Anti-vaxxers hate Iowa's "vaccine passports" bill

“I look forward to signing this important legislation into law!” Governor Kim Reynolds tweeted on May 6, after the Iowa House and Senate approved a bill purportedly banning “vaccine passports.”

House File 889 fits a pattern of Republican bills that are best described as solutions in search of a problem. No state or local government agency intends to issue COVID-19 vaccine passports, nor are Iowa-based businesses rushing to require that customers show proof of coronavirus vaccinations.

A “message” bill can be useful politically, if it pleases a constituency Republicans need in the next election. The odd thing about this last-minute push is that Iowa’s most vocal vaccine skeptics don’t support the bill heading to the governor’s desk. On the contrary, they’re demanding a veto in the name of freedom.

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Open letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan

Mike Tramontina is a lifelong Iowan who enjoys paddling and fishing in Iowa’s rivers and streams even though they are “unfishable” and “unswimmable.” -promoted by Laura Belin

May 5, 2021

Dear Administrator Regan:

It was very disappointing to read the Des Moines Register news article about your visit to Des Moines. While it is good that you joined the announcement of the demolition and redevelopment of the Dico site, you then went to meet with agricultural leaders to learn about the ethanol industry and livestock production. The disappointment was not making time to even take a question about Iowa’s filthy water and disgusting air.

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A sad Mother's Day for many, due to COVID-19

A record number of Americans and Iowans passed away over the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the largest share of the excess deaths and indirectly contributed to many fatalities from other causes (such as heart attacks or strokes).

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, Rachel Kidman, Rachel Margolis, and Emily Smith-Greenaway estimated that as of February 2021, approximately 37,300 children in the U.S. under age 18 “had lost at least 1 parent due to COVID-19, three-quarters of whom were adolescents.” Using figures for excess deaths during the pandemic (as opposed to confirmed coronavirus fatalities), the researchers estimated that 43,000 children in the U.S. have lost a parent to the virus. Their study used demographic modeling techniques as opposed to survey data.

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s spokesperson did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiry in early April about whether the agency has tracked how many Iowans who died of COVID-19 had children under age 18 or dependent adult children living in their home, and how many Iowans who died in the pandemic were primary caregivers to children (but not their parents).

Even without firm numbers, it’s clear that far more people than usual are experiencing their first Mother’s Day without their own mothers. This holiday can be one of the toughest milestones soon after a bereavement, and even many years later.

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IA-Sen: Matt Whitaker bolsters Trumpworld credentials

Although Senator Chuck Grassley is in no hurry to announce his future plans, former acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker continues to lay the groundwork for a possible U.S. Senate bid in 2022.

He speaks at GOP gatherings around Iowa, most recently the Johnson County Republican fundraiser on May 5. And perhaps more important for his future prospects, Whitaker helped create the America First Legal organization, which will regularly engage the Biden administration in fights sure to please the Republican base.

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FEC backs ban on fundraising practice used by Trump, Hinson

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) voted unanimously on May 6 “to recommend that Congress ban political campaigns from guiding donors by default into recurring contributions through prechecked boxes,” Shane Goldmacher reported for the New York Times. It was a rare moment of bipartisan agreement for a commission that usually deadlocks on campaign finance regulations and enforcement.

President Donald Trump’s campaign popularized the technique in 2020, Goldmacher revealed in an investigation published last month. Pre-selecting the recurring contribution option led to record online fundraising, followed by a wave of complaints and huge demand for refunds from unwitting Trump donors.

Bleeding Heartland was first to report that the campaigns of Governor Kim Reynolds and and U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson (IA-01) are using the same practice.

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Mariannette Miller-Meeks refuses interview with masked reporter

U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks has been on the road and on social media encouraging Iowans to get vaccinated for COVID-19, sometimes even administering the shots herself.

In a video released on May 4, Miller-Meeks highlighted her medical background and advocated for vaccines as a way of “getting our lives back to normal,” while acknowledging that getting a shot “is your decision to make.”

She was less tolerant of personal choices when approached the next day by a journalist seeking an interview.

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Five things that are not "fairness"

Governor Kim Reynolds thrilled conservatives when she announced on Fox News last week that she wants to sign a bill banning transgender youth from competing on sports teams not matching their gender assigned at birth.

Defending the discriminatory policy during a news conference on May 5, Reynolds claimed five times that concerns about “fairness” are driving her commitment to address the issue.

This mean-spirited play to the GOP base has several dimensions. None of them are grounded in fairness.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday returns: Cutleaf toothwort

The tenth year of Bleeding Heartland’s wildflower series kicks off with a plant that’s a common sight in Iowa woodlands, especially in April. Cutleaf toothwort (Dentaria laciniata), also known as toothwort, is native to every state east of the Rocky Mountains.

According to the Illinois Wildflowers website, favored habitats “include deciduous mesic woodlands, floodplain woodlands, wooded bluffs, and upland savannas. The presence of this species in a woodlands indicates that its soil has never been plowed under or subjected to heavy construction activities.”

The site says cutleaf toothwort “can survive some disturbance caused by occasional grazing and less disruptive activities of human society,” but tends to decline when the invasive garlic mustard becomes prevalent. (Now’s a good time to pull up garlic mustard, if the soil is soft and moist. It’s been so dry in central Iowa lately that I’ve found many of the roots break off.)

Most of the photos enclosed below were taken near my Windsor Heights home. Mary Riesberg also shared pictures she took in Hancock County, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from Lee County.

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Rural doctor: I fear what is happening now in Iowa

Greg Cohen: We need to stop pretending the pandemic is over, because it’s not. -promoted by Laura Belin

Seven months ago, I wrote a letter to The Chariton Leader about my experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic — what was going right, what was going wrong, what frustrated me, and how America had responded. Here’s my follow up.

After more than one year, I hugged my children and grandchildren two weeks ago. I hugged my sister and brother in law last week.  Although the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, all of us have finally been vaccinated and we are now reasonably  safe to be together.  It has been the longest year of my life.

For the last year, health care workers and scientists have toiled tirelessly to protect us. Medications have greatly reduced the chances of our being hospitalized, and we have cut the death rate by 70 percent. After a terrible surge this winter, when I diagnosed two to ten people every day with COVID-related illness, I still diagnose people with COVID–19, but far fewer of them. This makes me hopeful we can end this pandemic sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately, I fear what is happening now in Iowa and across America is undermining that work.

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New GOP commandment: Thou shalt have no gods before Trump

Herb Strentz: In practice, not speaking ill of any Republican means not holding one another accountable for what they advocate. -promoted by Laura Belin

The Republican Party continues its handiwork on the Ten Commandments Moses received from Jehovah some 3,500 years ago. First came the so-called eleventh commandment in 1966: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican.”

A new version of the first commandment emerged over the past five years: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Trump.”

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Iowa concealed COVID-19 testing help for well-connected firms

State officials deployed “strike teams” involving the Iowa National Guard to more businesses last year than previously acknowledged.

Records the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) released on April 26 show seventeen workplaces received COVID-19 testing assistance through a strike team. The agency had stated in January that only ten workplaces (operated by nine companies) had strike team visits. Several newly-disclosed events benefited businesses linked to Governor Kim Reynolds’ major campaign donors.

Iowa used the strike teams mostly during the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 testing supplies were scarce. However, a strike team was sent to Iowa Select Farms administrative headquarters in mid-July, more than five weeks after the state had stopped providing testing help to other business. That company’s owners are Reynolds’ largest campaign contributors.

The governor asserted at a January news conference that the state had facilitated coronavirus testing for more than 60 companies, saying no firm was denied assistance. The newly-released records show nineteen businesses received testing kits from the state, and another nineteen were directed to a nearby Test Iowa site where their employees could schedule appointments.

The public health department’s spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand has not explained why she provided incomplete information about the strike team program in January. Nor has she clarified what criteria state officials used to determine which companies received which kind of testing assistance.

The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett did not respond to any of Bleeding Heartland’s emails on this subject. Reynolds walked away when I tried to ask her about the strike team decisions at a media gaggle on April 28.

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Regents pick highly qualified leader for University of Iowa

Mercifully, history did not repeat itself on April 30, when the Iowa Board of Regents selected Barbara Wilson to be the next University of Iowa president. Wilson is supremely qualified for the job, having served for the last six years as the second-ranking administrator at the University of Illinois system, and in several leadership roles at the Urbana-Champaign campus. A news release enclosed in full below describes her relevant experience.

All four finalists considered this year were far more qualified than outgoing president Bruce Harreld was when the Regents picked him in 2015, following a search marred by favoritism and secret meetings that appeared to violate Iowa’s open meetings law.

Whereas the Faculty Senate voted no confidence in the Board of Regents after Harreld was hired, and the Daily Iowan newspaper ran the front-page headline “REGENTS’ DECISION CONDEMNED,” reaction to Wilson’s hiring was overwhelmingly positive from students and faculty. The Daily Iowan’s editorial board had endorsed either Wilson or Georgia State University Provost Wendy Hensel as the best choices to take the university forward.

I was pleasantly surprised the Regents tapped Wilson, even though she fired a football coach and an athletics director at Illinois over scandals including alleged mistreatment of student-athletes. During Harreld’s tenure, Iowa’s Athletics Director Gary Barta continued to receive raises and a contract extension even after costing the university millions of dollars in lawsuits over discrimination and a hostile work environment.

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University of Iowa can't keep utilities deal secrets from auditor

The University of Iowa must comply with a subpoena from State Auditor Rob Sand seeking details on a 50-year deal to lease the university’s utility system to a public-private partnership, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously determined on April 30.

The Iowa Board of Regents approved the arrangement in December 2019 and closed on the deal in March 2020. But the university withheld many details, including the identity of “Iowa-based investors” who supposedly put up about 21.5 percent of the $1.165 billion lump-sum payment to operate the system for the next five decades.

The State Auditor’s office has been trying to enforce Sand’s subpoena since January 2020. The university and Board of Regents insisted they did not have to provide “confidential” information and disputed the validity of the subpoena.

None of the Supreme Court justices found the university’s stance convincing.

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Iowa turned down $95 million to test school kids for COVID-19

Governor Kim Reynolds revealed on April 29 that she is sending back $95 million in federal funds designated for testing students for COVID-19.

During a Fox News event featuring Republican governors, Reynolds said of President Joe Biden,

I think he thinks the COVID just started. I just returned 95 million dollars because they sent an additional 95 million dollars to the state of Iowa to get our kids back in the classroom by doing surveillance testing. And I said, “We’ve been in the classroom since August. Here’s your 95 million dollars back.”

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Terrace Hill fence approved last summer; governor's role unclear

Officials in the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the governor’s office decided during the summer of 2020 to install a permanent fence around the Terrace Hill mansion in Des Moines, records obtained by Bleeding Heartland show.

The documents don’t reveal, nor did state officials clarify, whether Governor Kim Reynolds or her staff pushed for added security around the governor’s official residence. The records also don’t explain the timing of the decision to move forward with a plan that had been floated years earlier, according to the agency responsible for protecting the governor.

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ISU's Workday problems still delaying state financial report

The state of Iowa’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the 2020 fiscal year may be finalized by the end of June, six months later than the usual publication date.

Staff at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services compile the report using data provided by state government entities, and for many years have completed that work by December 31. However, Iowa State University (ISU) struggled to provide accurate, auditable data for the fiscal year that ran from July 2019 through June 2020. The reporting problems coincided with the year the university switched to the Workday computer system for accounting.

While other state government units sent their year-end financials by the usual deadline of October 1, 2020, ISU completed that process more than six months later, in early April.

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Rural broadband: A mirage

Dan Piller: Far from rescuing rural Iowa, more broadband will hasten the exodus from farms and small towns into the cities. -promoted by Laura Belin

Everybody loves the idea of spending billions of tax dollars to wire the countryside with high speed broadband that is otherwise economically unfeasible. President Donald Trump took a few minutes away from trying to overturn the election last December to reward his loyal rural supporters with $10 billion for the high-speed internet access. President Joe Biden wants to set aside billions more for rural broadband in his “infrastructure” master plan.

In Iowa, Democrats are so cowed by the popularity of rural broadband they’ve acquiesced to Governor Kim Reynolds’ idea to let rural interests help themselves to hundreds of millions of state taxpayer dollars, mostly paid by Iowa’s city dwellers who amount to two-thirds of the state’s population, for rural broadband even though rural broadband will thus join anti-abortion and unlimited gun rights as Reynolds’ calling card to her rural base for her reelection next year.

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