HAPPY JUNETEENTH!The 88th General Assembly concluded its work last Sunday around 1:30 pm. It was a sleepy ending to the 10 days of pandemic-extended session. The Iowa Senate worked all day and night Saturday before taking a break at 6 am on Sunday morning. After midnight we debated last-minute state budget changes, including a surprise $8 million cut to our public universities, new mail ballot voter suppression provisions and more restrictions on women’s right to control their own bodies. It was an ugly but spirited all-nighter! I was proud to stand with my Democratic colleagues as we fought these bad ideas in the dark of night. Here is a link to the all-night debate.
One very positive effort of the last week of session was the unanimous approval of four provisions (see below) to address racial inequality in policing practices. The speedy approval of these long-overdue reforms is the direct result of the protests occurring across Iowa and the world. They represent a small but important first step in beginning to address racial injustice in Iowa. Protesters deserve all the credit for this action. There is so much more work to do.
Racial inequality can be found in every segment of our society. From criminal justice, education, health care to economic opportunities, black Americans have not been treated equally and have been left behind. I strongly support additional policing reforms to combat racial profiling, independent oversight of police misconduct, banning tear gas and marijuana legalization/decriminalization, to name a few. There is work to do at every level of government. Right now, it is important to listen to concerns and act on what we learn to make needed changes.
In the last week of session, Republicans also rammed through COVID-19 immunity protections for meat packers, nursing homes and every business. It seems like unnecessary protection unless you have been negligent in protecting your employees or nursing-home residents from the virus. Sadly, it was the only pandemic-related legislation we debated.
Protesters in the Senate gallery witness debate on policing reforms.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, Americans are pulling together like never before to end racial injustice.
The Plan for a More Perfect Union, unanimously passed by lawmakers on June 11 and signed into law on June 12, bans police chokeholds, makes it illegal to rehire police fired for misconduct, allows the Attorney General to investigate police misconduct, and requires annual bias and de-escalation training for law enforcement officers.
Training will emphasize understanding and respect for diverse communities, as well as techniques to minimize the need to use force.
Why is restoring voting rights so important to achieving racial justice?Iowa has significant disparities in arrests and incarceration of black citizens—only 4% of Iowa’s population is black, but more than 25% of our prison population is black.
The sad truth is that Iowa is the last state in the nation to have a ban on restoring voting rights for former felons. These citizens return home, where they’re working, paying taxes and contributing to their communities, they also deserve to participate in their government.
That’s why I back a constitutional amendment to allow people convicted of felonies to automatically have their rights restored after they serve their sentences. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans did not take up the bipartisan legislation that awaited their action over the past two years. That means the earliest voting rights could be automatically restored through the Iowa Constitution is 2024.
In the meantime, I hope Governor Reynolds will immediately make good on her promise to restore voting rights through an executive order, and allow former felons to vote in the November general election.
Policing reform bill signing on the west steps of the State Capitol.
REFLECTING IOWANS’ PRIORITIES
The state budget is paid for with Iowans’ hard-earned tax dollars and should reflect your priorities. That’s why a balanced budget based on the latest revenue estimates is the first and foremost obligation of the Legislature.
Unfortunately, the $8 billion bundle approved for the fiscal year beginning July 1 failed Iowans on many levels.
Not only was the giant budget passed quickly in the middle of the night with no chance for Iowans to review it and offer feedback, it fails to address immediate concerns in need of balanced solutions, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes:
- Protecting the health and safety of all Iowans.
- Stabilizing the economy and Iowans’ financial security needs.
- Creating a comprehensive Iowa-focused COVID-19 recovery plan.
Instead of spending their time making Iowans lives better, many legislators focused on divisive, partisan issues in the closing days of session. Most strikingly, Iowa’s successful, record-setting June 2 primary election was met with more efforts to discourage Iowans from exercising their Constitutional right to vote.
Iowans expect action from leadersPeople are paying attention, speaking out, taking action and demanding results. They’re making it clear that they want us to work together for healthier, happier, safer and stronger communities.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to listen, learn and deliver for all Iowans—those who may not share our interests or political views, who don’t look like us or have our resources, and who haven’t had the opportunities we’ve received.
Throughout the interim, I will continue working toward these goals and providing updates through e-newsletters, social media and local meetings.
For the latest progress on what’s happening in state government and its impact on Iowans, stay tuned to senate.iowa.gov/democrats.
To contact me, follow my social media channels or subscribe to my updates, go to senate.iowa.gov/senator/bolkcom.
Working safely on the Senate floor during the reconvened session.
IOWANS DESERVE A STRONGER CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE
In a few months, Iowa has racked up 24,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 650 deaths. The coronavirus pandemic has created short-term and long-term problems for Iowans, businesses and communities that require thoughtful planning, transparency and accountability to taxpayers.
During the final days of the 2020 session, I worked to improve the state’s recovery efforts and ease the uncertainty Iowans face today. I voted for plans to honor and support our front-line workers. I worked on ideas to keep Iowans healthy; open business safely while protecting workers; keep kids learning safely; and increase transparency and oversight during this pandemic.
Unfortunately, many Iowans lack confidence in their government as a result of the pandemic response. In a survey we conducted last month, 72% of respondents said more should have been done in Iowa.
Topping the list of concerns are the Governor’s multi-million dollar, no-bid contracts with out-of-state vendors and the majority party’s refusal to provide any oversight of the $1.25 billion in federal funds that Iowa received to deal with the pandemic.
Instead of taking meaningful steps to make Iowans safer, many legislators voted to take away the rights of workers, residents of long-term care facilities and others hurt or killed by COVID-19. They were more focused on shielding the owners of meatpacking plans, health care facilities and other organizations from most lawsuits.
This sends the wrong message to essential workers, especially those with few job options. While most employers act in good faith, we’ve seen the devastating consequences when a few do not prioritize the wellbeing of their workers: families become sick, people die and communities suffer.
A QUICK SUMMARY OF 2020 LEGISLATION
Below is a quick summary of key legislation passed this year. I assess each bill that comes before the Senate based on how well it promotes:
- Better jobs and economic security
- Affordable, accessible health care throughout the state
- Making an Iowa education #1 again
- Ensuring every community has the tools to thrive
- Taking a step toward addressing racial injustice with plan for a More Perfect Union (HF 2647)
- Showing the respect our veterans and service members deserve (SF 388, HF 2312, HF 717, SF 280, HF 2382, HF 2236, HF 2642)
- Banning human traffickers from commercial driving (HF 2235)
- Enhancing safety and justice for crime victims (HF 2445, HF 2554)
- Cracking down on animal cruelty (HF 737)
- Encouraging recovery through greater participation in the 24/7 program (HF 2411)
- Encouraging minors to seek help in alcohol-related emergencies (HF 684)
- Raising minimum age for tobacco and vaping (SF 2268)
- Helping foster kids transition to adulthood (HF 2220)
- Ensuring better health care for Iowa seniors (HF 2269)
- ünsuring safe health care by expanding the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (SF 2120)
- Preventing insurance fraud (HF 426)
- Expanding access to health care providers and services throughout the state (SF 2118, SF 2357, HF 2267, HF 310, SF 2261, HF 2197)
- Incentivizing veterinarians to practice in rural Iowa (SF 2398)
- Helping rural schools cover busing costs (SF 2164)
- Improving classrooms so all students can reach their full potential (SF 2360)
- Expanding special education opportunities (HF 2340)
- Expanding reading help for dyslexic students (SF 2356)
- Adding autism symbol to driver’s licenses to prevent misunderstandings with law enforcement (HF 2372)
- Laying out rigorous return-to-learn criteria to help students get back on track (SF 2310)
- Encouraging a diverse teaching workforce (HF 2359)
- Expanding Career and Technical Education (HF 2454)
- Expanding skilled apprenticeship training (HF 2629)
- Upgrading child care facilities (HF 2629)
- Expanding access to child care (HF 2270, HF 2600)
- Expanding business opportunities and neighborhood services (SF 155)
- Expanding farm learning opportunities (HF 2477)
- Establishing a plan for growing solar energy (SF 583)
- Protecting Iowa’s natural resources (SF 583, SF 2250, HF 2475)
- Boosting jobs and economy by promoting Iowa-grown commodities (SF 583, SF 2403, HF 2581)
- Providing tourism opportunities by extending hotel/motel tax (HF 760)
- Expanding broadband throughout the state (SF 2400)
- Helping local governments save money by sharing staff (SF 2025)
- Allowing first responder agencies to donate used vehicles, equipment (SF 2259)
- Providing immediate resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic (SF 2408)
- Protecting freedom of speech from unmerited lawsuits (HF 2339)
- Another inadequate state investment in public schools (SF 2142)
- Making it harder for Iowans to exercise their Constitutional right to vote (SF 2348, HF 2486, HF 2643)
- Using the Iowa Constitution to ban abortion, even in cases of rape or incest (SJR 2001/HJR 2004)
- Creating new barriers for a woman to make her own medical decisions (HF 594)
- Allowing health insurance plans that can deny coverage for pre-existing conditions (SF 2412)
- Failing suffering Iowans by continuing a weak medical cannabis program (HF 2589)
- Creating new roadblocks to compensation for Iowans with asbestos-related diseases (SF 2337)
- Siding with big business over essential workers who contract coronavirus on the job (SF 2338)
- Making it easier for businesses to misclassify worker and avoid paying taxes or providing benefits (SF 2296)
- Overriding local control of weapons laws (HF 2502)