Iowa News

Strong storms cross Plains; 1 tornado reported
Strong thunderstorms are bringing rain and hail from the southwestern U.S. and Plains states to the upper Midwest, and at least one tornado has been reported. The Johnson County Sheriff's Office in southeastern Iowa says that a tornado was spotted near the town of Lone Tree about 6 p.m. Sunday but that there are no injuries or damage. The National Weather Service issued tornado watches until midnight for a large portion of central and northeastern Texas and in areas in southeastern Oklahoma, southwestern Arkansas and northwestern Louisiana. Weather service meteorologist Julie Lesko in Little Rock, Arkansas says the atmosphere is more stable during the overnight hours but tornadic activity can't be ruled out.

Senate panel likely to continue, broaden inquiry
Senate Democratic leaders say their questions about government payments to former workers for secrecy and other issues will continue after the Legislature adjourns for the year. While lawmakers appear to be on track to end the session within a few weeks, the Senate Government Oversight Committee is likely to keep pursuing the matter. Democratic Senator Janet Petersen, who chairs the oversight committee, has set the next hearing for Monday afternoon, when two Department of Administrative Services officials who declined to testify last week say they will appear. They are Doug Woodley, the agency's general services enterprise chief operating officer, and Paul Carlson, the chief resource maximization officer. Peterson says she wants to know more about settlement agreements and how the state handled layoffs during 2011 restructuring.

Iowa hires nearly 400 without advertising the jobs
At least 386 state employees have been hired by Governor Terry Branstad's administration without advertising the positions, but this is not a new practice in Iowa. Critics said the practice makes it easier for friends and campaign donors to land the jobs. Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers says the unadvertised hires are allowed under state law for certain jobs. This practice is allowed for at-will jobs that come with fewer job protections that most government jobs. Centers says another 2,300 people were hired for jobs that were advertised since Branstad took office in 2011. Branstad's predecessor hired 604 employees into unadvertised jobs.

Several new hog feeding operations planned in Iowa
The number of hog feeding businesses in southeast Iowa could grow quickly if Des Moines County officials approve all the proposed projects. The Burlington Hawk Eye reports county officials are considering five different proposals to build animal feeding operations. The county is already home to 24 confined animal feeding operations. Jeff Prier with the state Department of Natural Resources says Des Moines County likely has room for more hog-feeding operations. An Iowa company called Agri-Way Partners is behind three of the five proposed hog feeding operations. Company spokesman Mark Wilkerson says the firm is owned by 22 poultry farms near Wayland.

Research looks at using crops to contain nitrogen
A research project in northwest Iowa is looking at ways to keep fertilizer out of drinking water by planting certain crops to help contain nitrogen. Reports say the project on Matt Schuiteman's land near Sioux Center yielded lessons that may be useful in other areas. The research got started because some of Schuiteman's land is close to wells Sioux Center relies on for drinking water, and nitrate levels were rising. The project looked at five different ways to use perennials and cover crops to limit the amount of nitrogen that washed away. Schuiteman says he plans to start growing alfalfa on his land in rotation with corn because that proved effective.

Des Moines botanical garden unveils new exhibit
The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden has unveiled a new exhibit featuring small hanging trees and flowers. The High Flight exhibit offers a presentation showcasing hanging arrangements inspired by Japanese string gardens. There are more than 250 pieces on display during the six-week exhibit, which opened Thursday. It's available through May 18th. Officials say a blue steel sculpture constructed by a volunteer artist will be the exhibit's centerpiece. There will also be sky cables over various pathways in the conservatory. Botanical officials will offer a workshop inspired by the exhibit on April 26th.

Iowa West Foundation delivers $4.2M in grants
Twenty-two nonprofit groups in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska are benefiting from $4.2 million in grants. The Iowa West Foundation says it made those grants in the first three months of 2014. The biggest grants included a $1.1 million award to support preschool programs at Pottawattamie County schools and a $1 million grant to support improvements at the Joslyn Arm Museum in Omaha, Neb. Foundation President Pete Tulipana says early childhood education plays an important role in children's success in school. One of the other major grants of $850,000 will help Council Bluffs improve the area near the eastern end of the Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge that connects with Omaha.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press