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It’s early in the morning, and it’s early in the legislative, so let’s just get this out of the way. This is going to be one instance where I agree with a Democrat in the Iowa legislature.

First-term Democrat Sen. Sarah Trone-Garriott delivered a point of personal privilege on Thursday that had one agreeable aspect.

The new rules for this COVID-19 legislative session aren’t exactly clear and they’re not at all consistent.

The House uses one program, the Senate uses Zoom.

The public is welcome to attend subcommittee and committee meetings in the House but only staff and members can attend in the Senate.

The public can provide comments on Zoom in the Senate subcommittees, but I’m still not sure what I witnessed during Thursday’s subcommittee in the House.

The audio was horrible for anyone who wasn’t a representative. The public comments that are submitted aren’t made in the open for the media to report, to my knowledge.

On Wednesday night I was trying to find out if the media could attend subcommittee meetings in person. I asked a few legislators, none of them knew for sure.

This seems to mesh with what Sen. Trone-Garriott said. 

“The people of Iowa, let alone legislators, still do not even understand how this virtual subcommittee process will work,” she said. “There has been no education for the public on how they can take part.”

Links are buried on the legislative website, she said.

“I’ve been scrambling to get information about how this process will work and communicate it to my constituents,” she said.

She said the legislature should not proceed in matters so grave of such consequence without the input of the public and when much clarification is needed.

“We are here to make sure that people have access to a fair and transparent process,” she said. “That their voices are heard, that their concerns are addressed. It is not only our privilege, but it is our duty. Let us show Iowans that we take that duty seriously.”

While I recognize the House and Senate are two different and separate chambers, these new virtual subcommittee and committee experiments should try to mirror each other as much as possible for simplicity’s sake.

I don’t expect to be able to hear anything that well when it comes to the House meetings.

The Senate’s Zoom meeting went well — save for some members having to learn the features and the process of Zoom and a prankster taking up about 10-15 seconds of the meeting.

I appreciate the willingness to stream these meetings as they are vital to Iowans, but it seems few people in the “know” know exactly how this process is supposed to work.

If they’re not sure, the public definitely is not.

And, keep in mind that one of Gov. Kim Reynold’s big ideas from her Condition of the State Address was solving the broadband crisis in Iowa.

So, if we’re recognizing that there are connection problems throughout Iowa with broadband, are these virtual subcommittees the answer right now? Especially if the public is not allowed to attend a meeting in person at all.

It seems relatively simple.

Continue hosting these meetings virtually, but allow anyone who wants to attend in person to do so. Find a way to use the same program and the same process when it comes to public comments.

Let’s hope these issues get fixed before we’re too far into the legislative session. The fixes should not be overly complicated. It may just take a little work.

But that is what the legislators are there for.

Author: Jacob Hall