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NEWS 1.10.22

Iowa Department of Public Health

COVID-19 test positivity rates and hospitalizations remain high in Iowa.

That’s according to the most recent update from state health officials today (Monday).

The state is reporting a 14-day test positivity rate of nearly 20 percent with more than 32 thousand positive tests confirmed in the past week.

886 Iowans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, with 190 patients in the ICU.

More than 8 thousand Iowans are confirmed to have died from COVID-19 so far.

According to state data, 56 percent of all Iowans are fully vaccinated.

The Iowa Legislature started the 2022 session with talk of approving tax cuts, rewriting unemployment laws to push people back to work and creating a parents’ bill of rights that could determine how schools decide which books are appropriate for libraries. The 150 lawmakers and staff return to the Capitol on Monday with no mask, vaccine or test requirements as COVID-19 continues rapid spread throughout the state. Lawmakers could decide how to deal with potential federal vaccine mandates, which now are tied up in the courts. A group of people opposed to vaccine requirements rallied inside the Capitol on Monday morning before lawmakers began the session.

Iowa’s Senate president opened the legislative session with an attack on the media and claims of a sinister agenda to normalize deviant behavior against children. The Legislature is expected to focus on plans for tax cuts and reforms to unemployment law, but Republican Senate President Jake Chapman used his opening speech Monday to challenge lawmakers to take a stand. He argued there is a “sinister agenda occurring right before our eyes.” Democratic leaders criticized the comments, calling them divisive and extreme political rhetoric that has made teachers, nurses and other people hesitant to work in the state.

Nebraska state officials unveiled proposals Monday for $700 million in water resource development in Nebraska, pointing to the vital importance of water in securing the state's agricultural and economic development future.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that the state will notify Colorado that Nebraska plans to "move forward" with a $500 million plan of developing a canal and reservoir system to capture water from the South Platte River, exercising its legal right to that water flow from Colorado under a 1923 compact between the states.

South Dakota’s legislature starts tomorrow when Governor Kristi Noem delivers her state-of-the state speech in Pierre. South Dakota’s rapid-fire legislative session is kicking off with lawmakers prepared to debate legalizing marijuana, how to spend nearly $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief and what to do with several bills touching on some of the nation’s most incendiary social issues. Politics in Pierre will be lively this year because of the heightened tensions of an election year, a bitter spat between House and Senate Republicans and one of the shortest legislative sessions in the country. As if that's not enough, a House impeachment investigation is gaining steam into Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg's conduct in a fatal crash.

A COVID-19 vaccine mandate will be one of the main topics at tonight’s Sioux City Community School Board meeting. A proposal says starting on February 4th all employees must report their vaccination status. Those not fully vaccinated must wear face coverings and test weekly for the virus or potentially face termination.

The policy is to comply with OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard.

The district’s weekly COVID-19 report showed 68 students tested positive and 46 staff members. Parents self-report tests to the school system.

And, Vermillion Middle and High School have put a mask mandate on place that started today. School officials plan to enforce the change for a least two weeks.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry has formally announced his reelection campaign amid allegations that he misled federal authorities who were investigating an illegal contribution to his campaign. The Nebraska Republican made his announcement in a YouTube video from inside a 1963 Ford pickup with his wife and dog — the same backdrop where he acknowledged several months ago that he was under federal investigation. Fortenberry says he has achieved some major accomplishments over the last year, including a new law to help people with Lou Gehrig's disease, an incurable neurodegenerative disorder, and funding for an agricultural research facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Nebraska state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, a Democrat, is also running for the seat.

U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota is seeking reelection to a fourth term in 2022. Thune turned 61 on Friday and is second-ranked in Senate Republican leadership. But he had considered retiring in recent months. Both parties are fighting for control of a closely divided Senate in 2022, but Thune has a clear path to reelection. Thune has $14.8 million in campaign cash and faces two primary challengers. He drew the ire of then-President Donald Trump late in 2020 for speaking out against his attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election.

A ballot measure campaign to expand Medicaid eligibility in South Dakota has received an endorsement from an organization that advocates for the state’s cities and towns. The endorsement from the South Dakota Municipal League shows growing momentum for the proposal. It is set to appear on ballots in November. It would make Medicaid health coverage available to people who live below 133% of the federal poverty level. But key Republican lawmakers have resisted Medicaid expansion. They have criticized the proposal as an expansion of government that would create higher taxes.

The agency that oversees refugee resettlement in South Dakota says there has been a noticeable decline in the number of people resettling in the state over the last few years. According to Lutheran Social Services, South Dakota welcomed 52 refugees in 2021, compared to 439 in 2016. More than half of the people resettling in the state last year came from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa. Lutheran Social Service president Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen says an international slowdown in application processing the past four to five years has caused the low number of arrivals. The processing can take 18 months to two years.

Iowa’s well-known statewide bicycling event has a new director of operations. RAGBRAI, short for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, on Monday announced the hiring of Matt Phippen to lead the organization that claims to host the “oldest, largest and longest recreational touring bicycle ride in the world.” Phippen has a long association with RAGBRAI, starting in 1990 when his family hosted riders in his front yard. He has been a rider and also served as a vendor, on a town planning committee, and as a sponsor and pre-ride adviser.

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