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Iowa State next up to seat student on Board of Regents

Iowa State University is next in line to seat a student representative on the nine-member Board of Regents, after recent University of Northern Iowa graduate Rachael Johnson last week announced plans to resign with two years left on her term.

State code requires the board that governs Iowa’s public universities include eight at-large members and one student member who is enrolled full-time in one of the three institutions at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Because Johnson in May 2018 graduated Summa Cum Laude from UNI with a bachelor’s degree in elementary and middle level education and is planning to continue working at the Truman Scholarship Foundation — rather than re-enrolling in some capacity — she must resign, effective April 30.

Student regents have a year to re-enroll after graduation before they’re required to step down, according to Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman.

Having achieved in April 2017 the prestigious Truman Scholarship, awarded annually by the Harry S. Truman Foundation in support of next-generation public service leaders, Johnson for the past year has participated in the Truman Albright Fellows program and worked as a resident scholar with the foundation.

In that role, she’s serving as development and communications officer, working on fundraising, alumni development and educational programming. She’ll continue in that capacity through the next year and head to graduate school in fall 2020 — although Johnson told The Gazette she hasn’t decided where yet.

Her six-year appointment, which began May 1, 2015, was to expire April 30, 2021. Whoever Gov. Kim Reynolds picks as her replacement will serve out those last two years.

When Johnson, 22, joined the board, she planned to become a teacher. But her exposure to public service and the “fascinating world of higher education” shifted those plans.

“My time on the Board of Regents has been life changing to say the least,” she told The Gazette. “I have now realized that working in higher education is where I’m meant to be. Since being a regent, I have fallen in love with the complexities and challenges of higher education. Higher education has the ability to completely transform not only an individual person, but an entire state or even the world; it is unlike anything else.”

Because the student regent position rotates through the three public universities, Iowa State is due a representative. Johnson replaced former University of Iowa graduate student Hanna Walsh, who herself served an abbreviated term.

Walsh was appointed in November 2012 to replace Iowa State University student Greta Johnson, whose term was to span May 1, 2009, to April 30, 2015, until she resigned in 2012.

Rachael Johnson said she’s grateful to have gotten four years on the board and proud of the role she’s played.

“I would have to say I am most proud of helping to select our three phenomenal university presidents, and the board’s executive director,” she said. “Choosing an institutional head is one of the largest, if not the largest, responsibilities of a regent, and I have had the pleasure of selecting four.”

As for advice for the next student representative, Johnson suggested, “Take part in as many activities outside of the board meetings as possible.”

“Coming on as a new board member at any stage in one’s life is surely intimidating, but especially when you’re 18 years old,” she said. “So, I would also tell the next student regent to ask as many questions as possible; don’t be afraid to not know.”

Board President Mike Richards, who joined a year after Johnson, in a statement called her an “outstanding member” who is “exceedingly committed to public higher education and has been a strong advocate for our regent institutions.”

“She also did a remarkable job on a variety of board committees, including as chair of our Campus and Student Affairs Committee,” Richards said.

Johnson’s resignation means Gov. Kim Reynolds must appoint a fourth new regent for induction this spring. Earlier this month, she appointed GOP donor David Barker of Iowa City to replace outgoing regent Larry McKibben. She also proposed keeping incumbent Milt Dakovich of Waterloo for a second six-year term and reappointing Jim Lindenmayer of Ottumwa, who was appointed on an interim basis last summer to fill a vacancy.

Regent appointees must receive confirmation from two-thirds of the Senate to become official. A Senate education subcommittee on Monday, without dissent, confirmed Barker, Dakovich, and Lindenmayer — pushing them through for a vote with the full Senate.

The Board of Regents, among other things, sets tuition rates and approves capital construction projects across the campuses costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Student regents hold the same voting rights and committee powers as the other at-large members.

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

Iowa flood disaster not over ‘by a long shot’

DES MOINES — Iowans continued to assess spiraling flood damage Monday while keeping a wary eye on the skies and rising rivers as forecasters predicted more rain in areas already severely under water.

“Not all of the snow has melted up north, so this is not over by a long shot,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig. While much of the flood damage in Iowa is in western and northern areas, “we need to be paying attention in all parts of the state.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds sent top aides Monday to southwest Iowa to meet with local and federal officials to discuss how to repair levees that have been breached along 245 miles of the Missouri River. She said Iowa must take a regional approach with Nebraska and Missouri to deal with this year’s flood disaster.

Last weekend, President Donald Trump granted Reynolds’ request for federal assistance in dealing with a growing disaster. Reynolds initially asked the federal government for help covering an estimated nearly $1.6 billion in damages caused by widespread flooding that has inundated farms, roads and businesses.

A “bomb cyclone” that struck the Midwest earlier this month triggered flooding in three states, resulting in a death toll that claimed lives and livestock.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Monday the flooding has caused tremendous damage, with at least 56 of Iowa’s 99 counties in line to receive emergency aid under the presidential declaration. He pointed to preliminary damage estimates of $214 million to agriculture, $481 million to homes and $525 million to levees.

“We have a long road to recovery from the floods of 2019,” he said in remarks delivered Monday, telling his Senate colleagues the road “will be long, grueling and at times, gruesome but I am confident the grit and resilience of Iowans and their fellow Midwesterners will prevail.”

Reynolds and Grassley expressed concern about working with the Army Corps of Engineers to improve communications and coordination in the three-state region hard hit hard by flooding.

“We don’t have a lot of time; we’ve got to figure out how we do this differently,” Reynolds told Statehouse reporters.

Grassley took to the Senate floor with a blunt call for the Corps to make flood control along the Missouri a priority.

“It seems to me that misguided decisions and misplaced priorities have eclipsed common sense,” said Grassley. “Perhaps a good scrubbing of the Master Manual may help clear wax out of bureaucratic ears that haven’t gotten the message: the No. 1 priority of the Corps should be flood control — period.”

Naig said part of the recovery process for his office is working through the various federal and state disaster declarations that carry different requirements and criteria, as well as varying circumstances affecting cropland, crop storage and livestock.

“For our farmers who are impacted, the best advice that we can give at this point is go in and visit with a USDA service center. Everybody’s situation is a little bit different — how you’ve marketed your grain, what your insurance coverage is — so it’s hard to say with a broad brush just how every individual producer would be impacted,” he noted.

Naig said it was difficult for him to imagine that 2019 will approach “any sort of a normal planting or growing season” for the tens of thousands of acres of farmland are under water.

On Monday, Reynolds added three counties — Chickasaw, Hamilton and Mitchell — to the list covered by a state disaster proclamation.

Residents in the following counties are eligible to apply for the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program and the Disaster Case Management Program: Adair, Audubon, Appanoose, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buena Vista, Butler, Cass, Cerro Gordo, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Clay, Clayton, Crawford, Dallas, Davis, Delaware, Dickinson, Emmet, Fayette, Franklin, Guthrie, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Howard, Humboldt, Ida, Iowa, Kossuth, Lucas, Madison, Mahaska, Marshall, Mitchell, Monroe, Montgomery, O’Brien, Page, Palo Alto, Plymouth, Pottawattamie, Shelby, Sioux, Tama, Union, Webster, Winnebago, Winneshiek, Worth and Wright.

The Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program provides grants of up to $5,000 for households with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level or a maximum annual income of $41,560 for a family of three. Grants are available for home or car repairs, replacement of clothing or food and temporary housing expenses.

For more information visit floods2019.iowa.gov.

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

ACLU sues Iowa Public Information Board over Autumn Steele records

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa has filed a lawsuit seeking review of a decision by the Iowa Public Information Board that two law enforcement agencies did not break the law by keeping secret the body camera video and other records of a 2015 officer-involved fatal shooting in Burlington.

“We’re arguing, essentially, that the Public Information Board got it wrong,” ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said Monday in a news conference. “These records shouldn’t be held in secret for all time.”

The ACLU filed the suit Friday in Polk County District Court on behalf of Adam Klein, an attorney who represented the family of Autumn Steele, who was fatally shot by Burlington police Officer Jesse Hill on Jan. 6, 2015 in her yard.

Steele’s family and the Burlington Hawk-Eye filed complaints with the board in 2015 after the Burlington Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation refused to release police body camera video, a 911 recording, squad car dashboard camera video and other records of the shooting. The law enforcement agencies said they complied with the public records law by releasing basic facts.

The board decided in October 2016 there was probable cause the agencies violated public records law. A contested case hearing was held July 20, 2018.

Administrative Law Judge Karen Doland ruled Oct. 5 the law enforcement agencies broke the law by keeping the records secret, saying police body camera video, 911 call recordings and dashboard camera images don’t get blanket confidentiality as “peace officers’ investigative reports.”

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office and Burlington police appealed late last year.

Separately, records and video from the case were released last September by a federal court judge after the Steele family won a $2 million wrongful-death settlement. But that still left the state case — and its implications for the future of public scrutiny of police investigations — in limbo.

The board voted 6-2 on Feb. 21 to void Doland’s decision, saying officers’ investigative records may be kept secret even after a case is closed. Further, members said the public information board doesn’t have jurisdiction to apply a balancing test to see if the public value of disclosure outweighs benefits of confidentiality.

The ACLU petition asks a District Court to reverse that decision.

Klein and the ACLU want the court to rule 911 calls, bodycam video and dashcam video all fall into the “immediate facts and circumstances” of a crime that cannot be kept confidential unless release would jeopardize an investigation or put someone in danger.

They also want the court to require that records deemed potentially confidential be subject to a balancing test weighing public interest in disclosure with the government’s interest in confidentiality.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

British lawmakers vote to seize control of Brexit for a day

LONDON — British lawmakers voted on Monday to wrest control of Brexit from Prime Minister Theresa May for a day in a bid to find a way through the European Union divorce impasse that a majority in parliament could support.

Lawmakers should now vote on a range of Brexit options on Wednesday, giving parliament a chance to indicate whether it can agree on a deal with closer ties to Brussels, and then try to push the government in that direction.

The move underlined to what extent May has lost her authority, although she said the government would not be bound by the results of the so-called indicative votes on Wednesday.

Monday’s vote was put forward by Oliver Letwin, a lawmaker in May’s Conservative Party, and came after the prime minister admitted that the deal she had agreed with the EU after two years of talks still did not have enough support to pass.

Lawmakers backed Letwin’s proposal by 329 votes to 302, and were almost certain to confirm their decision in the final vote of the evening on the overall “motion as amended.”

Earlier, May said the proposal would set an unwelcome precedent and could lead to support for an outcome to which the EU itself would not agree.

“No government could give a blank check to commit to an outcome without knowing what it is,” May said before the vote. “So I cannot commit the government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by this house.”

Last week, the EU agreed to delay Britain’s original March 29 departure date because of the deadlock. Now, it will leave the EU on May 22 if May’s deal is approved by parliament this week. If not, it will have until April 12 to outline its plans. Monday’s vote was an attempt to find a way to come up with such a plan

European Council President Donald Tusk said last week that all Brexit options were still open for Britain until April 12, including a deal, a departure with no deal, a long extension — or even revoking Article 50 and remaining in the EU.

But nearly three years after the 2016 EU membership referendum and four days before Britain was supposed to leave the bloc, it was still unclear how, when or if Brexit would take place, with parliament and the nation still bitterly divided.

May’s deal was defeated in parliament by 149 votes on March 12 and by 230 votes on Jan. 15, but she had signaled that she would bring it back a third time this week.

To get her deal passed, May must win over at least 75 MPs who voted against her on March 12 — dozens of rebels in her Conservative Party, some opposition Labour Party MPs and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up her minority government but has voted against the deal so far.

“Why would the prime minister ever expect us to give support to an agreement which is based on a lie?” DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson told BBC television.

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, William Schomberg, David Milliken, Kylie MacLellan and Andrew MacAskill; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden; Editing by David Clarke and Kevin Liffey)

U.S. Senate Republican Lindsey Graham wants a special counsel to investigate Trump probe

WASHINGTON — A leading Senate Republican said on Monday he would ask Attorney General William Barr to appoint a special counsel to probe whether U.S. law enforcement officials made missteps in their investigation into possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.

A day after the attorney general said the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller found Trump’s campaign did not conspire with Russia, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said: “We will begin to unpack the other side of the story.”

He said it was time to look at the origins of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant for former Trump adviser Carter Page, which was based in part on information in a dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who co-founded a private intelligence firm.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Graham’s request.

Graham said he would look into those matters as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, using subpoena power if necessary, whether or not a special counsel is appointed.

Republican lawmakers have contended the FBI made serious missteps when it sought the warrant to monitor Page in October 2016 shortly after he left the Trump campaign.

Page, a foreign policy adviser during Trump’s campaign, drew scrutiny from the FBI, which said in legal filings in 2016 that it believed he had been “collaborating and conspiring” with the Kremlin. Page met with several Russian government officials during a trip to Moscow in July 2016. He was not charged.

Fusion GPS, a Washington-based political research firm, was initially contracted to investigate Trump on behalf of Republicans who wanted to stop Trump’s bid for the party’s nomination. Fusion later hired Steele to investigate Trump, and the firm was paid for Steele’s dossier work by a law firm connected to 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Graham told reporters he planned to ask Barr when they talk on Monday to appoint a special counsel to investigate the FISA matter, which is already being probed by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

Graham said later that Barr agreed to appear before the Judiciary Committee after he vets Mueller’s report, according to media reports.

On Sunday, Barr said Mueller’s team had not found evidence of criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election and had left unresolved the issue of whether Trump obstructed justice.

It is not the first time Republicans have called for a special counsel to look into the matters. Last year, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions tapped U.S. Attorney John Huber to review a range of Republican grievances, including concerns about the FISA warrant. That review is pending. (Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Doina Chiacu; additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Mark Hosenball, Jonathan Landay; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney)

Gov. Reynolds prods lawmakers on felon voting rights proposal

DES MOINES — Since she streamlined the application process, Gov. Kim Reynolds has seen an uptick of interest among felons seeking to have their voting rights restored, she said, but little legislative movement to change the rules.

Earlier this month, Reynolds reduced the application from three pages to one, eliminated a $15 application fee and removed a requirement for additional information. Since then, she has received about 55 applications. That’s in addition to the 122 people whose voting rights she has restored since taking office in May 2017.

However, her proposal for a constitutional amendment restoring felon voting rights to go on the ballot as soon as 2022 has yet to be approved by the Senate or the House.

“We’re running up against another funnel week,” Reynolds said Monday on WHO-AM 1040 radio, referring to the April 5 deadline for legislation to be approved by either the Senate or House and a committee in the other chamber to advance.

While restoring felons’ voting rights appears to have legislative support, there isn’t a consensus on how broadly it should be applied.

“There are really two pieces,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “One is allowing felons to vote. The second is whether that is all felons, is it some felons, are some people excluded.”

Under current law, a felon must apply to the governor to get voting rights restored. The House Judiciary Committee has approved House Study Bill 68 that would restore voting rights once a felon has discharged his or her sentence. But House Judiciary Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said House members have the same concerns as Whitver’s Senate GOP caucus.

“I know there are a lot of concerns in various areas about victim restitution,” he said. One concern is about murderers released from prison. “We can’t make restitution to somebody who is no longer alive.”

There also are discussion whether people convicted of certain crimes — murder, kidnapping, child sexual assault, for example — should be excluded from having voting rights restored.

Bill manager Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, hopes to win House approval of HSB 68 in time to send it to the Senate Judiciary Committee for action before the April 5 deadline. He expects House Republicans to discuss the bill Tuesday.

Reynolds said she continues to have conversations with lawmakers about felon voting rights restoration because she believe the change is the right thing to do.

“I believe Iowans agree with second chances,” she said.

Reynolds is urging legislators to keep the amendment “very clean and narrow.”

“If there are other issues that we need to address we can do that through legislation,” she said.

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

Taco John’s coming to Hiawatha in May

The people of Hiawatha will soon have their access to Potato Oles greatly enhanced.

Pentex Restaurant Group, a South Dakota based franchisee of Taco John’s and HuHot Mongolian Grill with multiple locations in six states, announced Monday that it has broken ground on a Taco John’s location that will be located at 1940 Blairs Ferry Road in Hiawatha.

“It’s no secret that we love Taco John’s and we couldn’t be more excited to bring it to Hiawatha,” Brett Itterman, CEO of Pentex Restaurant Group, said in a media release. “I have no doubt that the community will love Taco John’s signature menu and iconic items like the Potato Oles. We’re also looking forward to recruiting a team of hardworking, customer service-oriented individuals to join our team in the coming weeks.”

According to a media release from Pentex, Taco John’s will hire 30 team members for multiple positions at the new restaurant in the weeks ahead. Interested candidates can apply online at careers.tacojohns.com.

When the new 2,091-sqare-foot restaurant opens on May 1, it will be the first Taco John’s in Hiawatha, the 62nd in Iowa and 391st systemwide, according to the release.

Despite the over 60 locations, there are no Taco John’s options in the Corridor south of Cedar Rapids. There are two Taco John’s locations in Cedar Rapids, on Edgewood Road NW and First Avenue SE.

Cedar Rapids fire chief candidate meet-and-greet Thursday

CEDAR RAPIDS — Four finalists vying to become the new Cedar Rapids fire chief are expected to participate in a candidate meet-and-greet from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the Cedar Rapids Central Fire Station, 713 First Avenue SE.

The public can meet the candidates and provide general input about the candidate’s experience and characteristics they value in the fire chief position. Finalists include:

• Andrew Oleson, acting assistant chief of operations, administrative district chief and chief of training with the Cedar Rapids Fire Department.

• Gregory Smith, assistant chief of operations with the Cedar Rapids Fire Department.

• Christopher Bachman, deputy chief with the Pike Township Fire Department in Indianapolis, Ind.

• J. Chris Richmond, division chief and fire marshal in the Springfield (Ill.) Fire Department.

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz selected the four from a list of six candidates provided by the Civil Services Commission, who considered a pool of 31 candidates. Springsted Waters, an executive search firm based in Addison, Texas, had a $28,500 contract to serve as search consultant.

A selection is expected in early April. The position pays $115,000 to $159,000 plus benefits, according to a job information sheet. The fire chief oversees 148 full time employees, nine fire stations and a $20 million annual budget.

Former chief Mark English retired on Sept. 19 after seven years at the helm. He was earning $148,366.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Viacom, AT&T reach deal

After days of tense negotiations, AT&T and Viacom reached a new distribution agreement, averting a blackout of Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and other channels on AT&T’s DirecTV service.

The breakthrough came early Monday — 52 hours after the previous carriage contract had expired.

But the two sides had been making progress, so executives plowed ahead with the talks beyond the Friday night deadline.

AT&T provides TV service to 24.5 million homes in the United States, including about one million customers in the Los Angeles region.

AT&T is the nation’s largest pay-TV distributor. It also owns U-Verse, WatchTV and DirecTV Now.

The talks were bruising because AT&T demanded a reduction in the carriage fees charged by Viacom. The Dallas telecommunications company, which is heavily in debt, currently pays Viacom about $1 billion a year for the rights to distribute the channels.

AT&T has been hunting for ways to cut costs.

Terms of the new contract were not disclosed, but Viacom appears to have lowered the fees it charges for its channels.

Viacom had enlisted several stars, including Noah, Tyler Perry and Lindsay Lohan, to rally fans to pressure AT&T to keep the channels.

The dispute comes as both companies struggle to adapt to industry shifts. Streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix have provided consumers with lower-cost alternatives with high-quality shows.

Trump critic, lawyer Michael Avenatti arrested, faces wire fraud and bank fraud charges

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles attorney Michael Avenatti has been arrested and charged with financial crimes by federal law enforcement officials in separate cases in Los Angeles and New York, authorities said Monday.

In Southern California, federal prosecutors accused Avenatti of misusing $1.6 million in funds earmarked for a client’s settlement to cover “expenses for his coffee business, Global Baristas US LLC, which operated Tully’s Coffee stores in California and Washington state, as well as for his own expenses,” the statement read.

Avenatti, 48, is separately accused of fraudulently obtaining more than $4 million in loans from a Mississippi bank in 2014 by submitting false tax returns that showed he had raked in millions in profits from 2011 to 2013, according to a criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles. In reality, Avenatti had not submitted a personal tax return with the Internal Revenue Service in any of those years, according to the filing.

Prosecutors in Manhattan also accused the attorney of “attempting to extract more than $20 million in payments from a publicly traded company by threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met,” according a statement from the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The company in question was Nike, according to the complaint, which Avenatti has been sparring with in recent months.

Avenatti approached Nike earlier this month regarding alleged evidence brought by an AAU basketball coach in California, claiming that Nike officials were paying the families of top high school basketball players, according to the complaint. Avenatti threatened to hold a news conference if Nike didn’t pay the client and hire Avenatti to conduct an internal investigation of the company, court records show.

Federal investigators recorded a call between Avenatti and two attorneys representing Nike on Friday, during which Avenatti threatened to take $10 billion off Nike’s market cap by holding the news conference if he wasn’t paid.

“You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem,” Avenatti said during the recorded conversation, according to the complaint. Just before being arrested Monday morning, Avenatti tweeted he’d be holding the news conference about Nike, alleging criminal conduct in college basketball in Los Angeles, on Tuesday morning.

Avenatti became a foe of President Donald Trump while representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in her public war with the president.

Daniels, who is no longer a client of Avenatti’s, said Monday morning she was “saddened but not shocked” by news of the criminal charges.

“I made the decision more than a month ago to terminate Michael’s services after discovering he had dealt with me extremely dishonestly, and there will be more announcements to come,” Daniels said in a tweet.

Earlier this month, his firm, Eagan Avenatti, filed for federal bankruptcy protection. It is the second time in two years the firm has sought court protection from its creditors.

The move comes three weeks after Jason Frank, a former lawyer at the firm, filed court papers accusing Avenatti of hiding millions of dollars from the court that oversaw its previous bankruptcy.

Avenatti has denied any wrongdoing.

Monday’s news marks Avenatti’s latest run-in with law enforcement, coming just months after his ex-girlfriend lobbed domestic violence allegations at him in Los Angeles. Prosecutors ultimately declined to charge him with a felony in late 2018, and the city attorney’s office decided to settle the matter through an informal hearing.

The arrest announced Monday marked a precipitous fall, even by today’s whirlwind standards. Eight months ago, Avenatti was exploring a 2020 presidential bid, drawing large crowds and favorable reviews from Trump-loathing partisans.

“I believe we cannot be the party of turning the other cheek,” Avenatti told audiences from California to New Hampshire, differing with those — including, most prominently, former first lady Michelle Obama — who counseled grace in the face of enmity. “I say when they go low, we hit harder.”

By December, however, Avenatti’s presidential exertions had run their course, as some of the novelty wore off and other more credible candidates began ramping up their efforts. He issued a statement taking himself out of the running and citing family obligations as the reason.

Puerto Rico faces food stamps crisis as Trump privately vents about federal aid to Hurricane Maria-battered island

TOA BAJA, PUERTO RICO — At the Casa Ismael clinic for HIV-positive men with severe health complications, the staff used to immediately change patients’ diapers after they were soiled.

But last week, clinic administrator Myrna Izquierdo told the nurses that had to stop. To save money, the nonprofit clinic, which relies on its patients’ food stamp money for funding, will ask patients to sit in diapers in which they have repeatedly urinated, sometimes for hours.

The Casa Ismael clinic is short on funds in part because of cuts in food stamps that hit about 1.3 million residents of Puerto Rico this month - a new crisis for an island still struggling from the effects of Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

“We just don’t have the money right now,” Izquierdo, 56, said in an interview in the clinic’s sparse first-floor office, where a chunk of ceiling tiles remains missing since the hurricane. Izquierdo pulled out a chart with each patient’s name, annotated with the cost of his Chugs and Pampers adult diapers for the month. “It’s very hard. It is so unfair. That cut is going to kill us.”

The federal government provided additional food stamp aid to Puerto Rico after the hurricane, but Congress missed the deadline for reauthorization in March as it focused on other issues before leaving for a week-long recess. Federal lawmakers have also been stalled by the Trump administration, which has derided the extra aid as unnecessary.

Now, about 43 percent of Puerto Rico’s residents are grappling with a sudden cut to a benefit they rely on for groceries and other essentials.

And while Congress may address this issue soon, the lapse underscores the broader vulnerability of Puerto Rico’s economy, as well as key safeguards of its safety net, to the whims of an increasingly hostile federal government with which it has feuded over key priorities.

Puerto Rico will again need the federal government’s help to stave off drastic cuts to Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor and disabled, as well as for the disbursement of billions in hurricane relief aid that has not yet been turned over to the island.

The island would not need Congress to step in to fund its food stamps and Medicaid programs if it were a state. For U.S. states, the federal government has committed to funding these programs’ needs, whatever the cost and without needing to take a vote. But Puerto Rico instead funds its programs through a block grant from the federal government, which need to be regularly renewed, and also gives food stamp benefits about 40 percent smaller than those of U.S. states.

After initially vowing to reject the food stamp funding, President Donald Trump has agreed to the emergency request to help Senate Republicans pass a broader disaster relief package, which may be taken up for a vote this week.

But at an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 22, Trump asked top advisers for ways to limit federal support from going to Puerto Rico, believing it is taking money that should be going to the mainland, according to senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the presidents’ private remarks.

The meeting - an afternoon session focused on Housing and Urban Development grants - ended abruptly, and Trump has continued to ask aides how much money the island will get. Then, Trump said he wanted the money to only fortify the electric grid there.

Trump has also privately signaled he will not approve any additional help for Puerto Rico beyond the food stamp money, setting up a congressional showdown with Democrats who have pushed for more expansive help for the island.

A senior administration official with direct knowledge of the meeting described Trump’s stance: “He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island.”

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Puerto Rico’s government first started cutting benefits for food stamp beneficiaries by an average of 25 percent during the first week of March. By March 12, more than 670,000 people had received reduced monthly food stamp payments. The cuts were in effect for the entire program by Friday.

Congressional lawmakers knew of these deadlines for months. In January, House Democrats approved $600 million in additional food stamp funding to finance the program until the fall, but the bill immediately stalled in the Senate with the Trump administration releasing a letter calling the additional food stamp aid “excessive and unnecessary.”

Multiple Senate Republicans, led by Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., have incorporated the $600 million for Puerto Rico in legislation aimed at helping farmers in states like Georgia who have been hurt by other storms, in a bid for broader support for their bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was rumored to be considering a vote in the middle of March on that package, which if passed could have spared about half the program beneficiaries on the island from cuts. Instead, Congress spent the week consumed in a debate over a vote to disapprove of Trump’s emergency declaration for a border wall. It adjourned for an additional week without resolving the emergency relief package.

Congressional negotiators also remained divided on the exact contours of the funding bill, with Perdue’s bill costing $13.5 billion and Senate Democrats seeing more than $14 billion, including some additional measures to help Puerto Rico that Senate Republicans do not believe Trump will support. Negotiations remained ongoing and unresolved as of late Friday night, but is expected to vote to begin debate on the emergency aid package this week, according to congressional aides.

The impasse comes amid a hardening opposition by the president against extending additional aid to Puerto Rico. Trump sees the island as fundamentally broken and has told advisers that no amount of money will ever fix its systemic problems.

He describes in meetings that large swaths of the island never had power to begin with and that it is “ridiculous” how much money is going to Puerto Rico in food stamp aid, according to the senior official. He has occasionally groused about how ungrateful political officials in Puerto Rico were for the administration’s help, the official said.

Trump also read a Wall Street Journal story from October and became convinced that bondholders and others were profiting off federal government aid - and grew furious. (The story describes prices on Puerto Rico’s bonds increasing after its governing fiscal board projected disaster funding would boost the island’s overall economic health.) Since then, aides have described a president who regularly brings up the island to make sure it is not getting too much money. Current and former officials say Trump often complains in meetings that Puerto Rico doesn’t even know how to spend the money the island has been allocated.

Additionally, Trump administration officials who defended the island - Tom Bossert, the former homeland security adviser, and Pam Patenaude, the former deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development - are no longer in the administration. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff, has also been critical of how the island has spent its money.

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The emergency food stamp aid approved by Congress after Maria gave the Puerto Rican economy an immediate cash infusion, while also shielding the hurricane’s victims from the rising cost of basic food staples and safe water.

The Agranel supermarket group, for instance, has hired at least two employees - and often as many as seven - in each of its 37 stores since the hurricane, often in neighborhoods with very high rates of poverty and unemployment.

“It helps not only these poor communities, but injects the economy with money to start running. It helps the trucker who moves the food, the janitor who cleans the store, the guy who fixes the refrigerator where the food is stored,” said Felix Aponte Lopez, a food supplier for Agranel. “It’s had a very positive domino effect.”

But now that the additional food stamp money has run out, Puerto Ricans see a familiar story in the unreliability of federal aid over which they have no control.

“The problems of Puerto Rico have a root cause problem attached to it: We don’t have political power and are not treated as equal citizens,” said Ricardo Rosselló, Puerto Rico’s governor, noting the island does not elect voting members of Congress (though it does elect a non-sitting member), or have a vote in U.S. presidential elections. “Maria has crystallized and enhanced this sense of powerlessness.”

For Amadita Jimenez Gutierrez, 63, the food stamp infusion meant a near doubling of her income, to about $200 a month. Although she has not been paying rent and fears eviction, the higher food stamp benefit allowed her to cook more healthy meals.

But this month, Gutierrez’s food stamp benefit fell to about $115, while a small cash supplement under the program was also cut from about $40 to around $20. As she walks through an aisle full of cooking supplies, Gutierrez said she will skip purchases of rice and beans this month, as well as detergent and cleaning supplies.

“We will buy less and eat less,” she said.

Some Puerto Rico residents on food stamps will see a cash supplement that comes as part of the food stamp cut to levels lower than before the hurricane, in part because the island’s government expanded the program’s eligibility after Congress appropriated the emergency aid without providing permanent funding. The cuts also come as Puerto Ricans continue to struggle with the fallout from the hurricane: Hundreds of thousands of people have moved to states, while others continue to spend their money on repairs and other damage caused by Maria.

- - -

Luz Rivera Morales works full-time as a nurse at Auxilio Mutuo, one of the best hospitals in Puerto Rico. She has two daughters, aged 8 and 5, the youngest of which requires expensive asthma medication.

This month’s food stamp cut reduced Rivera Morales’s benefit from $420 a month to $218. She plans on having to stop or restrict purchases for yogurt, meat and vegetables for her and her children.

“Everything goes up. Nothing goes down,” Rivera Morales, 33, said in an interview from a San Juan office of the Families Department, which administers the food stamp program. “Yes, I’m very worried.”

Across the room from Rivera Morales sat Rafael Veles, 82, who had already been waiting for two hours to learn how severe his benefit cut will be. His wife of 56 years has Alzheimer’s disease, and Veles - her caretaker - fears the cut will put the adult diapers he buys, at $16 for each package, outside of their budget.

“It’s too little for our expenses,” Veles said. “I have to change her diapers often, and the money is not enough to pay for the Pampers. Sometimes, I have to change her five times a day. It’s not enough.”

Cecilia Estrada, 88, saw her benefit cut to around $100 a month from around $200. Estrada said she will buy the cheapest things possible and is particularly worried about the cost of milk, at close to $5 a jug.

“I am buying only a few things, trying to make sure I don’t spend more than I have,” Estrada said while shuffling slowly through a Loiza supermarket in San Juan.

Of the Puerto Ricans on the food stamp program in February 2018, about 55 percent are children, elderly or disabled, according to the preliminary findings of a forthcoming research paper by Hector Cordero-Guzman, a professor at Baruch College of the City University of New York.

Of the remaining 45 percent, about 42 percent were looking for work; 15 percent were working; and 17 percent were either in school or have a family-related reason for not being able to work, according to Cordero-Guzman’s research.

In 2018, more than 200,000 disabled Puerto Rico residents relied on food stamps every month, according to Cordero-Guzman’s research. Among them were the 11 men of Casa Ismael HIV clinic in Toa Baja.

Izquierdo’s parents founded Casa Ismael after their son - Izquierdo’s brother - died of HIV in Puerto Rico. Izquierdo, a professional accountant, decided to help her mother after the death of her father in 2016.

Izquierdo tries to break up the monotony of life in the home with special meals on Fridays, including the occasional lasagna or a homemade pizza. She will sometimes use the food stamp money to buy a birthday cake. On special occasions, she tries holding picnics outside, at least for the men who can take their wheelchairs down a rickety red ramp to the small backyard, which is still littered with debris from the hurricane.

But the food stamp cut reduced her budget by more than $1,000 every month. Earlier this month, Izquierdo went to Walgreens and charged three packs of Pampers to her credit card because they had run out completely.

Izquierdo said she will continue to cook lasagna and throw birthday parties regardless of the food stamp cuts. She has no idea how she will pay for them.

“We’re just going to have to find a way,” she said.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.

Apple enters video streaming service battle with Apple TV+, gives updates on news, game and payment apps

CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple Inc attempted to reintroduce itself on Monday as an entertainment and financial services company that also makes iPhones as it launched a streaming television service, a credit card and an online gaming arcade.

The world’s second-most most valuable technology company lifted the curtain on a television and movie streaming service called Apple TV+ that will stream television shows and movies — both Apple originals and those from other creators — to users of its 1.4 billion gadgets worldwide, smart TVs and other devices.

The move could be seen as a first step to challenging streaming video leaders Netflix and Amazon.

Apple also introduced a credit card, a video game arcade, and added hundreds of magazines to its news app at Apple’s Cupertino, California, headquarters.

As Apple struggles with saturated markets and sales of its iPhone fall, the company is turning more of its attention to services that provide regular subscription revenue.

Hollywood celebrities helped debut the revamped television offering. Apple has commissioned programming from Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg.

Throughout the presentation, Apple executives stressed privacy protections for consumers as they shop and consume content across a range of Apple phones, iPads or other hardware.

They also emphasized content that would appeal to young audiences, potentially setting the stage for a rivalry with Walt Disney Co. Winfrey announced a global book club.

The company, second only to Microsoft Corp in market value among tech giants, led off the event with an announcement that its free news app will now come in a paid-subscription version, called Apple News+, which curates a range of news articles and will include 300 magazines including National Geographic, People, Popular Science, Billboard and the New Yorker. Apple said it would cost $9.99 a month.

Apple also introduced a titanium, laser-etched Apple Card backed by Goldman Sachs Group Inc and MasterCard Inc that can track spending across devices and pay daily cash back on purchases.

Cook also said Apple Pay, its digital wallet, will soon be usable on public transit systems in Portland, Oregon, Chicago and New York City. Apple Pay will be available in more than 40 countries by the end of the year.

CROWDED FIELD

With its new media push, Apple joins a crowded field where rivals such as Amazon.com’s Prime Video and Netflix Inc have spent heavily to capture viewer attention and dollars with award-winning series and films.

The big tech war for viewers ignited a consolidation wave among traditional media companies preparing to join the fray. Walt Disney Co, which bought 21st Century Fox, and AT&T Inc, which purchased Time Warner Inc, plan to launch or test new streaming video services this year.

Revenue from its “services” segment — which includes the App Store, iCloud and content businesses such as Apple Music — grew 24 percent to $37.1 billion in fiscal 2018. The segment accounted for only about 14 percent of Apple’s overall $265.6 billion in revenue, but investors have pinned their hopes for growth on the segment.

The company also introduced Apple Arcade, a game subscription service that will work on phones, tablets and desktop computers and include games from a range of developers.

Apple shares were down 1.7 percent on Monday.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco, Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Kenneth Li in New York Writing by Nick Zieminski Editing by Bill Rigby)

Foundation honors former Cedar Rapids man’s love of golf

CEDAR RAPIDS — A new golf foundation has been set up to support junior golfers in honor of a former Cedar Rapids man with a passion for the sport.

The Dennis J. Sheridan Junior Golf Foundation Scholarship was created by the Sheridan family, along with the city of Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Department’s Golf Division. The first year program assists junior golfers who may not have the opportunity to experience the sport.

“He was active with junior golf when he was alive,” said Dave Roe, Cedar Rapids interim golf services manager. “He liked to help young people get going in the game, and he wanted to help get as many people get into the game as he could.”

Dennis Sheridan had a love for golf, achieving three holes in one during his time on the golf course. He initially taught his daughters, Kary Sheridan Daily and Sommer Sheridan, how to play as their first instructor.

He died at age 73 on May 22, 2018, at Lakeside Meadows in Osage Beach after a short illness, according to his obituary. He was born in Cheyenne, Wyo., but was raised in Iowa City, attending Regina schools, and spent most of his adult life in Cedar Rapids. He worked at Rockwell Collins for 34 years before retiring.

The foundation is expected to provide scholarships to two to three children each year who are interested in learning how to golf through the summer Junior Golf Academy. Clubs would be provided for those who need them.

Approximately 150 kids age 5 to 16 participate annually in the Junior Golf Academy, Roe said. It runs for five weeks beginning on June 11 at Twin Pines Golf Course. The sessions are divided with one day per week devoted to instruction and the other day for play.

The Parks and Recreation Department has set income eligibility criteria for the scholarship. Those interested should apply before May 1, and notification of recipients are expected by the end of May. To apply or for more information, contact j.schumacher@cedar-rapids.org. Additional donations to support the mission of the foundation can be sent to Attn: Dennis J. Sheridan Foundation, Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Department, 500 15th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Overflowing manure tanks reported in western Iowa, Eastern Iowa on alert

Spring flooding is causing problems for western Iowa animal feeding operations, with overflowing manure lagoons reported at eight northwest Iowa feedlots and farmers telling of other challenges, including difficulty getting water to animals.

Eastern Iowa so far has been spared widespread major flooding, but state Department of Natural Resources officials say manure storage space here is running out and the ground still is too wet to apply manure as a fertilizer.

“The conditions there (in western Iowa) are very extreme and we were on the verge of that,” said Brian Jergenson, senior environmental specialist for the Iowa DNR’s Manchester field office. “We realize how close we were to those conditions.”

Manure overtopping lagoons or seeping from farm fields can kill fish and dirty water used for drinking or recreation. Breached manure lagoons were one of the major public health concerns after Hurricane Florence last fall swept through North Carolina.

Eight northwest Iowa animal feeding operators reported flooding-related manure discharges from March 1 through Thursday, according to Iowa DNR records. Three were in Lyon County, two in Sioux County and one each in Plymouth, O’Brien and Pocahontas counties.

Northwest Iowa has the highest concentration of animal feeding operations in the state, with Sioux and Lyon being No. 1 and 2, respectively, for the number of hogs as of last spring.

“Manure storage is overflowing,” state the descriptions of six incidents. Another says “the lagoon is just starting to run over on the south side.”

Flooding also prevented some operators from getting to their animals.

The Rock Valley Rural Water District, in Rock Valley, reported to the Iowa DNR a “hog confinement without water,” but the agency and the district could not immediately provide more details about the incident.

David James, special projects manager for Parks Livestock, said he and his staff could not get to a half-dozen hog finishing barns in southwest Iowa earlier this month because access roads were flooded. The barns never lost electricity, so hogs still had water and food. But employees were not able to check on the animals or see how the facilities were holding up.

“We have to use boats to get there, but one day the water was too fast,” James told The Gazette.

The company even considered using a helicopter to get to the barns, but the weather didn’t cooperate. Conditions have improved, James said Monday, but there still is limited access to two finishing barns.

The Iowa DNR is considering enforcement actions against a Buena Vista County feedlot operator after manure he applied to fields earlier this month ran into Storm Lake.

Don Jackson, who owns Pike Farms cattle feedlot, told the state he surface-applied solid manure for three days in mid-March, including during a March 13 rain, according to a March 15 news release.

The Iowa DNR couldn’t tell whether a fish kill had occurred because ice still was covering the lake at the time.

Liquid manure application is prohibited in Iowa on snow- or ice-covered ground from Dec. 21 to April 1, with some exceptions, to reduce manure runoff into Iowa waterways. But nearly 80 animal feeding operators requested waivers as of Dec. 3 because an early freeze in November cut short the window for applying manure as a fertilizer.

Now, with a long winter, operators have had to store manure much longer than usual, Jergenson said.

“They are anxious,” he said. “A lot do have alternate storage structures they can transfer the manure to if conditions get worse.”

The Manchester field office recently cited several operators for having storage tanks with too little spare space, Jergenson said.

Rain could worsen the manure overflow problems across the state, but Jergenson said the Eastern Iowa forecast looks dry enough for now that fields should be able to harden sufficiently for manure application in five to 10 days.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

Iowa Fluid Power to expand by 45,0000 square feet at Blairs Ferry Cedar Rapids facility

Fluid-power products distributor Iowa Fluid Power plans to expand its Blairs Ferry Road NE facility by 45,000 square feet.

The project, in connection with sibling companies Electro-Hydraulic Automation and Blairs Buildings LLC, is valued at $5.7 million.

Expansion of the 1610 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE site is set to start next month, with completion anticipated in August. The expansion will include the former driving range at St. Andrews Golf Course.

The addition will give IFP and Electro-Hydraulic Automation increased research-and-development space for large-scale projects and double its manufacturing and warehouse capacity, the company said in a news release.

The project will create 12 new jobs in engineering, sales engineers and other technically skilled positions, the release said.

The company, which distributes products such as hydraulic and pneumatic valves, pumps and cylinders, employs 100 in Cedar Rapids and another 43 including its operations in the Twin Cities, Kansas City, Kan., and Houston.

IFP on Tuesday will ask for a 10-year tax break from the city of Cedar Rapids, for an annual exemption that would be 44 percent on the increased property value. City Council will consider the request under its local match economic development incentive.

The city estimates $355,000 in total taxes would be exempted over 10 years. IFP would pay $1.3 million in taxes over that time.

IFP would invest $5.75 million on the project, which includes $1.75 million on construction, $1.1 million on machinery and equipment and $2.9 million on research and development, according to City Council documents.

The city also is expected to approve sponsorship of a state financial assistance application, which will be reviewed by the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board on Friday.

State financial assistance primarily would be in the form of state tax credits. The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance assisted in preparation of the state application.

The project is contingent on regulatory and governmental approval and financial assistance.

Third suspect arrested in Tarrence Newman killing

Police have arrested a third man in connection with the November 2017 shooting death of 40-year-old Tarrence Newman, who was found dead on his front porch in the 1500 block of D Avenue NE.

Court documents show 31-year-old James N. Johnson, of Cedar Rapids, faces charges of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery. The criminal complaint states Johnson was tied to the murder via his DNA which was allegedly located at the crime scene.

Johnson is the third suspect arrested in Newman’s death. Rayshaun Dion Friend, 29, and Donald R. Harris, 31, both of Cedar Rapids, each face the first-degree murder and robbery charges, and Friend is additionally accused of going armed with intent.

According to the criminal complaint, Johnson “was with other individuals, who were armed with a dangerous weapon, a handgun, and made arrangements with them to go to Mr. Newman’s home to steal from him money and drugs.”

According to a search warrant, a female witness who was at Newman’s house the night of the shooting told police she was texting with Harris and Friend, and they told her they were coming over. She told them not to come but they showed up with an unknown man — Johnson — and forced their way into Newman’s house.

The woman said she was in the kitchen doing dishes when Newman was shot and she went outside. That’s when Friend allegedly “forced” her into a vehicle that was driven by an unknown woman, according to a search warrant.

They then picked up Harris and Johnson in the 1600 block of E Avenue NE, the woman said. The woman told police that Harris admitted to shooting the victim in the neck, according the warrant. Harris told her he saw Newman “take his last breath.”

Johnson is scheduled to appear in Linn County District Court Monday morning for arraignment. He is currently being held at Linn County Jail on a $1 million bond.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Hemp program being designed for Iowa farmers, gaining support

DES MOINES — Iowa’s fields are filled during growing season with rows upon rows of corn and soybeans.

Maybe make a little room for hemp.

A new crop may be available to Iowa farmers next year, as some state lawmakers are designing a program for growing industrial hemp.

“I think there’s potential for an alternative crop for Iowa farmers,” said Tim Kapucian, a Republican state senator and farmer from Keystone.

Industrial hemp is a plant in the cannabis family. The plant’s seeds and stalks have myriad commercial uses, including in building materials, paper, textiles, oils and food.

For decades it was illegal to grow hemp, which is a cousin to marijuana, even though hemp has only tiny traces of the psychoactive element that gives marijuana users the high effect. Marijuana has 4 percent to 7 percent of the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol; hemp has between 0.1 percent and 0.4 percent of THC.

The federal government in 2014 allowed states to create industrial hemp pilot programs, but the real movement came this past year when, in the farm bill, the federal government legalized hemp as an agricultural product and gave states the ability to create their own industrial hemp programs.

With that federal blessing, Iowa lawmakers, some of whom had been proposing industrial hemp pilot programs in previous years, have escalated their efforts this year.

Iowa is one of just seven states without an industrial hemp program, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The federal government must approve any plan created by the state.

“It was three and a half years ago we had our first interim hearings on this, brought people in from across Iowa and the country, basically,” said Kevin Kinney, a Democratic state senator, farmer and retired deputy sheriff from Oxford. “It’s something that, maybe with the way commodity prices are, it just gives farmers another alternative. Especially the small farmers.”

Farm bill boost

Advocates for industrial hemp often had to push through the misconception that hemp and marijuana are more closely related, or that hemp could be used as a recreational drug. The federal government’s move to decriminalize hemp in the 2018 farm bill helped overcome that hurdle and get more state lawmakers on board.

“I think we’ve got a good shot this year especially because the feds had it in the farm bill,” Kapucian said. “That was the impetus to actually get it kicked up and rolling.”

Lawmakers said they are being careful to design a program that would specifically allow for the growth of industrial hemp and not marijuana, and provide punishments for anyone who might attempt to cross that line.

“I think there’s an opportunity for some farmers out there to do this, but with that opportunity I think there’s also opportunity for some people to try to game the system, especially early on,” said Jarad Klein, a state representative and farmer from Keota. “I think after the first few years we will have gotten a lot of the people that are looking to cause problems out of the way. They’ll realize this isn’t a get out of jail free card.”

Supplementary option

Advocates say industrial hemp could be a new supplementary option for Iowa farms, where corn and soybeans are the dominant commodities. Some of those farmers already are expressing interest, lawmakers said.

“I’m getting contacted by multiple farmers, big and small. So it’s something I think people are looking at just to see if it’s a viable alternative to their operations,” Kinney said.

Even advocates of the program in the Legislature are stressing that, should a program be approved, farmers should not expect hemp to be a miracle crop that will provide a huge financial boost. They are urging caution, even including in the proposal a limit on 40 acres per farmer.

“We don’t want people thinking this is going to be a crop that can save their farm,” Klein said. “I don’t want farmers out there thinking this is the next best thing, that this is going to generate all this money.”

Kapucian said he thinks a hemp program could be similar to how ethanol, the corn-based fuel that now is blended into the nation’s fuel supply, got its start in Iowa.

“It’s going to be a steep learning curve,” Kapucian said. “And like anything else, there’s going to be some failures along with some success stories.”

Klein compared hemp’s potential to the influx of solar energy in his area of the state. He said if a program is passed, participation likely would be scant at first, but could grow if a few farmers are successful.

“I think at the very peak of this we’re talking maybe 15,000 acres. ... That would be a very, very extreme end. I think initially we’re talking a few hundred acres,” Klein said. “It just takes time for some of this to get adopted. ... This could be one of those things (that eventually grows), but somebody’s got to jump in and take risk.”

Business interest

Companies that would process industrial hemp already have expressed interest in setting up shop in Iowa if a program is approved, lawmakers said. Kapucian said he has been contacted by businesses from Nebraska, Kentucky and one run by a former Iowan living in Texas.

“I’m very happy that we’ve been contacted by people from different states that are really interested in the processing part of it,” Kapucian said. “That’s always been one of my concerns, that we grow the processing along with the production so we don’t end up with some people with a bunch of product out there with no place to go with it.”

Bills are making their way through the approval process in the Iowa Senate and House. Lawmakers said they are optimistic they can make Senate File 279 and House File 733 similar and get a bill passed by both chambers and sent to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk for her approval before this year’s session ends, likely in April or May.

“I hope it passes, and I hope it opens up new markets. One of the things I’ve been looking at is trying to find things to stimulate economic growth in rural areas,” Kinney said. “I’m optimistic with how this is proceeding at this point.”

Next-door neighbors’ garages a total loss after Monday morning fire in Cedar Rapids

Two detached garages of adjacent Cedar Rapids neighbors were considered a total loss after a fire early this morning.

The Cedar Rapids Fire Department was dispatched at 2:48 a.m. today for a report of two detached garages on fire at 1025 30th St. SE, Cedar Rapids.

Everyone was safely out of the garages with no one injured but both garages were considered a total loss.

The fire remains under investigation.

Iowa senators react to summary of Robert Mueller’s report

Following Attorney General William Barr’s release Sunday of a summary of the Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Iowa’s Republican senators both made note that there was “no collusion” found between the Trump campaign and Russia. They also called for more details from the report to be made public.

Statement from Sen. Joni Ernst:

“After this nearly two-year investigation, the Special Counsel has concluded that there was no collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. It’s time to move on and focus on preventing any more involvement or influence by Russia in our elections, which is vital to protecting our democracy and our nation’s security.

“I strongly believe that as much of the report that can be made public should be — barring any national security threat. Taxpayers have paid millions for this investigation; it’s only right that they see its findings.”

Statement from Sen. Chuck Grassley:

“The principal finding from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation confirms what my own review found: there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin to influence the presidential election. These findings were reached after significant efforts to thoroughly and fully uncover the facts by a team of professional investigators.

“I look forward to reviewing more details about the steps Robert Mueller’s team took at taxpayer expense to reach these conclusions. In the meantime, this should serve as an opportunity for those who have engaged in baseless, irresponsible speculation the past few years simply because they do not like the President to reflect on how they have contributed to Putin’s goal of undermining American faith in our system of government. For the good of our nation, I hope that we all can accept the Justice Department’s findings and move forward.”

What we know so far about Chris Bagley’s death

There are many unknowns surrounding the death of 31-year-old Christopher Bagley of Walker, who went missing for 76 days before authorities found his body buried March 1 in southeast Cedar Rapids.

Authorities haven’t explained how the property where Bagley’s body was buried is connected to him or their investigation.

Court documents reveal four people with connections to Bagley have been arrested for drugs, firearms and burglary, but not for his death.

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said this week he couldn’t say if his department was close to an arrest, only that the investigation continues.

Here’s a look at what is known so far in the case:

Bagley goes missing

• On Dec. 13, 2018, Bagley, a husband and father of two, left his home about 9 p.m. with a woman his wife didn’t know. He left his wallet and truck behind.

• On Dec. 17, his wife, Courtney Bagley, reports him missing.

Last place seen alive

• Early on Dec. 14, Bagley and the woman went to the mobile home of Paul Hoff at 7100 Mount Vernon Road SE in Cedar Rapids, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in January. The woman, who is identified in the warrant but faces no charges, said she last saw Bagley around 4:45 a.m. when she left the trailer and he stayed.

The woman told investigators Bagley and another man had been involved in robbing people in the past. One robbery victim may have been Bagley’s marijuana dealer, and she believed the dealer paid someone to harm Bagley because of their history.

• Logan Gerber, 29, of Marion, said he talked to Bagley about 3:32 a.m. the same day, the warrant shows. Bagley told Gerber he was on his way to Hoff’s and told him to be ready because he would need his help for the “grande finale.”

Gerber said he didn’t know what that meant but he thought Bagley was planning to rob someone, according to the warrant.

• Paul Hoff, 40, was last person to see Bagley alive, according to the warrant. He said Bagley and the woman talked about “hitting” a drug house and “getting a good score.” Hoff said Bagley left his trailer between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Dec. 14.

More from the warrant

During the investigation, authorities learned that Bagley was a “known drug user” who used marijuana and methamphetamine, according to that search warrant affidavit. Bagley also may have been selling marijuana and “was known to carry a gun.”

Authorities also learned of alleged threats made against Bagley and believed he was already dead and was “possibly murdered.”

Bagley’s body found

On March 1, Bagley’s body is found buried in a yard behind a home in the 4000 block of Soutter Ave. SE. His body was unearthed from the frozen ground with the help of excavation equipment. The burial site was on the east side of a garage.

While the sheriff’s office didn’t immediately release identification to the news media, Bagley’s father, Stewart Bagley, confirms to The Gazette and other news outlets that the body is his son.

Bagley’s body is sent to the Iowa State Medical Examiner’s Office in Ankeny for an autopsy later that day.

Details of the autopsy released March 5 show Bagley died of “sharp-force injuries,” indicating he was stabbed by a knife or other sharp object.

Who’s linked to Bagley?

Four people with connections to Bagley have been charged but not in his death:

Logan Gerber, charged in February in U.S. District Court with possession of a firearm — a Glock 9 mm — by a drug user and possession of an unregistered 16-guage shotgun. He is accused of having methamphetamine, marijuana and the two firearms on June 9. Gerber pleaded not guilty on Friday and has a trial date set for May 20.

Paul Hoff, charged this month in U.S. District Court with two counts of possession of firearms by a felon and one count each of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, a complaint shows. Hoff pleaded not guilty last week and his trial is set for May 6.

Darian Gossett, 22, of Cedar Rapids and Morgan Jordan, 26, of Marion were charged last month in Linn County District Court with third-degree burglary and assault, according to a complaint.

Gossett and Jordan are accused of breaking into a Marion apartment Feb. 27. They told police they thought their “missing friend Chris Bagley” lived there and they wanted to clean it up, according to a search warrant affidavit filed earlier this month.

Bagley didn’t live in the apartment, but another man, who is in jail on drug charges, did.

Court records show Drew Blahnik lived in that apartment. Blahnik, arrested a day before the burglary — Feb. 26 — is charged in Linn County District Court with possession with intent to deliver marijuana. He is also charged in federal court with possession of a firearm by a drug user. He is accused of using methamphetamine and possessing a Glock 22 .40-caliber handgun, and multiple rounds of ammunition on Feb. 25, according to an indictment.

Court records don’t show a connection between Blahnik and Bagley.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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