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Newscast 7.1.2024: FEMA opening 2 Iowa recovery centers; South Dakota grocery tax measure on November ballot; Iowa new restrictive abortion law taking effect in July

After extensive Little Sioux River flooding through Spencer, Iowa, there were many places where people put out damaged home items for pickup by crews. This image is from June 30, 2024, in downtown Spencer, one week after flooding.
Bret Hayworth, Siouxland Public Media News
After extensive Little Sioux River flooding through Spencer, Iowa, there were many places where people put out damaged home items for pickup by crews. This image is from June 30, 2024, in downtown Spencer, one week after flooding.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is opening two Disaster Recovery Centers in Northwest Iowa, to help people bouncing back after severe flooding in late June.

The first one will open Tuesday afternoon in Spencer, Iowa, in order to provide one-on-one assistance for people affected by the recent flooding and storms, according to a FEMA press release.

The second Disaster Recovery Center will open on Wednesday, July 3, in Rock Valley in Sioux County.

Recovery specialists from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration will provide information on available services, explain disaster assistance programs and help people complete or check the status of applications for federal assistance. Both recovery centers will be open on the 4th of July holiday, and more locations will open soon in northwest Iowa.

FEMA can provide money to eligible homeowners and renters for help with serious needs, paying for a temporary place to live, home repairs and other needs not covered by insurance.

In related news, Spencer city officials are telling to be mindful of the weather, as more rain is expected into late Monday evening.

The National Weather Service is predicting that one to two inches of rain could fall across the region, with some areas maybe getting even more than that. More rain could worsen flooding, since the ground around lakes and rivers is highly saturated, so any new rain could result in rapid rises on waterways near Spencer. The Little Sioux River through Spencer has been above flood stage since June 21.

Regarding flooding in the Riverside area of Sioux City, the Red Cross continues to operate a temporary shelter at Sacred Heart Church In Sioux City for residents displaced by the flooding. And the Community Action Agency of Siouxland has clothing vouchers, an emergency food pantry, and personal hygiene items for anyone affected by the flood.

Additionally, Sioux City residents who have experienced water damage, including in basements outside voluntary evacuation areas, are still urged to report it to the Iowa State Office of Emergency Services. Having an accurate count of damages will help ensure that appropriate resources are allocated to the area, a city release said.

In other news, Iowa’s abortion providers say when the state’s so-called “fetal heartbeat” law goes into effect, it will eliminate the majority of abortions currently performed in the state.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday to lift a temporary injunction issued by a lower court on an Iowa law that bans abortion as soon as there’s cardiac activity. That can be as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

Ruth Richardson is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States. She says Planned Parenthood is planning to increase abortion services in neighboring states.

"Our expansions to Omaha and Mankato (Minnesota) health centers will help meet the needs of Iowans who are now facing, facing that harsh reality that they must travel hundreds of miles for care," Richardson said.

Legal experts say it will be around three weeks before the law goes into effect. Until then, abortion will remain legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Similarly, the state of South Dakota Office of Emergency Management wants people and businesses to report any flood damage they’ve experienced by July 12. The office will use the data to seek a Presidential Disaster Declaration for individual assistance

Additionally, a top South Dakota statehouse Republican is raising concern about a proposed November ballot question to remove the state sales tax on food.

South Dakota is one of 13 states that tax foods that people buy at the store.

Initiated Measure 28 aims to change that. It says the state may not tax the sale of anything sold for human consumption, except alcoholic beverages and prepared food.

If approved, one lawmaker worries it will also remove the state sales tax on tobacco.

Republican Rep. Will Mortenson is the House Majority Leader. He worries that "anything sold for human consumption" includes tobacco products.

“I don’t know that that was the intent of the sponsors, but the way they drafted it makes it clear that we wouldn’t have any taxes on tobacco, whatsoever,” Mortenson said. “We’d be the only state in the country that says we shouldn’t tax tobacco at all.”

State lawmakers expect the tobacco tax to bring in $42.5 million dollars in the upcoming fiscal year. That’s on top of the approximately $124 million dollars the state will lose if voters approve the measure.

Sales and use tax is the primary source of revenue for the state. Mortenson worries the tax cut will affect budgets for schools, nursing homes and law enforcement.

The Legislative Research Council told ballot question backers their original proposal may be "overly vague."

Supporters of repealing the state sales tax on food have tried for decades but have stalled against the Republican-controlled legislature.

“Tobacco isn’t a consumable—in terms of a food product. You don’t consume it to live," said Rick Weiland, the backer of the food tax ballot question.

Weiland said Republicans are misconstruing the definition of consumption.

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