Latest News from Gazette Online

What it would cost to replace ‘hostile’ benches on Iowa City Ped Mall

IOWA CITY — It would cost almost $150,000 to replace the new benches on the Iowa City Ped Mall with ones that are more conducive to the needs of homeless people who sleep on them.

The cost estimate was provided in a memo Thursday to Iowa City Council members from City Manager Geoff Fruin.

Fruin provided options, including replacing 10 percent of the benches for about $6,000 or about half of them for $21,000.

The new benches have armrests in the middle and are part of a two-year project to update and improve the Ped Mall.

Catholic Worker House leaders believe the new benches are a “hostile design” for people who may need to sleep on them and are advocating for their replacement.

David Goodner, co-founder of the Catholic Worker House, said his organization met with city officials earlier this week and told the city that replacing around 47 percent of the benches would be acceptable.

City representatives have said the middle armrests are meant to increase seating by making people feel more comfortable sitting next to a stranger.

In his memo to the council, Fruin estimated it would cost just over $21,000 to replace 15 existing benches and 18 of the benches to be installed next summer.

After the 47 percent mark, “the costs increase at a fast rate as the benches installed in phase I (installed in 2018) cannot be reused, and the city would incur the costs of purchasing more benches than needed for this specific project,” Fruin wrote.

The phase two benches haven’t been manufactured yet, and the city would need to negotiate a change order with the Ped Mall contractor, if the City Council decides on that route.

The bench designs were part of public meetings leading up to the Ped Mall reconstruction.

To call attention to the design, the Catholic Worker House held a “sleep-in” protest on the Ped Mall earlier this week. As part of the event, the organization handed out “wanted” posters of Fruin, with the question, “What would Jesus do, Geoff?”

Goodner said the flyers were made because he believes Fruin lied about the intentions of the armrests.

In a 2013 City Council work session, council members, including current Mayor Jim Throgmorton, and Fruin, then the assistant city manager, discussed benches with middle armrests as a way of deterring homeless people from sleeping on them.

“When you do something like that, it opens up the door (to) calling you out personally,” Goodner said.

The council likely will take up the issue in its Tuesday work session, which typically start at 5 p.m. in City Hall. The Catholic Worker House has scheduled a prayer vigil outside City Hall at 6:30.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172;

Weinacht appointed as Cedar Rapids mayor pro tem

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids City Council member Susie Weinacht has been appointed by her peers to serve as the council’s mayor pro tempore for a one-year term.

The City Council voted Jan. 8. to approve her new role, which was included as a resolution on the consent agenda.

Weinacht succeeds Scott Olson, who filled the role for the most recent one-year period.

When Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart took office in 2018, he instituted a rotation system for mayor pro tempore. He said he wanted to turn first to the four most senior members on the council, including Weinacht.

An at-large member of the council, Weinacht was first elected in 2013.

The mayor pro tempore typically is called upon to serve in place of the mayor in his or her absence.

In other council news, Weinacht has been appointed to the National League of Cities 2019 Public Safety and Crime Prevention federal advocacy committee, which helps develop the organization’s federal policy positions on issues involving crime prevention, corrections, substance abuse, municipal fire policy, juvenile justice, disaster preparedness and relief, homeland security, domestic terrorism, court systems and gun control.

Weinacht also was accepted into the Harvard Kennedy School’s Leadership for the 21st Century program at Harvard University. This is a one-week immersion program, which Weinacht notes she is paying for out of pocket.

Council member Ashley Vanorny has been appointed to the National League of Cities 2019 Community and Economic Development federal advocacy committee, which helps develop the organization’s federal policy positions on issues involving housing, community and economic development, land use, recreation and parks, historic preservation and international competitiveness.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310;

Eastern Iowa braces for another round of snow

While residents and street crews in several southeastern Iowa counties spent much of this week digging themselves out of last weekend’s snowfall, another winter weather storm is on the way Friday.

On Thursday, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for more than a dozen southeast Iowa counties, including Linn and Johnson, from 3 p.m. Friday to 3 p.m. Saturday.

“It will be a drier, fluffier snow than the previous one we had. With strong winds, that will create drifting snow and some blowing snow,” said David Cousins, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities.

Linn and Johnson counties could see about 6 to 10 inches of snow, followed by a drop in temperature. Cousins said Sunday’s wind chill could bring temperatures down to as low as 11 below zero.

“Those wind chills will be something to watch out for,” he said.

The expected snowfall comes just one week after the area was hit with about 6 inches of snow.

According to data provided by the Iowa Department of Transportation, the snow event from Jan. 11 to 12, which dropped half a foot of snow or more on the state’s southern and eastern counties, cost about $2.1 million for salt application and labor hours. Iowa DOT plow trucks dumped more than 30 million pounds of salt on state-owned roads and racked up just over 9,200 labor hours statewide.

In Cedar Rapids, city crews put out 2,000 tons of a sand and salt mix and another 100 tons of straight salt, Brian McLeod, lead street maintenance supervisor with public works, said in an email.

“Last weekend we had a 10- to 12-hour snow event, which posed some challenges as it required us to make multiple passes on the same roads to keep them clear,” he said. “There’s also the potential for refreezing and snow compaction with those slow moving systems. We have continued with snow clean up in residential areas all week.”

McLeod noted that the sand being used this year was stocked up in 2016 for that year’s flood protections but never touched floodwaters.

Emergency snow routes — those used as main arterials, bus routes, in school zones and near hospitals — are cleared first, with main collector streets after, McLeod said. Residential streets often come after those, he said.

McLeod said Wednesday that crews were gearing up for round two.

“Prep work is underway, crews are changing blades and greasing equipment,” he said. “Pre-treatment is extremely important, you can really tell the difference when a road has had pre-treatment material placed on it in advance.”

For residents, McLeod reminded those with vehicles parked on the street to keep an eye on if a snow emergency is declared. If that happens, residents need to park on the odd-address side of the street on odd calendar days and vice versa on even calendar days from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Vehicles illegally parked during a snow emergency will be fined or towed.

McLeod also reminded residents to not push snow from their driveway or business parking lot into public streets.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309;

Award honors Cedar Rapids anti-human trafficking advocate

DES MOINES — An anti-human trafficking advocate in Cedar Rapids received a service award from the state governor Thursday.

Teresa Davidson, the anti-human trafficking coordinator at Mercy Medical Center and executive director of a nonprofit on the issue, was given the Outstanding Anti-Human Trafficking Service Award at the State Capitol.

“There are so many people who deserve this recognition before me, so many people working behind the scenes,” Davidson said in an interview with The Gazette this week. “For me to get this award, it’s humbling because it’s on the back of a lot of work other people do.”

Davidson is the founder and executive director of Chains Interrupted, a not-for-profit founded in 2016 to address the issue in Cedar Rapids area.

She was also named as Mercy’s anti-human trafficking coordinator this past year, a new position at the hospital that is the first of its kind in the state.

In this role, Davidson — who is also a nurse practitioner at Mercy — works to establish response protocols hospital staffers can use to help patients who may be victims or survivors of human trafficking.

Davidson said she has received 21 referrals since May, with the majority of referrals coming from other agencies or organizations that come across a victim or survivor of human trafficking.

“There’s now somebody to call, somebody to do something about it,” Davidson said. “I even got a referral from New York. There’s a child from New York who’s run away, and they know that child is in Iowa. So they reached out to me because there’s someone to reach out to.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery that involves the use of force, fraud or coercion of a person to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.

It’s difficult to track the issue, but some international organizations estimate millions of victims worldwide.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports more than 8,500 cases opened by U.S. law enforcement in 2017.

The hotline reports it took 218 calls that referred to Iowa in 2017, which led to 74 cases opened by law enforcement.

Davidson, who has been involved in advocacy for six years, said she’s seen more awareness surrounding the issue, which, in turn, has led to more efforts statewide to curb human trafficking.

“Once you hear about it, once you meet someone affected by it, it changes your whole life,” she said. “It certainly changed mine.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds also signed a proclamation declaring January as “Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Month” on Thursday, emphasizing the issue as a priority for her administration.

“I want you to know how deeply committed my administration is to continue our partnership,” Reynolds said during Thursday’s event honoring Davidson. “ ... I understand the urgent need to prevent human trafficking in our state.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536;

Leader hopes to expand Iowa National Guard’s recruiting, diversity

DES MOINES — The Iowa National Guard must expand its recruiting to create more diversity and meet the unique challenges it faces, its leader says.

Adjutant Gen. Timothy Orr stressed those recruiting efforts Thursday during his annual Condition of the Guard address at the Iowa Capitol.

Orr said the Guard’s operational role has increased, and the challenges facing the Guard are more complex and demanding than he has witnessed in more than 40 years of military service.

That makes recruiting a key component of Orr’s mission, he said, and he hopes those efforts produce a more diverse Guard.

“Recruiting and retaining quality individuals is our highest priority,” he said. “And in doing so, we must broaden the appeal of military service to include people from all across the fabric of our society.

“The strength of our republic depends on willing individuals from every corner of the state, every social, economic and demographic group, and every ethnic background, to step forward and serve alongside their fellow citizens.”

Roughly one in 10 Iowa National Guard members is a minority, a Guard official said.

In addition to broadening the Guard’s demographic footprint, Orr said he hopes the Guard can grow new branches on the military family tree.

Orr said nearly four in five military members come from families with multiple generations of service.

“The pride and honor of military service should not be reserved for just those who hail from a tradition of military service,” Orr said. “It is an opportunity that must be available and sought throughout society in order to balance the responsibilities of national defense across all our citizens.”

Orr said the Iowa National Guard has mobilized and deployed more than 19,000 members since Sept. 11, 2001.

He highlighted deployments over the past year:

l Roughly 400 members from Davenport, Muscatine, Waterloo and Boone returned in September from the Middle East, where they provided aviation maintenance and support.

l More than 200 members from an air refueling wing in Sioux City deployed to the Middle East.

“There is no doubt that Iowa has done and will continue to do its part to defend our state and nation,” Orr said.

Orr said 2018 was a relatively quiet year for the Guard’s emergency response operations. He highlighted some Guard programs, including cybersecurity measures, and a training program for law enforcement officials responding to opioid overdoses.

l Comments: (515) 422-9061;

Winter weather tips for the road, the outdoors and your pets

Follow these tips — for people and pets — to stay safe on the road and outside during the winter months.

Winter driving tips

• Don’t follow plow trucks too closely.

• Reduce speeds on snow and ice.

• Use caution and don’t brake during turns.

• Avoid sudden movements.

• Accelerate and brake carefully and slowly.

• Leave more room between you and other vehicles.

• Increase your braking distance.

Road and traffic conditions

Here are a few ways to stay on top of state and local traffic information during the winter months:

Iowa Department of Transportation’s offers traffic and road condition updates, as well as the ability to see where DOT plows are operating — along with images from the windshields of about 400 DOT trucks.

Track a Plow also offers users the ability to locate plows. Find it at

• Cedar Rapids residents can sign up to receive text alert sfor snow emergencies at

• In Iowa City, snow emergency updates can be received via email or text alert by signing up at

Stay safe from the cold

• Stay indoors during the storm.

• Walk carefully on snowy, icy walkways.

• Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow.

• Stay dry. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits the cold rapidly.

• Watch for signs of frostbite: loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities. If any of these occur, get medical help immediately.

• Watch for signs of hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If any of these symptoms appear, get to a warm location, remove wet clothing, and warm the center of the body first. Provide warm, non-alcoholic beverages if the person is conscious and get medical help as soon as possible.

• If you see someone who appears to be struggling in the cold, stop to check on them and call 911 if they need help.

Emergency shelters

People needing housing during the cold spell should contact either of these locations:

• Linn County: Waypoint Services at 319-366-7999.

• Johnson County: Shelter House at 319-351-0326.

Keep pets safe

• If it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so keep your animals inside. If left outdoors, pets can freeze, become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured or killed.

• Don’t leave pets alone in a car during cold weather, as cars can act as refrigerators that hold in the cold and cause animals to freeze to death.

• Bring a towel on long walks to clean off stinging, irritated paws. After each walk, wash and dry your pet’s feet and stomach to remove ice, salt and chemicals—and check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes.

• Massaging petroleum jelly or other paw protectants into paw pads before going outside can help protect from salt and chemical agents. Booties provide even more coverage and can also prevent sand and salt from getting lodged between bare toes and causing irritation. Use pet-friendly ice melts whenever possible.

• Pets burn extra energy by trying to stay warm in wintertime. Feeding your pet a little bit more during the cold weather months can provide much-needed calories, and making sure it has plenty of water to drink will help keep your pet well-hydrated and its skin less dry.

• Make sure your pet has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts.

• Towel dry your pet as soon as it comes inside, paying special attention to its feet and between toes. Remove any snow balls from between foot pads.

• Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat provides more warmth.

• Bathe your pets as little as possible during cold spells. Washing too often can remove essential oils and increase the chance of developing dry, flaky skin.

• Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.

National Weather Service monitoring incoming Iowa snowstorm despite shutdown

The government shutdown is not stopping National Weather Service meteorologists from keeping a close eye on the winter storms expected to hit the entire state starting Friday

Brian Pierce, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Quad Cities office said in the next 24 to 48 hours a “significant winter storm will hit throughout the Midwest and bring widespread accumulating snow.”

Pierce is one of 4,000 National Weather Service employees, working without pay this month because of the partial federal government shutdown.

He declined to discuss the shutdown or its impact on his office, instead stating, “The National Weather Service will continue to provide forecasts and warnings for the protection life and property.”

The National Weather Service predicts the Corridor could see between 6 and 10 inches of snow this weekend.

“Unlike the last storm, this snow will be dry and fluffy, and if there is significant wind, we can easily see drifting and blowing snow,” he said.

That snowstorm will be followed by “below normal” temperatures that will last through the weekend and into next week, Pierce said, with a “high probability of below-zero temperatures for overnight lows.”

A series of storms are expected to follow in the coming week, Pierce said, and all are expected to bring additional snow accumulation and frigid temperatures.

Even during a government shutdown, the weather service’s offices are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and everyone rotates from day to swing to night shift, according to the Washington Post. In that time, forecasters issue watches and warnings, and work with emergency managers in the case of life-threatening disasters.

The partial government shutdown does not affect National Weather Service operations related to its mission to protect lives and property, according to The Post. But there are other ways the shutdown does affect its operations. Forecasters and managers are not getting paid. Weather models are not being maintained, launched or improved. Emergency managers are not being trained. The effects of which, according to The Post, could stretch well beyond when the government reopens.

Winter happens to be a critical time for hurricane model updates, said Eric Blake, the National Weather Service union steward at the National Hurricane Center. In November and December, researchers look back at the storms of the previous season to see how the models did, and try to tweak them to perform better next season. They use the months from January to June to make improvements.

“You evaluate what happened, and you use that to push forward,” Blake said. “Almost none of that is happening” because of the shutdown.

They also use this time to train emergency managers from Texas to Maine before the start of the next hurricane season. That’s not happening, and it’s not clear whether the weeklong sessions will be made up when the government reopens.

The Washington Post contributed to this story.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238;

Governor Reynolds excited about ‘big day’ of inaugural celebrations

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds will be sworn into office for a four-year term Friday morning and, weather willing, celebrate with two inaugural balls Friday night.

“We will get sworn in and go have a party, go have a ball,” the governor said Thursday morning at the Capitol.

She will be sworn in at 9 a.m. in the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center before hosting an open house at Terrace Hill at noon and a reception in the Capitol rotunda at 2 p.m.

The activities started Thursday night with a worship service at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, “which is, honestly, one of my favorite parts of the ceremony,” Reynolds said.

She’s hoping the weather — a winter storm is forecast for most of Iowa — won’t interfere with the celebration of her inauguration as the first woman to be elected Iowa governor.

“We’re in Iowa, so we’re hardy,” she said. “If I bought a dress, shoes and was ready to go, I’d probably do everything I could, while being safe, to get to the ball. So hopefully it won’t be too bad, and we’ll have a good turnout.”

Reynolds’ election and inauguration mark a milestone for Iowa women, said former state Sen. Maggie Tinsman, a Bettendorf Republican who is a co-founder of 50/50 in 2020. The goal is for women to be hold 50 percent of the elected offices in Iowa in 2020.

“We are very, very excited to have a female governor,” said Tinsman, who was at the Capitol on Thursday.

Reynolds, she said, has broken the “glass ceiling” for women in Iowa politics.

“Now we have one female U.S. senator and two female congresswomen and now we just need to get 16 more (Iowa) House members and 14 more senators so we can be 50-50,” Tinsman said.

Reynolds’ progress from local elected official to the Legislature to lieutenant governor and now governor “sets a big example.”

“You’re the top leader for the state,” Tinsman said. “And when you have the top leader be a female, other women think ‘maybe I could do that.’ 

“So I think, all right, women, you have to realize that you can do this job. You can be a politician,” she continued. “In fact, I’ve told people I would like to change the word politics or the definition to women’s business because women know how to bring people together and solve the problem. That’s what politics is, problem-solving.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375;

Schedule of inaugural events

Friday, January 18, 2019

Inaugural Swearing-In Ceremony

Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center

833 Fifth Avenue Des Moines, IA

9 a.m.

Terrace Hill Open House

Terrace Hill — 2300 Grand Avenue Des Moines, IA

12 p.m.

Iowa State Capitol Open House

State Capitol Rotunda — 1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50319

2 p.m.

Celebration of Giving

State Capitol Rotunda — 1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50319

4 p.m.

Red Ball — 2019 Inauguration

Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center

833 Fifth Avenue Des Moines, IA

7 p.m.

Ticketed Event — Black Tie Optional

Gold Ball — 2019 Inauguration

Scottish Rite Consistory Building

519 Park Street, Des Moines, IA

7 p.m.

Ticketed Event — Black Tie Optional

For further details on the 2019 Inauguration, visit

Concern about Snap exodus grows

When Tim Stone joined Snap Inc. as chief financial officer in May 2018, investors breathed a sigh of relief.

With 20 years at under his belt, Stone was hailed as a veteran who could bring stability to the social media company, led by 28-year-old co-founder and Chief Executive Evan Spiegel, that had veered off course after an overhyped public offering and a disastrous redesign that pushed users away.

On Tuesday, after just eight months on the job, Stone’s pending departure was revealed in a federal filing. On Wednesday, the Venice company’s stock price dropped nearly 14 percent.

“Tim’s transition is not related to any disagreement with us on any matter relating to our accounting, strategy, management, operations, policies, regulatory matters, or practices (financial or otherwise),” Spiegel wrote in a memo to the company.

As Snap’s stock continues its persistent decline, employee stock option packages have dwindled and executives have headed to the exits.

In the past six months, at least 11 senior staffers have left, leading analysts to question whether Spiegel’s tight grip on the company’s reins is starting to hurt its outlook.

“With all the departures, it’s been very clear that the problem is becoming more focused,” said Brent Thill, an analyst with Jeffries. “He’s a controlling shareholder, that is the vision, so no one’s going to take that away from him — but we all need help in our life — he needs help.”

Spiegel and co-founder Bobby Murphy together control a majority of Snap’s voting shares. The company noted in the same SEC filing Tuesday that its financial performance for this quarter was expected to exceed the guidance issued in its October earnings report.

But that ray of sunshine was seemingly eclipsed by Stone’s departure, which follows a long string of executive exits.

Among them are Kristin Southey, who was brought on in October as vice president of investor relations after a career doing the same at the video game behemoth Activision Blizzard. She left just one month later.

Kristen O’Hara left a job at Time Warner to join Snap as vice president of global business solutions in September. A few weeks later, Spiegel announced that he was hiring a former Amazon executive, Jeremi Gorman, for the job.

O’Hara left soon after.

Veteran Snappers also are disappearing from the company’s Santa Monica headquarters, including some long considered to be in Spiegel’s inner circle. Jason Halbert, the former Army Special Forces officer who served as Snap’s vice president of people and global security — and reportedly drew employee complaints for his aggressive style — announced his departure Monday.

Nick Bell, the vice president of content who joined from News Corp. in 2014 and pioneered its Discover feature, announced his departure in November.

And Mary Ritti, who had led corporate communications since 2013 and was among Snap’s first 10 employees, departed in December.

Snap also lost two vice presidents on its hardware team — Mark Randall and his successor, Sahil Sharma — in August and December; its long-serving head of global strategic partnerships, Elizabeth Herbst-Brady, in early January; and its vice president of marketing, Steve LaBella, and chief strategy officer, Imran Khan, in November.

Stone asked to be promoted to a chief operating officer-type role after Khan left, Bloomberg reported.

After being passed over for that role, Stone reportedly appealed to Snap’s board for a big raise before deciding to leave the company — his pay package included stock options that were worth $20 million when he was hired but had nearly halved in value by the end of 2018.

Stone did not respond to a request for comment.

“There’s always been this concern about adult supervision at the company,” said Mark Mahaney, an RBC Capital Markets analyst. “Where’s the Eric Schmidt, where’s the Sheryl Sandberg?”

The fact that Stone built a career at Amazon — a company with a famously intense workplace culture that took years to reach profitability — only makes his departure more notable, Mahaney said.

“People who stuck it out at Amazon for 20 years were rewarded for their patience — anyone who left Amazon when it was really bad after nine months missed a huge opportunity,” he said. “This raises the question of the credibility of management. What did he see that made him not willing to stick it out?”

And according to an internal employee survey obtained by the tech news website Cheddar in October, the upper ranks of management aren’t alone in eyeing the exits.

That survey found that 40 percent of Snap’s approximately 3,000-strong workforce did not plan to stay at the company.

Shrinking stock packages and tumultuous leadership aren’t a good formula for retaining talent, according to one analyst.

With Spiegel still holding tight to the reins of power, “their management structure is, for lack of a better word, immature,” said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research.

“In many cases, individuals are willing to put up with a lot of **** working for people in those positions, if they can compartmentalize it in the context of getting richer. It’s a lot harder to separate those issues if you’re getting poorer and missing out on opportunity elsewhere.”

Snap has seen declining user numbers in the last two quarters. The fourth-quarter earnings report in early February will show whether the company has managed to reverse that trend.

The company has faced stiff competition from Facebook, which has overtaken Snapchat among older demographics by copying its core features with its Instagram Stories product.

With more than 180 million users in the prime under-24 demographic, some believe the company can still turn toward stability in 2019.

“Our survey work suggests that there’s a lot of teenagers that are still involved every day on the platform. That’s really valuable,” Thill said.

“But they’re effectively losing the lug nuts on the wheels, and you’ve got a shaky back end, and the question is: Is the thing going to end up in the ditch, or are they going to get it back on the road?”

Finkenauer named to House Transportation Committee, Axne to serve on Ag Committee

Iowa 1st District Rep. Abby Finkenauer has landed a seat on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and 3rd District Rep. Cindy Axne will serve on the Agriculture Committee.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the appointment of the two newly elected Democrats.

When House GOP leadership earlier this week took away Rep. Steve King’s committee appointments, it marked the first time since 1899 that Iowa, the nation’s top farm state, would not have had a representative on the House Ag Committee.

Because of the importance of agriculture to Iowa, Axne asked House leadership to sit on two committees. She also will serve on the Financial Services Committee.

The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee recommended Finkenauer — who served on the Iowa House Transportation Committee for three years while a state representative — be named to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

It is one of the largest House committees with more than 50 members. It has jurisdiction over all modes of transportation, including aviation, waterborne, highways, bridges, railroads and mass transit.

Finkenauer, of Dubuque, said she was pleased with the appointment because she’s heard concerns from constituents about “Iowa’s crumbling infrastructure.”

“Our small businesses and farms rely on C-minus graded roads to reach consumers,” she said. “Our neighborhoods and businesses in Cedar Rapids remain vulnerable a decade after the devastating flood. I’m looking forward to working on bipartisan legislation that makes a smart investment in our future and creates good-paying jobs.”

The committee also has jurisdiction over clean water and wastewater management, pipelines, flood damage reduction, the management of federally owned real estate and public buildings, the development of economically depressed rural and urban areas, disaster preparedness and response, and hazardous materials transportation.

Transportation and Infrastructure has broad jurisdiction over the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Coast Guard, Amtrak, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Economic Development Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375;

Junk food ads disproportionately target black and Hispanic kids - report

By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) - Television advertising in the U.S. for candy, fast food, sugary drinks and other unhealthy treats continues to target mostly black and Hispanic youth, according to a new report that suggests this contributes to health disparities.

Overall spending on TV ads by restaurant, food and drink companies declined from $11.4 billion in 2013 to $10.9 billion in 2017, the report found. Even though TV viewing by children and teens also declined during this period, young people in the U.S. continued to view approximately 10 food-related TV ads per day in 2017.

And spending on ads aimed at black children and teens surged 53 percent to $333 million by the final year of the study. Black children saw an average of 16.4 ads a day in 2017, and black teens typically saw 17.1 ads each day.

Hispanic youth, meanwhile, viewed two more ads per day on Spanish-language TV in 2017 than they did at the beginning of the study, in addition to seeing ads in English.

“Food companies almost exclusively advertise junk food - especially fast food, candy, sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks - and these products are disproportionately advertised to black and Hispanic youth,” said lead report author Jennifer Harris of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut in Hartford.

This contributes to health disparities like a greater long-term risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease among children of color in the U.S. in large part because kids have a hard time resisting junk food they see advertised on TV, Harris said.

“It’s a common misperception that you can teach kids to defend against the effects of advertising for unhealthy foods,” Harris said by email.

“In our discussions with kids, they know these products are unhealthy and they know fruits and vegetables would be a better snack,” she added. “But teenagers are not developmentally mature enough to resist short-term rewards (e.g., candy, chips, fast food, sugary snacks) in the interest of long-term benefits, like good health in 20 years.”

The report analyzed advertising by 32 major restaurant, food and beverage companies that spent at least $100 million on food advertising to children and teens in 2017.

That year, spending on ads for healthy products like water, nuts, fruits and 100 percent fruit juice totaled only $195 million, or about 3 percent of spending. Companies devoted only 1 percent of ad spending on black-targeted TV to healthy products, and didn’t promote these items at all on Spanish-language TV.

Black children and teens viewed 70 percent more food ads than white youth in 2013, and they saw 86 more ads than white children and teens by 2017.

The study wasn’t designed to prove whether advertising directly impacted children’s health or eating habits.

But constant exposure to ads for unhealthy foods and drinks can shape children’s norms and expectations about what foods are okay to eat on regular basis, said Jennifer Emond, a researcher at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Unfortunately, the foods and drinks most heavily targeted to children of color are high in sugar, salt and/or fat like sugary drinks, candy and fast food,” Emond said by email. “And these foods should not be consumed on a regular basis.”

To help blunt the effect of these promotions, parents should speak to kids about tricks the ads might use to convince kids to crave unhealthy foods and drinks, and also discuss healthy eating habits, said Dr. Megan Pesch, of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.

“It’s important that children learn which foods can help their bodies grow strong and stay healthy, while not making junk foods seem like forbidden fruit,” Pesch, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

SOURCE: Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, online January 15, 2019.

Cruising through cold temps: Tips for winter bike gear to help you stay pedaling in the elements

Although winter is in full swing, there’s no reason to suddenly stow away your bike. And until snow hits the road, you certainly needn’t swap your fresh-air commute for a slower and sedentary one by car or public transit.

The key to riding through the winter comes down to the proper gear. Think of it this way: Invest in quality options to keep you warm and dry, and you won’t need to spend as much on public transportation, or gas, for years to come.

After suiting up, winter cycling is all about adhering to a few basic safety principles. Get those lights flashing (front and rear) and put these tips to use to keep you cruising into spring.


• Use layers with the right materials.

“With the right apparel, you can ride in any temperature or any climate, and you can do it comfortably,” said Sean Burger, product specialist at Philadelphia Bikesmith and Main Line Cycles, and a city commuter of six years. “Yes, it’s getting very cold, but there are other places that are colder and people ride year-round — there’s apparel designed for all temps.”

Burger said a good rule of thumb is to find breathable fabrics that wick moisture away from the body while being thick enough to strike a balance between warmth and mobility.

“I use a lot of merino wool from brands like Smartwool and Ibex,” said Burger. “It transfers the moisture from your skin into the next layer of your clothing rather than soaking it up and leaving you wet and cold.”

Burger’s next choice is synthetic fabric used for a lot of athletic thermal gear by such companies as Under Armour, the North Face, and Patagonia. Like merino wool, the fabric is designed to wick away perspiration, unlike cotton, which readily absorbs it. (Cotton can absorb about 25 times its weight in water).

“Synthetic gear can often be very thin yet also super-warm,” said Burger.

A wide range of athletic- and outdoor-oriented brands make apparel from both merino wool and synthetic fabrics. Whether it’s fleece, a long-sleeved shirt, or a vest, check the tag before buying.

• Don’t underestimate the power of a good-quality jacket

Layering is essential, particularly for longer rides, but investing in a heavy-duty winter jacket will make life easier and more comfortable. Burger suggests one filled with down.

“If you’re going to hit the trail for a couple hours, you’ll want to layer up and get a lighter softshell jacket to throw on top, but for city commuting, an all-in-one winter down jacket is the way to go,” said Burger. “Down jackets are breathable yet warm, even if you get a little damp.”

In temperatures below freezing, Burger recommends something you’d wear on a ski trip. Look for a synthetic-insulated coat that has an inner thermal layer and a wind-resistant outer layer. If you start to get a little sweaty as you pedal, make sure to zip open and get some air five minutes before reaching your destination.

• Your legs could use an extra layer, too.

One of the easiest layers to add to a wardrobe is a pair of leggings or winter cycling tights, both of which can fit comfortably under work clothes.

“Heattech from Uniqlo has been a game changer,” said Ashley Vogel, a regular commuter and development associate at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. “The leggings keep heat in when I’m outside but aren’t too hot or uncomfortable when I’m indoors.”

Uniqlo offers a variety of options for men and women in its Heattech collection, all made from soft material that’s easy to hang out in all day.

For classic synthetic cycling tights, look to athletic apparel brands like REI, Specialized, Pearl Izumi and Nike.

• Cycling caps and balaclavas will allow you to wear a hat and a helmet comfortably.

If you’ve ever tried to strap a bike helmet on top of a thick winter hat, you know that uncomfortable smooshy feeling. It’s also not particularly safe. Fortunately, there are alternatives to keep you warm and protected, and bike experts across the board consistently recommend the balaclava as one of the best.

“Balaclavas are great — they cover your head and neck with this fleece-lined spandex that keeps you warm but is thin enough to fit under your helmet,” said Burger.

A balaclava works as part hat and part scarf, covering the head and face — leaving only the eyes and mouth exposed — as well as the neck.

As an alternative, Burger recommends merino wool cycling caps. Although they don’t double as a scarf the way balaclavas do, many have coverings to protect ears and a short brim to keep the sun out of your eyes.

“Like any other merino wool layer, they work as a thin thermal insulator that wicks moisture away from your body and keeps you dry,” said Burger.

• Instead of a scarf, consider merino wool from Buff

Wool headwear from Buff is a well-regarded substitute for a balaclava.

“It’s essentially a big merino wool tube that goes around your neck,” said Bicycle Therapy owner Lee Rogers. “On days where it’s extra-cold, you can pull it up right beneath your nose to cover your face, or you can just wear it as a scarf.”

A variety of retailers sell Buff products, including REI and L.L. Bean, as do online marketplaces like Amazon. Most options are priced between $20 and $30.

• Heavy-duty gloves — regular or “lobster” — are a must.

Gloves are mandatory for keeping your fingers from going numb, and there are a few factors to consider when choosing a pair.

“You want to look for something that’s rated for zero degrees or below,” said Burger. “If you can’t find the rating from the glove manufacturer anywhere, then you probably don’t want to buy those gloves.”

His favorite brand of five-fingered gloves is Sealskinz, but he and many other bike professionals also recommend a “lobster” glove.

“They put your last two or three fingers together into a mitten shape, and leave your remaining fingers separate,” said Burger. “This way, you can easily brake and shift, but your littlest finger gets some extra warmth.”

• Prone to extra-cold fingers? Try Bar Mitts

People with perpetually cold hands should try Bar Mitts, available at select bike shops and online at places like Amazon for as little as $25.

“They look kind of like oven mitts that live on the bike and are positioned so that you can still use your brakes and shifters,” said Ryan Filson, manager at Breakaway Bikes. “Use them with a pair of gloves, and your hands are guaranteed to stay toasty.”

• Avoid frozen feet with merino wool socks

Just like hands, feet are not to be forgotten.

“Socks are almost as important as your base layer, and, similarly, you want to choose a fabric that wicks moisture from the body and transfers it out of the fabric,” said Burger.

As with other layers, Burger’s top choice is merino wool, and his go-to brand for socks is DeFeet ($10.99 and up).

“They’re super-warm, but not too thick, so they’ll sit well in any shoe,” he said.

• Steer clear of winter tears with athletic glasses.

Even if you have 20/20 vision, glasses could become your new best accessory.

“They keep the wind out of my eyes as well as some of the grit that can get kicked up in the road,” said Amanda Woade of South Philly, who wears glasses during daytime and nighttime commutes.

Woade recommends glasses with yellow-tinted night driving lenses. “They keep glare down at night and keep things cheerier on cloudy days,” she said.


• Consider swapping your tires

Though most experts agree studded winter tires aren’t necessary for basic bike commuting, many advise investing in a set of wider ones.

“Get the biggest tire that your bike can fit, and choose something that’s puncture-resistant,” said Filson. “This can help smooth out the potholes — the streets get pretty nasty during the winter — and maximize traction.”

• Keep your tire pressure on the low end of the recommended range

“A lower pressure will give a larger contact area on the road, so when it’s a little slushy, you’ll get a better grip,” said Burger.

Less pressure creates a flatter tire that allows more of the rubber to make contact with the street.

To test that, refer to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure range (usually stamped on the sidewall of the tire), and fill your tires until the pump reading just reaches the lower end of the range.

• Give your bike a shower before salt and dirt become excessive.

Winter roads are often dirtier than summer roads, so it’s important to clean your bike more often.

“You don’t want salt sitting on any part of the bike — it’s corrosive,” noted Filson.

Filson recommends using a bucket of soapy water to wipe down the frame and to gently clean the drive train (the chain, chain rings, rear cassette, and rear derailleur) with a rag whenever dirt becomes noticeable.

• Be consistent with lubricating your drive train

A bottle of bike lubricant, available at any cycling shop, should be part of every cycler’s tool kit.

“To maximize the lifetime of your drive train and for a smoother ride, you want to keep everything well-lubricated,” said Rogers. “In the winter, the constant wet conditions cause the chain to get dry even quicker.”

Apply a few drops to the chain while spinning the pedals, using a clean, dry rag to wipe off any excess lubricant.

• Fenders are your friend for keeping clothes clean

Wet streets are inevitable during winter, but they needn’t ruin your work outfit.

“Put fenders on your front and back tire,” urged Burger. “They work to protect you from becoming a wet, brown, soppy mess by preventing the water from flicking up onto your pants and your back.”

• Use Dry-Slide to prevent your lock from jamming up

Dry-Slide, a dry lubricant available at most bike shops, can help prevent moments of panic caused by jammed bike locks.

“You just put a few drops into the area of the lock where you’d put your key,” said Filson. “You can also use a little bit of regular bike lube. It doesn’t dry up as well, and you’ll need to reapply it more often.”


• Always use your lights — day and night.

Never leave home without your lights.

“This applies year-round, but particularly in the winter, when daylight hours shorten. Your rear and front lights should always be blinking,” said Burger. “You should use them during the day, too, to increase your visibility.”

• If it’s snowing and you don’t have to ride, don’t

Though cruising through cold temps is entirely doable, cycling through cold precipitation is not advised.

“It doesn’t matter what type of bike you have, it’s not safe to ride through snow,” says Rogers. “You can’t turn like you normally would and the tires skid, so it becomes dangerous.”

When snow is falling, give your bike a snow day and rely on public transportation if you’re able.

• In snowy conditions, ride in the tire tracks of cars

If you do decide to set out on snowy streets, Burger said to steer clear of bike lanes and instead center yourself in the tracks that cars have left on the road.

“It’s the safest space for you to be when the roads aren’t clear,” he said. “Everywhere else, there will be snow and slush, and you’ll start fishtailing.”

• If you hit black ice, never turn your front wheel

Even after the roads are cleared, a few ice patches often remain. They can be hard to spot and avoid, so keep the following rule in mind in the event your wheels hit ice.

“Never turn your front wheel. Hopefully, you have some room to keep going straight,” said Burger. “Potentially tripod your feet if you think you might fall.”

• Use extra caution

Give yourself additional time for each commute and always err on the side of caution.

“The sun’s lower in the sky, and it’s typically dark when people are on their way to and from work. The road conditions deteriorate during the winter, too,” noted Filson. “All of that affects the way people are driving, so you need to be a little extra-aware.”

• Ride at a pace you feel comfortable with, and don’t worry about what others on the road will think

Bike experts across the region say that when it comes to winter riding, you should pedal as slowly as you want. Not only will riding at a relaxed pace keep you from overheating, it will also give you time to be extra-observant of road conditions and other commuters.

“Don’t worry about the cars behind you — you have the same rights as all of the cars in the city, so you don’t need to feel rushed and you can, and should, ride in the middle of the lane when necessary,” said Burger.

Jury awards $21 million to hotel dishwasher after she was forced to work on Sundays

For nearly a decade, Marie Jean Pierre showed up to work as a dishwasher at the Conrad Hotel in Miami’s posh, high-rise-filled Brickell neighborhood.

The Haitian immigrant said she informed the hotel from the time she was hired, in April 2006, that she could not work on Sundays because she was a missionary for the Soldiers of Christ Church.

“I love God,” Pierre, 60, told NBC Miami on Wednesday. “No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honor God.”

For most of that time, the hotel respected her religious beliefs and allowed her to have Sundays off. However, that changed in October 2015, after a kitchen manager insisted on scheduling her to work on Sundays.

Pierre had her pastor write a letter explaining that it would be a violation of her religious beliefs to do secular work on the Sabbath - but the manager allegedly disregarded it, according to a copy of a complaint Pierre would later file against the hotel chain.

The arrangement forced Pierre to ask her co-workers to switch shifts with her if she wanted to take Sundays off. This lasted until March 2016, when Pierre “was terminated for alleged misconduct, negligence and ‘unexcused absences,’ “ the complaint stated.

In turn, Pierre filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying the hotel had discriminated against her religious beliefs.

Ultimately, she filed a lawsuit against Park Hotels and Resorts of Tysons, Virginia (formerly known as Hilton Worldwide, which managed the Conrad), saying the hotel had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Pierre’s attorney, Marc Brumer, said the hotel had an obligation to “reasonably accommodate” their employees’ religious beliefs - and argued that they could have easily done so for Pierre. Instead, he said, they charged her with absenteeism and fired her.

“Money wasn’t the issue it was riding on,” Brumer told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “My argument to the jury was, ‘We have to send a message to corporations. They have no heart. They’re businesses.’ . . . (Park Hotels and Resorts) is a billion-dollar corporation. A million dollars wouldn’t be right. I mean, what would be the number that would change the world?”

On Monday, a federal jury decided what that number would be, awarding Pierre $21.5 million. Of that, $36,000 is meant to cover lost wages and benefits, while $500,000 is for emotional pain and mental anguish. The remaining $21 million is for punitive damages.

Despite the staggering figure, Pierre will receive at most $300,000 out of the $21 million because of a cap on punitive damages. However, Brumer noted that jurors did not know there was a cap.

“For them, it wasn’t really money. It was trying to right the wrong,” Bruner said. “It’s just a great day for religious freedoms and protection of workers.”

Attorneys for the hotel said they planned to appeal, according to NBC 6 South Florida.

“We were very disappointed by the jury’s verdict and don’t believe that it is supported by the facts of this case or the law,” Hilton said in a statement to the news station. “During Ms. Pierre’s 10 years with the hotel, multiple concessions were made to accommodate her personal and religious commitments.”

Inventor of the Vangaurd index fund dies

John C. “Jack” Bogle, a towering figure in finance who revolutionized American investment with his invention of the index fund, died Wednesday in Bryn Mawr, Pa. He was 89.

The announcement was made by the Malvern, Pa.-based Vanguard Group, the $5 trillion mutual fund organization he founded in 1974. No cause of death was reported.

He had been diagnosed with an erratic heartbeat as a young man, had his first of six heart attacks at 31 and underwent a heart transplant at 66.

“Jack Bogle made an impact on not only the entire investment industry, but more importantly, on the lives of countless individuals saving for their futures or their children’s futures,” said Vanguard CEO Tim Buckley in a news release accompanying the announcement.

Bogle, a pioneer known as “the father of index funds,” was a contrarian who took on Wall Street and the investment community through his advocacy of the cost-efficient index fund, which was widely ridiculed by stock pickers but came to dominate the investing world.

The concept, which began as his senior thesis at Princeton University, was simple: a tiny percentage of stock pickers can beat the Standard & Poor’s 500 over a long period of time. Index funds own broad holdings meant to mimic the market indices.

They do not seek to outperform the market by trying to pick winners, but they own stocks that represent a given market.

It is better, and cheaper, Bogle said, for investors to own a basket of stocks that echo the S&P 500.

“Don’t look for the needle in the haystack,” Bogle wrote in 2007’s “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.” “Just buy the haystack.”

Vanguard is now one of the world’s largest investment management companies, with $4.9 trillion in assets in 413 funds serving 20 million investors across the globe.

Huawei probe underlines US fears of China strategic threat

A federal investigation into Huawei Technologies Co. for allegedly stealing trade secrets from U.S. companies follows a long history of wariness and suspicion toward the Chinese telecommunications giant.

It also adds to a case the U.S. has been trying to make for years now: Huawei is a threat to national security.

The investigation -- tied to civil suits filed in Washington state, including a 2014 case involving the theft of T-Mobile US Inc. technology -- ratchets up pressure on a company already reeling. Last month, at the behest of the U.S., Canadian authorities arrested Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on fraud charges linked to Iran trade-sanction violations.

U.S. officials and industry executives have long harbored questions about Huawei’s ties to China’s government, and concerns about its technology have mounted in lockstep with its growing success. China’s rise as an economic and military competitor to the U.S. have only intensified those worries.

The Trump administration has pushed European allies to block Huawei from telecom networks, and slapped tariffs on China in part to limit its access to next-generation technologies. American lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bipartisan bill that would ban the export of U.S. components to Huawei and other Chinese telecom operators deemed to have violated American laws or sanctions.

Huawei holds an ever-growing share of the world’s smartphone market and is a frontrunner in the race to develop next-generation wireless equipment, which critics say could enable Chinese spying efforts. The federal investigation and Meng’s detention may point to U.S. efforts to build a public case against the company.

“This is another prong in what is starting to feel like a full 360-degree assault on the business,” said Isaac Stone Fish, a senior fellow at the Asia Society in New York. “Huawei is a sustained target, and the U.S. government is saying Huawei is a dangerous company and should be stopped,” he said.

The investigation is at an advanced stage and an indictment could come soon, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. The probe was reported earlier Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal.

Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for T-Mobile.

“We’re not going to comment on such reports in the press,” Chase Skinner, a spokesman for Huawei, said late Wednesday.

China’s foreign ministry said Thursday the legal dispute between Huawei and T-Mobile had already been resolved, and expressed concern about the “reinvestigation.”

“We seriously doubt the true motives behind it,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the ministry, told reporters in Beijing. “We hope the U.S. can create a fair competitive environment for Chinese enterprises operating in the U.S.”

She also blasted U.S. legislators for proposals to block sales of American components to Chinese telecom companies, saying it amounted to “hysteria.”

“The whole world is quite clear that the U.S. is using national machinery to suppress China’s high-tech companies,” Hua said. “This is not what the No. 1 world power should do.”

The arrest of a Huawei employee in Poland last week underscored the increasing pressure on the company in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere over espionage concerns. In 2012, congressional committees and other U.S. government entities criticized Huawei’s “pattern of disregard for the intellectual property rights of other entities and companies in the U.S.”

Earlier this week, Huawei’s billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei broke years of silence to dismiss U.S. accusations that the company helps spy for China’s government. He also praised Trump for helping business by cutting taxes, and called Huawei “only a sesame seed” in the wider U.S.-China trade fight.

The company is also mired in a U.S. criminal case alleging that CFO Meng conspired to defraud banks into unwittingly clearing transactions linked to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Meng, the daughter of Ren, was arrested in Canada on Dec. 1 and released on bail four weeks ago. She is awaiting extradition hearings to the U.S. while living under restrictions in her Vancouver home.

Huawei isn’t the only target. For at least three White House administrations, the U.S. has threatened to take new measures to punish China for the theft of American intellectual property. In November, the Justice Department announced its “China Initiative” designed to prioritize trade-theft cases and litigate them as quickly as possible.

The first companies indicted under the program were state-owned Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co., based in Jinjiang, China, and its Taiwan-based partner United Microelectronics Corp. The prosecution of Jinhua has already helped to hobble China’s aspirations of mass producing dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, chips.

Jinhua and UMC have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Three Taiwanese nationals were charged alongside the companies with conspiring to steal trade secrets. They are scheduled to be arraigned next month.

The U.S. probe into Huawei includes allegations from a 2014 lawsuit by T-Mobile, its U.S. partner at the time, that it stole information, according to the person familiar with the matter.

According to T-Mobile, one of Huawei’s engineers visited its Bellevue, Washington, lab to see a diagnostic robot called “Tappy,” which simulated a phone user’s use. T-Mobile alleged a Huawei engineer was curious about Tappy’s fingertips so he slipped one into his laptop bag during the visit and left with it.

The jury sided with T-Mobile in 2017, saying T-Mobile should get $4.8 million in damages for breach of contract.

- - -

Bloomberg’s Selina Wang, Joel Rosenblatt, Chris Strohm and Kevin Hamlin contributed.

Women are marching in Washington, but real change is coming from states

Women will be gathering in Washington and in cities across the nation for the third year in a row this weekend, demanding equality, representation and an end to what we’ve silently accepted for so many years - sexual harassment, sexual assault and being demeaned in the workplace.

Andrea Johnson has heard some horrifying stories.

There was the lawmaker demanding nude photos from an underling, then flaming her all over town when she reported him.

There were the six women - including a 19-year-old on a fellowship - who testified that a senator made unwanted and relentless passes at them.

And there was the staffer who filed a police report after the distinguished legislator she worked for allegedly locked her in his office and forced unwanted oral sex on her. She also said he pushed her to drop the case when she reported it.

That’s Washington for you, right?

Not in these cases.

These things happened in Albany, New York; Sacramento, California; and Annapolis, Maryland. And they’ve been going on in state capitols across America for ages.

It used to be that Johnson, the 34-year-old senior counsel specializing in state policy for the National Women’s Law Center, got calls from one or two states every year. They were dealing with a pregnancy discrimination issue or maybe equal pay.

“But then my work pretty dramatically shifted with Harvey Weinstein and the Me Too movement,” Johnson said.

Stories surfaced about sexual harassment in Congress, in Hollywood and on Main Street. Dozens of allegations also emerged from state legislatures.

The Associated Press counted 76 legislators accused in less than two years, allegations that made states want to clean up their own acts.

Trust us, Hartford can get just as gross as Hollywood.

Johnson lived on planes, in hotel rooms, answering calls to help legislatures make sense of all this. And she heard from states across the political spectrum.

“It was exciting to receive calls from advocates in South Carolina, because legislators - both Republicans and Democrats - wanted to do something,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, sexual harassment is a near-universal experience that crosses party lines.”

And it’s universal when it comes to employers, too.

Two years after the massive Women’s March of 2017 followed by the (hash)MeToo movement, Congress has done little or nothing to address workplace harassment, letting the biggest piece of legislation - the EMPOWER Act - fester in last year’s session.

Never mind, Washington. States are taking on the issue.

More than 100 bills have been introduced in the past year to deal with sexual harassment at work. Eleven states passed meaningful measures. And as most state legislatures opened for sessions this month, dozens more are on deck, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Speed is essential, Johnson is learning. Because in today’s bananas new cycle, “the Me Too movement can peter out,” she said. “It’s already happening.”

So she’s racing from airport to airport and state capital, hoping to make progress within the tiny window that our ADHD culture allows. Most of last year focused on state legislatures cleaning house. Now, they’re trying to use the momentum to pass laws that affect private employers and the toughest, most nuanced tool that harassers use to keep harassing and to keep their own jobs - the NDA, the nondisclosure agreement.

At least 16 states introduced bills last year to restrict NDAs. Those bills became law in Arizona, Maryland, New York, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington state.

In Maryland, the case against NDAs was especially urgent, given the scandal in Annapolis.

Maryland Del. Curtis Anderson, a Democrat, was removed from leadership positions as deputy whip and chairman of a subcommittee on criminal justice last summer.

Numerous women testified that the lawmaker from Baltimore bestowed unwanted kisses and comments. But the most serious allegation came from an altercation that happened in 2004 - when a woman said Anderson locked her in his office and forced oral sex on her. She complained at the time to the human resources office of the State House, but she said the matter was mishandled. So she made a police report in 2017, inspired by the (hash)MeToo movement.

The case did not involve an NDA, but it did involve something just as pernicious - the pressure to stay silent.

Johnson and her colleague Maya Raghu worked with the state to pass the law against NDAs and other waivers “of substantive and procedural rights related to sexual harassment or retaliation claims in an employment contract or policy,” according to the law center. The law also protects employees against retaliation for refusing to enter into such agreements.

They are working with local D.C. legislators to create a similar law in the city.

Johnson has a letter that she’s trying to get at least one legislator from every state to sign. She’s got 250 signatures from 40 states.

It’s a declaration of war on the culture of sexual harassment and silence, announcing that:

“We cannot wait for Congress to act.

States must lead in this fight.”

And they are.

Trump fires back at Pelosi, says he’s ‘postponing’ her overseas travel

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday that he was postponing an unannounced trip of hers to Afghanistan and Brussels because of the federal government shutdown, apparent retaliation following Pelosi’s suggestion Wednesday that Trump delay his State of the Union address.

“In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure that you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate,” Trump wrote in a letter to Pelosi, D-Calif., released by the White House.

Pelosi and other lawamkers were planning to leave for Afghanistan on Thursday afternoon, a trip that would include a required stop in Brussels for pilot rest, her spokesman Drew Hammill wrote on Twitter. He said there was no plan to stop in Egypt, contrary to how Trump described the trip in his letter.

In Brussels, the group was to meet with top NATO commanders and military leaders “to affirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance,” Hammill wrote.

“The purpose of the trip was to express appreciation & thanks to our men & women in uniform for their service & dedication, & to obtain critical national security & intelligence briefings from those on the front lines,” Hammill continued. He noted that Trump himself had traveled to Iraq shortly after the shutdown began.

Trump’s letter came a day after Pelosi wrote to the president, suggesting that he postpone his Jan. 29 State of the Union address if the partial government shutdown doesn’t end this week, citing security concerns because of Secret Service and other personnel who are going unpaid during the shutdown.

Trump has yet to respond to Pelosi’s suggestion on the State of the Union. But his decision to unilaterally cancel a trip Pelosi planned to make along with other lawmakers to visit U.S. troops overseas underscored increasing acrimony between the two most powerful politicians in Washington, just weeks after Democrats took control of the House and Pelosi regained the speakership.

Trump didn’t explain what authority he has to cancel Pelosi’s trip, but it probably would require the use of military aircraft controlled by his administration. He said Pelosi could fly commercial if she chose. Trump characterized the trip as a “seven-day excursion.”

Pelosi was to have been joined on the trip by other lawmakers, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.

The president and congressional Democrats remain at an impasse over his request for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump had pledged that the wall would be paid for by Mexico.

Democrats are refusing to go beyond the current $1.3 billion annual level for border barriers and fences, a stalemate that has shuttered large parts of the government since Dec. 22. The funding lapse, which entered its 27th day Thursday, is the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

“I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown,” Trump wrote in his letter to Pelosi.

“I look forward to seeing you soon and even more forward to watching our open and dangerous Southern Border finally receive attention, funding and security it so desperately deserves,” he added.

Trump’s move drew a rebuke from one of his own allies, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“One sophomoric response does not deserve another. Speaker Pelosi’s threat to cancel the State of the Union is very irresponsible and blatantly political,” Graham wrote. “President Trump denying Speaker Pelosi military travel to visit our troops in Afghanistan, our allies in Egypt and NATO is also inappropriate.”

Nearly 10,000 companies contract with shutdown-affected agencies

The 160 workers at Transylvania Vocational Services still were filling orders this week. But the company is running on reserves, and jobs are at risk.

The biggest customer — the U.S. government — has stopped paying its bills.

TVS is a federal contractor in western North Carolina that supplies products such as dry milk and baking mix to food banks around the country and to relief efforts in Africa.

A few days ago, CEO Jamie Brandenburg met with employees, many of whom are disabled, to say the company’s reserves could support their work through the middle of February, while he searches for commercial business not vulnerable to a government shutdown.

The partial federal shutdown, now in a record fourth week, means missed paychecks for more than 800,000 government workers. But it also threatens an untold legion of workers in private companies that do business with affected agencies.

“Most of what’s getting a lot of attention from the public is the federal employees,” Brandenburg said, “and I’m very sympathetic.

“But when the government opens back up, they get back pay. The contractors are getting overlooked.”

TVS is one of almost 10,000 companies that hold contracts with federal agencies affected by the government shutdown, according to an analysis of government contractor data by the Washington Post. The data, although incomplete and frozen by the shutdown, still shows a snapshot of the risk to contractors, their employees and communities.

The overall average value of their work — about $200 million a week.

No one knows for certain how many workers are affected, and overall estimates of total federal contract workers range from hundreds of thousands to millions.

It’s also unknown how many have had to stop work, but company and industry officials say financial pressures on contractors are building.

At R3 Government Solutions, an Arlington, Va.-based company that helps federal agencies with workforce planning and managing information technology resources, a few of its contract workers serving FEMA have been sent home without pay, said Chairman and Chief Operating Officer Glenn Hartung.

He has kept others on payroll for fear that they will be poached by a competitor.

“The people that are being furloughed are without pay, and the people that we’re paying we’re not sure how long we can continue to do that,” Hartung said. “It’s basically kind of a turmoil.”

Agency contractors include large corporations that are not threatened. “We are watching the situation carefully, but the impact thus far on our operations has been negligible,” said Jeff Davis, a vice president at General Dynamics, where subsidiaries have worked with affected agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Security Administration.

But the shutdowns may be creating more stresses at smaller companies, where federal contract work easily plays a larger role. About two-thirds of contracts with agencies affected by the shutdown were worth less than $10,000 a week, according to estimates from contracting data.

At New Editions Consulting, for example, a Falls Church, Va., company that helps make government websites more accessible to people with disabilities, about eight of 60 workers were told to halt work on a federal contract but were put on other work.

The reassignments affect the company’s overhead and profit margins, as the work can’t be billed to the government. “These people have families, they have kids, they have mortgages,” said the company president, Shelia Newman. “So I’m going to keep them on as long as I can.”

Other companies have scheduled necessary training for workers idled by the shutdown or considered suggesting they take vacation days. Contract workers, unlike employees of the federal agencies impacted by the shutdown, have not gotten back pay for work lost during shutdowns.

Even with federal contracts that aren’t officially suspended, companies can become mired in shutdown-related complications. Government background checks aren’t available. Notices may not be published in the Federal Register. There may be no federal employees available to approve completed contracted work or to make payments, issue an export license or to approve new contract workers. Contract employees who work alongside government employees can’t go to work even if they want to if the building is shuttered.

Lampert wins auction for Sears

Eddie Lampert’s winning bid to salvage Sears Holdings Corp. valued the bankrupt retailer at $5.2 billion, according to a statement.

The hearing to approve the sale to Lampert’s ESL Investments Inc. is scheduled for Feb. 1, Sears said.

Provided the closing conditions are satisfied, the transaction is expected to close on or about Feb 8.

“We are pleased to have reached a deal that would provide a path for Sears to emerge from the Chapter 11 process,” the restructuring committee for the Sears board said in the release.

“Importantly, the consummation of the transaction would preserve employment for tens of thousands of associates, as well as the relationships with many vendors and suppliers who provide Sears with goods and services.”

Sears disclosed no information about whether the bid releases Lampert from legal liability over previous deals he did with the company.

Creditors have said that the investor’s earlier bailout transactions unfairly benefited him, and they have threatened legal action. Lampert has said the deals were properly crafted and kept the chain alive.

Lampert’s offer, made through his ESL Investments hedge fund, prevailed over competing proposals from liquidators that would have forced the 126-year-old department-store chain to shut down and sell its assets.

The agreement, reached after two days of negotiations in New York, still needs to be approved by the federal bankruptcy judge overseeing the case. A court hearing in the Sears bankruptcy case is scheduled for Friday in White Plains, N.Y.

ESL is Sears’s biggest shareholder and creditor. Lampert now faces the challenge of returning a slimmed-down version of the company to profitability after billions of losses under his management.