Statewide Iowa — A three-member state panel agrees the Iowa economy is headed in a positive direction, but the group cautions state tax revenue won’t quite rebound to pre-pandemic levels over the next three quarters.

Holly Lyons of the Iowa Legislative Services Agency says the pandemic and damage from the derecho as well as uncertainty about the election and another federal stimulus payments are all a drag on the Iowa economy.

(as said) “How do you adjust to an ever-changing situation where the new normal seems to be indefinite uncertainty?” Lyons asks.

Lyons and two other members of the Revenue Estimating Conference predict state tax collections will be down two-tenths of a percent in the current state fiscal year. David Roederer, the governor’s budget director, says there are modest signs of strength in Iowa’s economy, helped by the unprecedented six billion dollars in direct federal aid to Iowa businesses.

(as said) “I think the key is at what pace will the economy reenergize and rebound from a pandemic that refuses to leave us or be vaccinated away,” Roederer says. “All wonder when our lives are going to get back to normal, but maybe better yet how are we even going to define normal.”

David Underwood, a CPA from Clear Lake, says there’s reason for optimism.

(as said) “The adaptability of Iowa’s businesses and non-profit organizations to adapt to the new abnormal has just been tremendous,” Underwood says.

The group acknowledges losses in the restaurant, bar and hospitality industry, but cites increases in e-commerce and spending to outfit home offices. The panel predicts state tax revenue will surge four percent higher in the next state fiscal year.

October 14, 2020 - 10:28 am - Posted in News

Ashton, Iowa — A Sibley man was taken to an area hospital in the aftermath of a single-vehicle accident near Ashton Sunday night.

According to the accident report from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, the crash occurred about 8:00 Sunday evening when a northbound 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, driven by 59-year-old Michael Block of Sibley, was northbound on Highway 60 at Ashton. Deputies say Block apparently lost control, striking a concrete bridge railing with the car’s front bumper and rear quarter panel. The report says the car then spun out of control past the bridge and came to rest blocking both northbound lanes of Highway 60.

Deputies say Block was transported by ambulance to the Osceola Regional Health System in Sibley.

He was reportedly cited for Failure to Maintain Control. Damage to the Monte Carlo was estimated at $3,000.

Northwest Iowa — It’s beginning to feel decidedly more like autumn than it has for the past few days, with temperatures cooling substantially from those we saw last week.

The 24-hour high of 64-degrees recorded Tuesday in Sheldon was exactly 20-degrees cooler than the 84-degree high recorded just one day earlier. Kyle Weisser is a Forecaster with the National Weather Service Office in Sioux Falls, and he says the drastic temperature change is due to shift in the Jetstream.

(As above) “We’ve finally shaken off that warmer air that was settled in. That was, kind of at least for those that wanted warmer air, a nice little end to the summer, I guess you could say. As we get into mid to later October it gets tougher and tougher to have those multiple days in a row of highs in the 70s, let alone 80s. But really, it’s just a little bit of a change in the Jetstream, it turned to the northwest a little bit which allowed some cooler air to be dragged southward.”

When we talked to Weisser on Tuesday afternoon, he told us the winds  that are forecast for Wednesday will make a dangerous day for field fires.

(As above) “Tomorrow will be another one of those days that’s a little dangerous for field fires and burning. Strong winds again tomorrow, likely gusts up around 40, maybe even 45 mph as we get really late in the afternoon. And it’ll actually probably be a little bit dryer tomorrow than it was two days ago when we had those fires. So, definitely could see some issues with fires.”

Weisser says if you like cool fall weather you’ll really like what’s just around the corner.

(As above) “And then as we get further down the road, Thursday through roughly next Tuesday, conditions start getting a little cooler. We will se a little bump up on Saturday with some warner conditions, and it’s not impossible to maybe see some fire weather problems on Saturday, as well. But a lot of days we’re going to see some highs in the 50s, and then as we get to Sunday through next Tuesday, we’re going to start seeing highs more in the 40s, so some real fall-like conditions settling southward.”

Sadly, he says there is no major rainfall on the horizon.

(As above) “And, unfortunately, with all of that there’s very little, if any, chance of….at least any substantial precipitation. There might be some hit-and-miss showers here and there, but really not amounting to a whole lot. We were lucky to get what we got a couple of days ago, cuz we’re really not looking at much for the next five to ten days.”

The strong winds and dry conditions Weisser has forecast for Wednesday has prompted the National Weather Service to issue a Wind Advisory and a Fire Weather Warning effective through 7:00Wednesday evening.

October 13, 2020 - 3:23 pm - Posted in News

Northwest Iowa — Another death and twenty-seven new cases of COVID-19 were reported in far northwest Iowa on Tuesday, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The death was a Sioux County resident. Twenty-three northwest Iowans have now died in connection with COVID-19 since the pandemic started — nine in O’Brien County, nine in Sioux County, and five in Lyon County.

Sioux County reports a total of 2122 cases since the pandemic started, after a rise of 11 cases in the last 24 hours. O’Brien County is at 526, which is up 8 cases. Lyon County was up 4 cases at 479, and Osceola County was up 4 at 217.

As far as active cases, Lyon County has 259, Sioux County has 985, O’Brien County has 246, and Osceola has 97.

Out of the 479 Lyon County residents who have had COVID-19, 226 of them have recovered, for a recovery rate of about 47%.
Out of the 2122 Sioux County residents who have had COVID-19, 1191 of them have recovered, for a recovery rate of about 56%.
Out of the 526 O’Brien County residents who have had COVID-19, 275 of them have recovered, for a recovery rate of about 52%.
Out of the 217 Osceola County residents who have had COVID-19, 119 of them have recovered, for a recovery rate of about 55%.

Total numbers of cases from other counties around the area and their change from the previous report:

Iowa counties:
Plymouth 1394, up 16
Cherokee 337, up 2
Buena Vista 2144, up 6
Clay 441, up 6
Dickinson 636, up 1

These numbers represent the period from noon Monday, October 12th through Tuesday, October 13th.

Washington, D.C. —  Republican Senator Chuck Grassley says Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are using this week’s hearings to suggest Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett doesn’t care about access to health care.

(As above) “Democrats are painting the judge as heartless and on a mission to scrap the health care law,” Grassley says. “Frankly, that’s absurd.” 

Grassley made his comments Tuesday morning during his half-hour turn in the committee to ask Barrett questions.

(As above) “Have you committed to the president or anyone else that you will vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act if confirmed to the court?” Grassley asked and Barrett responded: ‘Absolutely not. I was never asked and, if had have been, that would have been a short conversation.” 

Grassley urged Barrett to consider legislative history when ruling on cases, but Barrett says legislative history cannot substitute for the actual text of a law.

(As above) “That’s a matter of interpretive philosophy,” Barrett said. Grassley replied: “My position has always been that legislative history can be instructive to the intent of the statute, so judges should not completely disregard it.” 

Grassley says congress can be more careful about drafting laws, but when there’s a dispute about the law, judges should pay attention to how congress drafted, debated and passed the law. Early Tuesday morning during a conference call with reporters, Grassley accused Democrats of trying to stoke real fear that confirming Barrett to the Supreme Court will lead to the demise of the Affordable Care Act.

(As above) “There’s no evidence to suggest anything of the kind,” Grassley said. “In fact, legal scholars have expressed doubt that the court would strike down ObamaCare, with or without Barrett.”

The Republican-led Senate is heading toward confirming Barrett to the Supreme Court by the end of October. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an appeal related to the Affordable Care Act on November 10th.

Statewide, Iowa — Advocates for Iowa’s 50-thousand blind and visually-impaired residents are asking state officials to let them vote by mail independently, using assistive technology for absentee ballots.

Right now, blind Iowans are unable to vote from home without another person there to help. Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, says many people don’t want to go to the polls because of the coronavirus pandemic.

(as said) “So they can’t vote independently and privately. They have to depend on someone else and that’s not voting,” Hudson says. “Voting, you’re supposed to be able to do privately and secretly, and no one else knows what your vote is.”

The secretary of state’s office says the legislature has to change the law for this to happen, but lawmakers declined to do that earlier this year. Advocates disagree, pointing to recent changes that were made to election procedures without full legislative approval. Carrie Chapman, president of the Iowa Council of the United Blind, says she’s had someone help her fill out an absentee ballot, but she says blind Iowans have a right to vote privately and independently.

(as said) “There’s people that don’t have an option of having someone come and help them,” Chapman says, “and especially during the pandemic, they may be high risk, so having someone come into their home is a whole other ballgame in terms of that.”

Groups representing blind Iowans have been asking the secretary of state and lawmakers for more than a year to approve an accessible absentee ballot system. Then voters could use a computer program at home that would read the ballot out loud, allow them to mark the ballot, print it, and mail it to their county auditor.

October 13, 2020 - 10:34 am - Posted in News

Statewide, Iowa — A state program that helps those on food assistance eat healthier has crossed the one-million-dollar mark in benefits given.

Coordinator Aryn McClaren says the program gives what is called “Double Up Bucks” to those on food assistance when they purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

(as said) “The ‘Double Up Food Bucks’ earned can be used during the next shopping visit to buy additional fresh fruits and vegetables.”

McClaren then continues by talking about the program’s two goals for individuals.

(as said) “To encourage people to make the healthy choice of eating fresh food and vegetables, while also trying to make that an easier choice,” McClaren says. “If they are food insecure and have a limited budget they can’t always afford the food that might be healthier for their families.”

The program was given an added boost in finances when federal coronavirus money was approved from the state.

(as said) “So, we are very fortunate to receive that funding that has helped support the expansion of the program,” McClaren says.

McClaren says the program has seen its biggest growth this year as the need has grown, which includes more use at farmers’ markets.

(as said) “We are very proud of the growth that we’ve seen at farmers’ markets this year, and the fact that we are seeing that, the majority of the farmer’s markets, are seeing up to four times the amount of ‘Double Up Food Bucks’ going into them.”

Under the program, a person who spends 10 dollars in food assistance benefits at a participating site receives an additional 10 dollars in free Double Up Food Bucks. The food bucks come in the form of paper vouchers and McClaren says they are working on an electronic program for the food bucks.

October 12, 2020 - 4:24 pm - Posted in News

Northwest Iowa — Sixty-two new cases of COVID-19 were reported in far northwest Iowa on Sunday and Monday, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Sioux County reports a total of 2111 cases since the pandemic started, after a rise of 43 cases since the last report. O’Brien County is at 518, which is up 13 cases. Lyon County was up 3 cases at 475, and Osceola County was up 3 at 213.

Twenty-two northwest Iowans have now died in connection with COVID-19 since the pandemic started — nine in O’Brien County, eight in Sioux County, and five in Lyon County.

As far as active cases, Lyon County has 259, Sioux County has 985, O’Brien County has 246, and Osceola has 97.

Out of the 475 Lyon County residents who have had COVID-19, 211 of them have recovered, for a recovery rate of about 44%.
Out of the 2111 Sioux County residents who have had COVID-19, 1118 of them have recovered, for a recovery rate of about 53%.
Out of the 518 O’Brien County residents who have had COVID-19, 263 of them have recovered, for a recovery rate of about 51%.
Out of the 213 Osceola County residents who have had COVID-19, 116 of them have recovered, for a recovery rate of about 54%.

Total numbers of cases from other counties around the area and their change from the previous report:

Iowa counties:
Plymouth 1378, up 15
Cherokee 335, up 5
Buena Vista 2138, up 9
Clay 435, up 1
Dickinson 635, up 5

These figures were for Sunday and up to noon on Monday.

Northwest Iowa — Republican Joni Ernst says she and other members of the Senate committee should be tested for Covid before they convene confirmation hearings this week for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

(as said) “I actually do think that it would be smart to do that,” Ernst said. “I hate to do it without having reasons to do so, but I think if we’re going to be working in close proximity over long hours, it’s probably not a bad idea.”

The hearings are scheduled to start Monday. Both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators are on the Judiciary Committee. During a news conference Sunday, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley was asked if he agrees with Ernst about having all members take a Covid test before Monday’s hearing.

(as said) “I suppose there’s 99 other ways to answer the question. I can only answer Chuck Grassley’s way,” Grassley said. “I follow the protocols that are given out by the attending physician on Capitol Hill and I’ll continue to follow those.”

Two other members of the committee who attended the White House event for nominee Amy Coney Barrett tested positive for the virus last weekend. Grassley says he has been tested for Covid but hasn’t revealed when that test was taken. Ernst took a Covid test before she debated her Democratic opponent, Theresa Greenfield, on September 28th. Greenfield says Covid tests for Ernst and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee makes sense.

(as said) “That’s a great place to start, absolutely,” Greenfield says. “They should be wearing masks and following public health guidelines. If they’ve been exposed they should be quarantining.”

Greenfield and Ernst made their comments at separate events Saturday and both candidates wore face coverings as they spoke with reporters.

October 11, 2020 - 12:31 pm - Posted in News

Northwest Iowa — It may seem like a broken record, but there’s a reason we are told to put down our phones while driving. It saves lives.

This is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Trooper Kevin Krull of the Iowa State Patrol tells us what we should keep in mind.

(as said:) “Well it’s really quite simple when it comes to it. Put the phones down and that’s our number one distraction… it seems like anymore with when we’re talking with distracted drivers. There are other things… food and beverages can distract you as well, other passengers in the car, but most definitely the cell phone usage… being the text messages and even dialing the phone has become a drastic problem for motorists.”

For a while, officers couldn’t pull you over only for texting and driving — it had to be in addition to something else. But that has changed, says Krull. He gives us a rundown of the current situation.

(as said:) “You can use it if you’re over the age 18 to make phone calls. You can have that phone in your hand and talk to people that way if you so choose. It is still a distraction. But however, it’s not requiring you to take your hands and eyes off the road for that great of a period of time. If you’re driving a commercial motor vehicle at no time can you use your hands to… They’re totally touch-free. If you’re under the age of 18 so our high schoolers and whatnot… they’re not allowed to use their phone period. We just encourage them not to use their phone. And it’s against the law for any of those guys to use their phone while driving. Driving is not a time to multitask. It’s… We really need people nowadays with the fatality rates climbing up there… we need people to concentrate on driving and keep their full attention on the road.”

Just a heads-up — the law that Krull is speaking of is only the law in Iowa. Other states have different laws, and in some states touching your phone in any way while driving is against the law. Krull says too, while adults MAY use their phone in their hand while driving, it’s not necessarily a good idea. He recommends a hands-free device — especially the kind that uses Bluetooth to put your call over the vehicle’s speakers.

(as said:) “Absolutely, absolutely and the car manufacturers realize the hazards and the dangers that are involved with the cell phones and the calls coming in. So they’ve created that feature to their cars to make it safer because if you make it through the crash or if you don’t have these crashes you’re going to be able to buy another car and that’s why they put those features in there to make everybody safe.”

According to Krull, the case could be made that most accidents are caused by distractions.

(as said:) “56% of serious injury crashes in the state of Iowa are the result of a vehicle leaving its lane of travel and the number one reason for people to leave their lane… departure… would be the distraction. They’re looking down and they’re not paying attention, you know, they get slightly distracted and they end up doing that. We’re getting lots of people to call in. People are fed up with people driving all over the road and it’s almost like they’re intoxicated or impaired with the alcohol or drugs. And we get those calls went oftentimes investigate those traffic complaints and find them to be just simply somebody being on their phone and distracted.”

Trooper Krull says don’t get “inTEXTicated.” He says to turn your phone off, turn it to silent mode, or get one of those sleeves to put your phone in while you’re driving, so you’re not tempted to answer calls or texts.