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NEWS 1.12.22

The omicron variant surge is underway in Iowa and Siouxland.

Hospitalizations in Iowa due to COVID-19 have reached a 14-month high. There are currently 923 patients, with 44 being treated at Sioux City’s hospitals. The local rate is still less than the high of 108 in December of 2020.

A weekly report from the Iowa Department of Public Health shows 182 more Iowans have died of complications of the virus for more than 8,200 in all.

The statewide positivity rate is more than 21%, with more than 34,000 positive test results. This number does not include at-home test results.

The positivity rate in Woodbury County also rose to the state level and includes a big just in new cases with almost 1,600. There were less than 600 last week.

Siouxland District Health says stay home when sick and consider wearing a mask indoors. The statement on social media goes on to say, “stopping the spread if very difficult.” The primary goal is to prevent serious illness with vaccines and early treatment for those at higher risk.

Another mild day in Siouxland with temperatures across the region 10 to 20 degrees above normal. A clipper system will bring a blast of winter starting Thursday night.

The National Weather Service Office out of Sioux Falls issued a Winter Storm Watch for a portion of Siouxland on Friday, including the Sioux City metro area and the Iowa Great Lakes area.

Four to eight inches of snow could be possible for the impacted area, including the counties of Woodbury, Dakota, Union, and all of northwest Iowa. Travel will be tricky due to all the accumulation and blowing snow.

The National Weather Service says pay attention to the forecast because it’s still unclear what locations could receive the heavier snow totals.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds proposes cutting Iowa taxes by nearly $2 billion by moving to a 4% flat income tax phased in over four years and repealing all state taxes on retirement income beginning next year. Reynolds made the proposals Tuesday in her annual Condition of the State message delivered to lawmakers. The flat tax proposal is expected to reduce state revenue by $1.58 billion in tax year 2026 when it is fully implemented. The retirement tax relief is estimated to cost the state $400 million in revenue in 2023, the first year she proposes it to be effective.

Two proposals from the governor’s child care task force have advanced in the Iowa House of Representatives. One would allow child care centers to collect additional money from low-income families who get government-funded child care assistance. They’d have to agree in writing to pay extra.

A Department of Human Services official says that could put “the poorest of the working poor” at an even bigger disadvantage when trying to access child care.

The other bill that advanced would loosen the minimum staffing requirements for caring for toddlers. That could open up more child care slots. But some stakeholders expressed concerns about child safety and development, as well as staff burnout.

Iowa Chief Justice Susan Christensen is seeking a nearly 7% increase in the court system’s budget for next year in hopes of increasing salaries and hiring judges, attorneys and other staff after a hiring freeze. Christensen made the budget proposals for this fiscal year beginning in July during her annual Condition of the Judiciary Address on Wednesday to a joint session of the Iowa Legislature. She sought $202.5 million, a 6.7% increase and $4.3 million more than Gov. Kim Reynolds has recommended. The court’s proposed budget provides $2 million for open positions that were left unfilled last year, $2.9 million for a 5.9% pay raise for judicial officers, and $1.3 million to continue an effort to hire additional judges and other staffers.

Another assistant Woodbury County Attorney is running for the top job. James Loomis, a Republican announced his candidacy. He says current County Attorney P.J. Jennings needs to be more engaged. Loomis started in the County Attorney’s Office after graduating from law school at Iowa in 2003.

Loomis will be on the ballot for the June 7th primary along with Jacklyn Fox another Assistant Woodbury County Attorney.

The Sioux City Journal reports Jennings has yet to officially announce if he plans to run for a fifth term in office.

The South Dakota attorney general’s office and the lawyer for billionaire banker and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford have confirmed in recent court filings that an investigation into Sanford for possible possession of child pornography is still ongoing. It was not clear whether the investigation into Sanford had concluded. But both sides filed documents last week fighting a South Dakota Supreme Court ruling that would allow some information related to search warrants in the case to become public. As part of his argument, Sanford lawyer Marty Jackley said the probe revealed that his client’s email accounts were hacked.

Officials say a South Dakota man is facing a felony drug charge after his mother unknowingly served his marijuana-laced brownies to a group of seniors at a local community center. The 46-year-old man is charged with possession of a controlled drug or substance. An investigation began after Bon Homme County dispatchers received several calls about possible poisonings on Jan. 4. All the calls involved seniors who had earlier been at a Tabor Community Center card game. The investigation led to the woman who brought the brownies. She told sheriff's officials her son had baked the brownies and turned over the remainder of the batch she had at her house.

The Iowa Board of Regents will decide in a meeting Wednesday if they will continue to require students to submit standardized test scores to get into the state’s three public universities.

The University of Iowa, Iowa State and UNI will consider a permanent test-optional admissions policy after having a temporary policy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means high school students would no longer have to take the ACT or SAT to get into these schools.

“You know, things have changed a little bit. but I think colleges have kind of discovered through this process that maybe the tests aren’t as big of a deal as we had originally thought. There are other things that we could be looking at to see if college is a good fit for students or if they’re going to be a good match with our institution,” said Central Academy Counselor, Kristin Hilton.

Nebraska state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks says she has raised nearly $210,000 in her campaign for the state’s 1st Congessional District. Pansing Brooks, a Democrat, said she has raised $209,777 from a total of 954 donors in the most recent quarterly filing period. She entered the race in November, about halfway through that time window. Pansing Brooks is looking to unseat nine-term Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who is running for reelection while facing federal charges. Fortenberry has pleaded not guilty to allegations that he misled federal authorities who were investigating an illegal donation to his campaign from a foreign national in 2016.

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