Friday Afternoon News, April 10
Governor Branstad Signs School Start Date Bill
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Gov. Terry Branstad has signed a bill that says Iowa schools can start the academic year no earlier than Aug. 23.
Branstad signed the legislation into law Friday. The bill represented a middle ground between those seeking to give school districts total control over their calendars and others - including Branstad - who argued that early start dates hurt tourism.
Under the legislation, schools could start no sooner than Aug. 23, though some school districts with year-round calendars would be exempt from the new rules. The bill excludes high schools from seeking such exemptions.
The state announced plans late last year to stop issuing automatic waivers to allow districts to bypass the previous start date rules.
Supreme Court Says Tax On Ethanol Plants Is Constitutional
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Rejecting a challenge from the ethanol industry, the Iowa Supreme Court says the state's tax on the use of natural gas is constitutional.
Several ethanol plants argue the law is unfair because it requires them to pay higher taxes than many competitors for natural gas, which is heavily used in the manufacturing process.
The affected plants are those that obtain natural gas directly from interstate pipelines rather than local utilities. They are assessed the tax based on the amount they use and their geographic location.
Little Sioux Corn Processors, which operates an ethanol plant in Marcus, argued the tax was unconstitutional because it treats similar plants differently and punishes consumers who buy gas from out-of-state suppliers.
The court says the tax may not create uniform results, but it is constitutional.
Sioux City Man Acquitted For Indecent Contact
SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - A Sioux City man accused of fondling an 8-year-old girl has been acquitted.
A judge returned a verdict Thursday finding 45-year-old David Winne not guilty of indecent contact with a child. The verdict stems from a non-jury trial conducted on March 17.
Court documents say Winne was accused of touching the girl over her clothes in October and asking her to touch herself.
The judge presiding over the case ruled that evidence presented during the trial was insufficient to prove the contact occurred with the intent to "arouse or satisfy the sexual desires" of Winne. In turn, the judge says the contact could have been accidental.
An attorney for Winne could not be reached for comment on his behalf.
More Food Safety Inspectors Needed
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) - Some county officials are seeking more funding for food safety inspections at Iowa restaurants as financial constraints have restricted the frequency of reviews across the state.
Local health officials continue to pressure state lawmakers to increase the budget appropriation for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals food safety program. Legislation failed to gain traction in both the House and the Senate this year.
Sandy Heinen, a Black Hawk County environmental health officer, says stagnant funding has meant fewer inspections of restaurants and grocery stores, most of which are now reviewed every couple years as compared to twice a year in the past.
Sen. Bill Dotzler, a Waterloo Democrat, says school funding and other fiscal measures continue to take priority at the Capitol.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Supreme Court has suspended the law license of a Des Moines attorney who worked on former gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch's campaign.
The high court issued an order Friday suspending John Hedgecoth's license to practice law. The ruling states the license could be reinstated after three months.
The court says Hedgecoth violated several rules of professional conduct while representing three clients in 2012 and 2013. Among the chief issues was his failure to respond properly to legal requests and deadlines.
Court documents show Hedgecoth, who worked for Hatch as he built his 2014 campaign, told a grievance commission his neglectful conduct resulted from administrative "missteps" in his part-time law practice while he simultaneously worked as a political operative.
Hatch lost to Gov. Terry Branstad in November.