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Iowa’s Congressional Delegation Looks To Expand Iowa Vaccine Supply

Daily Digest

Friday, January 22

3:53 p.m. – GOP Congresswoman aims to build public trust in COVID-19 vaccine

Public polling indicates that partisanship is playing a role in some Americans’ hesitancy to get the coronavirus vaccine. One of Iowa’s members of Congress says she’s eager to help counteract that.

Public trust in COVID-19 vaccines has grown, following rigorous clinical trials showing the shots are safe and upwards of 90 percent effective. But among those who are still hesitant, there are clear divides along race and party affiliation, with people of color and Republicans less likely to commit.

Congresswoman Ashley Hinson hasn’t been vaccinated yet, but when she is, she says she’s happy to use it as a public outreach opportunity.

“Once that time comes I’m happy to lead the way and show that I believe the vaccine is safe. I’m a Republican. I’m going to get the vaccine. And I do think it’s important that as many people who can get it, do get it, so that we can get our country back to normal as soon as possible,” she said.

According to federal data, as of Friday morning, 145,000 Iowans had received their first dose.

2:55 p.m. – Iowa’s Congressional delegation looks to expand Iowa vaccine supply

Members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation say they’re looking for ways to expand the amount of coronavirus vaccine the state is allotted from the federal government. Gov. Kim Reynolds has said the state is currently 46th in the nation for its allocation of doses.

The Des Moines Register has reported that Congresswoman Cindy Axne is requesting a meeting with the Biden Administration on this issue. On a call with reporters Friday, Congresswoman Ashley Hinson said she shares these concerns.

“Definitely something I’m concerned about, to make sure that Iowa gets the vaccine allotment it needs. I actually worked with several state representatives on both sides of the aisle as well on this issue already. And I sent a letter with Congresswoman Axne last week,” she said.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Friday morning, some 338,000 of the vaccine had been distributed to the state, but only 170,000 doses had been administered.

11:21 a.m. - GOP lawmaker says there was no threat from BLM protestors in June at State Capitol

A Republican state senator who last week said he wondered if he’d have to “shoot our way out” of a racial justice protest in June now says he’s learned there wasn’t an imminent threat to his safety.

A few dozen Iowans regularly showed up at the Iowa Capitol last June and nonviolently protested racial injustice.

Last week, Sen. Zach Whiting (R-Spirit Lake) said he remembered “living in fear” at the time and being, “whisked off the floor of the Senate…and put in a secure room.”

“And you know what we were doing in there? Counting guns and bullets. Because we didn’t know if we were going to make it out or if we were going to have to shoot our way out,” he said.

But Whiting said in a statement Thursday he’s since learned there was no threat. “I did not know why we were leaving the floor of the Senate at that time, and I assumed a threat was imminent,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver says they were moved off the floor because of policy negotiations, not because of a threat to senators’ safety.

The Des Moines Black Liberation Movement says Whiting’s comments were “empowered by his bold racism and general fear of Black people."

10:49 a.m. - Kennedy High School students to return to the classroom

Students at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids were able to return to their classrooms this week for the first time in 10 months. The school suffered considerable damage from the derecho last August and was the last in the district to reopen.

Between the storm and the pandemic, Principal Jason Kline says this year has been incredibly challenging for students, staff and teachers.

The school has mandated masks and other coronavirus protocols to try to limit the spread as students and staff return to the classroom.

10:00 a.m. - 1,299 new COVID-19 cases, 33 more deaths reported Friday

9:08 a.m. – Iowa Federation of Labor files workplace safety complaint against GOP lawmakers

The Iowa Federation of Labor has filed a workplace safety complaint against the Republican leaders of the Iowa House and Senate over their COVID-19 rules.

The group of labor unions—one of which represents some capitol staff—says the lack of a mask mandate at the statehouse puts people at risk of getting COVID-19. They also criticized the House for not joining the Senate in providing a virtual option for the public to participate in hearings.

Separately, Democratic lawmakers have continued to advocate for safer conditions. Here’s House Minority Leader Todd Prichard.

“Let’s hear from the public. And let’s leverage the technology. Let’s make the capitol as safe as we can for the people that want to visit and participate in their state government,” he said.

During debate over House rules Thursday afternoon, Republicans rejected Democratic proposals to require masks and provide for virtual participation.

Thursday, January 21

2:44 p.m. - Miller-Meeks asks House to dismiss Hart’s case in contesting November election results

Republican Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks is asking the U.S. House to dismiss the complaint brought by her opponent disputing her six-vote margin in the November election.

Former Democratic state Senator Rita Hart is contesting the race in the House, alleging that at least 22 legally cast votes were incorrectly excluded.

In a motion filed Thursday, Miller-Meeks argues that Hart’s case should be dismissed because she didn’t first appeal to a state court. Alan Ostergren is an attorney for Miller-Meeks.

“So that is by far the most important point that we raise in our motion, that because Rita Hart did not take advantage of the provisions available to her under Iowa law, that…the contest must be dismissed,” he said.

Hart’s campaign has argued state law sets a strict timeline that wouldn’t allow for a full review of the race.

2:03 p.m. – Lawmakers plan to advance legislation to require all schools provide option for 100 percent in-person learning

State Republican lawmakers plan to advance legislation next week that would require all schools to provide the option of 100 percent in-person learning during the pandemic.

Gov. Kim Reynolds asked the Iowa Legislature to make this a priority. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver says he wants to pass the measure as soon as possible.

The president of the state’s largest teachers union says this could lead to the coronavirus spreading more among teachers, students and their families. And that it should wait until teachers and staff are vaccinated. Teachers are in the next phase of vaccinations expected to start in early February, but Reynolds says she can’t guarantee they’ll all get vaccinated before she requires schools to offer fully in-person learning.

1:59 p.m. State releases more details about phase 1B COVID-19 vaccination

IDPH-Phase1B

State officials say Iowans age 65 and older will now be eligible to get the vaccine starting in early February. The vaccination process is expected to move slowly due to the state’s current allocation numbers.

Also included in phase 1B are groups of frontline essential workers, which the state has broken into five tiers. The first tier includes school staff, child care workers, law enforcement officers and first responders.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Press Conference | January 21, 2021, 11 a.m.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state currently ranks 46th for the number of doses it’s allocated. She said she’s working with members of Iowa’s congressional delegation to figure out why.

“And when you consider the number of nursing homes, long term care facilities, and assisted living facilities that we have in the state, and the vulnerable populations that those include, I would hope that we could get our allocation bumped up a little bit,” she said.

Reynolds said the state has received more than 160,000 first doses of the vaccine so far.

1:30 p.m. - Grassley blasts EPA for granting more waivers to oil companies

Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator is blasting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to grant more small refinery exemptions that excuse oil refiners from blending biofuels into their gasoline.

President Trump’s EPA granted three more waivers to oil refiners hours before President Biden took office. An appellate court has already temporarily stopped these small refinery exemptions. Republican Chuck Grassley blasted the EPA’s move in his weekly call with reporters.

“What we saw in the final hours of the Trump administration was a disgrace to the biofuels community,” he said.

Grassley says there’s issues with the transparency of the EPA’s program that go back to the Obama administration, and says he’ll continue to push the EPA to uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard. This requires that billions of gallons of renewable fuels like ethanol be blended into gasoline each year.

1:39 p.m. Bill requiring schools to provide option for full-time in-person learning introduced

A bill introduced in the Iowa Senate would require schools to provide an option for full-time in-person learning during the pandemic, a proposal that Gov. Kim Reynolds highlighted in her Condition of the State speech.

Mike Beranek is president of the Iowa State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

Speaking on IPR’s “Talk of Iowa” he said forcing more students into classrooms could make it easier for the coronavirus to spread.

“If we bring students back into our classrooms that are asymptomatic, that are carrying the virus, then they’re taking it home to their families. They’re taking it home to their communities,” he said.

Beranek says the state should wait until school teachers and staff are vaccinated before requiring in-person classes full-time.

Gov. Reynolds announced Thursday that teachers are now in the first tier of the next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations. But she says, if the bill passes quickly, vaccines may not be available to all teachers before it takes effect.

12:32 p.m. - Grassley hopes for bipartisan cooperation in Congress

Iowa’s senior U.S. senator is looking ahead to what he hopes are opportunities for bipartisan cooperation in Congress.

The Senate is split 50-50, but Democrats have control because Vice President Kamala Harris has the tiebreaker vote.

Sen. Chuck Grassley is hoping to work with Democrats on efforts like lowering prescription drug prices and building on criminal justice reform.

Grassley says the Democratic chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee seemed willing to work with him on a bipartisan bill he introduced last year to increase competition in livestock markets.

10:00 a.m. - 1,709 new COVID-19 cases, 51 more deaths reported Thursday

Wednesday, January 20

4:43 p.m. – Iowa House Judiciary Committee advances anti-abortion constitutional amendment

Republicans on the committee have advanced a proposed anti-abortion constitutional amendment. It would add language to the Iowa Constitution to say it doesn’t protect abortion rights.

Supporters say the amendment is needed to undo an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that says the Iowa Constitution has strong protections for abortion rights in the state. If Iowa voters approve the amendment, it would open the door to more abortion restrictions in Iowa. Those who oppose the amendment say it could eventually lead to banning abortion in Iowa if the U.S. Supreme Court also chips away at abortion rights protections.

The proposal first advanced out of a subcommittee Tuesday. It’s eligible for a vote by the full House of Representatives as soon as next week. The same proposal has also been introduced in the Iowa Senate.

3:21 p.m. – Bill advances that would end open enrollment limits in some school districts

A bill advanced by an Iowa House subcommittee would eliminate restrictions on open enrollment by a handful of school districts with voluntary diversity plans.

Those districts are Des Moines, Davenport, Waterloo, Postville and West Liberty. They limit affluent students or native English speakers from enrolling out unless another student of similar socio-economic status enrolls in.

Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, supports the bill and says it should be easier for any student to change schools.

Waterloo superintendent Jane Lindaman said in a comment opposing the bill that it would increase the poverty rate in certain schools and cause more “white flight” out of the district. The proposal now goes to the House Education Committee.

1:55 p.m. – University of Iowa “inundated” with applications to replace Harreld

Consultants assisting in the search for the next president of the University of Iowa say they’ve been “inundated” with applications. The process of advertising and recruiting for the position is well underway after current President Bruce Harreld announced his intention to retire.

Ads are being placed across multiple higher education journals and associations, including those representing women, people of color, and LGBTQ professionals. Rod McDavis of the firm A-G-B Search briefed university representatives Wednesday.

The application window is slated to remain open through March, with the goal of selecting the new president by the end of April.

11:00 a.m. - Swearing-in ceremonies followed by Biden's inaugural address

  • Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in as president and vice president of the United States on Wednesday. Follow live special coverage throughout the day, beginning at 11 a.m. ET.

10:00 a.m. - 1,355 new COVID-19 cases, 62 more deaths reported Wednesday

6:27 a.m. – Des Moines school board approves shared stadium plans with Drake

The Des Moines school board has approved final plans to build a $19.5 million stadium to be shared with Drake University.

The 4,000 seat stadium will be located on the Drake Campus near the Knapp Center. Four of the city’s five high schools will host football games there. Drake will use it for men’s and women’s soccer.

The district says the stadium will give Des Moines athletes a home field similar to neighboring suburban schools, but opponents who wanted to force a vote on the project are suing. They say the district should renovate local stadiums instead of building the shared facility.

6:16 a.m. – Cedar Rapids businessman released on pre-trial release after Capitol insurrection

A Cedar Rapids businessman facing federal charges for his alleged role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol has been granted pre-trial release. Leo Kelly made his first appearance in court Tuesday.

At a hearing Tuesday, a judge granted Leo Kelly pre-trial release, under conditions that he wear a GPS monitor and stick to certain travel restrictions.

Kelly faces charges of entering a restricted area without legal authority and violent entry with intent to disrupt official business.

According to court filings, federal investigators were able to identify Kelly based on media interviews he gave during which he admitted to being inside the Capitol. An FBI official also said that Kelly contacted a deputy U.S. Marshall on his way back from D.C., saying he would turn himself in if an arrest warrant was issued.

Kelly is the second Iowan to be charged in connection with the siege on the U.S. Capitol. Doug Jensen of Des Moines faces six federal charges.

Tuesday, January 1

3:01 p.m. – Republican lawmakers advance proposal to amend Iowa Constitution to say it doesn't protect abortion rights

Iowa Republican lawmakers are advancing a proposal for the third year in a row that would add language to the Iowa Constitution to say it doesn’t protect abortion rights.

Supporters say it’s needed to reverse a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that gives abortion rights in Iowa stronger legal protections than those provided at the national level. That’s made it harder for the Republican-led legislature to restrict abortion.

Republicans on a House subcommittee advanced the measure Tuesday. If passed by two general assemblies and approved by Iowa voters, the amendment would allow for more abortion restrictions in Iowa.

Abortion rights supporters say it could even lead to banning abortion in Iowa if the U.S. Supreme Court also overturns the federal precedent that legalized abortion.

11:46 a.m. - House panel advances proposal to add gun rights language to Iowa Constitution

Republican lawmakers on a three-member House panel have advanced a proposal that would add gun rights language to the Iowa Constitution.

The proposed constitutional amendment says the right of Iowans to keep and bear arms “shall not be infringed.” And any gun restrictions will be subject to the highest standard of review by the courts, just like free speech rights.

Republican lawmakers and the Iowa Firearms Coalition say it’s needed to protect against any future attempts to restrict gun ownership.

But this proposal goes further than the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That’s why opponents, like groups aiming to reduce gun violence, religious organizations, and Democrats, fear it could be used as a basis to strike down Iowa’s existing gun laws.

The Republican-led House and Senate passed the measure in 2019. They’re both expected to pass it again this year. Then it’ll go on the ballot in 2022 for all voters to weigh in.

10:00 a.m. - 954 new COVID-19 cases, eight more deaths reported Tuesday

8:00 a.m. – Second Iowan charged in U.S. Capitol insurrection

A second Iowan has been charged for his alleged role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of pro-Trump extremists. Leo Kelly of Cedar Rapids is now in federal custody.

According to the FBI’s Omaha Field Office, Leo Kelly was arrested on Monday for allegedly storming the Capitol. He faces federal charges for entering or remaining in a restricted building without legal authority, violent entry with intent to disrupt official business, and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

Kelly had admitted to entering the Capitol during media interviews and can be seen on the floor of the Senate in a video published by the New Yorker. His first appearance in federal court is scheduled for Tuesday.

Another Iowan, Doug Jensen of Des Moines, had previously been charged with six federal counts for his alleged role in the attack.

8:01 a.m. – Farmers could receive $20 per acre for crops with new COVID-19 stimulus package

Congress passed a $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package, and many of those dollars will go to farmers.

Farmers could receive $20 per acre for commodity crops like corn that have fallen in price by at least 5 percent. John Newton is the chief economist for the American Farm Bureau, and says for many the money is a lifeline.

“It costs a lot of money to put a crop in the ground every single year … when you lose your market immediately this helps them … meet the needs of their lender, pay any outstanding obligations, they may have, you know, pay their employees.

Newton says while the money will help farmers who haven’t gotten assistance yet, it’s too early to say if the $13 billion set aside by Congress will be enough to support them through the pandemic.

7:00 a.m. – Jeff Kaufmann re-elected as chair of Iowa Republican Party

Leaders in the Republican Party of Iowa have re-elected Jeff Kaufmann as chair and elected former Speaker of the Iowa House Linda Upmeyer as co-chair.

The votes this weekend follow the Iowa GOP’s sweeping victories at the ballot box last November, and at a time when some party members are increasingly split over the role President Trump should play moving forward.

Speaking to reporters, Upmeyer said among her first priorities will be recruiting candidates for the 2022 cycle. “In the upcoming months we will see people in these districts that are willing to raise their hand and say ‘I want to run for office’. And I for one want to be ready to help them get going on the right foot.”

As far as the role of Trump, Kaufmann said it will be for citizens to decide, though he says the president remains very popular with the Republican base.

7:00 a.m. – Rural communities will likely bear the brunt of removing nitrates from drinking water

A new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that Iowa could be paying tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to remove nitrates from drinking water. The study says the burden would fall largely on rural communities. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates Iowa could spend from $41 million to $333 million over the next five years to treat small and large public water systems for nitrates.

Economist Rebecca Boehm says small rural communities will incur most of the expenses because they’re closer to agricultural production. And they don’t have as many people to spread out their costs over for treatment like larger, urban areas.

“The systems are expensive to build. And if they're only serving a few people, you're not getting sort of your bang for your buck, compared to like a large place like Des Moines.”

The study recommends that more farmers take up practices like cover crops that help reduce nitrogen runoff.

7:00 a.m. – Regents universities extend canceled study abroad programs

Iowa’s three public universities have canceled study abroad programs through at least August 2.

The University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, and Iowa State University cite the coronavirus pandemic and the Board of Regents’ response to it. The Regents implemented a rolling, 30-day ban on international travel last year, and the campuses say conditions have not improved significantly since then.

A UI email Monday says they’re confident international travel will become more common by late this year as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Drake University’s website says study abroad for this spring and summer is still under review.

Monday, January 18

7:00 a.m. - Martin Luther King Jr. Day during a pandemic means lots of virtual celebrations

The holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader comes after the insurrection by Trump extremists at the U.S. Capitol. And Kam Middlebrooks hopes people will use the holiday as an opportunity to pause and think.

He’s is the former regional director for the NAACP and will be presented with the “Make a Difference Award” from the YMCA in honor of Dr. King.

“It's almost convenient that MLK Day is coming up in between all of this. For everything that Dr. King stood for… a coalition builder, somebody that brought together, not just black folks, but white folks, allies.”

Middlebrooks says he hopes Iowa can become a progressive leader again, and that people will continue Dr. King’s legacy by serving to better their community.

7:00 a.m. – Iowa State University mathematicians develop COVID-19 tracking mode

lTracking the spread of COVID-19 has been really challenging for health officials. But, a team of Iowa State University mathematicians say they’ve developed a model that factors in people’s social interactions more realistically.

ISU math professor Claus Kadelka says early on in the pandemic he noticed many COVID-19 models were based on the assumption people engage in random social mixing.

So along with a graduate student, Kadelka developed a model that takes into account that most people practice homophily. This is the tendency to associate with groups who share their same opinions and beliefs.

Kadelka says according to his model, this means there will likely be clusters of people who won’t want to get the vaccine. Meaning government officials may need to aim to vaccinate more than 60 to 70 percent of the population.

“It shows you that these, these numbers that are being floated around by a lot of researchers, essentially that just, you know, base things on simple models. They're probably an underestimate.”

Kaldelka says policymakers should focus on getting more data on people’s social interactions during the pandemic to make key decisions.

Sunday, January 17

10:00 a.m. - 2,063 new COVID-19 cases reported this weekend, alongside 66 more deaths

On Saturday, the state logged 1,333 more cases and 64 more deaths.