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NEWS 2.8.22

The pressure is easing on Nebraska hospitals as the surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious omicron variant continues to subside, but hospitals remain quite busy.

Nebraska hospital officials said Monday that they are cautiously optimistic that virus hospitalizations will continue to decline but they worry about the possibility of another surge. Nebraska Hospital Association President Jeremy Nordquist said he's hopeful hospitals are starting to see the end of the omicron surge. The state said 627 people were hospitalized with the virus in Nebraska Sunday. That number has steadily declined since peaking at 767 on Jan. 28 after a monthlong surge from the late December low of 445.

A proposal from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to allow employees to gain exemptions from their employer’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates has gained the support of Republicans on a Senate committee. The bill would allow employees to receive an exemption to an employer’s vaccine requirement by citing either a medical exemption, religious grounds or a test showing antibodies against COVID-19 in the last six months. An aide to the Republican governor said the bill sought a middle ground between doctors urging vaccines and groups opposed to mandates altogether. But South Dakota’s rate of 59% of people fully vaccinated lags behind the nationwide rate of 64%.

A proposal to allow voters to decide whether to expand online sports betting across South Dakota has narrowly passed the state Senate. The proposal would put it to voters to amend the state constitution. It passed by a single vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. To get onto November ballots, the proposal still needs approval in the House. It faces opposition from Gov. Kristi Noem. Lawmakers’ push to expand sports betting comes two years after a constitutional amendment passed with 58% of the vote and allowed sports wagers to be placed in Deadwood.

An Iowa House subcommittee has advanced a bill that would create a quicker path for college graduates to get a teaching license for grades six through twelve.

The bill would grant an alternative teaching license to someone with a college degree who has at least three years of work experience.

Applicants would have to complete at least 15 hours of additional coursework, depending on their degree and experience. This includes teacher training. Then they would undergo a year of supervised teaching.

The Iowa Association of School Boards believes it is the right approach to get more teachers in the classroom to address the statewide shortage.

The bill now heads to the House Education Committee.

A proposal to cap Nebraska school property tax growth stalled in the Legislature amid objections from some lawmakers that it would tie the hands of local districts. Lawmakers fell five votes short of the 33 they needed to overcome a filibuster and bring the measure to a first-round vote. The 28-21 vote effectively sidelines the measure for the rest of the year. The proposal by state Sen. Tom Briese, an Albion farmer, would have allowed school districts to increase property tax collections by either 2.5% or the inflation rate, whichever is greater. The bill included exceptions for districts with large enrollment increases and other special circumstances.

An Iowa woman accused of allowing her infant daughter to be abused by the baby's father has been sentenced to probation. The Sioux City Journal reports that 22-year-old Brittanee Baker, of Sheldon, pleaded guilty last week to one count of felony child endangerment. She received a five-year suspended prison sentence and two years' probation. Police say Baker told officials that her 5-month-old daughter had been hurt in 2020 by a lamp knocked over by cats in her home. But police determined that the baby's father, 21-year-old Lawrence Ruotolo Jr., injured the baby when she wouldn't stop crying, then suffocated the infant the next day. Ruotolo was sentenced in September to five years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of child endangerment.

The chairman of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee says he wants to launch an investigation of a state court judge who last year was accused of trying to rig a judicial nomination to get a favored candidate appointed to the bench. If Republican Rep. Steven Holt's investigation is approved, as expected, it apparently would be the first of its type in decades. Holt said Tuesday that he'll ask the full House to pass a resolution granting his committee powers to investigate last year's unusual judicial appointment process. Judge Kurt Stoebe, then chairman of a northern Iowa judicial nominating commission, was accused of making inappropriate and unprofessional comments about certain nominees and falsely stating that a nominee had withdrawn from consideration.

The Sioux City Council did approve a plan to repair the bandshell at Grandview Park Bandshell. Yesterday afternoon, the council approved giving an Omaha company more than $43,000 for concrete work, tuckpointing, and window replacement. The bandshell built in the 1930s is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The structure will also get a new paint job as well.

Higher beef prices helped boost profits for Tyson Foods. On Monday, shares climbed to a record high after the company posted profits that nearly doubled in the first quarter.

The Sioux City Journal reports despite an increase in labor, transportation, feed, and other costs, Tyson said strong consumer demand for its products allowed the company to raise prices to offset the inflationary impacts on its business.

Tyson based in Springdale, Arkansas has more than 4,500 workers at a beef plant in Dakota City and Dakota Dunes is the headquarters for its beef and pork division.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources plans to evict more than two dozen park rangers and other state parks workers from government-owned houses, citing the estimated $1 million expense of needed renovations and maintenance of the homes. The Gazette reports the agency has determined that of the 26 houses on state park grounds, it would cost $341,000 to get them up to code and another $556,000 for maintenance such as replacing windows, roofs and central air and heating systems. It would need another $100,000 per year for ongoing maintenance. But critics of the plan say moving rangers out the parks, where they live rent-free, would mean the public would have to wait longer for help in an emergency.

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