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Deal done: Waterloo Greyhound Park coming down; National Cattle Congress saved

WATERLOO — The dilapidated Waterloo Greyhound Park will be torn down under a three-party agreement announced today.

The National Cattle Congress, Meskwaki Nation and Deer Creek Development said demolition of the long vacant eyesore near the intersection of U.S. Highways 20 and 63 is expected to start by the end of May.

Deer Creek, a local company headed by developer Harold Youngblut, helped mediate the deal, which frees the dog track property for new development and allows the NCC to retain ownership of its fairgrounds and Electric Park Ballroom.

“To finalize this agreement, the Meskwaki Tribal Council more than met the NCC halfway,” said Youngblut, whose son and company attorney Michael Youngblut assisted in the negotiations.

“Meskwaki and NCC were most gracious in their dealings with Deer Creek Development, and enough cannot be said about all parties coming together to bring this agreement to fruition,” Harold Youngblut added. “Everyone needed to be flexible, make concessions and work with one another to accomplish this deal.”

All three parties agreed not to discuss details of the agreement closed April 25 beyond those announced in today’s news release.

Woodlands Construction Inc., a tribally charted corporation owned by the tribe, will demolish the track, which is currently owned by the NCC but has been vacant since live racing and simulcating ceased more than 20 years ago.

Deer Creek, which has been developing 122 acres of land around the track, will acquire the 64-acre dog track site and market it for additional development.

The deal also resolves a dispute between the NCC and tribe, which had started foreclosure proceedings on all of the NCC’s property after claiming it was owed nearly $14 million from a line of credit the tribe extended to the NCC during its 1995 bankruptcy reorganization.

A district court judge last year had ruled in favor of the tribe’s right to foreclose. The NCC had appealed the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court but recently dropped the appeal.

NCC board president Wally Mochal thanked the tribal council and Deer Creek for finding a resolution.

“It will be fantastic to have beautiful new development under way along busy Highways 20 and 63,” Mochal said. “And we could not be more thankful for our continued ability to maintain ownership of the historic Electric Park Ballroom and our fairgrounds, plus be able to operate the fair for years to come.”

The parties did not release information about what the Meskwaki Nation, also known as the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, is getting out of the settlement.

But tribal chairman Anthony Waseskuk said the agreement is a win for all involved parties and the public.

“The Cattle Congress will continue to provide entertainment to the residents of Black Hawk County; the city of Waterloo will finally see the eyesore known as the Waterloo Greyhound Park demolished; and the tribe will receive a fair settlement under the original agreement with the Cattle Congress,” Waseskuk said in a news release.

“The tribe values traditions, and the annual Cattle Congress Fair has been a tradition in Black Hawk County for generations much like our annual Pow-Wow held in August every year,” he added.

Mayor Quentin Hart also weighed in with his appreciation.

“Tearing down the greyhound park will be a catalyst to revitalize the southern entrance to Waterloo,” Hart said in a news release. “And as the Greenbelt Centre continues to expand, it will bring new businesses and jobs to the city and increase our tax base. … This will benefit all our residents.”

Deer Creek Development has been developing the Greenbelt Centre business park around the track since 2005. It is home to Mauer Eye Center, Love’s Travel Center, Hawkeye Stages and other professional offices.

Youngblut said prospects for the former dog track property have not been determined but could include anything from “restaurants and retail to a hotel and a convention center.”

The nonprofit NCC opened the Waterloo Greyhound Park in 1986 as a way to bolster revenues for its fairgrounds and annual exposition. But the facility began bleeding red ink as casinos and addition gaming operations opened around the state.

Black Hawk County voters in 1994 narrowly rejected two referendums to allow slot machines to be installed at the track. All gaming activities at the facility ceased July 13, 1996.

Iowa lawmakers adjourn session after approving tax cuts

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa lawmakers on Saturday adjourned their 2018 legislative session after approving a sweeping $2.1 billion tax cut bill that Republicans hailed as the largest in state history and Democrats decried as unfairly favoring the wealthy.

The legislation would reduce personal income taxes and phase in some cuts to corporate tax rates over several years. Republicans said it would give most Iowa residents some kind of tax cut.

“We cannot underestimate the positive impact those tax savings will have for Iowa families,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Clear Lake Republican, said in closing remarks.

Democrats called the tax bill irresponsible at a time when lawmakers have reduced spending in other areas of government, including mid-year budget cuts earlier this year. They also pointed to nonpartisan analysis that estimates the highest income earners will see the largest cuts to personal income taxes.

“At the end of the day, the mismanagement of the state treasury is going to go down as a historic failing of Republicans this session,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, an Iowa City Democrat.

The weekend debate capped a marathon of votes in recent days to finalize the spending bills that will make up the roughly $7.4 billion state budget that goes into effect in July. It includes $3.2 billion for K-12 education and $1.8 billion for health and human services. The large price tags mask inadequate spending, said Sen. Pam Jochum, a Dubuque Democrat.

Jochum criticized the Legislature’s response this year to reported problems with the state’s privatized Medicaid program, which provides health care to poor and disabled Iowans. She said Republicans didn’t add enough new oversight to address reduced services to patients and delayed payments to health providers.

“They chose to ignore all of the evidence that is sitting before them that shows it isn’t working,” Jochum said.

Lawmakers tackled a range of issues this session, passing bills aimed at expanding mental health access and reducing opioid abuse. They also approved measures on abortion and immigration enforcement that critics warned would plunge the state into litigation.

Under a bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, most abortions in Iowa would be banned at the first detectable heartbeat. That’s around six weeks of pregnancy, which critics say is unconstitutional. The issue could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, which Republicans welcomed.

“Iowa is the first in many things,” said Rep. Shannon Lundgren, a Peosta Republican. “If we’re the first to be a part of other states that are going and pushing the limits, then that’s fine.”

With the tax legislation, the top bracket for personal income taxes eventually could be reduced from 8.98 percent to 6.5 percent. The top corporate rate would decrease from 12 percent to 9.8 percent in a few years.

Some of the biggest changes in the bill — condensed tax brackets and an elimination in deducting federal taxes from state income taxes — won’t happen unless the state meets revenue growth targets.

Critics countered that savings for working-class families would be lost to higher sales taxes, which would be expanded to include digital purchases such as e-books and streaming video services like Netflix. Iowa’s ability to collect sales taxes from some internet companies hinges on the outcome of a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The tax cuts are expected to reduce overall state revenue by $100 million for the upcoming budget year. That annual cost accelerates within six years if certain economic conditions are met. Republicans say the state can afford the cuts, and they’ve left extra surplus dollars if there’s a downturn.

Democrats say the cuts come as new trade tariffs could hurt Iowa farmers and strike a blow to the state coffers. They also say the full consequences of the measure aren’t known because its final version was made public just a few days ago.

“The optics of this bill tell you everything you need to know,” said Rep. Chris Hall, a Sioux City Democrat.

Final bills head to Reynolds, who has roughly a month to review them. In the meantime, many lawmakers will hit the campaign trail ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

Democrats say the past two years of GOP-led policies will backfire on the majority party in November. Republicans on the other hand feel they’ve delivered on their legislative promises.

“This is the most historic and productive session this state has ever seen,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, an Ankeny Republican.

Reynolds signs Iowa's fetal heartbeat law, but it faces long, uncertain legal future

DES MOINES — Iowa conservatives hope they have planted a seed that will bear the fruit of a U.S. Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal in the United States.

The process that could play out over the fetal heartbeat law approved last week by the Republican-led Legislature and GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds could take three years, cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars and ultimately depend on shifting tides in ideological judicial makeup and public opinion, legal experts say.

The end game for social conservatives is an opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the landmark 1973 decision that guaranteed a woman’s right to abort a pregnancy.

“I believe this bill will be a vehicle that will ultimately provide change and provide the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Rick Bertrand, a Republican state senator from Sioux City, said last week. “There’s nothing hidden about the agenda. Today the pro-life movement won a battle, but the war rages on.”

What promises to be a protracted legal battle started in earnest last week when Reynolds and Republicans in the Iowa Legislature approved legislation that would ban abortions when a fetus’ heartbeat isdetected. That typically happens around six weeks, often before the woman knows she is pregnant.

On Friday, the same day Reynolds signed the bill into law, the women’s reproductive health care provider Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union announced they will file a court challenge. The law goes into effect July 1.

Planned Parenthood said it is not releasing any details of its planned litigation. But legal experts said it’s likely to seek an immediate injunction, which if granted would stop the law from going into effect until the courts can rule on its constitutionality.

The injunction almost certainly would be granted, experts said.

“I’m assuming the injunction will be granted, because there’s a clear reason to question the constitutionality of the bill,” said Renee Cramer, a professor of law, politics and society at Drake University. “Then it would work its way through the court system.”

Where to file

Attorneys will be faced with a decision: whether to challenge the law in state or federal courts. Either path could ultimately lead to the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorneys will choose whichever path they think gives them the best opportunity to succeed.

The Iowa Supreme Court recently has been involved with other state abortion laws. It rejected a law that would have blocked doctors from using remote video technology for abortions, and is expected to soon deliver a ruling on a new law that requires a three-day waiting period before a woman has an abortion.

Federal district courts also have rejected some state laws restricting abortion access, including one passed in North Dakota in 2013 similar to the Iowa bill. The U.S. Court of Appeals’ 8th District, which also includes Iowa, blocked the North Dakota law, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, allowing the ruling to stand.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up most abortion restriction laws. The high court did, in 2016, hear a challenge to a Texas law that would have forced closure of more than half of the state’s clinics that perform abortions. By a 5-3 vote — deceased Justice Antonin Scalia had not yet been replaced — the court overturned the Texas law.

“The chances of that happening (the U.S. Supreme Court hearing the new Iowa law) are pretty small,” said Mark Kende, director of Drake University Law School’s Constitutional Law Center. “Even though it’s a significant issue, it doesn’t necessarily seem at this point they want to change their mind on this issue. ...

“Really, the odds are small both of the court taking it and if they take it the odds are small of the court overturning it. Unless the composition changes.”

The long game

That is the long play for social conservatives: that by the time a case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, there will be one or two more conservative justices on the court.

Republicans control all the levers of federal government, giving the party an almost clear path to appoint justices to the Supreme Court and other federal courts. Justices are appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Already President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate placed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch in the seat vacated by Scalia’s death. That vacancy was held open by the Senate for more than 10 months in order to prevent Democratic President Barack Obama from appointing a justice in the final year of his second term.

The Gorsuch appointment, however, did not shift the court’s ideological balance; he replaced a fellow conservative.

And conservatives hope each Trump appointment to the lower federal courts gives them a better chance of the issue making it to the Supreme Court. Legal experts said what lower courts say about the law will influence whether the high court hears it: If more conservative judges in the lower courts show signs of ruling in favor of the law, the Supreme Court may be more likely to hear an appeal.

While conservatives hope for a change in ideological makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, there is no guarantee it will happen while the GOP still has control over the process.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has provided the swing vote in many high court rulings — he voted with the majority in rejecting the Texas law — is rumored to be considering retirement, which would give Republicans an opportunity to add another reliably conservative vote to the court.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an 85-year-old liberal justice who has had health issues, but also maintains a workout schedule. And at least one expert doesn’t find it likely Ginsburg will retire.

“They’d have to carry her out,” said Carl Tobias, with the University of Richmond School of Law. “I don’t think that’s in the cards at all.”

And while Trump has more than two-and-a-half years remaining in his first term, there is no guarantee he will have the luxury of a Republican-controlled Senate the entire time. Election forecasters see signs of a potential Democratic wave in this fall’s midterm election. Historically, the minority party — Democrats, in this case — picks up congressional seats in the first election after a party takes power — Republicans, in this case. And Trump’s approval ratings are mired in the low 40s, creating another signal Democrats are poised to fare well in November.

If Democrats regain the U.S. Senate, they will have the authority to reject a Trump nomination to the court.

“A lot of this hinges on the makeup of the court,” said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager with the Guttmacher Institute, which provides research on women’s reproductive health care issues and advocates for pro-choice policies. “I think there are some shifting sands in the political landscape that could have an effect on whether or not this is the path that this bill takes. From abortion opponents’ perspective, are the stars going to align? There are a lot of steps in the way.”

But Nash and other experts agree it is possible.

“Is ‘Roe’ vulnerable? Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons this law passed,” Nash said.

Expensive fight

Regardless of the final outcome, the legal process could be expensive for Iowa taxpayers.

North Dakota spent more than $300,000 defending its law, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

Pro-life advocacy groups have said they would help the state defend the law in order to help contain costs. A spokesman said the Iowa Attorney General’s office has not determined whether it would accept outside help, and accepting such help is not common.

“They’re going to be on the hook for attorneys’ fees if the plaintiffs prevail. They could be looking at whatever time the plaintiffs’ counsel spend, they will be reimbursed, and the citizens of the state will pay that,” Tobias said. “I know (pro-life advocates) think that doesn’t make any difference, that no price is too high. But that is the reality, and that could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

R.J. McElroy Trust gift will boost experiential and service learning

Van Gorp



WATERLOO — The R.J. McElroy Trust is giving the Waterloo Community Schools a grant of $1.5 million over three years to implement a districtwide program of experiential and service learning for students in all grades.

“This is the largest programmatic gift the trust has given,” said Stacy Van Gorp, McElroy’s executive director. “I think that signifies the enthusiasm we feel about the district.”

A $4 million donation over eight years to help fund construction of the Cedar Valley SportsPlex, which opened in 2014, is the only gift from the Waterloo charitable organization that has been larger. On an annual basis, the trust’s grants typically total about $2 million. The district’s grant will average out to a quarter of that giving in the next three years.

Superintendent Jane Lindaman said the new program is intended to be another way that students can learn — often outside of the classroom.

“It is for enhanced opportunities and experiences for our students,” she said. “It’s really a match made in heaven and we’re thrilled that the McElroy Trust is going to support us in this way.”

The program, which will be launched at the elementary school level this fall, will have two prongs: One is “what we call experiential learning,” said Lindaman, where students will be immersed in the community with the idea of giving more relevance to what they’re learning at school. The other piece is service learning, where students will “learn the value of giving back” by volunteering in the community.

“It’s not a new concept, but having it systemic makes this different,” said Lindaman.

Currently, some district students volunteer in the community as part of a class and many have gone on field trips that relate to a topic they’re studying. But, in both cases, it may depend on the initiative of a teacher or school. As a result, some district students could have few opportunities to participate in these kinds of experiences.

“This is about doing things,” said Jim Waterbury, chairman of McElroy’s board of trustees, noting the intent is to “pull kids away from screens. We would like them to get dirt under their fingernails.”

Lindaman called the program intentional and strategic. “It’s really that planned-out, thoughtful approach to a K-12 experience,” she said.

A coordinator for the program will be hired with the grant, which will also cover expenses related to the activities students will do. Lindaman noted officials plan to sustain the program beyond the initial McElroy support. “It is not the intent of the district to only do this three years,” she said.

A 30-member planning team established in advance of submitting the grant application met with district staff and community members to give shape to the program. Among the participating organizations were Iowa State University Extension, the University of Northern Iowa, the Volunteer Center of the Cedar Valley, and the Boys & Girls Club. “There was quite a broad range of input over months,” said Lindaman.

The team put together a draft that is still evolving. Among those are outdoor, cultural, dining, cooking and intergenerational experiences. Some may take them to university campuses, others may include publishing their own writing or other creative work.

“I don’t know exactly what it will be called,” said Lindaman. “It really is about connecting the dots for kids.”

A series of thematic experiences and service learning is being developed for each grade level in the district. “We’ll take themes and really play them out each year,” she explained. These themes will connect to the standards and benchmarks for learning in each grade, so the activities will not be isolated incidents.

“We believe this will allow teachers to go deeper,” said Lindaman. In the draft, the experiences and service learning have ties to literacy, math, science, social studies, civics, music and fine arts. “It really has a very strong foundation in academic learning.”

Students from different schools or classes may participate in these experiences at different times in the year, but every student across the district will do them in the same grade. These “peak experiences shared by so many kids” will become important touchstones for Waterloo students, predicted Van Gorp.

Waterbury called the grant consistent with “what mattered to Mac,” referring to R.J. McElroy, whose will established the trust in 1965. McElroy, who left home at age 13 and had little formal education, eventually settled in Waterloo and founded Black Hawk Broadcasting Co. The radio station KWWL hit the airwaves in 1947 and KWWL TV began operating in 1953, among the stations the company grew to include.

“He hoped that someday he would help kids get some of the experiences he never did,” said Waterbury. “He had a real soft spot for Waterloo Schools.”

Waterbury noted that the trust’s board likes to fund projects that will be sustainable and make a difference in the community — which they think will be the case with the district’s new program.

“Being able to use (McElroy’s) money to perpetuate that kind of idea is appropriate,” he said. “You never know, but we think he’d probably like this.”