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NEWS 6.16.21: IA Tax Law, Pipe Organ Fire, Big Ox Settlement, Delta Variant, & More

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Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register via AP
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Iowa. Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed into law a tax bill that requires the state to take over funding of mental health care services, removing them from local property taxes.

The measure that became law Wednesday also phases out the state inheritance tax by 2025 and allows income tax cuts approved three years ago to begin in January 2023.

It also eliminates state funding to cities, counties and schools intended to restore lost money from a previous commercial property tax cut approved by lawmakers in 2013. Some city officials have complained that the state reneging on that promise could result in future property tax increases to sustain services to citizens.

Fire has destroyed a western Iowa business that made pipe organs for churches, schools and customers from around the world.

Officials say the fire at Dobson Pipe Organ Builders in Lake City was reported around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Firefighters found the building engulfed in flames that caused its exterior walls to collapse. Officials said one employee of the company was burned when he tried to put out the flames. 

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Credit Chad Thompson /The Messenger via AP
Volunteer firefighters from Lake City and surrounding areas battle a fire at Dobson Pipe Organ Builders in Lake City, Iowa, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. The fire destroyed the western Iowa business that made pipe organs for churches, schools and customers from around the world.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office says it believes the fire was started by a malfunctioning fan that caused sawdust to ignite. Dobson Pipe Organ Builders' website says it was founded in 1974 by Lynn Dobson, a Carroll, Iowa, native who attended Wayne State College in Nebraska.

The trials of the men accused of killing two employees at the Anamosa State Penitentiary have been rescheduled. Michael Dutcher is now slated to go on trial August 3rd, while the trial of Thomas Woodard is set for September 21st.

Court records show both trials are currently set in Jones County, though attorneys have raised concerns about finding an impartial jury in the rural community where the prison is a major employer.

Investigators say the two inmates killed a nurse and a correctional officer during an escape attempt. Both have pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnapping charges. 

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A 20-year-old man charged with killing his parents and younger sister in their 

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Credit Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette via AP
Assistant public defender Lindsay Garner, left speaks to her client Alexander Ken Jackson, 20, as he appears for his initial court appearance via video conference at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Jackson has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder, and is in custody at the Linn County Jail.

family home in Iowa told police that a masked intruder was to blame for the homicides. A criminal complaint says Alex Jackson called 911 on Tuesday morning to report that he and his dad had been shot by a male intruder at their Cedar Rapids home. Officers who responded found 61-year-old Jan Jackson, 68-year-old Melissa Jackson and 19-year-old Sabrina Jackson dead from gunshot wounds in different rooms of the home. They found Alex Jackson suffering from a gunshot wound to his foot, and recovered a .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle that is believed to have been the firearm used in the shootings. Alex Jackson is charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

The South Sioux City Council has approved payment of $500,000 to settle its part in 16 lawsuits filed against the city and a now-defunct biogas plant. The suit filed by homeowners accused the plant of sending rancid fumes through the city sewer system and ruining their homes. The Sioux City Journal reports the settlement calls for the city, Big Ox Energy, three insurance companies and two other companies to pay a combined $1.75 million. Big Ox began operations in September 2016, separating solids from industry wastewater to create and sell methane. The plant was subject to odor complaints soon after it began operations and was cited for numerous environmental violations until it shut down in 2019.

Health officials in northeast Nebraska identified a new strain of COVID-19. The Delta Variant originated in India and is believed to spread more easily.

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska is approaching having 70% of its adult population vaccinated for the coronavirus but the pace of distribution of the shots continues to slow down. The state may be close to President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% or more of all adults with at least one dose of the vaccine by July 4. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said about 63% of Nebraskans 18 and older had received at least one shot as of Friday, That rate ranks 24th among all the states. The CDC said roughly 31,000 shots were distributed in Nebraska last week, which was down from 37,000 the week before.

South Dakota health officials warned that despite coronavirus cases declining to the lowest rates since the early days of the pandemic, the state could see a resurgence of the virus in the fall if not enough people are vaccinated against COVID-19. State epidemiologist Josh Clayton says that the coronavirus is a respiratory virus, meaning there is a risk of a resurgence when people gather indoors as the weather cools. South Dakota reported just 10 new cases Wednesday, but Clayton says there is still a risk of a fall resurgence if not enough people are vaccinated. But vaccination rates have slowed in recent weeks.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported one more death due to complications of COVID-19 and almost 90 new cases.

An Iowa advocacy group is providing support to teachers who feel targeted by a new law that limits certain teachings and trainings dealing with racism and sexism.

The law bans schools and government agencies from promoting certain ideas, including that the U.S. and Iowa are systemically racist or sexist.

Lisa Covington is a sociologist and a member of the Iowa chapter of Black Lives Matter at School, which recently held a town hall with concerned teachers.

“It’s important to note the objective of the laws, right? Because really it prohibits teachers from being able to teach facts, right? In order to do their jobs. And so we really should care about supporting teachers to help build a more equitable and inclusive society.”

Covington says the group is keeping tabs on any guidance from school districts and engaging in national efforts to oppose similar laws in other states. The so-called “divisive concepts” law goes into effect July 1st.

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