Volunteers mounting effort to fill Waterloo potholes

WATERLOO (AP) — A Waterloo businessman is mounting another volunteer effort to fill the city's unhappy bounty of potholes.

Scott Jordan is owner of Scott's Electric, and he told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that he's secured support from other businesses and the city for the drive beginning Saturday.

It's the sixth time Jordan has organized the effort, which started in 1993 and was last conducted in 2016.

He says Aspro Inc. is donating the cold patch material to fill the potholes, and Action Signs is helping with traffic control to keep the volunteers safe.

Marshalltown raising money to renovate community center

MARSHALLTOWN (AP) — Marshalltown has begun a fundraising campaign to help renovate a 90-year-old community center damaged by a tornado last summer.

City Administrator Jessica Kinser said Thursday that city leaders want to raise $1.35 million to supplement insurance money, grants and other funds being amassed for the $3.6 million project.

Renovations at Veterans Memorial Coliseum will include adding a second full-size gymnasium, adding rentable space for meetings and community events, and installing an elevator and restrooms.

Construction on the center started in 1928 with a $125,000 bond approved by Marshalltown voters. It was used as a gym for the high school until 1965 and as training quarters for the Iowa National Guard before World War II.

Class-action status granted lawsuit over kids' seclusion

DES MOINES (AP) — A lawsuit targeting Iowa's use of seclusion and restraints at a state home for male juvenile offenders has been granted class-action status.

The lawsuit filed in November 2017 by two advocacy groups says the school is failing to provide adequate mental health care to the boys and instead is administering powerful drugs without proper oversight or consent. The lawsuit alleges that the boys at Boys State Training School in Eldora are given medications "as a behavioral management tool" the groups likened to a chemical straitjacket.

The Des Moines Register reports that class-action certification means that, if the lawsuit is successful, required fixes would likely be more holistic in their approach.

State attorneys argued unsuccessfully that allowing the lawsuit to proceed as class-action litigation is overly broad and vague.

Governor signs law to prevent undercover reports on animals

DES MOINES (AP) — Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed into law a bill designed to prosecute people who get hired at a farm in order to work undercover to report on animal living conditions.

The bill was approved by the Senate and House on Tuesday and signed into law by Reynolds on Thursday. It creates a trespass charge for undercover investigators.

An animal welfare group that successfully sued the state for a previous ag-gag law says it will sue again to challenge the new law's constitutionality.

Matthew Liebman, director of litigation for The Animal Legal Defense Fund, says that like its predecessor the new law violates the free speech rights of investigative journalists and undercover investigators.

The measure comes just two months after a federal judge struck down an Iowa law passed in 2012 that the court concluded violated free-speech rights. That ruling is on appeal.

The 2012 law was approved following high-profile undercover investigations by animal welfare groups who videotaped practices they claimed were abusive toward animals and then publicized the images.

Iowa treasurers review vendor-funded scholarship program

IOWA CITY (AP) — County treasurers said Thursday that they are reviewing whether to continue a vendor-sponsored college scholarship program that benefits their children and grandchildren, amid criticism that it has long violated Iowa ethics law.

The review came one day after The Associated Press reported that two treasurers recently vacationed to Florida with the CEO of GovTech Services, which runs the tax collection website used by 88 counties.

GovTech and another vendor used by dozens of counties, SRI, Inc., for years have sponsored scholarships that are open only to the children and grandchildren of treasurers and their employees.

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board issued an advisory opinion in 2015 finding that the program violated an ethics law that bars public employees and their immediate family members from accepting gifts. The opinion warned that taking the scholarships would violate the gift law since they are funded by vendors and not open to the public.

After that finding, the executive board of the Iowa State County Treasurers Association decided to continue the program with minor changes that members thought would make it legal.

One key change called for the group to raise more private donations so that the scholarships would not be funded solely by two vendors. But the companies continue to provide the bulk of the funding.

Just last week, association board member Kelly Busch sent treasurers an announcement from SRI vice president Joe Edwards saying that applications are due April 26 and scholarships will be awarded at their May conference. The announcement, obtained by AP, noted that SRI and GovTech "are pleased to offer, again this year, four $500 scholarships to children or grandchildren of treasurers or your staff."

"SRI and GTS are happy to be able to sponsor this scholarship and other association activities," Edwards wrote. SRI operates tax auctions for about half of Iowa's 99 counties.

Busch, the Union County treasurer, said Thursday that the association hasn't determined whether scholarships will be granted this year amid questions about their legality. She said only that "we are following up on details prior to awarding further scholarships."

Union County Attorney Tim Kenyon told the AP he would make "some preliminary inquiries" into the program's legality, which has awarded 20 scholarships since 2015.

Floyd County Treasurer Frank Rottinghaus, whose inquiry prompted the 2015 advisory opinion, has complained to the ethics board and fellow treasurers on multiple occasions that the program continued even after it was deemed unlawful.

The Iowa State Association of Counties will discuss the program with the treasurers' association, one of its affiliates, said executive director Bill Peterson. He said his group, which administers the scholarships, wants to ensure that changes it recommended after the 2015 ethics board opinion were implemented by the treasurers.

"If we're unsatisfied, I would say that we would refuse to assist them further with the administrative details of how they handle their scholarship funds," he said.