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Pompeo becomes U.S. secretary of state as Iran, N. Korea issues await

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as President Donald Trump’s secretary of state on Thursday, putting the former CIA director in a pivotal role to handle U.S. foreign policy challenges such as North Korea and Iran.

Pompeo, a former Army officer who was a Republican congressman, is regarded as a Trump loyalist with hawkish world views.

Pompeo, who takes over the job vacated by Rex Tillerson, is already deeply involved in diplomacy. Trump sent him to North Korea three weeks ago to meet with the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, ahead of a summit with the U.S. president to address Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Senators in the Republican-controlled chamber voted 57-42 in favor of Pompeo, who had faced resistance from Democrats worried about his reputation for hawkishness and past harsh statements about homosexuality and Islam.

Six Democrats and one independent who normally votes with Democrats backed Pompeo. No Republican voted no.

Pompeo will be forced to quickly address a wide array of other international challenges, including long conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, Chinese expansionism in Asia and Russian assertiveness.

Washington is also working with European allies such as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the possibility of toughening an international nuclear agreement with Iran.

Supporters of Pompeo said he did well during 15 months leading the CIA, and said the country badly needed a leader at the State Department. Staffing at the department was slashed and many positions left unfilled under Tillerson, a former oil executive who was Trump’s first secretary of state.

Trump, who abruptly fired Tillerson last month, welcomed Pompeo’s confirmation, saying in a statement, “Having a patriot of Mike’s immense talent, energy, and intellect leading the Department of State will be an incredible asset for our country at this critical time in history.”

Pompeo narrowly avoided a historic rebuke by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Pompeo, who became one of Trump’s closest advisers during his 15 months at the CIA, faced stiff opposition from Democrats, who worried he might be too closely aligned with the president.

HAWKISH

While in Congress, Pompeo was an outspoken opponent of the Iran nuclear accord. He once suggested the answer to Tehran’s nuclear program - which Iran has always said was for peaceful means only - was 2,000 bombing sorties.

Senator Ben Cardin, a senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that attitude, and Pompeo’s backing for Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement if it cannot be changed, were reasons he opposed him.

“That’s not diplomacy, and that’s certainly not working with our European allies,” Cardin said.

Pompeo said during his confirmation hearing that he was open to fixing, rather than blowing apart, the pact, which the West believes is key to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.

A State Department official said Pompeo was leaving Washington for a NATO meeting in Brussels on Friday as soon as he was sworn in. This took place soon after his confirmation vote.

Pompeo avoided being the first nominee for secretary of state ever rejected by the Foreign Relations Committee only when Republican Senator Rand Paul, who had vowed to oppose him, shifted position minutes before the panel voted on Monday.

None of the 10 Democrats on the 21-member committee supported the nominee.

The vote for Pompeo was almost the same as for his predecessor Tillerson, who was approved by 56-43, then an unusually close margin for a secretary of state.

Trump picked the CIA’s deputy director, Gina Haspel, to replace Pompeo as head of the spy agency. If confirmed by the Senate, she would become the first woman to hold the post. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle Editing by Alistair Bell and Frances Kerry)

EPA chief Pruitt tells lawmakers ethics charges are distractions, lies

WASHINGTON — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt told lawmakers during a heated congressional hearing on Thursday that allegations of ethical missteps plaguing his tenure are untrue and are intended to derail President Donald Trump’s agenda.

“Facts are facts and fiction is fiction,” the embattled agency chief told a House of Representatives panel in the first of two hearings at which he was due to appear. “And a lie doesn’t become true just because it appears in the front page of the newspaper.”

The hearings, ostensibly to discuss the EPA budget, pose a critical test for Pruitt as he seeks to avoid becoming the latest in a long list of Cabinet members and senior White House officials who have either quit or been fired by Trump.

Trump administration officials have become increasingly frustrated by news reports on Pruitt ranging from his spending on first-class air travel and security, to his rental of a room in a high-end Washington condo linked to an energy lobbyist.

“Much of what has been targeted at me and my team has been half truths or, at best, stories that have been so twisted that they do not resemble reality,” Pruitt testified.

“Let’s have no illusions about what is really going on here,” Pruitt added. “Those who attack the EPA and attack me are doing so because they want to attack and derail the president’s agenda and undermine this administration’s priorities. I’m simply not going to let that happen.”

There are nearly a dozen pending investigations into Pruitt with the EPA inspector general, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the White House Office of Management and Budget, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives oversight committee.

Democrats on Thursday hammered Pruitt with rapid-fire “yes or no” questions about the scandals, at times calling his conduct shameful and embarrassing.

Representative Paul Tonko of New York ripped Pruitt for his “seemingly endless misconduct” and “what appears to be a propensity for grift.”

Pruitt often avoided being pinned down on specifics.

Asked by one lawmaker about whether he was aware that the EPA’s purchase of a $43,000 secure phone booth for his office violated spending laws before it was approved, Pruitt responded, “We are investigating this internally.”

The GAO this month said the EPA violated the law by installing the soundproof booth without telling lawmakers first.

‘INNUENDO AND MCCARTHYISM’

Representative David McKinley of West Virginia was among some Republican lawmakers expressing support for Pruitt, saying the hearing was a “classic display of innuendo and McCarthyism,” a reference to a 1950s-era campaign to root out communists.

Republican Gregg Harper of Mississippi decried what he saw as the “political bloodsport” of going after Trump administration officials. But Harper, like several Democrats, raised concerns about reports that whistleblowers had been removed or reassigned at Pruitt’s EPA.

Pruitt denied the claims, saying, “There’s no truth to the assertion that positions have been reassigned. I’m not aware of that ever happening.”

Tonko asked Pruitt about reports that the EPA had provided improper pay raises to two political aides. Pruitt previously told Fox News he was completely unaware of the raises and that his Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson was responsible.

Tonko asked Pruitt whether he authorized Jackson to sign documents allowing for the raises.

“Those were delegated to Mr. Jackson,” Pruitt responded.

“You did authorize it? That decision was made by you? Yes or no?” Tonko asked.

“There are delegations giving him that authority,” Pruitt responded without giving a direct answer.

Pruitt is due to testify before another House panel later in the day.

The EPA has defended Pruitt’s spending on travel and security, saying it has been crucial to protecting him from public threats and ensuring he can conduct confidential work, and have also pointed out that Pruitt’s lease for the room in Washington from the wife of an energy lobbyist was around market rate.

The tumult in the administration was underscored earlier on Thursday when Trump’s physician Ronny Jackson withdrew from consideration to head the Department of Veterans Affairs after allegations about misconduct mounted.

Pruitt has drawn praise from conservatives during his EPA tenure for rolling back Democratic former President Barack Obama’s policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other environmental regulations opposed by industry, as well as his role in Trump’s decision to abandon the 2015 Paris global climate change agreement.

Although Trump has expressed support for Pruitt for his work on scaling back environmental regulations, White House sources have told Reuters officials are worried about the flow of charges against him.

Democratic lawmakers who oppose Pruitt’s regulatory rollbacks have seized on his scandals, with 170 of them calling for his resignation. In recent days, five Republican Congress members have joined their ranks in calling for his ouster.

(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Will Dunham)

Comedian Bill Cosby convicted of sexual assault in retrial

NORRISTOWN, Pa. — A Pennsylvania jury convicted comedian Bill Cosby on Thursday on all three counts of drugging and molesting a onetime friend in 2004, a decisive victory for prosecutors in one of the first celebrity sexual-assault trials of the #MeToo era.

Cosby, 80, best known as the lovable father from the 1980s TV hit “The Cosby Show,” faces up to 10 years in prison for each of the three counts of aggravated indecent assault of Andrea Constand, who is now 45.

A former administrator for the women’s basketball team at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater, Constand is one of about 50 women who have accused him of sexual assault. All of the other allegations are believed to be too old to be prosecuted. Cosby has said any sexual encounters were consensual.

The unanimous decision by the seven-man, five-woman jury came less than a year after a different jury deadlocked in his first trial on the same charges, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial. Prosecutors decided to retry him.

The first trial ended just before a flood of sexual assault and harassment accusations against rich and powerful men in media, entertainment and politics gave rise to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Those high-profile revelations have encouraged women in all walks of life to go public with personal stories of abuse, in some cases after years of silence.

(Reporting by David DeKok; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)

Cedar Rapids man accused of sexually abusing 14-year-old girl

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man has been accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl.

According to Cedar Rapids police criminal complaints, Troy W. Wheeler, of Cedar Rapids, committed sexual abuse of a 14-year-old on or around March 22 at an Eighth Avenue SW residence.

In a forensic interview with the St. Luke’s Child Protection Center, the victim described how Wheeler, who was 27 at the time of the incident, engaged in a sex act with her, according to police.

Wheeler, 28, has been charged with one count of third-degree sexual abuse, a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He was being held Thursday in the Linn County Jail on a $20,000 bond.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

Police say juvenile used BB gun in weekend burglary

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids police say the weapon used by a juvenile in a Saturday burglary ended up being a BB gun.

According to court documents, 16-year-old Brandin M. Kiefer accompanied 19-year-old Kylee S. Sakulin to a Cedar Rapids residence on Samuel Court to steal items including clothing, a marijuana blunt and a cellphone.

Police say Kiefer, who was armed with what appeared to be a handgun, threatened the victim while armed with what police later identified as a BB gun.

Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said officers believe Sakulin and Kiefer knew the victim.

“We do not believe this was a random act,” he said.

Kiefer has been charged with a Class C felony count of second-degree burglary and assault with a weapon, a serious misdemeanor.

Sakulin faces one count of first-degree burglary, a Class B felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

White House doctor Ronny Jackson withdraws from VA nomination

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s physician Ronny Jackson withdrew on Thursday from consideration to head the Department of Veterans Affairs after allegations about misconduct mounted and a Senate panel postponed his confirmation hearing.

“While I will forever be grateful for the trust and confidence President Trump has placed in me by giving me this opportunity, I am regretfully withdrawing my nomination to be Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Jackson said in a statement.

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs was investigating allegations that Jackson, a U.S. Navy rear admiral who has been physician to three presidents, had overseen a hostile work environment as White House physician, drank on the job and allowed the overprescribing of drugs.

Trump lashed out angrily at Democrats for Jackson’s withdrawal in a phone interview with Fox News, calling them obstructionists who were politicizing his nominees. He singled out Senator Jon Tester, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee, who gave a series of interviews about the allegations against Jackson.

“He would have done a great job,” Trump said of Jackson, who had no experience running a large organization. “These are all false accusations. They’re trying to destroy a man.”

Trump said he has a new candidate with “political capabilities” for the job.

Details about the allegations against Trump’s nominee to lead the federal government’s second-largest agency were compiled in a document by Democratic committee staff that surfaced on Wednesday.

A summary of the document said Jackson prescribed himself medications, got drunk at a Secret Service party, wrecked a government vehicle and once could not be reached on a work trip to provide medical treatment because he was passed out drunk in a hotel room.

“DISTRACTION”

“The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated ... Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this President and the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes,” Jackson said.

Jackson, 50, has worked as a presidential physician since the George W. Bush administration and has been the lead doctor for Trump as well as former president Barack Obama. He is well-liked by both Republican and Democratic administration officials.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Jackson was on the job at the White House on Thursday but it was not immediately clear whether he would resume his post as the top White House physician.

The Iraq War veteran took on a higher profile when he gave a long and glowing account of Trump’s health at news conference in January after his first presidential medical exam, saying Trump had “incredibly good genes.”

Jackson’s qualifications to lead the sprawling Veterans Affairs department were questioned from the time Trump nominated him in late March. The agency has 350,000 employees and runs 1,700 facilities that serve more than 9 million veterans a year.

The department has long been under fire for the quality of health care it provides veterans, a group that carries considerable political clout in America. During his election campaign, Trump vowed to clean it up.

The Senate committee considering his nomination asked the White House this week for more information after initial allegations about Jackson’s conduct came to light.

Tester called for lawmakers to continue investigating the White House medical unit, despite Jackson’s withdrawal.

Trump on Tuesday said during a news conference that he did not know the details of the allegations against Jackson but said it was up to him whether to continue with a political process he called “too ugly and too disgusting.”

Trump acknowledged that Jackson had an “experience problem” for leading the sprawling department.

Trump fired former VA Secretary David Shulkin in March after concerns about unauthorized travel expenses.

Trump’s administration has marked by a great deal of turbulence as high-profile officials have come and gone, which Democrats say is an indication of chaos.

Third man arrested in December armed robbery in Coralville

CORALVILLE — Police have arrested the alleged shooter in a December robbery that left one person with a gunshot wound.

According to Coralville police criminal complaints, 24-year-old Soloman J. Marshall, of Coralville accompanied Markez Fox, 21, and Artquon Kirksey, 19, to a residence in the 500 block of Seventh Avenue for “an arranged transaction” at about 1 a.m. Dec. 23.

Police say the men discussed a transaction, but it ultimately did not occur.

When the victim left the residence and got into a vehicle, Marshall allegedly walked up to him, pulled out a handgun and fired into the vehicle, hitting the victim in the arm and chest.

Police say Soloman, Fox and Kirksey then fled the scene.

Both Fox and Kirksey were arrested in January. Fox is being held in Muscatine County, while Kirksey is in custody in Washington County.

On Jan. 12, police issued an arrest warrant for Soloman, who was booked Wednesday in the Johnson County Jail.

All three men face one count of first-degree robbery, a Class B felony punishable up to 25 years in prison.

Fox is scheduled for a July 10 jury trial, while Kirksey’s jury trial is scheduled for July 17, according to court documents.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

Cohen says he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right in Stormy Daniels case

President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen on Wednesday told a federal judge that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself in a lawsuit brought by adult entertainer Stormy Daniels.

Cohen’s declaration, in support of his request to pause proceedings in the civil case, cited an “ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.”

Earlier this month, the FBI raided Cohen’s home, office and a hotel room where he had been staying. That investigation includes the effort to quash embarrassing stories about Trump during the 2016 campaign, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Daniels, who alleges she had an affair with Trump years ago, is seeking to void a confidentiality agreement she signed just days before the 2016 presidential election in exchange for $130,000. Cohen has said he facilitated the payment using his own money from a home-equity line of credit.

The suit, filed last month, names the president and Essential Consultants, a company Cohen created as a vehicle for the payment, as defendants. She later added Cohen as a defendant.

In the filing Wednesday, Cohen said the FBI had seized “various electronic devices and documents” that contained information relating to the payment to Daniels, as well as related communications with Cohen’s lawyer, Brent Blakely.

“This is a stunning development,” Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Daniels, said in a tweet. “Never before in our nation’s history has the attorney for the sitting President invoked the 5th Amend in connection with issues surrounding the President. It is esp. stunning seeing as MC served as the “fixer” for Mr. Trump for over 10 yrs.”

It is not uncommon for defendants facing both civil liability and criminal prosecution to request a pause in civil proceedings to avoid giving sworn testimony and producing documents that could prove incriminating.

Even so, in 2016, Trump sneered at Hillary Clinton aides for exercising their right not to self-incriminate during a congressional investigation into her private email server.

“The mob takes the Fifth,” Trump said at one campaign rally, according to the Associated Press. “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”

Yet in 1990, Trump himself took the Fifth to avoid answering 97 questions in a divorce deposition, the AP noted.

Cohen’s attorneys argued last week for a pause in the Daniels case, in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California. Judge James Otero ordered them to file a declaration from Cohen himself, stating whether he intended to assert his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Otero must now decide whether there is evidence of enough overlap between the civil case and the criminal investigation to justify a pause.

In New York, meanwhile, lawyers for Cohen and Trump continue to fight for the ability to review material seized in he raids before prosecutors have access to it.

They have argued Cohen should have the ability to decide whether some of the material relates to communications between Cohen and his legal clients and therefore should be shielded from prosecutors’ review.

In letters to the court filed Wednesday, lawyers for Cohen, Trump and the Trump Organization said they were prepared to put significant resources into quickly reviewing the documents. A lawyer for Trump wrote that the president himself would be available “as needed” to assist in the process.

Federal District Judge Kimba Wood has ordered that prosecutors let Cohen’s lawyers review some of the seized material. She has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to provide an update on the issue.

Trump veterans’ nominee considers withdrawing after new allegations of drinking, giving improper prescriptions

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s doctor Ronny Jackson faced new allegations on Wednesday about questionable drug prescriptions and drunkenness as the White House insisted it had thoroughly vetted him to become the head of the Veterans Affairs department.

The explosive new allegations against Trump’s nominee to lead the federal government’s second-largest agency were compiled in a document by Democratic staff on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

They said he prescribed himself medications, got drunk at a Secret Service party, wrecked a government vehicle and once could not be reached on a work trip to provide medical treatment because he was passed out drunk in a hotel room, according to the summary.

The Washington Post reported late on Wednesday that Jackson has begun telling colleagues he may withdraw from consideration for the Veterans Affairs post.

The sprawling department has long been under fire for the quality of healthcare it provides veterans, a group that carries considerable political clout in America. During his election campaign, Trump vowed to clean it up.

Jackson had been set to have his Senate confirmation hearing for the job on Wednesday. But that was postponed after senators from both parties said they wanted to examine allegations made by 23 colleagues and former colleagues, most of whom are still in the military.

Even after reports about the new allegations emerged, Jackson told reporters that he was moving forward with the nominating process for the position.

“I have not wrecked a car, so I can tell you that,” Jackson told reporters at the White House on Wednesday, saying he did not know where the allegations were coming from.

Trump said on Tuesday it was up to Jackson to decide whether he would continue the confirmation process.

‘CANDYMAN’

Jackson, 50, became well known after giving Trump a long and glowing televised medical report earlier this year. The roiling controversy over his nomination is the latest in a long series of chaotic personnel issues for Trump’s White House.

Trump fired his first secretary for the Veterans Affairs department, David Shulkin, in March after concerns about unauthorized travel expenses. He surprised many by picking Jackson as the replacement, given that the White House doctor had no experience running a large operation.

The White House defended its vetting process, saying Jackson’s background had been evaluated by three different administrations where he had worked closely with the presidents and their families.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Jackson had undergone four different background investigations, including an FBI check, and had received strong recommendations from his superiors, including former President Barack Obama.

But Sanders said the White House was looking at the new allegations.

After she spoke with reporters, the Democrats’ document was released. It said Jackson was called “Candyman” because he would provide whatever prescriptions staff sought without paperwork. Sleeping pills and pills to wake up with were handed out on Air Force One “without triaging patient history,” the summary said.

Jackson once provided a large supply of Percocet painkillers to a staff member without immediately recording the transfer, alarming the rest of the team about the sudden shortage.

Trump’s White House has made combating opioid abuse one of its top priorities.

Jackson was described as unethical, explosive, toxic, abusive, volatile and someone who would have “screaming tantrums” and “screaming fits,” the document said.

People working with Jackson “noted a constant fear of reprisal,” and the document did not identify his accusers because of that, it said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell and Jeff Mason; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman)

Printing paper maps going out of style for Iowa gov, drug take back day scheduled, dead bills walking: Iowa Capitol Digest, April 25

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Wednesday, April 25, 2018:

ROAD MAP TO OBSOLESCENCE: The $381 million transportation budget the Iowa House approved Wednesday included $242,000 for the Department of Transportation to print paper transportation maps.

The change reflected the growth in use of smartphones, navigational units and other GPS technology, and the pursuit of government efficiency, Transportation Chairman Dan Huseman, R-Aurelia, said in 2012.

That was the year when the Legislature decided to reduce the number of maps and frequency of printing the maps from 1.8 million every year, Huseman said.

The DOT will print 1.4 million to distribute over the coming two years.

“We’ll be tracking how many of these maps disappear,” Huseman said. “If it ever looks like it’s not being used, we’ll probably be phasing them out.”

PARK FUNDING: Iowa state parks are in line for a 43.5 percent funding increase in an agriculture and natural resources budget approved Wednesday.

The House voted 57-36 to approve a $90 million budget that includes $39 million from the general fund.

It also taps the Environment First Fund and Resource Enhancement and Protection Fund to support the efforts of the departments of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Natural Resources.

Rep. Norlin Mommsen, R-DeWitt, manager of House File 2491, said that without the increase some parks might be closed. He called the increase a “high priority” because of the “desperate need.”

So the House approved a $3 million increase from $6.235 million by taking $2 million from REAP and $1 million from the Environment First Fund.

COURT IN MOURNING: Iowa’s Supreme Court justices, former colleagues and friends on Wednesday were marking the passing of former Justice Jerry L. Larson of Harlan, the longest serving justice in the history of the Iowa Supreme Court.

Larson, who died at age 81 early Wednesday, served on the high court from 1978 to 2008.

His colleagues say he was revered as a dedicated public servant whose long career combined his respect for the rule of law, his unwavering support for fair and impartial courts, and his great fondness for his hometown and the Shelby County Courthouse.

Larson served on the court from 1978 to 2008.

“I had the honor and great pleasure to serve with Justice Larson for my first 10 years as a justice on the Supreme Court,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady said. “He was a great mentor and better friend with a keen legal mind, a quick wit and a deep love of the law. Our sympathies go out to his entire family.”

Larson was appointed in 1975 as a district court judge, where he served until his appointment to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1978.

DRUG TAKE BACK DAY: National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is this Saturday.

Iowa’s health and safety officials are urging residents to take advantage of the opportunity to safely dispose of unneeded medicines.

Local law enforcement agencies, pharmacies and others are teaming up to collect leftover prescription drugs, as part of this special one-day event held each spring and fall.

Sponsors say the Take Back program helps prevent the dangerous misuse of controlled prescription drugs, such as opioid pain relievers, as well as protecting against environmental contamination caused by improper medication disposal.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report about 80 percent of individuals treated for a heroin addiction were first introduced to opioids through a prescription pain medication usually obtained from a friend, family member or other acquaintance.

National Prescription Drug Take Back events will operate from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in about 100 communities across Iowa. For details, go to: https://odcp.Iowa.gov/RxTakeBacks.

In previous events, Iowans have disposed of more than 50 tons of medication — a collection rate of 30 pounds of excess pills and other drugs every minute.

DEAD BILLS WALKING: At least two policy bills that did not survive the “funnel” process earlier this session appear to be getting reactivated in the Legislature’s fiscal 2019 budget process.

Draft language for the justice systems budget bill included an Iowa Department of Corrections proposal to shutter rooms designated for inmates to have access to adult content materials in state prisons and a separate proposal to prohibit operation of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, over jails and prisons.

The so-called prison pornography reading rooms were set up in response to a federal court ruling in the 1980s that found Iowa’s prison rules dealing with sexually explicit reading materials were unconstitutional.

However, DOC officials say they have language modeled after a Federal Bureau of Prisons policy that they believe will stand up to a court challenge from inmates.

The drone language was spurred by reports that unmanned aerial vehicles have been used to drop drugs, cellphones and other contraband inside prison grounds.

Officials also are concerned drones could be used to drop weapons into a prison.

Policy language in a separate courts budget bill requires the Iowa Judicial Branch install and maintain a flagpole on the grounds of the judicial building in Des Moines to fly U.S. and Iowa flags.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I know that the soil does have to be at a certain temperature. That’s the extent of my farming knowledge.” — Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, on pressure for the Legislature to adjourn so farmer-legislators can plant crops.

Renewed search planned for missing La Porte City teen with autism

LA PORTE CITY — Authorities are planning another surge this weekend in the search for an autistic La Porte City teen who last was seen April 7.

Jake Wilson, 16, disappeared after telling family members he was going to nearby Wolf Creek.

“The search is still very much alive, and we still have our optimism that we are going to find him,” Police Chief Chris Brecher said Tuesday. “We are not done by any means. We are going to be back in the water on Saturday and Sunday.”

Efforts intensified last weekend as officials re-launched water and ground searches both along the creek and on the Cedar River.

On Tuesday, those operations continued with handlers and human residue odor detection dogs walking the banks.

New operations will involve trained crews from law enforcement and fire departments and will include bringing in heavy equipment to pull apart larger log jams in the water as well as working the waterways and walking the shores.

Brecher said part of the reason for renewed search with some different means is the changing nature of the creek, river and tributaries as the water levels rise and fall.

“There is so much in there, and so much that’s moving,” Brecher said. “Things get stirred up, and when things get stirred up, we have to go back out and check.”

He said crews still are checking the creek by kayak and examining fences that were strung across the creek in two places to catch debris that floats down.

Brecher said authorities get one or two tips and suggestions a day to check out.

Jake is about 5-foot-6 and 135 pounds with hazel eyes and dark blonde hair. He was wearing a brown zip-up jacket, dark sweatpants and cowboy boots.

Anyone spotting Jake is asked to call Black Hawk County Dispatch at 291-2515 or local authorities.

HUD proposes raising rent for poor Americans getting federal help

WASHINGTON — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Wednesday proposed raising the amount that low-income families are expected to pay for rent — tripling it for the poorest households — as well as making it easier for property owners to place work requirements on those getting housing subsidies.

The move to overhaul how rental subsidies are calculated would affect 4.7 million families relying on federal housing assistance — thousands of them in Iowa, where there are waiting lists in some cities to receive Housing Choice Vouchers, popularly known as Section 8 assistance.

The proposal legislation, which HUD said would simplify rent calculations and lessen the burden on tenants to annually verify their income, would require congressional approval.

“There is one inescapable imperative driving this reform effort,” Carson said in a call with reporters. “The current system isn’t working very well. Doing nothing is not an option.”

Tenants generally pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent or a public housing agency minimum rent — which is capped at $50 a month for the poorest families.

The administration’s proposal raises the family monthly rent contribution to 35 percent of gross income, or 35 percent of their earnings working 15 hours a week at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Under the proposal, the cap for the poorest families would rise to about $150 a month. About 712,000 households nationwide would see their rents rise to the new monthly minimum of $150, HUD officials said.

Housing advocates criticized the proposal as “cruel hypocrisy,” coming on the heels of tax breaks to wealthy Americans and corporations.

“When we are in the middle of a housing crisis that’s having the most negative impact on the lowest-income people, we shouldn’t even be considering proposals to increase their rent burdens,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Section 8 is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled to afford sanitary housing in the private market. But there also are subsidized public housing units and assistance programs for military veterans and others.

According to HUD officials, half the households receiving federal housing aid are headed by the elderly or disabled.

The Cedar Rapids Housing Service office — which includes the Public Housing Authority of Linn and Benton counties — assists about 1,200 families a year.

The Iowa City Housing Authority, which includes all of Johnson County and portions of Iowa and Washington counties, also provides housing aid to about 1,200 families a year.

The Eastern Iowa Regional Housing Authority, which serves the rural areas of Cedar, Clinton, Delaware, Dubuque, Jackson, Jones and Scott countys, provides up to 983 Section 8 vouchers a year and operates 164 rental units for very low income families.

The bill proposed by Carson would allow public housing agencies and property owners to impose work requirements. Currently, only 15 housing authorities in about a dozen states require some sort of work or job training in return for benefits, HUD said.

Seniors over 65 and individuals with disabilities would be exempt from the rental increases for the first six years. They also would be exempt from work rules.

“Every year, it takes more money, millions of dollars more, to serve the same number of households,” Carson said, citing long waiting lists for federal housing assistance. “It’s clear from a budget perspective and a human point of view that the current system is unsustainable.”

Carson said decades-old rules on how rent is calculated are “far too confusing,” often resulting in families who earn the same income paying vastly different rents.

“They know how to include certain deductions that other people may not be aware of,” Carson said. “We really want to level the playing field and make it much more even for everyone.”

HUD also seeks to eliminate deductions for medical and child-care costs when determining a tenant’s rent.

Carson said current rules that require an annual review of household income creates “perverse consequences” that discourage people from earning more money.

Under the proposed bill, income verification would be required only every three years, which Carson said would encourage tenants to work more without immediately facing a rent increase.

The Washington Post contributed.

Passage of ‘non-con’ budget bills signals end of Iowa legislative session is near

DES MOINES — After days and weeks of legislative leaders saying they were close to agreeing on a spending plan for the fiscal 2019 budget, the Iowa House started down the path to adjournment by passing a pair of budget bills Wednesday afternoon.

“This is pretty non-con compared to ones we’ve had over the years,” Rep. Dennis Cohoon, D-Burlington, said about the lack of controversy on House File 2494 before the House voted 95-0 to approve a $381 million transportation budget for the budget year beginning July 1.

The House kept up the momentum, passing House File 2491, the agriculture and natural resources budget, 57-37. It includes $39 million from the general fund and more from various other funds.

The key to passage was agreement with both Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and the GOP-controlled Senate.

However, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, said budget agreement was not universal.

“We’re close on some others,” he said. “But we still have different targets. For those areas where there’s still some daylight between us, we’re trying to get closer together and come up with the final numbers.”

The lack of agreement is not contentious, he said, but “just a conversation you have to have and figure out what you can do and can’t do.”

For Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City, the ranking Democrat on Schneider’s Appropriations Committee, the movement on budgets was a mixed bag.

“We’re happy there’s finally some action on the budget,” Bolkcom said. “We’ve been waiting to see these budget bills for a couple of months.”

However, he was critical of the GOP budget process that Bolkcom said has provided little opportunity for input from the public, “much less members of the Legislature.”

“We’ve struggled to keep up with the bills we’ll be voting on, whether it’s the tax bill or the collective bargaining bill or these bills right in front of us,” he said. “We haven’t had opportunity to go through them like we would under normal conditions.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee should get a look at the budget when the committee meets Thursday, but Schneider could not say if the budget bills would be available to senators before its meetings at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

He said budget subcommittee chairs have been “working together to figure out their priorities,” but nine days after the Legislature’s scheduled adjournment, he wasn’t planning to send the bills through the budget committee process.

That’s not good news for anyone trying to understand the budget, Bolkcom said.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, rejected the complaint about a lack of transparency.

The components of the budget bills and tax relief plan Republicans have been negotiating in serial meetings are not new, Upmeyer said.

“We’ve had lots of conversations about all these things,” she said.

Still, Bolkcom said the budget process used by Republicans “has grown almost impossible for people to understand — even the majority party.”

He attributed that to GOP leaders’ lack of discipline and failure to keep policy issues out of budget bills. They need to tell their members “to quit monkeying around, and it’s time to go home.”

“If you haven’t passed a policy bill through the regular process,” Bolkcom said, “it’s time to abandon it, finish the budget and adjourn.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

When you’re the one making decisions: Students learn about local government in mock Linn County Supervisor meeting

CEDAR RAPIDS — In a mock meeting, half a dozen area high school students found out firsthand how difficult it can be to make decisions for an entire county.

In the Linn County Board of Supervisors formal meeting room, the board of seven — six area high school students and Supervisor John Harris — addressed a scenario that, while simulated, was a very real issue about a decade ago in Linn County — property tax abatements for flood-damaged homes.

The simulated meeting was part of National County Government Month, with Future Leaders of Linn County providing 26 high school students a hands-on experience with their local government.

The mock board of teenagers on Wednesday voted 4-3 against abating property taxes for flood victims. In real life, the supervisors approved the exemptions in 2009.

The lesson learned had to do with the burden of making public policy.

Chavi Parks, a senior at Prairie High School, who voted in favor of tax abatements, said the challenge was weighing empathy for residents in need against what’s financially best for the county.

“I think that made the decision difficult for us,” he said. “I’ve personally experienced financial hardships growing up, but I do see both sides.”

Meanwhile, Jefferson High School junior Juliet Bwalya said she voted against the abatements because they placed considerable financial strain on the county and — in the scenario given — significantly cut the county’s public safety budget.

Bwalya said the experience gave her a different perspective on elected officials.

“They have to face decisions every day, and sometimes the decisions will impact you in a big way,” she said. “But at the same time you have to see the overall big picture. It kind of gives me more sympathy to the people who have to make those decisions.”

Harris, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, noted decisions like those on tax abatements often must be made by local boards and councils.

“Sometimes there is no wrong answer,” he said. “There’s just an answer.”

The Future Leaders of Linn County event began by introducing the students to county staffers and elected officials and culminated with students participating in the mock board meeting.

Students taking part were from Washington, Jefferson and Prairie high schools in Cedar Rapids, Linn-Mar High School in Marion and Mount Vernon High School.

Supervisor Stacey Walker, who spearheaded the mock government idea, said his hope was to not only educate area youth on how local government works but maybe inspire them to consider serving on public boards.

“One of my biggest fears is that our best and our brightest will take a pass on public service,” he said. “Maybe they don’t see the value, or maybe they’re burdened by the way of cynicism.

“But now I think my fears have been allayed in a way because you’re seeing just an incredible amount of engagement among young folks,” he said.

“This is perhaps another way, a small way, to say we are going to do whatever we can do to facilitate their interest so that maybe, just maybe, one of these students is going to come back and run for office, whether it’s county board or city council or school board.”

Harris, the only Republican on the five-member county board, said the event also shows that bipartisanship does exist — at least at the local level.

“What I’m hoping the take-away is for most of these kids is to be able to watch how county government works, as opposed to what they’re hearing about the government in Des Moines and the government in D.C.,” Harris said.

“It’s public service, not party service. There are isolated pockets in this political world where Democrats and Republicans can sit down together and have a decent discussion.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

Iowa Attorney General tapped for e-cigarette initiative

The Iowa Attorney General has been tapped to lead an e-cigarette company’s initiatives to reduce tobacco use in those under the age of 21.

San Francisco-based JUUL Labs, the maker of the e-cigarette device, announced Wednesday it would support state and federal initiatives to raise the minimum purchasing age for tobacco products as a part of a $30 million initiative over the next three years.

Part of that funding initiative includes research and a panel of public health officials and experts assembled and led by Tom Miller, the Iowa Attorney General, to keep e-cigarettes — or electronic nicotine delivery systems — out of the hands of young people.

“JUUL has pledged to work with me and others to keep their products from kids,” Miller said in a statement Wednesday on the Attorney General’s website.

In its announcement, the company said it was engaging with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s nationwide “blitz” campaign announced Tuesday to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes to underage individuals in brick-and-mortar and online retailers.

“The blitz, which started April 6 and will continue to the end of the month, has already revealed numerous violations of the law,” according to an FDA statement on the campaign.

The FDA also contacted manufacturers, and sent an official request for information directly to JUUL Labs on Tuesday. The federal agency requested documents to help officials “to better understand the reportedly high rates of youth use and the particular youth appeal of these products,” according to the letter.

According to the FDA, more than two million middle and high school students were used e-cigarettes in 2016.

Other studies, including one from the medical journal the BMJ, have shown young individuals who vape are more likely to take up smoking later on.

JUUL Labs officials stated in the announcement they hope to continue helping adult smokers transition from cigarettes, but has recognized the fact young people are using their products is an issue.

“JUUL executives have stated from the start that they do not want kids using the product,” Miller said in the statement. “They sell directly only to people age 21 and older. JUUL has been outstandingly successful in the adult market.

“They don’t need sales to adolescents to succeed. Indeed, current youth use is far more harmful to JUUL than the cash generated.”

In 1998, Miller and attorneys general of 45 other states signed a settlement agreement with the four largest tobacco companies in the United States to settle suits on state health care costs associated with treating smoking-related illnesses.

The agreement — the largest in U.S. history — called for companies to pay the 46 states $206 billion over 25 years, and continue annual payments after that based on the number of cigarettes sold nationwide.

According to an article published in The Gazette a year ago, the state’s annual payment from the companies involved was more than $65 million in 2017. Iowa’s share of the settlement now tops $1.1 billion.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

This Mother’s Day expected to see strong sales

Looks as if there will be two very happy groups come May 13 — moms and merchants.

A recent survey of more than 7,500 consumers conducted by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics is forecasting a near-record $23.1 billion sales year for Mother’s Day, May 13.

According to the forecast, 86 percent of Americans will be celebrating this year, and it’s estimated that we’ll each spend about $180, on average, on mom.

The biggest sales likely will be from jewelers, who are expected to rake in $4.6 billion. Restaurateurs will be serving dinner and brunch to the tune of $4.4 billion.

Florists are expected to pull in about $2.6 billion.

Other winners that day should be clothing stores, consumer electronics and spas. The greeting card industry is anticipated to bring in more than $800 million.

“This year’s Mother’s Day forecast is one of the strongest we’ve ever seen,” National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a news release. “With spring in full bloom, Americans are looking forward to splurging on their mothers.”

If you’re trying to target a demographic, then you might want to go after the 35- to 44-year-olds. They’re expected to spend an average of $224.

Fifty-two percent of survey respondents said they were going to shop at a local small business or specialty store selling items like flowers, jewelry and electronics.

Thirty-one percent plan to shop online.

Becoming Wakandan: Black Panther production designer will appear at Flyover Fest

How do you create a world from scratch?

Meticulous research and a lot of imagination, for starters.

For Hannah Beachler and the rest of the crew on “Black Panther,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster released in February, creating the fictional African country of Wakanda that is the backdrop for the film was no easy feat.

Wakanda is meant to be a country that was never colonized or invaded. Sitting on a treasure trove of a rare and powerful mineral, vibranium, it developed into a wealthy, technologically advanced nation, isolated from Western influences.

Production designer Beachler was in charge of turning that world into reality. She said it was important to the design team to base Wakanda in both real art, architecture and traditions from across Africa while also imagining what those might have become without the ravages of colonization and the slave trade.

“As black Americans, we’re not taught that our history goes any further back than slavery … it’s all some fuzzy thing back in the past that we don’t really know,” she said. “This was about putting that pain to bed and saying, ‘This is what our future can be.’ … Really, its reclamation of the story and a retelling of it.”

To find that story, crew members traveled to Southern Africa, taking in everything from the landscape of Lesotho’s mountains, which kept out colonial invaders much the way Wakanda’s mountains in the movie do, to the painted houses of the Ndebele culture in South Africa to trendy, art-fueled neighborhoods in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

All of those found their way into the film, which also draws on details from the rest of the continent, like a pre-colonial written script from Nigeria, Malian architecture in the capital city and costumes drawn from fashions from Namibia to Ethiopia and beyond. The world is so carefully imagined that they wrote up a 500-page “Wakandan Bible.”

“Every single thing has a reason it was built the way it was,” Beachler said. “We developed everything — the systems of how the country works, where the rivers are, how the different provinces relate, how the river tribe fishes … You’re having an out of body experience the whole time because you’re so focused. You become Wakandan … it was super intense.”

She said it was important that things like mud huts had places of prominence and pride in Wakanda, countering Western ideas of what advanced civilizations look like.

“I had this image of shame in dirt, in huts … those things are portrayed as savage … But it’s the things we’re supposed to feel shame for that we celebrated in Wakanda. This is beautiful, this is tradition, this is history. That had to be at the top of everything we did, this sense of pride, in a forceful way.”

Beachler also was production designer for “Moonlight,” “Creed,” Beyonce’s “Lemonade” video and other projects. She spoke to The Gazette by phone from California, where she said she is working on a new project for Beyonce, though she couldn’t provide details.

Beachler will be in Iowa City Saturday for Flyover Fest, a three-day festival focused on centering diversity and inclusion in the arts. The weekend will feature everything from body positivity workshops to art installations to live music to panel discussions. Headliners include Women’s March artistic director Paola Mendoza, rapper CupcakKe, and costume designer Machine Dazzle, along with a companion performance by Taylor Mac at Hancher, appearing in Dazzle’s creations.

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, the first film Beachler worked on, “Husk,” was shot in Des Moines. She said she likes returning to the Midwest to speak at things like Flyover, in hopes of inspiring the next generation of filmmakers.

“I want to give my time back to the 20-year-old me. Twenty-year-old me was figuring out what my life was going to be and figuring out who I was as a black woman in this country and in this industry. I was figuring out, how do I get out and how do I do those things?”

Flyover co-founder Simeon Talley said Beachler’s appearance on the heels of the runaway success of “Black Panther” is a perfect illustration of the power of representation in the media.

“She’s one of the only black female production designers in Hollywood to work on films that are at that level,” he said. “It’s important for people to see themselves on the big screen …. And for it also to be a primarily black cast, black director, black production designer — there are interesting conversations there.”

Talley launched the festival as Flyover Fashion Fest three years ago with Amanda Lesmeister, who is now in an advisory role. But Talley said, in some ways, this is the first year for an entirely new festival, born from the fashion festival but focusing much more broadly on the arts beyond fashion, as well as on deeper cultural issues.

“We heard back a lot that although what we were doing was pretty cool and creative, we could be doing better by centering on specific folks that … aren’t on the covers of fashion magazines,” Talley said. “We want to explore issues around inclusion and representation in fashion, but also film, media, the arts writ large.”

Beachler said those issues are central to the stories she wants to tell in film. “Black Panther was a really cathartic project and an important project, not just in my career, but for so many people to see a reflection of themselves on the screen that really celebrates them and reminds of us of everything that we were.”

 

Flyover Fest presents “Black Panther” production designer Hannah Beachler: “Representation Matters” WHERE: Shambaugh Auditorium, University of Iowa Main Library, 125 W. Washington St., Iowa City WHEN: 7:15 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday (4/28) ADMISSION: Free DETAILS: helloflyover.com/schedule/ Flyover Fest WHEN: Thursday (4/26) to Saturday (4/28) WHERE: Various venues around downtown Iowa City COST: Full festival pass $55. Some individual event tickets available, free to $20. If cost is a barrier to attend, scholarships and discounts are available; email info@helloflyover.com for details. TICKETS AND FULL SCHEDULE: Helloflyover.com HIGHLIGHTS: Machine Dazzle: A Dazzled Life (3 to 4 p.m. Friday, Iowa Memorial Union, 125 N. Madison St., free); Dazzle Crawl (5 to 7 p.m. Friday, starts at 287 N. Linn St., free); “Beyond Protest” with Women’s March artistic director Paola Mendoza (6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Big Grove Brewery, 1225 S. Gilbert St., $10); CupcakKe & The Haus of Eden (10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington St., $20); “Look, But Don’t Touch” with Momo Pixel (3 to 3:50 p.m. Saturday, MERGE, 136 S. Dubuque St., festival pass); “Representation Matters” with Hannah Beachler (7:15 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Shambaugh Auditorium, University of Iowa Main Library, 125 W. Washington St., free); Arima Ederra & CHIKA (8:30 to 10 p.m., The Garden Club, 117 E. Washington St., Iowa City, $5); Closing & Dance Party with #GetWoke (10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, Studio 13 & The Yacht Club, 13 S. Linn St., $10)

University of Iowa could leave national sanction list

Two years after landing on the American Association of University Professors’ ignominious list of sanctioned higher education institutions, the University of Iowa is at the threshold of making an exit.

The UI Faculty Senate learned Wednesday morning the national association’s Committee on College and University Governance has voted to recommend UI be removed from the list of institutions sanctioned for violating shared governance standards. Iowa’s sanction followed faculty outcry over the Board of Regents’ disregard of campus opinion in hiring Bruce Harreld as UI president in 2015.

Sanctions can harm school reputations and create challenges in recruiting faculty, many of whom are represented by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit association — founded in 1915 to develop higher education standards and advocate specifically for academic freedom and shared governance values.

University of Iowa’s removal from the dishonorable list isn’t final until delegates at the AAUP’s 104 annual meeting on June 16 vote to either accept the committee’s recommendation or reject it.              

Hans-Joerg Tiede — associate secretary for the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance — told The Gazette he has no way of knowing how members will vote, although institutions are removed from the association’s sanctioned and censored list every year.

“It’s always for us a very welcome development because it shows institutions of higher education pay attention to what the AAUP has to say about conditions at the institutions, and that they care about the standards that we promote,” Tied said. “Every time an institution is removed from the sanction or censure list, It confirms the importance of the standards that we advocate for.”

The AAUP sanctions institutions after its investigations reveal “serious departures by the administration and/or governing board from generally accepted standards of college and university government.” The association currently lists seven schools on its sanctioned list — with UI as the most recent addition.

It also censures institutions for failing to observe “generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure.” The AAUP’s censure list is much older and longer, with dozens included — like University of Missouri for its high-profile and controversial removal of a professor in 2016.

AAUP delegates in June 2016 unanimously agreed to sanction UI for “substantial non-compliance with standards of academic government” in its selection of Harreld — a former IBM executive with no academic administrative experience. Although the university was slapped with the sanction, the AAUP noted the reprimand primarily was directed at the Board of Regents, which ignored widespread criticism of Harreld’s candidacy and a faculty survey showing Harreld was the least-liked finalist of four.  

“The board’s leadership had engineered the search to identify a figure from the business world who was congenial to its image of ‘transformative leadership,’” according to a committee’s recommendation for sanction. “Once the regents identified such a person, what followed was at best an illusion of an open, honest search.”

The AAUP, at the time, called the precipitating events “part of a broader emerging crisis in U.S. higher education, which, in the committee’s words ‘is occasioned by headstrong, thoughtless action by politically appointed regents who lack any respect for the faculties of the institutions over which they preside.”

At the time of Harreld’s hire, the Board of Regents was headed by agribusiness mogul Bruce Rastetter, a close ally of former Gov. Terry Branstad and major political donor to local and national republicans.

He heavily recruited Harreld to campus, refusing to take no for an answer on several occasions. He arranged meetings for Harreld — at Harreld’s request — with several other regents at Rastetter’s place of work. No other candidates asked for such meetings and thus did not have the opportunity to discuss the job with the hiring board outside of the official search and interview process.

Harreld was met with widespread opposition and cynicism during his public forum as a candidate and many urged the board to hire one of the other three finalists.

After Harreld’s hire, protests erupted on campus, and faculty and students issued votes of no-confidence in the Board of Regents.

But the board has new leadership and since 2015 has overseen presidential searches considered “successful” at its other two public universities — Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa.

UI faculty, meanwhile, have taken steps to address the harm of a national sanction — establishing a UI Faculty Senate committee charged with working toward sanction removal. That committee, Tied said, spent more than a year crafting a document to guide the board’s future presidential searches.

“The document addresses the kinds of concerns that were raised in our investigative report about the conduct of that search,” Tied said. “It was submitted to the regents and the regents responded to the senate to indicate they intended to have future searches be guided by this document.”

The national AAUP also sent a representative to Iowa City to assess the current climate for governance at the institution, meeting with faculty and local AAUP chapter representatives. That person spoke by phone with Harreld.

“He gave a report to us of the climate for governance at the institution,” Tied said. “And those things were provided to the committee on governance. And on the basis of that information, the committee voted to recommend that the sanction be removed.”

Tied said the national association will make more information available after its vote in June.

Despite the concerns, Harreld since taking office has advocated for shared governance and for other forms of faculty support — including increased pay.

Harreld also has enacted a new budgeting process that involves department and college heads and launched an academic organization structure review aimed at “helping the UI become a more forward-looking, nimble university that focuses our limited resources in support of academic excellence.”

Critics remain, however. Some — specifically faculty in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — have expressed concern about the first phase of the academic structure review, noting suspicions it’s predestined to break up the university’s largest college.

Harreld also has been criticized for dissolving the UI Alumni Association, combining it with the UI Foundation under the new banner title, “The University of Iowa Center for Advancement.” He pitched the unification as a way to leverage the strengths and expertise of the organizations, which he said have overlapping missions.

Opponents of the move have disparaged both the idea and its rollout, accusing Harreld of circumventing association bylaws by announcing the structural change without a board vote.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

U.S. Congress seeks to limit support animals on airplanes

WASHINGTON — With hundreds of thousands of emotional support animals taking to the skies on U.S. airlines, Congress may start pulling a tighter leash.

Two new legislative options emerged this week to address a hairy issue for carriers, which are dealing with a growing number of injuries, confrontations and other problems resulting from comfort pets.

A bill by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., would tighten rules so only “service animals,” as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, could fly uncaged in the cabin.

An amendment by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., would instead direct the U.S. Transportation Department to clarify existing rules.

Either option would be contentious, despite wide agreement that the current setup is too open-ended and subject to bald-faced abuse.

But Burr’s approach, which is backed by the airline industry, is sure to generate a roar. His legislation effectively would prevent emotional support animals from getting on board, putting him at odds with mental health advocates who see the pets as vital for some fliers.

The senator, however, cast his bill as common sense.

“One doesn’t have to look far to find rampant cases of abuse where even emotional support kangaroos have been allowed to fly on planes to the detriment of fellow travelers and handlers of trained service animals,” he said in a news release.

No one disputes the growing rise of emotional support animals.

U.S. airlines flew 751,000 comfort pets last year — an 80 percent jump from the previous year — according to an informal survey by industry group Airlines for America. Those animals include dogs and cats, but also rabbits, ducks, parakeets and monkeys.

Association of Professional Flight Attendants President Nena Martin, who represents American Airlines flight attendants, wrote that the status quo has “led to a variety of issues in-flight that are not readily solvable in a small, contained cabin at 35,000 feet where resources are limited.”

While the Americans with Disabilities Act has strict rules for how service dogs used by those with disabilities can function in public spaces, another law known as the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 is much more generous in what kind of animals can come in an airplane cabin.

The intractable question, however, has been what to do about it all.

Most of the policy attention has focused on shoring up the looser aviation rules, which accommodate any animal that is “able to provide assistance to a person with a disability” or that “assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support.”

Some fliers have taken advantage of that wiggle room, using companies that allow travelers to pay for the needed medical proof by taking cursory online questionnaires.

The U.S. Transportation Department has recognized the problem, asking a disability rights panel two years ago to hash out a compromise.

There was a consensus that something must be done to cull instances of untrained animals making it on board. But the group couldn’t come to an agreement, with some stakeholders worrying that fliers who rely upon well-trained comfort pets could be horned out.

The Transportation Department nevertheless plans to take a shot at rewriting the rules this year. Some carriers, such as Delta Air Lines, have started tightening rules on their own.

And now Congress is involved, though any legislation remains a long way from becoming law.

“We’re taking an all-of-the-above approach,” Airlines for America Senior Vice President Sharon Pinkerton said this month, expressing support for all those avenues.

One approach, offered by Shuster, would make sure the Transportation Department tackles the issue. The House transportation chairman included that request in the “manager’s amendment” he’s submitted to a bill that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao would have 18 months to issue a rule that better defines “service animals” for the purposes of air travel and that develops “minimum standards for what is required for service and emotional support animals carried in aircraft cabins.”

Burr’s legislation, meanwhile, would take a more proscriptive approach.

It would “bar animals not currently recognized by the ADA, would not allow animals whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support, and would require that in order to qualify as a service animal, a dog must be individually trained” to do disability related work or tasks.

The bill also would establish a criminal penalty for making misrepresentations about a service animal.

Bank of America ties policy to mass shootings

Bank of America’s new policy denying loans and other services to certain gun makers was instituted after dozens of employees lost family members or suffered other trauma related to mass shootings in the past few years, the bank’s CEO said.

“This comes from our teammates saying we have to help,” CEO Brian Moynihan said Wednesday at the company’s annual meeting in Charlotte, N.C.

Employee help centers provided services to 151 workers affected by shootings in Orlando, Las Vegas and other sites of mass casualties, according to the company.

Moynihan was responding to a questioner at the meeting who criticized the new policy as “following the whim of the moment” and not looking out for the long-term interests of shareholders.

“The company is willfully giving up money,” Justin Danhof, general counsel of the National Center for Public Policy Research, said to Moynihan. “That’s an odd choice for a bank.”

BoA said earlier this month it would stop lending to companies that make assault-style guns used for non-military purposes. The decision followed the Feb. 14 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead and sparked a renewed nationwide debate about guns and calls for boycotts against companies that do business with the firearms industry.

Anne Finucane, a vice chairman, said at that time that BoA also won’t underwrite securities issued by manufacturers of military-style guns used by civilians.

Citigroup, the nation’s fourth-largest bank, said in March it plans to prohibit retail chains that are its customers from offering bump stocks or selling guns to anyone who hasn’t passed a background check or is younger than 21.

At Wells Fargo’s annual meeting Tuesday, the bank faced calls to cut ties with the National Rifle Association and the gun industry. The company has said it’s discussing the issue, but doesn’t agree with a policy that would dictate what products and services individuals can buy.

At least a half-dozen of the nation’s major gun manufacturers produce military-style firearms, including Remington Outdoor, Sturm Ruger and Co., SIG Sauer, Vista Outdoor, O.F. Mossberg and Sons and American Outdoor Brands.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry lobbying group, criticized BoA’s decision when it was announced, saying it was wrong to deem semi-automatic rifles long available to civilians to be military-style weapons.

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