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Mason City students experience state legislative process firsthand (with photos)

Editor's note: The House Judiciary Committee passed the Mason City students' bill Wednesday evening, said John Lee, Mason City AP government teacher. To become law, the bill must pass the House Floor, Senate Subcommittee, Senate Committee and floor debate.

MASON CITY | Mason City high-schoolers are hoping a sentencing reform bill they drafted for class D felony convictions will survive the Iowa Legislature’s funnel week.

And it has a chance.

On Wednesday, the bill, House File 408, was scheduled to be discussed and voted on by the House Judiciary Committee — its final hurdle to remain eligible for the remainder of the session.

“We’ve become invested,” said Molly Lorence, Mason City High School senior. “We want it (to pass) ... We realize how big of a deal it could be and how it could affect individuals.”

The bill, if passed, would allow judges discretion to sentence non-violent class D felons to county jail instead of state prison, which according to the students would save taxpayers money and reduce stress on families.

John Lee’s AP government class, comprising 10 seniors, presented the bill to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Feb. 27 during a trip to the State Capitol in Des Moines after months of research.

“It started as a grade in September and October, and now, it’s become personal for these kids,” he said. “It’s really kind of fun to watch.”

Last fall, Lee challenged his students to come up with a nonpartisan idea that’d make a difference at the city, state or federal level.

Mitchell County Sheriff Greg Beaver, who’s been in law enforcement for more than 30 years, approached Lee’s class in October about an idea he came up with in 2011 to give judges the option to shift class D felony and aggravated misdemeanor offenders to county jails to reduce overcrowding in state prisons and the cost to taxpayers.

He said on average it costs more than $100 a day to house an inmate in the state prison system versus the $50 a day in county jails.

“The more we thought about it, it just seemed like a better and better idea, so we went with it,” said Joey Hansen, AP government student.

After weeks of research on Iowa’s criminal justice system and its governing process, the students proposed their idea to Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, and Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, in December, and the legislators assisted them with drafting a bill to be presented during the session, which started in mid-January.

Hansen and Lorence said their trip to the Capitol, which included a brief tour of the building, was not only educational, but fun.

“It was a blast,” Hansen said. “I like listening to people debate and stuff.”

Lorence said the most valuable thing she learned during the day was “how many people have to work together to get something to work” at the Iowa Legislature.

Lee said this is the first time his class has created a bill and presented it to the Legislature, but the opportunity allowed his students to put into action what they’ve learned about government.

“What a benefit to our students to see how the system really does work and see you don’t have to be deep into politics to have an impact,” Beaver said.

High speeds, thefts, cases, assaults and verdicts: North Iowa crime and courts news for February (with mugshots)

High speeds, thefts, cases, assaults and verdicts: North Iowa crime and courts news for February (with mugshots)

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Mason City council moves forward on $14 million development proposal

MASON CITY | The City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to fix a date for a public hearing to consider the $14 million downtown apartment proposal from Talon Development and open a competitive bidding process. 

The proposed project was trumpeted by Mayor Bill Schickel on social media on Monday morning and would be a four-story building along Mason City's downtown riverfront that would include 133 units.

The original plan was for 113 units for a $10 million price tag but Talon CEO Steve Boote said they were able to find room for 20 more townhome units with two-car garages.

A crucial aspect to the project that's been emphasized by Boote is the workforce pricing.

According to Boote, who started the company 21 years ago and runs it with family, an efficiency apartment in the Mason City complex would run $540.

A one-bedroom apartment with a patio would cost $745, a two-bedroom would be $890 and a three-bedroom would cost about $1,000.

Town home units would run $1,300 for a two-bedroom and $1,400 for a three-bedroom.

At the city council meeting, Boote said he chose to do business in a city such as Mason City in part because it reminds him of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where the company is headquartered. 

"I couldn't be more excited to be here," Boote said. "This is as excited as I've been about any project in my career." 

Besides the similarities between Mason City and Sioux Falls, another driver of Boote's excitement was the prospect of lowering rents across town which he said Talon was "here to do." 

Boote went on to emphasize how crucial such a housing project was for a place such as Mason City. 

"You guys have a huge need, more than any of the other markets I've been in," he said.

North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Chad Schreck echoed that particular sentiment from Boote.

"A common thing we hear when recruiting businesses is: I just can't make the move," Schreck said.

Schreck said it was a necessity to make "downtown a destination point" and an "exciting place to live."

"Let's get something redeveloped and repurposed," he said.

Both Schreck and Boote were apt to point out some of the potential economic impact as well. 

Boote said that he and Talon would "strive to hit an 80 percent mark" for local hiring if the job went through.

Talon is currently working on a student housing project called The Heights in Vermillion, South Dakota, which Boote claimed had about 60 to 70 workers.

If the city council decided to go with Talon, the developer would break ground in 60 to 90 days and attempt to complete construction in 11 months.

Boote attempted to allay sewer concerns by assuring that the project "wouldn't affect the mainline sewer" in the downtown area.

And he also expressed openness to tailoring the look of the apartment complex to Mason City's architecture.

"In a way, we're already piling on the snowball you started," he said.

Talon Development proposed designs

Talon development proposed designs

 

Monday, Mayor Bill Schickel announced a plan with Talon Development out of Sioux Falls, S.D. to bring a $10 million, 113-unit apartment complex to downtown Mason City. 


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Alliant Energy proposes increase in electric, gas base rates by as much as 25 percent in North Iowa

Alliant Energy has proposed an electric and gas rate increase for Iowa customers, citing costs for expanding wind farms and new meters.

According to an Alliant Energy release, electric and gas base rates will increase in 2019 and 2020 due to investments into wind energy and infrastructure with the hope of “additional savings into the future.”

“Base rates will go up,” Alliant said. “However, customers are expected to see lower fuel costs, lower transmission costs and lower energy efficiency costs.”

On March 1, Alliant’s Iowa energy company, Interstate Power and Light Company, filed proposals with the Iowa Utilities Board to recover the costs of wind farms and other investments.

Alliant projects that the wind additions will save customers around $25 million in fuel costs in 2019 and $60 million In 2020.

The company is asking the Iowa Utilities Board for a total increase in annual retail electric revenues of $204 million and a total increase in annual retail natural gas revenues of $21 million.

Iowa Electric Rate Case Customer Notice

Customer electric bills are projected to increase by approximately 2 percent in 2019 and 5 percent in 2020, according to an Alliant press release.

“The impact to a customer’s bill will vary by customer type and usage,” the release said. “A typical residential customer with a monthly electric bill of $116 will see a total increase of approximately $8 per month starting April 1, 2019. And, if approved, residential customers would see an additional projected increase of $12 per month.”

In charts sent to customers by mail, Alliant showed a typical residential electric base rate bill portion of $82.31 in 2018 would increase by more than $20 to $102.44 in 2020, a more than 24 percent change.

Gas bills would increase approximately three percent from 2019 to 2020 and, if approved, the changes to the gas base rate would take effect starting Jan. 1, 2020.

Iowa Natural Gas Rate Case Customer Notice

“A typical residential customer with a monthly natural gas bill of $54 will see a total projected increase of approximately $7 per month over 2019 bills,” Alliant said.

In the chart sent to customers, the average base rate in 2018 of $28 would increase to $35 in 2020, a 25 percent increase.

The Iowa Utilities Board has ten months to issue a final decision.

As part of this process, the Utilities Board will host a series of customer comment meetings.

The customer comment meetings have been scheduled across the state, including Mason City.

The meeting will be held at 11:30 a.m. May 2 at the Historic Park Inn, 7 West State St.

Hearts, claps, 'hogs and candidates: Political cartoons for February