AP top news in Iowa at 3:58 p.m. CST

In Iowa, divided government means compromiseDES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — While the recent federal government shutdown was the perfect example of split-party gridlock in Washington, in other parts of the country opposing parties are actually working together.

Welcome to Iowa: a state with a Republican-controlled state House, a Democratic-majority state Senate and a Republican governor. The leaders in this triangle disagree on issues ranging from abortion to taxation, but this year came to bipartisan agreements on a massive property tax cut, increased education spending and an expansion of Medicaid under the newly enacted federal health care overhaul.

“We have a divided government and despite that we are expected to work together and accomplish things,” said Gov. Terry Branstad, who is serving his fifth non-consecutive term in office.

With about 3 million people, Iowa is an agricultural state that’s also balanced on manufacturing, financial services and renewable energy. The state’s governance is an outlier in today’s political landscape.

At a time when a single party controls all branches of government in 37 states and half of all legislatures have veto-proof majorities, Iowa is one of just three states with a divided legislature. Lawmakers here are eager to point out that they have made a conscious effort to avoid Washington-style turmoil.

“We chose to govern here in Iowa and compromise,” said former Democratic House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, from Des Moines.

It appears to be a popular choice. A recent poll conducted for the Des Moines Register showed that 22 percent of Iowa residents thought the nation was headed in the right direction, compared with 52 percent who thought the state was moving in the right direction.


Iowa schools work to make sure students attendDES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa schools work to limit truancy because it helps improve results, but some question whether more could be done to reduce chronic absences.

The Des Moines Register reports (http://dmreg.co/1hxmmUHhttp://dmreg.co/1hxmmUH ) a group of Iowa United Way chapters plans to ask state lawmakers to require school districts to track chronic absences by school.

Supporters say having that information would help communities develop solutions. Currently, the state relies on average daily attendance figures, which can mask chronic absences.

Frequent absenteeism isn’t unusual in Iowa. Nearly one in five high school students in Des Moines missed at least 18 days last year. That’s equal to 10 percent of the school year.

The problem is most prevalent at high-poverty schools. Besides Des Moines, high rates of absenteeism were also recorded in Waterloo and Council Bluffs.


State senator educates woman about fetal healthDES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — In the 10 years since she delivered a stillborn baby girl, state Sen. Janet Petersen has been on a mission to help other mothers try to avoid the same tragedy.

A public health campaign that she started with four other moms who suffered similar losses is now reaching women in Iowa and branching out around the country. Called Count the Kicks, the campaign educates women about how to monitor their babies’ activity during the final stages of pregnancy in the hope that they may notice any potentially problematic changes. Since the 2009 launch, the campaign has been adopted by more than 75 percent of Iowa OB/GYN clinic and birthing hospitals.

A new Count the Kicks web application was launched last month and efforts to create similar programs are underway in seven more states. Peterson said she is thrilled to see the grassroots project grow into a larger movement.

“I really can’t think of anything worse than losing a child,” said Petersen, a mother of three who represents part of northwest Des Moines. Petersen said her daughter Grace died after a knot developed in her umbilical cord, depriving the baby of oxygen. She thinks if she had known more about monitoring her movements, they might have been able to intervene.

“Our end goal is for every expectant mom to know about the importance of counting the kicks,” Petersen said. “Basically we’d like it to become as easy for people to remember as taking a prenatal vitamin.”

Based on a similar effort in Norway, the Count the Kicks campaign — which has attracted more than $200,000 in donations and grant funding — advises women in the late stages of pregnancy to keep track of their baby’s movements each day. Using colorful posters and pamphlets, they suggest picking a similar time each day and counting 10 movements within a two-hour period. According to the campaign, if women consistently do that, they should get a sense of the baby’s patterns and will notice a decline in movement, which should prompt a call to a health care provider.

Just how effective kick counting is as a way to prevent stillbirth is hard to say. In their official guideline on fetal surveillance, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that it is not clear if fetal movement assessment can actually reduce stillbirth, noting a limited amount of research on the topic. But Dr. Stephen Hunter, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Iowa, said kick counting is helpful, because a decrease in movement often precedes a stillbirth.


Memorial to fallen Iowa veteran dedicatedWATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — A new memorial stone outside a Waterloo high school football stadium honors the life and service of an Army veteran who died in 2005.

Family and friends of Staff Sgt. Eric Steffeney gathered Saturday to dedicate the stone outside West High’s Memorial Stadium. Steffeney graduated from West in 1994 and joined the Army.

Steffeney became a bomb disposal technician and was killed near the end of his second tour in Iraq. He was 28 and left behind a wife and three children.

Iowa Army National Guard Maj. Garrett Gingrich says he hopes the young people coming out of the stadium notice the memorial to Steffeney, who is a true hero.


Sioux City man admits carrying gun before trialSIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa man is maintaining his innocence in a fatal shooting, but he has pleaded guilty to a gun charge.

Authorities say 35-year-old Fernando Jaimes-Martinez pleaded guilty Friday to being a felon in possession of a firearm because he has two Nebraska felony convictions on his record. Jaimes-Martinez faces three to 15 years in prison and deportation for that.

Jaimes-Martinez is scheduled to go to trial this week on a first-degree murder charge. He is accused of firing a gun into a crowd on Sept. 22, 2012, and killing 27-year-old Karla Gonzalez.

Earlier, Jaimes-Martinez refused to plead guilty to the killing as part of a plea agreement.

The murder trial is scheduled to begin on Tuesday. If convicted, Jaimes-Martinez would face a sentence of life in prison.

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