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PM NEWS 6.30.21: Nebraska Ends Online C19 Reporting, Planned Parenthood Ruling, and More

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Nebraska plans to stop reporting coronavirus numbers online after Wednesday. The state Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday that it plans to retire the online dashboard that it has used to report statistics on the coronavirus pandemic for more than a year. The current state virus emergency also is set to expire on Wednesday, and along with that Nebraska will eliminate the last few social distancing guidelines that remain in place. As of its final update Wednesday, the state had reported 224,488 virus cases and 2,261 deaths linked to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Nebraska said that 28 people across the state are currently hospitalized with the virus.

Iowa's high court says the state may refuse to allow Planned Parenthood to conduct state-sponsored sex education programs funded by federal grants. The Iowa Supreme Court decision released Wednesday reverses a state court judge’s ruling last year that found the 2019 law that prohibited abortion providers from teaching the sex education courses was likely unconstitutional. Six Republican-appointed justices rejected Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s complaint that the law violated its constitutional right to equal protection and that the law served no rational legitimate government interest. The court’s lone Democratic appointee, Justice Brent Appel, disagreed saying the legislature is trying to "attack abortion rights.”

News release from Planned Parenthood:

Joint Statement from Planned Parenthood and ACLU of Iowa on Iowa Supreme Court Decision

  Des Moines, Iowa — The Iowa Supreme Court today reversed an important district court decision protecting young Iowans access to critical sex education and teen pregnancy prevention programming. The Court’s decision will allow the state to impose legislation that bars organizations that provide or promote access to abortion from receiving sex education grant funding. 

As soon as Governor Reynolds signed HF 766 into law in 2019, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa filed a lawsuit and quickly received a temporary injunction.  In May 2020, the Polk County District Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction to block the law, allowing Planned Parenthood to continue to receive grant funding for sex education programming during the past two years. The state then appealed the court’s decision.

“This is a disappointing day for young Iowans who have relied on Planned Parenthood for more than a decade to provide them with comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education,” said Sarah Stoesz, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States. “Today’s decision is a major setback for public health. Parents agree that young people need medically accurate information to make healthy decisions that will determine the trajectory of their lives. As Iowa’s largest sex education provider, we are committed to our critical sex education programs, and we are invested in continuing this important work.”

During more than a decade of receiving this funding in Iowa, Planned Parenthood has delivered sex education programs intended to promote healthy decision making and reduce pregnancy among teenagers. Since 2005, Planned Parenthood has used Iowa’s state-approved sex education curriculum to provide sex education to tens of thousands of Iowa youth. Planned Parenthood currently provides age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education at more than 30 schools and 15 community-based youth-serving organizations across Iowa, with a focus on areas with the highest rates of unintended pregnancies and STIs.

“The programming that this law interferes with is crucial to protecting the Iowa teens who rely on Planned Parenthood to provide sex education and teen pregnancy prevention programming in our state. We believe that the district court correctly determined that the law violated the constitutional requirement of equal protection by targeting Planned Parenthood to block it from receiving grants to provide this important programming. We are disappointed that the law was upheld because we understand the harm to young Iowans that will result from this decision. We were privileged to support Planned Parenthood in the vital work they do every day to empower Iowans with sex education and teen pregnancy prevention programming,”said Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa.

Research shows that when young people receive comprehensive sex education, they are more likely to have healthy relationships, lower rates of unintended pregnancies, and decreased need for abortion. Decades of research show comprehensive approaches to sex education—including information on condoms, contraception and abstinence—effectively delay sexual activity and increase condom and contraceptive use when young people do become sexually active. 

Additionally, there is broad support for sex education in the United States. More than 90 percent of parents support sex education in both middle and high school. The vast majority of parents, from all political perspectives, want this education to include topics like birth control, healthy relationships, abstinence, dating violence and assault, and sexual orientation.

The law that was upheld targeted Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that Planned Parenthood has been a trusted provider of comprehensive sex education in Iowa for decades—including nearly 15 years in one of the grant programs covered by the law. The law aimed to stop the grant money from going to any organization that provides abortion or to any organization that advocates for access to abortion.

The full decision can be found here

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled in favor of former Governor Terry Branstad in a lawsuit where he was found to have discriminated against a workers compensation commissioner because he is gay.

The decision overturns a 1.5 million dollar verdict in favor of Chris Godfrey, who claimed he was mistreated after refusing to resign. The court also ordered for the case to be dismissed.

According to the majority opinion, there was not enough evidence to prove that Branstad knew Godfrey’s sexual orientation.

But Godfrey’s attorney, Roxanne Conlin, says that was for the jury to decide.

“It is just not the role of the Iowa Supreme Court to reverse the findings of fact of a jury.”

The ruling marks the third Supreme Court decision related to the nearly decade-long case.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Governor Kim Reynolds called the ruling a “total victory for the rule of law and Iowa taxpayers.”

One of the inmates accused of killing two staffers at the Anamosa State Penitentiary has waived his right to a jury trial.

Michael Dutcher voluntarily waived his right at a hearing yesterday (Tuesday). Instead, a judge will decide the case during a bench trial, which is scheduled for August 3rd.

The other man accused of the murders, Thomas Woodard [WOOD-urd], is slated to go to trial before a jury on September 21st.

Investigators say the men used prison-issued tools to kill a nurse and a correctional officer during a failed escape attempt from the prison.

News release from the Iowa DNR:

DES MOINES – State and local law enforcement agencies will be focusing safety this Fourth of July holiday weekend as thousands are expected to travel across the state and recreate on Iowa’s natural resources.

The Iowa DNR Law Enforcement Bureau will be focusing efforts on the boating while intoxicated law as part of the national Operation Dry Water campaign to draw public attention to the hazards of boating under the influence.

Iowa DNR Conservation Officers will be heavily patrolling Iowa waterways over the Fourth of July holiday and during the Operation Dry Water campaign, July 2 – 4.  The DNR will be conducting heightened awareness and enforcement of boating under the influence laws in hopes to decrease the number of crashes, causing injuries and deaths and remove any impaired boat operators, providing a safe and enjoyable experience for boaters this season.

“Often times, people don’t realize the warm temperatures and sun, along with the wind and waves, can cause the effects of alcohol to be intensified much quicker,” said Susan Stocker, boating law administrator and education coordinator for the Iowa DNR. “Operators may not think they are over the limit, but their judgment, reaction time, balance and vision show otherwise.”

Tips to staying safe while boating on the water this summer:

  • Boat sober. Alcohol and drug use impairs a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time.
  • Wear your life jacket and have the proper amount onboard.
  • Take a boating safety education course.
  • Know the current boating laws for the State of Iowa

Operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal on all navigable waters of the state and can lead to serious injuries and consequences.
In Iowa, it is illegal to operate a vessel or vehicle with a BAC level of .08 or higher. If you are found to be impaired and operating a boat or vehicle, you will face the consequences from law enforcement.

The public beaches across the state are also expected to be busy this Fourth of July holiday weekend and the DNR reminds swimmers to follow these safety guidelines:

  • Swim in designated areas—the roped off areas
  • Wear a lifejacket
  • Always swim with a buddy or let someone know where you are at all times
  • Avoid areas with waves or rip currents

The DNR wishes everyone a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July holiday.
Media Contacts:
General media inquiries: 
Alex Murphy, DNR Communications Director & Communications, Outreach and Marketing Bureau Chief, (515) 729-7533, Alex.Murphy@dnr.iowa.gov

Boating Safety:
Susan Stocker, DNR Boating Law Administrator/Boater Education Outreach, (515) 313-6439, Susan.Stocker@dnr.iowa.gov

Rivers/Paddling Safety:
Todd Robertson, DNR Rivers/Paddling Safety Outreach Coordinator, (515) 243-3714, Todd.Robertson@dnr.iowa.gov

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