July 4, 2020 - 6:43 pm - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa — A new state law that took effect with the first day of July enhances the penalties for those caught abusing, neglecting or torturing pets. The law makes it easier for prosecutors to pursue these cases. A person convicted of seriously injuring or killing a pet could be sentenced to up to two years in prison. A second offense would be a felony. Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, says the penalties in the new law are reasonable.

(As above) “And will, in fact, provide law enforcement and judges with a better tool to both rehabilitate people convicted of these crimes and perhaps provide a little bit of deterrence,” she says.

The new law defines animal abuse as intentionally or recklessly injuring or poisoning a pet. Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, led Senate debate of the bill.

(As above) “Countless times we hear stories in the media of just disgusting abuse of our companion animals that so many times are members of our families,” Zaun said. 

Senator Tony Bisignano of Des Moines, a Democrat, says Iowa’s animal abuse penalties had been classified as the 49th weakest in the country before now.

(As above) “Iowa has a good animal cruelty bill, not the best, but a good one and I thank all of my colleagues on both sides who have had to compromise,” Bisignano said. “…There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what makes good legislation.”

Efforts to toughen penalties for animal abuse faltered over the past decade. Farm groups raised concerns that animal rights activists would use an updated law to target farmers. The new law applies to abuse, neglect and torture of “companion animals” and specifically excludes livestock and wild animals.

July 4, 2020 - 6:28 pm - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa — Brother, can you spare a dime? Or maybe a quarter, penny, nickel, or any other change? That’s what banks and credit unions are asking right now as the country is seeing a coin shortage.

Iowa Bankers Association president, John Sorensen, says it stems from the slowdown in business brought on by the pandemic.

(As above) “Iowans have not been spending as much during the early portion of the pandemic — and when they did frequently online — and we found that coins were not in circulation,” Sorensen says.  

This happened across the country and prompted federal officials to take action.

(As above) He says the coin supply is managed through the Federal Reserve Bank through the U-S Mint. “Because of this lack of circulation, they have determined that it’s important to ration coins to banks,” according to Sorensen.

He says the shortage will end as the economy opens back up, and until then, they have one solution.

(As above) “We’ve actually been encouraging consumers to think about the coinage you have at home — may be taking that into your bank, depositing it or exchanging it for dollars — so that we can keep our supplies replenished,” Sorensen says.

Banks supply coins to businesses and Sorensen says some use more than others in day-to-day transactions.

(As above) “Convenience stores, gas stations, places like that, they indeed need to make sure that they have coinage available to accommodate that need,” Sorensen says. “We come a long way in providing more digital options to consumers — but it is still important for smaller transactions to have that coinage available.”

Sorensen says you can help by taking in extra coins when you visit your bank or credit union.

Statewide Iowa — The pandemic has made vacationing in a recreational vehicle more attractive and Forest City-based Winnebago Industries hopes to capitalize on that demand.

Michael Happe is Winnebago Industries’ CEO.

(As above) “The motor home business has been working very hard the last number of years to revitalize its product line, strengthen the culture here in north Iowa, improve dealership relationships around the country,” Happe says, “and I think the business is very much headed in a good direction.” 

The company builds motorhomes as well as travel trailers that are towed by a pick-up or SUV. In 2019, Winnebago acquired Newmar, which makes luxury motorhomes. It bought Florida-based boat building Criss Craft the year before. In 2016, Winnebago acquired Grand Design, which makes towable trailers.

(As above) “We’ve been in business now for 62 years and I think one of the ways you stay in business for 62 years and, hopefully, 62 more is to try to be smart in the way you run the business and make investments where you think are appropriate,” Happe says. “But you also want to be prudent and disciplined.” 

An RV Industry Association survey projects that 46 million Americans will take an RV trip in the next 12 months and half of those surveyed said health concerns had increased their interest in camping in an RV.

Statewide Iowa — An Iowa State sociologist says many rural communities that have not yet seen coronavirus outbreaks could be very susceptible to one.

ISU professor David Peters modified an existing public health tool to see how susceptible different size communities are to COVID-19. He plans to survey 65 small towns to determine what’s worked best so far in preventing outbreaks.

(As above) “Cases will happen, what you’re really trying to do is prevent these very sudden large outbreaks like we’ve seen in meatpacking plants in Iowa,” Peters says. 

He says these communities are more susceptible to an outbreak when they have many people living and working in group housing, lots of residents with pre-existing medical conditions, and certain types of employers, like meat plants. Peters says planning ahead for either sheltering in place or dispersing residents in vulnerable situations may go a long way.

(As above) “In the process of surveying, we’re going to ask governments and public health agencies and other large institutions to identify strategies that they undertook in those communities to see whether they’ve been effective at holding down the rates of infection and minimizing the impact of the pandemic.” 

Peters says the virus will come to even remote communities. But he’s hoping his work will generate some “best practices” that can be replicated to reduce the severity of any future outbreaks. The National Science Foundation has awarded him 200-thousand dollars for the project.

Statewide Iowa — A new report ranks Iowa as one of the best states for children. The fourth-annual study released by the non-profit group Save the Children ranks Iowa fifth in the nation for child well-being.

The report found Iowa’s rankings for child food insecurity and high school dropout rates improved from 2018, while rankings for infant mortality, teen births, suicides and homicides stayed the same. Mark Shriver, a senior vice president at Save the Children, says top-ranked states like Iowa invested in high quality early childhood education.

(As above) Shriver says, “Children are faring better in states that spend more on their needs and have elected officials who serve in Congress and state houses prioritize child-focused legislation.”

The report found just nine percent of Iowa’s kids didn’t graduate on time. This improves the state’s rank from 2018 and makes Iowa first in the nation for high school graduation rates. Nikki Gillette, a researcher with Save the Children, says this year’s report broke down data at the county level for the first time.

(As above) “We know or rather we suspected that state level data hide huge inequities,” Gillette says. “That’s why this year we did a county ranking.”

The report found Dallas, Warren, Grundy and Bremer counties were among the top 50 in the country for children. It ranked Lee County as the worst in the state.

Statewide Iowa — (RI) — Some fireworks outlets reporting increased sales as the number of community Independence Day celebrations and fireworks shows have dropped dramatically with concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

State Fire Marshal Dan Wood says if you decide to buy your own fireworks — you need to keep safety in mind.

(as he says)”Try to keep 300 feet away from any buildings, have a fire extinguisher there, or a garden hose,” Wood says. “And just generally be careful when you are lighting them.”

There are all sorts of fireworks available from bottle rockets to complex launching devices that shoot several flaming balls into the sky. Wood says you should make sure you understand what a firework does and how to use it before setting it off.

(as he says) “Read the directions, if you do light one and it doesn’t go off, let it sit for a while. Stay away from it,” he says. “A lot of the manufacturers’ recommendations are wet it down with water just to make sure it’s not still lit inside after you let it sit for a while.”

Some other tips from the fire marshal: refrain from drinking alcohol before and while discharging fireworks. Keep spectators at least six feet away from lit fireworks. Always supervise children near or handling fireworks. Even simple products like sparklers can be dangerous – burning at up to 2,000 degrees

Statewide Iowa — (RI) — Several state agencies are getting together to try and put the brakes on some of the drivers in the state who have been taking advantage of reduced traffic on the roadways to push the speed limit.

State Patrol spokesman Sergeant Alex Dinkla tells us about it.

(as said)”The big norm seems to be now since the COVID hit is that motorists feel that it is okay to drive well in excess of the speed limit. And so we want to make sure that we slow motorists down — because our ultimate goal is we want people to get to their destination safely — and to save lives,” Dinkla says.

He says this is more than drivers going five or six miles above the limit.

(as said)”People traveling 25 miles-an-hour or more over the speed limit as well as 100 miles-an-hour or more over the speed limit. Each month since around March, we have seen those numbers just increase,” he says.

Dinkla says there may’ve been less traffic on the roadways — but there is still a danger with those high speeds.

(as said) “When motorists travel that fast, they are not going to have a good reaction time should a motorist or even a deer pop out in front of them. We’ve seen the number of 100-mile-and-hour or more citations increased to over 100 tickets each month since March of motorists getting ticketed for traveling over the speed limit.”

Dinkla says the drivers thought they were out there alone.

(as said)”One of the number one reasons we were given from a lot of motorists when they were stopped during the pandemic was — they plain and simple thought law enforcement was not out there actively stopping cars and initiating traffic stops,” according to Dinkla. “Quite the contrary, because our officers, they are not able to work from home. They have to be out enforcing these infractions.”

The Iowa Department of Public Safety, Iowa State Patrol, the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, and the Iowa Department of Transportation are collaborating on tactics to help bring awareness to the issue, and encourage personal responsibility in keeping Iowa’s roadways safe in a public awareness campaign. Dinkla says finding out your loved one was involved in a fatal accident is not something you want to hear.

(as said)”Those fatality accidents also take a toll on officers and first responders that have to respond to those and see the things that they see,” Dinkla says.

He says officers will be on the roadways and looking for drivers who feel the need for excessive speed.

(as said)”Not only for the Fourth of July but through the month of July, we are going to be actively out there trying to reduce what people think is the new norm and that they are able to speed,” according to Dinkla. “We want to make sure that we get that message out there. It is not okay to drive well in excess of the speed limit. The speed limit is out there for your safety as well as other motorists’ safety.”

The data shows the most common speeding violators are males between the ages of 14 and 29 years of age. The highest rate of noncompliance with posted speed limits occurred on Saturday afternoons. The Patrol’s data also revealed that 60 percent of the violators are out-of-state drivers.

Statewide Iowa — (RI) — State Fire Marshal Dan Wood says the number of licenses approved by his office to sell consumer fireworks was down this year.

(as said)”We are at 550 for 2020, in 2019 we had 621. In 2018 — it was our high year — we had 891. And in 2017, our first year, we had 674,” according to Wood.

He says the pandemic is the likely reason for the drop.

(as said)”I would say one of the reasons we are down is probably the COVID. I know there was also some question about the availability of product — so that would have something to do with it also,” Wood says.

His office issues the licenses and inspects the places where the fireworks are sold. The rules regarding the use of fireworks is left up to local leaders.

(as said)”Each local jurisdiction has the ability to set their own hours and dates accordingly. And some don’t and some do,” Wood says.

Consumer fireworks can be sold from June 1st through July 8th.

Des Moines, Iowa — (RI) — Governor Kim Reynolds is using nearly 40 percent of the federal coronavirus relief money Iowa received to cover unemployment benefits.

She’s depositing 490 MILLION dollars into the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Iowa Association of Business and Industry president Mike Ralston says it’s a big announcement that will save Iowa businesses over 400 million dollars.

(as said) “Businesses would have paid more in unemployment insurance taxes, so that there would be money in the Unemployment Trust Fund to pay unemployment claims,” Ralston says.

If the balance in the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund runs low, the taxes business pay into the fund are increased.

(as said) “I think it’s too early to say whether this is a one-time thing or whether there will need to be additional money,” Ralston says. “but it’s a huge effort to try to stop that from happening.”

In a written statement, Reynolds says she decided to use federal CARES Act money to minimize the pandemic’s impact on businesses, so they can focus on growing and reinvesting rather than paying more taxes. Iowa’s unemployment rate in May was 10 percent.

July 3, 2020 - 9:03 am - Posted in News

Lake Park, Iowa — (RI) — Fire damaged a manufacturing plant in Lake Park Wednesday, temporarily halting production.

The fire at Northern Iowa Die Casting was reported at around 6:30 Wednesday morning.

(as said) “We had to be particularly careful in this situation because they’ve got a lot of liquid hot metal inside the building and we cannot apply water in there.”

That’s Lake Park Fire Chief Brandon Ehret. Heavy smoke was coming out of the roof when fire crews arrived.

(as said) “The fire was concentrated to the peak of the roof where the big vents are, the big fans,” Ehret says. “Talking with a Diecast employee, he said the fire started in one of the fans, so it was burning up in the ceiling.”

No one was injured and the fire was contained. Company officials says production will be suspended for the rest of the week. About 100 people work at the plant making a variety of products out of zinc and aluminum.