by Charlotte Eby - Managing Director of Government Affairs, LS2group
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First COVID-19 diagnoses in Iowa
Gov. Kim Reynolds activated the State Emergency Operations Center Sunday after three Iowans tested positive for coronavirus or COVID-19, the first such cases in the state. State public health officials continued to report additional Iowa cases as the week wore on. As of Thursday morning, a total of 14 Iowans had tested positive for the virus.
The people at the center of the first cases are from Johnson County and had recently been part of a cruise in Egypt. The individuals were isolated at their home to avoid transmission to others. The other diagnosis was in Pottawattamie County on the western edge of the state. State Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati said public health officials were assessing potential exposure to additional individuals.
“These cases are an important reminder that all Iowans need to help prevent the spread of illness by washing hands frequently, staying home when ill, and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue,” she said.
The state’s three public universities – Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa – announced classes would move online for two weeks starting March 23 to help mitigate any potential spread on campus. Students were strongly encouraged to stay home during this time, although residence halls and dining services will remain open.
“We know how disappointing and disruptive this is to our students, faculty and staff,” said Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen in a statement. “This decision was made in consultation with the Board of Regents out of an abundance of caution to prioritize health and safety as the outbreak continues to spread and circumstances rapidly evolve.”
Senate President Charles Schneider announces his retirement
In a surprise announcement Tuesday, Senate President Charles Schneider announced he would not seek re-election to his suburban Des Moines seat. The announcement comes just days before the Friday filing deadline for candidates for state office. The West Des Moines Republican is an attorney at Principal Financial Group and has been a respected leader in the Senate, where he has served eight years. He cited balancing career, family, and the Legislature in a statement announcing his retirement, and reflected back on his work at the Statehouse to cut income taxes and pass significant tort reforms.
“I ran for the Legislature to make Iowa the best state in America to live, work and raise a family,” Schneider said in a statement. “As I leave state government, I look back at our progress and I am proud to have helped moved Iowa closer to that goal.”
Schneider’s district, Senate District 22, includes parts of the suburbs of West Des Moines, Clive, Windsor Heights, and Waukee.
Making child care more affordable, accessible
The Iowa House approved a package of legislation Monday meant to ease the squeeze on working parents trying to find day care for their children. Governor Reynolds and legislative leaders have said improving child care options and affordability for Iowa families was one of their top priorities this year.
The bills approved in the House included a number of measures such as raising the level of income qualifying families for child care assistance, raising state reimbursement rates for providers, and allowing home daycares to take in more children when school is canceled.
The bills now move to the Senate for consideration.
House settles on medical cannabis limits
The House on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow patients in the state’s medical cannabis program to obtain products containing more of active ingredient THC. Critics of Iowa’s current law say it is far too restrictive, particularly compared to other states.
The bill, HF2589, would allow patients 4.5 grams of active ingredient THC over 90 days. That’s an increase from the current 3-gram limit. Senators have backed a much higher limit of 25 grams over 90 days. It’s unclear at this point how the difference will be resolved.
Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed last session’s medical cannabis bill, saying it needed more discussion.
Waterloo man will be able to operate mobile barber shop
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation this week that will allow a Waterloo entrepreneur to run a barber shop out of his bus to provide haircuts for low-income communities and veterans with disabilities. William Burt, an ex-felon, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees after his stint in prison ended in 2008. He also got the barbering degree that is now allowing him to help others.
“William Burt had a great idea, and today we changed an outdated law to help his vision become a permanent reality,” Reynolds said in a statement. “William’s story is a testament to the power of redemption and how second chances can spark real change.”
"This means that I now have the chance to get to work and serve the people that have been underserved,” Burt said. “I'm finally free!