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Week four was cut a little short by the blizzard conditions on Thursday, but we were able to button up committee work via the web. We (HD 20’s Senator Jake Chapman and I) had forums in Adair and Guthrie County on Saturday, February 6th. The conversations were civil and covering a wide range of bills and issues. Thank you to those who made it out in snowy conditions.

In Economic Growth Committee we moved to House Files (2 and 3) to the Floor in two bipartisan bills. Together these bills will encourage more child care slots to open in Iowa, slots the workforce desperately needs to help return to normal pre-pandemic activity. Both bills are now eligible to be debated on the House floor.

In IT committee we had a presentation from ServiceNow on cloud-based platform and solutions including IT service management. They provide services to 38 states including Iowa. Those Iowa services are OCIO, DOT, ICN, and ISU. We appreciate their time and explanations. We also continue digging into HSB133, the Governor’s Broadband bill, having discussions with interested parties.

On the Education Committee front, Governor Reynolds signed into law Senate File 160, which required districts to OFFER full-time, in-person learning as an option to parents. Schools have until February 15th to come into compliance with the new law. Schools must let parents know that they now have this option for their child to go back to school full-time for in-person instruction and give families five days to make their decision. The Department of Education stated in their guidance that nothing in that language should cause any delay from school’s being prepared to go in-person on February 15. Some of the misinformation claimed parents would no longer have online and hybrid options available as a result of SF 160. That is not what this bill does. Schools still have the ability to offer an online or hybrid option, but they also must offer an in-person option as well. Some districts had ignored pleas from parents to offer 100% in-person as an option. Instead of dismissing those concerns, this puts families and students first.

Judging by how many activists and “experts” in education have emailed (I’m a little concerned about, not only the amount of grammar and spelling slip-ups in their emails, but the hostility and threats coming from current and former educators), SF 159 needs some more explanation. I printed the initial explanation and details of the bill in my last newsletter but here’s another update as I’ve had a chance to dig a little deeper in convos with those pro and con on the issue. First thing to understand is that what is being called “vouchers” is actually a scholarship program that is very narrow in focus, as it’s only for children from one of Iowa’s 34 bottom 5% schools. These schools have a graduation rate of less than 67%. From the funding aspect, the Dept of Ed calculates the cost at 1.1M to 2.7M and the net cost at $200,000, and this is out the 3.5 Billion the State spends on Education. There are a lot of different aspects of the bill, not just what has become the controversial part/s so we’ll keep it all on the table and, continue to discuss as we move forward. I appreciate those who’ve reached out with their thoughts remaining civil and coherent with their correspondence.

Recently, the House Human Resources Committee had a presentation from the Department of Human Services on the implementation of mental health legislation. Over the last three years, the legislature has passed bipartisan mental health reform, created the state’s first-ever children’s mental health system, and provided significant funds to mental health providers. These bills have been consistently regarded by mental health advocates as the most significant steps forward Iowa has ever taken to increase access to mental health services statewide. (More on this below: graphs and explanations)

This past week the State Government Committee unanimously passed HSB 54, a bill that expands injuries covered under Chapter 411. Under current law in order for a member to receive accidental disability or accidental death benefit the injury or disease would have to of been aggravated by the actual performance of duty at some definite time and place. However, there are injuries for police and firefighters that arise from a career of public service that don’t always have a definite date. The bill also adds incapacitating mental disorders arising out of and in the course of employment to be a disease. Like physical injuries, firefighters and police are susceptible to mental health problems not limited to a single incident on the job, but the accumulated trauma of years of arriving on the scene and responding to the worst moments in many Iowan’s lives.

The Ag Committee passed House Study Bill 4 expanding the state’s current ‘special minor driving license’ to include the children and employees of farmers who are under 16 and who need to drive to accomplish agricultural work. HSB 4 amends the definition of ‘Special Minors Driver License’ to include motor vehicle driving for farm/agricultural purposes between the hours of 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. that applies to children of farmers and under 16-years of age employees of farms. The privilege includes driving off-route to access a service station in order to refuel a motor vehicle. The measure was amended to restrict the types of vehicles holders of special minor can drive to explicitly limit those under 16 license holders to operating 2-axel or less vehicles on public roadways and prohibit them from towing another vehicle (such as trailers, and wagons).

Become a Volunteer Bald Eagle Nest Monitor! The Iowa DNR will be hosting two live online training workshops for anybody interested in becoming a volunteer bald eagle nest monitor in Iowa. Prospective nest monitors must attend one of the two scheduled workshops. The workshops will be held via Zoom on Saturday February 20th from 10:00 am to noon OR Monday February 22nd from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm.

As I conclude, in reference to some of the more ridiculous emails and calls I’ve received, I wanted to point out that, threats of “you need to vote this way, or else” or “you’ve lost my vote if..”, correspondence do nothing to convince me of your position on an issue. You may not agree with a vote or position I take, or heck, you may not agree with any position I take. That’s fine, and honestly, continue to voice it however you want (I love this free country), but my advice in corresponding with all your elected leaders… maybe re-read that angry or condescending email you’re about to send, call or post. Do you think it advances your position? Or does it potentially harm it? Are you just following activists and their opinions, or forming your own? I’ll end with one of my favorites (sarcasm), “I expect you to vote how your constituents want you to!” That one is great, because this person’s assumption was that their position was how every one of my constituents felt (someone is stuck in their echo chamber), and they couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, at this moment, I’ve received about 50/50, for and against, SF 159.

Author: Ray Sorensen