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Iowa, Nebraska, S.D. lawmakers upbeat after ag trade summit with Trump

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump has asked trade officials to explore the possibility of the United States rejoining negotiations on the Pacific Rim agreement after he pulled out last year as part of his "America first" agenda.

Farm-state lawmakers said Thursday after a White House meeting with Trump that he had given that assignment to his trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, and his new chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would open more overseas markets for American farmers.

"I'm sure there are lots of particulars that they'd want to negotiate, but the president multiple times reaffirmed in general to all of us and looked right at Larry Kudlow and said, 'Larry, go get it done,'" said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.

Eleven countries signed the agreement last month. Trump's rejection of the deal has rattled allies and raised questions at home about whether protectionism will impede U.S. economic growth.

The discussions came during a meeting in which Trump told farm-state governors and lawmakers that he was pressing China to treat the American agriculture industry fairly. Midwest farmers fear becoming caught up in a trade war as Beijing threatens to impose tariffs on soybeans and other U.S. crops, a big blow to Midwestern farmers, many of whom are strong Trump supporters.

The White House meeting was aimed at appealing to the Midwest lawmakers at a time of high anxiety because of the China trade dispute.

During the exchange, Trump suggested the possibility of directing the Environmental Protection Agency to allow year-round sales of renewable fuel with blends of 15 percent ethanol.

The EPA currently bans the 15-percent blend, called E15, during the summer because of concerns that it contributes to smog on hot days. Gasoline typically contains 10 percent ethanol. Farm state lawmakers have pushed for greater sales of the higher ethanol blend to boost demand for the corn-based fuel.

In a Tweet, Thune said he was encouraged by Trump's "openness to the U.S. rejoining #TPP negotiations & appreciate his support for year-round sale of E15, which will be a win for consumer choice & regulatory reform. EPA must end its secret waiver attack on the #RFS."

In addition to Sasse and Thune, tri-state lawmakers reportedly attending Thursday's White House summit included Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer.

Fischer, a first-term Republican senator, emerged from the White House gathering, which lasted more than an hour, optimistic the president had heard them.

"I think it was a very good meeting, very productive," she said during an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star.

Following the conversation around a table in the cabinet room, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts reacted with an optimistic tweet.

"Great meeting with @realDonaldTrump this morning on agriculture, ethanol and trade issues. He listened and expressed a commitment to growing international markets to grow opportunity for our farmers and ranchers," tweeted Ricketts, who is also a businessman.

Ernst, a first-term Republican senator, termed the meeting with Trump and Ag Secretary Sunny Perdue as "productive" as they discussed "ways to support our agriculture industry and help secure greater certainty for our farmers.''

Iowa farmers aren’t looking for another subsidy program, rather they want new and improved market access, which is critical to rural economies," Ernst said.

Reynolds said Trump, "listened to our concerns, said that he is determined to resolve the dispute with China, said that he intends to expand E15 and ordered his top advisors to study the possibility of reentering the TPP."

Trump has mused about re-joining TPP negotiations in the past but his request to his top aides show a greater level of interest in rejoining the pact he railed against during his 2016 campaign.

During a February news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump raised the possibility of rejoining TPP if the negotiators offered more favorable terms. In a CNBC interview in January, Trump said, "I would do TPP if we were able to make a substantially better deal. The deal was terrible."

The U.S. and China are in the early stages of what could be the biggest trade battle in more than a half century. Trump campaigned on promises to bring down America's massive trade deficit - $566 billion last year - by rewriting trade agreements and cracking down on what he called abusive practices by U.S. trading partners.

The Journal's Dave Dreeszen, the Lincoln Journal Star's Don Walton and Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Jill Colvin and Matthew Daly in Washington and James MacPherson in Bismarck, North Dakota, contributed to this story.

GALLAGHER: Sky isn't falling (yet) for corn growers

MARCUS, Iowa -- Jerry Moser, one of the most ardent Chicago Bears and Iowa State fans around, couldn't get into his fields in 1985, due to the cold, wet weather, a winter that wouldn't let go.

"There were some guys from Marcus who, like me, couldn't get into the fields, so we went to the Sertoma Club banquet that spring," Moser said. "Mike Ditka, coach of the Chicago Bears, was the speaker."

Moser watched the speech. He then went home and, eventually, planted and harvested his corn. With the crop in the bin, he sat back as the Bears destroyed the New England Patriots, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX that January.

Across Northwest Iowa, farmers like Moser are looking up and down wondering how to bide their time until Old Man Winter relents, allowing planters to begin their roll over hill and dale.

"The joke is that some will start putting snow plows on the front of their planters, so at least they'd get something done," said Ryan Freese, an agronomist serving First Cooperative Association in Paullina, Iowa. "This is becoming a long spring."

It won't soon end, according to forecasters who predict portions of Siouxland may receive up to 12 inches of snow this weekend, four days after the April 11 planting date established by the Federal Crop Insurance program.

"April 11 is the typical start date," Freese said of corn planting plans. "We're two weeks behind."

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Nathan Zubrod works on an hydraulics system on Thursday at Titan Machinery in Kingsley, Iowa. Across the tri-state region this spring, cool temperatures have idled farmers anxious to start planting corn.

Soil temperatures around Paullina on Monday came to 34 degrees. Typically, those readings should approach 50 degrees by this time of year.

"If you get corn in early and you get cold or wet weather, you're taking a chance the seed will rot," said Moser, who noted that he waited until May 6-8 one year ago to plant the vast majority of his corn. Even without ample rain, he harvested a wonderful crop at 200 bushels per acre, mostly in the 16-17 percent range for moisture content.

So, even though snow and temperatures seem to be falling, the sky isn't, Henny Penny.

"For most producers, we're still in fine shape as it's really early," said Joel DeJong, field agronomist serving Iowa State University Extension. "But everyone wants spring, people are kind of jumpy."

With reason, of course. DeJong noted that soil temperatures across the North Central region in Iowa are the coldest they've been in 30 years. Soil temperatures in Northwest Iowa from four to 24 inches are in the low- to mid-30s. "We've had years where, on April 12, the soil temperature would be above 50," he said.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Nathan Zubrod works on repairing a planter on Thursday at Titan machinery in Kingsley, Iowa.

It might not improve next week as DeJong said forecast models predict highs in the mid-40s with lows at or below freezing. There's a chance of snow one week from today. DeJong sighed at the prospect, admitting, "I don't remember a spring like this."

That said, he retains his optimism. If the weather breaks and spring actually...well...springs then farmers will have until May 9 to plant corn and have enough of a season to get the crop to its full potential. Yield losses start to be seen for corn, historically, that's planted after that date, although losses aren't dramatic until one reaches beyond May 18.

"We still have a month to be timely yet for corn planting," DeJong said. "We could get a great window of opportunity and, if you give me five to seven days in a row, many producers can get it done in that time frame.

"It would be a very unique window if we didn't get that window," he said. "The weather will turn around and we'll probably go straight into summer."

Moser can't quite recall how it worked in 1985. He remembers the Bears, not his corn yields. This much he knows: He's not sitting around waiting for the sky to fall. On Wednesday, he worked to ready his corn planter. And, by gosh, on Tuesday he's driving to Sioux City to attend the Sertoma Club banquet, his first in 33 years. The Iowa State fan is anxious to hear the good word from ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard. And, after Pollard closes his remarks, the Marcus farmer will turn his attention to spring.

If history is a guide, maybe by the time Moser hauls his corn to the bin this fall, the keynote speaker's team will be tearing up the gridiron, a collection of Cyclones marching toward an NCAA football title.

New policy: Gyms, auditoriums other areas of Sioux City schools can be named for individuals

SIOUX CITY -- The Kirk Hinrich Gymnasium at West High School? It could happen.

Many Siouxlanders know the success story of Hinrich, a Sioux City West High basketball player who went onto a stellar career in the sport with the Kansas Jayhawks and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA. Some might think a part of the West High building should be named for Hinrich, Sioux City School Board member Jackie Warnstadt said, and, as a result of a new school district policy, it would permissible.

The school board unanimously voted Monday to add new language to a longstanding Naming School Facilities Policy. Under the measure, the school board could allow major donors to attach their names or the names of others to gymnasiums, auditoriums or other areas of a school, though not the school itself.

The Sioux City Public Schools Foundation asked the board to lift the prohibition on naming rights for donors, saying it would be another tool for the non-profit foundation to raise funds to support the district. With that option approved, the school board on Monday also debated whether a school portion could be named for someone who is still alive. The currently policy says "no part of a District facility should be named for a deceased person until at least five years following a person's death."

That prompted Warnstadt's comment about Hinrich, who is 37.

But school officials say there are ways to make exceptions to the policy, under the attached administrative regulation. The school board would make the determination after vetting proposals to name a building piece for a living person, as a way to recognize distinguished efforts or substantial financial support.

"The board can override that rule by approving a naming rights agreement under the policy and the AR (Administrative Regulation)," board member Jeremy Saint told the Journal.

While discussing the policy at two different meetings, school officials said since school finances have been tight in recent years, the change could be a benefit to create a new revenue stream.

The policy now says, "The Board may enter into an agreement with any person or entity regarding the naming rights to a District facility in exchange for a substantial donation or other contribution to the District or the Sioux City Public Schools Foundation."

Saint said it wasn’t completely clear previously if there had been an abolition in the policy on naming a school after someone who gives money to the district. Saint said given that uncertainty, it was time to flesh it out distinctly in the reworked policy.

Saint, who is an attorney, led the policy rewording. He said it is important to set a revised policy that lets people know that school naming can only be done with strict limits by board members, to give sufficient oversight.

While it was not immediately clear when the prior policy was adopted, there are no known previous instances of buildings or school facilities being named for donors.

The last time a new school was named for an individual was Nodland Elementary, which opened in 1969, and honors Marvin Nodland, a former Sioux City school administrator.

More recently, new elementary schools that have replaced older versions named for presidents or other individuals have been renamed after neighborhoods and features, like Loess Hills, Morningside and Perry Creek. Two new elementary schools under development, Bryant and Hunt, will keep the names of the older versions.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Northwestern's Sarah Lunn runs in the women's 5000-meter run during Sioux City Relays in Sioux City, Iowa on Thursday, April 12, 2018. Sioux City Journal Photo by Justin Wan

Former Sioux City casino owner glad to reach $1.5M settlement of lawsuit

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- Adding a note of finality to litigation, the owners of the former Argosy Sioux City riverboat casino stood before Iowa gaming regulators Thursday and expressed their pleasure at reaching a $1.5 million settlement of a lawsuit with a Sioux City nonprofit agency.

"We're very, very pleased that was able to get resolved and get settled and put that matter behind us," Doug Gross, a Des Moines attorney representing Penn National Gaming, told the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission at its meeting at the Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs.


On March 29, the Community Action Agency of Siouxland and the Belle of Sioux City, which operated the Argosy until its closure in 2014, and Penn, the Belle's parent company, settled the lawsuit in which the nonprofit had sought unpaid revenue-sharing funds.

No IRGC action on the settlement was needed, and commissioners asked Gross no questions about it. Commissioner Kris Kramer read a short statement: "The commission is aware of the proposed settlement in a lawsuit brought by Community Action Agency of Siouxland against Penn National Gaming Inc. and its subsidiaries regarding the charitable distribution of certain proceeds of the Argosy casino. The commission acknowledges the settlement of this matter and appreciates the parties' efforts to bring this to resolution."

Community Action Agency had sued in U.S. District Court in Sioux City in November 2016 for $1.93 million in monthly revenue-sharing payments that Belle and Penn withheld from Missouri River Historical Development Inc. The nonprofit agency sought the money on behalf of itself and the other nonprofit groups that in the past received grants from MRHD, the state-licensed nonprofit gaming group that collected and distributed a portion of Argosy gambling profits to charitable and civic organizations.

The amount being sought was later reduced to $1.79 million before the final settlement amount was agreed upon.

The settlement will be divided between up to 55 nonprofit agencies.

Community Action Agency executive director Jean Logan said Thursday that 31 agencies have already returned release agreement to claim their $10,000 shares of the settlement. Logan said she was in the process of sending the agreements to attorneys who will process them and issue checks to the agencies.


"From what I see, this money is going to be able to meet some immediate needs, and that's a great thing to have happen," Logan said.

Counting Community Action Agency, which will receive a somewhat larger share as the lead plaintiff, the total returned to local charities will be at least $550,000. Other settlement money will be held back to pay attorney fees and expenses and in case there are any other legal claims that arise, Logan said last month.

Belle stopped making the revenue-sharing payments -- 3 percent of the boat's adjusted gross revenues -- to MRHD in May 2013, seven months after it had sued MRHD for breach of contract.

The monthly payments ceased two months after the IRGC awarded Woodbury County's first land-based gaming license to MRHD and developers of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which opened in downtown Sioux City on Aug. 1, 2014, two days after state regulators ordered the Argosy to close because its state gaming license had expired.

The breach of contract lawsuit involving MRHD is pending in Polk County District Court. MRHD has countersued in the case, which is scheduled to go to trial in September in Des Moines.

Pennsylvania-based Penn Gaming hopes to soon re-enter the Iowa casino scene by purchasing Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., which owns the Ameristar in Council Bluffs. Gross told the IRGC that shareholders of both companies have approved the transaction and the $2.8 billion sale is on schedule to close in September.