PM News Stories 11.13.19

Nov 13, 2019

CHRIS GODFREY IN SIOUX CITY 11.11.19
Credit Siouxland Public Media

A district court judge has rejected a request by former Gov. Terry Branstad’s lawyers to set aside a jury verdict that concluded Branstad discriminated against a former state official because he’s gay.

The ruling  rejects dozens of arguments, including challenges to legal rulings during trial and jury instructions.

Branstad’s attorneys asked the judge to set aside the July 15 jury verdict of $1.5 million awarded to former Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey.

Jurors concluded Godfrey, a native of Sioux City, was the victim of discrimination and retaliation when Branstad tried to force him to quit in 2011 and then cut his pay.

Branstad's attorney wanted the lawsuit dismissed or a new trial.

The bill to Iowa taxpayers for the case stands now at about $8 million if the verdict isn’t reverse.

Godrey visited Sioux City earlier this week and received a special commendation from the City of Sioux City.

A northwest Iowa man has pleaded not guilty to allegations that he didn’t pay the state more than $89,000 in sales taxes generated by his businesses.

The Sioux City Journal reports that 36-year-old Christopher Burg, of Spencer, entered the written pleas Tuesday in Clay County District Court.

The charges include seven counts of fraudulent practices and 11 counts of sales tax evasion from 2017.

His trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 10.

Prosecutors say Burg didn’t pay the sales taxes as he should from his businesses: Liberty Lanes, Southside Grill and A+ Carpet & Cleaners.

Investigators who led the search for missing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts testified today they believe her body would have been discovered even without the suspect in her killing leading them to its location.   

Their testimony came during a hearing on whether statements the suspect, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, made to police can be used at his upcoming trial for first-degree murder.

Tibbetts went missing after going out for a run in July of 2018 in her small hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa.

Investigators say Rivera implicated himself during an interview with police.

He then led officers to a cornfield where her body was found under some leaves.

Rivera’s lawyers say their client wasn’t read his Miranda rights.

If convicted, Rivera faces life in prison. His trial is scheduled for February in Woodbury County.

A northeast Nebraska man has been given jail time and probation for the crash death of another driver.

Stanton County Court records say 20-year-old Ried Krutz was sentenced Tuesday to 30 days in jail and 18 months of probation.

He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor vehicular homicide.

Authorities say a pickup truck driven by Krutz crossed the center line in May and hit an oncoming SUV being driven by 63-year-old Jim Hoff, of Norfolk. Hoff died at the scene two miles east of Norfolk.

Survivors of sexual assault will soon be able to follow the status of their rape kits as they go through medical and law enforcement agencies.

The Iowa Attorney General’s office has announced it will work with software company STACS-DNA (Stacks-DNA) to develop a tracking system for the kits.

Department Communications Director Lynn Hicks says the system will prevent future backlogs and give more transparency to victims.

"So they know what's happening with their kit and you know, have it exact -- you know, have the assurance that it it's not sitting in a police station and being forgotten about."

The federally-funded project will cost $800,000. It’s expected to launch in July of next year.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts is on a trade mission to Germany this week. 

Yesterday, he met with high-level officials in Germany and today visited a major agricultural technology fair in Hannover.    

NEBRASKSA GOV. PETE RICKETTS IN GERMANY
AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGY FAIR IN HANNOVER, GERMANY

The event attracts almost a half million people from 130 different countries.  Joining Ricketts is a delegation of about two dozen people from the Cornhusker State.

Iowa’s governor and agriculture secretary say they’re optimistic about increasing export and investment opportunities in Japan after meeting with business and government officials there.

The trade mission of 24 Iowans comes weeks after the U.S. approved a limited trade agreement with Japan. It’ll eliminate or reduce Japanese tariffs on pork and beef, bringing the U.S. in line with main competitors in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Iowa leaders did not secure any specific deals for the state on this trip. But Governor Kim Reynolds says it was very productive, and that face-to-face meetings are critical.  

“I’m looking forward to doing some follow-up. And we’ve had great conversations and are very optimistic about some opportunities moving forward.”

Reynolds says the U.S.-Japan trade agreement is expected to take effect in January, after Japanese lawmakers approve it.

On Friday, the wife of former Vice President Joe Biden will campaign in northwest Iowa.

Jill Biden will be in Sioux City, Cherokee, Storm Lake and Spencer.

Supporters and opponents of a proposal to double the capacity of the Dakota Access pipeline packed a small-town auditorium in North Dakota today for a field hearing before state regulators.

They’re considering the next phase of a project that sparked months of sometimes violent protests in 2016 and 2017.

Texas-based Energy Transfer wants to double the capacity of the line to as much as 1.1 million barrels daily to meet growing demand for oil shipments from North Dakota, and is seeking permission for pump stations to do it.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other opponents have long argued that a leak in the pipeline would threaten the tribe's Missouri River water supply, and say that increasing pressure magnifies the risk. They’re asking the Public Service Commission to deny the expansion.

And, this afternoon in Sioux City you might see a green color in some waterways, including the Missouri River.

The underground utilities department is planning on doing a tracer dye test this afternoon of the Old Floyd and Bacon Creek Channel.  The test will help see if the city’s sanitary sewer line was damaged from flooding or high water.

The dye has been approved by the Department of Natural Resources and city officials say the dye will not hurt the environment.

NASA says a meteor seen streaking through the sky behind the Gateway Arch in St. Louis was a basketball-size hunk of rock that broke off from an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Experts used hundreds of eyewitness accounts from as far away as South Dakota and Minnesota along with two videos to calculate information about the meteor.

They determined that the approximately 220-pound rock traveled through the sky Monday night at 33,500 mph causing a sonic boom.

A NASA weather satellite helped the agency confirm it was brighter than Venus in the sky, making it a fireball that broke into pieces 12 miles above the ground.