It was a relatively quiet week in the Senate. Subcommittees continue to meet to move bills through the process. This week’s snowstorm resulted in all committees being cancelled on Thursday.
The Governor’s proposal (SF 159) to defund public schools by diverting money to private ones appears to have trouble in the Iowa House. It appears that rural Republican legislators are realizing that her proposal will drain money from their rural school district schools. The proposal was approved by Senate Republicans last week.
I have had a lot of questions about why Republicans want to defund our local schools. To provide some insight, here are few paragraphs from western Iowa’s Republican State Senator Jason Schultz’s newsletter last week. Jason lives in Schleswig. The biggest town in his senate district is Denison with a population 8,300, followed by Harlan with a population of 4,800.
From Senator Jason Schultz’s newsletter:
“Our schools in western Iowa are generally high scoring and well supported by the parents. But our largest schools in the cities are not doing as well. Without innovation and competition to make these city schools better, I fear Iowa will decline as a leader in education. Without choice introduced for parents, administrators and school boards will continue to talk down to parents, their customers, without fear of losing students.
“As you can see, SF 159 isn’t a danger to our successful public schools. It offers a small number of parents and students a way out of low-performing schools. It offers public schools an option to be innovative, reimburses teachers for supplies, helps homeschool families with books and supplies, and stops big city schools from holding onto to families who want to open enroll out to a different public school. If anything, this bill doesn’t go far enough.
“Most of the opposition misinformation has come from a few groups. Union bosses are going to oppose anything that affects dollars spent in public schools. The union leaders in Des Moines care about dues, not students. It's their job.
“Superintendents are concerned about changes to funding as well, but also want to compete on a level playing field. I agree with them on this, but the answer is to lower regulation on them, not raise it on someone else.
"Some also see public education as an opportunity to teach or indoctrinate Iowa's children and sway them against the more conservative and Christian values parents are instilling.”
How Senator Schultz has any real understanding of what is going on in “our largest schools in the cities,” like Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, I don’t know. He appears to want to take us all back in time to a place in western Iowan... a place that lots of people don’t want to go. Questions?
My bill requests in 2021
I joined my colleagues in introducing a few more bills this week. Here is a link to see the bills I have introduced so far this legislative session.
New strain in Iowa
The Iowa Department of Public Health has confirmed cases of the U.K. COVID-19 variant in Iowa. Researchers believe that the U.K. strain (known as B.1.1.7) spreads more easily. However, current vaccines are considered to be effective against the strain. Updates on variant cases in Iowa are available on the CDC’s website.
IDPH announced February 3 that it is redistributing unused vaccines from long-term care facilities to vaccinate Iowans 65 and older. Some Walgreens and CVS stores have been designated to dispense these vaccines. Get details on availability and scheduling an appointment.
IDPH has launched new features on the state’s COVID-19 website to provide a statewide view of Iowa’s vaccine effort. A vaccine provider locator tool allows Iowans to search for nearby vaccine providers and schedule an appointment. This should be particularly helpful as the number of available doses increases in the coming weeks.
A new vaccine administration dashboard includes data on:
- Number of vaccine doses administered
- Doses administered by county
- Vaccination rates by age group, sex, race and ethnicity
Currently being vaccinated are Iowans in Phase 1B. That includes those 65 and older and Iowans at high risk of exposure or severe illness. It’s expected to take several weeks to complete Phase 1B before moving to the next Phase, which will include those under 65 with pre-existing conditions.
Please continue practicing public health measures that can help slow the spread:
- Wear a mask
- Stay six feet away from those outside your household
- Wash your hands often
- Stay home if you feel sick
- Get tested if you are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms
FOCUS ON FAMILIES CAN HELP BUILD BACK BETTER
Senate Democrats have proposed a COVID Recovery Plan to help Iowans and get our state back on track. It addresses many long-standing needs that have become critical over the last year.
Access to affordable child care is a top concern. Child care is a necessity for working parents everywhere, but even more so in Iowa. Over 70% of Iowa families with young children have all available parents in the labor force.
In addition, the high price of child care forces many families to make tough choices, including compromising on quality of care and making career sacrifices that hurt their pocketbook.
The pandemic has made access to affordable child care even more challenging because public health measures require additional protocols at child care facilities and Iowans face extra logistics to ensure the safety of their families.
SF 177 is designed to help Iowa families and child care providers. It would increase income eligibility for child care assistance over the next five years. This would allow more parents to work, knowing their children are getting high-quality care. Organizations such as the United Way recommend increasing eligibility for child care subsidies because it helps more families reach self-sufficiency.
SF 177 also updates reimbursement rates for child care providers so that they are adequately compensated for working with families that receive assistance.
Other initiatives that can help meet the needs of children, working parents and employers include:
- Expanding Child and Dependent Care Tax Credits. I support a proposal to increase the size of the credit for many Iowans and make more Iowans eligible to receive the credit.
- Allowing school districts to use school infrastructure dollars to expand preschool offerings (SF 65).
- Increasing per-pupil funding for preschool students and developing full-day preschool and related services for families (SF 189).
- Providing $3 million in new money to the Child Care Challenge Program, which helps expand local child care options (SF 186).
Access to child care and preschool is integral to our COVID Recovery Plan because it can boost the success of children, families, employers and communities—helping us to build back better for the long run.
SCHOOL FUNDING PLAN FAILS OUR KIDS AND COMMUNITIES
A new school funding proposal announced late this week is more bad news for Iowa’s public-school parents, students and school employees.
The sad truth is that under a proposal (SSB 1159) announced by Senate Republicans, 141 Iowa school districts will receive less state funding next year than they did this year. In addition, it will lead to higher local property taxes, especially in our rural areas and small towns.
Last week, legislative Republicans voted to take money from our kids' public schools to fund a private school voucher program. They are now launching a puny school funding plan that fails to make up for four years of neglect.
I believe that our kids and our community schools need much more help to overcome the learning challenges of the COVID19 pandemic and to prepare Iowa children for a better future.
A subcommittee meeting that is open for public comment is scheduled for 12 noon on Monday, February 8.
STANDING UP FOR VICTIMS, IMPROVING PUBLIC SAFETY
Several bills are moving through the Iowa Senate to improve public safety and offer recourse to victims.
Failure to assist
SF 243, known as the “failure to assist” bill, is in response to the drowning death at Coralville Lake of 15-year-old Noah Herring of Tipton.
Last year, Noah went missing after going swimming with friends. It was later learned he had drowned, but nobody with him had called for help. There is no applicable charge under Iowa law, in this case, for not calling 911 or taking other steps to help.
The lack of immediate information about what happened to Noah delayed the investigation, and caused a lot of suffering for his family.
SF 243 fixes a loophole by requiring people to report to authorities if they know someone is dead or injured. The bill made it through committee and is now eligible for Senate debate.
Noah’s family participated in the public input phase of the bill. You can see what they had to say here:
Cracking down on misconduct
SF 171, which also passed committee, makes it a class “D” felony for a peace officer to engage in a sex act with an individual in their custody. Under current Iowa law, this is not prohibited if the sex act is claimed to be “consensual.”
Iowa is one of around 33 states that does not outlaw this behavior. Although it is hoped that such behavior is rare, it should be addressed. After all, the power imbalance is significant between a law enforcement officer and a detainee.
Prohibiting obscene material
Providing obscene material to children is often a way of grooming them for sex work by normalizing behaviors. Under current law, it’s a serious misdemeanor for a person other than a parent or guardian to knowingly provide obscene material to a minor.
SF 45 also makes it a crime for parents or guardians who’ve been convicted of a sex offense against a minor to provide obscene material to their own children.
TAKE ACTION ON BILLS OF INTEREST
Private school vouchers
SF 159 passed the Senate January 28 and is now under consideration in the Iowa House. Iowans have expressed concern that SF 159 would hurt our public-school students by shifting resources to a new private school voucher program. If you’d like to share your views on this bill with your State Representative, you can find their contact information at legis.iowa.gov/legislators/house.
Woman’s reproductive rights
SJR 2 is a joint resolution to amend the Iowa Constitution. If ratified, the Iowa Constitution would no longer protect a woman’s fundamental right to make health care decisions for herself. The resolution was moved forward following public input at a subcommittee meeting on February 2. It is now eligible to be taken up by the State Government Committee. If you’d like to share your views on this bill with members of that committee, you can find their contact information at legis.iowa.gov/committees/committee?ga=89&groupID=702.
NEWS YOU CAN USE
ACA special enrollment
A special enrollment period runs February 15 to May 15 for Iowans who want to purchase or change their Affordable Care Act individual health coverage.
Premium assistance in the form of tax credits is available for households with qualifying income levels. During the special enrollment period, Iowans may call 1-800-318-2596 or visit healthcare.gov for enrollment information and to calculate applicable tax credits.
Local insurance agents, assisters and Iowa’s navigator are available to help Iowans review which insurance plan may best fit their needs. Find local help by visiting localhelp.HealthCare.gov.
Concerned about someone in long-term care?
Throughout the pandemic, residents of nursing facilities have suffered with the virus and with social isolation in an effort to prevent further spread. If you have concerns about a loved one in long-term care, please reach out to the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman for assistance in ensuring that residents’ rights are being upheld and respected. You can call them at 866-236-1430.
Virtual turkey hunting courses
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is offering a two-part virtual turkey hunting course. During the first course, participants will learn turkey history, habitat, behavior, regulations, safety and gear. The second course teaches skills such as calling, field dressing and cooking.
Courses are scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. on March 16 and March 23. Click through for more information and to register: