Iowa Senate eases budget cuts for universities, courts and DHS

The Iowa Senate passed a mid-year budget reduction bill Thursday that moderates an earlier plan for spending cuts proposed for state universities, community colleges, the courts and human services.Senate File 2117, which was approved after a partisan debate, reduces the original cuts proposed by Senate Republicans by more than $18 million. The bill now trims state spending by a net total of $31.9 million from the general fund for the state fiscal year ending June 30, 2018. The overall state general fund budget is about $7.2 billion. “We have met our duty to Iowa taxpayers. We have to balance a budget every year and we can’t spend more than we take in," said Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, chairman of the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee. The new plan would leave the state with a fiscal year ending balance of about $18 million.Minority Democrats criticized the spending reduction package, which is needed to plug a shortfall of state revenue totaling about $34.5 million. The bill passed on a 29-21 vote with all Republicans in favor and all 20 Democrats opposed. They were joined by Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan, the Legislature's lone independent.Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Iowa is experiencing "GOP budget whiplash" that is hurting the delivery of state government services. He blamed unsustainable state tax credits and other financial incentives to businesses that "fatten the bottom lines for out-of-state corporations and have failed to deliver promised jobs and are bankrupting our state."However, the Senate's spending adjustments would have no impact on state appropriations for K-12 schools, the Iowa State Patrol, the Medicaid health care program for low-income people, or for state aid to local governments related to property taxes.The Senate bill now goes to the House, which has proposed its own $33.8 million budget reduction Continue Reading

Iowa school bus routine turns tragic in seconds as intense fire kills 2

OAKLAND, Ia. — Megan Klindt, 16, left her house to board the school bus shortly before 7 a.m. Tuesday, the only student aboard as Donald Hendricks began to back the bus out of the driveway in rural Pottawattamie County.But something went terribly wrong. The bus ended up in the ditch and caught fire.Klindt's family saw from the house and called for help, saying that the people on the bus couldn't escape. At about 7:02 a.m. Tuesday, dispatchers scrambled volunteer firefighters, medics and full-time sheriff's deputies to rush to the Klindt home. The 911 caller said the bus was engulfed in flames. At 7:15, a sheriff's deputy arrived. "Deputy on scene is unable to get inside the bus," a dispatcher said.By the time the fire was extinguished and first responders could check on them, Klindt and Hendricks were dead.Authorities said they did not know Tuesday why the fire started or why it burned so intensely. Students at Riverside Junior/Senior High School in Oakland, about eight miles from the Klindts' home, mourned the sudden loss. Hendricks, a 74-year-old city councilman in nearby Carson, was remembered as a man devoted to faith and family.The National Transportation Safety Board said on Twitter that it was sending a team to investigate the incident.About 100 people gathered Tuesday night to remember Hendricks and Klindt at Fellowship of Faith Christian Center in Oakland, where parents and children hugged and cried. During the service, Pastor Brody Tubaugh, of Carson United Methodist Church, told mourners he had struggled with what to tell them."We come with heavy hearts," Tubaugh said. "And the pain won't just instantly go away."Hendricks was re-elected in November to a new term on Carson's city council. His grandson, Denton Hendricks, said in an interview that the driver was a supporter of Riverside's sports teams, attending Denton's football games and wrestling matches. He Continue Reading

Iowa Supreme Court justice blocks Register’s use of court records

An Iowa Supreme Court justice has issued a highly unusual order prohibiting the Des Moines Register from publishing information gleaned from court records.The Register has objected, calling the order an unlawful form of prior restraint that violates the First Amendment and “stands as an undesirable and unsustainable outlier in the law and policy of this state and this nation.”The order, from Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, pertains to court records that include information related to Jaysen McCleary, an Iowa-licensed lawyer now living in Montana.Over the past two months, McCleary has asked several judges to seal public records in various court proceedings where he has acted as either the plaintiff or an attorney. He also has sued the Register and reporter Clark Kauffman in an effort to block publication of an article about him.The Dec. 11 order prohibits the Register, at least temporarily, from publishing information from court records that were sealed from public view after the Register obtained copies.“Pending further order from this court, the defendants shall not disclose or share, other than with legal counsel, any information in the defendants’ possession that was obtained exclusively from the reports,” the order says.Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called the court order "very unusual.”“Prior restraint should be a measure of last resort. In this case, we have these publicly obtained documents that were accessed without violating any rule or order," Leslie said. "There seems to be no justification at all for imposing prior restraint on your reporting.”The Register’s attorney, Michael Giudicessi, has asked the Iowa Supreme Court to vacate the order, arguing in court filings that “the United States Supreme Court has never approved imposition of a prior restraint against the news media and the court has Continue Reading

100+ things to do in Iowa this summer

Enjoy 411 miles of northern Iowa during the 45th RAGBRAI. July 23 to July 29, bicyclists will take part in the third-easiest ride in terms of climb and miles.Go for a hike and explore the caves at this unique state park. Wander through Dancehall Cave or get dirty as you crawl through Hernando’s Hideaway. Get a music history lesson at the Surf Ballroom and Museum in Clear Lake, then make the short drive north of town to the farm field where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson were all killed in a plane crash in 1959. Enjoy the sculpture on the bridge as well as the views of the Des Moines River valley as you bike or walk the half-mile of trail that is 13 stories high. Located west of Madrid, this bridge is a beauty day or night when it is lit a bright neon blue. The Repertory Theater of Iowa presents Taming of the Shrew June 15 to June 18 in the English gardens at the Salisbury House. Tickets are $25. Enjoy the beauty of the Lake Okoboji and the thrills of the amusement park rides at Arnolds Park. Take a ride on the Legend Roller Coaster, the nation’s seventh-oldest coaster. Located on Rathbun Lake, stay in a cottage or at the hotel while you enjoy golfing, the indoor water park, hiking, boating or fishing during your visit.The Metro Arts Alliance is celebrating the 35th year of Jazz in July. Enjoy family-friendly jazz concerts all month long at a variety of venues throughout the Greater Des Moines area. Visit this 17-acre garden in Ames to explore indoor and outdoor gardens as well as a butterfly wing where you can see up to 800 butterflies.Enjoy a day (or night) at the ballpark at any one of Iowa’s professional baseball teams. Watch the Clinton Lumberkings, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Burlington Bees, the Sioux City Explorers, the Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport or the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines. In western Iowa, go zip-lining on a 1,600-foot Continue Reading

An Iowa man’s super-powered dream fails against small business realities

Sometime after 7 p.m. Saturday, after the Drake Relays traffic has dispersed, the starter's pistols have gone silent and Drake University students and alumni prepare for a raucous night of partying, a sad and quiet ceremony will take place at 4817 University Avenue.Ronnie Free, owner and lone paid employee of Black Medicine Comics, will snub out a hand-rolled cigarette and drag in a hand-painted black-and-white sandwich board sign with the business' name from the sidewalk for one final time.Black Medicine Comics, the little shop that almost could, will close for good after just more than a year in business."By all metrics, the shop is growing," Free told me on a recent night after hours. "But in a year, the best I've done is break even. I've never been able to pay myself."Free knew the end was nigh in early January, but held on to make it a full year.He knew opening a one-man shop on the second floor of a nondescript office building next to a tombstone shop and a hardware store was a risk.But Free loves comic books and loves selling them to people. He sold comics at both incarnations of Cup o' Kryptonite, first on Fleur Drive and later in Beaverdale.When the Cup morphed into Capes Cafe at the Des Moines Social Club, Free went his own way, selling comics online under the Black Medicine moniker — an old-fashioned term for coffee, another of Free's passions.Free decided to take a chance at a brick-and-mortar retail store in the same office building as a hairdresser, tax accountants and the tattoo shop where his wife, Molly, works.He limited his inventory to comics and a few select graphic novels and trade paperbacks. He kept a lean inventory.He sold no toys, games or other pop culture accouterments that are more profitable than single issues of comics.But Free operated on low cash flow in a cramped space. He couldn't afford to have merchandise sit for months unsold the way larger retailers with more space and buying power, such as Jay's CD Continue Reading

Why this Iowa man gave up a ‘six-figure income’ to pursue his ‘Star Wars’ dream

When Andrew Thimmesch had a bad day as a boy, he would crawl under his bed and pick up magical talismans that transported him away from his troubles to a galaxy far, far away.The talismans were "Star Wars" action figures. The evil Darth Vader crossed plastic lightsabers with the heroic Luke Skywalker.Young Thimmesch invented his own stories for the adventures of the moment and his problems faded away quicker than the Millennium Falcon could jump to hyperspace.Thimmesch was not a troubled child. He was just a kid.Sometimes school wasn't fun. Sometimes he got crossways with his parents. It was normal kid stuff. He was born in Aurora. His father worked for Union Pacific Railroad Co. and often moved for work.Thimmesch attended 13 different schools growing up, including three high schools. He played sports and made the most of his constantly changing scenery.But always there were his "Star Wars" and "G.I. Joe" toys to help him through trouble spots.Thimmesch grew up and eventually settled in the Des Moines area. For a time, he lived in Pleasant Hill.There, he met Bo Mendenhall at a gas station near the onramp to Iowa Highways 65 and 5.Bo and Thimmesch liked the same kinds of movies and shared the same passion for action figures.Bo introduced Thimmesch to comic books. They became fast friends."Some nights, after work, I would go up to the gas station, buy a drink and just sit there with Bo holding court about the latest movies and comics," Thimmesch said.Thimmesch eventually married and had three children. He became the manager of a Ford dealership near Indianola. He made "a good six-figure income." Still, that memory of those moments fighting the forces of evil under his bed lingered.Thimmesch got connected with a television production company.The producers wanted to make an "American Pickers"-type TV show that focused on popular culture items the way the other show focused on antiques and collectibles for the History Continue Reading

To scarf up Iowa caucus votes, Pizza Ranch a near-must

"I feel at home. I'm at a Pizza Ranch."Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee sat at a table in the buffet chain's Council Bluffs location in late March. His town hall meeting was winding down, and he would soon hop in a car to another meeting at another Pizza Ranch (this one in Sioux City). But with the smells of fried chicken and pepperoni in the air, the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses waxed nostalgic."I largely won it because of Pizza Ranches all over the state," Huckabee said. "We created the Pizza Ranch strategy. A lot of people have copied it since then, but I think we created it."Presidential hopefuls campaigning at Pizza Ranches across Iowa — the "Pizza Ranch circuit," the media call it — has become a staple of the Iowa caucuses. The down-home, Western-themed restaurants offer a microcosm of the caucuses' retail-heavy politics: The nation's next leader may stand before you as you scarf an all-you-can-eat buffet for $10.51. CANDIDATE TRACKER: Democratic, Republican visits listed by name, dateMore than 70 Pizza Ranches operate across Iowa, mostly in small towns. All offer a free meeting space to anyone who signs up and buys some pizza, making them the go-to venue for campaigns light on cash.Huckabee glad-handed heavily at Pizza Ranches ahead of his 2008 Iowa victory. So did Rick Santorum before he won the caucuses in 2012. Now both are gearing up for 2016 runs, and both have returned to the Pizza Ranch circuit.Other presidential aspirants have also appeared at the chain this go-around: Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio."Now I have fulfilled my dream of coming to a Pizza Ranch," Rubio said at the chain's Pella restaurant last fall.Pizza Ranch's mission, to "glorify God by positively impacting the world," endears itself to evangelical conservatives in small-town Iowa while attracting candidates looking for their votes. Christian music plays softly at many locations."The people who typically go to a Pizza Ranch or go through the buffet with Continue Reading

Editorial: Choosing a doctor shouldn’t be a guessing game. Here’s what we can do about it.

If you’re shopping for a vacuum cleaner, you can check objective product reviews from Consumer Reports. If you need a roof repaired, you can look at letter grades that the Better Business Bureau issues to thousands of businesses. If a family member needs nursing home care, you can check a government website for ratings, which are based on inspection reports, resident care data and billing information. But what if you need a cataract removed or a knee replaced? What if you’re looking for the best surgeon to stabilize a broken bone or reconstruct a nose? Best of luck. Finding reliable information about a physician's outcomes, performance, professionalism or bedside manner is no easy task.  An editorial writer was recently reminded of this while interviewing a West Des Moines orthopedic surgeon about his study on opioid prescribing. During the conversation, he mentioned that refusing to provide pain medication may prompt a patient to write a negative review about the doctor on websites such as and Perhaps that happens. And the scenario he described would certainly be unfair. Doctors seek to provide good care while also doing what they know is right. In today's world, anyone with a computer can post comments about any product, facility or professional. Workers in the health care field are not immune. Yet medical privacy laws prevent physicians from responding in detail. So what should people make of anonymous comments about doctors on the internet? “Consumers should be wary of the information they find online about doctors,” said Mark Bowden, executive director of the Iowa Board of Medicine, which licenses physicians. “Anonymous posts can be manipulated by someone bearing a grudge, and glowing reports can be planted by the doctor or staff.” In fact, the board has dealt with a case where a doctor was thought to have placed Continue Reading

35 states and DC back bid to collect online sales taxes

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Thirty-five state attorneys general and the District of Columbia this week signed on to support South Dakota's legal bid to collect sales taxes from out-of-state Internet retailers.South Dakota is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether retailers can be required to collect sales taxes in states where they lack a physical presence. The case could have national implications for e-commerce.South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said in a statement Thursday that Colorado filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting South Dakota's petition to the high court. The state is seeking to overturn legal rulings issued mostly before the online shopping boom that hamstring officials who want to collect sales taxes from out-of-state retailers."South Dakota is leading the national fight to bring tax fairness for our local retailers and to help support main street businesses," Jackley said.The support includes neighboring Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming. The other states are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.The brief says the jurisdictions all rely on consumption taxes to fund essential government operations.States have pushed Congress to address the issue without success, and one estimate put the loss to states at roughly $26 billion in 2015. South Dakota estimates it loses about $50 million annually to e-commerce."The problem with the physical-presence rule is that it was first conceived of in 1967, two years before the moon landing and decades before the first retail transaction occurred over the Internet," according to the brief.Some companies such as Amazon have decided to collect state sales taxes despite the precedent.South Dakota legislators passed a law Continue Reading

Woman, 20, shot to death inside Iowa mall

Coralville, IOWA — A woman shot and killed in an eastern Iowa shopping mall was a 20-year-old employee of a children’s museum inside the mall and knew the man who shot her, authorities said Saturday. Coralville police said during a news conference that Andrea Farrington, of Cedar Rapids, was shot multiple times in her torso, and that a handgun and three 9mm casings were found at the scene. Witnesses have said she was shot in the back, and several people came to her aid to try to staunch her bleeding and perform CPR. Farrington died at an Iowa City hospital. Officials have charged Alexander Matthew Kozak, 22, of North Liberty, with first-degree murder in the shooting that occurred Friday evening inside Coral Ridge Mall near its food court. No one else was injured. Kozak was arrested a short time after the shooting. He is being held on $10 million bond. J ohnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said police believe Farrington was targeted, saying Kozak told an investigator that he had left the mall, retrieved a gun from his home and returned to shoot Farrington. Authorities declined to discuss a motive, saying only that the two knew each other from working at the mall. Officials confirmed that Kozak was a security guard at the mall. Authorities do not believe there were any other suspects. Soon after the shooting, troopers spotted Kozak’s car on Interstate 80 near Davenport, about 50 miles east of the mall, and arrested him without incident. Kozak’s casedid not appear Saturday in online court records for Iowa, and it was unclear who would be appointed to serve as his attorney. Witnesses to the shooting told the Iowa City Press-Citizen that several shots rang out near the mall’s carousel entrance around 7:30 p.m. Ryan Ross, who said he works at a mall kiosk, told the Press-Citizen he recognized the shooter as a security officer who had been Continue Reading