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Gov. Reynolds Signs In-Person Learning Bill

Daily Digest

Friday, January 29

3:37 p.m. – New COVID-19 aid package faces resistance from Iowa Republicans in Congress
Democrats in Congress are gearing up to work on the latest round of coronavirus aid as soon as next week. But the $1.9 trillion dollar proposal is facing resistance among Republicans, including in Iowa.

The latest coronavirus aid package is a major policy goal for the new Biden Administration. The AP and others have reported that Democrats may be able to push the bill through without Republican support. But GOP lawmakers have their critiques. Iowa Congresswoman Ashley Hinson says she’s opposed to a provision that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“I can tell you this, out on the…in the district this week I heard a lot about that $15 minimum wage and how it would be…really…you talk about a poison pill? It would be a poison pill to many of our small businesses and the rural economy here,” she said.

Advocates say the wage increase would be a major boost for workers whose jobs have become increasingly unstable and risky during the pandemic, like service workers and home health aides.

3:31 p.m. – All Iowa’s nursing homes have received COVID-19 vaccines for residents and staff
All of Iowa’s nursing homes have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for residents and staff as of noon Friday.

That’s according to Brent Willett, president of the Iowa Health Care Association. “We’re already starting to see significant progress with respect to case counts and thankfully deaths in nursing facilities and we can start to attribute that to some of the vaccination activity.”

More than 1,900 Iowans living in long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19. Willett says the second doses are underway in many facilities and he expects that to be done by late February.

2:18 p.m. - General Motors announcement about electric calls could present major challenge for ethanol industry
General Motors announced this week that by 2035 it will only sell zero-emission vehicles, signaling a significant growth in electric cars. That could present a major challenge for Iowa’s ethanol industry, cutting demand for gasoline and renewable fuels. Iowa Republican Congresswoman Ashley Hinson says it’s a sign that the state’s ethanol producers should continue to diversify.

For years, environmental advocates have called for an end to government subsidies for ethanol. More than half of the state’s corn crop is used for ethanol, according to the Iowa Corn Growers Association

1:44 p.m. – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares for Missouri River repairs
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to spend around $54 million this budget year to fix several large piles of rock along the Missouri River that help tame the flow of the river for navigation.

These structures include dikes that were damaged from flooding and high water over the last three years. According to the Corps, there are more than 3,000 of these between Iowa and Nebraska. The money will be used for high priority repairs that the Corps says threaten the navigation channel or endanger nearby property or facilities.

The Corps says it will need more funding to fully repair all navigation structures from Sioux City, Iowa to Rulo, Nebraska.

12:26 p.m. – Polk County opens Phase 1B, Tier 1 vaccinations
Polk County officials say for the week of Feb. 1 they’ve been allocated just under 2,600 first doses of the vaccine.

That’s far below what’s needed to cover the county’s 61,000 residents who are 65 and older as well as frontline essential workers eligible in the first tier of Phase 1B.

Polk County Board Supervisor Angela Connolly says she knows residents are frustrated with trying to get an appointment. “We were surprised when the recommendation was made to open availability to people 65 plus, without an increase in supply, and we weren't ready. And I'm apologizing for this. But make no mistake, in Polk County we take care of our seniors.”

A limited number of appointments are available through the Polk County Public Health Department’s website. Seniors who need help signing up for an online appointment can call 515-323-5221 during regular business hours.

Polk County officials are urging residents eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine to wait for their health care providers to contact them to get vaccinated.

11:52 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds signs in-person learning bill
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a bill requiring schools to provide an option for all in-person learning. The bill, which was passed Thursday by both the Iowa House and Senate, says schools must offer in-person classes five-days-a-week to all families who choose it.

Some schools have said that will compromise social distancing and other precautions against spreading COVID-19. But Reynolds says it’s necessary to get students back on track academically and to recover their emotional and mental health.

Schools will have until February 15 to begin in-person classes full-time.

11:08 a.m. – Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs announces its 2021 policy recommendations
The Commission is required by state code to provide policy recommendations to the governor and lawmakers every year. This year, commissioners announced the same suggestions as they have in the past: improving language access and driver’s licenses for all. They have recommended the latter for the past six years.

Commission chair Caleb Knutson says they even have support from non-Latino leaders for the repeated recommendations. “So we'll keep doing it. We'll keep pounding the pavement, we'll keep sending these up the chain. And I know eventually one day someone will listen.”

The governor-appointed commissioners say they have not yet heard back from Gov. Kim Reynolds. The commissioners say providing driver’s licenses for all will ensure public safety and reduce the number of uninsured motorists on the road.

10:00 a.m. - 945 new COVID-19 cases, 45 more deaths reported Friday

7:55 a.m. – Gun Rights constitutional amendment goes to ballot for ratification by Iowa voters

Republicans in the state House and Senate passed a constitutional amendment Thursday that would add gun rights language to the Iowa Constitution. The proposed amendment will go on the ballot for ratification by Iowa voters next year.

The amendment would require courts to use the highest standard of judicial review when evaluating the constitutionality of gun laws.

Democrats say that goes too far and could lead to some of Iowa’s current gun laws being struck down by courts. They proposed language identical to the Second Amendment, but Republicans rejected that. Republican Senator Dan Dawson of Council Bluffs says it wouldn’t be enough. Iowans will get a chance to vote on this proposed constitutional amendment in 2022.

5:49 a.m. - Bill mandating schools provide for 100 percent in-person learning headed to Gov. Reynolds' desk

Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to quickly approve a bill passed by the Iowa House and Senate giving schools two weeks to begin providing an option for 100 percent in-person learning during the pandemic.

Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale), who voted for the bill, says the change is necessary to reverse learning loss among students going back to the spring.

Democrats in both chambers proposed unsuccessful amendments that would have required vaccinations for teachers before the mandate takes effect.

Most districts already have in-person classes, but at some large systems such as Des Moines Public Schools, it’s only part-time. DMPS has said with students attending full-time social distancing would not be possible in many classrooms.

5:45 a.m. – Iowa Senate passes bill that would put public funding into independent charter schools

In the Iowa Senate, lawmakers have passed a bill that would put public funding into independent charter schools. It would also give some families money to spend on private school tuition.

The bill creates scholarship accounts available to students in 34 Iowa schools rated for ‘comprehensive’ improvement by the federal government.

Democrats say it takes money away from public schools that are short on resources. Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Allenton) says it gives resources to students to leave struggling schools.

“Children are constitutionally entitled to an education. They are not constitutionally entitled to a public school system. They are entitled to an education,” she said.

The Legislative Services Agency estimates about 350 students would likely apply for accounts in the first year of the program with an impact of about 2 million dollars of lost funding for public schools.

Thursday, January 28

4:37 p.m. – Iowa Senate passes in-person learning bill, House to debate Thursday night

The Iowa Senate has passed a bill requiring all schools to provide the option for in-person learning five days a week during the pandemic.

Districts would have at least two weeks to begin offering fully in-person classes once the bill is signed into law. Families could still choose online learning.

Senate Democrats unsuccessfully proposed amendments to the bill, including a proposal to vaccinate teachers before requiring in-person classes.

The House is planning to debate a similar proposal Thursday evening.

4:35 p.m. – Enrollment at community colleges for minority students at record high

Overall for-credit enrollment in Iowa’s community colleges decreased over the past year, but enrollment among minority students is at a record high.

Iowa’s annual condition of its community colleges was released by the Department of Education. It revealed in 2020 that a record number of minority students enrolled to receive their associate’s degree or another form of certification; 8.9 percent of total students identified as Hispanic or Latino.

This increase comes right during the pandemic, and that may have played a role in the lower overall enrollment for 2020. Black students follow closely behind Latinos, making up just under eight percent of the student body.

The survey report also found the number of degrees and certificates earned by racial or ethnic minority students has grown almost every year since 2000.

3:12 p.m. – Iowa Senate advances proposal to add gun rights language to the Iowa Constitution

The Iowa Senate has advanced a proposal that would add gun rights language to the state Constitution. It passed on a party-line vote Thursday with 29 Republicans voting in favor and 18 Democrats voting against.

Republicans say the constitutional amendment is needed to protect against future gun restrictions.

Democrats offered a proposal to add language matching the Second Amendment to the Iowa Constitution instead, but Republicans rejected it. Democrats like Senator Kevin Kinney of Oxford say they’re worried that the language goes too far and will lead to courts striking down Iowa’s current gun laws.

“To me, this is going to make law enforcement more dangerous. It’s going to allow background checks not to be done. People freely carrying weapons,” he said.

The House is also expected to approve the gun rights constitutional amendment Thursday. After that, it’ll go on the ballot in 2022 for Iowa voters to have the final say.

3:06 p.m. – Local health officials urge Iowans to be patient as COVID-19 vaccine supply is limited

As the state begins to expand access to the coronavirus vaccine to those 65 and older, local health officials are warning the supplies remain incredibly limited. Providers are urging the public to be patient and cautioning there will be considerable delays between who is eligible and who actually gets the shot.

In Black Hawk County, there are about 20,000 people over the age of 65, but for the first week of February, only 700 doses of the vaccine will be available them. Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye is the director of the county’s public health department.

“As we move forward into the spring, we are confident that this weekly allocation will grow. But the health department and our health care partners again ask that people please remain patient,” she said.

As of Thursday morning, some 169,000 Iowans had received their first dose.

2:52 p.m. - Racial justice groups call on Iowa officials to protect prison population from COVID-19

A coalition of racial justice groups and community advocates are calling on Iowa officials to aggressively and proactively respond to the coronavirus within the state’s jails and prisons.

The groups have penned a letter calling for expanded testing, more stringent quarantine protocols, and the early release of the medically vulnerable and those up for parole, among other steps. The advocates say they’ve been in contact with incarcerated individuals in nine correctional facilities across the state and the letter draws on their accounts. Jaylen Cavil is an organizer with the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement.

“Minimize the number of individuals being arrested. Parole boards must release people in order to decrease the prison and jail population enough to allow for social distancing and safety protocols,” he said.

As of Wednesday, 15 incarcerated individuals and two corrections staffers had died of COVID-19, which has infected more than 4,000 people in the state’s prisons.

10:00 a.m. - 1,278 new COVID-19 cases, 32 more deaths reported Thursday

6:53 a.m. - Iowa House passes anti-abortion constitutional amendment

Republicans in the Iowa House of Representatives approved a proposed constitutional amendment Wednesday night that would open the door to more abortion restrictions. This would add language to the Iowa Constitution that says it doesn’t grant a right to abortion. It’s a response to a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that says the state constitution protects abortion as a fundamental right but not without limits.

Republican supporters of the measure say the amendment is needed to correct what they call “judicial activism.”

Representative Timi Brown-Powers is a Democrat from Waterloo. “Since when does the constitution remove women’s rights or anybody’s rights? Isn’t the constitution there to protect our rights?”

The Iowa Senate is also planning to take up this measure. The next step in the constitutional amendment process would be for the legislature to pass it again in 2023 or 2024. If that happens, Iowans would get to vote on whether to ratify the amendment in 2024

Wednesday, January 27

4:25 p.m. – Cloris Leachman dies aged 94

Oscar-winning actress Cloris Leachman has died at the age of 94. The Des Moines native won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1971 for “The Last Picture Show”. She’s also known for her work with Mel Brooks. And she won eight Emmy Awards for TV. At 82, she was the oldest contestant ever on “Dancing With the Stars.” Each year the Des Moines theater community hands out the Cloris Awards in her honor.

3:50 p.m. – Republican bill would add political ideology to the Iowa Civil Rights Act

Political ideology would be added as a protected class in the Iowa Civil Rights Act under a bill advanced by Republicans on a House panel Wednesday.

The Iowa Civil Rights Act bans discrimination based on age, race, sex, religion, disability and several other characteristics. Keenan Crow, a lobbyist for a group that advocates for LGBTQ Iowans, says adding political ideology to the civil rights act could have a lot of unintended consequences.

Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City) says lawmakers should make it clear that it’s wrong to go after someone for their political views. “We’ve seen cancel culture really crop up around the country. It’s really disturbing. They want to shout you down if you have the wrong views or the wrong viewpoints. We’ve seen people get censored. We’ve seen a lot of different things and it’s almost entirely political.”

Wheeler has also filed a bill that would bar schools from teaching history lessons based on the 1619 Project, which is focused on the legacy of slavery in this country.

2:26 p.m. - Demand for vaccine in Iowa far outweighs supply

Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced starting next week Iowa’s vaccine allocation will increase by 16 percent. But the state’s demand for the vaccine will still far outstrip supply.

Iowa currently receives enough doses to vaccinate about 19,000 Iowans per week.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Press Conference | January 27, 2021, 11:00 a.m.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said starting next week that number should increase to nearly 26,000 and will further increase when all of the state’s long term care facilities are vaccinated.

But the number is still far below the amount needed to vaccinate Iowans in phase 1B, Tier One. This includes those ages 65 and older as well as first responders, school staff and child care workers, which accounts for more than 600,000 people.

At a press conference, Reynolds defended the state’s decision to lower the age cutoff from 75 to 65 last week.

“I think that that was the right thing to do. I've made it very clear to Iowans, you know, it's based on the supply that we receive. And right now the demand exceeds the supply,” she said.

Vaccine Phase B, Tier One is slated to start next week.

10:00 a.m. - 1,092 COVID-19 cases, eight more deaths reported Wednesday

7:30 a.m. - Packwood Republican Holds On To Southeast Iowa Senate Seat In Special Election

Unofficial results indicate Republican Adrian Dickey has beaten Democrat Mary Stewart to be the next state Senator from district 41 in southeast Iowa.

Preliminary numbers show Dickey carried the district by more than 900 votes out of some 9,000 cast in Tuesday’s special election.

Dickey is a volunteer firefighter and runs a trucking business in Packwood. This is his first bid for elected office. At the statehouse, Dickey hopes to push for more tax cuts and tax credits for volunteer first responders.

District 41 was left vacant after Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks resigned to take her seat in Congress. The district includes the cities of Ottumwa, Fairfield, Bloomfield and Keosauqua.

7:30 a.m. – UIHC prepares to vaccinate Iowans in phase 1B

Iowa’s largest hospital says it is prepared to start vaccinating the public next week as the state moves into vaccinating people in Phase 1B. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics says it will begin scheduling appointments at the end of this week and early next week. That’s as soon as it confirms how many doses it will receive next week from the Johnson County Health Department.

UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran says appointments are limited as vaccine supplies are really short right now. But he says he expects that to change.

“We don't want the public to get discouraged by the lack of availability or the difficulty in scheduling. We will get better with the supply. We will get better with the processes,” he said.

People who are interested in getting vaccinated through UIHC can express their interest through the hospital’s website starting next week.

7:00 a.m. - Education bill requiring schools to provide in-person full-time instruction passes in House Education Committee

A bill requiring schools to provide in-person instruction full-time during the pandemic passed the Education Committee in the Iowa House Tuesday.

Schools would be allowed, but not required, to provide an online option. In-person classes would have to start by the second Monday after the bill is signed. Democrats on the House committee introduced amendments to give schools more time to make the transition and to vaccinate school staff before they go fully in-person. Those changes were voted down by Republicans on the panel.

In-person learning bills have now advanced to the full House and Senate

Tuesday, January 26

3:32 p.m. – Polk County health officials request patience as COVID-19 Phase 1b begins

Polk County health officials are asking residents of the state’s largest county to be patient when trying to get a COVID-19 vaccination appointment, as doses are very limited right now.

The county is currently vaccinating health care workers and long-term care staff and residents under Phase 1A, as well as people ages 65 and older.

Officials say they will start opening appointments to those in Phase 1B, Tier 1 starting next week. This includes first responders, school staff and child care workers.

But Polk County Health Department Director Helen Eddy says more than 61,000 Polk County residents are 65 and older. And the state is currently only receiving 19,000 doses a week total. “So I want you to understand the scope of the task that we are trying to execute and undertake in an extremely limited vaccine supply situation.”

Polk County residents can find information on how to schedule an appointment on its health department’s website. Residents who do not have access to a computer can call 515-286-3798 and select option 6.

3:26 p.m. – Iowa House panel advances medication abortion reversal notification bill
Republicans on an Iowa House panel have advanced a bill that would require abortion providers to tell patients that it may be possible to reverse a medication abortion.

The bill directs providers to tell Iowans they might be able to stop their medication abortion if they only took the first of two drugs involved in the procedure. But there isn’t enough reliable scientific evidence to support the practice, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Researchers cut short a study on so-called abortion reversal in 2019 because of health risks.

Abortion rights supporters and groups like Planned Parenthood told lawmakers this legislation isn’t supported by science and could harm pregnant people.

Anti-abortion rights groups say it could save pregnancies if women change their mind partway through a medication abortion.

This legislation was also advanced in 2020, but it didn’t get a vote by the full House of Representatives at the time.

The bill now advances to the full House Human Resources Committee.

2:25 p.m. – Sen. Joni Ernst prepares for former President Trump’s impeachment trial
U.S. Senators were sworn in as jurors Tuesday to preside over the impeachment of former President Donald Trump. Iowa Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst says she will likely vote “no” on impeachment but says she will listen to arguments presented.

Ernst says the former president displayed poor leadership when addressing his supporters before they stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, but the impeachment could create a dangerous standard. “He should have been out much sooner telling the crowd: don’t – we’re peacefully protesting. Y’know, don’t do these actions. He didn’t do that soon enough. But does that mean he’s guilty of inciting insurrection?”

Democrats say Trump must be convicted because he incited an insurrection with his speech. The trial in the U-S Senate will begin on February 9.

2:06 p.m. – Iowa House subcommittee bill would end tenure systems at the state’s regents universities
Iowa’s public universities could no longer grant professors tenure under a bill passed by an Iowa House subcommittee. Republicans supporting the bill say it comes in reaction to alleged discrimination against conservative students on campus.

Rep. Skylar Wheeler (R-Orange City) specifically mentioned an Iowa State professor who said in a syllabus last summer that student projects could not oppose abortion rights or gay marriage.

Iowa State has said there are policies that protect student expression, but Wheeler questioned whether tenure protects professors who suppress conservative views.

The state’s public universities oppose the House bill. A lobbyist for the Board of Regents said it would cause an “exodus” of the best professors and researchers, and make the system a “back water” of higher education.

Several business groups that benefit from university expertise also oppose the bill, including the Iowa Pork Producers and Iowa Soybean Association.

1:50 p.m. – Eviction hearings in Polk County continue despite latest eviction moratorium
A Polk County office that works to reduce homelessness in the area says they’re not yet seeing the effects of the latest eviction moratorium. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the moratorium until at least March 31 of this year.

The extension allows for people to stay in their homes without immediate fear of eviction, but this moratorium is a bit different than in the past. Angie Arthur is the executive director of Polk County Continuum of Care. She says the extension is a positive step, but it has some limitations. “It's not an automatic moratorium, like what was happening earlier in the year, in 2020. So this is one that must be initiated by the tenant. So it's possible that maybe the tenant’s not aware of this tool.”

Arthur says this week, there are more than 200 eviction hearings in the Polk County court system. That’s because the eviction process can still begin if the tenant doesn’t know about the rules of the new moratorium. She recommends any person with concerns should learn about their housing options at the Continuum of Care website.

10:36 a.m. - Test Iowa sites in Council Bluffs and Des Moines closed Tuesday due to snowfall
Test Iowa sites in Council Bluffs and Des Moines will remain closed Tuesday due to the heavy snowfall.

State officials say sites in Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Waterloo will remain open Tuesday until 4 p.m. as initially planned.

All Test Iowa sites across the state are expected to resume regular hours Wednesday.

Anyone whose appointment has been affected by the storm closures can bring their QR code to any open Test Iowa site. They will not need to reschedule their appointment.

10:00 a.m. - 803 new COVID-19 cases, four more deaths reported Tuesday

Data reflects a 24-hour period as reported by the state department of public health. The state is currently releasing vaccination updates on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

9:05 a.m. - Bill to require in-person learning is moving to the floor, vote could happen this week

A bill that would require schools to offer fully in-person learning is moving to the floor of the Iowa Senate, where a vote could happen this week. A similar bill is also advancing in the House.

The bills advancing in the legislature require schools to offer in-person learning five days a week for families that choose it. They allow about two weeks to make the transition once they’re passed.

Sen. Brad Zaun, (R-Urbandale) says there would still be a waiver process for schools to go online if the infection rate spikes or too many staff members are in quarantine. But he says online learning is not working for some kids.

Opponents of the bill say COVID-19 is more likely to spread with less distancing in classrooms. Senate Democrats say any fully in-person mandate should wait until educators and school staff are vaccinated.

9:03 a.m. - Bill that would create new system of public-funded charter schools moves to Senate floor

A bill moving to the floor of the Iowa Senate would create a new system of public-funded charter schools and give families in low-performing public schools money to pay private tuition.

Under the bill, families in public schools that have the lowest federal performance rating could qualify for Student First Scholarships that could go toward tuition at a private school.

The bill also allows charter schools to operate outside the authority of local school boards.

Republican Senator Jim Carlin of Sioux City says it would give parents power to hold their home schools accountable because they could choose to leave.

Opponents of the bill say it diverts money from schools already strapped for resources. They argue it could make racial disparities worse by setting off a wave of affluent white students leaving urban districts.

Monday, January 25

5:29 p.m. – Senate Judiciary subcommittee advances “failure to assist” bill
A bill advancing in the Iowa Senate would make it a crime to not call 911 or immediately seek help when you see someone at risk of imminent death or serious injury.

It’s a response to the death of 15-year-old Noah Herring, who drowned in Coralville Lake last spring. Johnson County investigators say three teenagers and one adult were there and didn’t call for help or tell anyone what happened for four days. But that’s not currently a crime in Iowa.

Noah’s mother, Lisa Herring, told a Senate subcommittee that the law needs to be changed. “We don’t understand how something like that can happen and there can be no legal charge towards any of the four people that were involved as it pertains to my son’s death. That just seems wrong.”

The bill moves to the full Senate Judiciary committee.

3:32 p.m. - Bill requiring schools to offer full-time in-person classes advances

Bills advancing in Iowa House and Senate subcommittees Monday would require schools to offer full-time in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic. The current mandate is 50-percent in-person.

Supporters say a full-time option would benefit working parents and students falling behind academically.

Linn-Mar school board member Brittannia Morey says her district is already full-time for elementary, but it’s not safe to do the same for high school.

Morey and other supporters say lawmakers should wait until educators are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The House and Senate bills would each give about two weeks to transition to fully in-person classes. The full Senate could vote on the proposal later this week.

3:30 p.m. - Bill advances in Senate to require employers to use E-Verify to check immigration status

Republicans on an Iowa Senate panel have advanced a bill that would require all businesses to use the E-Verify program to check the immigration status of employees.

It’s already a federal crime to knowingly hire undocumented workers. But this proposal would allow the state of Iowa to enforce that, by suspending or revoking the business licenses of employers that don’t comply.

All of the lobbyists and members of the public at a subcommittee hearing Monday said they oppose the legislation. Here’s Dustin Miller with the Iowa Chamber Alliance.

“The E-Verify system has a lot of challenges. It is flawed enough that it’s really worrisome that the mandate on business could lead to penalties for employers.”

Senator Julian Garrett says the bill would even the playing field for businesses that are already using the E-Verify program. Sixteen other Republican state senators signed on as cosponsors.

The Iowa Senate passed a similar measure two years ago, but it never got a hearing in the House.

2:24 p.m. – Linn County offering COVID-19 vaccines to Iowans 65+ Tuesday

Linn County will begin offering coronavirus vaccines to residents 65 and older beginning Tuesday.

UnityPoint and other providers will begin contacting their primary care patients to offer them an appointment. They’re asking those interested in the vaccine to not call the clinics, to avoid clogging the phone lines.

Seniors who do not have a primary care doctor should call Linn County Public Health at 319-892-6097 in order to request an appointment.

1:26 p.m. – Test Iowa sites to close for winter storm

Five Test Iowa sites will close early Monday due to the winter storm warning in effect across the state. State officials have announced sites in Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Waterloo will close early Monday at various times.

Additionally, all state-operated sites will open two hours late Tuesday. People whose appointments are affected by the closure will be able to bring their QR code to get tested at a site when it reopens and will not need to schedule new appointments.

12:55 p.m. – Hart’s campaign asks for House for a full recount

A lawyer for Democrat Rita Hart’s campaign is defending her case before the U.S. House challenging the election results in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Hart is asking for the House to count 22 ballots that voters testified were legally cast but wrongfully excluded, plus a full recount.

Republican Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks has filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that Hart should have followed precedent in first appealing to a state court. Hart’s attorney, Marc Elias, says throwing out the case would amount to disenfranchising the 22 voters.

Now that both sides have filed their petitions, it’s up to the Committee on House Administration to determine the next steps in the case.

12:53 p.m. – Senate subcommittee advances bill that would allow parents to use public funding for private school

An Iowa Senate subcommittee has advanced a bill that would allow some parents to use public funding to cover private school tuition.

The scholarship accounts would be available to students at low-performing public schools.

It also creates a system of publicly-funded charter schools that would operate separately from local school districts.

Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, opposes the bill. She says it could create a cycle of defunding and school segregation.

Supporters in a Senate subcommittee Monday said the bill makes public districts accountable to parents for poor performing schools.

The Senate Education Committee is expected to advance the bill this Monday. A vote in the Iowa Senate is possible later this week.

12:32 p.m. – Nearly all nursing homes to receive first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by week’s end

Nearly all of Iowa’s nursing homes are expected to have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this week.

Vaccinations in Iowa’s nearly 450 nursing homes started about a month ago and have moved slower than officials expected. They’re being implemented by chain pharmacies through a federal partnership program. Brent Willett is the president of the Iowa Health Care Association. He says delays were inevitable as Iowa has one of the highest rates of nursing homes and assisted living facilities per capita in the country.

“So it's a very logistically challenging state. We're not surprised that there were a handful of days or a week that, that moved things a little bit later,” he said.

Willett says 90 to 95 percent of nursing homes are expected to receive their first dose of the vaccine by the end of this week and will get their second dose by mid to late February.

10:00 a.m. - 452 new COVID-19 cases reported Monday

9:26 a.m. - Ross Wilburn becomes first Black Iowans to serve as IDP chair

Ross Wilburn was elected the new chair of the Iowa Democratic Party over the weekend. Wilburn is currently serving his second term as a state representative from Ames. He’s also the first Black Iowan to serve as the state party chair. Wilburn takes the position after his party suffered major losses in Iowa in the 2020 election. He spoke about his new role with reporters on Saturday.

Wilburn says he also plans to make the case that the state should continue to be first-in-the-nation in the presidential primary cycle with the Iowa caucuses. That’s despite growing calls for Iowa to lose its place in line because of the disastrous outcome of the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses.

7:00 a.m. – Biden Administration immigration policy changes mean changes for Iowa immigrants

The Biden Administration is expected to make changes in U.S. immigration policy, and that means changes for some immigrants in Iowa.

The changes so far include getting rid of the travel ban against some majority-Muslim countries and making the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program a little “safer,” according to immigration expert Ann Naffier. She is the legal director for the non-profit Justice For Our Neighbors.

“So now we have a whole bunch of cases that have been on hold that are going to wake up again, and we're going to be able to help them. And yeah, it's going to be a lot of work,” she said.

Naffier says she shifted her priorities to focus on Iowans affected by the new policies, but some rules from the Trump administration are still intact. Naffier says that means it’s a waiting game to see what other changes the Biden administration has in store. As for a clear path to citizenship for more than two-thousand DACA recipients in Iowa, Naffier says that plan may take months to pass through legislation.

Sunday, January 24

10:00 a.m. - 2,235 new COVID-19 vases, 10 more deaths reported this weekend in Iowa

On Saturday, 1,388 new cases and nine more deaths were reported.