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Federal judge temporarily orders Iowa to allow school mask mandates
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DES MOINES — A federal judge on Monday ordered the state of Iowa to immediately halt enforcement of a law passed in May that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Judge Robert Pratt said in an order signed Monday that the law substantially increases the risk of several children with health conditions of contracting COVID-19.

Several parents and The Arc of Iowa, a group that defends the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities sued the state.

Pratt said he has looked at data on the effectiveness of masks to reduce spread of the virus and agrees with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics on mask wearing in schools.

"Because Plaintiffs have shown that Iowa Code section 280.31’s ban on mask mandates in schools substantially increases their risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 and that due to their various medical conditions they are at an increased risk of severe illness or death, Plaintiffs have demonstrated that an irreparable harm exists," he wrote.

At their meeting Monday night, the Sioux City Community School Board announced it will discuss a mask mandate for the district at an emergency meeting Wednesday. 

“If we saw an obvious threat involving the safety of our students and staff, we would be remiss if we didn’t correct that threat,” said school board member Monique Scarlett, who requested the district implement a mandate. “The COVID-19 virus with all of its variants is a safety hazard the world hasn’t seen since 1918.”

Jesse Brothers, Sioux City Journal 

Reynolds

Pratt's order said Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo cannot enforce the new law banning local school districts from using their discretion to mandate masks for students, staff, teachers and visitors.

He issued a temporary restraining order to be in effect immediately. It remains in effect until the court issues an order for a preliminary injunction.

Reynolds released a statement Monday afternoon.

“Today, a federal judge unilaterally overturned a state law, ignored the decision by our elected legislature and took away parents’ ability to decide what’s best for their child," Reynolds said. "We will appeal and exercise every legal option we have to uphold state law and defend the rights and liberties afforded to any American citizen protected by our constitution."

Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, described the order as "welcome relief" in a statement issued Monday. 

"The ISEA maintains the people in the best position to decide what is right for a school district are the people in that school district. The order returns this decision making to the local level by temporarily lifting the mandate which prohibited action," the statement read. "We support local school districts’ ability to make decisions about the health and safety of their school community based on local metrics, needs, and requirements, especially when those decisions protect our most vulnerable students."

The Journal's Caitlin Yamada contributed reporting. 


Local
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Craft beer takes top prize
Lavender beer earns Marto Brewing gold

SIOUX CITY -- Marto Brewing Company's Lavender Fields Forever was named the nation's top fruited wood- or barrel-aged sour beer during the 2021 Great American Beer Festival awards ceremony Friday in Denver.

"Even before we opened, we were thinking 'Wouldn't the GABF be the ultimate award to get?'" Marto owner Erik Martin said. "As a brewer it's the ultimate thing. Rod (Wellman) and I were talking, 'It's not the bronze, it's not the silver, it's the gold. It's pretty crazy thinking that of 101 entries in that category we win the gold."

The Sioux City brewery, open for a little over two years, was one of 30 breweries to have won medals as first-time entrants in the annual competition, considered one of the top professional brewing contests in the county.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Owner Erik Martin holds a bottle of the brewery's Lavender Fields Forever beer Sept. 13 at Marto Brewing Company in Sioux City. The beer won a gold medal in the 2021 Great American Beer Festival's fruited wood- and barrel-aged sour beer competition.

The contest is sponsored by the Brewers Association, a non-profit trade association that represents small and independent craft breweries.

"Hopefully, as a brewery, it gives us exposure to new consumers. It shows we're legit," Martin said.

"It builds your reputation. If you become well known as a GABF award  winner in certain popular categories it can just mean a financial boon to the brewery," said Wellman, a brewer.

"A wild fermented sour beer maybe not so much," he added with a chuckle.

Lavender Fields Forever was brewed and then aged for a year in barrels on blackberries, black currants and lavender sachets from Loess Hills Lavender Farm in Missouri Valley. It was fermented with saison yeast and brettanomyces, a "wild" yeast that adds earthy flavors. Lactobacillus, a bacteria, was added to give Lavender Fields its tangy, sour qualities.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Brewer Rod Wellman monitors the canning line Sept. 13 at Marto Brewing Company in Sioux City. The brewery's Lavender Fields Forever won a gold medal in the 2021 Great American Beer Festival's fruited wood- and barrel-aged sour beer competition.

250 bottles of the beer were bottled in September 2020 and distributed to members of the brewery's Loess Hills Society club. It is 6.3% alcohol by volume.

Due to the unpredictable nature of brewing with the wild yeasts and the bacteria -- including possibility of contaminating non-sour beers -- combined with lack of brewhouse space and the low popularity of the beer style, the brewery has no immediate plans to produce another batch of the winning beer and has -- for time time being -- suspended its aged sour program.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Erik Martin, owner and brewer, loads lids into a canner Sept. 13 at Marto Brewing Company in Sioux City. The brewery's Lavender Fields Forever won a gold medal in the 2021 Great American Beer Festival's fruited wood- and barrel-aged sour beer competition.

"Technically, it's one of the harder (beer styles) to pull off properly, Wellman said. "Putting it into the right barrel, pulling it out at the right time, adding the right amount of fruit, all those different decisions along the way, adding the right bacteria... It's a difficult style to pull off."

"Someday we'll get to the point where we can experiment and do (those beers again)," Martin said.

He added that despite the hard work, Lavender Fields Forever was a "fun and sexy" beer to make.

Iowa breweries that won medals in the 2021 contest include: SingleSpeed Brewing Company of Waterloo and Cedar Falls, gold for Ring Around The Gose in the contemporary gose category and bronze for Tip The Calf in the session beer category; Pivo Brewery of Calmar, gold for Decorah Nordic Gruit in the historical beer category; Peace Tree Brewing of Knoxville, gold for Get a Little Hazy in the juicy or hazy strong pale ale category; Lion Bridge Brewing Company of Cedar Rapids, silver for The Disaster at Meux in the brown porter category; and Keg Creek Brewing Company of Glenwood, bronze for Old Marathon Barleywine in the wood- and barrel-aged strong beer category.

In Nebraska, Zipline Brewing Company of Lincoln won a bronze medal in the Dortmunder or German-style Oktoberfest category for its Festbier.

In South Dakota, Lost Cabin Beer Company of Rapid City won bronze for its Table Beer in the Belgian-style table beer or Belgian-style session ale category and Spearfish Brewing Company of Spearfish won a bronze medal in the imperial stout category for its beer, Bird Bones.

During the competition, 170 judges evaluated 9,680 entries from 2,192 breweries from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, according to a press release from the Brewers Association. The awards ceremony was held as part of the association's Craft Brewers Conference.

“Despite being forced to cancel the festival portion of GABF, our brewing community rallied together to make this year’s GABF competition one for the books—our largest competition judged to date,” said Chris Swersey, competition director at the Great American Beer Festival. “Judges continue to be impressed with the quality and innovation of all entries they evaluated. The Brewers Association is proud to honor this year’s deserving winners. We look forward to celebrating in person together next year.”


Briefs
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Sioux City Council defers vote on one-year agreement with Gill Hauling

SIOUX CITY --  The Sioux City Council will wait another week to vote on a one-year agreement extension that the city's solid waste collection has with Gill Hauling, Inc. of Jackson, Nebraska.

The deferment was to give city environmental services manager Roger Bentz more time to see if the agreement will allow small home improvement businesses or individuals to use the city's landfill by dropping off debris.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Scott

"A guy making home improvements on his property should be able to drop off debris at our landfill instead of making a special trip to Jackson," Mayor Bob Scott said during the Monday meeting. "I think we'll need to clarify that before continuing."

In a 5-0 vote, the City Council approved a resolution for Gill Hauling to eliminate the definitions of nonworking holidays and working holidays, while clarifying the definition of other holidays.

Also on a 5-0 vote, the City Council approved an ordinance to clarify language pertaining to holiday collection in addition to increase landfill fees, charges and net weight of loads to coincide with the current solid waste agreement.

On a 4-1 vote, the City Council approved a $3.84 million proposal from Kosovich & Murphy Developments to build a 24-unit apartment complex at 1720 Morningside Ave., a city-owned lot. 

It was chosen over a $3,224,500 proposal for a 24-unit apartment complex by Aftershock Ventures LLC at the same location.

City Council member Alex Watters, the lone dissenter, questioned if students at the nearby Morningside University could afford the rent of the apartments, while Julie Schoenherr said the slightly smaller units in Koskovich & Murphy's proposal will make the property more economical.  


National
Dems want to tax big firms, the rich

WASHINGTON — House Democrats unveiled a sweeping proposal Monday for tax hikes on big corporations and the wealthy to fund President Joe Biden's $3.5 trillion rebuilding plan, as Congress speeds ahead to shape the far-reaching package that touches almost all aspects of domestic life.

The proposed top tax rate would revert to 39.6% on individuals earning more than $400,000, or $450,000 for couples, and there would be a 3% tax on wealthier Americans with adjusted income beyond $5 million a year. For big businesses, the proposal would lift the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% on incomes beyond $5 million, slightly less than the 28% rate the president had sought.

In all, the tax hikes are in line with Biden's own proposals and would bring about the most substantive changes in the tax code since Republicans with then-President Donald Trump slashed taxes in 2017. Business and anti-tax groups are sure to object.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chairman of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee, said the proposals, taken together, would "expand opportunity for the American people and support our efforts to build a healthier, more prosperous future."

It's an opening bid at a daunting moment for Biden and his allies in Congress as they assemble the massive package that is expected to become one of the largest single domestic policy measures considered in decades. The president's "Build Back Better" agenda includes spending on child care, health care, education and strategies to confront climate change. It is an ambitious undertaking on par with the Great Society or New Deal.

Republican critics decry the sweep of Biden's plan, suggesting it slopes toward a Western European-style socialism, and they particularly reject the taxes required to pay for it, bristling because it would reverse the GOP tax cuts that were approved just a few years ago.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the proposal is "the last thing American families need." All GOP lawmakers are expected to vote against it.

Democrats have no votes to spare to enact Biden's agenda, with their slim hold on the House and the Senate split 50-50 and Vice President Kamala Harris the tiebreaker if there is no Republican support. Democratic congressional leaders have set a target of Wednesday for committees to have the bill drafted.

One Democratic senator vital to the bill's fate says the cost will need to be slashed to $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion to win his support.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has suggested it's time for a "strategic pause," and cautioned there was "no way" Congress will meet the late September goal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for passage, given his wide differences with liberal Democrats on how much to spend and how to pay for it.

Manchin is not alone, as other centrist lawmakers have raised concerns. Restive Democrats from high-tax, heavily Democratic states like New York, New Jersey and California are pushing for a repeal of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions that was imposed by the 2017 Trump law. Neal indicated Monday that the issue is under serious consideration.

Finding compromise will be a daunting project as progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are angling for the most robust package possible. As chairman of the Budget Committee helping to write the bill, Sanders noted that he and other members of the liberal flank initially urged an even more robust package of $6 trillion.

"For me, this is not a particular number, but it is making sure that we meet this moment," said Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., a member of House leadership. "The pandemic has shown us that we cannot continue to have an economy of haves and have nots."

The White House welcomed the preliminary tax plan, which keeps to Biden's promise not to tax anyone making less than $400,000. The proposal "makes significant progress towards ensuring our economy rewards work and not just wealth," said deputy press secretary Andrew Bates.

The House, Senate and White House are working together to align their plans ahead of this month's deadlines, though some differences are emerging that will need to be resolved.

The House tax proposal was pitched as potentially raising some $2.9 trillion, a preliminary estimate — but it would go a long way toward paying for the $3.5 trillion legislation. The White House is counting on long-term economic growth from the plan to generate an additional $600 billion to make up the difference.

Much of the revenue raised would come from the higher taxes on corporations and the highest earners, increasing the individual tax rate to 39.6% from the current 37%.

Looking at wealthy individuals, Neal proposed an increase in the top tax rate on capital gains for those earning $400,000 a year or more, to 25% from the current 20%. Exemptions for estate taxes, which were doubled under the 2017 Trump tax law to now $11.7 million for individuals, would revert to $5 million.


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