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Newscast 12.13.2023: Public comment sought on Iowa abortion law; Latest progress on Woodbury County Jail status; enrollment up at Iowa community colleges

The Iowa Legislature
The Iowa Legislature

State officials are accepting public comment on proposed rules for implementing Iowa’s fetal heartbeat abortion ban, so people are encouraged to weigh in.

Iowa’s law that bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy is held up in court and can’t be enforced for now. But state officials are still carrying out the task of detailing specifically how doctors must follow the law if it takes effect, so that’s why the public comment period started on Wednesday.

Iowans can submit comments on the proposed rules at rules-dot-iowa-dot-gov.

If a patient seeks an abortion under the exceptions for rape or incest, the rules would require doctors to get details about those incidents and log that information in the patient’s medical record.

The rules would also require a doctor to certify that a fetal abnormality is incompatible with life in order to provide an abortion under that exception.

Doctors who violate the rules could be subject to licensure discipline.

In other news, construction crews are making some progress on the much-delayed Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center, a few county supervisor board members shared during their weekly meeting Tuesday.

Some key building elements were overlooked and not included in original plans. Therefore, those needed to be added late in the construction timeline, so the new jail building didn’t open in September, and the projected date is now April 2024.

Law Enforcement Center Authority members presented documents showing 34 aspects of the facility’s construction are complete. Eight other parts of the construction are more than 90 percent complete, while eight other building portions are less than 90 percent complete.

County supervisors Mark Nelson and Keith Radig toured the building last week, and Radig said the computer and security systems are close to completion.

Both said they’re impressed by new security features that are a step up from the current building, a downtown Sioux City facility that dates to 1987. The new facility has 448 jail cells, courtrooms and offices.

Woodbury County voters in March 2020 passed a bond issue initiative to build a jail on the northeast side of Sioux City with an estimated price tag of $54 million. But cost overruns associated with supply chain difficulties and national inflation soon thereafter boosted the cost to $69 million.

Additionally, as college students are about to wrap up their fall semesters in Iowa, including at the three state universities, those at community colleges are also nearing the end of the semester, which marked a year with increased enrollment.

Iowa Department of Education data shows overall growth in fall enrollment trends at Iowa’s 15 community colleges, the agency said in a release.

Data for 2023 indicates total fall enrollment at Iowa community colleges increased by 3,111 students from last year. This represents a 3.8 percent climb in the total number of students enrolled this fall, with 85,362 compared to 82,251 in 2022.

This marks the second consecutive year with a continuous increase in community college enrollment. Part-time enrollment also reached an all-time high this fall with part-time students representing 66.7 percent of total enrollment.

Iowa Department of Education official Amy Gieseke said the community college system has not fully returned to 2019 pre-pandemic enrollment levels, but she is gratified to see the rebound that is underway.

Gieseke the trend shows community colleges are continuing to reach students to provide them with high-quality education and training as successful preparation for their careers.

Growth within total enrollment and student credit hours can be attributed to postsecondary initiatives offered within Iowa, particularly with joint enrollment opportunities for high school students.

This fall, 40,037 high school students participated in joint enrollment, which represents a 7.9 increase from 2022.