There won’t be any shortage of lessons to take away from the coronavirus crisis that has sent Iowa and the rest of the United States reeling. One lesson that deserves plenty of discussion now, rather than months from now, involves sick leave for American workers. Paying employees to stay home when they are ill is not just an economic issue for employers and employees alike – although it certainly does involve dollars and cents. It’s just good sense. Paid sick leave – or, more accurately, the absence of paid sick leave – can be a full-fledged public health problem.
The threat of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, is forcing educators across the country to think about what they’ll do if they have to close their schools for weeks or even months at a time. State and federal agencies have advised schools to create online learning plans to minimize the disruption to student learning. For some schools, that’s a small leap. Their students have internet connections at home, laptops they can work from, teachers who know how to design online lessons and a strong foundation of in-school blended learning experience. But the fact is, these schools are rare.
Iowans take considerable pleasure in enumerating the various ways our state stands apart from the other 49 states – beyond our endangered first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. For many years, we pointed with pride to the fact that Iowa’s high school graduation rate was tops in the United States. We like to remind friends from other states that Iowa farmers
produce more corn, hogs and eggs than farmers anywhere else. Sports fans beamed over the University of Iowa wrestling team’s success from 1978 to 1986, when the Hawkeyes won the NCAA title a record nine consecutive times. That is a longer string of NCAA team championships than any other Division I university in any other sport.
A bill now awaiting debate and a vote in the Iowa Senate is quite short. It adds a mere 10 lines to the Iowa Code. But those 10 lines are an important legal statement Iowa lawmakers should adopt before they finish their work for 2020. Senate File 2331 says employees of Iowa’s public schools shall not be dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned or in any other way retaliated against for protecting a student’s freedom of expression or for refusing to infringe on a student’s First Amendment rights. Currently, students in Iowa public schools have a right to exercise freedom of speech in the papers they are assigned to write for classes or in articles they write for their school’s student newspaper.
Monarch butterfly populations are at a critical low, according to the annual Western Monarch Count in California. In the fall and winter, western monarchs (Danaus plexippus plexippus) stop to roost along the Pacific coast in California. Here, under the direction of the Xerces Society, nearly 200 trained volunteers find and count monarchs for the annual Western Thanksgiving and New Year’s counts, now in its 23rd year. And for the second year in a row, the counts have generated troubling numbers. Fewer than 30,000 individuals were found — the number, researchers say, may be the tipping point for the population.
A top health official for the state of Iowa knew of plans for a “sexual preoccupation” study at a state-run institution for people with severe disabilities well before federal officials began investigating the facility late last year, according to newly released emails. Rick Shults, the mental health and disability services administrator for the Iowa Department of Human Services, approved a software request on May 21, 2018, for studies on patients at the Glenwood Resource Center and on patients who are part of a state-run program for sexual offenders, according to emails DHS provided to the Des Moines Register as part of a records request. “Nice write up,” Shults wrote in response to the request. “Yes, I approve. Please keep the justification and my approval should questions arise later.” The newly released emails show, for the first time, how far back top state officials knew about plans for human experimentation at the center, which houses some of the most vulnerable Iowans.
Members of the Iowa Legislature are in the midst of tying themselves into knots over the issue of equality, and that’s unfortunate. The knot-tying involves what these lawmakers call “religious freedom.”
That has a patriotic ring to it. Who would disagree? Our constitutional right to freedom of religion sets the United States apart from many nations. But when you analyze what this legislative initiative really involves, it is too reminiscent of America’s past – a past when some people regularly were subjected to discrimination when they tried to find lodging for the night, or sit at a lunch counter for a meal, or to be hired for a job.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – A federal jury determined that German agribusiness giants Bayer and BASF will have to pay $250 million in punitive damages to Bader Farms, the largest peach farm in Missouri, for damage caused by their dicamba-related products. The verdict comes at the end of a three-week trial of a case where Bader Farms alleges it is going out of business because of damage incurred by the companies’ dicamba herbicides moving off of neighboring fields and harming their 1,000 acres of peach orchards.
On Friday, the jury ruled that both Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer in 2018, and BASF acted negligently and Bader Farms should receive $15 million in actual damages for future losses incurred because of the loss of their orchard.
Bader Farms will receive a total of $265 million. BASF and Bayer will have to sort out what portion of the damages each company pays.
Bader Farms is among thousands of farms, comprising millions of acres of crops, that have alleged dicamba damage since 2015. “It sends a strong message,” said Bev Randles, an attorney for Bader Farms. “The Baders’ were doing this, not just because of themselves or for themselves, but they felt like it was necessary because of what it means to farmers everywhere.
ByClaire Hettinger and Pam Dempsey/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
With farmers facing increasing stress and depression, Midwestern states and national farm groups are making more efforts to better provide services to alleviate the high rate of suicide among the agriculture industry. Yet in rural areas, this care is more of a challenge. Rural hospitals — often the primary source of health care services in these areas — are closing or merging. Since 2010, 23 hospitals have closed across the Midwest — a loss of nearly 1,000 beds, according to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program.
An Institute for Nonprofit News investigation by 12 news outlets across seven states found that rural Midwest hospitals have reduced services or merging with larger health systems in an effort to deal with financial and regulatory pressures. Only two of those Midwestern hospitals were in Illinois, but accessing mental health services in rural communities remains difficult. Some groups have decided to address the situation themselves.
A collaborative project including the Institute for Nonprofit News and INN members IowaWatch, KCUR, Bridge Magazine, Wisconsin Watch, Side Effects Public Media and The Conversation; as well as Iowa Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Radio, The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), Iowa Falls Times Citizen and N’west Iowa REVIEW. The project was made possible by support from INN, with additional support from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems. For more stories visit hospitals.iowawatch.org
For example, the organization GROW sets up meetings over Zoom, a video conferencing app, to help those in rural areas experiencing mental health issues.And more than a dozen farm bureau managers in Illinois have taken mental health first aid classes that help people recognize signs of distress. Harry Brockus — the chief executive officer of Carle Hoopeston and Carle Richland in Central Illinois, a collection of hospitals that serves 41 mostly rural counties — said there is a physician shortage across the country and recruitment to rural areas is an even bigger challenge.
“We do not offer the amenities that physicians are looking for,” he said, “such as shopping, schools and different entertainment venues.”
Other challenges in rural areas, such as transportation, housing and access to healthy food, can make rural healthcare costs inefficient and unaffordable, Brockus said.
This has left rural America in a bind when it comes to care for mental health.
Iowa lawmakers are considering a bill that would require owners of large rental buildings to disclose typical utility costs to apartment-seekers. The legislation has momentum in large part due to a Des Moines-area property manager who has been a champion for energy efficiency in his buildings. “Rental housing is the low-hanging fruit” of energy efficiency, said Keith Denner, president of Professional Property Management. The problem is that property owners often aren’t rewarded for those investments. Residents are typically the ones who realize the cost savings, and they rarely have the information to factor utility bills into rental decisions.