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NEWS 9.13.21: Mask Mandate Ban Overturned, Hospitalizations Fall in SD, NE Gambling Delay, and More


A federal judge has ordered the state of Iowa to immediately halt enforcement of a law passed in May that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Judge Robert Pratt said in an order signed Monday that the law substantially increases the risk of several children with health conditions of contracting COVID-19. Several parents with children that have various medical conditions sued the state. Pratt says he has looked at data on the effectiveness of masks to reduce spread of the virus and agrees with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics on mask wearing in schools.

Statement from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds on the ruling:

“Today, a federal judge unilaterally overturned a state law, ignored the decision by our elected legislature and took away parents’ ability to decide what’s best for their child. We will appeal and exercise every legal option we have to uphold state law and defend the rights and liberties afforded to any American citizen protected by our constitution,” said Gov. Kim Reynolds. 

Sioux City School Board Vice-President Monique Scarlett tells Siouxland Public Media she will again call for masks for the district. She plans to revisit the issue at tonight’s school board meeting at that starts at 6 p.m. The board will also discuss COVID-19 relief funding for the district.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said he plans to join other Republican governors in challenging President Joe Biden’s sweeping new vaccine requirement in court. Ricketts said on Fox News Sunday that Nebraska’s attorney general has been consulting with other attorneys general who believe the federal government is overstepping its authority by mandating that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly. Ricketts says Americans shouldn't have to choose between a job and a jab in the arm. In Nebraska, Ricketts has encouraged people to get vaccinated and wear masks, but he has resisted mandates to do either.

Four more South Dakotans have died due to complications of COVID-19. There were more than 500 new infections with 32 in Lincoln County, according to the Department of Health.

The Argus Leader reports the number of COVID-19 positive patients continued to all with almost 200. The high was 230.

Nebraska lawmakers have launched a special session to redraw the state’s political boundaries, with one proposal that would add a 50th state senator to the Legislature to try to keep rural Nebraska from losing a seat. Sen. Mark Kolterman, of Seward, proposed the measure along with two other rural senators. The bill would expand the Legislature from its current 49 members to 50. Adding a senator would reduce the ideal number of residents per legislative district, making it easier for lawmakers to preserve rural districts that lost population over the last decade while still adding a district to fast-growing suburban Omaha

Nebraska voters approved casino gambling at the state’s horse racing tracks last year, but it will still be at least several more months before any casinos get approved in the state including Siouxland. That’s because regulators are still writing the rules.

The approval process for Nebraska casinos is just beginning to be developed with the commission recently receiving a report from a consultant it hired to help write the rules and regulations for casino gaming in the state. So, the formal application process might not start until early next year.

WarHorse Gaming, a division of Ho-Chunk, Inc. will manage and operate gaming in South Sioux City and is in partnership with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association in Omaha and Lincoln.

* Ho-Chunk, Inc. is a financial supporter of Siouxland Public Media.

A Nebraska state senator and former Bellevue City Council member is the first Democrat to announce a bid for governor. State Sen. Carol Blood announced her candidacy Monday to replace Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts. He has to leave office because of term limits. Blood first won a seat in the officially nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature in 2016 by defeating a Republican incumbent in a politically divided Sarpy County district. She won reelection in 2020. But Blood will face a difficult task getting elected in the GOP-dominated state that former President Donald Trump won by 18 percentage points. At least four Republican contenders have already joined the race.

First Lady Jill Biden plans to visit Des Moines Wednesday.

The first lady will join Third District Representative Cindy Axne for a tour of Des Moines Area Community College's Ankeny Campus and to tout the Biden Administration's America Rescue Plan and Build Back Better agenda. 

Fourth District Congressman Randy Feenstra of Hull has joined his Republican colleagues on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee in voting “no” on ag-related elements of the infrastructure package House Democrats are proposing.

Feenstra says the Federal Government needs to address the unfair cattle markets and other issues first. He says the bill benefits farm families on the east and west coasts.

Radio Iowa reports the panel began reviewing amendments on Friday.

Democrats defeated the four that Feenstra offered. One dealt with taxes and could have partially blocked a proposal to change the way inherited property, like farmland, is taxed.

The $3.5 trillion infrastructure package House Democrats are proposing includes about $90 billion in agriculture related spending.

Congresswoman Cindy Axne, a Democrat from West Des Moines, is also on the House Ag Committee. She voted “yes” on the ag committee’s portion of the infrastructure plan, citing the $1 billion included for biofuels infrastructure and the $18 billion for U.S.D.A. Rural Development.

Badlands National Park in South Dakota will build a new visitor center in the southeast section of the park. The National Park Foundation says the new visitor center will be located in the Cedar Pass section of the park, where wind and water have carved towering geological rock formations from the prairie. The center is planned to educate park visitors about the region’s paleontological and geological resources, as well as the culture of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Lakota People.

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has introduced two ballot measures that could change the way law enforcement handles illegal drug possession and ingestion cases in South Dakota. The measures would make ingesting a controlled substance a petty offense instead of a felony and possession of a controlled substance a class one misdemeanor. The Argus Leader reports voters would have a chance to vote on the ballot measures in the 2022 election. The first measure would reclassify the illegal possession of all controlled drugs or substances as class one misdemeanors, regardless of how their scheduled drug status in state law.

The South Dakota Endangered Missing Advisory issued an alert Monday for two children from Pierre, allegedly taken by their father who authorities say was exhibiting signs of impairment. The alert says the father took the 3-week-old girl and her 1-year-old sister from their caregiver’s home in Pierre early Monday morning. Authorities say the children are believed to be endangered because the father appeared to be impaired and unable to care for them. The suspect is believed to be driving a black 2015 GMC Canyon pickup truck with the South Dakota license plate 39E-471.

A South Dakota farmer says harvests will vary widely across the state because some pockets have been spared from the drought. Travis Mockler farms corn, alfalfa and soybeans in the southeastern part of the state. He says even farmers in the same general area could experience different production. Mockler tells South Dakota Public Broadcasting that yields are going to be “all over the board” and recent rains had a miniscule effect on crops that suffered through a summer of drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says 2 percent of the state’s corn crop and 1 percent of the soybean crop is in excellent condition.

Sheila Brummer returns to her radio roots as a Reporter/Special Projects Producer for Siouxland Public Media KWIT-KOJI.