The Iowa legislature is scheduled to resume on June 3. We will have some new protocols to follow, which are designed to reduce physical contact and allow distancing. Like many Iowans, I am eager to get back to work. Of course there is plenty I can do from home to prepare for our work in Des Moines. This past week I interviewed seven of the candidates for the Iowa Workforce Development Board (IWD). This board deals with unemployment claims and job training programs. Candidates are appointed by the governor, but must be confirmed by the Senate.
As you can imagine, the work of the IWD has exploded over the last two months. One of the questions I asked the candidates was, “Has the coronavirus outbreak caused you to rethink volunteering for this board?” The universal answer was, “No! I am even more excited about serving where I can help people.” These folks are already busy in their own businesses and non-profit organizations. Yet, they were enthusiastic about the opportunities that lie ahead as Iowans gear up for the new normal. Our governor has nominated some fantastic, forward-looking people, and I am excited to turn them loose on the challenges facing Iowa’s workforce.
I also spoke with Scott Curtis who was the administrator of the Kossuth Regional Health Center. He now supports eight rural hospitals in North Central Iowa through Mercy One. I learned that much has been done throughout our region to prepare for the care of patients should there be a surge of coronavirus in our area. They have a plan in place that can be quickly implemented. Right now, it is very quiet in our hospitals because elective surgeries are just getting rescheduled. I was interested to see this week’s unemployment figures included significantly more healthcare workers than restaurant and hotel personnel. This shows me that we need to have some regular care going on just to keep our health care functional.
Another conversation I had was with the director of Iowa Department of Revenue. I asked how they are dealing with the coronavirus during tax season. He said most of the workforce can operate from home with the exception of the mail room. Those employees are split into two teams, each working two weeks in the mailroom and two weeks at home. If someone gets sick with COVID-19, the other team would take over. The department is in the process of getting bids on a new computer system to replace the mainframe which is 40 years old. The team is excited about this update and the improved service it will provide. The cost will be offset by the millions of dollars we spend each year to keep the old system running.
Finally, I would like to mention that one job legislators will have when we return to Des Moines is to protect our “inalienable” rights. Some during this emergency are willing to give up liberties in order to protect health. One example is some schools are denying any medical or religious exemptions next year for vaccines, especially meningitis. I am working with the Department of Education and the Department of Health to make sure current law, which protects our constitutional rights, is upheld.
Iowa’s state government is responding well to the current crisis. I am proud of our governor and state employees who are working hard to keep Iowa healthy both physically and economically.