NEWS: 9.27.21: IA School Outbreaks, Mask Poll, Redistricting Updates, and More

Sep 27, 2021

Credit Associated Press

A federal judge has extended his order blocking enforcement of a state law against school mask mandates.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt first ruled two weeks ago that schools must be able to require masks so that medically vulnerable students have equal access to in-person learning.

According to the plaintiffs in the case, at least 24 school districts have issued some form of mask mandate since the order took effect.

The state argued against an extension and shared testimony from parents who claim that masks harm their children’s ability to learn.

With an extension, the restraining order will last until October 11th when Judge Pratt says he will rule on a preliminary injunction in the case.

The state cannot appeal until that ruling is made.

Information in the federal lawsuit indicates nearly a quarter of Iowa public school students are in districts that have experienced significant COVID-19 outbreaks this year. The information is from a lawsuit over whether Iowa can prevent school boards from imposing mask mandates. It indicates 11 school districts, including Waterloo, Sioux City and Muscatine, have reported more positive cases in the first month of the school year than during the entire previous year. The data made public Monday is from lawyers for 11 parents and the disability rights group The Arc of Iowa who are suing to prevent the state from enforcing a law banning mask mandates in schools. State data shows 12 children age 11 or younger are hospitalized in Iowa with COVID-19. 

Today marks two weeks since a federal judge temporarily blocked the Iowa law banning mask mandates in schools.

Since then, a number of Iowa school districts have issued mask mandates for students and staff.

A new poll is giving insight into how Iowans feel about the law. The latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll shows Iowans are split down the middle.

A federal court clerk told KCCI in Des Moines the injunction will last until a judge rules that there is enough evidence to proceed in the case.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is considering the possibility of again deploying Iowa State Patrol officers and public safety personnel to aid law enforcement and border security efforts at the U.S. border with Mexico.

In July, Iowa Department of Public Safety officers, including a dozen troopers spent about two weeks working border security duties alongside authorities in Texas.

The Sioux City Journal reports the cost to taxpayers was about $300,000.

Reynolds defended the decision by saying border security is a federal responsibility that has not been adequately addressed by the Democratic Biden administration.

House Speaker Pat Grassley suggests Plan 1 outlining new congressional and legislative district borders will be the sole focus of the October 5 special legislative session — and no other bills with be voted upon.

Radio Iowa reports Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford, says making a decision to vote “yes” or “no” on the first plan isn’t something that should be rushed.

Iowa’s redistricting process is different from other states where the political parties in power draw new districts to benefit their party. The non-partisan Iowa Legislative Services Agency drew the district boundaries in Plan 1, based on criteria outlined in state law.

Grassley says while unanimous agreement among the 59 House Republicans would be nice, it’s unlikely.

“I don’t think it’s ever been an expectation of a redistricting map to have everyone vote for it,” Grassley says, “because there’s some members that just may not feel that’s a good district for their constituents.”

Three public hearings were held last week and the majority of people who spoke or submitted written comments urged the legislature to approve this first redistricting plan.

Grassley made his comments this weekend on the “Iowa Press” program on Iowa PBS.

If the legislature rejects Plan 1 for redistricting on October 5, the Legislative Services Agency will go back to the drawing board and develop a second plan for lawmakers to consider.

Nebraska lawmakers have advanced new congressional boundaries that could make it harder for Democratic presidential hopefuls to pick up one of the state’s five Electoral College votes, as they’ve done twice since 2008. The measure was endorsed by nearly all Republicans in the one-house, officially nonpartisan Legislature. It's a sign that the newly drawn, Omaha-area district could be more favorable to the party in both U.S. House and presidential races. Nebraska Democrats quickly denounced the plan. Nebraska and Maine are the only states that allow their Electoral College votes to be split. Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden claimed one each in 2008 and 2020, respectively, despite handily losing the statewide, GOP-dominated vote.

Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen has announced that he’ll seek a second term in office. Evnen, a Republican, was first elected in 2018. He previously served on the Nebraska State Board of Education and was an attorney in Lincoln. He also was active in the 2016 ballot campaign to preserve Nebraska’s death penalty after the Legislature abolished it. The secretary of state serves as Nebraska’s chief elections officer, oversees business services operations, and represents Nebraska agriculture and business around the world promoting trade opportunities. The secretary of state also serves on the three-member pardons board, with Nebraska’s governor and attorney general.

Ethics officials are questioning whether South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem had a conflict of interest by meeting with her daughter and top state officials last year in the governor's office while her daughter was pursuing a real estate certification. Noem's daughter, Kassidy Peters, was seeking a credential that would open the door to higher earnings in her field. But a July 27, 2020, letter from her supervisor said that Peters had been denied the upgrade. Noem's office declined to answer questions from The Associated Press about what transpired at the meeting, which was held the same day as the letter. Ethics experts said the meeting was a conflict for the governor no matter what was discussed.

The South Dakota Legislature will consider whether to try to impeach Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for a car crash last year that killed a pedestrian. Republican Speaker Spencer Gosch said Saturday that there is enough support in the state House to hold preliminary impeachment discussions during a special session that starts Nov. 9. There was already enough support in the state Senate. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports that the move does not necessarily mean Ravnsborg will face impeachment proceedings. Once in session, lawmakers will have to decide on whether to consider a separate resolution to form a select committee that would review evidence from the crash case.

The companies working to build pipelines to capture carbon dioxide produced by ethanol plants and transport it as a liquid under high pressure to permanent storage deep underground may face opposition from farmers and environmental groups in Nebraska and Iowa. One of the companies, Summit Carbon Solutions, has already started contacting landowners about the $4.5 billion project. Supporters of the projects, which include the Nebraska Ethanol Board, say the pipelines will be safe and would lower the carbon impact of producing the corn-based fuel. That would help it meet goals California and Oregon have adopted for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming.

The community of Sloan Iowa mourning the loss of a 12-year-old boy who died following a fall off a homecoming float on Friday.

Local news reports say Kage McDonald was a member of the junior high football and cross country teams.

The homecoming game Friday with Hinton was moved to Saturday.

A GoFundMe set up for McDonald’s family had raised more than $27,000 as of early this afternoon.

Nebraska billionaire Walter Scott has died at the age of 90. The Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation that Scott founded said Scott died Saturday. The foundation did not mention a cause of death. Scott was the past top executive of Peter Kiewit Sons Inc. construction firm. He helped oversee Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate and donated to various causes, particularly construction projects around Omaha. Scott served as a board member of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate from 1988 until his death. Scott and his late wife Suzanne gave large sums to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Colorado State University. 

News release from the State of Iowa:

Iowa budget closes with full cash reserves, surplus of $1.24B

DES MOINES – Gov. Kim Reynolds announced today that the State of Iowa will end Fiscal Year 2021 with a balance of $1,238.6 billion in its General Fund.  

"Iowa is in a very strong financial position due to our fiscal responsibility,” said Gov. Reynolds. “This surplus proves we accomplished exactly what we set out to do—overcome the financial challenges caused by the global pandemic and invest in education, workforce, healthcare, agriculture and technology. We will continue to invest in these important priorities going forward to meet the needs of our citizens and state.  

“I commend the dedication of Governor Reynolds on recognizing the importance and need for a healthy and strong balanced budget for the state of Iowa,” said Joel Anderson, interim director of the Iowa Department of Management. 

FY 2021 closed on June 30th, but the accrual period officially ends on September 30th. During this time, Iowa closes the books and pays out and receives outstanding obligations. Last year’s budget surplus was $305 million dollars.