The following is a legislative update from Rep. Todd Prichard of Charles City:
As supply has increased dramatically in recent months, all Iowans ages 16 and up are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. So far, over 833,000 Iowans have been completely vaccinated. The vaccines are safe, effective, and free to all Iowans.
Iowa public health officials also reported this week that a new variant of COVID-19, called P.1 or the Brazilian variant, is now in Iowa. The UK variant, called B.1.1.7, was previously reported in Iowa as well. Public health officials are letting Iowans know because both variants are more contagious and much easier to catch.
The best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and keep following CDC guidelines. To find a vaccine provider near you, go to vaccinate.Iowa.gov. Iowans can also call 2-1-1 or (800) 244-7431 to schedule an appointment. If you are on Twitter, you can also follow @IAVaccineAlerts to find open appointments near you.
Feel free to contact me with questions or concerns anytime. You can find my contact information at the bottom of this newsletter.
Legislature Must Keep All Iowans Safe
One of the most important responsibilities we have as lawmakers is to keep the public and our dedicated public servants safe. House Democrats take that responsibility seriously and support public safety, including front-line workers like correctional officers and other law enforcement.
Over the last several years, the Governor and Majority Party lawmakers have cut $10 million from public safety and the consequences have been deadly. Prison overcrowding and fewer public safety staff led to the murder of two dedicated public servants working at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. And recently, a state trooper was killed in the line of duty.
After the tragic death of George Floyd last year, lawmakers worked together to pass the Plan for a More Perfect Union and improve public safety. We recognize the tragic events that led to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Daunte Wright could have happened in Davenport, Fort Dodge, or Des Moines. It’s our job to prevent those terrible tragedies from happening here in Iowa. So far this session, majority party lawmakers have yet to address the inequalities that still exist in our criminal justice system today.
Before the session ends, more must be done to keep all Iowans safe. Here’s our plan to improve public safety:
- Expand support for law enforcement injured on the job
- Keep law enforcement and their families safe by protecting their personal information
- Give public safety workers a say in their own workplace safety
- Provide more safety training for law enforcement and public safety workers
- Collect data on all traffic, bicycle, and pedestrian stops by law enforcement to address inequities and build on last year’s Plan for a More Perfect Union
- Fill all positions – including those cut over the last decade – by fully funding the Department of Corrections
Bottle Bill Changes Advances in Iowa House
Changes to the popular Beverage Container Control Act, more commonly referred to as the Bottle Bill, advanced out of the House Ways & Means Committee this week.
The current bill, HF 814, makes changes to the collection of beverage containers and creates new penalties for violations of the bottle bill. The bill also changes the process for retailers to refuse to accept cans under the law.
House Democrats called for a public hearing on the proposal. The public hearing will give interested citizens and stakeholders a chance to tell legislators what is important to them. Public comments will be able to be submitted at legis.iowa.gov. The Iowa Legislature website will also include a link to livestream the public hearing.
Because the bill was passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee, it will now be eligible to be debated by the full House until the end of session.
Parent Taught Driver’s Ed Course Could be Allowed
A new bill passed the Iowa House this week that would allow parents to teach Driver’s Education to their own kids.
To get a driver’s license prior to age 18 in Iowa, students are required to take a driver’s education class. Student driver cars have safety features including signs on the vehicle so other drivers could be able to identify a “student driver,” or mirrors that would allow the driving instructor to see what is happening behind the vehicle, or to see at a glance where the student’s eyes are focused. Cars are also equipped with a brake on the passenger side. SF 546 makes changes to homeschooling, including driver’s education that would allow any parent to teach driver’s education to their child.
The bill now goes back to the Senate for consideration, which already had strong opposition since it lowers standards for homeschool driver’s ed hours of instruction on topics such as drugs and railroad crossings.
Crime Victim Services Needs More Support
This session, the General Assembly passed legislation that would allowing crime victims to track sexual abuse evidence kits under the Attorney General’s Office Crime Victim Assistance Division. Additionally, the state’s crime lab must provide healthcare providers these kits to collect evidence from sexual assault survivors. The kit’s projected administrative costs are $157,700 to $170,700 over the next four years from the state’s Victim Compensation Fund.
Nationally, massive cuts in the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant dollars, the largest source of non-taxpayer funds for victims’ services nationwide, has resulted in a decrease of $6 million to Iowa in 2021. The United States Congress is advancing bi-partisan legislation to increase deposits, but it will take several years to replenish funds for VOCA grants.
In 2017, the Iowa Majority slashed state funding for victim services by almost $2 million. A 2017 state audit revealed Iowa law enforcement agencies had 4,200 untested evidence kits for alleged sexual assaults. By 2020, about 62% of those kits had been processed and the state crime lab’s average testing period for a rape kit had been reduced to 46 days.
Crime Victim Services have requested legislators increase this year’s victim services budget line item by $2.5 million. However, the Majority lawmakers’ budget proposal only includes status quo funding.
Iowa House Passes New Initiatives to Boost Iowa Small Businesses
As the pandemic hit it brought many small businesses to a halt, the Iowa House has come up with a few ways to revitalize Iowa’s economy while offering more and safer services to Iowans.
Updated Options for Home Delivery of Alcohol
Iowans could soon add alcohol to their order from their favorite delivery app. Currently Iowans can only get alcohol delivered to their door from an employee of a licensed or permitted establishment, but a bill that has passed the Iowa House would expand the availability. Companies like Doordash, Grubhub, and UBER Eats would be allowed to deliver alcohol to someone of age in the state, so long as they have entered into a written agreement with a licensee or permittee. The agreements would then be submitted to the Alcoholic Beverages Division.
This law which now heads to the Iowa Senate, expands on restrictions that have been lifted by COVID and previous legislation that allowed Iowans to order cocktails to-go.
New Butchery Innovation and Revitalization Fund
Many Iowans experienced limited access or an increase in food insecurity during the pandemic, the Iowa House this week established a new Butchery Innovation and Revitalization Fund. The bill, HF 857 creates a fund that can be used to help small scale licensed meat processing businesses expand or renovate. It also can be used to establish new licensed custom meat lockers.
As Iowans increasingly want to know where their food comes from and want to buy from local farmers, this bill expands the opportunity to buy locally raised and processed meat. The bill also establishes a taskforce to study the feasibility of establishing an artisanal butchery program at an Iowa community college or regent university. The bill passed the House and now goes to the Senate for their consideration.
Other Iowa News
COVID-19 VACCINE INFORMATION SESSIONS: The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) in collaboration with Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, will be hosting several virtual forums for Iowans regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. These sessions will discuss the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and allow participants to ask questions to medical experts. The sessions will be held, April 17 at 10:00 AM, April 19 at 6:00 PM, and April 24 at 10:00 AM (this session is targeted towards Spanish speakers and will include an interpreter). For more information on these sessions, as well as the link to each meeting, please visit: iowacovidinfo.org.
STUDENTS CAN APPLY FOR THE IOWA YOUTH CONGRESS: The Iowa Department of Human Rights is now accepting applications for the Iowa Youth Congress (IYC) for the 2021-22 term. Iowa Youth Congress (IYC) brings students from around Iowa to discuss issues that affect youth. Youth of diverse backgrounds will learn about state and local government, advocacy, and civic engagement. There is no cost to participate and applications are due June 4. Students can learn more about the program at: humanrights.iowa.gov/iowa-
NEW MEDICAID REFERENCE GUIDE: Medicaid serves more than 700,000 individuals, or about one in four Iowans. A new resource for Iowans to understand how the state’s Medicaid program operates has been released by the Iowa Department of Human Services. The guide provides an overview of the state’s Medicaid program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), including program eligibility, covered services, state oversight, budget development, and the governing framework of the programs. Find the reference guide here.
UPDATE ON SHUTTERED VENUE GRANTS: On April 8th the Small Business Administration (SBA) opened applications for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. Unfortunately, there were several issues with the online portal so the SBA has temporarily suspended the portal and will re-open it as soon as possible to ensure all applicants have fair and equal access. Applicants may continue to register for a new account, but the portal remains closed. Continue to check the SBA’s website for when the portal will open again, sba.gov/funding-programs/