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Most of this week has been dedicated to committee work.  If a bill has passed through subcommittee and a standing committee, 95% of the due diligence has been done.  When it is brought to the House floor, passage is pretty well assured.  Floor debate just allows for opponents or proponents to pontificate to a wider audience.  What follows in this letter, are some of the things that are coming out of various committees that may be of interest to the district.

Last week the House Human Resources Committee passed three bills to increase access to those that can administer the COVID-19 vaccine. House Files 514, 528, and 547 will allow dentists to administer the vaccine that have taken the training, increase administration at pharmacies, and ensure accurate reporting of those that have been vaccinated. Additionally, this week House Study Bill 175 will go before the committee to consider allowing podiatrists to also administer the COVID-19 vaccine.

Recently the state launched updates to Iowa’s coronavirus dashboard to include information on COVID-19 vaccine administration and locations eligible Iowans can receive the vaccine.  On the dashboard, you can pull up each county and see the vaccine distribution and locations where you can get the vaccine in your area.

Even as demand has far exceeded supply, Iowa continues to vaccinate at record rates. House Republicans support the 5% increase that the state is receiving from the federal government, meaning now 49,900 doses of vaccine are being delivered to Iowa each week. As of Wednesday, 496,981 doses have been administered. This includes 125,558 Iowans that have completed both doses of the vaccine, and 245,865 Iowans that have received their first dose.

Compare the vaccine numbers above to the number of Iowans that have tested positive for COVID over the last 11 months. As of Wednesday, 330,431 individuals have tested positive since the beginning of the public health emergency in Iowa. Intentionally or not, the media reports any problems with the vaccine rollout, but fail to point out the successes regarding the vaccine.  It should not be lost on Iowans that there has been significant progress in vaccinating those willing at record pace.

Like other governors who are basing their decisions are actual data, Gov. Reynolds has focused on protecting vulnerable Iowans and maintaining important societal needs throughout the pandemic.  This has continued with the rollout of eligible populations receiving the vaccine. Iowa’s nursing homes have been hit hardest by COVID and within the first 1.5 months of vaccines being available, Iowa’s nursing home residents have already been vaccinated.

With the quick work vaccinating nursing homes and health care workers, Iowa is already expanding eligible populations. Those that are 65 years and older can contact their county public health department and utilize the dashboard to find vaccine providers in their county. Teachers and first responders are also eligible in the current phase.

Iowa Workforce Development announced delayed unemployment benefits under programs created under the second stimulus bill have begun to go out and should arrive next week. The new Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefit extensions program have been implemented as of February 16th. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) extended benefit programs will begin paying February 17th. Iowa Workforce Development will automatically enroll all Iowans who are eligible for the PEUC and PUA programs extension so there will be no need to call or reapply for additional weeks.

Commercial drivers play an essential role in delivering necessary supplies, driving school busses and supporting our local communities. About 10 percent of all Iowa license holders have a CDL, but oftentimes have long wait times and difficulty accessing testing locations near their work.

In 2019, the legislature directed the Iowa DOT to conduct a study on access to the driving skills test for CDLs, and asked the DOT to evaluate testing options to increase access.

Based on this report, the House Transportation Committee drafted House File 521 and passed it out of committee recently with strong bipartisan support. Currently there are 16 Iowa DOT locations, 12 county treasurer locations, and 15 third-party locations. This bill would allow the tester to retain all fees for each 30-90-minute testing slot.

This legislation allows the DOT or a county that is providing the driving skills test for a CDL to charge $25 for each of the three component tests (pre-trip vehicle inspection, basic vehicle control skills, and the on-road driving skills test). Currently, counties providing this testing do not receive any extra funds, leaving little incentive to maintain testing or expand testing to additional areas of the state. The entity, whether DOT or county, will still maintain the fees that come with the issuance of the actual license.

The bill is now up for consideration in the House’s Ways and Means Committee.

After all the controversy in other states during the 2020 election, the Legislature is taking a hard look at Iowa’s election law.  While we were almost conflict free in 2020, we want to make sure that moving forward we have the best election law in the nation.  Changes that are being considered include:

  • Strengthening penalties for election misconduct
  • Mandatory improved maintenance of voter registration lists
  • Absentee ballots can be requested 70 days before the election
  • Prohibiting the sending of pre-filled ballot requests forms
  • Absentee ballots will be mailed out 18 days before the election
  • Early voting and satellite voting shall not start more than 18 days before the election.
  • Any person registering at the polls on election day will vote on a provisional ballot that will not be counted until the commissioner of elections has verified the information on the registration form.

Author: Gary Worthan