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NEWS 2.2.22

Local health officials report the number of new COVID-19 cases fell dramatically in the past week in Woodbury County. There were almost 900 new cases, a decrease of more than half. Hospitalizations remain steady.

Home tests are not included in the case counts.

The positivity rate fell from 31% to around 24% in the past week. That level still indicates high community spread. In the past month, nine Woodbury County residents died of complications of the illness for 302 since the start of the Pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 156 additional deaths between the middle of October to the end of January, for 8,657 in all.

Across the state fewer people are testing positive and requiring hospitalization.

Patients testing positive for COVID-19 at Sioux City’s two medical facilities fell from by five for 53. Twenty-seven are hospitalized due to COVID-19, an increase of one patient.

Siouxland District Health says “as cases drop, some serious illnesses are still possible and it's a reminder that vaccines can still.”

The number of fully vaccinated Woodbury County residents did increase by 500 in the last week for a rate of 50.6%. Nine-hundred people received a booster shot. More than 57% of Iowans are fully vaccinated.

Active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in South Dakota remain high.

All counties report high viral activity. In January the state confirmed 69 deaths for a total of 2,665 for South Dakota.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts announced a program to help homeowners in Nebraska. The assistance fund created with federal Pandemic relief money will help those who faced financial hardship and meet income guidelines.

Households could receive grants up to $30,000.

Nebraska school leaders are asking state lawmakers to create a student-loan forgiveness program to help nudge more people into the profession, which has suffered major losses during the pandemic. Members of the Legislature’s Education Committee reviewed multiple bills that would forgive up to $30,000 in student loans for teachers who agree to work in a Nebraska school. Like many states, Nebraska saw many experienced teachers retire early during the pandemic amid the stress of remote learning and possible in-class exposure to the coronavirus. Supporters say such measures would encourage education students to stay in Nebraska after finishing college and help offset low starting salaries for new teachers.

Governor Kim Reynolds is calling on Republican lawmakers to pass her plan for corporate tax cuts.

Reynolds’ plan would gradually cut the top corporate tax rates depending on how much corporate tax revenue the state receives each year. The top 9-point-8 percent rate would keep shrinking until it hits 5-point-5 percent, in line with Iowa’s lowest rate.

House and Senate Republican leaders have said they don’t want to cut corporate tax rates without also phasing out business tax credits.

Reynolds says that’s part of the discussion now, but her office is planning to evaluate tax credits after this legislative session. She says corporate tax cuts will make the state more competitive.

“I’m trying to get to five-five flat. There are 11 states today—today—that have a corporate tax rate under 5 percent.”

Her plan for corporate tax cuts is estimated to cost the state a total of 300-million dollars over the next five years. Democratic leaders say that money should be used to boost school funding.

An Iowa Senate subcommittee is advancing a two-and-a-quarter percent increase in state aid for schools.

That would provide around $150 dollars in new public-school funding, but is slightly less than the two-and-a-half percent increase Governor Kim Reynolds has proposed.

Public school advocates say the Republican proposals are too low to cover the cost of inflation and to keep wages competitive for teachers and other school workers.

The proposal advanced to the Senate Education Committee. State law requires the legislature to pass school funding within the first 30 days of the session.

Democrats in the legislature are criticizing Republicans for taking a conservative approach on school aid while also proposing tax cuts. They’re calling for a one-year, 5 percent increase in state aid for schools.

Advocates for older Iowans are calling on lawmakers to strengthen elder abuse laws as reports of abuse have increased during the pandemic.

According to the state Department of Human Services, dependent adult abuse reports increased 37 percent from the first half of 2020 to the second half of 2021 with 58 hundred cases.

Around half these reports are rejected.

Anthony Carroll is with AARP Iowa. He says that’s because of a gap in current state law.

The alleged victim is a dependent adult, a narrow definition that starts with someone aged 18 and plus. And the second part the alleged perpetrator has to be the narrow legal definition of a caretaker.”

DHS does not keep specific data on reports of elder abuse.

A bill that passed the Senate last session would set certain penalties and mandatory minimums for the abuse of a person age 60 or older.

A Republican-controlled South Dakota House committee has declined to consider a bill from Gov. Kristi Noem aimed at banning nearly all abortions. It deals a major blow to a top item on the governor’s agenda. The Republican governor loudly trumpeted her proposal this year. It would have mimicked the private enforcement of a Texas law and prohibited abortions once medical professionals can detect fetal cardiac activity. But it quickly met resistance when lawmakers on the House State Affairs committee declined to give it a hearing. Republican lawmakers moved on the argument that Noem’s proposal could jeopardize other legal battles between the state and Planned Parenthood.

The South Dakota House has passed two bills aimed at putting restrictions on transgender students. The bills passed Tuesday seek to restrict which bathrooms they can use and which sports teams trans girls and women, including college athletes, can join. A proposal from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to ban transgender women and girls from playing in school sports leagues that match their gender identity cleared a final hurdle in the Legislature with its passage in the state House. Meanwhile, a proposal to ban transgender students from using school restrooms that match their gender identity is headed to the state Senate.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is adding the force of her presence to a legislative committee weighing her proposal to send $30 million to expand a Dakota State University cybersecurity program. The Republican governor made a rare appearance in a legislative committee to pitch lawmakers directly on the proposal. It would include the construction of a cybersecurity lab in Sioux Falls, double the enrollment size of the program and expand a cybersecurity skills training program for high school students.

RAGBRAI officials announced Sergeant Bluff will kick off the 49th annual ride across Iowa. Local officials hope the event will bring tourists to stay and shop in Siouxland.

Kristi Franz is the executive director of the Sioux City Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau. Franz says RAGBRAI spectators and participants could have a direct economic impact of $3 to $5 million on the tri-state region.

“So those people are going to stay in hotels the night before the kickoff, they might stay in campsites, which is good for our campgrounds, and then they are going to eat in our restaurants, and shop in our retail establishments. And it just brings a lot of direct and indirect impact into the Siouxland area.”

The 2022 Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa takes place from July 23 to 30. RAGBRAI will start in Sergeant Bluff and end in Lansing.

Riders will overnight in Ida Grove, Pocahontas, Emmetsburg, Mason City, Charles City, and West Union.

An unfinished stretch of bicycle trail that would connect Omaha and Lincoln could get a financial boost from the state under proposal presented to Nebraska lawmakers. Trail advocates are asking members of the Appropriations Committee to approve state funding to bridge the 8-mile gap between the existing MoPac trails in rural Cass County. They’re also seeking financial assistance for work on the Cowboy Trail, a scenic pathway through northern Nebraska that’s used by bikers, hikers and horse riders. The projects are part of the larger Great American Rail-Trail initiative, an effort to connect existing trails into one nation-spanning, 3,700-mile route from Washington state to Washington, D.C.

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