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NEWS 11.2.22: Western Iowa Community Briefly Evacuated Due to Wildfire, Election Updates, USDA Meat Processing Awards, and More

National Weather Service/Sioux Falls

Windy and dry conditions helped fuel a wildfire in western Iowa today. Firefighters battled the blaze near the Crawford County community of Ricketts, which was briefly evacuated. Crawford County Sheriff Jim Steinkuehler tells Siouxland Public Media between 100 to 200 acres were impacted, and crews were able to contain in a couple of hours (by 2 p.m.). A few hot spots remain.

The National Weather Service issued a special weather statement. It says very high to near critical fire danger is expected this afternoon and evening due to above-average to near-record temperatures, low humidity, and strong southerly winds.

Authorities recovered a body from the Missouri River yesterday afternoon. Sioux City Police say 26-year-old Kyle Bottorff had disappeared on September 28th.

Iowa Republicans are pushing for a “red wave." They're hoping to maintain their control of the governor’s office, the legislature and most of Iowa’s congressional seats. And they're hoping to add to it by taking statewide seats like attorney general and state treasurer from longtime Democratic incumbents. Gov. Kim Reynolds has held a strong lead in polls and in fundraising over her Democratic challenger. But recent polls have given Democrats hope that Mike Franken could unseat longtime Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. Voters also will be asked to decide on a gun rights constitutional amendment.

Republican Governor Kim Reynolds is making her final pitch to Iowa voters with less than a week left until Election Day. She will be back in Sioux City tomorrow with former President Donald Trump.

Reynolds highlighted familiar themes from her campaign, including her opposition to President Joe Biden in a campaign stop in Williamsburg last night. And her work to cut taxes and ban COVID-related mandates in schools.

She also echoed a line from a recent TV ad. Reynolds says Democrats are, quote, “fundamentally trying to change who we are as a country.”

“Here in Iowa, we know right from wrong, we know boys from girls, we know liberty from tyranny, we love our country, we love our military, and we love our men and women who serve in law enforcement. We back the blue.”

Reynolds was highlighting her ban on transgender women and girls competing in women’s and girls’ sports.

Early voting is underway, and Election Day is November 8th.

Republican Governor Kim Reynolds is on a bus tour around the state, making her final case to Iowa voters with less than a week left until Election Day.

Last night in Williamsburg, Reynolds still didn’t mention her Democratic opponent Deidre DeJear. Reynolds only talks about President Joe Biden and his administration.

“Whatever it takes, whatever it costs, they are fundamentally trying to change who we are as a country. And in seven days, what are we gonna do? We’re gonna take our country back.”

Reynolds presents Iowa as an alternative. She touted her work on cutting taxes, banning transgender girls from girls’ sports, and banning COVID vaccine mandates in schools.

Early voting is underway, and Election Day is November 8th.

Republicans have a firm hold on Nebraska’s state government, but the state’s Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District has morphed into a swing district. It’s currently held by Republican Rep. Don Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general seeking his fourth term. Democratic state lawmaker Tony Vargas has touted his experience as a former teacher and member of the Omaha Public Schools Board in his bid to beat Bacon. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named the race one of its top competitive House districts that are either open or held by Republicans.

A federal appeals court has upheld a federal judge’s decision to block parts of a South Dakota law that would have required ballot petition workers to publicly disclose their personal information. The Republican-controlled Legislature in 2020 passed a law that would have required paid ballot measure circulators to list their personal information in a directory. The law was just one attempt by lawmakers in recent years to add barriers to ballot measures.

Circuit Judge Steven Grasz wrote in an opinion for a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that being forced to disclose the information would be “chilling in today’s world” and the law would violate the First Amendment.

The Agriculture Department announced more than $223 million in grants and loans Wednesday to help small and mid-sized meat processing plants expand as part of a larger $1 billion effort to help boost competition in the highly concentrated industry. The effort is expected to increase cattle and pig slaughter capacity by more than 500,000 head a year and help poultry plants process nearly 34 million more birds while adding more than 1,100 jobs mostly in rural areas where the plants are located. The Biden administration wants to add meat processing capacity to give farmers and ranchers more options of where to sell their animals while hopefully reducing prices for consumers by increasing competition because the biggest companies now have so much power over pricing.

The Region XII Council of Governments, based in Carroll, is getting $15 million from the USDA to support new or expanding meat processing facilities. One Siouxland business is getting a grant of more than a half-million dollars. The Cherokee Locker plans to relocate and expand. The new owners of a Charles City chicken processing plant will receive about $46 million and Upper Iowa Beef in Lime Springs in northeast Iowa is getting a grant of $9 million.
Authorities recovered a body from the Missouri River yesterday afternoon. Sioux City Police say 26-year-old Kyle Bottorff had disappeared on September 28th.

Attorneys for one of the Fairfield teenagers accused of killing high school Spanish teacher Nohema Graber are challenging evidence gathered in the murder investigation.

Willard Chaiden Miller and Jeremy Goodale were both 16-years-old when Graber was killed one year ago. Both are charged as adults in her death.

Defense lawyers say police gave Miller’s mother false information to convince her to sign a permission form approving an interrogation.

Annalisa Clifford Gold told attorney Nathan Olson she was told to sign the form so officers could talk to a roomful of Graber’s students. Instead, Miller was interviewed alone.

“Before you signed that form, were you told that Chaiden was a suspect in any crime? No. Before you signed that form, were you even told that there had been a homicide? No.”

State attorneys argue that in a murder investigation, permission forms meant to protect juvenile defendants do not apply. They say Miller understood his Miranda rights before his questioning.

No immediate decision was made on the evidence. Miller is set to stand trial in March in Council Bluffs.

Officials report the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and positive tests has dropped slightly in the past seven days.

The feds report as of Wednesday, 140 Iowans hospitalized have tested positive for the virus. That’s down from 153 last week.

That’s as state health officials say more than 23 hundred positive tests have been reported in the past week. That marks little change from last week’s count.

Officials also added 30 Iowans to the state’s COVID death count. More than 10 thousand Iowans have died from the virus in the past two and a half years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 64 percent of all Iowans have completed their primary COVID vaccine series. But less than 10 percent have received the most recent bivalent booster.

October wrapped up as one of Iowa’s 20 driest Octobers in 150 years of record keeping.

State climatologist Justin Glisan tells Radio Iowa the northwest and central regions of the state were as much as two-and-a-half inches below normal for rainfall for the month as we head into the driest part of the year.

Glisan says it appears the weather pattern known as La Nina will continue into the winter ahead for a third straight year, which is unusual. So far, it’s unclear on what level of precipitation might fall in Iowa, but there is a slightly elevated signal for colder-than-average temperatures in December, January, and February.

La Nina happens when cold sea surface temperatures in the Pacific impact where the storm track sets up across the country.

News release from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds:

Gov. Reynolds appeals court decision on school masking

DES MOINES – Gov. Kim Reynolds today announced she has appealed a district court ruling issued yesterday that allows school districts to impose universal mask mandates, despite a state law passed and signed into law in May 2021.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated an injunction that had halted the state law from going into effect, noting that COVID-19 conditions in the classroom have changed significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. But because the lawsuit was not dismissed entirely, the case returned to the district court for further litigation.

“As I’ve said all along, whether a child wears a mask to school is up to the parents, not the government,” said Gov. Reynolds. “I will appeal this ruling so that Iowa families have the right to decide what’s best for their children.”

DES MOINES — Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and a bipartisan group of attorneys general have reached a settlement in principle with CVS and Walgreens, which would provide $10.7 billion to states and local governments nationally to address the opioid crisis. 

The retail pharmacy chains told investors Wednesday about the agreements to settle the lawsuits. CVS expects to provide $5 billion in payments over 10 years, while Walgreens would make $5.7 billion in payments over 15 years. Critical details of the settlements remain the subject of continuing negotiations.  

“Addressing the opioid epidemic has been a priority of my office for many years,” Miller said. “We have worked to address this crisis by holding accountable those who exacerbated the use of opioids, including retail pharmacies.”  

CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens are the two largest pharmacy chains in the U.S. The AGs had accused the companies of ignoring red flags over opioid prescriptions and failing to detect and prevent the abuse and diversion of the drugs.  

“While significant work remains, a broad coalition of states is making progress in our negotiations with the pharmacies,” Miller said. “We are hopeful that we will be able to reach a final agreement on all terms and provide meaningful resources to those suffering from Opioid Use Disorder.”  

The agreements in principle are the first between the AG’s office and pharmacy chains. Miller previously announced several agreements with opioid manufacturers: 

Find Help

If you or a loved one suffers from Opioid Use Disorder, go to IowaOpioidHelp.comto find treatment centers and other resources across the state. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office launched the site in September to provide Iowans with a path to recovery. 

“Most people do not realize that addiction to opioids is treatable and that Iowans suffering from Opioid Use Disorder can successfully regain control of their lives,” AG Miller said.  “There is help and hope available right now.”   

For more information on opioid settlements, visit our Opioid Settlement Information page.