Five unanswered questions about Iowa governor's staff salary payments

Governor Kim Reynolds has defended her decision to use nearly $450,000 in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to pay salaries and benefits for her permanent staffers.

But her comments at a September 16 news conference, along with information her staff provided to some reporters afterwards, left several salient questions unanswered.

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Exclusive: Iowa governor used CARES Act funds to pay staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds directed that nearly $450,000 in federal funding the state of Iowa received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover salaries and benefits for staff working in her office.

According to documents Bleeding Heartland obtained from the Iowa Department of Management through public records requests, the funds will cover more than 60 percent of the compensation for 21 employees from March 14 through June 30, 2020.

Reynolds has not disclosed that she allocated funds for that purpose, and reports produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency have not mentioned any CARES Act funding received by the governor’s office. Nor do any such disbursements appear on a database showing thousands of state government expenditures under the CARES Act.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four requests for comment over a two-week period.

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Iowa's Ag Gag 3.0 may get past courts

It took them long enough.

After federal courts blocked two laws designed to suppress unauthorized access to livestock production facilities, Iowa lawmakers approved and Governor Kim Reynolds signed a third attempt to keep animal rights activists from filming or photographing conditions inside farm buildings or slaughterhouses. This time, the legislature finally took the path state attorneys recommended way back in 2011: beef up the trespassing law as applied to agriculture, without reference to speech or expression.

The new law has a realistic chance to survive a court challenge.

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Republicans found shortcut around Iowa Supreme Court on abortion

Spirits lifted in the pro-choice community when Iowa House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl did not call up a constitutional amendment on abortion shortly after the legislature reconvened this month.

Republican leaders wanted to pass the amendment, which had advanced from committee months earlier. When a high-profile bill doesn’t come to the floor, it often means the majority party doesn’t have the votes for final passage.

Indeed, at least three of the 53 House Republicans resisted immense pressure to vote for legislation designed to overturn an Iowa Supreme Court ruling protecting “the constitutional right of women to terminate a pregnancy.”

Unfortunately, the holdouts agreed to a last-minute abortion restriction that may provide a faster way to undo the high court’s work.

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Ernst, Grassley prefer COVID-19 package without paid sick leave

The U.S. Senate voted on March 18 to approve a second bill responding to the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and President Donald Trump signed the legislation later the same day. Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley were part of the 90 to 8 bipartisan majority that approved final passage of the bill. But first, Iowa’s senators supported a Republican amendment to remove mandatory paid sick leave from the bill the U.S. House approved late last week.

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