Cutting unemployment during pandemic is immoral, wrong

Charlie Wishman is president of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO. -promoted by Laura Belin

The COVID-19 pandemic has been not only a public health disaster, but also an economic disaster. Many Iowans have experienced filing for unemployment for the first time this past year. As a result, many now realize just how important this lifeline can be for working people and their families. 

You can tell a lot about what kind of legislature we collectively elected by looking at how lawmakers respond to the economic disaster that is COVID-19. Right now, the Republican-controlled Iowa House and Senate are moving a bill forward that would reduce unemployment benefits, inexplicably, during a global pandemic. 

Are we as a state going to continue to allow the rich to stuff their pockets during this pandemic while families suffer? Or worse, will we actively encourage it? Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening now.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2021

The Iowa House opened its 2021 session on January 11 with 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats, a big improvement for the GOP from last year’s 53-47 split.

The House members include 69 men and 31 women (21 Democrats and ten Republicans), down from a record 34 women in 2019 and 33 women last year.

Six African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Ross Wilburn, and Republican Eddie Andrews) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber. Republican Mark Cisneros is the first Latino elected to the Iowa legislature, and Republican Henry Stone is only the second Asian American to serve in the House. The other 92 state representatives are white.

Democrat Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the Iowa House. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

I’ve posted details below on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year.

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Kim Reynolds set young people up to fail. Now she's setting them up to blame

“Much of the spread that we’re seeing in Iowa continues to be tied back to young adults” between the ages of 19 and 24, Governor Kim Reynolds said during an August 27 news conference, where she announced a new proclamation closing bars in Polk, Dallas, Linn, Johnson, Story, and Black Hawk counties.

Reynolds noted that young adults are spreading coronavirus to classmates, co-workers, and others “by socializing in large groups” and “not social distancing.” She added, “While we still know that this population is less likely to be severely impacted by COVID-19, it is increasing the virus activity in the community, and it’s spilling over to other segments of the population.”

The official narrative seems designed to conceal three inconvenient facts. Reynolds didn’t follow expert advice that could have prevented this summer’s explosive growth in cases. For months, she discouraged young, healthy Iowans from worrying about the virus. And despite her “#StepUpMaskUp” public relations campaign, Reynolds has failed to practice what she preaches when attending large gatherings herself.

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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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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2020

The Iowa House opened its 2020 session on January 13 with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, a change from last year’s 54-46 split due to State Representative Andy McKean’s party switch shortly before lawmakers adjourned last year.

The House members include 67 men and 33 women (23 Democrats and ten Republicans). Although 34 women were elected to the chamber in 2018 (a record number), State Representative Lisa Heddens stepped down last summer, and Ross Wilburn won the special election to serve out her term in House district 46.

Five African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Wilburn) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the state Senate following the 2008 election. Democratic State Representative Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the lower chamber. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

After the jump I’ve posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted significant changes since last year.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Smiths (both Democrats), while the other 98 members have different surnames. As for popular first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Thomas (two go by Tom), three Johns and two Jons, and three men each named Gary and Brian. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Bruce, Chris, Jeff, Michael (one goes by Mike), Ross, and Charles (a Chuck and a Charlie).

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Where things stand with Republican bills targeting Iowa workers

Republican attacks on working Iowans have received less attention this year than in 2017, when new laws shredded public employee collective bargaining rights, blocked local governments from raising the minimum wage, and reduced workers’ compensation benefits, especially for those who hurt their shoulder on the job.

But below the radar, GOP lawmakers have moved several bills lately that would make life harder for working people, including some facing the difficult circumstances of unemployment or workplace injury.

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