It was a slow second week at the Statehouse. The Legislature did not meet on Monday in observance of our national holiday celebrating MLK Day. On Wednesday, the inauguration of President Biden and Vice-President Harris took center stage. My Dem colleagues and I spent much of the day watching the inauguration and festivities! It was all fantastic! There were also a bunch of virtual/online subcommittee meetings as bills start to move.
With the election of President Joe Biden, the Senate and House Chambers await new presidential photos. In the meantime, President Trump’s photo was removed from both the House and Senate chambers on Wednesday. Since it will take a little while for the new official Presidential photo to arrive, Senate Democrats are passing the hat to purchase and install an appropriately sized and framed photo of President Biden until the official photo arrives! We will have it up early next week!
REPUBLICANS CONTINUE TO HARASS EDUCATORS, SCHOOLS
Wasting no time, Governor Reynold’s has two bad education bills coming to the Iowa Senate next week. One would mandate every school district open their schools for in-person instruction. The other bill would create private school vouchers and charter schools. Both bills usurp local decision-making authority. The Governor’s private school voucher bill will drain financing away from our under-funded local public schools. These two bills are incredibly disrespectful of the education professionals and staff that have put their own health on the line to support our kids.
Local education forum today
TODAY: Friday, January 22, at 4 p.m. area legislators will meet with local school superintendents. Please click this link to join the Local School Legislative Forum webinar: iowacityschools-org.zoom.us/j/92620197578
Legislative forum on Saturday
The first League of Women Voters Johnson County forum is Saturday, January 23, at 9:30 a.m. Registration is required to participate in the Zoom call, but the forum also will be live-streamed on the League’s Facebook page and website, and on City Channel 4. For complete details and to view the live forum, go to facebook.com/events/234425885043120.
LET’S FOCUS ON REBUILDING IN 2021
Iowans have been through a lot over the last year, particularly with the pandemic. It’s not over yet, but it is time for the Legislature to do all it can to help Iowa build back better, bigger and stronger than ever.
My focus this session is on a plan to help Iowa rebound from the ravages of the last year. Senate Democrats’ COVID Recovery Plan aims to:
1. Defeat COVID-19 by rolling out vaccines to all Iowans as efficiently as possible. Our country has surpassed 400,000 deaths and is expected to hit the 500,000-fatality mark in February. With no time to waste, we should use some of the state’s budget surplus to get emergency funding to county health departments to speed up distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations and contact tracing.
2. Help hurting Iowans. The pandemic has sickened Iowa workers and shuttered businesses throughout the state. The good news is that we have ample resources to:
- Support struggling small businesses with direct grants and forgivable loans.
- Help cities, counties and school districts bounce back from a tough year.
- Assist food banks that are serving an increasing number of Iowans in need.
- Exempt federal unemployment payments from state taxes.
3. Build back better by focusing on critical needs. This includes:
- Developing an Essential Workers Bill of Rights that guarantees better pay and stronger workplace protections.
- Keeping local small businesses that are part of the very fabric of our communities.
- Expanding access to affordable child care throughout the state.
- Investing in high-speed Internet that will make every corner of Iowa a great place to live, learn and work.
NAVIGATING THE LEGISLATURE’S WEBSITE
Here is an informative video my new colleague Senator Sarah Trone Garriott made about how to use the Iowa Legislature’s website. It does a good job of pointing out some of the basic features: facebook.com/sarahforiowa/videos/717516718902853
IOWA’S CURRENT VACCINATION SCHEDULE
Phase 1B vaccine sub-prioritization summary
Here is the latest information on Governor Reynolds’ vaccine rollout, based on January 21 updates. Vaccines remain in short supply, and will likely be in short supply for weeks. This means not everyone in Phase 1B will be able to get vaccinated right away. To help balance vaccine supply with the Phase 1B demands, the Iowa Department of Public Health has implemented a tiered prioritization, outlined below.
IDPH remains in close contact with our federal partners to communicate Iowa’s need for additional vaccines. Phase 1B is to begin the first week of February. People are going to have to be patient. And, even after being vaccinated, you should continue to wear a mask, social distance and wash our hands.
Phase 1B Priority Populations
Persons aged 65 years and over, OR the following populations vulnerable to high risk of exposure or severity of illness (listed in order of priority):
- First Responders
- PK-12 staff, early childhood education, childcare workers
- Frontline essential workers in food, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors who live or work in non-social distanced settings
- Individuals with disabilities living in home settings and their direct care staff
- Staff and individuals living in congregate settings not covered by previous Phase or Tier
- Government officials, including staff, engaged in business at the State Capitol
- Inspectors responsible for health, life and safety
- Correctional facility staff and individuals incarcerated
Local information on when & where
The Johnson County Health Department is coordinating local vaccinations. Here is a link to their website for updates and information on local vaccination efforts: Johnson County Coronavirus Information Hub
IOWA NATIONAL GUARD IS ALWAYS READY
Condition of the Guard address: youtu.be/k5tK337Z28M
Maj. Gen. Ben Corell presented the annual Condition of the Guard address January 14 at the Statehouse. He noted the diverse ways our National Guard was called to serve Iowans and our country over the last year.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit Iowa, Guard members delivered personal protective equipment to healthcare workers, transported test samples to the State Hygienic Lab, and assisted at Test Iowa sites and call centers. They boxed meals and delivered food—nearly 312 tons—to distribution facilities across the state.
In August, more than 200 members helped communities hit hardest by the derecho. Another 1,700 soldiers and airmen were deployed to serve our country overseas in 2020, and more are expected to deploy in the next few months.
This was the Adjutant General Corell’s first address to the Legislature. He replaced Maj. Gen. Tim Orr, who retired in May. Corell grew up in Strawberry Point and enlisted in the Iowa Army National Guard in January 1986. He has deployed overseas six times, most recently to Kuwait where he commanded the 34th Infantry Division “Red Bulls."
Grants to reduce vehicle emissions
Through March 5, the Iowa Department of Transportation is accepting applications for two grant programs funded through the Volkswagen Settlement Environmental Mitigation Trust.
The first funding program will offer $4.9 million in grants to private organizations, public transit systems, cities, counties and schools that want to upgrade their diesel fleets and equipment.
The second program will offer $1.1 million for Zero Emission Vehicle Supply Equipment. The goal is to expand charging sites for electric vehicles to fill in gaps in Iowa’s charging equipment infrastructure network. Eligible applicants include businesses, non-profits, government agencies and transportation planning organizations.
Iowa is getting a total of about $21 million from the Volkswagen settlement. The dollars are being distributed through competitive application programs such as these over the next several years.
Learn more about these funding opportunities and how to apply at iowadot.gov/vwsettlement.
Grants to expand broadband
The Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program is making available more than $15 million in federal CARES Act funds for broadband infrastructure projects that will further telework, telehealth, distance learning and other remote services in areas that need them most. Projects must be completed by December 1. Complete details can be found at ocio.iowa.gov/empower-rural-iowa-broadband-grant-program-notice-funding-availability-005.
About my newsletter
My newsletter provides brief summaries of some of the things that I am working on, the work of the General Assembly, and political perspectives on issues. I also use it to announce meetings and to provide useful information about state government.
How to Contact Me
1235 Oakes Drive
Iowa City, IA 52245