Midwest sees more evacuations

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Residents in parts of southwestern Iowa were forced out of their homes Sunday as a torrent of Missouri River water flowed over and through levees, putting them in a situation similar to hundreds of people in neighboring Nebraska who have been displaced by the late-winter flood.
Heavy rainfall and snowmelt have led to dangerously high water in creeks and rivers across several Midwestern states, with the Missouri River hitting record-high levels in many areas. At least two deaths were blamed on flooding, and two other men have been missing for days.
While river depths were starting to level off in parts of Nebraska on Sunday, the water is so high in many places that serious flooding is expected to remain for several days. And downstream communities in Kansas and Missouri were bracing for likely flooding.
In Iowa, the Missouri River reached 30.2 feet Sunday in Fremont County in the state’s far southwestern corner, 2 feet above the record set in 2011. People in the towns of Bartlett and Thurman were being evacuated as levees were breached and overtopped.
County Emergency Management Director Mike Crecelius said it wasn’t just the amount of the water, it was the swiftness of the current that created a danger.
“This wasn’t a gradual rise,” Crecelius said. “It’s flowing fast and it’s open country — there’s nothing there to slow it down.”
Thurman has about 200 residents. About 50 people live in Bartlett.
Lucinda Parker of Iowa Homeland Security & Emergency Management said nearly 2,000 people have been evacuated at eight Iowa locations since flooding began late last week. Most were staying with friends or family. Seven shelters set up for flood victims held just a couple dozen people Saturday night.
In Nebraska, the Missouri River flooded Offutt Air Force Base, with about one-third of it under water on Sunday. Spokeswoman Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake told the Omaha World-Herald that 60 buildings, mostly on the south end of the base, have been damaged, including about 30 completely inundated with as much as 8 feet of water.
Hundreds of people remained out of their homes in Nebraska, where floodwaters reached record levels at 17 locations. The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency highlighted some remarkably high crests. The Missouri River was expected to reach 41 feet in Plattsmouth on Sunday — 4 feet above the record set in 2011. The Elkhorn River got to 24.6 feet Saturday in Waterloo, breaking the 1962 record by 5 1/2 feet.
In hard-hit Sarpy County, Nebraska, up to 500 homes have been damaged, including some cabins along a lake, said Greg London of the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office. The damage followed breaches of levees along the Platte River on Thursday and Saturday, and a Missouri River levee break on Thursday. The two rivers converge there.
London said many of the damaged homes are wet up to the roof line and likely ruined.
“This area’s had flooding before but not of this magnitude,” London said. “This is unprecedented.”
Nearly 300 people have been rescued from high water across the state.
At least two people have died in the floodwaters. Aleido Rojas Galan, 52, of Norfolk, Nebraska, was swept away Friday night in southwestern Iowa, when the vehicle he was in went around a barricade. Two others in the vehicle survived — one by clinging to a tree. On Thursday, Columbus, Nebraska, farmer James Wilke, 50, died when a bridge collapsed as he used a tractor to try and reach stranded motorists.
Two men remain missing. A Norfolk man was seen on top of his flooded car late Thursday before being swept away. Water also swept away a man after a dam collapse.
Downstream in St. Joseph, Missouri, home to 76,000 people, volunteers were helping to fill sandbags to help secure a levee protecting an industrial area. Calls were out for even more volunteers in hopes of filling 150,000 sandbags by Tuesday, when the Missouri River is expected to climb to 27 feet — 10 feet above technical flood stage.
Flooding was causing problems for passenger train service between Kansas City, Missouri, and St. Louis. Amtrak said Sunday that its Missouri River Runner service between the state’s two largest cities was experiencing delays up to five hours because of flooding and rail congestion. All Missouri River Runner trains will be canceled Monday. The service typically travels twice daily between the two metropolitan areas.
The rising Mississippi River also was creating concern. The Mississippi was already at major flood level along the Iowa-Illinois border, closing roads and highways and swamping thousands of acres of farmland. Moderate Mississippi River flooding was expected at several Missouri cities, including St. Louis.
Flooding has also been reported in Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, officials said residents who evacuated their homes could return now that floodwaters have receded there.
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AP reporter Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press.

Iowa court: Medicaid can cover sex reassignment surgery

By MARGERY A. BECK
Associated Press
The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court’s ruling that the state cannot deny two transgender women Medicaid coverage for sex reassignment surgery.
The state’s high court agreed with Judge Arthur Gamble’s ruling in June that a 1995 Iowa Department of Human Services policy denying Medicaid coverage for sex reassignment surgery violates the state’s 2007 Civil Rights Act, which added gender identity to the state’s list of protected classes.
Gamble also deemed state’s 1995 policy unconstitutional, but the high court did not address that finding.
Friday’s ruling comes in the consolidated cases of 43-year-old Carol Ann Beal, who lives in northwestern Iowa, and 29-year-old EerieAnna Good, who lives in the east of the state. Both were born male but have identified as female since childhood. They sought to have surgery under the state’s Medicaid program, which provides care for the poor and disabled, but were denied. They appealed to the state agency, which oversees the program, and were again denied.
They sued in 2017, and the agency appealed following Gamble’s ruling.
In its appeal, the agency argued, among other things, that its policy wasn’t discriminatory because neither transgender nor non-transgender Medicaid beneficiaries would be entitled to gender-reassignment surgery, which it said is performed “primarily for psychological purposes.” It also argued the policy’s explicit exclusion of gender-reassignment surgeries was merely a specified example within the broader category of “cosmetic, reconstructive, and plastic surgeries” that were excluded from coverage.
The state Supreme Court said Friday that the record doesn’t support that assertion.
“The (department) expressly denied Good and Beal coverage for their surgical procedures because they were ‘related to transsexualism … (or) gender identity disorders’ and ‘for the purpose of sex reassignment,’” Justice Susan Christensen wrote, citing segments of the policy.
Moreover, she wrote, the policy authorizes payment for some cosmetic, reconstructive and plastic surgeries that serve psychological purposes, such as to correct disfiguring and extensive scarring and congenital anomalies, but “it prohibits coverage for this same procedure if (it’s) a transgender individual.”
Iowa Department of Human Services spokesman Matt Highland said the agency would not comment on the ruling.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, which filed the lawsuit on the behalf of Beal and Good, called Friday’s ruling “a landmark win.”
“Denying health care coverage to someone because they are transgender is wrong and extremely harmful to those who need this care,” said John Knight of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project.
Beal and Good also expressed elation over the ruling, with Beal saying she’s “extremely happy for those people who will come after me, that we’ve made a path for them so that they can get the medical care and surgery they need.”
Good said the decision has been a long time coming.
“So many people still don’t understand that this is not something we need for trivial or cosmetic reasons,” she said. “It’s medical care a doctor is recommending for someone who has a medical need for it. And it can save lives. Transgender people are at such risk for suicide, and I’ve lost transgender friends to suicide. I hope this decision helps change that.”

Bill declaring no right to abortion moves to full Senate

DES MOINES (AP) — A committee has approved a bill that would amend the Iowa Constitution to declare there is no right to an abortion in Iowa, making it eligible for debate in the full Senate.
All but three of the 32 Senate Republicans have signed onto the bill, which the committee approved Tuesday. No Democrats have signaled support of the measure.
Republican Sen. Jake Chapman introduced it in January, just days after an Iowa judge overturned last year’s fetal heartbeat law, which banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
Chapman says his bill addresses what he considers judicial tyranny and overreach.
Democratic Sen. Claire Celsi says she’s disgusted by Republican attempts to “spread misinformation and scare monger about women’s constitutional rights to make their own health care decisions.”
She says the bill is a response to GOP frustrations over their lack of progress in the courts.

Iowa Senate advances Medicaid work requirement bill

DES MOINES (AP) — An Iowa Senate subcommittee has advanced a bill that would require tens of thousands of Medicaid recipients to work to keep their benefits.
Medicaid is a health insurance program for poor or disabled people paid for with federal and state money. Among those covered in Iowa are 172,000 adults living in poverty who were added to the program as part of a health care insurance expansion enabled by the Affordable Care Act.
Republican Sen. Jason Schultz says there’s a “groundswell of support” for a work requirement in his northwest Iowa district.
State officials say about 60,000 people could be affected by the bill, which requires recipients to work or volunteer at least 20 hours per week.
Opponents say it could kick people off Medicaid who must stay home, such as to care for a parent with Alzheimer’s.
The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation says seven other states have similar laws, including Arkansas where 18,000 Medicaid recipients were kicked off their health insurance after last year’s enactment of the law.

Iowa Senate panel OKs bill requiring businesses use E-Verify

DES MOINES (AP) — A Senate committee has approved a bill that requires all Iowa businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm employees are legally authorized to work in the United States or face losing their business license.
The bill is now eligible for Senate debate.
The bill voted out of a committee Tuesday prohibits businesses from knowingly employing workers with no legal residency status. It requires Iowa Workforce Development to investigate violations and enforce the measure.
Democratic Sen. Rob Hogg echoed the concerns of several business groups who say E-Verify routinely wrongly flags U.S. citizens as not being in the country legally and makes other errors.
Republican Sen. Julian Garrett says employers who pay low wages to workers in the country illegally creates an unfair advantage over companies that follow the rules. He says the bill would help ensure only legal workers are employed in Iowa.
Garrett says more than 20 states have similar measures.

Iowa method for selecting judges may change

By DAVID PITT and SCOTT McFETRIDGE
Associated Press
DES MOINES — Iowa was in the forefront of a national effort to reduce partisanship in the courts nearly 50 years ago when it decided to stop electing judges and instead rely on nominations by a panel of citizens and lawyers. In all, about three dozen states adopted similar systems aimed at emphasizing legal expertise over politics.
But now Republicans who control the governor’s office and the Legislature say it’s time to give politicians greater control. House and Senate leaders are moving to change how judges are chosen after being repeatedly frustrated by court rulings on topics like gay marriage and abortion.
“Over the last 20 years there’s been more and more judicial activism where the Supreme Court justices are trying to legislate from the bench,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said days before the legislative session began.
The Iowa proposal appears to be part of a national effort in conservative states to bring the courts into sync with the other branches of GOP-led government.
Iowa is among at least four states where Republican lawmakers are trying to lessen the role of attorneys on judicial nominating panels, a move that some critics say could lessen public faith in the judiciary.
“It makes it increasingly difficult for the public to view judges as anything but politicians in robes …,” said Douglas Keith, a counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. “They need to serve as a check on other branches, and to appear that way in the public’s eyes.”
The Iowa proposal would allow legislative leaders rather than lawyers to select attorneys for a state panel that nominates judges for the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. The governor, who also appoints members to the panel, chooses judges from among the finalists provided by the panel.
Iowa created its system in 1962, when voters amended the state constitution.
Iowa legislative leaders say the change is a way to give power to elected officials rather than private attorneys, but key supporters initially acknowledged the plan was born from frustration at court rulings, starting with a 2009 decision that legalized gay marriage.
“It’s just a matter of accumulation of dozens and dozens and dozens of activist rulings from the court,” said Whitver.
In Alaska and Wyoming, Republican legislators have submitted bills that would require state Senate confirmation of lawyers named to panels by other attorneys. In Missouri, a proposed constitutional amendment could allow the governor to appoint judges without relying on an independent commission that offers a list of candidates.
Susanne DiPietro, executive director of the Alaska Judicial Council, said she’s “at a loss to explain why the system needs to be changed” in her state. The council, comprised of lawyers and other citizens, screens and nominates judicial applicants to the governor.
DiPietro noted that when Alaska’s constitution was written in the late 1950s, the framers considered requiring legislative approval of lawyers named to the panel but rejected the idea.
“The sentiment that won the day was that requiring legislative confirmation of the lawyers would inject too much political partisan politics into the process,” she said.
Wyoming Sen. Larry Hicks said his measure was also introduced to counter the influence of liberal lawyers in judicial nominations but that it is on hold while other legal system changes are implemented.
Iowa’s commission is comprised of 17 members and overseen by a state Supreme Court justice. The spots are split between lawyers elected by other attorneys and citizens appointed by the governor. All of those named by the governor are Republicans, and of the lawyers, five are Democrats, two are Republicans and one is an independent.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said the process “doesn’t have much accountability because you have attorneys selecting attorneys who select judges.”
When asked if the change would be perceived as a partisan move, Gov. Kim Reynolds said, “Let’s not make it about that. Let’s make sure we’re representing all Iowans. I think that’s what they’re trying to do.”
However, the influential Christian conservative group The Family Leader, said the goal is to curb liberal rulings.
Chuck Hurley, a lobbyist for the organization, said laws passed by the Legislature have been undone by “activist” judges that he says have declared a right to abortion in Iowa and redefined marriage.
Tom Levis, president of the Iowa State Bar Association, denied that lawyers have stacked the Iowa courts with liberal judges, noting that there are twice as many Republicans as Democrats on the nominating council.
“We don’t want a governor or legislature stacking the commissions with people who have a particular political agenda,” Levis said. “That’s not right.”
If the new system is approved as expected, the new process would immediately take effect and result in Republicans naming 12 of 16 available positions — eight by the governor and the others appointed by the majority and minority leaders of each legislative chamber.

Police investigating after 13-year-old Iowa boy found dead

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa (AP) — Police say the body of a missing 13-year-old Iowa boy has been found.
Marshalltown police said in a news release that Corey Brown’s body was located about 10:45 a.m. Sunday in a secluded area on the west side of Marshalltown. They said there’s no evidence the boy’s death involved criminal activity, but that they will continue to investigate.
In an earlier release, police said Corey was last seen around 11:15 p.m. Tuesday. Television station KCCI reports that police Chief Michael Tupper said surveillance video captured the boy leaving home.
Volunteers and public safety workers searched for him in the cold weather.
The Marshalltown Community School District said Sunday it was saddened to learn about Corey’s death and that he “was loved by many and will be deeply missed.”

 

Judge declares fetal heartbeat law unconstitutional

DES MOINES (AP) — A state judge on Tuesday struck down Iowa’s restrictive “fetal heartbeat” abortion law, which would have been the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the nation.
Judge Michael Huppert found the law unconstitutional, concluding that the Iowa Supreme Court’s earlier decisions that affirm a woman’s fundamental right to an abortion would include the new law passed last year
He also cited several cases in federal court, including decisions in 2015 and 2016 in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that indicated such abortion laws were unconstitutional.
Huppert said prohibiting abortions at the detection of a fetal heartbeat violates “both the due process and equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution as not being narrowly tailored to serve the compelling state interest of promoting potential life.”
The law would ban an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can happen as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
The legal challenge by abortion providers Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Emma Goldman Clinic had halted it from taking effect last July.
“I am incredibly disappointed in today’s court ruling, because I believe that if death is determined when a heart stops beating, then a beating heart indicates life,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement.
She signed the bill into law in May 2018.
Supporters of the law are likely to ask the Iowa Supreme Court to hear an appeal of Huppert’s ruling.
Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen said the decision sends a strong message to Iowa women that their constitutional rights are important and their health care decisions should be made by them, not politicians.
“The extreme law should have been overturned because it restricted the freedom of Iowa women and girls to care for their bodies and it forced motherhood on them,” she said.
The providers argued in court in December that the law is “blatantly unconstitutional under clear Iowa law.”
Planned Parenthood attorney Alice Clapman said courts in several states that recognize abortion as a fundamental right — North Dakota, Arkansas and Mississippi included — have dismissed similar abortion bans before trial.
The Iowa Supreme Court in June struck down an earlier law that required a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion, ruling that the restriction was unconstitutional and that “autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free.”
Attorney Martin Cannon argued for the state that the bill is extremely narrow in focus by saying a beating heart signifies life in a fetus and that human life must be protected once an abdominal ultrasound identifies a beating heart. He didn’t immediately reply to a message seeking comment.
Cannon said the bill does not prevent an abortion. He said it just pushes women to do it sooner in the pregnancy. He argued there are too many disputed issues to be heard at trial and the judge should not end the lawsuit.

In divorce filings, Sen. Ernst says she experienced domestic violence

IOWA CITY (AP) — Sen. Joni Ernst says she turned down President Donald Trump after interviewing to be his running mate, according to a court filing that describes an “extremely painful journey” that led to her divorce from a man she alleges was abusive.
Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, wrote in an affidavit for her divorce proceeding that after Trump interviewed her in 2016 to be his vice president, “I turned Candidate Trump down, knowing it wasn’t the right thing for me or my family.” The filing doesn’t explicitly say whether Trump asked her to join the ticket.
Trump interviewed Ernst at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in July 2016 as he was considering potential running mates. Ernst told reporters later that she made clear she was interested in continuing to serve Iowa in the Senate, to which she was elected in 2014 after serving as a state senator and county official. Trump eventually chose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is now vice president.
Ernst’s office, the White House and the Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Ernst called her withdrawal from consideration a sacrifice for the good of the relationship with her husband Gail, a retired Army Airborne Ranger who she said wasn’t supportive of her fast-rising political career.
“I continued to make sacrifices and not soar higher out of concern for Gail and our family,” Ernst wrote in the affidavit in October. “Meanwhile, he hated any successes I had, and would belittle me and get angary any time I achieved a goal.”
The filing and several others were made public earlier this month, in accordance with court rules for Iowa family law cases, after Joni and Gail Ernst settled their previously contentious divorce. The couple had been married 26 years and have one adult daughter together.
A lawyer for Joni Ernst filed an emergency motion Monday seeking to seal some of the files after their existence was first reported by Cityview, a Des Moines alternative newspaper. A judge granted the request on Tuesday, which means the public can no longer access the affidavit.
Ernst filed the affidavit in asking the court to reject Gail Ernst’s request that she be required to make monthly alimony payments. She said that she had supported Gail Ernst during his military career, in which they moved several times before settling in Ernst’s hometown of Red Oak, Iowa, but that he hadn’t returned the favor when she entered politics.
“Although Gail seems to think he can live off my salary for the rest of his life, he is doing everything he can to destroy me and ruin my chances for re-election, which would end the gravy train he apparently plans to ride,” she wrote.
Ernst, 48, recently indicated that she will run for a second six-year Senate term in 2020. She alleged that her husband promised to divorce her if she did so — an allegation he denied.
Gail Ernst, 65, filed for divorce in August. In requesting alimony, he noted that he was retired and partially disabled from his military service, saying that his “standard of living” shouldn’t suffer from the split. Joni Ernst’s $174,000 salary as a senator was the couple’s primary income.
The settlement, signed in December and accepted by a judge earlier this month, doesn’t require either side to pay alimony. It granted Joni Ernst the couple’s condominium in Washington, D.C., and Gail Ernst their home in Red Oak.
Before the agreement, both parties made explosive allegations against each other.
Joni Ernst alleged that Gail Ernst had physically abused her following an argument while she was serving as Montgomery County auditor in the 2000s. She wrote that she told the county’s victim advocate, who suggested she seek medical treatment for her throat and head. But she said she was embarrassed and humiliated and kept the abuse quiet, even during marriage counseling sessions.
Ernst said that she was devastated after discovering email messages between her husband and another woman last summer.
“I started a downward spiral of not sleeping and eating and I rapidly lost 17 pounds about 13 percent of my body weight. My staff had to cancel two days of my appointments because I couldn’t function,” she wrote.
Gail Ernst said that he never had an affair and alleges in one filing that she was the one who was unfaithful. He accused Joni Ernst of exhibiting “very bizarre behavior” after he requested divorce, including accessing his email account and sending messages under his name.
A phone number for Gail Ernst was disconnected. His lawyer, Ivan Miller, declined an interview request through an aide.

House rebukes Iowa’s King over racist remarks

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Democratic measure rebuking Republican Rep. Steve King for his comments about white supremacy won easy approval Tuesday in the House.
In a twist, the nine-term Iowa congressman was among those supporting the measure of disapproval, which was adopted, 424-1.
King said he agreed with Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, the resolution’s sponsor, that white supremacy is an evil that cannot be ignored. King’s racist comments have been widely condemned by members of both parties in recent days.
The ideology of white supremacy “never shows up in my head,” King said in a speech from the House floor. “I do not know how it could possibly come out of my mouth.”
Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois was the sole lawmaker to oppose the measure, saying the House should take the more serious step of censuring King for his “repugnant and racist behavior.”
Any measure short of censure is “shallow,” Rush said. ”Steve King has made a career of making racist statements. That is the only thing he is known for and this pattern of rabid racism must be confronted head on by the House of Representatives.”
The vote came as Republicans dialed up the pressure on King, with one GOP leader suggesting Tuesday that the veteran lawmaker leave Congress.
“I’d like to see him find another line of work,” Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-highest Republican in the House, told reporters.
It was the most explicit call from a senior Republican for King to leave and the latest GOP effort to inspire him to quit over an article in The New York Times last week, where he was quoted saying: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
Republicans looking to avoid worsening the party’s relationship with blacks and minorities quickly condemned King’s remarks as racist. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., wrote an op-ed saying that any GOP silence in the face of King’s remarks would be a blemish on the party and the nation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky condemned King. And tellingly, Republicans refused to say whether they support King’s re-election effort.
On Monday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced that King would not be given any committee assignments, the prized seats at the policy table where lawmakers represent their constituents. King served on the Agriculture, Small Business and Judiciary committees in the last Congress, and he chaired Judiciary’s subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.
King vowed to “continue to point out the truth and work with all the vigor that I have to represent 4th District Iowans for at least the next two years.”
House Democrats moved to formally punish King. Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat and the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, introduced a formal resolution of disapproval late Monday.
Addressing what he called “a tale of two Kings,” Clyburn said the Iowa lawmaker’s remarks were offensive because they embraced evil concepts.
Invoking the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — whose 90th birthday is Tuesday — Clyburn called on colleagues from both parties “to join me in breaking the deafening silence and letting our resounding condemnation be heard.”
But other Democrats were pushing for a stronger punishment, censure.
“As with any animal that is rabid, Steve King should be set aside and isolated,” Rush said Monday as he introduced a censure resolution.
A third Democrat, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, introduced a separate censure resolution against King.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican, we all have a responsibility to call out Rep. King’s hateful and racist comments,” Ryan said, noting that the white supremacy comments were not the first time King has made headlines for inappropriate language.
They all returned to a long string of King’s remarks that have drawn rebukes.
The text of Rush’s censure resolution lists more than a dozen examples of King’s remarks, beginning with comments in 2006 in which he compared immigrants to livestock,
McConnell, in his statement, said he has “no tolerance” for the positions offered by King, and said “those who espouse these views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. Rep. King’s statements are unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position. If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work.”
One Republican did not join the chorus of criticism. Asked about King’s remarks Monday, President Donald Trump said, “I haven’t been following it.”
King said Tuesday he’s been misunderstood. He said of his colleagues, “I thought you knew me well.”
The Republican said he was advocating for Western civilization, not racism, in the Times interview. He said he rejects the ideology of white supremacy, adding that he comes from a family of abolitionists who “paid a price with their lives to make sure that all men and now all women are created equal.”