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Iowa Senate passes abortion constitutional amendment bill

DES MOINES — Iowa Senate Republican lawmakers on Thursday approved a resolution that would amend the Iowa Constitution to declare there is no right to an abortion in the state.

The measure passed the Senate 32-18 along party lines with only Republican votes. It says in part “we the people of the state of Iowa declare that this Constitution shall not be construed to recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.”

It must pass in the House and then pass in the Legislature again in 2021 or 2022 before it would go to a statewide vote.

If it survives and voters eventually approve it, the amendment would make state court challenges to abortion restrictions much more difficult in Iowa.

The measure is a response to an Iowa Supreme Court ruling in 2018 that struck down the legislature’s 72-hour waiting period for an abortion. In that ruling the court more broadly declared that the state constitution guarantees women the freedom to make their own health decisions, including whether to terminate a pregnancy.

The ruling infuriated some conservative lawmakers and brought accusations that the court was usurping the power of the Legislature to create laws.

“I’m not seeing one of you put forth a constitutional amendment to provide a right to an abortion. Rather, you’re going to rely on judicial activists to create new constitutional rights,” said Republican Sen. Jake Chapman. “We have an opportunity to right a wrong. The court, we can allow them to use the power of the gavel to create new constitutional rights or we can say when it comes to this issue the power will reside with the people.”

Democratic Senate leader Janet Petersen criticized Republicans for pushing an abortion bill rather than working to improve conditions in Iowa where obstetrics departments are closing in rural hospitals.

“I don’t like to be mansplained about what human rights are. This constitutional amendment is written with the sole purpose of banning access to safe abortion care in Iowa,” she said. “Women are getting tired of you making your political statements with our uteruses. It’s time to quit punching women and girls in the uteruses with your policies and pretending it’s for our own good.”

A bill with similar language moved through a House committee on Wednesday, but a public hearing was requested so House Speaker Pat Grassley said a hearing must be held before it can proceed to full House consideration. House rules require a five-day notice of a hearing before it can be held. No date has yet been set.

Grassley also suggested the possibility House language may change, which means the two chambers would have to reach agreement on language before it’s passed in a final version.

Grassley said Republicans in the GOP-controlled House have made it clear they oppose abortion but the bill is as much about the courts striking down legislative action.

“This is about separating the powers and the decisions that were made by the courts and the legislature taking that power back, so this is really a broader conversation than what’s just being focused on with that specific question,” he said.

He said the action is to ensure that abortion measures the state has passed are upheld.

The courts have struck down Iowa laws that would have made abortion illegal at the detection of a heartbeat — as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — and the 72-hour waiting period. A law passed last year denying federal funds administered by the state for sex education programs conducted by any organization that performs abortions is being challenged in court now.

A bill that prohibits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy remains law in the state.

Also, on Thursday House subcommittees moved forward on two separate abortion-related bills. One requires specific information to be relayed to a woman seeking a medication abortion, a so-called informed consent measure. The other bill makes it a crime to fail to properly handle fetal remains and requires filing of a death certificate when a pregnancy ends at 12 weeks or later.

NEW DETAILS: Waterloo murder suspect surrenders in Illinois

WATERLOO – After being at large for two days, a Waterloo man accused of killing his girlfriend and her cousin surrendered to authorities.

Matthew Dee Buford III, 36, turned himself in to authorities in Peoria, Ill., shortly before midnight Wednesday.

As of Thursday morning, Buford was in the Peoria County Jail awaiting extradition back to Iowa to face first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Tamica Takeisha Allison, 42, Andrea Rochelle Anderson, 41.

Bond for Buford has been set at $1 million, according to Waterloo police.

It wasn’t clear how long Buford had been in the Peoria area, where he is believed to have family.

Waterloo police continue to investigate the deaths of Allison and Anderson, whose bodies were found Monday night in the home at 1112 W. Second St. where Allison and Buford lived.

Double homicide West Second St

Protests follow Northern Iowa denial of $10K in contest

CEDAR FALLS (AP) — Fans are calling foul against Northern Iowa and its business sponsor, who denied a $10,000 prize to a student who appeared to win a halftime basketball shooting promotion.

The flap began Wednesday night when Northern Iowa student Dalton Hinsch got a chance at the prize if he made a layup, a free throw, a three-pointer and a half-court shot within what he and the crowd thought was a 30-second time frame.

Hinsch made all four shots within 27 seconds, even beating an announcer’s countdown, sending the crowd attending the UNI-Illinois State game into a frenzy. The cheers soon turned to boos when officials declared Hinsch hadn’t got the last shot off in time.

The UNI athletics department tweeted Thursday that the insurer covering the event required all four shots to be completed within 24 seconds. The department said its sponsor, CB Seeds of Parkersburg, will give Hinsch “$2,000, a free trip to Arch Madness, & gear!”

Fans reacting to the tweet were less than enthused with the consolation, with the vast majority saying the sponsor and university should pay the full prize.

Black Hawk County budget trims home tax bills



WATERLOO — Black Hawk County leaders have put the finishing touches on a budget expected to lower residential property tax bills next fall.

The county Board of Supervisors voiced support Thursday for a proposed spending plan reducing the county government’s share of a homeowner’s tax bill by 2.9 percent.

The general and rural fund portions of the budget are subject to a public hearing March 5 under a new state law, while the entire budget is tentatively slated to be approved during a second hearing March 24.

“We’re in a good, strong financial position,” said Supervisor Dan Trelka. “Other communities are envious … but a lot of the credit goes to past boards for the position we’re in.”

Supervisor Linda Laylin said such speeches were usually reserved for the end of the budget process. But she also noted a week ago how the county’s strong cash reserves have made the situation easier this year.

“This county is probably in the strongest financial position it’s been in in a long time,” she said. “It is a fantastic position to be in to make some of these decisions. Otherwise we could be struggling like a lot of counties, making a lot of cuts and looking at how we could get by.”

The proposed budget would increase overall county property taxes by just $134,000, which is one-third of a percent of the county’s overall $39.2 million in projected tax revenue.

Finance Director James Perry said taxes to support the county’s general operating budgets jumped more than $1.8 million, a situation that will require “super majority” support — four of the five supervisors — to approve the budget March 5.

But a $1.1 million drop in the county’s annual debt payments and $700,000 reduction in taxes under a separate mental health levy kept the overall tax level flat.

“A lot of the increase really is coming from salaries and benefits,” said Perry, referencing the 2.75 percent wage increases approved by the supervisors for county employees and elected officials.

“What’s helping us is the mental health levy as well as our debt service levy decreased quite a bit,” he added. “Those two things are offsetting our general and rural fund increases.”

The proposed budget would raise the urban property tax rate from $6.30 to $6.32 per $1,000 of taxable property value. The rural rate — a higher amount paid on property in unincorporated areas not subject to a city tax bill — would grow from $9.88 to $9.97 per $1,000.

Despite the rising tax rate, residential property owners will see a tax cut because of a state “rollback” order reducing the percentage of their homes’ assessed value used for taxing purposes by 3.24 percent.

The owner of an urban home with an assessed value of $100,000 would see the county’s share of their property tax bill drop from $359 to $348. The same home in the rural area would see the county’s share of their bill fall from $562 to $549.

Commercial and industrial properties did not see a change in their rollbacks and would see a 0.33 percent increase in county taxes under the proposed budget. Agricultural property was hurt slightly by the rollback change and will see an average 2.5 percent increase in county taxes.

County government represents a smaller portion of the overall property tax bill. Cities and school districts set their own rates and collect taxes on top of the county’s portion.

The supervisors were able to add several new positions and programs next year.

The proposed budget adds two deputies to enhance courthouse security, a social worker to divert mentally ill jail inmates to appropriate services, and adds contracted security services at the Pinecrest Building.

The supervisors included a projected $4 million bond issue later this year to cover the county’s share of an $8 million project to pave Grundy Road south of U.S. Highway 20. They did not include $920,000 requested by the Board of Health to create a public health center, although that could be funded in the future from cash reserves.

“I do think we’ve accomplished some good things in this budget,” Supervisor Chris Schwartz said. “I’m particularly excited about the additional social worker in the jail that’s going to help serve our mentally ill population even better.”

The supervisors did not agree on every aspect of the budget, which was put together on a series of consensus voters over the past month. But none of the supervisors indicated Thursday the budget had a poison pill that would prevent them from supporting it.

Staffer Tim Jamison’s most memorable 2019 stories:

Courier Reporter Tim Jamison's most memorable stories of 2019

KBBG Radio drops staff, seeks donations to stay on air


WATERLOO — A longtime public radio station is still struggling to stay on the air.

Afro-American Community Broadcasting Inc., broadcasting from Waterloo as KBBG-FM 88.1, has not managed to rebound financially and has terminated all of its paid staff.

“It is due to the lack of funds and any financial sustainability,” said Dr. Gloria Kirkland-Holmes, KBBG’s board president. “We’ve just been hanging on by a thread.”

The station, founded in 1977 by Jimmie Porter, was beset last year with declining federal grant revenue and donations coupled with equipment breakdowns at its headquarters on Newell and Mobile streets.

Executive Director Deborah Berry, Community Outreach Director Edyce Porter and accountant Candice Lanning were all laid off in July.

Kirkland-Holmes, who took over as board president in January, said the board voted Jan. 21 to implement a hiring freeze and send termination notices to those on layoff.

KBBG has stayed on the air with volunteers and largely automated programming. While bills are being paid as they arrive, the station is surviving on a razor-thin margin.

“We’re open by the grace of God,” Kirkland-Holmes said.

The station is not eligible for federal funds through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting because rules require recipients to have at least two paid staff members, she said.

The Black Hawk County Gaming Association in December provided a $75,000 challenge grant. KBBG raised $60,000 in donations to leverage most of the grant and can receive the remaining $15,000 once it completes the fundraising match.

“The money they gave us was really very helpful,” Kirkland-Holmes said.

KBBG raised some money during an on-air fundraiser on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the station’s community advisory board is working on a fundraising event at the Elk’s Club in March.

“In April we are planning to launch a community drive radiothon like we used to have,” Kirkland-Holmes said. “We’re reaching out on air and hoping some of our followers will help us save the station.”

She also is talking to former employees and DJs to see if they can help provide some live programming to break up the automated programming.

KBBG was started to provide entertainment, news and give a voice to the local African-American community. While that has been a constant target audience, the station has expanded its reach over the years and included a broad array of public service programming.

The station accepts donations through its website, in person or by using the KBBG app.

Staffer Tim Jamison’s most memorable 2019 stories:

Courier Reporter Tim Jamison's most memorable stories of 2019