Weekly News Roundup: Abortion Wait Period Blocked, Audit Questions Leath’s Plane Use

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An anti-abortion sign along County Highway G5T near Pella. Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr

The Informer’s weekly news roundup, presented in partnership with KHOI community radio.

State Supreme Court Blocks Abortion Wait Period

Last Monday, the Iowa Supreme Court sided with lawyers representing Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa to temporarily block part of a state law passed earlier this year that requires women to wait at least three days before they can get an abortion. The block will remain effective until an appeal of Polk County District Judge Jeffrey Farrell’s ruling that the law is constitutional is resolved. Farrell ruled that although the law is “arguably the strictest mandatory waiting period law in the country,” it doesn’t pose an “undue burden” for women seeking abortions.

Iowa GOP Drops Stopgap Insurance Plan

In a press conference, Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen and Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that they were dropping a proposal with the federal Department of Health and Human Services to implement a “stopgap” insurance plan in Iowa intended to stabilize its failing Affordable Care Act marketplace. The proposal would have replaced subsidies with tax credits in an effort to make the marketplace more competitive. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that President Trump personally intervened to have the proposal rejected as part of his broader effort to undermine Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law after legislative efforts to repeal it repeatedly failed this year. The proposal’s rejection means that many Iowans will face higher individual health insurance premiums.

Iowa Union Members Vote to Recertify

In a high-stakes vote, thousands of Iowa union members chose to recertify their affiliations with their unions on Tuesday. According to the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board, 436 out of 468 of the state’s public union bargaining units were recertified. The vote was required because of a state law passed in February that weakened collective bargaining rights. Previously, bargaining units only had to hold recertifications votes if a member petitioned to have their union affiliation removed. Now, they must hold recertification votes whenever they have new contract negotiations, which typically happen once every two or three years. To remain certified, a majority of the employees covered under a collective bargaining contract must also now approve of it.

State Audit Criticizes Steven Leath Over Planegate

An audit recently released by the office of Republican State Auditor Mary Mosiman criticized Iowa State University and its former president, Steven Leath, for failing to obtain approval from the executive director of the Iowa Board of Regents in the purchase of a $498,000 Cirrus SR-22 airplane. The audit also found that 52 of the 76 trips taken in the plane after its purchase by the university in 2014 were for Leath’s pilot training and lacked a “clear business purpose” as required by state law. “Based on the limited use of the Cirrus SR-22 for flights with clear business purposes, we question whether the purchase served a university purpose,” the audit stated. University officials have countered that Leath acted appropriately and had fully reimbursed ISU for trips that mixed business and personal activities. The plane was sold in June 2016 for $450,000.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.