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CAPITOL DIGEST: A roundup of state government and Capitol news items of interest

CAPITOL DIGEST: A roundup of state government and Capitol news items of interest

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The Iowa State Capitol building Friday, July 31, 2020, in Des Moines.

A roundup of state government and Capitol news items of interest:

EDUCATION COMPLIANCE: Iowa’s education chief said Wednesday the Des Moines Public School District risks losing its state accreditation for defiantly starting the fall school year with online classes due to COVID-19 concerns for most students in violation of state guidelines.

Ann Lebo, director of the state Department of Education, said her agency hasn’t yet but likely will initiate a process whereby the state’s largest school district could be cited for failing to comply with a state directive to provide at least 50 percent in-person instruction. Members of the state Board of Education decide when school districts lose “accredited” status and are dissolved while the state Board of Educational Examiners can both sanction and revoke licenses of school administrators accused of violating state standards.

During a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds called a decision “disappointing” and “unacceptable” by the Des Moines board this week to “slow walk” a state directive, saying “while the board voted 4-3 to prepare to implement a hybrid learning model, there’s no clear sense of how or when that might happen.”

The time students have spent in online classes since the school year started in Des Moines last week may have to be made up later in the year since the district did not get a state waiver for internet-only instruction, according to the governor. She urged parents to try to convince the local board to change its course and comply with state guidance like 326 other public K-12 districts in Iowa.

REYNOLDS DEFENDS FUNDING: Gov. Kim Reynolds defended using $448,449 of federal CARES Act funding to cover salaries for staff members who shifted duties to assist in the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican governor said the COVID-19 emergency caused half of her staff to work long hours at the state emergency operations center in Johnston to protect the health and safety of Iowans, manage resources and take on new roles in a “very difficult, unprecedented time.”

Her comments came Wednesday after key Democratic legislators called for committee hearings to determine when the Reynolds administration misused federal funds intended for COVID-19 relief efforts.

“At a time when the number of jobless Iowans is through the roof and many Iowa businesses are hurting because of the pandemic, Iowa taxpayers should have confidence that federal COVID relief funds are being used only to help them,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

He called the diversion of federal funds “puzzling” because the Legislature approved and the governor signed legislation to appropriate more than $4.6 million to cover the cost of running the governor’s office — including salaries and benefits — over the past two years. However, Reynolds dismissed calls for committee investigations because the spending was “allowable allocations.”

COUNCIL MEMBERS REAPPOINTED: Members of the Iowa Utilities Board approved the reappointment of four members to the Dual Party Relay Council, which advises the board on matters related to the telecommunications relay service and equipment distribution program that the board oversees by authority of the Legislature.

Reappointed to two-year terms through August 2022 were Jill Avery, Office of Deaf Services representative; Shirley Hampton, consumer; Casey Peck, telecommunications representative; and Kelsey Seaberg, the Iowa Utilities Board’s project manager for the Dual Party Relay Service.

The relay service and equipment distribution program provide telephone accessibility to Iowans who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or have difficulty speaking.

Under Iowa law, the 11-member council must consist of six individuals with communication impairments; two representatives from telephone companies; a representative from the Office of Consumer Advocate, a division of the Iowa Department of Justice; a representative from the Office of Deaf Services of the Iowa Department of Human Rights; and a member of the Iowa Utilities Board or designee.

The other council members are Craig Graziano, Office of Consumer Advocate and Dual Party Relay Service chair; Taylor Teepell, telecommunications representative; and consumers Sandra Anderson, Barbara Carlin, Brett Seeburger and Michael Struck.

The council is seeking to fill a vacant position designated for a person who is deaf, hard of hearing, or has speech difficulty.

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Carson King was named to the board of directors for the Puppy Jake Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based out of Des Moines that helps military veterans through the assistance of professionally trained service dogs.

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