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NEWS 4.9.21: NE Budget, C19 Updates, Wind Energy Increase, & No Overdue Book Fees


Nebraska lawmakers advanced a new, $9.7 billion state budget that includes more money for property tax credits and college scholarships while setting aside $115 million for a possible state prison to ease overcrowding.

The package would cover state expenses for the next two fiscal years, starting on July 1.

It came as some lawmakers warned about a possible economic downturn that hit state revenues, which are currently higher than expected despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The budget includes a $351 million boost to the state’s cash reserve, bringing it to a total of $763 million for emergencies and one-time expenses, a savings cushion equal to a little less than two months of state tax collections.

The Iowa Department of Public Health added seven more deaths due to complications of COVID-19 and more than 500 new cases in a 24-hour period, with 19 more in Woodbury County.  There have been more than 4.5 million tests conducted since the COVID-19 pandemic started in Iowa and more than 700,000 fully vaccinated.

There are 228 hospitalized patients with the virus in the state, with a dozen being treated specifically for COVID-19 at Sioux City’s two hospitals.

Credit Siouxland District Health

The 7-day test positivity rate statewide is 4.7%. Several counties in northwest Iowa are above that level, including Dickinson County at 14%, Emmet 10%, Plymouth 8%, and Woodbury County 6%. Pocahontas County has the lowest positivity rate of zero.

A weekly update from the Sioux City Community School District shows no new cases of the novel coronavirus among students, teachers, and staff. Currently, 174 students are in quarantine; last week, there were 318.

Credit Sioux City Community School District

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced an emergency shelter for children in Sioux City to close.

The Crittenton Center suspended services at the shelter due to a shortage of staff on April 1st.

A statement from the executive director of the non-profit says the shelter is expected to reopen in the next month. Clients in their care were sent to safe and appropriate facilities and foster homes. “And despite the difficulty of the decision the Crittenton Center continues

educating, empowering and sheltering families and children through five additional community focused programs." 

South Dakota’s epidemiologist says he expects the U.K. variant will become the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the state.

South Dakota has 20 cases of COVID-19 variants, a number that hasn’t changed in two weeks.

Neighboring Minnesota is among a handful of states with some of the highest growth of more contagious variants.

Epidemiologist Joshua Clayton says more young people are being infected and they need to be aware that the U.K. variant spreads easier and can be more severe in some cases.

The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still shown to be effective in fighting off the current variants.

The number of South Dakotans who died from cirrhosis and liver disease jumped last year during the COVID-19 Pandemic. That’s according to a report by the Argus Leader. The state Department of Health Provisional Mortality Record showed an increase of more than 50% with 234 South Dakotans succumbing to liver aliments. While experts agree liver diseases are caused by poor eating habits and heavy alcohol use, it is unclear what is exactly driving the surge in 2020.

Information from the U.S. Energy Administration showed Iowa is utilizing more wind energy. The rate increased to almost 60% last year with almost 6,000 turbines. The rate in 2019 was 44%. President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan calls for providing $100 billion during a decade to build a carbon pollution-free power sector by the year 2035. Electricity derived from coal dropped to 22% in 2020 compared to more than 70% in 2010. MidAmerican Energy still operates two coal plants near Sioux City.

Meanwhile, the Des Moines Register reports opposition to wind farms. Some neighbors complain of noise, headaches, and interrupted sleep.

Several environmental groups including the Sierra Club have pushed MidAmerican Energy to retire the plants. Late last year they released information showing the company could save $92 million by making the move by 2023.

MidAmerican Energy responded to a request for an update on the coal plants with this statement.

"The Register article referred to an Environmental Plan and Budget docket (EPB-2020-0156) whereby the IUB determines whether MidAmerican’s multiyear generating facilities plan complies with state and federal emissions requirements in a cost-effective manner, and whether facilities’ plans and budgets reasonably balance costs, environmental requirements, economic development potential, and the reliability of the electric generation and transmission system. The law requires an update every two years.

Last year, some intervenors tried to argue through this matter that MidAmerican’s generating facilities plan should contemplate retiring coal facilities. In a March 24 ruling, the IUB found that to be outside the scope of what the law requires for this particular proceeding. The IUB approved MidAmerican’s plan after determining that it is cost effective and reasonably balances the criteria under the law."

The order is here: https://wcc.efs.iowa.gov/cs/idcplg?IdcService=GET_FILE&allowInterrupt=1&dID=345566&noSaveAs=1

A federal court hearing will determine whether the Dakota Access oil pipeline should be allowed to continue operating without a key permit while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts an environmental review on the project.

A U.S. District Judge wants the Corps to explain how it “expects to proceed” without a federal permit granting easement for the pipeline that began carrying oil from North Dakota to a shipping point in Illinois in 2017.

The hearing Friday in Washington, D.C., was originally scheduled for February. But it was postponed to allow officials from President Joe Biden’s administration more time to familiarize themselves with the case.

A group of ten sheriffs in Iowa sent a letter to President Joe Biden this week urging him to secure the southern border and stop a current increase in immigration.

Radio Iowa reports around 275 sheriffs from 39 states signed the letter sent to the president.  No sheriffs in Siouxland took part. The Iowa sheriff were from Shelby, Carroll, Greene, Lucas, Wayne, Iowa, Grundy, Cerro Gordo, Clayton, and Scott counties.

Yesterday, Siouxland Public Media reports Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds rejected a request from the federal government to accent migrant children into the state.

Good news for book lovers as the Sioux City Library eliminates overdue fines for full-service library cardholders.

Library Director Helen Rigdon says the move benefits at least 75% of the library’s cardholders. She adds this is a big step to provide equitable access to library materials, resources, and services.

The library waived overdue fines during the COVID-19 Pandemic and found patrons returned items responsibility. Studies show materials are returned at much the same rate, with or without overdue charges.

Full-service cardholders are patrons of the Sioux City Public Library who are a residents of Sioux City, own property in Sioux City, or are a resident of one of the surrounding towns and has purchased a full-service card.

News releases issued by the city of Sioux City on 4.9.21:

Sioux City Public Library Eliminates Overdue Fines

At the March meeting of the Sioux City Public Library Board of Trustees, board members voted to permanently eliminate overdue fines for full-service Sioux City Public Library cards, a move that benefits at least 75% of the Library's cardholders.

The change fulfills a focus area in the Library's strategic plan. "One of our most important goals is providing access to information and resources for all residents of Sioux City," said Helen Rigdon, library director. “This is a big step our library has taken, along with hundreds of libraries across the country, to provide equitable access to library materials, resources, and services.”

The Sioux City Public Library has been waiving overdue fines for the past year, beginning when they closed at the start of the pandemic. As the Library moved through its phases of reopening, staff found that overwhelmingly, patrons returned items responsibly, even without the encouragement fines have long been thought to inspire. In fact, studies show materials are returned at much the same rate, with or without overdue charges. A white paper published by the San Francisco Public Library states, "Overdue fines do not turn irresponsible patrons into responsible ones. They only distinguish between patrons who can afford to pay for the common mistake of late returns and those who cannot."

"The inability to pay overdue fines often prevents people who want to use the Library from doing so," says Rigdon. "They also disproportionately affect lower-income households and individuals who benefit most from the Library's free resources. Our aim is getting materials back so patrons can continue to use the Library."

While full-service Sioux City Public Library cardholders will no longer have to worry about overdue charges, the Library will continue to charge for lost or damaged items.

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