The 89th Iowa General Assembly convened on Monday in the midst of an uncontrolled, global pandemic. Needless to say, it was not a typical first week of the legislative session. Unfortunately, Republicans who control the Capitol will not require masks to be worn by people doing business in the building. As a result, it is an unsafe environment for the public, staff and legislators.
This week is typically full of speeches about future priorities and possibilities. Since it’s impossible to social distance with 150+ people in the House chamber, most Democrats decided to watch the speeches on TV or their computers. I watched Governor Reynold’s Condition of the State address live on IPTV. I watched Chief Justice Christensen’s Condition of the Judiciary speech (speech details below), and Major General Corell’s State of the Iowa National Guard address remotely, streamed on my computer. Sadly, it was the first time in 23 consecutive years of attending these speeches with my House colleagues that I have missed the in-person experience.
The 2021 legislative session gaveled in on January 11.
Super spreader rally kicks off session
On Monday, at least 200 anti-vaccination proponents rallied at the Capitol, shoulder to should, without masks. The gathering violated the Governor’s emergency proclamation for large indoor gatherings. They appeared to have a ruckus good time though. Here are some photos from the “Informed Choice Rally.”
Snap out of it!
I spoke to Senators on the Senate floor Wednesday about the reckless approach Republicans are taking by not protecting the health of people coming to the Capitol. They did not like what I had to say.
Here is a link to my comments: https://youtu.be/N6606LNJoNQ
Here is some of the news coverage of my comments: Radio Iowa, Des Moines Register
Martin Luther King Jr Day - 2021 virtual activities
The University of Iowa will be celebrating MLK Day with many virtual programs next week. Here is a link to UI’s Martin Luther King Jr - Celebration of Human Rights events: https://mlk.uiowa.edu/
Iowa elected officials support regulating marijuana like alcohol
A group of 39 Iowa state and local elected officials publicly declared their support for marijuana reform last week. Here is a link to their efforts: https://joebolkcom.org/issues
READY TO BUILD BACK BETTER
Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls gave a great opening day speech. Here is a link to see what he said: youtu.be/35F0x7RFSNA
Working for you
It’s an honor to be back in Des Moines working for the people of Iowa City, University Heights, East Lucas Township and the city of Hills.
I’m available to help if you need assistance navigating state government, and I want your input on the direction Iowa is headed. The best way to reach me is by writing to my legislative email: email@example.com.
I also encourage you to follow what I’m doing during session:
- Review legislation and committee work: legis.iowa.gov/legislators/legislator?personID=123
- Sign up for my newsletter: mailchi.mp/legis/bolkcom
- Connect with me on Facebook: facebook.com/Sen.Joe.Bolkcom
- Participate in upcoming forums: facebook.com/Sen.Joe.Bolkcom/events/
Legislative forums go virtual
Throughout the 2021 session, I’ll be participating in local legislative forums. For the foreseeable future, most will likely be virtual. I’ll miss seeing everyone in person, but look forward to updating you on what’s happening in state government and getting your feedback.
The first League of Women Voters Johnson County forum is set for 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 23. 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.
2021 session resources
This year’s legislative session will look a little different than in years past. There will be fewer people visiting the Capitol due to the ongoing pandemic, but there are more ways than ever to follow what’s happening.
The Legislature is expanding online services to help all who want to participate in the democratic process without sacrificing health and safety. Here are some online resources to keep you up to date:
- legis.iowa.gov – The Iowa Legislature’s website allows you to track bills, review agendas and debate schedules, join in virtual subcommittee hearings, and watch floor and committee action streamed live from the House and Senate chambers. You can sign up for notifications on meetings and legislation you care about at legis.iowa.gov/subscribe/.
- senate.iowa.gov/democrats – The Senate Democrats’ website includes the latest caucus news, analysis of bills and key issues, and advocacy tools.
- Iowa Senate Democrats’ Facebook page is a hub of social media activity @IowaSenateDemocrats. The caucus is also active on Twitter @IowaSenate, Instagram @IowaSenDems and YouTube @IowaSenate.
Condition of the Judiciary: youtu.be/hG-HopHhUII
Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court Susan Christensen this week outlined how the Judicial Branch is ensuring Iowans get access to justice and the services they need, even during a pandemic. The August derecho that swept through the state caused damage to many Iowa courthouses, creating additional challenges.
Court employees have made changes to keep the gears in motion and provide timely outcomes to Iowans seeking justice or doing business with the courts. Many court services are now provided remotely to ensure the health and safety of everybody involved. For in-person hearings, all Iowa court rooms require face masks. And one county has moved its jury selection process to a building that allows for ample social distancing.
Chief Justice Christensen also shared how Iowa is tackling justice system bias head on. She says the Judicial Branch must dispense fair decisions by “mitigating implicit bias in the areas of race, gender, and other identified protected classes.” Training to help staff better understand implicit bias is helping to achieve that goal.
The Chief Justice noted additional ways courts are having a positive impact on the lives of Iowans. “Families First,” for example, is an initiative to keep families together and children out of foster care. And the state’s 12 Family Treatment Courts continue to provide a path to sobriety and family unity for parents struggling with substance abuse and in danger of losing their children.
Innovative approaches and dedicated personnel have created successes for Iowa’s court system and the many lives it touches. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their ongoing efforts to provide justice and doing so safely, even in trying times.
Webinars on PPP for the creative sector
Last week, the U.S. Treasury and Small Business Administration released guidelines for the next round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The latest federal relief package includes assistance for music venues and extends unemployment benefits for many types of creative workers, whose livelihoods have been hit hard by the pandemic.
Americans for the Arts will host a pair of webinars about these and other COVID-19 relief opportunities. Register and get complete details.
Child Care Challenge Grants
Finding quality, affordable child care is a challenge for working Iowans that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The Future Ready Iowa Child Care Challenge Fund is designed to help by increasing child care slots in local communities.
Employers, nonprofits and employer consortiums may apply for grants up to $100,000. The Fund can match private dollars and in-kind donations of labor and materials. Grants can be used for new construction of a childcare facility or updating an existing structure for use as a child care facility.
Apply by February 12. Get complete details at futurereadyiowa.gov/childcarechallenge.
Employer Innovation Funding
The Future Ready Iowa Employer Innovation Fund helps Iowans earn post-secondary credentials for high-demand jobs and encourages collaborations to enhance our workforce.
Employers, employer consortiums, nonprofits and educational institutions may apply for up to $50,000. The Employer Innovation Fund can match private dollars. Funding can be used to support programs that lead to credentials, as well as related needs for Iowans pursuing their career-training goals—childcare, transportation, books, equipment, Internet access and more.
Apply by February 12. Get complete details at futurereadyiowa.gov/innovation.
About my newsletterMy 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 MeJoe Bolkcom
1235 Oakes Drive
Iowa City, IA 52245