Laura Belin

Iowa Supreme Court extends mask mandate for courtrooms

Face masks will continue to be required in all Iowa court-controlled spaces “regardless of a person’s vaccination status,” under an order the Iowa Supreme Court issued on December 6.

Like the mask mandate the high court announced in August, the requirement to wear face coverings in spaces under the judicial branch’s jurisdiction “applies statewide and does not depend on a particular county’s or area’s positivity rate or transmission status.” It does not apply to areas of county courthouses under the control of county governments. (Some boards of supervisors, including those governing Iowa’s largest counties, have approved mask mandates for county buildings and offices.)

It’s been months since Governor Kim Reynolds encouraged, let alone required, Iowans to wear masks in indoor public spaces. Fortunately, the state’s judicial branch is empowered to set its own COVID-19 mitigation policies, and has generally followed scientific consensus about the value of face coverings to reduce transmission. The Delta variant, which has been the dominant coronavirus strain in Iowa for months, spreads easily in close quarters. Legal proceedings often force attorneys, litigants, court employees, and jurors to be in the same room for hours.

The latest order signed by Chief Justice Susan Christensen establishes several other policies and practices to adapt judicial proceedings to the pandemic, informed by recommendations from a court-appointed task force and public comments.

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Iowa Senate district 14 preview: Sarah Trone Garriott vs. Jake Chapman

Democratic State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott confirmed on December 1 that she will move to Dallas County and seek re-election in the new Iowa Senate district 14. Her decision sets up a potential 2022 race against Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman, the second-ranking Republican.

Chapman has not confirmed his plans. But in a December 2 Facebook post, he hinted that he will stay in the suburban swing district where he now lives. (I expected him to move to a nearby district that is safe for the GOP, as Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver is doing.)

A race between Chapman and Trone Garriott would likely be one of next year’s most expensive Iowa legislative campaigns, and would be closely watched for signs of political change in the suburbs.

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Srinivas, Bagniewski running for Iowa House seats in Des Moines

The Iowa House Democratic caucus is poised to have more turnover than usual after the 2022 election, as the new legislative map created open seats in some solid blue areas, and several sitting lawmakers have confirmed they won’t seek re-election.

In Des Moines, Megan Srinivas and Sean Bagniewski are the first Democrats to begin campaigning in two House districts where the winner of the June primary is virtually guaranteed to be elected next November.

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Iowa Republicans say little about voting to shut down government

The federal government will stay open until at least February 18, after the U.S. House and Senate passed a continuing funding resolution on December 2. Only one House Republican crossed party lines to support the resolution, which mostly maintains spending levels agreed during the Trump administration. Iowa’s Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) opposed the bill.

In the upper chamber, nineteen GOP senators joined Democrats to send the legislation to President Joe Biden. Notably, Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst voted against the bill, even though they had supported resolutions setting federal spending at these levels while Donald Trump was president.

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State concedes masks needed around some students with disabilities

The Iowa Department of Education has conceded that facial coverings may be required in some school settings to ensure students with disabilities have equal access to educational opportunities.

In a December 1 order distributed to Area Education Agencies, agency officials determined that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows schools to make an exception to a state law that generally bans mask mandates, if a student’s Individualized Education Programs (IEP) team finds masking is needed for that child to receive the education federal law guarantees.

However, the department’s order said the IDEA does not require public schools to adopt district-wide mask mandates.

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Grassley blocks bill on universal background checks

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley on December 2 blocked Senate debate on a bill that would require background checks on all firearms sales. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut requested unanimous consent to proceed with debating the bill, known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, following the latest horrific mass shooting at a school, which ended the lives of four Michigan high school students.

Everytown for Gun Safety explains that current federal law “requires a background check on a prospective gun buyer only when the seller is a licensed gun dealer, leaving all other sales—such as unlicensed gun sales negotiated over the internet—unregulated and with no background check required.” Under this proposal, “unlicensed sellers would meet their buyers at a licensed gun dealer, who would run a background check using exactly the same process already used for sales from their own inventory.”

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