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Two summer reporters to join IowaWatch

Two reporting interns will spend 10 weeks of their summer with the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism – IowaWatch. Olivia Allen and Maria Kuiper will focus on specific topics for the summer. Kuiper begins May 24 and Allen follows on June 1. Maria Kuiper

Kuiper is a 2021 University of Iowa graduate. She studied journalism with a minor in Arabic and a certificate in human rights.

What bugs are Iowans seeing?

The term “hornet” has a technical meaning, and Iowa has only one species of hornet – the bald-faced hornet, which has black and white stripes and a white face. Bald-faced hornets aren’t aggressive and typically stick to wooded areas, where they make large, spherical paper nests, Donald Lewis, an Iowa State University professor of entomology, said. What Iowans are observing this spring are likely wasps and not hornets, Lewis said. There are two species that are active in the springtime – paper wasps and yellowjacket wasps. Paper wasps have long, slender brown bodies.

Mild winter ushers in wasp-ish spring for Iowans

An unwelcome buzz — wasps — this spring forced teachers to shutter classroom windows. Anecdotally, there seem to be more than usual hovering this spring, following a somewhat mild winter in Iowa, according to weather experts. Iowa State University professor of entomology Donald Lewis said he has heard from Iowans who have felt there were more of the insects than usual. He, too, suspects it was a “good winter” for the them. Gabrielle Smithman, a teacher at Merrill Middle School in Des Moines, experienced the effect of that good winter.

Evans: The population problem Iowa should discuss

Through the years, the Iowa Legislature is the place where Iowans gather to debate the biggest issues and challenges facing our state. It has been this way for 175 years. 

The 2021 session is days from adjournment, but there has been precious little time spent discussing one of the thorniest problems confronting this state in decades or looking for solutions. The issue is the quality of our water. Our lakes, streams and rivers are so polluted with agricultural runoff that experts urge people, for health reasons, to not swim in many lakes and to avoid eating fish caught in certain rivers. While most lawmakers dodge this issue, a University of Iowa researcher has become a no-nonsense voice on the problem and its solutions. Chris Jones is a scientist at the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research. Water quality is his area of expertise.

As demand for COVID-19 vaccinations drops, one Iowa community nears herd immunity

Genesis Ramirez grips a digital timer, her legs swinging in a chair in the waiting room of the Meskwaki Tribal Health Center in Tama County, Iowa. The 17-year-old just got her second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. But she didn’t do it just to keep herself safe. “My family is very high risk, and I don’t want to bring anything back to them where I can’t help them,” Ramirez said. Ramirez isn’t a member of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi, also known as the Meskwaki Nation.

Evans: Government needs room for common sense

People like to talk about what the law says. And in Iowa, the law has a lot to say. Just look at the Iowa Code. It now fills eight volumes and costs $295 for a complete set. But common sense costs nothing — although the 18th century thinker Voltaire once observed, “Common sense is not so common.”

Two examples involving government in Iowa in recent weeks clearly show the Frenchman was on to something. For about 13 months, most state and local government boards and councils have held “virtual” meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evans: Charter schools must have sunshine, too

The 2021 session of the Iowa Legislature will end in a few weeks, and one big issue moving toward a final vote would make charter schools easier to create as an alternative to the traditional K-12 public schools. Others can debate the pros and cons of charter schools and House File 813, the bill that is awaiting debate and a vote in the Senate. That’s not my purpose here today. But I want to sound a cautionary note:

If the Legislature wants to make it easier to establish these independent schools and provide them with state tax money to operate, then lawmakers should amend House File 813 to ensure these schools are subject to Iowa’s public records laws. As written, the bill already states that meetings of the charter schools’ boards of directors would have to be open to the public.

Where, oh where, are today’s Bob Rays?

It’s hard for those of us of a certain vintage to realize it has been 39 years since Robert Ray was Iowa’s governor. In spite of the passage of so much time, his name was on the minds of many people last week. What triggered the Bob Ray memories was Gov. Kim Reynolds’ interview with WHO Radio on Thursday. Reynolds was asked about the thousands of children, mostly from Central America, who are showing up this year at our border with Mexico without their parents. They arrive hoping to be allowed to live in the United States with relatives or sponsors, freeing them from the deadly violence and the grip of poverty so common where they came from.