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IOWA CAPITOL DIGEST: National Public Health Week observed

IOWA CAPITOL DIGEST: National Public Health Week observed

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Iowa Capitol Building

The Iowa Capitol in Des Moines is shown in a June 2018 file photo.

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Tuesday, April 6, 2021:

PUBLIC HEALTH WEEK: The first full week of April is recognized as National Public Health Week. The National Public Health conference is being held virtually all week with the theme of “Building Bridges to Better Health.”

The Public Health Conference of Iowa is also taking place this week and offers the opportunity for public health professionals from across the state to connect on issues facing Iowans.

Both conferences will highlight the contribution of public health workers over the past pandemic year.

The Iowa Department of Public Health is “incredibly grateful for new and existing partnerships at the federal level,” said Kelly Garcia, the department’s interim director.

Even during the pandemic, she said, the department continued to offer programs on infectious disease investigation and provide oversight of such activities as substance use disorder prevention and treatment, emergency medical services, maternal and child health, chronic disease prevention, tobacco use prevention and environmental health.

UPDATING VOTER ROLLS: Registered voters who did not participate in the 2020 general election will soon receive the mailing to confirm their residential address.

Secretary of State Paul Pate encourages those Iowans to respond quickly because those who do not respond will continue to be listed as inactive voters until they participate in an election or update their voter registration.

Every March, the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office conducts voter list maintenance as required by federal and state law to ensure voter rolls are up-to-date and as accurate as possible,

“It’s a crucial component for having clean and fair elections across the state,” Pate said.

Iowans who receive the mailing should check the appropriate box, sign their name and return the postcard in the mail. Postage is not required. If the voter no longer lives at the address, the current resident may discard the mailing.

To check your voter registration status, visit sos.iowa.gov/amiregistered.

AG/NATURAL RESOURCES BUDGET: The House Ag and natural Resources Appropriations subcommittee approved more than $30 million of general fund spending for the Departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture and Land Stewardship, but Rep, Nolan Mommsen, R-Dewitt, said that figure is not “agreed to” with the Senate.

The budget includes more than $12 million and 1,146 full-time equivalent positions at DNR and more than $18.5 million and 395 full-time-equivalent employees at the ag department.

It also calls for funding from a variety of non-general fund sources, including $12 million for Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP). The plan also extends the program for another five years.

Democrats, who wanted to fully fund REAP at $20 million and increase funding for local food and climate change measures, opposed the budget.

QUALIFIED K-12 INSTRUCTION: The Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve $27.2 million to cover costs K-12 schools incurred during the current school year due to COVID-19.

The lawmakers directed most of the funds to districts that held in-person classes.

House File 532 also included a grant process for preschool programs that saw a sharp decline in student enrollments due to the COVID-19 pandemic that carried an estimated cost of $7 million.

While the $27.2 million will be split among all districts, architects of the qualified instruction supplement said districts that had the most classes in-person would receive the largest share of funding, but others have argued there also were added expenses associated with hybrid and remote learning.

The legislation also gives a financial break to districts that had buildings damaged in the Aug. 10 derecho and could not hold classes until repairs were done. Those districts will receive a full stipend, as if they had in-person classes during the entire fall semester. The bill now goes to the full Senate for review.

ADMINISTRATION/REGULATION BUDGET: Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 13-8 Tuesday to approve $58.4 million in general-fund spending for fiscal 2022 to operate most administrative and regulatory functions of state government’s executive branch.

Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, said Senate Study Bill 1258 represented an overall reduction of $25.4 million since a one-time Workday contract was no longer part of the budget and a previous $5 million broadband grant would be part of a much larger broadband bill being negotiated and handled separately.

He said funding increases went for utilities, Terrace Hill maintenance and operations and restoring $250,000 that had been cut for the Secretary of State’s office in the current budget year.

During Tuesday’s discussion before the bill passed on a party-line vote, Democrats expressed dismay that some state inspections of nursing homes were being conducted remotely due to COVID-19 concerns.

Guth later clarified that he had misspoke and the remote inspections were for restaurants rather than for nursing home facilities. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

SENATE CONFIRMATION DELAY: Members of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee voted Tuesday to defer action on the confirmation of some appointees that Gov. Kim Reynolds has made or will make to state boards, commissions and department leadership posts.

Normally, the Iowa Senate is supposed to complete confirmations on all gubernatorial nominees by April 15 unless senators agree to make other arrangements.

The committee on Tuesday approved by voice vote Senate Resolution 6, which deferred action on the confirmations of all appointments that “have been or are submitted” by the governor or an appointment authority other than the governor by on or after April 15 and have not yet been confirmed by the Senate on that date.

To win confirmation, a gubernatorial appointee must receive an affirmative two-thirds majority vote of the 50-member chamber, or at least 34 senators. Republicans currently hold a 32-18 edge in the Senate.

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