Latest News from Gazette Online

Breaking: Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen sentenced to three years prison

NEW YORK, Dec 12 — Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, was sentenced to a total of three years in prison on Wednesday for his role in making illegal hush-money payments to women to help Trump’s 2016 election campaign and lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.

U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan sentenced Cohen to three years for the payments, which violated campaign finance law, and to two months for the false statements to Congress. The two terms will run concurrently.

Cohen pleaded guilty to the campaign finance charge in August and to making false statements in November.

Google’s 2018 top-trending searches includes Mollie Tibbets

LOS ANGELES ( - Google released its 2018 “year in search” lists of what internet users sought out this year, with “Black Panther” scoring as the top-trending entertainment search.

Disney-Marvel Studios’ superhero blockbuster “Black Panther” was the only movie or TV show in the top 10 trending overall searches on Google this year (both in the U.S. and worldwide). High-profile deaths -- Marvel’s Stan Lee, Mac Miller, Avicii, Anthony Bourdain and Iowa’s Mollie Tibbets -- also ranked in the top 10 Google trending searches of 2018 globally.

Top movies that trended on Google this year in the U.S. were “Black Panther,” followed by Disney-Pixar’s “Incredibles 2,” 20th Century Fox’s “Deadpool 2” and Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” The top-trending TV show searches were for ABC’s now-canceled “Roseanne,” Fox’s “American Idol,” and three Netflix series: “Altered Carbon,” “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Lost in Space.”

The top-trending 10 actors searched for on Google this year in the U.S. were: Logan Paul, controversial YouTube creator; Bill Cosby, sentenced to three to 10 years in prison after being convicted of sexual assault; Sylvester Stallone (“Creed II”); “SNL”’s Pete Davidson, who had a short-lived engagement with Ariana Grande; Michael B. Jordan (“Black Panther”); Allison Mack, former “Smallville” actress who was charged with sex trafficking; Noah Centineo (“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”); Bradley Cooper (“A Star Is Born”); Roseanne Barr, who lost her namesake show revival over an offensive tweet; and Chadwick Boseman (“Black Panther”).

To compile the annual rankings, Google analyzes trillions of searches using algorithms to filter out repeat queries and to compare percentage increase in searches for specific terms over the course of the year. Note that Google is reporting trending searches -- they’re not ranked by search volume, but by a measure of how much they spiked in 2018 compared to 2017. (For example, top searches often include terms like “weather” that don’t change drastically year to year, according to Google.)

Google has more info on the year in search trends at The lists below are based on data for U.S. users.


1. World Cup

2. Hurricane Florence

3. Mac Miller

4. Kate Spade

5. Anthony Bourdain

6. Black Panther

7. Mega Millions Results

8. Stan Lee

9. Demi Lovato

10. Election Results


1. Black Panther

2. Incredibles 2

3. Deadpool 2

4. Avengers: Infinity War

5. A Quiet Place

6. A Star Is Born

7. Bohemian Rhapsody

8. Venom

9. Hereditary

10. The Nun


1. Roseanne

2. Altered Carbon

3. The Haunting of Hill House

4. American Idol

5. Lost in Space

6. Cobra Kai

7. Castle Rock

8. Westworld

9. Insatiable

10. On My Block


1. Logan Paul

2. Bill Cosby

3. Sylvester Stallone

4. Pete Davidson

5. Michael B. Jordan

6. Allison Mack

7. Noah Centineo

8. Bradley Cooper

9. Roseanne Barr

10. Chadwick Boseman


1. Demi Lovato

2. Meghan Markle

3. Brett Kavanaugh

4. Logan Paul

5. Khloe Kardashian

6. Eminem

7. Urban Meyer

8. Ariana Grande

9. Rick Ross

10. Cardi B


1. Mac Miller

2. Kate Spade

3. Anthony Bourdain

4. Stan Lee

5. Aretha Franklin

6. XXXTentacion

7. Mollie Tibbetts

8. Avicii

9. Burt Reynolds

10. John McCain


1. World Cup

2. Hurricane Florence

3. Mega Millions

4. Election Results

5. Hurricane Michael

6. Kavanaugh Confirmation

7. Florida Shooting

8. Royal Wedding

9. Olympic Medal Count

10. Government Shutdown


1. Demi Lovato

2. Eminem

3. Ariana Grande

4. Rick Ross

5. Cardi B

6. Travis Scott

7. Childish Gambino

8. Machine Gun Kelly

9. Meek Mill

10. Queen


1. Bohemian Rhapsody

2. This Is America

3. Baby Shark

4. God’s Plan

5. Killshot

6. In My Feelings

7. Electric Slide

8. thank u, next

9. Mo Bamba

10. Lucid Dreams


1. Fortnite

2. Red Dead Redemption

3. Fallout 76

4. Far Cry 5

5. God of War

6. Monster Hunter: World

7. Sea of Thieves

8. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

9. Kingdom Come: Deliverance

10. Zombs Royale


1. Tristan Thompson

2. Shaun White

3. Lindsey Vonn

4. Le’Veon Bell

5. Kawhi Leonard

6. Dez Bryant

7. Nick Foles

8. Chloe Kim

9. Naomi Osaka

10. Johnny Weir


1. Stacey Abrams

2. Beto O’Rourke

3. Ted Cruz

4. Andrew Gillum

5. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

6. Nikki Haley

7. Lindsey Graham

8. Kyrsten Sinema

9. Nancy Pelosi

10. Susan Collins


1. Royal Wedding [Prince Harry and Meghan Markle]

2. Priyanka Chopra Wedding

3. Princess Eugenie Wedding

4. Kat Von D Wedding

5. Deepika Padukone Wedding

6. Joe Scarborough and Mika Wedding

7. Kit Harrington Wedding

8. Jordan Spieth Wedding

9. Emily Ratajkowski Wedding

10. Kane Brown Wedding


1. Fortnite GIF

2. Default Dance GIF

3. Dilly Dilly GIF

4. Orange Justice GIF

5. Black Panther GIF

6. Cat Curling GIF

7. Ugandan Knuckles GIF

8. Draymond Green GIF

9. Cardi B GIF

10. Floss Dance GIF

Bicycles top of mind in Cedar Rapids plans

CEDAR RAPIDS — Several safety improvements have been identified to improve the biking and pedestrian experience in downtown Cedar Rapids — changes that align with efforts for a railroad “quiet zone,” conversion of one-way streets to two-ways, a landmark recreational project called ConnectCR, and a new bike share program slated to launch next spring.

It was the plans for ConnectCR, a public-private partnership, that spurred a review of how bicyclists can travel from Cedar Lake at the north end of downtown to the proposed Sinclair Smokestack pedestrian bridge at the south end of the NewBo District, and how that route can fit in with other infrastructure projects, said Matt Myers, a Cedar Rapids transportation engineer.

“This is about creating a bicycle network integrating the ConnectCR vision, the downtown, NewBo area and Czech Village to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail,” Myers said.

The effort highlights the challenges of modifying a downtown designed for trains and automobiles to be welcoming and safe for other modes of transportation.

Myers on Tuesday detailed more than a dozen projects scheduled, proposed or somewhere on the drawing board to members of the Cedar Rapids City Council Development Committee.

While some projects are funded, others are not.

Advocates are still raising money for ConnectCR, a more than $20 million project featuring a cleaned-up Cedar Lake and a bridge over the Cedar River connected by a trail network through downtown.

eighth avenue SE

While Cedar Rapids has made strides in walkability and bikeability, Eighth Avenue SE has remained a barrier between downtown and the NewBo District. Pedestrian signals have been added, but crossing can still be dangerous, committee members noted.

“It’s just a matter of time before someone gets hit,” said council member and committee chairwoman Ann Poe. “We really need to do something more aggressive at that intersection. I want to see how we can get those cyclists across Eighth in a safe fashion.”

A $275,000 Americans with Disabilities Act project is slated for the Eighth Avenue-Third Street intersection next summer to update the traffic signal and improve the crossing for those with disabilities, Myers said.


Railroad crossing arms are scheduled to be installed on First Avenue East at its crossing of the Fourth Street railroad corridor and the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, which run alongside each other through the downtown. That project, estimated at up to $1.5 million, is slated for 2019 and 2020.

As part of that project, the bike trail would be realigned to not cross the railroad tracks. Also, medians are to be installed on First Avenue to break up the crossing for pedestrians.

Railroad crossing arms also are planned where the trail and tracks cross Third Avenue SE in the summer of 2019, a project estimated at around $400,000, Myers said.

Third Avenue SE next summer also will be converted from a one-way to a two-way street from First Street SW to 19th Street SE — the final leg of a multiyear effort to convert all downtown one-ways to two-ways — and protected bike lanes would be extended on Third from Third Street to Eighth Street SE.

Pedestrian friendly bumpouts — which shorten the distance to cross the street — would be added in 2020.

‘quiet zone’

The crossing arms are part of an effort to create a railroad “quiet zone,” which would provide relief from train whistle. A half mile of protected track is needed to apply for a quiet zone.

Once the First and Third Avenue crossing arm projects are complete, Cedar Rapids can apply for quiet zone, from the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel to Fifth Avenue SE, Myers said.

Still, to have a broader impact on train noise, Cedar Rapids would need to address 17 railroad crossings in the downtown area — roughly 1.5 miles of track, he said.

That would require crossing arms or some other rail safety measure where the track crosses Sixth through 10th Avenues SE along the Fourth Street corridor, along with many other crossings on the Union Pacific and CRANDIC tracks, Myers said.

The $4 million to $6 million needed for that work is not budgeted, he said.

12th avenue SE

Other proposed improvements are slated for 12th Avenue SE, including a pedestrian crossing near the NewBo City Market and a pedestrian crossing and railroad gates near Sixth Street SE, behind the market.

Bike lanes are being considered on 12th Avenue SE from the 16th Avenue Bridge to Seventh Avenue SE, and an additional bike trail also is envisioned along the old railroad right of way in the old Sinclair packing plant site leading to the Smokestack Bridge.

Also, a 200-bike, 20-station bike share program in the core of the downtown is moving forward and fits with the ConnectCR concept, said Bill Micheel, the city’s assistant director of community development.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310;

Trump’s EPA proposes clean water rollback

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration unveiled its plan Tuesday for a major rollback of the Clean Water Act, a blueprint drawn up at the behest of farm groups, developers and other business interests to end federal protections — or what opponents call massive government overreach — on thousands of miles of streams, tributaries and wetlands nationwide.

Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the Obama-era rule that put those waters under the protection of the Clean Water Act “further expanded Washington’s reach into privately owned lands.”

“They claimed it was in the interest of water quality, but it was really about power,” he said. “Power in the hands of the federal government over landowners.”

Despite the 2015 rule — which was blocked from taking effect in about half the states — and millions being spent on water quality improvement efforts in the Mississippi Basin, pollution washing off farm fields from fertilizers and pesticides persists.

In December, an investigation by The Gazette found the Midwest is facing worsening troubles from undrinkable well water, recreational lakes choked by toxic algae and budget-busting upgrades for water treatment plants trying to keep up with nitrate and phosphorous runoff.

The Obama administration clean water regulation, known as the Waters of the United States, was questioned by the courts and fiercely opposed by Republican farm state politicians.

In September, a federal judge sided with Gov. Kim Reynolds in allowing Iowa to be included among states temporarily halting the regulation.

Tuesday, the GOP governor said in a statement members of the Trump administration came to Iowa to meet with farmers to hear concerns.

“The new WOTUS rule provides much needed stability to our farmers after years of uncertainty from the Obama administration’s massive federal overreach with the original WOTUS rule,” her statement said.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who long has decried the Obama regulation, offered applause in a statement for rolling back the requirements.

“Iowa’s farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small businesses can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that, going forward, a tire track that collects rain water won’t be regulated by the federal government,” her statement said.

The Obama administration argued it was a myth that the rule placed puddles and waterlogged ditches under government oversight.

Rather, it said in announcing the regulation it was trying to settle a decadeslong question over how far the Clean Water Act reached.

The rule, as it applied to farms, would limit farmers near bodies of water — including streams that held water only part of the year — from doing certain kinds of plowing and requiring them to get permits before applying pesticides and fertilizers that could run into larger waters.

Obama’s EPA concluded that enforcing the protections widely on wetlands and seasonal streams would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits to the national economy.

The Trump administration’s proposal disputes those benefits, concluding any economic boost to be gained from the Obama-era rule is eclipsed by its costs.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump campaigned against the rule and won support in rural communities.

His administration’s proposal, which now moves into a 60-day public comment period, is certain to draw legal challenges from environmental groups and some states, possibly including California.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra repeated the state’s position Tuesday, saying in a message on Twitter that the state would “defend CA’s right to clean drinking water and pollution-free streams and lakes.”

Reuters and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

Gov. Reynolds names ‘teachers’ cabinet’

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday she plans to hold the first meeting of her 16-member teachers’ cabinet next month as a way to elevate their role and give them a more-prominent voice in education policy decisions.

Reynolds said cabinet members will meet quarterly with her, Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg and Ryan Wise, director of the state Department of Education, to offer their advice about how to better prepare students for the knowledge economy, to elevate the teaching profession and to strengthen communication among the governor’s office, schools and Iowa communities.

“They are a diverse group representing a mix of content expertise, grade levels and rural and urban communities,” Reynolds told her weekly news conference. “We want to hear what they would change on the ground in their schools to help them be more effective.”

The governor said Iowa’s nearly 39,000 teachers are “on the front line” in helping students achieve and engage academically and developing skills like innovation and collaboration that will be critical as they prepare for “the workforce of tomorrow.”

“It really is about connecting our classrooms to future careers,” Reynolds said.

Traci Lust, a master teacher in a Saydel elementary school, one of the cabinet members, said she has worked in Iowa schools for more than 20 years and believes teachers are deeply committed to helping students achieve higher expectations.

Teachers, she said, “welcome the opportunity to share their perspectives on how to increase both achievement and engagement,” she said. “This cabinet provides a much-needed forum to allow teachers to have a voice.”

Sheila Graham, a welding instructor at the Pella Career Academy and another cabinet member who attended Reynolds’ news conference, said teachers are committed to making a difference.

The new governor’s cabinet will be “an important forum to make sure students have access to high-quality, authentic, work-based learning designed by teachers and the business professionals together.”

Other cabinet members are Jed Batterson, Cedar Falls; Maggie Davis, Nevada; Jodie Geist, Mount Ayr; Laura Gilbert-Harwood, Waterloo; Denise Hoag, Council Bluffs; Mary Johnson, Pleasant Valley; Alex Oliver, Riverside; Joni Readout, Central Decatur; Vanesa Sanchez, Denison; Greg Smith, Davenport; Vidal Spaine, Des Moines; Aileen Sullivan, Ames; Shelly Vroegh, Norwalk; and Jordan Young, Cedar Rapids.

l Comments: (515) 243-7220;

Playing the Iowa Lottery? There could be an app for that

Iowa Lottery officials who believe they’ve “pulled the rabbit out of the hat as many times as we can” to increase sales are now proposing to sell their products online, including over smartphones and apps.

Although the lottery is in a “very strong position” financially, technology modernization is needed if it is to continue to “deliver the proceeds people expect and count on,” lottery Vice President Mary Neubauer told the Iowa Lottery Board on Tuesday. In the most recent year, the Iowa Lottery raised more than $85 million for the state’s general fund.

“I think we’ve reached the breaking point to hold steady or increase,” she said. Given current trends, the lottery expects its proceeds to hold for a few years and then, possibly, decline.

“Quite frankly, a selection of solely paper products won’t stand the test of time,” Neubauer said.

In addition to being able to sell gaming products digitally, the lottery could see expansion through sports betting.

Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting. Legislators have discussed what sports betting might look like in Iowa, but have not yet passed a bill to allow it.

Still, the lottery is looking forward to being a part of the discussion over changes retail groups are seeking to legalize sports betting in Iowa, Neubauer said.

“We stand ready to offer our help and perspective on the technical and legal aspects involved, possible time frames for go-live, revenue potentials and what sports lottery products here in Iowa could look and feel like,” she said.

That’s likely to be a “pretty healthy discussion,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in an interview.

“We’re going to kind of let that process take place … (giving) Iowans a chance to weigh in, to see how they feel about changing the laws when it comes to gaming,” the governor said.

It’s likely to be one of the bigger policy issues for the House State Government Committee, Chairman Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, predicted in an interview. He said he has heard from many of the interested parties and will begin meetings with them, including lottery officials, next week.

He hasn’t heard from the opposition, “but I expect that there will be opponents,” he said.

That opposition may be limited, longtime gambling foe Tom Coates of Des Moines said.

“Nobody has any resources to push back against the gorillas,” Coates said in an interview. “There’s not even a little monkey in the cage.”

The digital “modernization” the lottery is proposing is driven by the fact that consumers are carrying less cash. The trend line is “steep, almost straight down,” Neubauer said.

Studies by US Bank and Capitol One found that in 2015, half the respondents reported carrying cash half the time. Of those who did, 76 percent said they carried less than $50. Today, only 41 percent said they carry cash regularly and nearly half indicated a preferences for cashless transactions.

So the lottery is proposing to the board that e-tickets be sold through personal devices, online and through “other technological means,” which Neubauer said allows for new payment methods.

Lottery tickets could be purchased with cash, check, money order, debit card, prepaid gift card, non-deferred payments through electronic wallets or mobile applications — but not with credit.

Neubauer told the lottery board there would be security measures for age and geography that would restrict sales to adults physically in the state of Iowa.

Other states have found that creates problems for snowbirds who want to buy lottery products in their home state, but buying lottery tickets across state lines is barred by federal law.

Moving to online sales probably makes sense for the lottery, Coates conceded, because “we have a whole generation that live on their devices.”

He expects, however, Iowa gaming interests to push for sports betting to be available through casinos “to get these people to actually come in and register at the casinos.”

“It’s going to allow them to access a lot of Iowans that heretofore wouldn’t bother to set foot in a casino and aren’t that interested,” he said. “But they are interested in sports and if (casinos) can get that done, they’re going to open up a whole new range of gamblers. A fair number of them will become addicted gamblers and that’s when you have the social fallout increase dramatically.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375;

Rod Boshart of The Gazette contributed to this report.

Final two-way conversion set for downtown Cedar Rapids

CEDAR RAPIDS — The city has big plans for nearly 20 blocks of Third Avenue SE next year and wants to give residents a heads up on what will be downtown’s final two-way conversion project.

Crews next summer will begin converting Third Avenue SE — from First Street SW to 19th Street SE — from one-way travel to two-way.

City Traffic Engineer Matt Myers said the project marks the final two-way conversion for the Cedar Rapids downtown area.

The conversion projects, which the city began ramping up in 2015, have been successful in their goal to slow traffic and enhance safety, he said.

“I think one of the objectives that we met was we did get operating speed back down to what the posted speed is, particularly in the downtown area,” he said. “I think we are managing speed better and there is more of a calming effect on the two-way conversions.”

To learn more about the project, the public is invited to a Dec. 13 open house — held from noon to 1 p.m. at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, 501 First St. SE. The meeting will be an open house format, with no formal presentation planned.

Since 2015, the city has completed a dozen two-way conversion projects:

• Second Avenue, from Sixth Street SW to First Street SE

• Third Avenue, from Sixth Street SW to Third Street SE

• Fourth Avenue SE, from Fifth Street SE to 19th Street SE

• Eighth Street SE, from Fourth Avenue SE to 12th Ave SE

• Seventh Street SE, from Fourth Avenue to 12th Avenue

• Second Avenue SE, from 13th Street and 19th Street

• Third Avenue SW, from Sixth Street SW to Fifth Avenue SW

• Fifth Avenue SE, from Fifth Street to 19th Street SE

• Second Avenue SE, from First Street SE to Eighth Street SE

• Fourth Avenue SE, from Third Street to Fifth Street

• Fifth Avenue SE, from Third Street to Fifth Street

• Oakland Road NE, from H Avenue to 32nd Street NE

Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said officers also have noticed that traffic has slowed down on streets that have been converted to two-way traffic. He added it has taken a little while for some motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians to change their behaviors, but police try to be understanding.

“Police officers recognize that there is a learning curve with conversions, especially for individuals who have been used to a previous traffic flow. If officers encounter a motorist that is confused about the direction of travel or bicycle lanes, for example, they focus on education rather than enforcement,” Buelow said in an email.

Next year’s Third Avenue SE project also includes the installation of railroad gates and crossing arms at Fourth Street, protected bike lanes from Third Street to Eighth Street and raised medians between Fifth Street and Eighth Street SE. In 2020, improvements will include resurfacing and pedestrian-friendly curb extensions called bump outs.

In addition to Third Avenue, Center Point Road between J Avenue and 29th Street also is slated for two-way conversion starting in 2020. In 2022, Center Point Road will be converted to two-way travel between H and J avenues.

Center Point Road is the last conversion project currently planned for the near future, but Myers said the city will keep other possible projects in consideration.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309;

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics complete emergency biocontainment drill

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics initiated emergency protocols on Tuesday after an individual was admitted to the hospital with an unknown infections disease.

At least, that’s the scenario hospital officials played out Tuesday morning in a first-ever emergency drill conducted at the Iowa City Municipal Airport to prepare staff in the event of a transport of a patient with an unknown infectious disease to their facilities.

In this case, the disease was assumed to be incredibly contagious, such as the Ebola or Nipah virus. Officials ran the drill with local EMS services and hospital staff, fine-tuning the process and ensuring all hiccups were addressed in the event of a real case.

Mike Hartley, UIHC emergency management coordinator, said an event such as this would be extremely rare, “but we have the capability, so we need to be prepared.”

“We try to envision all of the possible things we could get into and try to take ourselves through it because, really, when it comes to game day, you don’t want to map it out on paper,” Hartley said.

“You play like you practice. We want to practice so that when it comes to game time, we know what we’re doing and we do it perfectly.”

Hartley said the previous bio-infection emergency drill took place in 2015.

However, Tuesday’s was the first drill officials conducted that simulated a plane landing in a municipal airport, such as Iowa City’s. Hartley said most drills would take place at major regional airports.

Throughout the morning, EMS and hospital staff practiced steps for a scenario in which a University of Iowa student fell ill with an unknown pathogen during the last leg of her journey back from a mission trip in South Asia.

Medics moved the patient to an ambulance from an aircraft parked on the runway. The “patient” — Emma Lewis, a healthy UI senior who volunteered for the part — then was transported to the emergency room, where she was handed over to hospital staff to begin testing and treatment in UIHC’s biocontainment unit.

“I think the bottom line is the interaction between the ambulance crew and our staff is an important interaction so we know how to work together and know what each other can expect,” Hartley said.

Hartley said the drill came at the request of federal officials as part of the Hospital Preparedness Program, an initiative within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to enhance hospitals’ ability “to prepare for and respond to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies.”

UIHC is part of region seven, which includes Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri and receives federal preparedness funding to maintain biocontainment units.

UIHC’s biocontainment unit, which is part of the hospital’s intensive care unit, was designated in December 2014. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the facility in early 2015 — one of the final Ebola and special pathogens treatment centers to be verified during the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014-16.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536;

Loebsack finds things to like in farm bill

The final version of the farm bill released Tuesday includes two provisions championed by 2nd District U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack.

Loebsack, D-Iowa, was pleased that the five-year package includes funding to build rural broadband infrastructure, protects crop insurance and provides a safety net for beginning farmers against crop failures and natural disasters.

“I am pleased that the House and Senate were finally able to put aside the partisan games and produce a farm bill that will provide Iowa’s farmers and rural communities with the certainty that they need to be able to plan for the upcoming planting season,” Loebsack said.

In particular, Loebsack was pleased the bill includes the Precision Agriculture Act, which will establish a Federal Communications Commission task force, in collaboration with the USDA, to evaluate the best ways to meet the broadband connectivity and technological needs of precision agriculture.

It also includes SIREN — Supporting and Improving Rural EMS Needs — a $10 million grant program for emergency medical services agencies in rural areas. The funding will address issues rural areas face, including personnel recruitment and retention, continuing education and preparedness training, purchasing updated equipment, maintaining adequate coverage during prolonged transport times and obtaining qualified medical oversight.

Other highlights for the Iowa City Democrat include $350 million for broadband infrastructure, along with the reauthorization of the rural water and sewer infrastructure programs.

Loebsack also cited the continued support for conservation programs, including the Conservation Stewardship Program and the increasing of the Conservation Reserve Program to 27 million acres.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375;

Waverly family to take over Mount Vernon True Value

CEDAR RAPIDS ­— The Mount Vernon Road True Value will close for several weeks for remodeling later this month, but will remain open under new ownership starting next year.

Greg Miller, the owner of the True Value in Waverly, told The Gazette transfer of ownership of the store at 3501 Mount Vernon Rd. SE to him and his brothers Tim and Zach will take effect Jan. 1.

The Mount Vernon Road store has been owned for almost 30 years by Doug and Karen Christner, who also own the True Value in North Liberty. The Cedar Rapids location has held liquidation sales for several weeks to help the Christners consolidate their assets and give the Millers space to bring in new inventory.

The store’s retail floor will be closed between six to eight weeks for interior renovations and some outside sign changes starting Dec. 29.

The store will keep open its repair shop for small engines, window screens and other services during the remodel.

The store has been a mainstay for residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, often serving as an impromptu gathering place for locals as the city gathered feedback on a Mount Vernon Road Corridor Action Plan to make the Mount Vernon Road strip safer for pedestrians and more viable for locally owned businesses.

Miller said the store will retain most of its employees after the ownership change and aim to keep its status as a neighborhood spot for nearby residents.

“It needs to stay where it’s at because everyone communes to it,” he said.

Store Manager Phil Cronin said he has had customers come in crying and hugging employees over the past few months, and then leaving relieved knowing the store and many of its employees will stay put in the longtime location.

“It’s touching that people are so invested in the store,” Cronin said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366;

Bill that would speed citizenship for families of fallen first responders gets support of local law chiefs

Two Eastern Iowa law enforcement leaders are joining 65 others from across the country this week to support a bill that would help immigrant families of first responders who die in the line of duty.

The bill, which passed the U.S. House in September, would allow a surviving spouse, child or parent of a U.S. citizen first responder who died in service to be eligible to obtain citizenship through an expedited process.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman and Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek signed the letter that was sent Monday asking U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass the bill — called the Kerrie Orozco Act — in the Senate before the end of this year’s session.

Jerman, in a statement, said this bill is named after Orozco, an Omaha, Neb., police officer who made the “ultimate sacrifice while protecting her community.”

She was a seven-year veteran of the department killed in the line of duty in 2015, according to the support letter. Her husband, Hector Orozco, became a single father, while also facing a wait time of five years before he could apply for citizenship.

Jerman said this legislation would pave the way for her family, along with many others, to obtain citizenship and allow the father of her child to remain in the United States.

Pulkrabek was out of the office Tuesday and not available for comment.

Other Iowa law enforcement officials supporting the bill are Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper, Story County Sheriff Paul H. Fitzgerald, Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy and Storm Lake Director of Public Safety Mark Prosser.

The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Nebraska, allows a surviving spouse, child or parent of a first responder who died in service or as a result of their service to apply for U.S. citizenship more quickly by waiving the five-year continuous residence and the 30-month physical presence requirements for naturalization, according to the support letter.

The bill requires that the surviving spouse or other relative still meet all other requirements for naturalization, such as being a lawful permanent resident, having good moral character, and being able to read, write and speak in English.

“When first responders make the ultimate sacrifice, we can honor their memory by enabling close family members and dependents to naturalize quickly,” leaders of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, which backs the bill, said in a news release. “This bill would allow these families to find stability at an incredibly difficult time.”

The bill is patterned after legal provisions that allow members of Gold Star Families to naturalize after the death of active-duty service members killed in military service, according to the letter.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318;

Judge tosses inmates’ lawsuit over porn ban at Iowa prisons

DES MOINES — A federal judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by 58 inmates who attempted to sue the state of Iowa over the recent ban on pornography in prisons, claiming it violated their constitutional rights.

U.S. District Senior Judge Robert Pratt dismissed the suit without prejudice — meaning they could refile — because the inmates did not file amended complaints as requested by the judge last month.

Pratt told Fort Dodge Correctional Facility inmates last month they couldn’t file a class-action lawsuit and each would be required to file a separate complaint for the case to move forward. The judge also said inmates would have to pay a filing fee or file financial paperwork to proceed as indigent person.

Pratt said he needed the amended complaints and financial information by Nov. 30, but they were not filed. The case is dismissed for failure to comply with the court’s order, according to Pratt’s order Tuesday.

The inmates were upset about the new law, which went in effect Nov. 14 at all nine state prisons and shut down the designated “pornography reading rooms.” The men filed the suit in October.

The inmates’ lawsuit, which was confusing and difficult to understand, claims the legislation was passed under the guise of “morality” and was brought by a “government contrived of Nazis or tyrants.”

The lead plaintiff of the lawsuit, 70-year-old Allen Curtis Miles, was convicted of first-degree murder in Polk County District Court for the fatal stabbing of Cheryl Kleinschrodt in March 1982.

The reading rooms, which were supervised by prison staff, allowed prisoners who were not convicted of sexual or sexual-related offenses to look at sexually explicit materials, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections. Inmates would receive these materials in the mail but officials would store them until an inmate requested to view them and be taken to a reading room. Once the inmate was done, the materials would go back to storage.

The inmates who received less explicit materials, like nude photos or “Playboy” magazines, would be allowed to keep those in their cells, Iowa Department of Corrections spokesman Cord Overton said last month.

But the new law also bans inmates from having those in their cells.

The reading rooms were set up in response to a federal court ruling in the 1980s that found Iowa’s prison rules dealing with sexually explicit materials were unconstitutional.

Notice of the ban went out to inmates in July so they had time to cancel subscriptions or let family and friends know that nude and sexually explicit material would not be allowed on or after Nov. 14, Overton said last month.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318;

Trump says he would be ‘proud’ to shut down government over border wall funding

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would be “proud” to shut down the government later this month if he can’t get taxpayer money to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico.

The remarks were aimed at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer during an extraordinary Oval Office sparring session held partly in front of reporters.

“We have to have a wall. ... I will take the mantle of shutting it down. I will shut it down for border security,” Trump said during the encounter, in which the leaders exchanged political barbs with cameras rolling.

“Elections have consequences, Mr. President,” Schumer said, noting that Democrats seized the House majority during last month’s midterm election.

The combative Oval Office appearance came at the start of what was supposed to be a negotiation over how to fund a portion of the government by the Dec. 21 shutdown deadline, and whether border wall money would be approved as part of the package.

Instead the three leaders chastised, corrected and interrupted one another repeatedly, a preview of what a divided government will look like next year when Democrats control the House. The meeting, which ended not long after the media was escorted away, did not appear to resolve the standoff.

Democrats have offered $1.6 billion for border security, but Trump is demanding $5 billion for a wall. During the campaign, Trump had promised Mexico would pay for the wall.

The tense exchange could make a holiday shutdown — in which a small portion of government operations would cease — more likely. Trump fully accepted political responsibility for a shutdown, giving Democrats little reason to give in to his demands or help provide votes to avoid one.

Schumer, D-N.Y., and Pelosi, D-Calif., repeatedly made the case against shutting down the government, saying it would only hurt American workers and the economy. Vice President Mike Pence sat in on the meeting but did not say a word while reporters were in the room. Shortly after the meeting, he huddled with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill.

At several points, Pelosi and Schumer tried to cut off the public theatrics and suggested continuing the conversation in private. Instead, Trump allowed cameras to stay in the room for 15 minutes. “It’s called transparency,” he said.

It was the latest in a string of public negotiating sessions in front of television cameras that Trump seems to enjoy and thrive on.

Trump and Pelosi bickered over whether the president even had the support of his own party to use taxpayer funds for a wall.

“If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session. It would be done,” Trump said.

Pelosi responded confidently that he doesn’t have the support in the House. “Well, then go do it. Go do it. ... You will not win.”

Even as Trump seemed to embrace a shutdown, he has also been preparing his conservative base for the possibility that he won’t get funding for the wall. Earlier Tuesday, the president tweeted that the military would build the wall if Democrats didn’t agree to fund it. He also claimed falsely that much of the wall he promised has already been built.

The spending bill marks the last opportunity Trump would have to get his border wall approved while Republicans control both the House and Senate. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have largely deferred to Trump on the issue, saying the president needs to decide whether he is willing to shut down the government to get his top campaign promise through Congress. Most Republicans on Capitol Hill would like to avoid a shutdown, which typically hurts the party in control of Congress.

“I hope that’s not where we end up,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said a shutdown may be more likely as a result of the standoff. “I think it is a step in that direction,” Shelby said. “We’ve got another eight or 10 days. We might come together and we might not.”

But at least some Republicans seem ready to back up Trump.

“He needs to dig in, not give in,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters after the meeting. “I’ve had enough of it. Take it on. Stare it down. See what happens.”

Schumer and Pelosi previously said they will not provide the votes to fund the border wall, particularly after Democrats flipped 40 seats in the House in last month’s midterm elections. Any legislation would require some Democratic support to get through the Senate.

Democrats have put two offers on the table, neither of which has wall funding: $1.6 billion in “fencing” along the southern border or a continuation of last year’s spending levels for the Department of Homeland Security, about $1.3 billion.

Inside the West Wing, the meeting’s conclusion set off a chaotic scramble as aides switched into what one staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, called “damage-control mode.”

“The aftermath of that meeting was not pretty,” the person said.


With Pelosi and Schumer driving home their main takeaway from the meeting with reporters positioned just outside the doors to the West Wing, the White House communications shop was crafting a statement blaming Democrats for the current stalemate that could cause a shutdown.

“President Trump was grateful for the opportunity to let the press into the meeting so that the American people can see firsthand that while Republicans are fighting to protect our border, Democrats are fighting to protect illegal immigrants,” the White House said in a statement.


(Times staff writer Eli Stokols contributed to this report.)

Downtown Cedar Rapids Harold’s Chicken closed

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Harold’s Chicken on the first floor of the Roosevelt building in downtown Cedar Rapids has closed, but a sign on the restaurant’s door offers no clear indication as to its future.

The sign at 200 First Ave. NE directs questions to a property manager.

Calls to the property manager and representatives of Sherman Associates Inc., the Minneapolis-based developer that owns the Roosevelt building, were not immediately returned Tuesday.

The fried chicken restaurant opened in 2016 as part of the chain of restaurants mostly based in Chicago.

Sherman Associates alleged in mid-October that Harold’s Chicken failed to pay rent from April to September this year, totaling just over $27,000 in missed payments, according to filings with the Linn County District Court.

That case was dismissed Oct. 26 when Harold’s owner provided enough back rent to avoid an eviction order.

The restaurant previously was shut down, along with another restaurant, Jerseys Downtown, in March 2017 when Sherman Associates accused Jerseys of violating its lease and failing to pay rent.

Jerseys had sublet part of its space to Harold’s without the owner’s approval, Sherman Associates said at the time.

Harold’s reopened four months later.

Gerald Seals, the franchise holder for Harold’s Chicken in Iowa, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

An employee at the Harold’s Chicken at 316 E. Burlington St. in Iowa City said that location was still open.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366;

Collins Aerospace to offer voluntary buyouts

Collins Aerospace has told employees it will offer voluntary severance packages in the near future.

Collins Aerospace spokeswoman Pam Tvrdy-Cleary said the offer is a one-time opportunity to give workers incentives to leave the company. The offer applies to full- and part-time Collins Aerospace employees in the United States and the Oakville, Canada, plant.

In general, Collins Aerospace employees who are not executives or work in assembling parts are eligible for the buyout.

It does not apply to UTC’s corporate employees or employees with UTC’s jet engine unit Pratt and Whitney.

“The goal of the program is to reduce the need for potential involuntary reductions as we optimize the structure of our business,” Tvrdy-Cleary said in a separate statement shared with The Gazette. “We are providing education sessions in the coming weeks across the organization to help employees make well-informed decisions.”

Collins Aerospace has not set a target number of employees it wants to take severance, Tvrdy-Cleary said. She said any possible future layoffs would “target specific areas where we can further optimize our business structure.”

Employees have until Feb. 1 to apply for the severance.

The move comes two weeks after Farmington, Conn.-based United Technologies Corp. closed on the acquisition of Rockwell Collins, Cedar Rapids’ largest employer, and formed Collins Aerospace by combining Rockwell and UTC Aerospace Systems.

Kelly Ortberg, at the time Rockwell chairman, president and chief executive officer and now CEO of the newly formed Collins Aerospace, said in a September 2017 interview that he did not anticipate the acquisition would have a major effect on jobs in Iowa.

“I think the key is we don’t expect major disruption. They bought us not only for our capabilities but for our employees, so we expect everybody to really benefit from this in the long run,” he said at the time.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366;

Gov. Kim Reynolds announces chief of staff change

DES MOINES — Ryan Koopmans, chief of staff to Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, announced Tuesday he will leave Friday to pursue opportunities outside state government. Reynolds quickly named a consultant to her election campaign as the new chief of staff.

“I am grateful for Ryan’s service and am glad he used his passion for Iowa to advance our state forward,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Ryan provided steadfast advice while serving as my trusted adviser. I want to thank Ryan for his service on behalf of the people of Iowa and wish him well as he shares his incredible talents, energy and work ethic with others in the private sector.”

Koopmans joined the governor’s office as senior legal counsel and chief policy adviser in May 2017, at the beginning of Reynolds’ administration, and was promoted to chief of staff earlier this year — with instrumental roles in advancing the governor’s signature achievements, including a state income tax overhaul and the Future Ready Iowa workforce education and training initiative. Records show he was paid $138,330 in fiscal 2018.

Koopmans, a native of Ireton who lives near Van Meter, thanked Reynolds for the opportunity to guide her Capitol operation.

Reynolds named Sara Craig Gongol to replace him, starting Saturday.

“Sara is a key member of my team, working with me since 2014,” Reynolds said in a statement. “She played an important role in the campaign, helping me earn the support of Iowans who gave me the chance to continue serving as governor. As I begin my first full term, I am excited to bring together a new team to help implement my vision for building a stronger, better Iowa. Sara is uniquely prepared to help me build that team and get to work for the people of Iowa.”

Craig Gongol served as a consultant to Reynolds’ campaign and worked in Iowa election campaigns before that. She s president and founder of Framework Marketing Group and lives in West Des Moines.

The Reynolds administration has seen a series of key figures step down in recent days, a situation the governor told reporters Tuesday is typical of a transition following an election.

“That’s not unusual when you have someone starting a new term. We’re going through a transition and that’s just part of the process. We’re going to be making further announcements in January. We’re working through the transition process, as well as a lot of other governors that have just been elected across this country, and look forward to putting my team together and really continuing to build on the progress that we’ve seen,” she said. “I think there’s tremendous opportunity ahead and I look forward to putting a team together that can help us get that done.”

Cedar Rapids man charged with assaulting, threatening three women

A Cedar Rapids man faces multiple charges after he allegedly assaulted and threatened three women Tuesday at an apartment on C Street SW.

According to a criminal complaint from the Cedar Rapids Police Department, Duvall T. Walker Jr., 24, assaulted two women by “grabbing and squeezing them about the neck,” and injured a third woman.

The complaint states Walker also punched several holes in the walls of the apartment. He then “threatened all of them that he would get a gun and kill them, including an infant who was in the apartment,” the complaint said.

Walker faces one count of assault causing bodily injury, two counts of assault with intent to inflict serious injury, four counts of first-degree harassment and one count of fifth-degree criminal mischief.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238;

University of Iowa touting ‘exercise is medicine’

IOWA CITY — Imagine if you could pop a pill that would lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other chronic illnesses while improving quality of sleep, strengthening cognitive function, preventing depression and decreasing anxiety.

Well, you can’t, according to Lucas Carr, University of Iowa associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Physiology.

“There is no medicine in existence that has all the benefits of this one thing,” he said.

That thing: exercise.

“It’s almost an ethical issue,” Carr said. “With as much as we know about physical activity, for us not to be asking about it and not to find ways to encourage patients to do this is unethical, from a health care standpoint.”

Thus Carr and department colleagues have set out to right this community’s moral compass.

Over the summer, they registered the University of Iowa as an “Exercise is Medicine” campus through the American College of Sports Medicine, which launched the global initiative in 2007 as a push toward integrating physical activity into the health care setting.

For the UI iteration, its Department of Health and Human Physiology opened a “Community Outreach Lab” in the Field House; crafted a course enabling students to work in the lab and get practical experience; and partnered with health care providers to refer patients to the lab, even embedding exercise-related queries into physical-screening questionnaires.

“Not all clinics have adopted it yet,” Carr said of the two activity-informed questions: How many days a week do you exercise, and how many minutes on average do you exercise a day?

“But our goal is to have that be hospital-wide and to have this systemic approach” to flagging patients below the recommended 150 minutes a week or more of moderate-intensity physical activity.

Here’s how it would work: Patients would answer the questions, doctors would give a recommendation and potential referral to the new UI lab, and patients would follow through with a 10-week program.

So far, only family medicine and internal medicine clinics within the UI Hospitals and Clinics system have added the exercise questions to their screening — and that just happened last month. In Carr’s outreach to providers about this new student-involved exercise-training opportunity, he’s developed a network of 20-some physicians across a range of disciplines who understand that exercise can function as medicine and are aware of the new lab.

“I have been pleased with the number of providers who have agreed to sign up,” he said. “We are looking to expand that to many more.”

As for the new lab, which is based in the UI Field House, five student-coaches were accepted into the fall’s first health-coaching practicum course, through which they served as lab staff. Students are heavily screened and must first successfully complete a health communication and coaching course that gives them a foundation in how to relay health care information to patients.

“We only accept those students who we feel would do well interacting with patients,” Carr said. “There are some skills that not all students have.”

That first cohort of coaches worked with a total of 13 patients, meeting with them in person for the first visit and then following up regularly on goals and accomplishments over the ensuing seven to 10 weeks, according to Carr.

During that first visit, the student-staffers help patients identify barriers to regular exercise and help them break those down — identifying individual solutions and mapping out exercise plans.

“They are troubleshooting and problem-solving and working through a process to find what’s best,” Carr said. “There is no written script. It’s an individualized approach.”

Alison Reichter, a UI lecturer in health and human physiology and certified health coach who is overseeing the lab portion of the university’s Exercise is Medicine initiative, said an ideal patient is someone who wants to increase physical activity and just needs support making it happen.

“Someone who needs that accountability piece and help breaking down the large goal of increasing physical activity into smaller, more manageable steps,” she said.

For the student-staff cohort in the upcoming spring semester, eight are enrolled and Carr said the lab is hoping for a swell in patients. Eventually, he’d like to keep the lab running year-round, with summer students participating as well.

“We are trying to give students a really important health care opportunity to work with actual patients and apply the knowledge they are learning,” Carr said. “I don’t know of any other programs in the country that are applying this approach. But to me it seems like a win-win.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158;

Factory run by volunteers gives away all the toys for free

A long-haul truck driver recently walked into Tiny Tim’s Toy Foundation in West Jordan, Utah, and asked for a box of toys. Alton Thacker gave him five, each packed with 125 cars.

“He stopped at children’s hospitals along his truck route and handed them out,” said Thacker, 83, a retired barber who started the toy factory 16 years ago. “And I know he’ll be back for more. Seeing all those little smiles is a great motivator.”

The cars - simple wooden toys with a painted smile - are made at the factory and given free to children in need around the globe through charities, churches, children’s hospitals and sometimes truckers who stop by for a box.

Thacker’s factory reached a huge milestone this year when he cranked out his 1 millionth toy. He celebrated for a moment and then got back to work.

“For every car we finish and give away, there’s always another child who needs one,” Thacker said. “For some kids around the world, one of our little wooden cars is the first and only toy they’ll ever get.”

The nonprofit organization turns out between 80,000 and 120,000 wooden toy cars a year using a volunteer workforce mainly composed of retirees - with an average age of 80 - who are looking for a way to put their hands to good use again.

“The highlight of my week is coming to the factory to help sand cars,” said Wade Bender, 74, a retired high school biology teacher and football coach who drives 60 miles round-trip to Tiny Tim’s every Tuesday.

A car built from a block of scrap wood is a simple thing, he said, but the impact is immense. He said all kids react the same when they get the toy - whether they’re in a children’s hospital, a restaurant, a tough neighborhood close to home or a developing country. The cars have been delivered to children in countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Ghana, Thailand, Russia, Mexico and Brazil.

“Kids will drop to the floor and start ‘driving’ them on the concrete, the tile, the dirt,” Bender said. “The response of pure joy is always the same.”

The factory gets the wood from leftovers donated by local lumber yards and cabinetmakers, and the rent for the workshop is paid by a generous benefactor. The Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids buys paint and brushes with donations.

All that’s left to invest at Tiny Tim’s is time, said Thacker.

In addition to a regular rotating crew of 35 volunteers, he and his wife, Cheryl Thacker, also get help from churches and civic and Boy Scout groups that sign up for shifts running the band saw, sanding the cars or putting on wheels.

Most of the painting - in bright shades of red, green, blue and purple, complete with faces - is done by inmates at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison.

Bender, who has delivered cars to the prison three times with his wife, Susan Bender, has noticed tears in the eyes of the felons, especially before the holidays.

“They’ll tell us, ‘This is the first time I’ve done something for somebody else, thank you,’” Bender said. “Many of them are fathers. So they know what the toys they’re painting can do to boost the spirits of a child.”

Thacker said he and volunteers initially provided guidance for the inmates, but for the past several years, the inmates have trained one another. Newcomers are trained by men who have been at it longer.

The idea for the toy factory came in 2002 when Thacker, who then wore a full Santa beard, and Cheryl Thacker, who sometimes sported red velvet, decided to turn donated planks of throwaway wood into toy cars.

“For years, we’d dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus and deliver eyeglasses, shoes and medical equipment to little villages in Mexico,” he said. “And we both knew the important role toys played in helping little minds to grow.”

Why not open a toy factory in Utah, they decided, and help take care of that need themselves?

Soon, Tiny Tim’s was born, named after a malnourished and disabled boy Thacker and his wife met during a trip to Mexico in the 1990s.

“We didn’t know this is where we’d end up,” said Cheryl Thacker, 83. “But when you have a man like Alton who has a big heart, you just go with it.”

Thacker said it costs about $2 to make each car. If he had to buy the wood himself, each car would cost $5, and if he had to pay labor, each would cost about $16.

For now, Thacker estimates that another 15,000 wooden cars need to be traced, cut, drilled, sanded and stained or painted to meet his goal of giving away 120,000 toys this year before Christmas. He’s not worried.

“We have a small army of volunteers who want to get every one of our cars into the hands of a child,” he said.

On Christmas Eve, after the last box of cars is filled for a volunteer to hand out, Thacker says he plans to relax on the sofa, watch a holiday movie and reflect on the past year.

“At the end of December, we’re tired,” he said. “But our hearts are full. It makes me feel good to see the impact we’re making. I’ve always said that the secret of happiness is to make somebody else happy. So after the New Year, we’ll start all over again.”

Legalizing prostitution lowers violence and disease, report says

LONDON, Dec 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sex workers in countries where selling or buying sex is illegal are more likely to face violence, not use condoms and contract HIV, researchers said on Tuesday, calling for prostitution to be decriminalized.

Nations have been divided over the best way to deal with prostitution. Many outlaw it; some, including Canada and Sweden, punish clients and others, like Germany and New Zealand, legalized it or decriminalized it entirely.

Now an international team of researchers have analyzed the effects of different laws on sex workers, in what they say was the first review of its kind, and found repressive polices increased health and safety risks.

“Where some or all aspects of sex work were criminalized, concerns about their own or their clients’ arrest meant that sex workers often had to rush screening clients,” said Lucy Platt, the lead author of the university-led study.

Fear of police meant sex workers had little time to negotiate services and tended to work in isolated areas, added Platt, an associate professor in public health epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

This increased their vulnerability to theft and violence, she said.

The research, published in journal PLOS Medicine, reviewed data from more than 130 studies on 33 countries - from Britain to Uganda - published in scientific journals between 1990 to 2018.

It found sex workers who had been exposed to repressive policing like arrest or prison were three times more likely to experience sexual or physical violence by clients, partners and other people.

Those who had not been exposed to such practices were instead half as likely to contract HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and 30 percent less prone to have sex without a condom.

“Decriminalization of sex work is urgently needed,” said study co-author Pippa Grenfell, an assistant professor of public health sociology at LSHTM.

The English Collective of Prostitutes, a pro-legalization group said the study confirmed sex workers’ experience.

“Those of us who work on the street are running from the police, pushed into more isolated areas because clients are fearful of arrest,” Niki Adams a spokeswoman for the group told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

It is legal to buy and sell sex in England and Wales, but related activities such as soliciting and kerb crawling - drivers cruising the streets for prostitutes - are illegal.

“We hear from sex workers in France and Ireland that attacks have gone up since clients were criminalized there,” said Adams.

But Tsitsi Matekaire, of women’s rights group Equality Now, said it was wrong to look at prostitution solely as a health issue, adding decriminalization was not the best way to protect women.

“Prostitution in itself is inherently violent,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that laws aimed at curbing demand by punishing clients without criminalizing those who have been driven into prostitution were a better solution. (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Jason Fields. Thanks to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit