June’s Democratic Primary for a Des Moines-area senate seat is former State Representative Ned Chiodo. Chiodo argued Bisignano’s OWI — which is an aggravated misdemeanor — is the kind of “infamous crime” described in the State Constitution as a disqualification from serving in public office.

The Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling concludes Bisignano is eligible to serve as a state senator and eligible to run in the June Primary.  If the court had ruled Bisignano’s conviction made him ineligible, that ruling would have tossed Iowa’s election system into turmoil. Thousands of Iowans with an aggravated misdeamnor conviction on their record likely would have been declared ineligible to vote.

Justice David Wiggins authored a dissent. Wiggins argues the decision could lead the court into “uncharted waters” when its presented with other cases revolving around the “infamous crimes” phrase in the state constitution. Another justice offered a concurring opinion, supporting the court’s decision to allow Bisignano to run, but offering other reasons for arriving at that conclusion.

Read the opinion here.