Tuesday, May 4

3:22 p.m. – Central College is going ‘test optional’

Central College in Pella is joining scores of other schools across the country in going “test optional” for its admissions process. Hundreds of colleges and universities chose not to require SAT or ACT scores from students during the pandemic. Central is making the change permanent.

Dean of Enrollment Management Chevy Freiburger says the change will improve access for students who don’t test well.

“The standardized test score for Central has always been one component, and we’ve always had a holistic review through that admission process and have found that greater success is, for Central, is on the GPA and on the courses.”

Critics have long argued that standardized tests reinforce racial and economic inequality. The pandemic has accelerated a shift away from requiring the tests.

2:31 p.m. – Deadline for REAL ID pushed back again

The deadline to get your driver’s license transitioned to a REAL ID has been pushed back by the pandemic.

Iowa DOT Customer Services Bureau director, Darcy Doty says many states had their driver’s license offices closed for several months during the height of the outbreak.“We were able to stay open, we had some limited capacity, but we were able to stay open to continue issuing REAL ID’s. Iowa’s in pretty good shape overall — we have about 53 percent who have a credential with us — 53 percent have a REAL ID,” Doty says.

She says Iowa issues some 2.5 million licenses annually. The REAL ID deadline is now May 2023. You bring in a series of documents that are checked by the DOT to verify your identity and your license is then converted. Most people get their licenses converted when they are renewed — but Doty says you can come in before the license expires.

“Do not wait, we don’t want a bottleneck on May 3rd 2023 of people waiting to get in to see us. So we just ask customers to plan ahead, schedule that appointment and we’d be glad to take care of you,” according to Doty.

She says you can find all you need to know about the REAL ID on the DOT website.

“We’ve got an information checklist on our website so people can go in and click on the list of the documents that they have and they tell you exactly what you’ll need to have with you. That way you can schedule an appointment,” Doty says.

The REAL ID has a star surrounded by a gold circle in the upper right-hand corner. You will be required to have the REAL ID to fly after the May 2023 deadline.

Entry via Dar Danielson for Radio Iowa

11:53 a.m. – State Refugee Services prepares for more refugees to resettle in Iowa

Iowa is expected to see more refugees resettled in the state after President Joe Biden increased the cap this week to more than 62,000.

As of right now, the state doesn’t have the proper infrastructure to handle an increased capacity. That’s according to the chief of the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services Mak Sućeska. But, he says, they’ve already been working on it.

“We will have to be intentional in mitigating some of those concerns and barriers. And then once that is addressed, we can move along accordingly. So there has to be a lot of pieces in place. It’s not as easy as it may seem.”

Sućeska says even though the declaration was just signed, the state likely won’t see a drastic increase right away. Iowa might see a change closer to the end of the year.

“With the Biden Harris administration, it will obviously look a little different as well, we will see an increase in numbers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the floodgates will open.”

Sućeska says it will be a tedious process to make sure Iowa is prepared for more refugees, but they’ve done it in the past and it has worked.

11:13 a.m. – Two cases of COVID-19 ‘India variant’ confirmed in Iowa

State health officials have confirmed two cases of a COVID-19 variant, commonly known as the India variant, in Iowa.

The cases were identified in two adults in Jefferson County.

Officials say they are still learning about the characteristics of the strain. But they say there is no evidence it is more easily transmitted or more likely to cause severe illness.

The UK and Brazilian COVID-19 variants also have been previously identified in the state. These strains are believed to be more easily transmitted, but scientists say all approved vaccines are effective against them.

10 a.m. – 373 new cases of COVID-19 reported Tuesday in Iowa

6:04 a.m. – Iowa Renewable Fuels leader says EPA’s waiver decision fulfills Biden campaign pledge

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rescinded three waivers that had excused Sinclair Oil refineries in Wyoming from the federal requirement to blend ethanol into gasoline.

Iowa Renewable Fuels Association executive director Monte Shaw says the waivers were granted on the last day of the Trump Administration.

“What was most shocking about them, not just the lateness of them and they aren’t justified to begin with, but these refineries are in the 10th circuit court,” Shaw says.

The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has jurisdiction over six states, including Wyoming. It’s the court that ruled early last year that small refineries only qualified for the exemption from blending ethanol into gasoline if they had applied for extensions of waivers originally granted in 2010. Shaw says the EPA’s decision fits with the law, but just as importantly it matches what candidate Joe Biden said on the campaign trail.

“He said he wanted to reign in these refinery exemptions, that they weren’t justified, that we need to follow the law and implement it appropriately,” Shaw says, “so for his EPA then to turn around and say: ‘Hey, these literally last minute exemptions don’t make sense. We need to pull them back,’ it makes sense because that is what he said he would do.”

Shaw says the Biden Administration’s EPA administrator will be in Iowa today and will tour an ethanol plant.

“Unfortunately I guess for him the previous administration left a lot of unfinished business on his calendar and that will include finally enforcing the small refinery waiver program appropriately,” Shaw says.

Other unresolved items include setting the federal ethanol production mandate for this year and announcing EPA labeling and equipment rules so retailers can sell E15 — gas with 15 percent ethanol — year round.

Entry via O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa

Monday, May 3

4:32 p.m. – Creighton survey shows record Midwest economy number

The monthly Creighton University survey of business leaders shows the Midwestern economy saw its biggest-ever economic bounce during April.

On the zero to 100 scale, the business conditions index hit a record 73.9 for the month, its largest in almost three decades of surveys. Creighton economist Ernie Goss says the region’s economy, which includes Iowa and eight other states, has posted growth for 11 straight months now.

“This economy is moving along but it’s constrained, if you can believe that, constrained by supply bottlenecks,” Goss says. “Four out of the ten supply managers reported they were experiencing significant bottlenecks and delays in deliveries, so that’s slowing down the growth.”

Iowa’s business conditions index for April is lagging behind the region overall and rose to 67.9, up from 66.5 in March. The survey found hiring in the region sank during April, as more than one in five (22 percent) supply managers named finding and hiring qualified workers as the greatest 2021 challenge to their firm.

“The stimulus package that was put through by the Biden administration is having some negative impacts on the overall hiring,” Goss says, “simply because you’re paying workers more to remain unemployed rather than to get a job, and we’re going to continue seeing that be an issue going forward.”

In March and April of last year, the region lost 106,000 manufacturing jobs. Since bottoming out in April of 2020, Goss says the Midwest has added 58,000 manufacturing jobs. The economic pressures of the prolonged pandemic are appearing elsewhere, too.

“We’re already seeing higher airfares, the airlines are increasing prices on tickets and that’s being reflected in family travel,” Goss says. “Business travel, still not good. We’re seeing conferences being canceled, we’re seeing conferences being held on Zoom or on remote.”

Compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, Goss says Iowa manufacturing employment is down 4,300 jobs, or 1.9 percent, while average hourly manufacturing wages are 2.1 percent lower.

Entry via Matt Kelley for Radio Iowa

3:49 p.m. – Cedar Rapids modifies mask mandate

The city of Cedar Rapids is modifying its mask mandate to loosen requirements for people who are fully vaccinated. Under the new order, those who have completed their vaccine series don’t have to wear masks outside except when in large gatherings or crowded settings.

Fully vaccinated people also won’t have to wear masks when gathering with other fully vaccinated people indoors.

Mayor Brad Hart made the change to align with updated guidance released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3:31 p.m. – Reynolds says she wants state law to limit transgender students’ participation in sports

Gov. Kim Reynolds said on Fox News last week that she wants to sign a law to limit transgender students’ participation in sports.

Governors in at least five states have signed laws this year that aim to ban transgender women and girls from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Reynolds said she is working on similar legislation, saying that allowing trans women and girls to compete is “not fair.” There aren’t any such bills moving in the Iowa Legislature, but the proposal could come up as an amendment.

Iowa Safe Schools Executive Director Becky Ritland says it’s “frustrating” that the governor is bringing this up late in the session.

“In the state of Iowa, we have had zero cases of a transgender student participating in sports in an unequal way or using any sort of advantage to advance their athletic career.”

Ritland says this effort sends a message to trans youth that they don’t belong in their own community, and that message is bad for their mental health.

10:39 a.m. – Inmates across Iowa donate to the families of staffers who were killed at the Anamosa penitentiary in March

Inmates at Iowa’s prisons have donated more than $11,000 to the families of staffers killed at the Anamosa State Penitentiary in March.

The funds represent a significant amount for inmates who make between 27 and 87 cents an hour, according to a 2017 analysis.

A Department of Corrections spokesperson says inmates at all nine of Iowa’s prisons donated to funds for the families of Nurse Lorena Schulte and Officer Robert McFarland. Investigators believe two inmates killed them during an escape attempt.

Sue Hutchins of the advocacy group Living Beyond the Bars says many inmates knew the victims personally, and their donations demonstrate their compassion.

“Yes there are people who belong in prison and, yes, there are also people who are good people in prison who have made mistakes and who…who have just as much compassion and just as much empathy as a lot of us out here,” says Hutchins.

Hutchins says some were able to donate more than they usually would because of the latest round of federal stimulus checks.

10 a.m. – Seven additional deaths, 130 new cases of COVID-19 reported Monday in Iowa

6:30 a.m. – Only 18 percent of farmers believe climate change is caused by human activities, according to ISU poll

A new poll suggests only 18 percent of farmers believe that climate change is caused by human activities. That finding comes as there is an increasing focus on agriculture’s role in mitigating the problem.

A majority of farmers believe climate change is real and will create weather problems in the coming years, but only 18 percent of them believe humans are to blame. That’s according to a new poll from Iowa State University.

But climate change activists say changing practices is more important than changing minds. Rolf Nordstrom is the President and CEO of The Great Plains Institute, a nonpartisan energy advocacy group:

“We don’t think that matters, as long as people are prepared and willing to adopt practices that can help society decarbonize.”

Nordstrom says it needs to be financially prudent for farmers to cut their emissions and participate in carbon sequestration programs. Then they can help reduce the impact of climate change, regardless of their position on human’s role in causing the problem.

Sunday, May 2

12 p.m. – Iowa turns down 71 percent of available vaccines due to low demand

Iowa is turning down nearly three quarters of the vaccine doses available to the state from the federal government because demand for the shots remains weak.

The Iowa Department of Public Health and Safety said the state asked the federal government to withhold 71 percent of the 105,300 vaccine doses that were available for the week of May 10. This is the second week in a row that the state has asked the federal government to hold back part of its allocation of vaccine doses.

Department spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand told the Des Moines Register that 88 of Iowa’s 99 counties have told the state they don’t need all or part of their weekly vaccine allocations for that week. That’s an increase from the 80 counties that declined vaccine shipments for this week and the 43 counties that declined all or part of their allocations last week.

“As we have shared before, these counties are doing exactly the right thing by only accepting the volume of vaccine that they can confidently administer,” Ekstrand said.

Demand for the vaccines appears to have peaked in early April across Iowa when the state set a record by giving 51,322 shots in one day. By last week, the highest daily total of vaccines given was only 23,159.

As of Saturday, 56.5 percent of all Iowa adults had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Entry via the Associated Press

10 a.m. – Two additional deaths, 326 new cases of COVID-19 reported Sunday in Iowa

Saturday, May 1

5:11 p.m. – Immigration reform advocates march to Iowa Capitol

Advocates for immigration reform marched to the state Capitol Saturday to remind lawmakers of their promises. Those marching say immigration reform is a humanitarian issue, not a political one.

The people marching to the Capitol are interweaving Spanish and English as they walk, but they shout one phrase in unison: “Si se puede! Si se puede!”

They’re using the slogan to protest the nation’s current immigration policies.

“I believe immigrants have opportunity just like any American born here,” 28-year-old Jesus Colunga is among the marchers. He’s speaking in Spanish. “We didn’t cross the border, rather, the border crossed us.”

Colunga says immigration reform is important for Iowa because it affects people living here, whether they’re U.S. citizens or not.

Natalie Andrade is in charge of holding one of the banners with her parents. She wants the state’s lawmakers to know immigration policies affect everyone, including Iowans.

“If you have power to, to speak up, to change to make a change, you should be using your power to represent the people,” Andrade says. The 15-year-old wants more people from her generation to get involved in knowing the country’s immigration policies.

The demonstrators want President Joe Biden to remember his promise to provide more pathways to citizenship. They also want lawmakers to support legislation that offers more protections to asylum-seekers.

10 a.m. – 19 additional deaths, 388 new cases of COVID-19 reported Saturday in Iowa