Work continues in all committees, and on the floor of the House. We have taken up several key pieces of legislation on the floor early, a departure from my experience in the past. I commend our House leadership, Speaker Grassley and Majority Leader Windschitl, for boldly bringing the debate to the floor quickly on these issues. On Wednesday the House passed HJR 5, the amendment to the Iowa Constitution that corrects the Iowa Supreme Court’s error in declaring the Iowa Constitution guarantees a right to abortion. The vote was 55 -44, the measure now goes to the Senate. Once passed by both chambers the measure will have to be passed again in the 2023 or 2024 session in order to be ready for a vote by the citizens of Iowa in the 2024 general election.
On Thursday, the House passed House Joint Resolution 5, known as The Freedom Amendment. This adds the right to keep and bear arms to the Iowa Constitution. This was the second passage of this amendment, once passed by the Senate it will be ready for a vote by the citizens of Iowa in the 2022 general election. These two constitutional amendments represent two of my highest priorities as a legislator, protection for the sacred right to life of unborn children from slaughter in the heinous abortion mills, and protection for our sacred right to keep and bear arms. I am honored and privileged to be able to vote for these amendments, they make the work and long hours that go into being a legislator worthwhile.
This week, House Republicans worked hard to pass House File 229, Parental Choice for In-Person Learning, on the floor of the House. This bill rightfully puts the decision making regarding their children’s education back in the parents’ hands and removes the often politically motivated decisions of some school board members. Parents have said from the beginning, and continue to say, that there needs to be an option for in-person, full-time instruction. The majority of schools have provided in-person, full-time instruction, as the legislature intended. However, there continue to be school districts that are not listening to all the parents when making decisions. This bill remedies that immediately. To be clear, it does not eliminate online or hybrid options for parents, it simply states that schools must provide in-person as an option to the families that prefer it.
Earlier this week, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report which lays out the data that finds very little evidence that schools contributed to the spread of COVID-19. The CDC also published a report citing three different domestic studies, as well as two studies from abroad, that give the same information. It states that “the type of rapid spread that was frequently observed in congregate living facilities or high-density worksites has not been reported in education settings in schools.” A study in 11 North Carolina districts where there are more than 90,000 students and staff found that virus transmissions were “very rare.” Only 32 infections occurred in school with no cases of student-to-staff transmissions. Another report from Europe found that schools were not increasing community spread either. Schools in Las Vegas, one of the largest school districts in the nation, are going back to in-person learning due to their suicide rates increasing. The amount of suicides doubled between March and December from the previous year.
Concerns from teacher’s unions appear to be based in fear and on old data. The science is clear, convincing, and continues to support safe in-person classrooms. Cases among school-age children in Iowa have remained low. Since March, children up to age 10 account for 4% of all cases, 3% of cases are among kids 11-14, and 6% among those 15-18 years old. These rates remained consistent even after school began. Transmission among students in Iowa schools is rare, and infection most often occurs between family members in households. National studies show that keeping kids out of the classroom has resulted in significant learning loss. Literacy screening scores have decreased 21% among Iowa first graders this school year. In December, Des Moines Public Schools reported that nearly 17,000 students, more than half the district, were failing or near failing courses. It is time to get children back in school.
I have filed legislation to deal with abandoned and dilapidated school buildings, House File 216. There are countless old dilapidated public school buildings in our Iowa communities that are not only eyesores, they are dangerous to children in the neighborhood who might be tempted to enter them. In some cases, these buildings have been sold off for a pittance to private owners who had no means to keep them up, and in other cases the school districts still own them. These buildings are not economical to repurpose, and they are very expensive to demolish, but they must be dealt with for the good of our communities, we can’t continue to ignore this problem.
My proposal is to divert 20% of the growth in the existing SAVE funds that already go to our schools for a grant program for demolition of these buildings. The SAVE fund, Secure an Advance Vision for Education, is the existing 1% sales tax that is currently used for school infrastructure. This fund, being one percent of sales, grows as our economy grows, so using a portion of the growth will not impact current expectations for these funds. A local government entity such as a school district, city, township, or county that has possession of one of these buildings will be able to apply for a grant for demolition from this fund. The bill requires the grants to be awarded to the lowest population entities first to ensure that our smaller communities get the help they need. Once the building site is reverted to a condition suitable with its surroundings, such as for a future building, agriculture use, or park, the local government can then sell the property or keep it based on their needs. Any proceeds from the sale would be repaid to the fund. I have high hopes that we will be able to pass this legislation this year or next, and begin to resolve this longstanding issue of blight in our smaller communities.
On Thursday the Iowa Firefighters Association held their annual chili cookoff in the capitol rotunda. Five fire departments, including Nick Riley from Traer, brought in their chili for us to taste test. All five entries were excellent, but Traer’s entry was the best with big tasty and tender chunks of brisket!