GOP auditor will manage Scott County elections through 2022

Scott County’s newly-appointed Republican Auditor Kerri Tompkins will serve through 2022 after county Democrats failed to force a special election for the office.

Scott County Democrats leader Elesha Gayman announced on June 8 that activists collected 6,211 signatures during the previous two weeks, about 3,000 short of the threshold for calling a special election to fill a vacancy at the county level. Unusually high turnout in 2020 raised the bar for collecting signatures equaling at least 10 percent of those who cast ballots in the previous presidential election. Adding to the organizing burden, a law Republicans enacted earlier this year shortened the time frame for such petition drives to only fourteen days.

Gayman said Democrats will not “lay down” in light of what she described as “voter suppression.” The next focus for volunteers in Iowa’s third-largest county will be contacting some 10,000 voters whose registrations were recently moved to inactive status, under the same law Governor Kim Reynolds signed in March.

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Iowa's Medicaid enrollment up 17 percent during pandemic

Approximately 702,800 Iowans were enrolled in some version of the Medicaid program last month, up by roughly 100,000 since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, according to analysis by Charles Gaba at the ACA Signups website.

The biggest increase was in the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Gaba’s analysis indicates that some 225,300 Iowans were participating in that plan as of May 2021, up from about 177,200 people fourteen months earlier.

Enrollment in traditional Medicaid increased by a smaller rate from about 425,000 in March 2020 to some 477,500 last month. The federal government recently released statistics on state level Medicaid enrollments from July 2019 through December 2020. Gaba’s estimates for 2021 are based on monthly reports published by the Iowa Department of Human Services, adjusted to compensate for how closely the state’s numbers tracked with the federal figures for 2020.

Gaba commented on his website,

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Green dragon

Marion County Naturalist Marla Mertz presents an unusual plant native to most of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. You can view Marla’s past contributions to Bleeding Heartland’s wildflowers series here. -promoted by Laura Belin

There be dragons out in our Iowa woodlands! Many of us who like to walk the woodland trails and explore are probably familiar with Jack-in-the-pulpits. Jack has a lesser-known cousin. The Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) appears to be a tropical, exotic plant with its bloom hidden with surrounding foliage. This fragile plant has been known to be quite rare, but I feel that is changing within our landscape.

The first part of the scientific name comes from the Greek words aris, a kind of arum, and haema, meaning “blood”. Dracontium is from the Latin meaning “of the dragons,” probably because of the deeply divided leaves.  

Green dragon is a native perennial herb and can be found throughout Iowa, except in the northwest. The plants grow in fertile, slightly acidic, and moist soil within shady woodland areas that are protected from livestock.

The photos enclosed below were taken at Cordova Park, on the north side of Lake Red Rock in Marion County along the Karr Trail.

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Whitewashing history

Jim Chrisinger: The bottom line from a new law’s whitewash of history appears to be protecting the feelings of white people, particularly white men. -promoted by Laura Belin

Add Iowa to the growing list of GOP-dominated states trying to prevent an honest historical reckoning on race and sex. While attention has focused on race, sex gets equal billing in House File 802, which Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law on June 8.  

A BAN ON “SCAPEGOATING” AND “STEREOTYPING”

Along with definitions, the law adds three new sections to Iowa code: one for state and local governments, one for public universities, and one for school districts.  

Training in state and local governments and school districts cannot teach or advocate “race or sex scapegoating” or “race or sex stereotyping.”  

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Iowa campaign regulator may discuss pre-checked recurring donations

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board may discuss whether to regulate campaigns pre-selecting recurring donation options, according to executive director Mike Marshall.

In May, the Federal Election Commission unanimously recommended that Congress ban the practice, which Donald Trump’s campaign used to raise enormous sums in 2020. Many of Trump’s supporters did not realize they were committing to recurring gifts and later asked for refunds or filed fraud complaints.

At least three Iowa Republican office-holders–Governor Kim Reynolds and U.S. Representatives Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks–adopted the tactic this year. Some of their fundraising pages on the WinRed platform have two boxes pre-selected: one for a recurring monthly donation, and one for an additional contribution on a specific date in the near future.

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Will poll-tested language sway Iowa voters on abortion amendment?

During the closing days of the Iowa legislature’s 2021 session, Republicans accomplished one task that eluded them in 2020: getting a constitutional amendment on abortion halfway toward appearing on a statewide ballot. I expected the House and Senate to approve the measure quickly, emboldened by a larger majority in the lower chamber, where the proposal stalled last year.

Instead, Republicans spent months haggling over how the amendment would be phrased, hoping to make this effort more palatable to Iowans who currently oppose it.

FOUR PATHS TO SAME DESTINATION

Republicans want to overturn a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling, which held that women have a fundamental right to abortion under the state constitutional provisions on equal protection and due process rights. Two dissenting justices, Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman, warned that the majority’s reasoning “would make any abortion restriction very difficult to sustain,” and could become “a stepping stone toward a ruling that Iowa’s Medicaid program must fund abortions.”

The first version of the constitutional amendment, introduced in early 2019, read simply, “The Constitution of the State of Iowa does not secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” The Senate State Government Committee passed the joint resolution along party lines, but Senate leaders never brought the measure to a vote on the floor that year.

In early 2020, the Senate State Government Committee advanced a longer version of the amendment.

Sec.26. Protection of life. To defend the dignity of all human life, and to protect mothers and unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the day of birth, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution shall not be construed to recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.

The Iowa Senate approved the amendment along party lines. But it never came to a vote in the House, where Republican leaders couldn’t find 51 votes to pass it among the 53 members of their caucus.

Republicans expanded their House majority to 59-41 following the 2020 election. Soon after this year’s session convened, the House Judiciary Committee took up a streamlined version of the constitutional amendment, which read,

Sec.26. To defend and protect unborn children, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.

House members approved the proposal before the end of January on a mostly party-line vote. (Republicans Jane Bloomingdale, Lee Hein, and Dave Maxwell joined all Democrats in voting no.)

I thought Senate Republicans would quickly pass this legislation and declare victory. But Senate leaders waited until early April to bring up the measure. A floor manager’s amendment from Senate President Jake Chapman restored the wording the upper chamber had approved in 2020:

Sec.26. Protection of life. To defend the dignity of all human life, and to protect mothers and unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the day of birth, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution shall not be construed to recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.

Six weeks passed with no action on the amendment in the House, as Republican lawmakers negotiated behind the scenes. The fourth and final version was unveiled in an amendment offered by the House floor manager, State Representative Steve Holt. Its phrasing closely tracked the Senate’s preferred language, without the reference to mothers and replacing “protection of life” with simply “life.”

Sec. 26. Life. To defend the dignity of all human life and protect unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the point of birth, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.

Following a contentious debate on May 18, House members approved the constitutional amendment by 54 votes to 38. Again, Republicans Bloomingdale, Hein, and Maxwell joined all Democrats present to oppose the legislation.

The Senate vote on May 19 fell along strict party lines, 30 Republicans for the legislation and 18 Democrats against.

During that day’s debate, Democratic State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott denounced the “needless back and forth” between the chambers over “minute word choices.” She characterized the changes to the amendment as “posturing” by “a bunch of men trying to assert dominance over each other.”

That dynamic may have been in play, but there was another reason GOP senators insisted on their preferred wording. Anti-abortion advocates believe the phrasing will make an apparently unpopular idea into an electoral winner.

POLLING SHOWS LITTLE SUPPORT FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

Introducing the revised amendment on the Iowa House floor, Holt said he believed the new language was better than what either chamber had initially proposed. Chapman told Senate colleagues lawmakers had been working to agree “on language that can be proposed to the voters of Iowa.”

To amend Iowa’s constitution, both chambers of separately elected legislatures must pass identical wording. The proposal then goes on a statewide ballot, where a majority of participating voters must approve the language.

The last two public polls on the subject indicated that while Iowans may be divided over whether abortion should be mostly legal or mostly illegal, a clear majority oppose this Republican project.

Selzer & Co’s latest statewide poll for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom found that just 31 percent of Iowa adults support amending the constitution “to say it does not recognize a right to abortion or require public funding of abortion,” while 58 percent oppose that idea. Selzer’s March 2020 Iowa poll produced similar results: 33 percent of respondents supported the amendment, while 54 percent opposed it. Iowans describing themselves as political independents were against the idea by a nearly two to one margin.

As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, Selzer’s random sample of Iowa adults may not reflect the views of registered voters or those who participate in elections. So one can’t assume these poll numbers match the views of Iowans who will cast ballots when this proposal might appear on a statewide ballot (no earlier than 2023 or 2024). But even in a low-turnout environment, a constitutional amendment backed by only a third of Iowans would likely have trouble winning a majority of votes.

The solution for Republicans is to change the focus of the debate.

CONSERVATIVES BATTLING STRAW MAN: ABORTION EXPANSION

While the constitutional amendment was in limbo, I had heard that Senate Republicans maintained their approach was backed up by private polling. Chapman and Holt did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries about the negotiations or any survey research that may have influenced the phrasing.

Drew Zahn, communications director for the influential conservative group The FAMiLY Leader, confirmed via email that his group has advocated for language “we hoped would be appealing to the voters who ultimately must ratify it.” (emphasis added)

We did conduct polling on proposed language for the amendment and found, contrary to other publicized polling, that when Iowans understand what the amendment is actually about – restoring the voice of the people in the legislative process after radical, unelected judges attempted to silence the abortion debate without any input from voters – the majority of Iowans actually favor the amendment. Iowans overwhelmingly do NOT support the taxpayer-funded abortion or expansion of abortion to the point of a baby’s birth that the 2018 decision paves the way for. Furthermore, Iowans overwhelmingly agree that the little child in her mother’s womb – she’s a baby, and her value and voice should be heard in this debate, too.

Zahn declined to provide details about the group’s polling, such as the dates surveys were in the field, the question wording, or partisan breakdown of respondents in the sample. But he did confirm the polling “was of likely voters, not all Iowa adults.”

According to Zahn, “Legislators we talked to took our advocacy under advisement,” but The FAMiLY Leader “was not privy to” recent negotiations between House and Senate Republicans.

How close was the final version of House Joint Resolution 5 to what the conservative group had suggested? Zahn told me,

As for the final language, it was a long process, not really possible to compare language A to language B. But we are pleased that the final language is clear and should effectively return proper, constitutional government on this issue to We the People, rather than unelected and overreaching judges.

Republicans mostly stuck to that script during the last House and Senate debates on the amendment. For instance, State Representative Sandy Salmon told House members on May 18 that the proposal is intended solely to address a judicial “power grab.”

This amendment does not outlaw abortion. It only restores the legislature’s authority, and therefore the people’s authority, to regulate it. And we need that authority. That is what this amendment will do, and that is all it will do.

Holt made the same claim: “This is about letting the people of Iowa decide this issue through their elected representatives, and not the Iowa Supreme Court.” He quoted from the Iowa Supreme Court’s dissenting opinion by Mansfield and Waterman, asserting that the 2018 precedent would make “any abortion restriction very difficult to sustain,” and could lead to public-funded abortions up to the day of birth. To hear Holt tell the story, without this amendment, Iowa could join the list of states where abortions can be performed at taxpayer expense at any time in pregnancy.

That scenario is ludicrous. Iowa has banned third-trimester abortions for decades. No one proposed changing that law during the four years pro-choice Democrats controlled both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office (2007 through 2010). In addition, Republicans enacted a law in 2017 that prohibits almost all abortions after 20 weeks gestation. Even if some politicians sought to legalize abortions later in pregnancy, Republicans who oppose abortion now control Iowa’s legislative and executive branches.

Remember what Zahn said about The FAMiLY Leader’s polling: “Iowans overwhelmingly do NOT support the taxpayer-funded abortion or expansion of abortion to the point of a baby’s birth that the 2018 decision paves the way for.”

And note that the final version of the constitutional amendment refers to protecting “unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the point of birth.”

Republicans appear to believe this sleight of hand will bring Iowa voters to their side, taking the focus away from their real agenda.

“THIS IS ABOUT AN ALL-OUT BAN ON ABORTIONS WITH NO EXCEPTIONS”

Iowa House and Senate Republicans approved legislation in 2018 that would have banned almost all abortions after about six weeks gestation. (A Polk County District Court judge struck down that law, citing the Iowa Supreme Court’s precedent.) The obvious goal of amending the constitution to overturn that Supreme Court ruling is to clear a path for future abortion bans with few or no exceptions.

In January, House Republicans voted down several Democratic amendments to House Joint Resolution 5, which would have preserved some aspects of Iowans’ reproductive rights. (A procedural trick on May 18 knocked the same amendments out of order, so House members would not have to vote on them again.) The upshot is that the proposed constitutional amendment has:

  • no wording to clarify that it “shall not be construed” to prohibit the sale or use of any contraceptive (proposed by State Representative Christina Bohannan)
  • no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest (proposed by State Representative Marti Anderson)
  • no language to clarify that it does not prohibit the disposition of embryos produced for vitro fertilization (proposed by State Representative Kristin Sunde)
  • no exception for a woman “certified by a physician to be in danger of death unless the abortion is performed” (proposed by State Representative Mary Wolfe)

Many Democratic legislators spoke passionately against the constitutional amendment, and several pointed out that the Republicans’ compromise wording removed any reference to mothers. Here’s part of one speech by Bohannan, whose day job is being a University of Iowa law professor.

While Republicans have claimed their proposal is about stopping late-term abortions or public funding of abortions, Bohannan said,

That’s not what this amendment does. It completely eliminates the right to abortion altogether, under any circumstances. You don’t have a right for rape, you don’t have a right for incest, you don’t have a right to save the life of the mother, clearly. And now, it’s very explicit with this secondary amendment that eliminates mothers from the equation all together.

When questioned by Bohannan, Holt denied that Republicans are “not interested in protecting mothers.” He said they were only “trying to make the language as concise and understandable as possible.” He again cited concerns two Iowa Supreme Court justices had expressed in 2018 about late-term abortions and taxpayer-funded abortion.

“And did mothers need to be deleted from that protection in order to accomplish that goal?” Bohannan asked. Holt didn’t have a good answer but repeated his talking points about judicial overreach.

On the final day of the legislative session, State Senator Janet Petersen highlighted the danger of putting “the bodies of women and girls on the ballot” at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to strike down or eviscerate the 1973 Roe v Wade precedent.

“This is a dangerous moment,” Petersen said. “Americans and Iowans may very well see what it is like to live in a world without protections for the bodies of women and girls.”

Like several other House and Senate Democrats, Petersen noted the irony of Republicans promoting the idea of “bodily autonomy” when passing legislation to forbid mandatory face masks or COVID-19 vaccinations. “You protected your nose, your mouth, and your arm. I am simply saying, a woman’s body deserves protections as well.”

Previewing the case pro-choice advocates will make if the amendment comes before Iowa voters, Petersen said, “This constitutional amendment takes away personal decision-making power from women, taking away our freedom to make a personal decision about what is best for our bodies, our future, our families, and our pregnancies. This is about an all-out ban on abortions with no exceptions. This is about oppression–the oppression of women and girls.”

P.S.–Most politics-watchers assume that if Republicans keep control of the House and Senate after the 2022 elections and approve the abortion amendment again the following year, Iowans would vote on the language in November 2024. While most constitutional amendments have appeared on general election ballots, the state constitution allows the legislature to schedule such a vote on any date. At least two times, votes on proposed amendments to Iowa’s constitution have coincided with a June primary (the 1916 vote on women’s suffrage and the 1962 vote on replacing judicial elections with a merit-based selection system).

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What Iowa Democrats can learn from 2020 down-ballot candidates

A deep dive into the experiences of down-ballot candidates provides much food for thought for Iowa Democrats hoping to improve on last year’s dismal performance.

The authors of “Playing to Win,” released last month, are three activists with professional backgrounds in marketing. Dave Miglin was a candidate for the board of trustees for Polk County’s public hospital, Broadlawns. Kathryn Kaul-Goodman chairs the Mahaska County Democrats and ran for supervisor in that rural southeast Iowa county. Jean Kaul-Brown helped with both Miglin’s and Kaul-Goodman’s campaign and (along with Miglin) is communications co-chair for the Polk County Democrats.

I recommend downloading the full report. It’s a quick read:

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Governor's complacency on vaccinations endangers Iowans (updated)

COVID-19 vaccinations increased significantly in Ohio after Governor Mike DeWine announced vaccinated residents would be eligible for five $1 million lottery drawings or full-ride scholarships to state universities. In contrast, vaccinations have been plummeting in Iowa lately. Most county health departments have been declining their vaccine allocations. Average daily shots are down 80 percent from their peak in early April.

Eighteen states and Washington, DC are now ahead of Iowa in terms of percentage of the population fully vaccinated, and 22 states plus DC have a higher percentage of residents who have received at least one shot. Less than two weeks ago, Iowa ranked sixteenth in the country on that metric.

Governor Kim Reynolds isn’t worried, though. She told reporters on June 2, “I am really happy with where we’re at” in terms of vaccinations. From Brianne Pfannenstiel’s article for the Des Moines Register,

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A failure to communicate

A special investigation by the State Auditor’s office asserted on June 3 that Governor Kim Reynolds violated Iowa law by using $152,585 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to purchase “online and televised ads containing the Governor’s voice, image, and name.”

Less than 30 minutes after the auditor’s report was published, Reynolds responded in a news release that the law “clearly allows” such use of public money in the context of a public health disaster emergency.

A few hours later, State Auditor Rob Sand defended his conclusions in a new written statement.

My non-lawyer’s reading of the relevant statutes aligns with the governor’s interpretation. But while legal points could be argued, one indisputable fact is that all parties involved should have discussed these findings prior to the report’s publication, instead of duking it out in news releases today.

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Jennifer Konfrst on track to be next Iowa House minority leader

Iowa House Democrats will choose a new leader of their 41-member caucus on June 14. The heavy favorite will be State Representative Jennifer Konfrst, who has served as minority whip (the second-ranking role) since late last year.

State Representative Todd Prichard announced on June 2 that he will step down from the leadership position he has held since shortly after the 2018 election.

Konfrst declined to comment for the record on the coming leadership contest. Several Iowa House Democrats indicated on June 2 they were not planning to run for caucus leader. Those included State Representative Jo Oldson, who served as minority whip in 2019 and 2020. Oldson added that she is supporting Konfrst for the position.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wild grape (Riverbank grape)

If you’ve walked along a woodland edge or near running water lately, you may have encountered a perennial woody vine that is “very valuable as a source of cover and food to many insects and animals.”

Wild grape (Vitis riparia) is also known as riverbank grape, because it often grows near rivers or streams. According to the Illinois Wildflowers site, it can do well in prairies near woods or water sources and thrives on disturbed ground, such as areas near railroads. Minnesota Wildflowers notes,

Some consider Riverbank Grape a weedy pest, sometimes creating dense masses and smothering other plants and even small trees. Though it can become aggressive along woodland edges and other disturbed areas where seed is spread, it is typically better behaved in the shadier riverbanks and mature forests where it competes well with other forest species.

I took most of the pictures enclosed below along North Walnut Creek in Windsor Heights in late May.

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Paul Trombino heading to local government job in Colorado

Paul Trombino III will be the next public works director of city of Greeley, Colorado, the city announced on May 28. He was hired following a national search, according to a news release enclosed in full below. The job was posted in February, so Trombino must have applied only weeks after becoming Iowa’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management director.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office announced Trombino’s impending departure on May 20. The news surprised many observers, since the governor had worked closely with her chief operating officer for two years and awarded him a large bonus in February, ensuring he wouldn’t take a pay cut when transitioning to the Homeland Security position.

Trombino’s resignation from his Iowa government post becomes effective June 3. Reynolds hasn’t yet announced her choice to run the Homeland Security agency, which oversees disaster preparedness and relief operations and has administered tens of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Most of the CARES Act funding transferred to Homeland Security is tied to the state or local match for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program. Reynolds also approved a $1 million transfer for “State Government COVID Staffing,” from which $448,449 was used to cover personnel costs in the governor’s office. The remaining $551,551 set aside for that purpose remains unspent, a state database shows. A Homeland Security communications staffer told me last year, “Although that funding was transferred to our department to process, we are not the decision makers on how it will be spent.”

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"Out of whack": Rob Sand criticizes Terrace Hill fence

State Auditor Rob Sand contends that spending $400,000 to construct permanent fencing around Governor Kim Reynolds’ official residence reflects “out of whack” priorities favoring “insiders” over “outsiders.”

Sand regularly answers commenter questions during live videos posted on his political Facebook page. During his June 1 “Transparency Tuesday” session, one person asked, “how about that governor’s fence?” Beginning around the 8:15 mark, Sand replied,

My transcript:

Yeah, how about that governor’s fence. If you missed this, Jean’s comment is about the $400,000 that’s getting spent on a fence at Terrace Hill.

Threats should be taken seriously, and the governor has seen threats, but so did Governor Branstad. So did Governor Culver. So did Governor Vilsack. They didn’t build a fence.

And in the meantime, you know, year after year after year, we’ve seen a lot of violence in Iowa’s correctional facilities, which could have been fixed in a variety of ways, depending on who you ask. But we didn’t see much action. Until finally now, that two correctional officers actually got murdered, now they decided to provide additional funding.

So it’s just, to me, it’s a question of priorities and insiders versus outsiders. $400,000 for protection because of some threats that were not uncommon, versus years of assaults that essentially got nothing until people died.

Priorities are out of whack for who that’s serving.

A little later in the video, Sand agreed with a different commenter who characterized the Terrace Hill fence as “ridiculous.”

The Iowa Department of Public Safety approved plans to construct permanent fencing around the governor’s residence sometime during the summer of 2020, public records show. I have not been able to determine whether Reynolds or anyone on her staff advocated for beefed-up security. Public safety officials denied the decision was linked to protests or demonstrations occurring near Terrace Hill and said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had recommended perimeter fencing for years.

Sand’s comments during the June 1 video were not a one-off. A few days earlier, he drew the same comparison on his political Twitter feed.

In that Twitter thread, Sand linked to a recent Des Moines Register article by Daniel Lathrop, “Iowa prison staffing levels before Anamosa killings were near their lowest level in at least 30 years.”

Two decades of budget cuts left the people who guard Iowa’s prisons understaffed and overmatched by a growing prison population, a Des Moines Register investigation found. The issue is getting attention after the March slaying of two employees at the Anamosa prison, allegedly by a pair of prisoners.

The Register found that Iowa’s Department of Corrections in 2020 had:

-Close to the lowest number of correctional officers guarding its prisons in at least 30 years.

-Substantially fewer correctional officers working at eight of its nine prisons than it did five, 10 and 20 years earlier.

-A ratio of prisoners to correctional officers that had risen above the national average.

The Republican-controlled Iowa House and Senate recently approved a $20 million increase to the corrections budget for the next fiscal year. But Sand pointed out that happened only after two correctional officers were murdered, allegedly by an incarcerated person.

Reporters for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and KCRG-TV obtained public records in April showing that Iowa’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the Iowa Department of Corrections last year for workplace violations at the Anamosa facility. Inspectors noted a lack of “adequate and reliable means of communication for employees to summon assistance during violent attacks or calls for emergency aid,” and not enough employees continually available to respond to such emergencies.

Sand is widely seen as likely to challenge Reynolds in 2022. He recently ruled out seeking any federal office next year but acknowledged he’s still considering running for governor or for a second term as state auditor.

Top image: Screenshot from Rob Sand’s “Transparency Tuesday” video on June 1.

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Iowa set to pay off Workday contract this month

The state of Iowa should be able to pay the remainder on its contract to acquire the Workday software system once Governor Kim Reynolds signs the final appropriations bill lawmakers approved before adjourning on May 19.

Senate File 615, the so-called “standings” bill, allocates $23.23 million from the state’s general fund to the Office of Chief Financial Officer during the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30. That money is to be used for “implementation of a new state central personnel, accounting, and budget system.”

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Iowa delegation tries again to address military suicides

From the earliest Memorial Day observances organized by freed slaves following the Civil War, this holiday has focused on remembering military service members who died in wars. More than 26,700 Iowans have died in wartime service, with the Civil War accounting for nearly half of the fatalities.

Far too many Americans with military backgrounds die by their own hands. Hundreds of active-duty troops and more than 6,000 veterans take their own lives every year. That death toll exceeds the total U.S. military fatalities in Iraq from 2003 to 2020.

Iowa’s members of Congress have tried again this spring to improve mental health services for veterans. Unlike in previous years, legislation named after Sergeant Brandon Ketchum made it through the U.S. House and now awaits action in the Senate.

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Iowa vaccination rates still show racial, geographical disparities

Racial disparities in Iowa’s COVID-19 vaccinations have narrowed during the eight weeks since all adults became eligible to get a shot. However, even with many vaccination sites now accepting walk-ins, reducing barriers associated with online scheduling, people of color and especially Black and Latino Iowans have received fewer doses per capita than white people.

In addition, county-level data show a wide gap between the Iowa counties with the highest and lowest vaccination rates. As in most other states, vaccination rates appear to be correlated with political and demographic features. Residents of more urban and more Democratic counties are more likely to be vaccinated than those living in rural and heavily Republican areas.

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Our pre-existing condition

Ira Lacher: Institutional racism is America’s pre-eminent pre-existing condition. And until we can acknowledge this, we will never rid ourselves of it. -promoted by Laura Belin

Japan has apologized for its actions that precipitated World War II in the Pacific.

South Africa has apologized for apartheid.

Pope John Paul II apologized for the Catholic Church’s historic treatment of Jews and other sins.

Germany has repeatedly apologized for the Holocaust.

America has not only refused to apologize for its institutionalized racism against Black people, but Qpublicans are enacting laws to penalize the fact that it has been a linchpin of our structure throughout history and continues to exist.

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Iowans face long wait for disability services

Kyla Claussen is one of some 16,000 Iowans on waiting lists for disability services. -promoted by Laura Belin

My name is Kyla Claussen and I’m from Avoca, Iowa. I have an unknown progressive neuromuscular disorder that has been slowly taking skills away from me over the past five years. By March 2020, I was unable to walk independently anymore or work. Last August, I went on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and then applied for the Physical Disability Waiver and the Health and Disability Waiver.

I’m now waiting for services in my home, along with 15,956 Iowans on the waiting list for one of the waivers for people with disabilities. Most likely, I will be waiting for one to three years.

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Scott County Democrats face huge organizing challenge

Scott County’s three Republican supervisors voted on May 25 to appoint Kerri Tompkins as the county’s new auditor, having considered no other candidates for the position, and giving members of the public no opportunity to comment.

The vacancy arose when Democratic Auditor Roxanna Moritz resigned just a few months into a four-year term. The three Republicans on the five-member board did not solicit applications for the vacancy or interview candidates. Rather, they decided to appoint Tompkins in a backroom deal, possibly violating Iowa’s open records law in the process.

The two Democrats on the Board of Supervisors wanted to hold a special election to determine Moritz’s replacement, but they didn’t have the votes to make it happen.

Local Democrats are trying to petition for a special election. But a law Republicans enacted earlier this year will make that task much more difficult.

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