Opinion

Just before adjournment

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Senate continued to debate a number of bills this week as we worked toward adjournment for the year. One of the bills we passed would expand the Empower Rural Iowa program and help increase access to broadband in areas of Iowa where it is still lacking. Expanding access to broadband has become even more important during the pandemic as more and more people worked from home, and almost everything moved online, from ordering food from restaurants and taking classes, to exercising and family get-togethers.

The bill would give more flexibility to the Office of the Chief Information Officer in administering the program and the grant funds designated to help bring broadband to rural areas in our state.

Work continued on putting together a budget for next year. Our goal was to keep spending at a reasonable level and fund all the functions Iowans need, but conservative enough to handle any deeper dip in state revenues than was predicted.

While we are back at work at the Capitol, people all across the state are also getting back to work. The governor announced more restrictions would be lifted later this week. Now, many of the facilities that were allowed to open, like restaurants, wineries, casinos, and gyms, may open at full capacity as long as they allow enough space for social distancing and implement other public health measures. This is just another step in the state's plan to open up Iowa safely and responsibly. Testing in our state continues to expand, and Test Iowa announced several more locations recently

Confidence to reopen

The coronavirus has dramatically affected life in Iowa, across the country and around the world. Before the pandemic hit Iowa, the state was experiencing the best economy ever. Wages were rising, unemployment was well below 3%, and more job openings existed than unemployed Iowans looking for work. The pandemic changed all that success.

A key priority for Senate Republicans in this abbreviated end of the 2020 legislative session was to implement policies to help the Iowa economy recover to where it was before the state shut down to protect public health. A centerpiece of that agenda is protecting businesses, schools, cities, and churches from a potential wave of lawsuits from someone who possibly could have contracted the coronavirus at that location. These lawsuits could be devastating for struggling businesses and remain a big deterrent for many looking to get back to work and reopen again.

Guidance from the public health experts changes on a regular basis as they learn more about the virus and try to provide the best information to the public. It is difficult to track every recommendation and even more challenging to implement each new and shifting guidance. I was the floor manager for Senate File 2338 (SF 2338) which protects employers, non-profits, and any other entity opening their doors to the public from a lawsuit from someone claiming to contract the coronavirus on at their facility. It requires those entities to put forth a good faith effort to implement public health recommendations and requirements. Bad actors that act recklessly or intentionally can be held liable.

Job creators need the confidence to know that if they reopen their operation in a good faith effort to protect public health, they will be protected. Uncertainty is a danger to every business and SF 2338 provides certainty for them on the issue of coronavirus lawsuits. Many restaurants, coffee shops, and barber shops in this state have been wounded by the coronavirus and the last thing they need right now is to be killed off by a frivolous lawsuit.†

Protecting Iowa's elections

The Senate passed House File 2486 this week. This bill works to makes sure election rules are not changed for this upcoming election. It puts current practice into law and gives Iowans and campaigns competing for votes in this state a clear knowledge over the rules in place for this November's election and the confidence to know these rules wonít be changed in the middle of the race.

House File 2486 also ensures Iowans have access to polling sites during an emergency and voter ID laws are uniformly enforced. Iowans have always taken their right to vote seriously and this bill continues our goal of safe, secure, and reliable elections. This legislation does not inhibit any voter from requesting and voting by absentee ballot. Registered voters have four months before any election to request a ballot. Request forms are readily available on the Secretary of Stateís website, at the county auditorís office, or even by mail if a campaign, organization, political party, or county auditor decides to send them out.

This bill brings checks-and-balances to the secretary of state's emergency powers, making them identical to the legislative oversight of the governor's emergency powers. This bill also requires no more than 35 percent of polling sites close in an emergency situation, making sure a minimum number of polling sites are available to a voter so they can participate in an election and exercise their right to vote.

Finally, House File 2486 also requires the voter to fill out all information required on an absentee ballot request form. This is no different than the information you have to fill out at a doctor's office, bank, or other business so they know it is you. These safety measures verify an individual requested an absentee ballot and outline the process for county auditors to obtain missing information.