Iowa Veterans Home leader overpaid for years before ouster

Staff in the governor’s office and Iowa Veterans Home declined to clarify why Governor Kim Reynolds fired the home’s Commandant Timon Oujiri in early May, and for months did not respond to public records requests related to Oujiri’s removal.

The mystery was revealed on July 29, when State Auditor Rob Sand released a special report showing Oujiri had received $105,412.85 in improper compensation since June 2019, including $90,027.20 of unauthorized gross wages.

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Governor bashes CDC, blames immigrants for COVID-19 spread

As the more transmissible Delta variant causes COVID-19 cases to rise in all 50 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control changed its guidance for fully vaccinated individuals on July 27. The CDC now recommends that they “wear a mask indoors in public” in areas “of substantial or high transmission.” In addition, anyone living with unvaccinated or immunocompromised household members, or those at higher risk of severe disease, “might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission.”

Despite having no science background, Governor Kim Reynolds bashed the new guidance as “not grounded in reality or common sense.” Only a few hours earlier, she had absurdly suggested that immigrants entering Texas might be to blame for accelerating community spread of COVID-19.

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Iowa abortions increase for second straight year

About 14 percent more abortions were performed in Iowa during calendar year 2020 compared to the previous year, indicating that a sharp increase recorded in 2019 was not a one-off.

Iowa Department of Public Health data shows 4,058 pregnancy terminations occurred during 2020, up from 3,566 abortions performed in 2019. That number represented a 25 percent increase from the 2,849 abortions recorded in 2018.

Prior to 2019, abortions were on a steady downward trend in Iowa and nationally for at least a decade. The figure recorded for 2020 was the highest since 2013.

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Exclusive: Governor approved CARES Act spending on office tech upgrades

Governor Kim Reynolds approved plans last year to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds to upgrade the technology in her conference room, state records show.

The Office of Chief Information Officer (OCIO) paid vendor AVI Systems $67,543.48 in December for unspecified “IT Equipment and Software” and “IT Outside Services.” Published reports and searchable databases do not reveal that those purchases benefited the governor’s office. But documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests indicate that the spending covered new audio and video equipment installed in the Robert Ray Conference Room, which is part of the governor’s office suite.

Records also show the payments were supposed to come out of Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, a pot of federal money established under the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

OCIO may have tapped a different funding source later to cover the conference room upgrade, as happened with a $39,512 project to migrate the governor’s office computers from Google suite to Microsoft Office 365 last year. Entries on the state’s online checkbook, totaling $67,543.48 to AVI Systems on the same December dates, do not mention the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett ignored six inquiries over a two-week period. OCIO’s public information officer Gloria Van Rees also did not respond to eight messages during the same time frame seeking to clarify what funding stream paid for the conference room upgrades, and whether the governor’s office reimbursed OCIO for the payments to AVI Systems, as happened following the Office 365 migration.

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Update on efforts to obtain a federal cannabis exemption for Iowa

Carl Olsen is the founder of Iowans for Medical Marijuana. promoted by Laura Belin

In February 2019, I asked the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board, which regulates our state’s medical cannabis program, if there was anything we could be doing about federal drug law, such as obtaining a federal exemption (21 C.F.R. § 1307.03) like the one that currently exists for another federal Schedule I controlled substance, peyote (21 C.F.R. § 1307.31).

In August 2019, at my request, the board recommended that the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) obtain a federal exemption for cannabis. However, the department refused, saying none of the other 46 states that have enacted medical cannabis laws have requested federal exemptions, and that Iowans were not being injured by the federal criminalization of cannabis.

Keep in mind that patients had been testifying before the board about discrimination in schools and health care facilities because of the federal criminalization of cannabis. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller signed a September 2019 bipartisan letter from attorneys general saying the current federal policy “poses a serious threat to public safety.”

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Iowa Republicans have abandoned executive branch oversight

Governor Kim Reynolds has been lucky at key points in her political career. Terry Branstad passed over more experienced contenders to select her as his 2010 running mate, allowing a little-known first-term state senator to become a statewide elected official. Six years later, Donald Trump won the presidency and named Branstad as an ambassador, setting Reynolds up to become governor without having to win a GOP primary first.

Most important, Reynolds has enjoyed a Republican trifecta her entire four years as governor. Not only has she been able to sign much of her wish list into law, she has not needed to worry that state lawmakers would closely scrutinize her administration’s work or handling of public funds.

During the legislative session that wrapped up last month, the GOP-controlled House and Senate rejected every attempt to make the governor’s spending decisions more transparent. They declined to hold even one hearing about questionable uses of federal COVID-19 relief funds or practices at state agencies that disadvantaged thousands of Iowans.

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