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Iowa eliminates statute of limitations for child sex crimes

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa has joined more than a dozen other states in eliminating the statute of limitations for several child sex abuse crimes.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the measure into law on Wednesday. It eliminates the statute of limitations for sex crimes against children under 18, including sexual abuse, incest, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
The change does not eliminate the state’s statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim, which gives Iowans up to a year after they turn 18 to sue over abuse. If the abuse was by a counselor, therapist or school employee, victims can file claims up to five years after they are no longer enrolled at the school or receiving treatment from the therapist or counselor.
In addition to eliminating the criminal statute of limitations, the law also creates a new criminal offense of sexual exploitation by an adult providing training or instruction, which it defines as a non-school adult employee providing paid training or instruction to a minor outside of a school setting. The charge could be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the severity.
The Iowa Legislature passed the measure this year, where it received unanimous support in the Iowa Senate and passed in the House 84-2.

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Eastern Iowa auditor’s election worker payments investigated

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand announced Thursday that his office has launched an investigation into an eastern county auditor’s payments made to election workers last year.
Sand will examine potential overpayments to election workers that were approved by former Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz, Sand’s office said in a news release. Sand said the payments could amount to a misuse of Help America Vote Act funds made available through the Iowa Secretary of State Office, which is also helping with the investigation.
Scott County supervisors in December chided Moritz for increasing poll workers’ pay — without county board approval — from $10 to $12 an hour to $15 an hour for working the June primary during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moritz, who resigned last month, had previously told the Quad-City Times that she made a mistake and though she had the authority to increase poll workers’ pay.

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Judge dismisses felony leak charge against Iowa activist

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A judge dismissed a rarely used felony leak charge Thursday against a Black Lives Matter activist in Iowa who gave a confidential police document to a local television news reporter.
Protester Viet Tran did not break the law when he shared a Des Moines Police Department bulletin during an interview broadcast on WOI-TV, an ABC affiliate, Judge Jeffrey Farrell found.
Tran had been charged last summer with unauthorized dissemination of intelligence data, a felony that carries up to five years in prison. The decades-old law, intended to stop law enforcement officials from releasing certain sensitive information, had only been used a handful of times and never in a non-police context.
During a protest outside the county jail last July, Tran discussed and displayed the police document in an interview with WOI-TV reporter Eva Andersen.
The bulletin included photos of 13 suspects who were wanted for the destruction of a Des Moines police car during a June 20 protest outside a grocery store. Officers and state troopers had carried the bulletins with them while patrolling a July 1 protest at the Iowa Capitol, seeking to identify and arrest those involved.
Police allege that activist Alexandria Dea stole one of the bulletins from an officer’s back pocket during a scuffle between officers and protesters, before Tran obtained it and gave the document to the reporter. Like Tran, Dea was charged with unauthorized dissemination of intelligence data.
Civil rights activists argued that Polk County Attorney John Sarcone’s office overstepped by filing the charge against protesters, saying they weren’t bound by the law. The television reporter was not charged, even though she broadcast the document and posted photos of it on her Twitter account.
Farrell ruled Thursday that the document in question did not include any intelligence data, which is defined under Iowa law as information compiled about individuals to prevent or monitor possible criminal activity. He said it only contained “criminal investigative data” since it referred to criminal acts that had already occurred.
“Because the bulletin at issue in this case is not intelligence data, any dissemination of the bulletin is not a crime,” Farrell wrote.
Farrell noted that the document was labeled an “intelligence report” and contained a warning that “no portion of this communication should be released to non-law-enforcement organizations, the media or the general public.” But he said the department’s designation does not control how it should be classified, and that criminal laws must be “strictly construed in favor of the accused.”
Farrell said that he didn’t need to consider Tran’s arguments that persons outside law enforcement have no duty to protect intelligence data, or that the law is unconstitutional on free speech grounds. He ordered the case against Tran to be dismissed and assessed costs against the state.
Tran had been jailed for three weeks after he was arrested on the charge last summer and accused of violating his probation in an earlier case. A prosecutor had called him a “threat to public safety,” saying he had posted threats on social media toward police and television stations. A judge allowed his release on the condition that he wear a GPS monitor.
Thursday’s ruling is the latest setback for Sarcone, a long-serving Democrat whose office has had a series of cases dismissed or result in acquittal in recent months. A jury in March acquitted a Des Moines Register reporter who was pepper-sprayed and arrested by police on misdemeanor charges while covering a Black Lives Matter protest.
Sarcone’s office is still prosecuting Dea, 27, on the leak charge and a felony theft charge for allegedly stealing the bulletin and throwing an officer’s police radio. She has drawn a different judge and is awaiting trial.
Assistant Polk County Attorney Thomas Miller said in a recent court filing that the leak law had only been successfully applied twice, both times against law enforcement officials in the 1980s. The only other known time it was filed was in 2016, when a sheriff’s office employee was charged with leaking information to suspects in drug and drunken driving cases but ended up pleading to a lesser offense.
“The court is not constrained by this limited prior use of this statute,” Miller argued.
He wrote that the law applied to anyone who disseminated intelligence information and could be used against reporters in certain scenarios. Police used their discretion in declining to recommend charges against Andersen, he said.

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Prosecutor clears Cedar Rapids officer who killed suspect

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden has cleared of wrongdoing a Cedar Rapids police officer who earlier this year fatally shot a man suspected of stabbing a woman to death.
The prosecutor’s office found Officer Kyzer Moore was justified in shooting Arnell States, 39, of Cedar Rapids, on Feb. 20 as States ran from a hotel where two women had been attacked, KWWL reported Wednesday.
Police have said States was believed to have been the attacker who killed 34-year-old Katrina Latrese Brinson and injured another woman.
Investigators said States came at the officer with a knife and refused orders to drop the weapon before he was shot.
Police were called to the motel to check on a disturbance and were directed by the women to States, who was running from the building, and Moore chased and shot States. Police have said there is no known link between States and the women attacked.
Moore is a nearly 4-year veteran of the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

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Patrol says man fatally hit by vehicle in Iowa parking lot

OELWEIN, Iowa (AP) — A person has died after being run over by a sport utility vehicle in a northeastern Iowa parking lot, authorities said.
The incident happened around 6 p.m. Tuesday in the parking lot of the American Legion post in Oelwein, television station KCRG reported. The Iowa State Patrol said the accident occurred when a person crouched in front of the SUV was hit when the vehicle pulled out of its parking spot.
The person killed was not immediately identified by investigators. Authorities continue to investigate.

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HazMat team rescues worker overcome by fumes in Iowa plant

SAYLOR TOWNSHIP, Iowa (AP) — A hazardous materials team has rescued a worker who was overcome by fumes Wednesday inside a suburban Des Moines food packaging manufacturing plant.
The incident occurred just after 8 a.m. at Amcor in Saylor Township, television station KCCI reported. That’s when Polk County first responders were sent to the plant and found the 40-year-old man unconscious in a pit.
The man was pulled from the pit and given medical aid and was breathing, officials said. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office shut down a section of Aurora Avenue near the plant as emergency workers sought to determine what the fumes were and where they were coming from.

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Iowa woman convicted of killing estranged hubby’s girlfriend

KNOXVILLE, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa woman who stabbed her estranged husband’s girlfriend to death was found guilty Tuesday of first-degree murder.
A Marion County jury deliberated for less than an hour before convicting Michelle Boat in the May 18, 2020, death of 46-year-old Tracy Mondabough, who was stabbed as she sat in her truck in Pella, The Ottumwa Courier reported.
Boat acknowledged on Monday that she killed Mondabough, of Ottumwa. Her lawyer, Trevor Anderson, argued during the trial that the killing wasn’t premediated and that jurors should convict Boat of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
Andersen said Boat snapped after the sudden breakup of her 20-year marriage and amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, which left her jobless and with only $6 at the time of the killing. Boat reacted when she saw her husband, Nicholas Boat, kiss Mondabough that day, he said.
“I don’t want you to sympathize with Mrs. Boat,” Andersen said. “I don’t want you to give her mercy. She doesn’t deserve it. She killed someone seat-belted in her truck, with no weapon — killed her and left her for dead, drove off. That is not asking for sympathy when I ask you to consider why.”
Jared Harmon, an assistant Marion County prosecutor, said during closing arguments that evidence showed Boat had planned the killing, including warning texts she had sent Mondabough. She also gathered everything she needed, such as the knife, gloves and binoculars, while waiting for an opportunity to kill the victim, he said.
“Michelle Boat didn’t act because of some sudden, irresistible provocation,” Harmon said. “She was the provocation.”
The first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

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Judge OKs broadcast, limits attendance at Iowa murder trial

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The public will be able to watch the trial of the man charged with killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts — but not in person.
Citing COVID-19 protocols, Judge Joel Yates said in an order dated Monday that members of the public and news media will not be allowed inside the courtroom when the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera starts next week. But he acknowledged “intense public” interest in the case and said news outlets can operate remote-controlled video cameras to broadcast the proceedings live on the internet or television.
Rivera is expected to stand trial beginning Monday in Davenport for first-degree murder in the death of Tibbetts, 20, who disappeared in July 2018 while out for a run in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. Prosecutors say Rivera, 26, followed Tibbetts in a vehicle, killed her during a struggle and dumped her body in a cornfield.
The weekslong search for Tibbetts attracted intense coverage on Fox News and other outlets. Then-President Donald Trump and other Republicans cited the case before the 2018 midterm elections to argue for stricter immigration laws after learning that Rivera allegedly moved to the U.S. illegally from Mexico when he was a teenager. That came over the objections of Tibbetts’ relatives, who said her death should not be used to promote a political agenda that she would have opposed as racist.
Rivera, who worked on a local dairy farm under an alias, has pleaded not guilty. He faces life in prison if convicted.
Under the Iowa Supreme Court’s COVID-19 rules, those inside courtrooms are supposed to be at least six feet apart from others and wear face coverings. Yates said in his ruling that the limited size of the Scott County courtroom did not leave space for members of the public or news media to attend, with the exception of one pool photographer.
Court TV and the Law and Crime Network have informed court officials of their intent to broadcast a livestream, and local outlets might follow suit. The court is also expected to make the proceedings available for journalists covering the trial remotely on a Zoom feed.
One exception is jury selection, which will take place at the River Center in Davenport to allow extra space for social distancing. Members of the public and media will be allowed to attend but jury selection cannot be broadcast or covered live under Iowa courtroom media rules. Laptops, cell phones and cameras will not be allowed.
Jury selection is expected to last two days, while the trial could go for 10 more.
Media will also not be allowed inside two remote viewing rooms set up inside the courthouse for family members, and will instead be expected to work from a staging area in the parking lot. Reporters are barred from conducting any interviews inside the courthouse under Yates’ order and cannot contact him or his staff directly.

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Reynolds: Iowa will end $300 federal unemployment benefit

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday that Iowa will join a bevy of Republican-led states ending pandemic-related federal programs that give extra cash to unemployed workers.
The state will end the federal boosts, including an additional $300-a-week unemployment payment, Reynolds said in a news release. That benefit was scheduled to run through early September.
Reynolds said in the announcement that the benefits are causing a labor shortage in the state and are hindering the state’s economy — a charge echoed by conservative groups and Republican governors in several other states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Montana and South Carolina.
“Now that our businesses and schools have reopened, these payments are discouraging people from returning to work,” Reynolds said. “Our unemployment rate is at 3.7 percent, vaccines are available to anyone who wants one, and we have more jobs available than unemployed people.”
But supporters of the federal unemployment programs point to other factors, including those reluctant to take jobs in service industries that require contact with the public for fear of contracting COVID-19 and parents who don’t have child care.
The federal benefits will end June 12, Reynolds said. Regular, pre-pandemic unemployment benefits will remain available.

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Red meat politics: GOP turns culture war into a food fight

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Conservatives last week gobbled up a false news story claiming President Joe Biden planned to ration red meat. Colorado Rep. Rep. Lauren Boebert suggested Biden “stay out of my kitchen.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted out a headline warning Biden was getting “Up in your grill.”
The news was wrong — Biden is planning no such thing — but it was hardly the first time the right has recognized the political power of a juicy steak. Republican politicians in recent months have increasingly used food — especially beef — as a cudgel in a culture war, accusing climate-minded Democrats of trying to change Americans’ diets and, therefore, their lives.
“That is a direct attack on our way of life here in Nebraska,” Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, said recently.
The pitched rhetoric is likely a sign of the future. As more Americans acknowledge the link between food production and climate change, food choices are likely to become increasingly political. Already, in farm states, meat eating has joined abortion, gun control and transgender rights as an issue that quickly sends partisans to their corners.
“On the right, they are just going for the easiest applause line, which is accusing the left of declaring war on meat. And it’s a pretty good applause line,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican consultant. “It’s politically effective, if intellectually dishonest.”
Ricketts was among the first to seize on the issue in recent months. In March, the governor — whose state generated $12 billion from livestock and meat products last year — slammed his Colorado counterpart, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, for suggesting Coloradans lay off the red meat one day as a way of cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.
Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds followed Ricketts’ comments quickly, claiming in a campaign fundraising email, “Democrats and liberal special interest groups are trying to cancel our meat industry.”
In her weekly column a few weeks later, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa blasted “everyone from out-of-touch politicians to Hollywood elites” as leading the left’s “war on meat.”
But the issue blew up last week after a Daily Mail news story — debunked within 24 hours — suggested the Biden administration could ration how much red meat Americans can consume as part of its goal to slash greenhouse gas pollution.
During the story’s short life, conservative figures pilloried Biden’s apparent invasion into America’s dining room.
While the story was false, there’s little doubt the livestock industry is a contributor to climate change.
A 2019 Environmental Protection Agency report noted agriculture was responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, a quarter of which is emitted by livestock before they are butchered.
There are signs that Americans may be adjusting their diets out of concern for climate change. About a quarter of Americans reported eating less meat than they had a year earlier, according to a 2019 Gallup poll, chiefly for health reasons but also out of environmental concerns. About 30% of Democrats polled said they were eating less meat, compared to 12% of Republicans.
For some, it’s hard to imagine Americans abandoning beef and easy to see its power as a political symbol, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University agriculture economist.
Americans don’t get overly sentimental about barns crammed with chickens or thousands of hogs, but few images are as quintessentially American as cattle grazing over rolling hills.
“When you think about American food, beef is what is in the center of that plate,” Hart said. “And that’s likely to remain a national identity when it comes to what an American food plate looks like.”
To be sure, food isn’t new to culture war politics.
First lady Michelle Obama was attacked as intrusive by conservatives for championing higher nutritional standards in school lunches.
As a presidential candidate in 2007, Barack Obama was accused of food elitism when he asked a group of Iowa farmers whether they had seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods, an upscale grocery chain that had not yet made it to Iowa. Obama still won the state’s caucuses.
Even more famously, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis was pilloried by Republicans as far out of touch with rural America in the midst of the 1980s farm crisis when he suggested Iowa farmers consider diversifying crops by planting Belgian endive.
That prompted GOP vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle to hold up a head of endive, a green used in salads, to show a crowd in Omaha “just how the man from Massachusetts thinks he can rebuild the farm economy.”
In the past, food was a way of painting Democrats as out of touch with rural America. Today, the message is about climate and the economy.
There is a growing movement to discourage meat-eating and a massive market for meat replacement foods. The Green New Deal, a sweeping environmental outline championed by liberal New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, calls for a sharp reduction in livestock production.
Biden has called the plan an “important framework” but has not endorsed it.
As these policies remain only plans for now, Republicans complaining about them have offered little substance with their claims of a war on meat.
Still, Republicans have looked for ways to signal which side they’re on. In April, Ernst introduced a bill that would bar federal agencies from setting policies that ban serving meat to employees.
Ricketts declared “Meat on the Menu Day” in March and came back Wednesday to name all of May “Beef Month.”
These efforts do little to address the beef industry’s substantial problems, including a backlog in slaughterhouses stemming from the pandemic, drought and the high cost of feed.
And a spokesperson for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association kept her distance from the food fight.
“When emotions and rhetoric run high on either side of the political aisle, NCBA remains focused on achieving lasting results,” said spokesperson Sigrid Johannes.