October 31, 2014

Board of Regents asks lawmakers for support of new funding formula

The Board that governs the three state-supported universities and their presidents have signed a letter to the legislature requesting support for their new funding plan. The Board of Regents calls it the “Performance Based Funding Model” and it would give 60-percent of state money to Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa based on their in-state enrollment.

The other 40-percent would be allocated based on performance standards set up by the board. The new plan would give ISU and UNI an increase of more than $20 million each based on their in-state enrollment. It would cut the University of Iowa’s funding by a little more than $46 millions.

The plan seeks to ease the impact on the University of Iowa by putting a 2 percent cap each year on the reallocation of the funds — which amounts to $12.9 million in the first year.

The Board of Regents is asking legislators to provide supplemental funds to cover that amount. The letter says the new funding model is “equitable and transparent while demonstrating accountability” to the legislature, the governor and the citizens of the state.

Letter to Legislators PDF


State unveils new emergency messaging system (Audio)

Alert-Iowa-logoThe Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management rolled out a new statewide electronic notification and emergency messaging system today at the department’s annual conference in Des Moines.

Audio:  Radio Iowa’s Dar Danielson reports  :68

State Homeland Security Department director, Mark Schouten, says the new “Iowa Alert System” was developed after the state learned 53 counties were paying for a system, 31 had no system, and 15 others were using a free system.

Governor Terry Branstad joined Schouten to send out the first message to the county emergency management directors in the audience and their cellphones immediately started beeping. Schouten says the system was developed by the federal Homeland Security agency and is known as the Integrated Public Alert And Warning System or IPAAWS.

County officials will be able to send out localized alerts and Schouten says the state will also be able to send state alerts that will be accompanied by a warning buzzer if there is an “imminent threat.” “It’s loud, it is obnoxious. I think it is made that way to get your attention,” Schouten says of the warning signal.

HSEMD director, Mark Schouten.

HSEMD director, Mark Schouten.

The Iowa Legislature and Governor Branstand approved $400,000 to get the system going. “As I’e seen this system developed, it is confirmed that it will be a vital mechanism for local governments to provide safety and other important information to your residents,” Branstad says. Schouten says 34 counties have signed up for the system, and he says they hope to eventually have all 99 signed up for the new system with the state is providing for free.

“I think that’s one of the attractions of the system, we hope to get all the counties on the same messaging system, it’ll be free to the counties, free to the cities, free to the schools within that county,” Schouten says. “They’ll all be allowed to use it on a subscription base. The county coordinators will be able to send out those FEMA wireless emergency alerts.”

The system allows users to be very specific in sending out messages. Schouten cited the example of how one county coordinator used it already to find a man who had some mental health issues. “He left without permission from a hospital and they wanted to take him back into custody,” Schouten explains. “So they drew a circle on a map and messaged the people just within that circle, and within minutes, two or three people called up law enforcement and said ‘here he is he’s walking down our street.'”

Schouten says it’s an investment that helps all Iowans. “I think it’s such an effective tool that we are compelled to do it. I think it will end up saving lives,” according to Schouten. “There are just so many events in Iowa that we have not a lot of notice, but some notice. And if we can give that notice to the people who are affected by those disasters, then they are better able to take steps to preserve their own safety.”

Schouten says some counties still have contracts with the providers of their current service and they expect them to sign up with the new system once those contracts expire. He says the cost of the system should come down to around $300,000 a year once all counties are signed up.

The counties now signed up to use the system are: Black Hawk, Winnesheik, Jackson, Clinton, Scott, Cedar, Linn, Iowa, Johnson, Washington, Louisa, Henry, Marion, Warren, Clarke, Ringgold, Decatur, Wayne, Worth, Mitchell, Floyd, Humboldt, Webster, Clay, Buena Vista, Sac, Carroll, Gutherie, Adair, Cass, Pottawattamie, Harrison, Shelby, Woodbury.


State grants approved for 12 recreational trail projects

High Trestle Bridge

High Trestle Bridge

The state Transportation Commission approved grants for 12 recreational trail projects across the state Tuesday. DOT recreational trails program manager, Yvonne Diller, says the grants total around $5.5 million.

“The Iowa Legislature appropriated six-million dollars to the State Recreational Trails Program for 2014, and that included one million dollars for existing historic trail bridge applications,” Diller says.

One of the largest grants awarded will help with the expansion of what has already become an iconic trail in central Iowa. “That project is to extend the 25-mile-long High Trestle Trail another 6 miles from the center of Ankeny to the north side of Des Moines,” Diller says. The grant for the project is $782,500 for the trail that includes the High Trestle bridge.

The Iowa River Trail projects was awarded $775,000. “Marshalltown and Hardin County were the two co-sponsors of the project,” Diller says. “And it will be replace of a wood decking and railing on the river bridge and some smaller structures in Marshalltown and Hardin County.”

Developers of the Pottawattamie County Trail won a grant of $700,000. “It’s approximately 15 miles of multi-use trail from Council Blufss to Neola. And it’s for phase one of a multi-phase project which will develop a trail throughout Pottawattamie County,” according to Diller.

Other projects award grants are: the Cedar Valley Nature Trail Bridge in Black Hawk County ($160,906); the Coon Rapids Connector Trail Underpass in Coon Rapids ($224,437); the Great River Road Bike Lane in Louisa County ($340,000); the Hoover Trail,- “The Missing Link” in Johnson County ($454,000) the Iowa DNR AmeriCorps Trail Crew ($296,250); the Lake Path Trail/JewEllsworth Trail Segment in Hamilton County ($647,140); the Mississippi River Trail – Pikes Peak Road to Guttenberg in Clayton County ($579,074); the Red Cedar Trail and Connector in Linn County ($55,000) and the Southwest Jackson Street Bridge Rehabilitation in Des Moines ($500,0000.

Diller says the state money provides the majority of the funding for each of the basic trail projects. “For the recreational trail projects, its an 80-percent grant with a 20-percent local match. However, for the historic bridge projects, its a 50-percent local match,” Diller says. The state received 56 applications for trail projects and one for work on an existing historic trail bridge. There is still some money available for bridge projects.

“We have $500,000s left for existing historic trail bridges, and we plan to have a January 2nd, 205 deadline for applications to use up that money,” Diller says. Groups interested in securing funds for historic trail bridges can contact Diller at the DOT to get application information, or go to: www.iowadot.gov/systems_planning/fedstate_rectrails.htm.

Diller says the six million dollars appropriated for the trails program this year was double or triple what the program normally recieves. And she says there have been some years where the program hasn’t received any funding.

DOT Trails map


Legislators hear from critics of new rules for livestock confinements

State Capitol

State Capitol

New rules for monitoring the state’s large-scale livestock confinements have cleared a legislative committee and will go into effect October 22. The rules implement an agreement between the State of Iowa and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, so the state will continue to monitor how livestock operations in Iowa are complying with Clean Water standards.

State officials have promised to inspect some 8000 operations once every five years. Iowa Department of Natural Resources attorney Randy Clark said they’ll have to pick up the pace to meet that goal.

“As I recall in our annual report we were slightly less than the 20% in the first year, but we anticipate that in future years we’ll catch up,” Clark told legislators Tuesday.

Cherie Mortice, a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, said there have been 55 manure spills in the past year in Iowa and only 11 operators have been fined.

“Because the DNR is satisfied with desktop inspections for the majority of operators as opposed to real onsite inspections, compliance is generally voluntary,” Mortice said.

Larry Ginter, a farmer from Rhodes, is among the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members who complained to legislators yesterday.

“We’re not getting justice out here in the countryside,” Ginter said.

Legislators on the Administrative Rules Review Committee accused Ginter and others of engaging in “political theater.” The activists, in turn, accused state officials of adopting tepid regulation of “factory farms” that they say are polluting the state’s lakes and rivers with manure.

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.

U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear northwest Iowa senator’s defamation case

Rick Bertrand

Rick Bertrand

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a state senator’s appeal of his defamation lawsuit against his 2010 opponent and the Iowa Democratic Party.

Republican State Senator Rick Bertrand of Sioux City sued over a 2010 campaign ad that talked about a “dangerous sleep drug” sold by the pharmacuetical company Bertrand used to work for. In 2012 a jury agreed the ad suggested Bertrand sold the drug himself and awarded him $231,000 in damages.

The Iowa Supreme Court later overturned the lower court’s verdict, saying the ad didn’t rise to the level of “actual malice.” The ruling from the state’s highest court noted the “rough and tumble, Wild West approach to negative commercials,” but stressed that free speech standards must also be protected. Bertrand appealed that ruling to the nation’s highest court, but the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the case.

Bertrand, who won a first term in the Iowa Senate in 2010, is seeking reelection to the state senate this year.

Branstad defends management of Iowa Veterans Home

Governor Terry Branstad says he has no concerns about the work environment at the Iowa Veterans Home after revelations that five workers were fired and 13 others were disciplined for misconduct.

“I want to give credit to Jodi Tymeson, the commandant of the Veterans Home, because there were people doing inappropriate things and she took decisive action and dismissed them,” Branstad says.

Allegations of bullying and sexual harassment against the home’s previous commandant were aired during legislative hearings. One former staffer said he tried to file a complaint, but an aide in Branstad’s personnel department discouraged him from becoming a whistleblower. Branstad accused critics of former Commandant David Worley of engaging in a political witch hunt. Worley resigned last October and was replaced by Tymeson.

“I fully support Jodi Tymeson,” Branstad says. “She’s a retired general from the National Guard. She served in the legislature. She’s very well-respected from the veterans and we don’t want inappropriate things being done by employees of the Veterans Home and I think she’s made it clear that that’s not going to be tolerated.”

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports a male worker was fired this July after a female employee complained he repeatedly showed her pictures of a porn star and adults engaging in sex, despite her request that he stop. Another worker was fired for taunting another employee. The investigation, which apparently involved interviews with 100 of the home’s employees, was not disclosed until fired workers applied for and were denied unemployment benefits by an administrative law judge.