News

Iowa received more than $1 billion from tobacco settlement

Tobacco companies involved in the 1998 landmark settlement have transferred about $49.5 million to the state treasury for this year’s payment, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s office announced Monday.

That means that in the last 21 years, Iowa has received more than $1.25 billion in payments under the settlement.

The state will continue to receive annual Master Settlement Agreement payments in perpetuity, based on the number of cigarettes sold in the United States.

The MSA is the largest settlement in U.S. history. About $10.9 million of this year’s payment — or 22 percent — will go to the state, according to Miller’s office. The remaining 78 percent will be used principally to pay bondholders who bought bonds issued by the Tobacco Settlement Authority.

In 1998, Miller and attorneys general of 45 states signed the MSA with the nation’s four largest tobacco companies to settle lawsuits to recover billions of dollars in state health care costs associated with treating smoking-related illnesses.

Since then, other tobacco companies have signed onto the agreement.

The 2019 payment came from 29 companies, including Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco, Vector and Commonwealth Brands.

Budget bills

The Iowa Senate voted 36-13 Monday to approve nearly $200 million in fiscal 2020 to finance myriad infrastructure and technology projects from gaming receipts and the state’s technology fund.

The amended version of House File 765 included $42 million in the environment first fund and $22 million for major maintenance of state buildings and status quo spending in areas such as water quality, lake restoration, county fairs and renewable fuels infrastructure.

A separate $12 million for items for the REAP program was contained in a $42 million agriculture/natural resources budget bill that won Senate approval by a 33-16 margin Monday. The Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund budget was up by about $5 million over current funding.

“It comes down to a finite amount of resources available for an infinite amount of projects,” said Sen. Craig Johnson, R-Independence. “We used the funds as best we could.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, challenged a provision that put a new match requirement of up to 40 percent for regent university construction projects, expressing concern the change could put future projects at risk.

Changes to stun gun bill

The Iowa Senate made a change Monday to legislation that would allow people to carry stun guns on community college and regent university campuses.

Senate File 188 would prohibit community colleges and regents universities from enforcing any rule to prevent people from carrying a weapon “producing a non-projectile high-voltage pulse designed to immobilize a person” — a stun gun.

A 2017 law allows Iowans older than 18 to carry stun guns, but backers of the bill say colleges and universities have written rules against their possession on campus.

The Iowa House last week approved an amendment to bar people convicted of a felony from carrying a stun gun on campus. On Monday, senators accepted that change but added a provision that would allow the state Board of Regents to adopt rules barring the carrying of stun guns inside of a stadium or hospital under the regents’ oversight.

The Senate approved the changes on a 38-11 vote and sent S.F. 188 back to the House for consideration of that change.

Unlicensed massage therapists

Individuals operating an unlicensed massage therapy practice in Iowa could be charged with a serious misdemeanor under legislation on its way to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk.

The Iowa Senate voted 49-0 to approve Senate File 267, a bill that would make unlicensed massage a serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and up to a $1,875 fine.

Senators approved a House change that would provide an affirmative defense that would prevent victims of human trafficking from being prosecuted before giving final approval to the measure sought by law enforcement representatives to step up their efforts to combat illegal activities.

“It’s becoming an epidemic in our state,” Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said of the unlicensed massage industry. “This will be a real asset and tool to fight this disgusting behavior that’s going on in the state of Iowa.”

Flood advisory board members

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday announced the members for the Flood Recovery Advisory Board she created by executive order recently to help coordinate a comprehensive flood recovery and rebuilding effort.

“Many brave and resilient Iowans and communities are just beginning the recovery process as a result of the historic flooding. They are trusting us to deliver efficient and effective partnerships across federal, state and local governments,” Reynolds said in naming the board members.

Joining the governor on the board are Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, three state agency directors, a state representative, a farmer, a bank president, several economic development officials, Lt. Col. Chuck Connors of the Iowa National Guard, John Lawrence of the ISU Extension and Outreach and Larry Weber, co-founder of the University of Iowa Flood Center.

“The seasoned individuals appointed to the Advisory Board understand the crucial nature of their responsibilities and my expectations for success. I’m confident Iowa will rebound even stronger as a result of our combined efforts,” Reynolds said.

The board’s first meeting will be Wednesday in Des Moines.

Explore Iowa Outdoors

State officials launched a new effort Monday encouraging Iowans and visitors to the state to explore Iowa’s outdoors.

The “99 Counties, 99 Parks” initiative highlights the wide array of recreational activities the state has to offer within its county parks.

“Iowa’s county parks are great places to feed your sense of adventure,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said. “We have an abundance of natural beauty in this state, and we’re thrilled to issue an invitation for people to experience it firsthand.”

The “99 Counties, 99 Parks” initiative features one county conservation-managed park in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. In addition to traditional activities such as fishing, boating and hiking, the list includes parks with golf courses, archery ranges, disc golf courses, observation towers, eco-cruises, Olympic-sized swimming pools and luxury cabins.

Individuals are encouraged to visit traveliowa.com/99parks to browse parks by interest (or view all 99) and find the parks that best fit their needs.

Spilled diesel fuel

State Department of Natural Resources officials say about 50 gallons of diesel fuel spilled early Monday afternoon, reaching the South Fork of the Iowa River in Iowa Falls.

Fuel spilled while a truck operator was filling a farm diesel tank about 5 miles south of Iowa Falls. Diesel fuel flowed about 50 feet into the river after an automatic shut-off valve failed, according to DNR officials.

The fuel had traveled about three miles downstream by 5 p.m. Monday. An environmental cleanup contractor was en route to contain the spill before it reached Highway 65.

DNR officials said they would continue to monitor cleanup and consider appropriate enforcement action.