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Capitol Digest

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

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest:

EMS SUPPORT: The Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) has expressed support for parts of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ policy agenda, including prioritizing funding for mental health and disability services and emergency medical services.

Emergency medical services is inadequate in many counties because of a lack of a stable funding mechanism, ISAC said. It supports legislation to allow boards of supervisors to declare EMS an essential service and fund it through property taxes.

It would not be a mandate, ISAC Executive Director Bill Peterson said, but a “creative, bipartisan solution” to give each county the option of providing better EMS coverage.

TEST IOWA CLOSURE: Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office announced Wednesday that five state-operated Test Iowa drive-thru sites and the State Hygienic Lab would be closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. The sites are in Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines and Waterloo.

All sites will reopen for testing as usual from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday. Individuals who wish to be tested at any site must first complete an online assessment at testiowa.com, and schedule an appointment.

The Scott County site is located at NorthPark Mall, 320 W. Kimberly Rd., Davenport.

BOLKCOM VENTS: Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, took to the Senate floor Wednesday to unleash a scathing rebuke of responses by Gov. Kim Reynolds, President Donald Trump and Statehouse Republicans to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and their refusal to mandate the wearing of masks to slow the viral spread.

Bolkcom criticized what he called Reynolds’ “haphazard approach” to the pandemic that employed “mystery metrics” while ignoring federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in a way that “resulted in the meltdown of Iowa’s economy and forced the disruption of education for Iowa’s schoolchildren.”

During the fall 2020 political campaign, Bolkcom said Iowa’s governor went on a “maskless mega-vacation (that) led to a massive spike in COVID cases, overrunning our hospitals and disrespecting our health care and public health care professionals. Her biggest failure, however, in the face of dozens of recommendations from virtually every medical and public health group in this state has been to oppose a mask mandate — one of the simplest, most effective and low-cost ways to actually safely open businesses and our schools and prevent death.”

He also criticized Statehouse Republicans for not delaying the 2021 session until more Iowans received COVID-19 vaccinations and for allowing a “reckless and appalling” maskless rally at the Capitol in violation of Reynolds’ public health emergency proclamation.

Senate Republican leaders did not respond to a request for comment, but Reynolds’ spokesman Pat Garrett said, “The governor’s balanced approach to the pandemic has protected lives and livelihoods of Iowans. Because of the governor’s approach, Iowa is in a position to stay open, for parents to have the option to send their kids back to school in-person and for our state to come back stronger than before.”

HOOVER AWARD: Officials from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Foundation were on hand Wednesday at the Statehouse to present their 2020 Uncommon Public Service Awards to Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, and Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale.

The award presentation was delayed because of the last legislative session’s suspension because of COVID-19.

Gaines, a retired teacher who spent 40 years in the classroom, told her House colleagues, “I hope the work I have done over my lifetime has made my community and my state a better place to live for all Iowans.”

Zaun, a central Iowa businessman and former mayor, said he was humbled by the “incredible honor,” and his voice choked as he spoke of his late father and the sacrifices and support of his family.

Nominations are being accepted until March 1 for the foundation’s 2021 award winners.

FUTURE READY GRANTS: Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday announced two Future Ready Iowa grant opportunities totaling $1.2 million.

The Future Ready Iowa Employer Innovation Fund is designed to expand opportunities for Iowans to earn post-secondary credentials leading to high-demand jobs and encourage Iowa employers, community leaders and others to collaborate to support regional workforce talent development.

The Child Care Challenge Fund is designed to encourage regional and community projects that will create increased child care slots in communities by supporting the development, renovation or rehabilitation of child care facilities.

Officials say the availability of quality, affordable child care for working Iowans has been a long-standing workforce challenge that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Applications for the funding opportunities must be submitted on IowaGrants.gov by Feb. 12.

Applicants for the Employer Innovation Fund can request funding up to $50,000, which can be matched with private dollars.

Applicants for the Child Care Challenge Fund can request funding up to $100,000, and likewise the fund can match private dollars and in-kind donations of labor and materials.

COLLEGE SAVINGS PLANS: State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald announced Wednesday that the state tax deduction associated with the College Savings Iowa 529 Plan had increased for 2021.

Participating Iowa taxpayers will be able to deduct the first $3,474 they contribute per beneficiary account from their state taxable income in 2021, Fitzgerald said.

“This could mean a deduction of up to $13,896 for a family of four when both parents have accounts for each of their children,” he noted.

Since its creation over 20 years ago, College Savings Iowa has grown to over $5.7 billion in assets with more than 255,000 active accounts and an average account size of $21,333.

“College Savings Iowa helps families achieve their goals with great investment and tax benefits, and more than $3.2 billion has already been used to help students achieve their education dreams,” the state treasurer noted.

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