Essential workers, disabled Iowans will receive vaccine access soon
Iowa will likely allow essential workers and people with disabilities to receive a COVID vaccine in March, now that the state is seeing a steady supply of vaccines from the federal government, Gov. Kim Reynolds said last Thursday.
“We’re finally able to generally answer the question that so many Iowans are asking, and that’s ‘when is it my turn,’” Reynolds said.
So far, the state has seen almost 620,000 vaccinations. Of those over the age of 65, an estimated 53 percent have received at least the first dose of the two-dose course of the COVID vaccine.
The next group to become eligible for the vaccine will be those considered essential workers and people with disabilities who live at home. Those groups are expected to receive vaccines in early March, with 70 percent receiving the vaccine by early April. At that time, vaccine availability could be expanded to additional groups, Reynolds said.
Voter reforms passed following ballot disputes in November election
Republican lawmakers moved swiftly last week to pass reforms they say would tighten up the state’s election policies and ensure they are more uniformly administered by county election officials. The measure shortens the time Iowa voters would have to request and return mail-in absentee ballots. The Senate voted along party lines Tuesday to approve SF413, which contains a number of changes for Iowa voters. The House followed suit last Wednesday, sending the bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds for a likely signature.
The legislation mandates:
- Uniform poll closings one hour earlier during general elections to 8 p.m., a change requested by county auditors who administer elections
- Absentee ballots could only be mailed to voters 20 days before an election, reducing the time voters have to return their ballots
- Absentee ballots must be returned to the auditor’s office by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted in most instances
- Absentee ballots for elderly and disabled voters could only be delivered by caregiver or family member
- Limits on the use of ballot drop boxes, which some county election officials use to collect ballots
- Limits on the use of satellite voting
Democrats complained the reforms made it more difficult for Iowa voters to cast ballots, just months after they came out to vote in record numbers in the midst of a pandemic. Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, noted that the November election had a record turnout in Iowa because of the ease of mail-in absentee ballots. Democrats unsuccessfully offered a series of amendments that would make the bill less stringent, arguing Iowa elections already are secure and fair.
The proposed election reforms come after a high-profile election dispute in Iowa’s 2nd District between Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart. Miller-Meeks was declared the winner by a slim margin after a recount, but some Democrats are challenging her seat in Congress.
Iowa House, Senate committees work to approve bills before funnel deadline
House and Senate leaders rushed to approve bills in committees last week before this Friday’s so-called “funnel deadline,” a hurdle bills must clear to stay alive for the rest of the legislative session. Lawmakers moved quickly to pass priority bills earlier this session in the event they had to pause because of a COVID outbreak.
Among the bills that moved last week:
- SF389, a bill requiring applicants for the SNAP program (formerly known as food stamps) to list assets for all household members before they are eligible for assistance, passed the full Senate.
- A bill that would raise the surety bond requirement for waste tire haulers passed the full House on a 93-0 vote and has cleared the Senate Natural Resources Committee on a unanimous vote. The bill was spurred by a number of cases of waste tire haulers dumping tires, prompting massive cleanup efforts.
- The Iowa House approved a bill allowing dentists to administer vaccines as the state ramps up its COVID vaccination efforts. A similar bill is pending in the Senate and expected to advance in the coming weeks.