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Across the Region: March 24


Review of secret settlements ordered by governor

Gov. Terry Branstad is ordering a comprehensive review of his administration’s policies to pay settlements to former workers who agree to sign confidentiality agreements, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she and Branstad did not know about the agreements with six former employees, who were secretly paid a total of $282,314 if they agreed to keep quiet. The agreements were signed over the past three years.

Speaking at the administration’s weekly news conference, Reynolds said she and Branstad learned of the payments and confidentiality agreements in a story published recently in the Des Moines Register.

The settlements were negotiated with the workers at the state agency level, avoiding the normal process that would take them to the Iowa Appeal Board, which would make them public.

Five of the settlements were negotiated with construction or design engineers by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services and the other was with a leader in the Center for Acute Disease Epidemiology at the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Many of the workers challenged their layoffs by filing complaints with Iowa Public Employment Relations Board which oversees the rights of state and local government employees in Iowa covered by union contracts. Some asked for their jobs back and claimed their dismissals were politically motivated.

Senate approves anti-bullying bill

Lawmakers in the Iowa Senate have approved a measure aimed at establishing more anti-bullying efforts in schools across the state.

The Democratic-majority Senate narrowly cleared the bill last week in a straight party-line vote, 26-19. The legislation now goes to the Republican-controlled House, where lawmakers are wrangling with a similar measure.

The bill is meant to help schools better address bullying. But Sen. David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, says the proposal falls short in its effort to ensure student safety. Sen. Robert Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids who sponsored the bill, argues Republicans are neglecting to consider the well-being of children by refusing their support of the measure.

Cracking down on bullying has been a priority for Gov. Terry Branstad this session.


Nebraskan faces trial for crash that killed mother

A trial has been ordered for a 46-year-old Genoa man charged with manslaughter in the crash death of his mother.

Arraignment in Platte County District Court is scheduled March 28 for Michael Logan.

Logan is accused of driving drunk when he turned in front of oncoming traffic northwest of Columbus on Dec. 10. Authorities say Logan was driving south toward Columbus on U.S. Highway 81 when he tried to turn left. His vehicle was struck on the passenger side by a northbound car driven by 42-year-old Jeannine Velazquez, of Norfolk.

Logan’s mother, 63-year-old Lois Reynolds, of Genoa, was fatally injured. Logan and Velazquez were also injured.

Authorities cleared in death of Nebraska inmate

A grand jury has cleared authorities of any criminal wrongdoing in the February death of a 26-year-old Cedar County jail inmate.

Cedar County District Court Judge Paul Vaughan called a grand jury to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Omar Alvaro Cerrillo, of Los Angeles, Calif., who was found hanging in his cell the evening of Feb. 12.

Cerrillo was being held a charge of fleeing to avoid arrest and several weapons counts after leading a Nebraska state trooper on a high-speed chase in Cedar County on Feb. 10. He also was charged as a habitual offender.

The grand jury convened, completed deliberations and concluded that there had been no criminal conduct in the death.


Judge throws out lawsuit in Grand Forks arena fire

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit accusing a company of negligence in a 2012 fire at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

The complaint filed by Arena Holdings Charitable and RE Arena, Inc., seeks $5 million from Harman Professional Inc. and Harman International Industries.

Arena officials say the fire originated in a speaker as the result of a direct electrical current from the amplifier. The fire caused smoke damage and damage to electronics.

The defendants have argued that any damages were the result of the arena’s “own negligence, misuse of product and assumption of risk or other fault.”

Ex-attorney general Spaeth found dead

Police in eastern North Dakota say former Attorney General Nicholas John Spaeth was found dead. Authorities say officers found the body of the 64-year-old man on Sunday at a home in Fargo.

Investigators say the cause and manner of death have not been determined, but they do not suspect foul play.

Spaeth was a Democrat who served as attorney general from 1985 to 1992. He lost his bid for North Dakota governor in 1992.

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp says Spaeth modernized the operations of the attorney general’s office. Heitkamp is a Democrat from North Dakota who became attorney general after Spaeth left office.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple says Spaeth “faithfully” served North Dakotans. Dalrymple was a member of the state’s legislature during Spaeth’s tenure as attorney general.


AG warns business owners of credit card scam

Attorney General Marty Jackley is warning South Dakota business owners of a telemarking scam that begins with a potential customer seeking to purchase various retail items with a credit card

Jackley says several lumber suppliers have been subject to this scam.

It begins with a telephone call to the business for a direct retail purchase with a credit card, typically for a large quantity or number of items. Once the sale is completed, the scammer will call back to cancel the sale but request that the refund be placed on a different credit card than what was used at the time of the original sale.

Jackley says that businesses need to proceed with caution when answering unsolicited phone calls, emails or text messages, even from potential customers.

New law will hold all dog breeds equal

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has signed a bill banning dog-breed-specific policies in cities and counties.

These policies often target pit bulls.

Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare group, has applauded the final approval of the law. According to a statement from that group, South Dakota is the 18th state to pass a provision against breed discrimination.

Supporters say the choice of a dog’s breed is a personal property right and humans, not the breed, should be held responsible for their dogs’ behavior.

But opponents say local governments should maintain the authority to set their own policies on dogs and dog breeds.

Communities can continue to set polices that affect all breeds of dogs.

The law will take effect in July.


Happ picks up influential endorsement in AG race

Wisconsin attorney general hopeful Susan Happ has secured a key endorsement from an influential Democratic group.

Emily’s List, a Washington-based political group that helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, announced it has endorsed Happ. An Emily’s List endorsement often gives candidates a considerable boost in fundraising from the group’s network of donors.

Happ, the Jefferson County district attorney, is one of three Democrats vying for the attorney general post. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and state Rep. Jon Richards are in the mix as well. The three of them will square off in an August primary. The survivor will go on to face Waukesha County’s Republican district attorney, Brad Schimel, in the November general election.

Incumbent Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen isn’t seeking re-election.

Senate passes domestic abuse reporting bill

The Wisconsin state Senate has passed a scaled-back version of a bill that originally would have required police officers who respond to a domestic abuse call but don’t arrest anyone to explain why.

The version approved last week doesn’t require that reporting. Instead, it would make the state Department of Administration maintain and provide a system that allows district attorneys to manage and share case-related information.

It would also require the state Department of Justice to make a list of domestic abuse services organizations available to law enforcement agencies.

The original bill was introduced in response to a mass shooting at a Brookfield spa in 2012.

Wisconsin Senate to vote on drunken driving bill

Drunken drivers who injure someone would have to spend at least 30 days in jail under a bill headed to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk for signature.

Under current law, judges can sentence a drunken driver who injures someone from between 30 days and one year in jail. The bill passed the legislature last week and would require that the person be sentenced to at least 30 days behind bars.

The bill would also make clear that anyone convicted of drunken driving for a seventh, eighth or ninth time must spend at least three years in prison. That was the intention of a bill passed in 2009, but a court ruled last year that the law actually gives judges discretion on whether to impose any prison sentence. The bill would also make clear that anyone convicted of drunken driving for a seventh, eighth or ninth time must spend at least three years in prison.

Across the Region is compiled from Associated Press wire, staff reports and news releases.

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