Late budget amendment sought funds for no-bid Homeland Security contract

One day before Iowa lawmakers adjourned for the year, the Iowa Senate amended a spending bill to allocate $4.5 million over two years to the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for a sole source contract.

The funding to install a mobile panic button system in Iowa’s K-12 schools could only have been used by Rave Mobile Safety, which recently signed a contract with the Homeland Security department to replace Iowa’s emergency mass notification system.

The Iowa House altered the bill to leave the funding in place without an earmark for a specific product. But the last-minute effort raises questions about whether outgoing Homeland Security Director Paul Trombino III sought the funding to benefit a company represented by one of Iowa’s most influential lobbyists.

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Governor endorses plan targeting Iowans on public assistance

A longstanding effort by Iowa Senate Republicans to reduce the number of Iowans receiving various forms of public assistance got a quiet boost last week from Governor Kim Reynolds.

For the first time, the governor’s draft human services budget included provisions that would create asset tests for federal food assistance and require the Iowa Department of Human Services to establish a new “eligibility verification system” for Medicaid and several other public assistance programs.

State Senator Jason Schultz has pushed similar legislation for several years running. Each session, Senate Republicans have approved the bills, which died in the House Human Resources Committee (see here and here).

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Randy Feenstra's selective concern for farmers

Andy Kopsa: Iowa’s new member of Congress from the fourth district brags that he “delivers for farmers.” Unless you are a Black farmer, that is. -promoted by Laura Belin

Politicians love farmers. Every caucus season they prove it: they throw a foot up on a hay bale and stump to a crowd at the Iowa State Fair, shove a pork chop into their mouth, use the term “heartland” and “kitchen table” a minimum of 400 times.

Vice President Mike Pence and the Iowa GOP love farmers so much that he came to town just after the August 2020 derecho to launch the Farmers and Ranchers for Trump Coalition. Senator Joni Ernst and Governor Kim Reynolds took time out of their disaster recovery schedule to accompany Pence to Living History [not a real] Farms. Pence didn’t visit a single farm, but he found time to host an exclusive fundraiser in Urbandale before flying away home.

U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) also loves farmers a lot. He introduced an amendment to allocate more aid to Iowans impacted by the derecho last year during a House Agriculture Committee markup of the proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. Feenstra’s amendment passed by a single vote.

That vote came from Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03), the lone Democrat to cross the aisle.

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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 Senate for 2021

The Iowa Senate convened for its 2021 session on January 11 with 31 Republicans, eighteen Democrats, and one vacancy in the district formerly represented by Mariannette Miller-Meeks. A record twelve senators are women (seven Democrats and five Republicans), up from eleven women in the chamber last year and double the six who served prior to 2018.

I enclose below details on the majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Iowa Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve mentioned changes since last year’s legislative session. A few committees have new Republican leaders.

All current state senators are white. The only African American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the chamber, and Iowa’s only Asian-American senator was Swati Dandekar, who resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two Smiths, a Democrat and a Republican. As for first names, there are three Jeffs, three Zachs, and two men each named Craig, Mark, Dan, Jim, and Tim.

UPDATE: Republican Adrian Dickey won the January 26 special election to represent Senate district 41, giving the GOP a 32-18 majority. After he’s sworn in, I’ll note his committee assignments below.

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Brad Zaun won't rule out 72-hour waiting period for treatment after miscarriages

Republican State Senator Brad Zaun has declined to clarify whether his proposed 72-hour waiting period for all abortions would also apply to people needing a common medical procedure after a miscarriage.

At a political forum in Grimes on February 21, Zaun told a constituent who asked about miscarriages that his bill calls for a “72-hour ultrasound before any abortion is performed.”

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