Federal officials: Iowa can't use CARES Act funds for software system

The state of Iowa’s contract with Workday to upgrade computer systems “is not an allowable expenditure” under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Inspector General informed Iowa Department of Management Director David Roederer on October 16.

The State Auditor’s office released a copy of the letter on October 21. State Auditor Rob Sand announced two days earlier that he had also informed Governor Kim Reynolds and Roederer that spending $21 million on Workday-related costs was “not an appropriate use” of the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

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Auditor: Iowa governor misused $21 million in COVID-19 relief funds

Governor Kim Reynolds erred in directing that $21 million in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover the cost of a software system purchased before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to State Auditor Rob Sand.

Sand announced on October 19 that he and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Inspector General “have advised Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds that her decision to use millions of CARES Act dollars to help implement a new software system for state government was not an allowable use of the funds.” The Treasury Department and governor’s office did not respond to requests for confirmation and comment.

Sand also described as “questionable” the use of CARES Act funds to pay the governor’s permanent staff. Bleeding Heartland was first to report last month that Reynolds directed $448,449 in COVID-19 relief funds to pay a portion of salaries and benefits for 21 of her staffers from mid-March through June 2020. Sand warned that a federal audit may eventually determine that the payments did not meet requirements, so reallocating the funds to purposes clearly allowed under the CARES Act would be less risky for taxpayers.

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Ashley Hinson dodged Iowa House debates on high-profile bills

State Representative Ashley Hinson didn’t miss a roll call vote as the Iowa House wrapped up its work in June, legislative records show. But the two-term Republican mostly stayed out of the House chamber while colleagues debated controversial bills.

The tactic allowed Hinson, who is also the GOP challenger in Iowa’s first Congressional district, to avoid public questioning about policies she supported. Notably, she was absent during most of the House deliberations on imposing a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, establishing a barrier to voting by mail, and giving businesses near-total immunity from lawsuits related to COVID-19.

Neither Hinson nor her Congressional campaign responded to Bleeding Heartland’s repeated inquiries about those absences.

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Iowa SOS will need permission for future emergency election changes

Secretary of State Paul Pate will need approval from the Legislative Council in order to use his emergency powers to alter election procedures, under a bill Governor Kim Reynolds signed on June 25.

While Republicans have a majority on that legislative body, it’s not clear they would use that power to prevent Pate from repeating steps that led to record-breaking turnout for the June 2 primary.

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A last-minute Republican double-cross on absentee voting in Iowa

UPDATE: Governor Kim Reynolds signed this legislation on June 30.

Iowa Republicans have perfected the art of sneaking attacks on constitutional rights or the rule of law into budget bills shortly before adjourning for the year.

Last-minute budget amendments in 2019 sought to shorten the Iowa Supreme Court chief justice’s term, increase the governor’s influence over selecting judges, restrict medical care for transgender Iowans, and stop Planned Parenthood from obtaining sex education grants. Those measures spawned four lawsuits.

Judges will surely hear challenges to legislation Republicans enacted while burning the midnight oil this past weekend. A forthcoming post will address a 24-hour waiting period for abortion, approved during the session’s closing hours.

This post focuses on provisions that would make it harder for Iowans to vote by mail. Marc Elias, one of the country’s most prominent Democratic election lawyers, promised on June 14, “This will not stand. We will sue.”

Don’t bet against him. A Polk County District Court already struck down similar language in an administrative rule as “irrational, illogical, and wholly unjustifiable.”

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Bipartisan deal on election bill brewing in Iowa House (updated)

House members approved the amended bill by 95 votes to 2 on the evening of June 11. The Senate took up the bill around 12:45 am on June 13. Following a brief debate, during which three Democratic senators spoke against the House version, senators concurred with the House amendment and approved the bill by 31 votes to 16. However, some of the disenfranchising provisions related to absentee ballots surfaced again on June 14, attached to a budget bill. Bleeding Heartland covered that debate here.

Original post follows.

After a contentious debate on June 10, the Iowa Senate approved by 30 votes to 19 a bill including controversial changes to election law. The proposal has drawn extensive local and national media coverage for a provision that would ban Iowa’s secretary of state from sending absentee ballot request forms to any voter who did not request one.

House File 2486 now goes to the lower chamber, where an amendment filed the evening of June 10 suggests Democrats and Republicans have agreed to strip out much of Senate State Government Committee Chair Roby Smith’s handiwork.

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