Wednesday, June 5, 2013

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Gov. Terry Branstad will sign legislation designed to reduce commercial property taxes in Iowa.

Branstad announced Wednesday that he will sign the bill into law on June 12 in Hiawatha. The compromise legislation passed by the Iowa Legislature will reduce taxable assessments for commercial properties, as well as offer tax credits geared at small businesses.

The plan also limits the amount that residential and agricultural property values can grow. And it provides some income tax breaks to Iowa taxpayers.

Commercial property tax cuts were a top priority for Branstad during the 2013 legislative session.

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The University of Iowa received permission Wednesday to develop plans for a new museum to store its premier collection of fine art, which has largely been stored off-campus since a 2008 flood.

The university said it will study a range of potential sites for the museum near its campus in Iowa City and options for funding the building through donations and partnerships with the private sector. While the project is still years from completion, the approval for planning by the Iowa Board of Regents gives hope that the university's art collection of 12,400 paintings, sculptures and other objects will one day return to campus.

The lack of space for the collection, built up over decades and considered among the best held by a U.S. university, has been one of the results of a historic 2008 flood that damaged the UI Museum of Art and 21 other campus buildings. University workers were able to evacuate the art works, which have been housed largely at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, 60 miles away, and in other places on campus since then.

The collection includes a famous Jackson Pollack painting and has an overall estimated value of more than $500 million.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency ruled in 2010 that the museum, which sustained millions of dollars in damage to its utility systems and lower level, was not more than 50 percent damaged and therefore only qualified for federal funding for renovations rather than be rebuilt outside the floodplain. But the university said it could not find any insurers who would cover the collection at the museum's site on the Iowa River. FEMA rejected multiple appeals by the university, including its final one in March, for funding to rebuild elsewhere.

"Unsuccessful, but at least we had determination," university senior vice president and treasurer Doug True told regents during a meeting in Iowa City on Wednesday.

The regents voted unanimously to give the university permission to begin planning for the new museum. The board also approved a $2.5 million project to repair flood damage in the current building so that it can be used in the future for other academic purposes. Part of the building is already being used as temporary space for music programs, and the university will decide in the future how to use the rest of the space.

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Highly-regarded former Iowa congressman Jim Leach will join the University of Iowa faculty after stepping down as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the school said Wednesday.

Iowa beat out Leach's alma mater of Princeton and other prestigious schools such as Harvard who were vying to land Leach after he resigned from his federal job last month, University President Sally Mason said.

Leach, a Davenport native who represented Iowa in Congress for 30 years, will become a visiting professor of law and hold an endowed chair of public affairs. He will work with the university's center on human rights, give special lectures on foreign policy and other issues and teach courses on the American government and legislative process to law and undergraduate students.

Leach will earn an annual salary of $240,000 through a mix of state and private sources, and hold a three-year appointment that is renewable, Mason said. He will start work in August.

Leach represented eastern Iowa in Congress for 30 years until he was defeated for re-election in 2006 by Democrat Dave Loebsack, in an anti-Republican wave year. He had chaired the House committees on banking and international relations.

Leach, a moderate, crossed the political aisle to endorse President Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008. Obama then tapped Leach to lead the NEH in 2009, when he was working as a professor at Princeton and at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

At the NEH, Leach supported programs to promote mutual respect among different cultures in the U.S. and abroad and to expand understanding of American history and values. He also presided over an effort to digitize collections of books, artworks and artifacts from libraries and museums.

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Cities along major rivers in Iowa remained vigilant Wednesday as flooding reached a peak, but the focus was turning toward clean up as waters will likely recede in the coming days.

At Iowa City, the Iowa River is expected to reach just above 25 feet Wednesday and start falling sometime next week. Flood stage is 22 feet; at 23 feet, the river causes moderate flooding, washing out roads and impacting some home basements and buildings.

Less than an inch of rain fell Tuesday and Wednesday in the Iowa River basin and more could come over the weekend, but not in significant amounts.

"We're moving in the right direction," Dee Goldman, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations manager at the Coralville Reservoir, said at a briefing Wednesday.

University of Iowa President Sally Mason told the Board of Regents that water was surrounding some campus buildings but had not gone into any of them because of flood barriers put in place last week. She showed pictures of Mayflower Residence Hall, where floodwaters were pushing up against the barriers but not breaching them. Mason also showed photographs of miles of similar barriers that were erected along the Iowa River that was keeping the campus dry.

"It was truly monumental to see what can be done in three days to protect the campus," she said.

Emergency operations in Johnson County are expected to be suspended on Friday and the state has similarly cut back its emergency flood operations center.

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DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — A Davenport man has pleaded not guilty to charges in connection with the assault of a man at a county courthouse.

Court records filed last week show 46-year-old Jimmy Lightner pleaded not guilty to willful injury causing bodily injury and going armed with intent. He also is charged with an aggravated misdemeanor of interference with official acts causing bodily injury.

Surveillance video at Scott County District Court in early May shows Lightner attacking a man and chasing him into the courthouse's security area.

The Quad-City Times reports (http://bit.ly/Ztsumhhttp://bit.ly/Ztsumh ) Lightner was detained as he tried to get through the metal detector. He had a 5-inch blade duct-taped to his forearm and a pocket knife. Authorities say he did not know the victim.

A message for Lightner's attorney was not immediately returned.

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Information from: Quad-City Times, http://www.qctimes.comhttp://www.qctimes.com

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