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Six Additional Deaths, 595 New Cases Of COVID-19 Reported Friday

Daily Digest

Friday, March 19

12:59 p.m. – Two of Iowa’s U.S. Representatives vote against reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act

This week Republican U.S. Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which passed with bipartisan support.

Hinson says she couldn’t support the bill aimed at combatting domestic abuse because it contained gun control measures. The bill includes a provision that would prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor stalking from having firearms, which was opposed by the National Rifle Association.

Hinson argues the measures are a step too far.

“I would say it steered the bill away from its original intent, and instead inserted things, like some concerning 2nd Amendment, challenging issues for me, due process violations.”

Researchers have demonstrated that having a gun at home puts women at a higher risk of being killed, and that stalking can be a precursor for future domestic violence.

10:00 a.m. - Six additional deaths, 595 new cases of COVID-19 reported Friday

Thursday, March 18

3:33 p.m. – Global climate change negatively impacting Mississippi River
Scientists are already seeing a host of negative impacts from global climate change on the Mississippi River.

Researchers are tracking temperature variability and more intense rainfalls, and seeing disruptions to the life cycles of key animal species.

Shawn Giblin of the Wisconsin DNR says that even slight temperature changes can have serious impacts on some fish. He spoke Thursday at a conference of the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee. “You know really many times it’s difficult for even I think river scientists to wrap their heads around the fact that literally the difference between zero and one degree Celsius for overwintering habitat is literally the difference between success and failure.”

Giblin says he’s been unsettled by the rate of change on the Mississippi, even in the past 15 years.

1:55 p.m. – For the first time since March 2020, none of Iowa’s nursing homes or long-term care facilities is reporting a COVID-19 outbreak

State officials are reporting that, as of Thursday morning, there are no COVID-19 outbreaks in Iowa’s long-term care facilities. For the first time since last March, none of the state’s nearly 700 nursing homes and assisted living facilities is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.

“Even though long term care residents account for less than one percent of the population of the state, when it came to COVID, they accounted for nearly half of the deaths from the virus.”

Lori Ristau is with the Iowa Health Care Association.

“We got to the peak of the virus about November, December, and, at that time, we had 167 facilities battling the virus in their buildings. So getting to zero today is a tremendous, tremendous progress.”

According to state data, 2,225 long-term care residents have died from COVID-19.

Long-term residents and staff were among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Ristau says all facilities are expected to be fully vaccinated by the end of this month.

10:18 a.m. - Des Moines Register calls for DMPD investigation into arrest of reporter last summer at racial justice protest

The Des Moines Register has written a letter to the Des Moines Police Department asking them to launch an investigation into the circumstances leading to the arrest of one its reporters last May.

Breaking news reporter Andrea Sahouri was acquitted last week of charges stemming from her arrest during a racial justice protest last summer in Des Moines. It was one of the many protests in the city following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The newspaper’s executive editor, Carol Hunter, is asking for a probe into the actions of Officer Luke Wilson, the officer who pepper sprayed and arrested Sahouri outside Merle Hay Mall May 31.

Hunter is asking Des Moines Police Department’s Office of Professional standards to investigate whether pepper-spraying Sahouri constituted assault and was excessive use of force, whether her arrest was unlawful and a civil rights violation and whether Wilson was disciplined for violating body camera policy.

Free press advocates, locally and internationally, saw the charges and the trial moving forward as a violation of free press in the United States.

10:00 a.m. - 9 additional deaths, 404 new cases of COVID-19

5:03 a.m. – Iowa House passes bill that would remove requirement to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon or acquire handguns

Iowans would no longer have to get a permit to carry or acquire handguns under a bill passed by the Iowa House Wednesday.

Those buying from a licensed dealer would still have to pass a national background check. But for private transfers, there would be no background check required. Republicans say making it a felony to sell a gun to someone who shouldn’t have one will encourage sellers to ask for a background check.

“Iowans will be safer when the impediments to self-defense are removed for law-abiding citizens, recognizing that they are not the ones perpetrating the gun violence,” says Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison.

Most Democrats rejected Holt’s argument, saying the bill puts a big loophole in Iowa’s background check system.

“If you wanted them to do a background check, you should’ve written it in the bill,” says Rep. Mary Mascher, D- Iowa City. “It is not there. It is very clear an individual can run a truck through this in terms of the hole that you’ve driven.”

One Democrat joined the 59 House Republicans in voting for the bill

Wednesday, March 17

4:11 p.m. – Bill preventing cities from banning discrimination based on housing choice vouchers goes to the governor’s desk

Iowa Republican lawmakers have sent a bill to the governor that would prevent cities from banning discrimination based on the use of housing choice vouchers.

The Senate gave the bill final approval Wednesday after the House passed it Monday.

Des Moines, Iowa City and Marion have ordinances that don’t allow landlords to reject tenants just because they use a Section 8 housing voucher to pay the rent. If Gov. Kim Reynolds signs this bill into law, those policies will end in 2023.

Democrats opposed the bill, saying it’ll hurt low-income, disabled and elderly Iowans who need a place to live. Republicans say landlords should get to choose whether they accept rent payments through the federal program.

4:03 p.m. – Senate Republicans pass protected speech bill

Iowa Senate Republicans passed a bill Wednesday to ban tax breaks and government contracts for major tech companies that are found by a court to have improperly censored protected speech.

It could affect cities and counties that have given economic incentives to companies like Facebook and Google to build data centers in the state.

Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, sponsored the bill. He believes social media companies unfairly target conservative accounts when trying to root out misinformation. “The sad reality is that we have liberal executives in the Silicon Valley dictating what Iowans are going to be fed through social media platforms.”

Democrats opposed the bill, saying this will hurt state and local efforts to recruit businesses and grow the economy. They say tech companies aren’t targeting people for having conservative views, they’re targeting people who incite violence or spread lies.

2:22 p.m. – 38 Additional Cases Of U.K. Coronavirus Variant Confirmed In Iowa

State health officials are reporting 38 additional cases of a COVID-19 variant, commonly known as the U.K. variant, have been confirmed in Iowa. The variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, is thought to be spread more easily.

Evidence has shown all currently approved COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the variant. That’s why state health officials say they are urging all Iowans to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them, and to continue to practice public health mitigation strategies, such as wearing a mask and social distancing.

2:00 p.m. – COVID-19 outbreaks nearly eliminated at long-term care facilities

Long-term care facilities have been some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but state officials say due to the COVID-19 vaccine, outbreaks have been nearly eliminated.

As of Wednesday, just one facility in Wapello County is listed as currently experiencing an outbreak.

Gov. Kim Reynolds says no additional positive cases have been reported there in a month.

“We anticipate that, just days from now, not a single long-term care facility will be in outbreak status, something that hasn't occurred since the first outbreaks were reported in early April of last year.

Reynolds says the federal pharmacy partnership program, which is responsible for vaccinating the staff and residents of the facilities, will be finished by the end of this month.

More than 2,200 residents of long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the state.

1:57 p.m. - Reynolds says all Iowans will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination starting April 5

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Press Conference | March 17, 2021, 11:00 a.m.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced all Iowans could be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by April 5.

Reynolds said vaccine eligibility will expand as long as the state’s vaccine allocation increases as much as the federal government anticipates.

“Now that our national vaccine supply is projected to significantly increase in the next two weeks, and Iowans have demonstrated our ability to work together and ensure vaccine is administered efficiently and responsibly, I'm confident that we're prepared to open up even more,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the White House told her this week they expect to significantly ramp up doses starting the week of March 29. This could double the state’s current weekly supply.

“We're starting to see all of them ramp up as well as J&J [Johnson & Johnson], which again, the single dose that really is a game changer, and we can really allocate and get that out to some of our mass vaccination clinics where they can turn that around wrap pretty quickly.”

The state is reporting 31 percent of Iowans 18 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while more than 95 percent of those 65 and older have received at least one dose so far.

12:13 p.m. – Dallas County Health Department receives extra COVID-19 vaccines from Tyson plant

Dallas County health officials say they received extra COVID-19 vaccines from the Tyson meat packing plant in Perry.

The Tyson Foods plant in Perry received 700 doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the beginning of the month.

All the unused vaccines were sent back to the local county health department. A spokesperson for Dallas County health department says they received enough from Tyson to double their vaccinations last week. They administered the vaccines to other people in the county who also work in manufacturing or processing.

Dallas County health says they are “slowly but steadily” continuing to vaccinate everyone in the county. As of right now, a quarter of the residents over the age of 16 have received at least one shot.

11:43 a.m. – Reynolds says all Iowans will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination starting April 5

At a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said that she anticipates that all Iowans will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination starting April 5.

Reynolds said the national supply of vaccines is expected to increase significantly over the next two weeks.

This entry will be updated.

10:34 a.m. – Iowa City Council suspends Truth and Reconciliation Commission following resignations of commission members

The Iowa City Council voted Tuesday to temporarily suspend its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Creating the board was one of a slate of new commitments the city made in the wake of last summer’s social justice protests.

Four people affiliated with the commission resigned in recent weeks, citing internal dysfunction and a lack of guidance from the city.

At a council meeting Tuesday night, Mayor Bruce Teague said the group cannot continue as it has.

“This grieves me to my core that I, as a Black sitting mayor, have to come before this council and ask for a suspension. There’s a lot of things that have happened within this TRC that we cannot deny.”

The Council is taking applications to fill the vacancies through the end of the month and will lift the suspension on April 15.

10 a.m. - 15 additional deaths, 565 new cases of COVID-19 reported Wednesday

6 a.m. – Republican lawmakers in Iowa House pass bill that would ban school curriculum that ‘promotes divisive concepts’

Republicans in the Iowa House passed a bill Tuesday night that would ban school curriculum and government agency diversity training that “promotes divisive concepts.” Under the bill, ideas that would be off limits include “that the U.S. and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist,” and that an individual, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Rep. Henry Stone, R-Forest City, says he has faced racism as an Asian-American, and he supports diversity training, but he is concerned about how it is conducted.

“To say that we teach diversity by talking about that the United States and Iowa are fundamentally — which means at its root — systemically racist or sexist? I don’t believe that.”

Democratic lawmakers opposed the bill. They say it will prevent implicit bias trainings and deny the existence of white privilege and systemic racism.

“That is canceling reality,” says Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton. “That is closing our eyes and trying to pretend that if we don’t say ‘implicit bias,’ it doesn’t exist. Or if we don’t say ‘systemic racism,’ we can pretend we don’t have that.”

Update 10:11 a.m: more here: Iowa House Republicans Vote To Ban 'Divisive Concepts' In Schools, Government Diversity Training

Tuesday, March 16

2:14 p.m. – Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) approves agreements that will lower cost of phone services for inmates at county jails

The Iowa Utilities Board has approved new agreements with three companies that provide phone services to Iowans held in county jails. The changes are part of a years-long effort to cut the costs that companies charge inmates.

The national advocacy group Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) has been pushing for the changes, which it says will save Iowans a million dollars a year.

Cecil Wright of the IUB said during a meeting Tuesday that more work is needed to identify any last remaining companies that haven’t proposed lowering their Iowa rates.

“We have completed review, and there are tariffs in place for all of the inmate calling service providers that we identified,” Wright said.

According to PPI, there are two companies serving seven Iowa counties that have not submitted new rates.

1:50 p.m. – Hinterland announces 2021 lineup, COVID-19 precautions

Organizers of a central Iowa outdoor music and camping festival that attracts tens of thousands of fans have announced they plan to hold the three-day event in early August. Organizers of the Hinterland Music Festival in St. Charles had to cancel it last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hinterland’s Sam Summers says they will sell fewer tickets this year, masks will be mandated, and there will be adjustments to the festival grounds for more social distancing. He says people will be put on a waiting list if tickets sell out and more tickets could be sold if COVID-19 community spread conditions improve.

“Really the key things are vaccines being available to everyone and those cases going down. So, hopefully people can keep doing their parts over the next three to four months,” he said.

Summers says some musicians had concerns about the festival because of how Iowa officials handled the state’s response to the pandemic. He says they had to assure bands with a detailed plan of how the festival will be safe for fans. Headliners include The Avett Brothers, Tyler Childers, and Leon Bridges. Summers made his comments in an interview on Iowa Public Radio’s Studio One.

10:58 a.m. – Grassley calls for repeal of federal estate tax

Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator wants to see a repeal of the federal estate tax.

Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley recently joined a couple dozen Republican colleagues in reintroducing an effort to permanently end the tax on a deceased person’s property. Grassley says the tax could hit family farms, ranches and businesses hard, especially as land prices are increasing.

“No family farmers should have to sell their land to pay Uncle Sam just because the head of the household died,” says Grassley.

The federal estate tax currently applies to a person with an estate worth more than $11.7 million or $23.4 million for a married couple. Attempts to permanently repeal the tax in 2005 through 2006 did not get enough votes in the U.S. Senate. Another effort in 2019 did not make it out of a House committee.

10:00 a.m. - One new death, 413 new cases of COVID-19 reported Tuesday

Monday, March 15

7:07 p.m. – Bill that would allow landlords to reject potential tenants based on their use of federal housing choice vouchers advances in state Senate

Local governments in Iowa will not be allowed to ban discrimination based on the use of housing choice vouchers under a bill passed in the Iowa House Monday.

Des Moines, Iowa City and Marion do not allow landlords to reject potential tenants just because they use a Section 8 housing voucher to pay the rent. Republicans in the state House and Senate have voted to ban these anti-discrimination ordinances. They say landlords should get to choose whether or not they receive rent payments through the federal program.

“That’s a voluntary program and we want to make sure that it remains voluntary for property owners and they can decide whether they want to participate or not,” says Rep. Dave Deyoe, R-Nevada.

In those three cities, landlords can still reject housing voucher recipients for other reasons like past convictions. Democrats say the bill will hurt veterans, disabled and elderly Iowans, and that it can serve as a pretext for racial discrimination in renting.

“The people who are most vulnerable are relying on us to make sure affordable housing is there for them,” says Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf.

The House amended the bill to cancel cities’ ordinances in 2023, instead of immediately. The bill goes back to the Senate for approval of that change.

4:59 p.m. – Lawmakers keep tax exemption for Iowa’s private forest

State lawmakers say they will not advance a bill that would have rolled back a tax exemption for privately-owned forest reserves, though concerns persist some landowners are taking advantage of the program.

At a subcommittee meeting Monday, forest managers and tree farmers still dealing with the aftermath of last August’s derecho testified against the bill, which would have raised their property taxes.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said the proposal would make it even harder to restore Iowa’s forests, a quarter of which were lost after the powerful windstorm.

“I cannot for the life of me understand why we’re raising property taxes on the private managers of Iowa’s woodlands and forests after what they endured this last summer with the derecho.”

Supporters of the century-old program argue the tax breaks support critical private conservation efforts that provide habitat, trap carbon and filter water.

4:00 p.m. – Grassley advocates for pathway to citizenship for so-called DREAMers on call Monday

Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator met virtually with immigration activists Monday and advocated for creating a pathway to citizenship for so-called DREAMers, a policy he’s pushed for in the past.

Grassley spoke by phone to a group of activists involved in the Catholic Worker movement in Iowa. Among them was Alejandro Cortez, who called from Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, asking for help being reunited with his wife and son who live in Iowa.

Grassley told the activists he stands by a bill he sponsored in 2018, which would have created a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

“People that have come here with their parents, their parents may have violated the law coming in, but I don’t attribute a parents’ violation of the law to the children’s violation of the law,” he said.

The House is expected to take up bills this week dealing with citizenship for so-called DREAMers and other immigration reforms.

2:15 p.m. – Grassley says he’s still making up his mind about re-election

Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator says he is still making up his mind about whether to run for re-election, following the release of a poll showing a majority of Iowans want him to retire.

The latest Des Moines Register / Mediacom Iowa Poll shows that just 28 percent of Iowans hope Sen. Chuck Grassley will run for an eighth term in the Senate.

During a meeting with immigration activists Monday, Grassley pushed back against criticism that he has held the job for too long.

“I can only tell you that I love my work very much and…I don’t think that I have any problems doing my work. And I want everybody to know…that I put in all the time it takes to do the job.”

Grassley has said he will make his decision sometime between September and November. The 87-year-old lawmaker has been in public office since 1959.

11:12 a.m. – Two Test Iowa sites will close early due to winter weather

Two Test Iowa sites will close early Monday due to winter weather expected in the eastern part of the state.

The sites in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids will close at noon. Those whose appointment is affected by this closure will not need to schedule a new appointment. Instead, they can bring their QR code to any site during regular hours to be tested.

10 a.m. - 8 additional deaths, 191 new cases of COVID-19 reported Monday

6 a.m. – One-dose vaccine is easier and quicker for hard-to-reach populations, but some states fear backlash

Some hoped the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine would make it easier to vaccinate vulnerable, hard-to-reach populations, but some health officials will not be distributing the vaccine to these communities for fear of backlash.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine proved safe and effective in its clinical trial, and was 100 percent effective in preventing hospitalization and death. It did report a slightly lower efficacy, though, than the other two FDA-authorized vaccines.

Omayra Giachello is a regional health officer with the Illinois Department of Public Health. She says it would be a lot easier to use the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine for essential workers, but she says she does not want those populations to feel they are receiving what might be perceived as a lesser vaccine.

“It might be, ‘Oh really, you’re going to give them that because they’re African American, because they’re migrants? They should be given the same rights as someone that’s Anglo Saxon, get that Moderna, the Pfizer, that’s being offered,’” Giachello says.

Other states, including Iowa, are specifically allocating the one-and-done vaccine to meatpacking plant communities in order to vaccinate them more quickly and easily.

All FDA-authorized vaccines are safe and effective, and health experts say the best vaccine is the one that becomes available to you first.

6 a.m. – Iowa Senate Republicans advance plan to phase out state inheritance tax, speed up timeline for income tax cuts

The speaker of the Iowa House says there are still a lot of unanswered questions about potential tax cuts this session.

Iowa Senate Republicans have advanced a plan to phase out the state inheritance tax and remove the revenue thresholds the state needs to meet for more income tax cuts to kick in.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, says changing the law to make the tax cuts take effect in 2023 regardless of revenue growth will provide certainty.

“It’s important to put our stake in the ground at some point in this discussion and say this is what the tax code’s going to be, no ifs ands or buts going forward.”

Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, says ending the inheritance tax, combined with speeding up the income tax cuts, would be a big hit to state revenue.

“I think we’d have to be just very careful in the decisions that we’re making,” says Grassley. “We’d like to work towards that, but theirs may be a little bit more aggressive than what we would be interested in at this point.”

Grassley says the new federal pandemic relief law could block these efforts. And he says removing the revenue thresholds could be a “moot point” if Iowa’s revenue estimate is increased this week.

Sunday, March 14

10 a.m. - No new deaths and 282 new cases of COVID-19 reported Sunday

On Saturday, two additional deaths and 551 cases were reported.