A bee enjoys nectar from a purple hyssop plant.

Fertilizer spill kills 750,000 fish in Nishnabotna River

by Jared Strong, Iowa Capital Dispatch
March 27, 2024

A fertilizer spill this month in southwest Iowa killed nearly all the fish in a 60-mile stretch of river with an estimated death toll of more than 750,000, according to Iowa and Missouri conservation officers.

That is the biggest fish kill in Iowa in at least a decade and the fifth-largest on record, according to state data.

And it could have been worse: Fish populations were likely smaller than normal when the spill happened because of cold water temperatures and low river flows.

“Thank goodness, in a way, it happened when it did,” said Joe Larscheid, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ fisheries bureau. “But this is a big one. It’s a lot of river miles that have been impacted.”

The spill originated at NEW Cooperative in Red Oak, where a valve that either malfunctioned or was not properly closed leaked about 265,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen fertilizer, most of which went into the nearby East Nishnabotna River.

Senate sends bill restricting local topsoil, stormwater rules to governor; Bettendorf senator pushed bill

by Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch
March 25, 2024

The Iowa Senate on Monday sent a bill to the governor’s desk restricting stormwater and topsoil regulations, a measure Democrats say unfairly limits local control.

The Senate approved Senate File 455 on a 29-18 vote. The bill would ban local regulations that are more restrictive than state and federal guidelines on stormwater runoff and topsoil preservation, compaction, placement or depth.

Runoff regulations would be required to be at or less restrictive than those based on flow rates calculated using return frequencies of five years, and topsoil rules would have to stay at or below requirements set by the Department of Natural Resources and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

Hardened hearts, short-sightedness at Capitol

by Ed Tibbetts, Iowa Capital Dispatch
March 20, 2024

Republicans in the Iowa House hate government freebies.

Unless it’s their corporate friends who get them.

The latest evidence of this hypocrisy is the effort to kill a central Iowa program and prevent others like it that are aimed at helping poor people.

UpLift is a test program in central Iowa that gives $500 per month to 110 individuals who live with at least one dependent up to the age of 25 and who have a median household income of only $24,000 a year.

Bill restricting storm water, top soil retention resurfaces; Bettendorf senator's bill passes House

Iowa Capital Dispatch
March 11, 2024

The Iowa House passed legislation Monday on local storm water and top soil regulation after the same bill failed last week.

Senate File 455 had failed to pass with a 44-49 vote last week. House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl filed a motion for reconsideration following the vote Wednesday, and on Monday, the motion was approved. The bill then passed in a 53-46 vote.

The measure would prohibit local regulations on stormwater runoff that are more restrictive than current flow rates based on return frequencies of five years. It also would prohibit local regulations related to topsoil preservation, compaction, placement or depth that are more restrictive than requirements set by the Department of Natural Resources and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

India online media company buys 10 percent stake in Davenport-based Lee Enterprises, Inc.

An India online media company, Quint Digital Limited of Delhi, has purchased a 10 percent stake in Lee Enterprises, Inc., owner of the Quad City Times, the Dispatch/Argus and more than 70 other media properties.

Quint Digital and three of its owners, Raghav Bahl, Ritu Kapur and Vidar Bahl, purchased a total of 614,455 shares of Lee on Feb. 8. That represents 10 percent of Lee's outstanding common shares.

Iowa House defeats bill sponsored by Bettendorf state senator that would have banned more restrictive topsoil and storm water rules

by Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch
March 6, 2024

A bill prohibiting local governments from passing more restrictive topsoil and storm water regulations than those set by the Department of Natural Resources failed Wednesday in the Iowa House.

Senate File 455 failed on a 44-49 vote — an unusual event given that the majority Republicans hold 64 seats.

The bill proposed prohibiting local regulations on stormwater runoff that are more restrictive than the state’s existing flow rates based on five-year frequencies. The bill also would bar local regulations related to topsoil preservation, compaction, placement or depth that are more restrictive than those set by the DNR.

Long-time state education department director says governor’s consultant report does not support her proposed changes to Iowa’s AEAs

Ted Stilwill has over 40 years of education experience starting as a teacher, building administrator, and central office administrator in Council Bluffs. He worked for the Iowa Department of Education for 18 years, first in charge of elementary and secondary education and then as department director for nearly 10 years. Following his work in the Iowa Department, Ted worked for a national educational nonprofit helping school districts and state education agencies work toward better outcomes for students. He finished his education career by working locally leading an 11-district consortium of metro Omaha districts in designing and implementing early childhood education centers.

by Ted Stilwill, Iowa Capital Dispatch
February 17, 2024

Last fall, Governor Reynold’s Department of Administrative Services contracted with a business consulting firm to produce a report critical of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs). The study was translated into a bill submitted by the governor to decimate the AEAs and weaken Iowa’s public education system.

The authors of the report are not listed. The costs are not known. The directions to the consulting firm have not been shared. The consulting firm has no apparent expertise or track record in the education world. There is no documentation in the report that a single Iowan was engaged in the preparation of the report. Most importantly, I believe the conclusions about AEAs are flawed.

Iowa Republicans and Democrats offer competing solutions to provide nursing home oversight

Iowa Capital Dispatch

Democratic state lawmakers are pushing legislation to increase state oversight of nursing homes while Republican legislators are advancing a bill that could reduce such oversight.

Both initiatives are being advanced now due to a spate of deaths and serious injuries tied to regulatory violations in Iowa nursing homes. Republican lawmakers say the situation calls for a more “collaborative” approach to enforcement, while Democrats argue the state isn’t being tough enough on violators.

On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Health and Human Services reviewed a GOP-backed bill, House Study Bill 691, that would revise the state law that requires the Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals and Licensing to make a preliminary review of a nursing home complaint and, unless DIAL concludes the complaint is intended to harass a facility, make an on-site inspection.

The bill would add new exceptions to the requirement for on-site inspections, allowing DIAL to forgo an on-site visit if the agency concludes the complaint involves an issue that was already the subject of a complaint or a self-report from the facility itself within the previous 90 days. So, for example, if a facility self-reported an incident tied to insufficient staffing or a failure to monitor residents, it might not face another on-site inspection if a resident complained of the same issue two months later.

Lee reports drop in print, digital ad revenue; maintains digital transition strategy will succeed

Lee Enterprises – owner of the Quad City Times, Dispatch/Argus and 70+ other news publications and web sites – reported first quarter earnings of $1.2 million, a 32 percent decrease from the same period a year ago.

Lee executives again boasted of its growth in digital subscriptions (up 58 percent from the first quarter of 2022), but overall subscription revenue fell 10.5 percent compared with the same period last year.

"Our first quarter results demonstrate our confidence in Lee's digital transformation," Kevin Mowbray, Lee's President and Chief Executive Officer, stated in its earnings news release issued Feb. 1. "We are on a clear path to becoming sustainable solely from the revenue and cash flow from our digital products."

While the company has been pushing aggressively to move print subscribers to digital subscribers, the overall impact has been a steady decrease in total operating revenues.

Lawmakers discuss reducing inspections of hotels, asbestos removal – the move led by Bettendorf's Republican State Senator Scott Webster

by Clark Kauffman, Iowa Capital Dispatch
January 23, 2024

An Iowa Senate subcommittee advanced legislation Tuesday to cut back on the law’s requirement for hotel inspections and asbestos-related inspections at construction sites.

The three members of the Senate State Government Subcommittee expressed reservations with various elements of the bill, Senate Study Bill 3064, but the two Republican members said they intended to forward it to the full committee on the theory that there will be more discussion about the bill’s merits and any potential drawbacks.

Currently, state law requires that the Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals and Licensing inspect hotels and motels at least once every two years. However, the department has not complied with that law for several years and has instead inspected hotels largely on a complaint-only basis with some inspections being performed on a prioritized, risk-based assessment.

The department now hopes to have the law changed so that it essentially legalizes DIAL’s current practice.

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