Extreme Week from Extreme Team
For a third week, this one was a doozy. The extreme Republican agenda is moving at breakneck speed under the Golden Dome. An agenda this week highlighted by legislation to undermine Iowa’s public education system and radically change Iowa gun laws.
Legislative Republicans approved legislation (SF 160) that forces kids back to school if it can be done safely or not, with a one-size-fits-all approach. I spoke during the debate on this bill, which aims to bring Iowa schools back to 100% in-person instruction. Here’s a YouTube link to my remarks: https://youtu.be/Xe_XSccoU4g.
Everyone agrees that students should be back in the classroom. But it has to be done safely. The decision should be made by local education leaders based on local conditions, not solely by Governor Reynolds. SF 160 was signed into law by the Governor today.
Senate Republicans also approved legislation (SF 159) to defund our local schools, funneling public dollars to private schools. I received almost 500 emails this week in opposition to the bill. I heard from teachers, superintendents and parents pleading with us not to pass the bill. I heard from teachers that are completely worn out dealing with the pandemic and trying to help their students succeed. They feel disrespected and not listened to. Republicans argued that parents’ voices need to be heard on where and how to educate their kids. No problem. They already have choices. No matter their choice, without supported and respected teachers, our education system and kids will fail.
And finally, Senate Republicans also kept the ball rolling on an extreme, dangerous amendment (SJR 7) to Iowa’s Constitution that will likely make Iowa’s gun-safety measures (like background checks and permits to carry a handgun) unconstitutional.
The Proud Boys and domestic terrorist groups love this Constitutional amendment that will make Iowa the arms dealer to the people seeking unregulated access to arms across the country. Voters will get their say on the Constitutional amendment at the general election in November 2022.
Responding to a COVID-19 workplace safety complaint filed by the Iowa Federation of Labor, Iowa OSHA inspectors did a walk-through inspection of the Iowa Capitol this week. They visited the Senate chamber to take some pictures and notes. Many people in the Capitol and the Senate still are not wearing masks. What could go wrong? My expectations are low for any action or recommendation from Governor Reynolds’ politically controlled OSHA.
TRANSPARENCY NEEDED FOR COVID FUNDING
Iowans deserve to know how their tax dollars have been used to address COVID-19 and how our state is preparing for the possibility of future pandemics.
As part of the COVID Recovery Plan that I support, we’d create an independent, nonpartisan Blue Ribbon COVID Commission to help us understand state government mistakes and failures; investigate negligence and profiteering in the private sector; and report on next steps to ensure we are better prepared when the next pandemic strikes.
It’s unacceptable to knowingly jeopardize the lives of essential workers to make a buck, or risk the health and safety of vulnerable Iowans by cutting corners. The pandemic created challenges for all Iowans. Everyone has made sacrifices. Bad actors who have put their bottom line ahead of the wellbeing of others must be held accountable.
I’m also concerned about the Governor’s use of no-bid contracts for COVID testing and the use of federal relief funding to pay for budget items already covered with state appropriations. CARES Act funding was designed to meet critical pandemic needs—including helping out-of-work Iowans, struggling small businesses, and big shifts in how schools and health care providers must operate.
The federal and state resources that have been spent throughout this pandemic are your hard-earned tax dollars. The Legislature must ensure those dollars are used to help Iowans and our economy get back on track as efficiently as possible. There are too many immediate needs in our state to allow this money to be misspent.
Many Iowans are eager to get vaccinated for COVID-19. We all want life to return to normal as soon as it is safe. However, it could take months if vaccine supplies remain at today’s levels.
The Iowa Department of Public Health and our county health departments are working to increase vaccine supplies throughout the state; ensure equitable distribution among Iowans; and enhance vaccine delivery and reporting to make the process as efficient as possible.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allocates vaccines to states according to population on a weekly basis. The Iowa Department of Public Health then allocates the vaccines to county public health agencies. County public health agencies decide which local vaccine providers will dispense the shots. The CDC then ships the doses directly to the local vaccine providers.
The state of Iowa is currently vaccinating folks in the very first priority group (1A), which includes health care providers and residents of long-term care facilities. Completely vaccinating this group requires 300,000 to 400,000 doses.
As of January 21, Iowa has been allocated approximately 329,000 doses. The Iowa Department of Public health updates data daily showing how many total COVID-19 vaccines have been administered throughout the state.
Iowa is preparing to move to Phase 1B on February 1. Local public health officials are now identifying and prioritizing those who fall into this group. At current levels, it will take several weeks to months to reach everyone in Phase 1B, before moving on to the next priority groups.
In the meantime, continue to monitor the Iowa Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 vaccine web page for updated information and resources. I also encourage you to check the website and social media for your county public health agency to stay abreast of local vaccine news.
I will continue to update you as more information becomes available.
5 reasons to wear a mask after you're vaccinated
From Kaiser Health News
1. No vaccine is 100% effective. Large clinical trials found that two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines prevented 95% of illnesses caused by the coronavirus.
2. Vaccines don't provide immediate protection. It takes about two weeks for the immune system to make the antibodies that block viral infections.
3. COVID vaccines may not prevent you from spreading the virus. While COVID vaccines clearly prevent illness, researchers need more time to figure out whether they prevent transmission too.
4. Masks protect our fellow citizens with compromised immune systems, such as people with cancer and other serious conditions.
5. Masks protect against any strain of the coronavirus, even genetic mutations that can be more highly contagious.
The best hope for ending the pandemic isn't to choose between masks, physical distancing and vaccines, but to combine them. Read more about why you should continue masking up at www.medscape.com/viewarticle/944200.
NEWS YOU CAN USE
Free Tax Help
The Internal Revenue Service Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to low- and moderate-income households, individuals with disabilities and taxpayers with limited English-language skills. To locate the VITA site nearest to you, use the locator tool or call 1-888-227-7669.
Did you know you can donate to wildlife conservation on your state tax form? When you donate to the Fish & Wildlife Fund (also known as the Chickadee Checkoff), you help support thousands of vulnerable species through research, habitat development and education.
Look for the Checkoff on line 57 of Form 1040. You can donate any amount, starting at just $1. Last year, more than 7,200 Iowa taxpayers helped boost wildlife conservation by donating close to $150,000.
Help for restaurant and bars
Starting February 1, applications will be accepted for $40 million in CARES Act funding to help Iowa restaurants and bars impacted by COVID. This funding is an extension of the Iowa Small Business Relief Grant Program.
The Program is geared toward restaurants and bars that experienced a decrease in gross sales of at least 15% during the second and third quarters of 2020, compared to the same time the previous year. Grant awards will be determined using a tiered system based on the percent of gross sales loss.
The online application will be available at iowabusinessrecovery.com from February 1 at 12 noon through February 15 at 5 p.m. Get complete grant details at www.iowaeda.com/UserDocs/FS_12521RestAndBarRelief.pdf.
2021 Century & Heritage Farm Program
Through June 1, eligible farm owners can apply for the 2021 Century and Heritage Farm Program, which recognizes families who have owned their farms for 100 years and 150 years, respectively. To apply, download an application at iowaagriculture.gov/century-and-heritage-farm-program. To search for previous Century and Heritage Farm recipients, visit centuryfarms.iowaagriculture.gov.
Webinars: Future Ready Iowa funding
How to apply for the Employer Innovation Fund
The Future Ready Iowa Employer Innovation Fund helps address local workforce issues through credit and non-credit education and training opportunities. A webinar on the grant application process is available at www.FutureReadyIowa.gov
Learn more about the grant: www.futurereadyiowa.gov/innovation. Applications must be submitted through www.IowaGrants.gov by February 12.
How to apply for the Child Care Challenge Fund
The Child Care Challenge Fund supports regional and community projects to increase the availability of quality, affordable child care for working Iowans. A webinar on the grant application process is available on www.FutureReadyIowa.gov.
Learn more about the funding: www.futurereadyiowa.gov/childcarechallenge. Applications must be submitted through www.IowaGrants.gov by February 12.
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