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NEWS 7.28.22: DNR Reopens Park and Beach, Tuition Hike, New Hy-Vee Leader, RAGBRAI Update, and More

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The eastern Iowa state park where police say a man killed three people and himself reopened this morning for day use. The Iowa DNR closed the park since Friday when a gunman shot and killed a Cedar Falls couple and their young daughter inside their tent. Police later found a 23-year- La Vista, Nebraska man dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The couple's 9-year-old son wasn't physically injured. Police say they have no motive for the killings.

The beach at a southwest Iowa lake also reopened on Thursday after the confirmation of an amoeba that killed a Missouri resident who recently swam there. It was the first case in the state.

Warning signs were posted at Lake of Three Fires. Health officials say it’s rare for Naegleria fowleri to navigate through someone’s nose to their brain, but such an infection is usually fatal. They recommend Iowans assume the parasite is present in warm, freshwater lakes and streams. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reports state officials do not plan to test public waters where people swim. Lake of the Three Fires was closed for three weeks.

* For more on the story click here: https://iowacapitaldispatch.com/briefs/tests-identify-brain-eating-amoeba-at-iowa-lake/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=8ca72c0d-468d-445d-96fd-06de788177b2

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former MercyOne employee in Sioux City who said she was fired in retaliation for filing an ethics complaint against a heart surgeon.

The Sioux City Journal reports a U.S. District Judge granted the hospital's motion to dismiss, ruling the lawsuit did not provide enough factual evidence to show the hospital’s only basis for firing her was retaliation under provisions of the federal False Claims Act. The judge stated she may be better off filing her lawsuit in state court.

A federal appeals court has dismissed an appeal from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem in her legal fight to hold a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore to celebrate Independence Day last year. She sued in an attempt to overturn the National Park Service’s denial of the state’s application to hold a fireworks display to celebrate the 2021 holiday. The Eighth Circuit of Appeals found that South Dakota’s objections to the Park Service’s decision were moot because it was in the past. The court also found the federal government was within its rights to deny the state from shooting off fireworks on federal land.

Tribes in South Dakota are working with a rural Massachusetts museum to return hundreds of items believed to have been taken from ancestors massacred at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890. It’s a recent example of efforts to repatriate human remains and other items to tribes nationwide. A federal database shows some 870,000 items that should be returned to tribes by law are still in the possession of colleges, museums, and other institutions across the country. The holdings include nearly 110,000 human remains. The University of California, Berkeley tops the list, followed closely by the Ohio History Connection.

Going to college will cost more at Iowa public universities starting next year after the Iowa Board of Regents unanimously approved a tuition hike Wednesday.

The board voted in favor of increasing tuition by 4.25%.

One of the nation’s biggest lottery prizes has grown a little bigger as the Mega Millions jackpot increased to an estimated $1.1 billion. The increase on Thursday ahead of the next drawing on Friday night makes the jackpot the third largest, behind $1.5 billion in prizes won in 2018 and 2016. Before rushing out to spend $2 on a ticket, keep in mind that the odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are a staggering 1 in 302.5 million. The $1.1 billion prize is for players who get their winnings through an annuity, paid annually over 29 years. Nearly all winners take the cash option, which for Friday’s drawing is an estimated $648.2 million.

Nearly 20,000 riders completed “The Ride of the Century” on Wednesday as the overnight stop for the 49th edition of the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa was in Mason City.

Riders trekked 105 miles from Emmetsburg on Wednesday, the first 100-mile leg of RAGBRAI since 1985, according to Radio Iowa.

Riders have a shorter ride today, only 48 miles from Mason City to Charles City. From there, RAGBRAI stops in West Union on Friday night and wraps up in Lansing on Saturday.

The leader of Iowa’s biggest employer will be stepping down this fall.

Randy Edeker has been the chief executive officer of Hy-Vee since 2012. He has chosen Aaron Wiese to take over as CEO on October 1.

According to a news release from the company, Wiese will focus on day-to-day operations and report to Edeker, who’ll remain chairman of Hy-Vee’s board of directors.

Edeker has worked at the company for 40 years. He started as a part-time employee at the Hy-Vee store in Chariton.

News release from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller:

Lawsuit accuses cigarette makers of false claims

DES MOINES – Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller accuses Philip Morris, USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., and 16 other tobacco companies of defrauding Iowa of more than $133 million, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The lawsuit stems from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, which requires tobacco manufacturers to pay billions annually to participating states in exchange for the states agreeing not to sue for health-related damages to citizens. The motion, filed in Polk County District Court, alleges that the companies have withheld a portion of their annual payments to Iowa in bad faith and “through a scheme of false claims and feigned ignorance.”

The tobacco companies demand that Iowa must go to arbitration to recover each year’s withheld payment. It has taken years to litigate each dispute, creating a long backlog and a growing amount of withheld payments. Iowa has prevailed in every dispute, most recently in September 2021, but the companies still refused to pay the amount they withheld from Iowa.

“We have fought, and won, these legal battles for years, and there is no end to these disputes in sight,” Miller said. “We now must escalate the matter and force the tobacco companies to pay what they owe the state of Iowa.”

The lawsuit seeks to recover actual and punitive damages, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs. Under Iowa’s False Claims Act, the state seeks three times the amount of actual damages.

MSA brings in millions each year

In the last 24 years, Iowa has received $1.41 billion in payments under the Master Settlement Agreement. The agreement obligates each participating company to make a payment each year, subject to certain adjustments. Under Iowa law, tobacco companies selling in Iowa either must join the MSA or deposit a certain dollar amount per unit sold in an escrow account.

The continuing dispute is over the Non-Participating Manufacturer Adjustment, which allows tobacco companies participating in the Master Settlement Agreement to reduce their annual payments under certain circumstances. Those circumstances include having experienced a loss of market share to non-participating competitors, and showing that a state failed to “diligently enforce” state laws against tobacco companies that did not sign the MSA.

The defendants have repeatedly, and without evidence, alleged that Iowa has not diligently enforced its law. In September 2021, an arbitration panel ruled unanimously that Iowa had indeed “diligently enforced” its state laws.

Iowa has prevailed in arbitration over the withheld amounts for 2003 and 2004, but the victories took years. The 2003 dispute was arbitrated for seven years, and Iowa finally received the withheld portion that payment in 2014. The 2004 dispute was resolved in September 2021 but Iowa has not received the payment of approximately $7 million.

Each time, the arbitration cost the state approximately $3-4 million. The state is currently in arbitration for years 2005-2007.

'Pay us what they owe us'

“Iowa and other states who signed on the MSA have lived up to their end of the bargain. It’s time tobacco companies do the same,” Miller said. “They should pay us what they owe us.”

The state of Montana filed a similar lawsuit against the tobacco companies in 2020 and reached a $100 million settlement later that year. The former Montana attorney general, Tim Fox, is assisting with Iowa’s lawsuit. In January, the Executive Council of Iowa approved the hiring of outside law firms to assist in the litigation against the tobacco companies.

The defendants in the lawsuit are:

Philip Morris USA; R.J. Reynolds; Commonwealth Brands, Inc.; Farmer’s Tobacco Company of Cynthiana, Inc.; ITG Brands, LLC; Japan Tobacco International USA, Inc.; King Maker Marketing, Inc.; Kretek International, Inc.; Liggett Group, LLC.; Peter Stokkebye Tobaksfabrik A/S; Premier Manufacturing Incorporated; Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, Inc.; Scandinavian Tobacco Group Lane Ltd; Sherman 1400 Broadway N.Y.C., Inc.; Tabacalera del Este, S.A. (“TABESA”); Vector Tobacco Inc.; the Von Eicken Group; and Wind River Tobacco Company, LLC.

The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement was a significant public health achievement: It created restrictions on the advertising, marketing and promotion of cigarettes, including a ban on targeting children through advertising. It also includes prohibitions on outdoor advertising of cigarettes and the advertising of cigarettes in public transit facilities, as well as the use of cigarette brand names on merchandise, and a host of other restrictions.

A recording of a press conference detailing today's action can be found on the Iowa Attorney General's Office website.

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