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NEWS 1.9.23: Iowa Legislature Opens, Iowa Democrats Make Another Push for Caucuses, VIBE Academy Ending? and More

The Iowa Legislature got back to work today, with Republicans holding even larger majorities in both chambers. The party's goals include approving more tax cuts, further easing gun restrictions, and spending public money to fund private schools.

Republicans have controlled both legislative branches since the 2017 session and have worked with GOP governors to pass numerous conservative bills on everything from education to abortion rights.

House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst said she doubts Reynolds has the votes in the House to get school vouchers passed in 2023.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds will give her Condition of the State speech tomorrow night. You can hear it live at 6 p.m. on Siouxland Public Media.

The Iowa Democratic Party is trying again to get its national party to keep the Iowa caucuses first-in-the-nation.

The rulemaking panel on the Democratic National Committee voted last month to grant conditional waivers to five states to hold their presidential contests ahead of the rest of the country. Iowa was not included on that list. Democratic parties in South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia and Michigan were supposed to submit a letter to the committee by January fifth saying they had buy-in from state leaders to change the dates of their primaries. Georgia and New Hampshire could not meet requirements and asked for a deadline extension. Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn sent a letter to the D-N-C asking them to look at other options. Wilburn says the state party is willing and able to adapt its caucuses to the committee's preferences rather than relying on state legislators to make changes. The I-D-P requests consideration for a waiver ahead of the full D-N-C’s meeting next month when they’re set to vote on the early calendar.

Nebraska's outgoing U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse left office Sunday to become the University of Florida's new president and said he knows he may be remembered more for his criticisms of former President Donald Trump than for the policies he supported. Sasse was a prominent Trump critic who joined with a handful of other Republicans to vote to convict the former president at his second impeachment trial. Those criticisms led to Sasse being sharply criticized by his own political party in Nebraska even though he voted with Trump 85% of the time. Sasse acknowledged in an interview with the Omaha World-Herald that his complicated relationship with Trump will shape his legacy.

While the number of COVID-19 cases in Nebraska remains low, health officials have detected the state's first cases of a coronavirus subvariant that is driving an increase in cases and hospitalizations in many Eastern states. Here’s the story from the Omaha World-Herald: https://omaha.com/news/local/nebraskas-covid-cases-remain-low-variant-driving-increases-elsewhere-has-arrived/article_517bf46c-9034-11ed-a91e-4f86022c855e.html

In Nebraska, COVID case numbers dropped last week. The state recorded about 1,400 new cases last week, down 18% from the week before, according to figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nebraska’s case rate is currently in the bottom fourth among the states and nearly half the national rate. Hospitalizations for COVID also dipped again last week.

Sioux City Schools are set to do away with its online schooling option known as "VIBE Academy." Here’s the story from Siouxland News CBS Fox 44.

Citing declining enrollment among K through 8th grade in the online learning option, the school board is being asked to approve folding the high school online learning option into the Sioux City Career Academy for the next school year. Siouxland News CBS Fox 44 reports the school board will see that proposal at its Monday night meeting.

After a year of drought led to below-normal runoff totals into the Missouri River in 2022, river managers expect more of the same in 2023.

Despite the low runoff totals and ongoing water conservation measures, enough water remains in the river for water supply needs, the corps said.

Releases from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota, were raised to 14,000 cubic feet per second in mid-December to mitigate some of the effects of frigid temperatures and will be reduced this week.

A longstanding battle between farmers and John Deere is being resolved.

On Sunday, the American Farm Bureau and John Deere announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which permits farmers to choose where their equipment is repaired — or to repair it themselves. Previously, only authorized dealers could repair Deere equipment.

Multiple class-action complaints were filed against Deere, alleging the company has monopolized the repair-service market with onboard computers called engine control units, of which the software and tools necessary to fix are inaccessible to farmers and non-Deere repair shops.

News release from Iowa Workforce Development:

Governor Reynolds Awards Second Round of Child Care Business Incentive Grants 

Grants will support child care slots and give employers greater flexibility to help their employees

DES MOINES, IOWA – Governor Kim Reynolds today announced a second round of grant awards targeted at supporting child care slots through meaningful business incentives. A total of $443,234 will be awarded through Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) and the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support five projects involving 11 participating businesses that will help create 77 new child care slots. The grant will help increase flexibility in how child care slots can be supported or expanded through employer-sponsored child care. Employers will partner with local and regional child care centers to increase new available slots for their employees (not at the expense of existing or available slots in the local area). Today’s awarded projects:

  • Versova Management, Sioux Center (15 new slots)
  • HNI Corporation, Muscatine (8 new slots)
  • MercyOne Medical Center, Waterloo (36 new slots)
  • Siouxland DQ, Sergeant Bluff (10 new slots)
  • Mason City Chamber Foundation, Mason City (8 new slots)

Visit this link for more information, including background on the grant and a map of awardees. “Today’s awards build on the substantial investments we’ve made in child care funding over the past two years. Iowa is creating long term solutions by providing another unique way to incentivize business to provide much-needed child care for their employees,” said Governor Reynolds. “I am proud to support the employers and local providers who have stepped forward to solve these challenges firsthand.” Grant funding provided to awarded employers will be used to fund part of the cost of child care for employees. All projects were also required to provide a plan for sustainability of the outcome beyond the grant funding. “Incentivizing employers to be partners in child care solutions creates new pathways for Iowa’s labor force. Today’s awards represent an innovative solution, and I look forward to seeing this approach grow to ultimately help workers support their families along with successful careers,” said Beth Townsend, Director of Iowa Workforce Development. “The last round of funding in September created almost 1,800 new child care slots in 23 different communities across Iowa,” said Iowa Department of Health and Human Services Director Kelly Garcia. “The payback of these investments in Iowa’s child care system are many, but most important are long term benefits to Iowa’s children who are more prepared to enter the education system.” This grant program advances one of the top recommendations of the Child Care Task Force - to incentivize additional business engagement in child care. Including today’s announcement, over the last two years the state of Iowa has awarded over 190 projects with approximately $75 million in grant funding to help create over 10,700 new child care slots.