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Iowa advances immigration bill banning 'sanctuary cities'

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa is set to become the latest Republican-led state to target so-called sanctuary cities by withholding money from local governments that don't comply with federal immigration laws, even though the plan could lead to court challenges.

A bill outlining an expansive immigration enforcement plan is expected to receive final legislative approval this week. It comes as President Donald Trump ramps up calls for more stringent immigration enforcement.

Critics say it would essentially allow racial profiling, but Republican lawmakers frame the measure as a public safety policy. Republican Rep. Steven Holt of Denison, a western Iowa community with a growing Latino population, said the bill focuses on immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission who are suspected of crimes.

"This legislation is about the rule of law, and the safety of all people, citizens and immigrants alike," Holt said shortly before the Iowa House approved the bill Tuesday on a 55-45 vote, with one Democrat voting for it and five Republicans against it.

The legislation is scheduled for a final vote Wednesday in the Republican-controlled Senate. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds indicated she would sign the measure, highlighting it in a fundraising email for her gubernatorial campaign.

Immigration activist Berenice Nava said she believes immigrants will be racially profiled even if the bill specifically prohibits it. She noted the bill would allow authorities to question people about their immigration status if they're "under lawful detention or under arrest."

"I feel very threatened," the 26-year-old Des Moines resident said before she and other activists gathered in the House gallery Tuesday waving American and Iowa flags. "I'm not light skin. I don't have blonde hair. My family, my friends, they're brown skin. So I fear for everyone."

The primary focus of the legislation is on "sanctuary cities," a catch-all label for jurisdictions that limit local involvement in federal immigration enforcement. Trump's administration has threatened to deny federal grant money to sanctuary cities, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' office recently sued California over the state's law barring police in many cases from turning suspects over to federal agents for deportation.

Iowa has no sanctuary cities, though some communities and schools have varying guidelines on how to handle immigration related issues. School districts in Des Moines and Iowa City, for example, have adopted policies directing immigration enforcement requests to be funneled to their superintendents' offices.

Under the Iowa legislation, a local entity — such as a city and county government — would lose state funding if they adopted policies that prohibit or discourage the enforcement of immigration laws.

Law enforcement agencies would have to comply with requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold a jailed person 48 hours after they would otherwise be detained. Immigration attorneys say that provision could open the state to litigation if an individual is held beyond the time he or she would otherwise be released.

The bill would also block municipalities from preventing Iowa jails from being used as part of federal agents' work.

Law enforcement officials have testified against the bill, saying they already follow immigration laws. Only one organization — the Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a group against illegal immigration — is registered in support.

There were an estimated 40,000 immigrants living illegally in Iowa in 2014, the most recent data available, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

The Iowa legislation has raised questions about its impact to schools. A nonpartisan analysis by the Legislative Services Agency concluded that it was unclear whether schools fell under the legislation's definition of a public entity. That could open the door for school immigration enforcement policies to be challenged.

Sen. Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola, dismissed that assessment.

"I wrote the bill. It has nothing to do with schools," she said during Wednesday floor debate.

More than 30 states considered bills last year similar to Iowa's proposal, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, while 15 states and the District of Columbia sought legislation to support sanctuary cities.

Only a handful of states have actually enacted such bans in recent years, with a range of enforcement provisions. The most high-profile was a Texas law passed last year that threatened jail time for officials who don't follow federal immigration directives. A federal appeals court upheld the law last month amid a lawsuit.

Fabiola Schirrmeister, a 32-year-old from Des Moines, brought her camera to the state Capitol on Tuesday to record some of the bill's votes while translating the activity in Spanish. She said immigrants "are under attack."

"This is a persecution against immigrants in general," she said.

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Iowa state leaders address sexual harassment. Will it be enough?

Iowa lawmakers convened for the 2018 legislative session with many issues to face, perhaps none more pressing than sexual harassment.

The state was still dealing with the fallout from sexual harassment allegations in the Iowa Capitol, and a nationwide movement was shining a bright and powerful light on that crime.

There was pressure on the state to act.

The legislative session is winding down, and while lawmakers have passed no legislation that deals with sexual harassment, they have taken multiple steps to address the issue in their own policies governing behavior in the statehouse.

This year has seen an “unprecedented amount of legislation on sexual harassment and sexual harassment policies” in state capitols across the country, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures, a nonpartisan organization that researches statehouse issues.

The organization’s website lists 88 pieces of legislation that have been introduced, and the varied proposals would expel members, criminalize sexual harassment in legislatures, and mandate harassment training within the legislature, among other topics, the organization reported.

The report lists two pieces of legislation for Iowa, but both were actually introduced in 2017, and simply pertain to the Legislature’s ethics code.

Iowa lawmakers have, however, made changes to the manner in which sexual harassment in the Iowa Capitol is reported and addressed.

The changes were sparked by allegations of sexual harassment among employees working for Iowa Senate Republicans. Former staffer Kirsten Anderson said she was fired in 2013 after alleging she encountered sexual harassment while on the job. Last year, the state settled with Anderson for $1.75 million.

Republican leaders in the statehouse this year took myriad steps to bolster the Capitol’s sexual harassment policies. Many of the changes were recommended by Mary Kramer, a former state lawmaker and former human resources executive for Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Kramer researched the policies at the behest of Senate Republican leaders.

• Legislators hired a human resources director to assist employees and supervisors with a host of workplace-related issues, including harassment.

• Iowa House leaders updated their sexual harassment policies.

• House leaders also required legislators and staff to complete sexual harassment training offered by the state’s administrative services department, and perform in-person workplace harassment training conducted by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Previously, House members were not required to complete the training in-person.

• Senate leaders said they enhanced their harassment prevention training.

• Senate leaders also required everyone who attended harassment prevention training to sign an attendance log and provided a copy of the Senate rules on harassment prevention.

• The Senate is working with human resources to review and improve its harassment prevention rules.

Kramer said it will not be enough just to implement new policies. She said a new atmosphere of respect and compliance must be created at the Capitol.

“I like the Chinese proverb that says, 'When the student is ready, the teacher appears.' And I don't think the students have been ready up until this point,” Kramer said on a recent episode of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press.”

Janet Petersen, leader of the Senate Democrats, said more steps must be taken.

“We continue to press Senate Republicans to ensure the Legislature doesn’t adjourn without adopting new policies and procedures to make the Senate a safe and welcoming environment for all employees, to protect Iowa taxpayers, and to protect the rights of those who raise concerns about harassment,” Petersen said in an emailed statement.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, the first woman to serve as Iowa’s chief executive, this year called for all executive branch employees to retake sexual harassment training. And recently Reynolds’ self-described “zero tolerance policy” was tested.

On March 24, Reynolds fired former Iowa Finance Authority director David Jamison over what she called “credible allegations” of sexual harassment from multiple employees. Reynolds acted swiftly; she fired Jamison just one day after the allegations were brought to her staff.

“I hope this sends a strong message. I think it does,” Reynolds said. “I can’t legislate morality. I can’t pass a law that says everybody treats everybody with respect. But I can lead and I can set an expectation. And that’s what I did. I heard about it and I took action. And that should let every employee know that if they are experiencing this, that it won’t be tolerated and they have a safe place to go to file that complaint. And if they do, they will be heard and action will be taken. And that’s what happened. That simple.”

Democrats have pressed Reynolds to provide more details of what led to Jamison’s firing, but Reynolds said she will not release those details in order to protect the anonymity of the accusers.

“For the victims of sexual harassment, coming forward is a hard thing to do. It takes courage. So at the request of the victims and to protect their privacy and identity, there is only so much that I can say about the details of the allegations,” Reynolds said. “But what I can do is emphasize, again, that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in my administration.”

US and China threaten tariffs as fears rise

WASHINGTON — The world's two biggest economies stand at the edge of the most perilous trade conflict since World War II. Yet there's still time to pull back from the brink.

Financial markets bounced up and down Wednesday over the brewing U.S.-China trade war after Beijing and Washington proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of each other's products in a battle over the aggressive tactics China employs to develop its high-tech industries.

"The risks of escalation are clear," Adam Slater, global economist at Oxford Economics, wrote in a research note. "Threats to the U.S.-China relationship are the most dangerous for global growth."

There's time for the two countries to resolve the dispute through negotiations in the coming weeks. The United States will not tax 1,300 Chinese imports — from hearing aids to flamethrowers — until it has spent weeks collecting public comments. It's likely to get an earful from American farmers and businesses that want to avoid a trade war at all costs.

Also, China did not say when it would impose tariffs on 106 U.S. products, including soybeans and small aircraft, and it announced it is challenging America's import duties at the World Trade Organization.

Lawrence Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, sought to ease fears of a deepening trade conflict with China, telling reporters that the tariffs the U.S. announced Tuesday are "potentially" just a negotiating ploy.

"We're very lucky that we have the best negotiator at the table in the president, and we're going to go through that process," said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. "It will be a couple months before tariffs on either side would go into effect and be implemented, and we're hopeful that China will do the right thing."

The prospect of a negotiated end to the dispute calmed nerves on Wall Street. After plunging in early trading, the Dow Jones industrial average ended up rising 231 points, or nearly 1 percent, to 24,264.

The sanctions standoff started last month when the United States slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. On Monday, China countered by announcing tariffs on $3 billion worth of U.S. products. The next day, the United States proposed the $50 billion in duties on Chinese imports, and Beijing lashed back within hours with a threat of further tariffs of its own.

Things could easily escalate. The U.S. Treasury is working on plans to restrict Chinese technology investments in the United States. And there's talk that the U.S. could also put limits on visas for Chinese who want to visit or study in this country.

For its part, China conspicuously left large aircraft off its sanctions list Wednesday, suggesting it is reserving the option to target Boeing if relations deteriorate further.

Douglas Irwin, a Dartmouth College economist who has just written a history of U.S. trade policy, said the tit-for-tat tariffs are shaping up as the biggest trade battle since World War II.

"It's huge," he said.

In 1987, the Reagan administration triggered shockwaves by slapping tariffs on just $300 million worth of Japanese imports — that's million with an "m'' — in a dispute over the semiconductor industry. Those tariffs covered less than 1 percent of Japanese imports at the time.

The tariffs the U.S. unveiled Tuesday apply to nearly 10 percent of Chinese goods imports of $506 billion.

And during the dispute three decades ago, Japan, a close U.S. ally, chose not to retaliate. It eventually gave in to U.S. demands.

"What we've seen with China is very different," Irwin said. "When the steel tariffs went in — boom, they came back with retaliation. ... They were not going to take it lying down."

Making matters trickier, the dispute over Chinese technology policy strikes at the heart of Beijing's ambitions to become the global leader in cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

In August, President Donald Trump ordered the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to investigate China's tech policies, particularly longstanding allegations that it coerces U.S. companies into handing over sensitive technology to gain access to the Chinese market. The tariffs proposed Tuesday were the result of that investigation.

The U.S. also accuses China of treating U.S. companies unfairly when they try to do business there and of encouraging Chinese hackers to break into U.S. corporate computer systems and steal trade secrets.

The Trump administration is coming under intense pressure to de-escalate the dispute. American farmers, who disproportionately supported Trump in the 2016 election, are especially outspoken in seeking trade peace. After all, China buys nearly 60 percent of American soybean exports.

"American farmers are waking up this morning to the prospect of a 25 percent tax on exports that help sustain their farming operations," said former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, co-chair of Farmers for Free Trade. "We urge the administration to reconsider escalating this trade war."

Some analysts predict Beijing will ultimately yield to U.S. demands because it relies far more heavily on the U.S. market than American businesses rely on China's.

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Mason City voters approve school levies


MASON CITY | Voters approved two ballot issues Tuesday that will renew two levies the Mason City School District uses for technology, infrastructure, buildings and other costs.

The levies, named the instructional support levy, or ISL, and physical plant and equipment levy, or PPEL, will be extended for 10 years.

According to unofficial results, the ISL levy passed with 77 percent of the vote, and PPEL levy with 78 percent of the vote. A total of 1,387 people voted, equivalent to a turnout of 7 percent.

Funded by a mix of income surtax and property tax, the ISL is used for educational programming as well as instructional and student supports.

First approved by voters in 2013,  the levy has allowed Mason City to add about 19 positions, such as counselors, library staff, nurses, elementary reading teachers and district-wide social workers. It also supports a positive behavioral program for grades K-8.

The levy generates about $1.7 million annually for the district.

PPEL can only be used for buildings, transportation, equipment and technology.

In the past five years,  the levy has funded 1-to-1 technology for students – such as laptops and tablets – as well as improved district technology infrastructure and internet connectivity.

Mason City Superintendent Dave Versteeg previously told the Globe Gazette  the levy will continue to support 1-to-1 technology as well as safety/security updates like electronic door access systems and security cameras, general facility maintenance/upkeep and continue an energy conservation program.

Versteeg praised Mason Cityans for the support after the vote Tuesday.

"We're just pleased the community supported this effort," he said. "It was another positive move not only for the school district but Mason City."

He added the funds from the levies are needed, especially as education changes given advances in technology.

"I think our kids made a great point about it, that's just preparing them for the 21st and 22nd centuries," Versteeg said. "We've got to keep up ... if we want our kids to be competitive, not only in Iowa but across the country and across the world, then we need to continue to make that investment in technology."

School Board member Jodi Draper added the 1-to-1 policy, behavioral instruction and overall security were key components of the levies that passed. 

Both she and Versteeg said they understand the concerns of those who voted against the levies, but added the programs supported by the majority of the community are extremely beneficial.

"We have a declining enrollment, which means we get less money from the state per student," Draper said. "And for us to be able to be a community people want to be at, it takes all parts (of the community)."


Ashley Miller /