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Sheriff: Medical episode cause of jailed woman’s death

CEDAR RAPIDS (AP) — An unidentified medical episode led to the death of a woman in an eastern Iowa jail on the same day she was arrested, the Linn County sheriff said.
Jacqueline Marie Bridges, 59, of Cedar Rapids, was found dead in her Linn County Jail cell on Saturday afternoon after her family had posted bond to have her released, officials said. She had been arrested earlier in the day on suspicion of theft, money laundering and financial exploitation of a dependent adult, Sheriff Brian Gardner said Monday in a news release.
“The initial investigation shows that Bridges apparently suffered from some type of medical episode, which led to her death,” Gardner said in the release.
The exact cause of Bridges’ death will be determined at a later time by the state medical examiner, he said.

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Audit faults Iowa’s move to spend virus aid on $21M software

By RYAN J. FOLEY
Associated Press
IOWA CITY — Iowa’s auditor warned Monday that the governor’s decision to spend $21 million in federal pandemic relief funds on a new executive branch software system would not be allowed and should be abandoned.
State Auditor Rob Sand said that using the federal money to pay for Workday, a cloud-based program for the executive branch’s human resources and finances, is an inappropriate use under the law. He said that if the money isn’t redeployed for a different purpose, Iowa taxpayers could be on the hook to repay the federal government $21 million later on.
Sand, a Democrat, said his conclusion was shared by the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General, which is responsible for overseeing the appropriate use of federal funds.
He noted that the administration of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a five-year, $20 million software contract with Workday in 2019, long before the coronavirus pandemic started. In addition, the state anticipates spending around $28 million more on implementation costs.
Earlier this year, Reynolds’ office decided to partly pay for the program with money from the $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid package approved in March by Congress, which has sent billions of dollars to Iowa.
Reynolds’ office has sought to justify its decision to pay for Workday with the money by arguing that it would allow the state to “act quickly to assist essential government employees.” The program could help workers request COVID-19 hardship assistance and time off for family and medical leaves, for instance.
Sand said that his review found that Iowa’s spending would not qualify under federal rules because the expenses were not incurred “due to the public health emergency” as required. He said the purpose of the program — to modernize the state’s human resources and accounting technology — did not change once the coronavirus emerged.
A spokesman for the governor didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.
Democratic lawmakers said they were blindsided last year by the state’s decision to skip a traditional bidding process and contract with Workday, which has already been used by the Iowa Department of Transportation and Iowa State University. Reynolds has said that her former chief of staff, a lobbyist for Workday, “had nothing to do” with the state’s decision, which she says was part of a necessary upgrade of outdated information technology infrastructure.
Also on Monday, Sand said the governor’s decision to spend $448,449 in pandemic relief funds on staff salaries “was questionable” and he encouraged her to halt the practice.
Sand said employees’ salaries may qualify for the funds only if the work they are doing is directly related to the pandemic, tracked separately from their ordinary work and supported by documentation.
An inadequate focus on the pandemic by those employees or poor record-keeping could lead to Iowa taxpayers having to repay the money, he warned.
Given that risk, Sand recommended that Iowa use those funds for other purposes, such as giving aid to small businesses, purchasing personal protective equipment and expanding coronavirus testing and contact tracing.

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Man accused of biting off another man’s nose

DUBUQUE (AP) — A Dubuque man faces charges after police say he bit off the nose of another man during a fight.
Blayre Ward, 24, of Dubuque, was arrested just after midnight Saturday on suspicion of willful injury, assault causing injury, harassment and other counts, the Telegraph Herald reported.
Police documents say Ward and another man fought with Scott Plumley, 44, of Dubuque, and that Ward bit Plumley’s nose, “biting the majority of it off.” Plumley was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and later transported to an Iowa City hospital for specialized surgery to reconstruct his nose.
The incident began when Ward and another man were kicked out of a Dubuque bar and began fighting with Plumley’s 20-year-old son and a 16-year-old boy on the street, police said. The 20-year-old broke away, ran to a nearby house and called his father, who showed up on the scene and later fought with Ward and Ward’s friend, police said.

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2 sisters die, 3 hurt in Des Moines collision

DES MOINES (AP) — Two sisters died and three other people were injured Sunday when two vehicles collided in Des Moines.
The crash happened around 5 a.m. Sunday after a northbound Toyota car crossed into the southbound lanes and collided with a Jeep SUV, Des Moines Police spokesman Paul Parizek said.
About one inch of snow fell in the area overnight, and Parizek said the weather appears to have contributed to the crash.
In addition to the two women who died in the crash, three other people were taken to hospitals for treatment. One is in critical condition, and the other two people have minor injuries.
Police did not immediately release the names of any of the people involved in the crash.

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Iowa rate of new coronavirus cases ranks eighth-highest

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa reported nearly 1,000 more coronavirus cases Sunday, and the state’s rate of positive cases remains high.
The state reported 910 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 new deaths as of Sunday morning to give Iowa 107,057 cases and 1,538 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Iowa’s online virus tracker.
The state’s rate of new cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks registered at 456.16 and ranked eighth-highest among all the states on Saturday, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.
The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks from 18.17% on Oct. 3 to 25.65% on Saturday.
State data also shows 15 counties with a 14-day average positivity rate of more than 15%, the level at which Gov. Kim Reynolds allows school districts to apply to the state to send students home for online learning temporarily. Those counties are Harrison, Sioux, Delaware, Plymouth, Carroll, Taylor, Monroe, Osceola, Emmet, Crawford, Decatur, Lyon, Humboldt, Woodbury and Cass counties.

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Report: Damage from August wind storm at $7.5B

DES MOINES (AP) — Damage estimates from a rare wind storm that slammed Iowa and some other parts of the Midwest in August are growing, with the total now at $7.5 billion, according to a new report.
The Aug. 10 storm hit Iowa hard but also caused damage in Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota and Indiana. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it’s currently the second-costliest U.S. disaster so far in 2020, although cost estimates for widespread wildfires along the West Coast aren’t yet available.
The storm, known as a derecho, generated winds of up to 140 mph that flattened millions of acres of crops. The derecho also knocked out power to half a million Iowa residents and damaged homes, trees and power lines. Four people died as the storm moved across the Midwest.
The most expensive disaster so far this year was Hurricane Laura, which caused $14 billion in damage when it hit the Gulf Coast in August, according to the NOAA research.
National Weather Service meteorologist Allan Curtis told the Des Moines Register that the derecho caused such extensive damage because it lasted for roughly 14 hours and hit crops when they were especially vulnerable. He said the damage would have been significantly less if the derecho had occurred in the spring, before crops were tall enough to be caught by the wind.
“If you were looking to exert the most damage on corn crops when it comes to thunderstorms and heavy winds, when the derecho rolled through in August, it was the perfect time to do it,” Curtis said.
The U.S. Agriculture Department has estimated that Iowa farmers will be unable to harvest at least 850,000 acres of crops this fall because of the damage.

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Victim in semi crash was UNI student

CEDAR FALLS (AP) — A freshman at the University of Northern Iowa was struck and killed by a passing tractor-trailer while outside his car on a highway overpass, authorities say.
Cedar Falls Public Safety says 19-year-old Isaac Roerig of Sioux City, was hit Friday on U.S. 20. He was taken to a hospital where he later died.
A Facebook post by Bishop Heelan Catholic High School in Sioux City said Roerig was a 2020 graduate of the school. He was studying music education at UNI.
“This news is truly devastating,” the post reads. “Please keep the entire Roerig family in your prayers as well as our Bishop Heelan community.

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Police investigate weekend shooting

CEDAR RAPIDS (AP) — Cedar Rapids police are investigating gunfire that hit a local apartment building over the weekend.
The shooting happened just before 11:30 a.m. Sunday in the area of the Jane Boyd Community House, television station KCRG reported. Police said several people reported hearing shots fired in the area.
Investigating officers found several shell casings and gunshot damage to a nearby apartment. No injuries were reported.
Police said a vehicle suspected in the shooting was impounded. No reports of arrests in the shooting had been announced by Monday morning.

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Iowa reports over 600 confirmed coronavirus cases, 2 deaths

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa on Monday reported more than 600 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours and two additional deaths.
The state Department of Public Health reported 611 confirmed cases in the 24 hours since Sunday morning, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 86,840.
The two additional deaths brought the number of confirmed coronavirus deaths to 1,317 people.
On Sunday morning, the state reported 804 new confirmed cases in the previous 24 hours.
On Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a new emergency proclamation that extends bar closures in Johnson and Story counties for at least another week. Those counties are home to the University of Iowa and Iowa State University and have seen a surge in confirmed coronavirus cases.

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Judge upholds GOP law making absentee voting harder in Iowa

By RYAN J. FOLEY
Associated Press
IOWA CITY — A judge is refusing to block a new Republican-backed Iowa law that makes it harder for county officials to process absentee ballot applications and more likely that incomplete requests won’t be fulfilled.
In an opinion dated Friday and released Monday, Judge Lars Anderson rejected arguments by a Latino civil rights organization and a Democratic Party group that the law is an undue burden on the fundamental right to vote.
The ruling is another victory for Republicans who want to limit absentee voting, which begins next week in Iowa. The Trump campaign and Republican Party groups have already invalidated tens of thousands of absentee ballot applications returned by voters in three counties.
At issue is a law passed this summer that blocks county auditors from using their databases to fill in any missing information on voters’ absentee ballot applications.
County officials say a small percentage of voters routinely leave blank their drivers’ license or voter pin numbers, either of which must be included on the application. Few even know their pin numbers.
In past elections, county auditors could look up missing pin numbers in their databases and fill in the information. The new law instead requires that they contact those voters by phone, email or mail to get them to provide that information.
County officials say contacting potentially tens of thousands of voters will be unnecessarily burdensome, and that some may not be reachable before the deadline to qualify for absentee ballots. Those voters would have to vote in person during the coronavirus pandemic.
Supporters of the law argue that requiring voters to submit their own identification information is an important safeguard against fraud.
A lawsuit filed in July by the League of United Latin American Citizens and Majority Forward, a group aligned with Senate Democrats, sought to block enforcement of the law, arguing it was unconstitutional and likely to disenfranchise eligible voters.
But Anderson sided with Republicans, who argued that absentee ballot requests do not affect the fundamental right to vote. He said voters whose requests are not proper can always “vote on Election Day at his or her polling place.”
He noted that the law was passed on a party-line vote and reflects “policy decisions with which many may disagree,” but that he can’t second-guess lawmakers because the law isn’t constitutionally defective.
He found the law was related to a legitimate government interest and unlikely to be considered overly burdensome.
“Properly identifying absentee ballot requests and requiring a voter to provide identification information fits with the interest of the State in maintaining integrity of the election process,” he wrote.
To blunt the impact of the new law, elections commissioners in Linn, Johnson and Woodbury counties this summer sent absentee ballot request forms to voters with their pin numbers and other personal information already filled in. Voters just had to review, sign and mail back the forms to request absentee ballots.
The Trump campaign and Republican Party groups sued last month to invalidate those forms, saying they violated a directive from Secretary of State Paul Pate to mail them out blank to ensure uniformity statewide.
Judges quickly agreed in three separate cases, ordering counties to nullify more than 75,000 requests that had already been submitted and not to process thousands more that were outstanding. Voters in those counties have to fill out new blank forms to request absentee ballots, which will be mailed out beginning Oct. 5.
Even though the Democratic-backed challenge to the new law was filed a month before Trump’s lawsuits, the court did not hold a hearing in the case until last week.
Judge Christopher Bruns had declined to hear the challenge on an emergency basis in August, saying the pandemic “has resulted in significant delays to cases and a significant backlog of criminal and family law cases” that took priority.