The View from Here

You can contact me at dennis.guth@legis.iowa.gov or call me at 641.430.0424 with any questions or concerns.

May 15, 2020

The Iowa legislature is scheduled to resume on June 3. We will have some new protocols to follow, which are designed to reduce physical contact and allow distancing. Like many Iowans, I am eager to get back to work. Of course, there is plenty I can do from home to prepare for our work in Des Moines. This past week, I interviewed seven of the candidates for the Iowa Workforce Development Board (IWD). This board deals with unemployment claims and job training programs. Candidates are appointed by the governor but must be confirmed by the Senate.

As you can imagine, the work of the IWD has exploded over the last two months. One of the questions I asked the candidates was, “Has the coronavirus outbreak caused you to rethink volunteering for this board?” The universal answer was, “No! I am even more excited about serving where I can help people.” These folks are already busy in their own businesses and nonprofit organizations. Yet, they were enthusiastic about the opportunities that lie ahead as Iowans gear up for the new normal. Our governor has nominated some fantastic, forward-looking people, and I am excited to turn them loose on the challenges facing Iowa’s workforce.

I also spoke with Scott Curtis who was administrator of the Kossuth Regional Health Center. He now supports eight rural hospitals in North Central Iowa through MercyOne. I learned that much has been done throughout our region to prepare for the care of patients should there be a surge of coronavirus in our area. They have a plan in place that can be quickly implemented. Right now, it is very quiet in our hospitals because elective surgeries are just getting rescheduled. I was interested to see this week’s unemployment figures included significantly more health care workers than restaurant and hotel personnel. This shows me that we need to have some regular care going on just to keep our health care functional.

Another conversation I had was with the director of Iowa Department of Revenue. I asked how they are dealing with the coronavirus during tax season. He said most of the workforce can operate from home with the exception of the mail room. Those employees are split into two teams, each working two weeks in the mail room and two weeks at home. If someone gets sick with COVID-19, the other team would take over. The department is in the process of getting bids on a new computer system to replace the mainframe which is 40 years old. The team is excited about this update and the improved service it will provide. The cost will be offset by the millions of dollars we spend each year to keep the old system running.

Finally, I would like to mention that one job legislators will have when we return to Des Moines is to protect our “inalienable” rights. Some during this emergency are willing to give up liberties in order to protect health. One example is some schools are denying any medical or religious exemptions next year for vaccines, especially meningitis. I am working with the Department of Education and the Department of Health to make sure current law, which protects our constitutional rights, is upheld.

Iowa’s state government is responding well to the current crisis. I am proud of our governor and state employees who are working hard to keep Iowa healthy both physically and economically.

May 8, 2020

Recently, Gov. Reynolds took the first step in reopening our state, allowing places like restaurants to open at half capacity in counties with decreasing or limited virus activity. On May 6, the governor signed a new proclamation with additional openings for some Iowa businesses and facilities and additional regulatory relief. Just like the last proclamation, these businesses will only be allowed to reopen if they can follow appropriate public health measures.

As Iowans begins to come out and resume business, we should all continue to make responsible decisions for ourselves and our families. Our bodies have been made wonderfully and have a tremendous capacity to resist many bad bacteria and viruses. There is evidence that vitamin D deficiency may impact how well an individual responds to COVID-19. I’m not a doctor. However, I have heard from doctors that supplementing with vitamin D, along with vitamin C, selenium and zinc, is a great way to bolster your immune system. Don’t take my word for it. Take the initiative and do a little research of your own.

The effects of this virus on our economy are huge. The crippling effects of our stalled economy also affect our health. I am concerned we will be recovering from destroying our economy far longer than we struggle with this virus. I am thankful Gov. Reynolds has worked hard to find the best path for Iowans during this crisis and is opening up the state on a regional basis. We are made for relationships, and being isolated from each other is taking a toll on many. Make sure to connect with family and friends often. We need each other. These are unprecedented times for our leaders and medical practitioners. Please take time to communicate encouraging thoughts to these folks and your loved ones.

It is easy to allow fear to dominate our thoughts when at every turn we are told to practice social distancing, limit trips to busy places like the grocery store and to keep washing our hands – all in order to keep from illness. I am concerned we have given up many Constitutional, God-given rights in the name of security. Recommendations can be made, but the way some states are using government to bully people during this crisis is appalling. America is about “We the people.” Don’t let this crisis sidetrack you. Stay engaged. Take time to study the Constitution. Together we can get through this.

May 1, 2020

Last week the governor announced some restrictions would be lifted for counties in Iowa experiencing decreasing or little to no COVID-19 activity. Starting May 1, restaurants, fitness centers, malls, libraries, race tracks, and some retail establishments are allowed to reopen at half normal operating capacity, if they can still follow public health measures.
 
This policy applies to all counties except Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Dallas, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fayette, Henry, Iowa, Jasper, Johnson, Linn, Louisa, Marshall, Muscatine, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Tama, Washington, and Woodbury counties.
 
Statewide religious and spiritual gatherings will be allowed, if they can maintain social distancing guidelines and take measures to protect public health. Additionally, farmers markets will be allowed to open to sell farm products or food, again, as long as they can implement reasonable social distancing and public health measures. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) issued guidance for Iowa farmers markets with additional protective measures, such as prohibiting from anyone with a fever or illness in the last three days from entering farmers markets, providing easy access to hand-washing or hand-sanitizing stations, and encouraging online ordering when possible.
 
All other closures, including in the above counties, will continue until May 15.
 
The new proclamation from the governor is not a requirement that these establishments have to open. It is simply giving them, and all Iowans, the option and freedom to do so, while still protecting their health. The state continues to expand testing and data will continue to be monitored so the best decisions can be made to protect not just the health of Iowans, but also their livelihoods. As more data is collected and more Iowans get tested for COVID-19, we will be able to know more about how we can safely and responsibly continue to reopen the state. I urge you to keep limiting your trips to grocery stores, washing your hands often, and adhering to social distancing practices as much as you are able. As long as each of us continues to be responsible about the actions we take each day, we will be able to get back to a sense of normalcy sooner rather than later.
 
Throughout this pandemic, the governor has been working to strike a balance between protecting Iowans and keeping as much of our state working as possible. Meat production facilities are an indispensable part of the food supply chain as Iowa works to provide affordable food to the world. Shutting down these plants has a major impact across our economy. This impact is not limited just to farmers – it affects everyone. If the plants cannot run, livestock cannot be processed and farmers may be forced into euthanizing some of their livestock. This action reduces the supply of food, increasing prices in the coming months, and makes it even more difficult for people to afford food in an uncertain economy, most significantly impacting lower-income Iowans and lower-income Americans.
 
Just as important as limiting the closures of those facilities is ensuring the safety of the workers and doing everything possible to prevent the spread of the virus. Public health officials have been working tirelessly to test impacted workers and ensure they have access to the care they need.
 
Because of the disruptions in the food supply chain leading to an excess of hogs, this week a new program called “Pass the Pork” was announced to help connect Iowa hog farmers with Iowans in need of food. The Iowa Pork Producers Association and IDALS are helping farmers donate pigs to Iowa food banks and food pantries. If you’d like to donate to help with processing, storage, and delivery costs, you can visit donorbox.org/passthepork.
 
A website and hotline have also been created to help connect Iowa’s livestock farmers with resources if they are facing a decision on disposing of their animals. Farmers can contact the hotline by calling 515-725-1005 from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday – Friday, or they can visit iowafarmerhelp.com.
 
The Iowa Department of Revenue recently updated their website with information on upcoming tax deadlines. If you have questions about some tax deadlines amid the various extensions that have been implemented, you can visit their website at https://tax.iowa.gov/important-upcoming-tax-deadlines.
 
The suspension of the legislative session has been extended to May 15. We are eager to get back to the capitol and continue our policy discussions and budget work. While we are waiting to see how the budget will be impacted by the pandemic, we still want to do what we can to ensure Iowa is the best place to live, work and raise a family. 

4-24-20

Last week the governor announced a new website to give Iowans better access to testing and give public health officials a better idea of how Iowa is progressing through the pandemic. It helps the governor make decisions on the activities safe to reopen, while keeping others closed. I would encourage everyone to take the assessment at TestIowa.com and determine whether you should get tested. Iowa has purchased hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests and those tests will be available soon. This website has the best collection of information on where additional testing is necessary in our state to help make the best decisions for our state.

The Iowa Legislature continues to plan its work to complete the 2020 legislative session. A number of policy and budgetary matters still need to be addressed this year. When the legislature reconvenes, it will continue to be mindful of guidelines for the large group gatherings from the CDC and the Iowa Department of Public Health, making sure to do its part to manage the spread of the virus.

I have been very busy planting my crops so when the legislative session is reconvened, I will be ready to put my entire focus on the budget and the function of government in preserving our God-given, inalienable rights. One of the concerns we face is how to safely hold elections without putting people at risk.
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a dedicated poll worker with concerns on how we would be running the primary elections in June. He shared with me that many poll workers are over the age of 60, the age group more susceptible to COVID-19. I forwarded that email to the secretary of state’s office. That email confirmed what they had been hearing from county auditors, and they spent considerable time thinking about how to make our elections safer.

I want to encourage my constituents to consider requesting an absentee ballot. The CDC is encouraging voters to utilize absentee voting, and the state has followed that guidance by mailing absentee ballot request forms to every active registered voter. The mailing is anticipated to arrive in voters’ mailboxes the week of April 27.

County auditors are now looking for people who are at low risk to serve as precinct election officials (PEOs). Please encourage low-risk Iowans, particularly those in the 17-35 age bracket, to step up for democracy and step in for our higher risk PEOs. If you would like to consider being a poll worker, check out this website: pollworker.iowa.gov.

Elections are the cornerstone of our nation, and as such are too important to fall prey to COVID-19. In Iowa, we proudly run our elections at the local level. Iowa serves as a shining example of how state and local election officials are best positioned to conduct elections, and Iowa having a successful 2020 election cycle will show why control of elections should remain with the states. Iowa’s county auditors are seasoned risk managers, and they have stepped up to find creative solutions to the unique circumstances we are facing. I applaud their efforts and ask that you reach out to your county auditor to learn more about the steps they are taking to help slow the spread of COVID-19. During a time when Americans are being urged to stand together by staying apart, voting provides the sense of community and strength Iowans desperately need. Continuing to ensure safety and integrity is a top priority of our state government.

4-17-20

As we all walk through this difficult time, Iowans all across the state have been looking for ways to help their neighbors and communities. I’ve been hearing of people making homemade face masks for their friends, families, neighbors, or donating them to local medical facilities. My wife has enjoyed making masks for her sister, a nurse practitioner, and our daughter, who is a clinic receptionist. Local restaurants have contributed food to health care providers, and many Iowans are supporting these local restaurants with takeout orders to help keep these places in business.

You can help your community in many ways. The Iowa Department of Public Health has issued guidance on making homemade masks for health care providers. You can also check with your local hospital on what specifications they have. Volunteer Iowa has a number of opportunities available for those who want to volunteer during the pandemic. American Red Cross is looking for people to donate blood. The Food Bank of Iowa is currently doing a fundraiser to raise money to meet the immediate need for meals for Iowans impacted in some way by the virus.

There are quite a few food assistance programs available. If you and your family are struggling to get necessary meals, The Department of Human Services has information available on how to apply for food assistance. At the Department of Public Health’s website you can learn about the WIC program. The Department on Aging is also providing home-delivered or drive-through meals for Iowans over the age of 60. Food banks all across Iowa are working hard to provide meals for families in need. Iowa Homeland Security has a map of food banks serving your area.

The state website for COVID-19 in Iowa has also been updated to include more information about the number of cases in our state and additional information on how the virus is affecting Iowa. You can find that information at coronavirus.iowa.gov. The site includes details on lab testing and assessments from each of the regional medical coordination centers (RMCC). The RMCC information lists the number of hospitalized patients, number of beds and ventilators available, and how many people are on ventilators.

I am so grateful for the doctors, nurses, health care staff, and first responders working around the clock to help those patients very ill with this virus.  Our country has been blessed with a wonderful medical history we should all be thankful for. Iowa is no exception. Thank you all for your selfless service during this time. For those who continue to go to work and are looking for childcare, the Department of Human Services has a map of facilities with spots available.

I have been responding to constituents who have questions regarding the current state restrictions. Recently, I helped clarify rules about campgrounds for long term workers and give information about programs for small businesses. A number of constituents have contacted me expressing their desire to reopen the economy. I am encouraged that some major employers are bringing people back to work. I, like you, look forward to seeing the economy gear up sooner than later. We are resilient people not only as a state, but as a nation as well. I am confident that as we work through this crisis together (looking to God) we will come out of this stronger and wiser.

If you have any questions, concerns, or are looking for resources to help you during this time, please feel free to contact me.                         

 

 

4-10-20

 
One of the questions we consistently hear is whether a stay-at-home or a shelter-in-place order should be implemented. Many point out that Iowa is one of a few states that hasn’t issued a similar order to combat the spread of COVID-19. The reality is, Iowa is already doing a number of these things, and in some instances implementing more closures than states with a shelter-in-place order. 
 
Since the beginning of March, Governor Reynolds has implemented school closures, closed non-essential stores, and places where large groups of people gather. These orders include clothing stores, gyms, movie theaters, and dine-in restaurants. 
 
Much like states that issued stay-at-home orders, the only places allowed to remain open in Iowa are those considered essential, like grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies and public works. In some instances, Iowa has even stricter rules than those states with stay-at-home orders, like limiting funerals, weddings and places of worship to no more than ten people. 
 
On Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke with Governor Reynolds. He complimented Iowa's efforts to combat the spread of the virus, saying our state functionally has a stay-at-home order. 
 
Iowa is working to strike a balance between doing what we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our state and keeping essential services available to those who need. Iowans will continue to feed the world. Regardless of the terminology, the strategy remains the same: Stay home as much as you can, isolate yourself if you feel sick, and make as few trips to the store as possible. 
 
The writer in Psalms 39 reminds us that “Surely every man at his best is a mere breath,” and asks God to “remove Thy plague from me.”
 
How fitting those words from Psalm 39 are today! While we stay home, most of us have more time to contemplate life and its purpose. One thing is sure, we will all die. As one song says, “This world is not my own. I’m just a passing through.” God provided a way for us to spend eternity with Him through Jesus’s death and resurrection. He created our souls to yearn for meaning in this life. If we live life on our own (disobedient to God’s ways) we may feel successful according to the world. However, we may find we do not have peace. Something is lacking.

The promise of Easter is that Jesus died and conquered death and the power it has over us. God loves us. We need not be condemned to eternal separation from God and His goodness. If we acknowledge our way is imperfect and accept what Jesus did for us, He will meet us where we are, give us hope and meaning for today and eternity with Him. At age 18, I ceased to question God’s existence and yielded my will to one greater than myself. My life has had meaning and peace because I will be with Him after death. It is my prayer that you have peace with God, both in this world and in the world to come. 

 

 

4-3-20

 

 

 

The View From Here by Senator Dennis Guth

In what would have been our twelfth week of the legislative session, we have all been in our home districts talking with you on the phone and reading your emails. I have learned how to do Zoom conferences and keep up with family via Hangouts. Some of those conferences involve planning the 59th Iowa Prayer Breakfast.

You are invited to join us for The Iowa Prayer Breakfast – ONLINE on Thursday April 9 at 7:30 a.m. Now more than ever we need to pray for our state, our nation, and our leaders. We hope you join us in this free online event. For more information and to register to receive a link to access the event, visit iowaprayerbreakfast.com/registration. You will want to get the link well before the day of the event. You can do it now.

On April 2, Governor Reynolds ordered Iowa schools closed until the end of the month. Legislative leaders also decided it was best we further suspend the session until April 30, still following the guidance of the Centers of Disease Control and Iowa Department of Public Health.

As we continue to work through this pandemic, please know there are many resources available to you if you need them. The 24/7 hotline for all COVID-19 related questions can be reached at 2-1-1- or 1-800-244-7431. Additionally, a legal information hotline for COVID-19 related legal matters, like eviction, the denial of unemployment benefits, or employer-employee issues, is available at 1-800-332-0419.

Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Workforce Development continue to update their website with information, especially with the recent passage of the CARES Act at the federal level. If you are looking for information or updates, I encourage you to visit their websites at www.iowabusinessrecovery.com and www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/covid-19. The Iowa Department of Education also released a number of resources for families to support learning at home during this period. Those can be found at https://educateiowa.gov/pk-12/resources-support-learning-during-covid-19.

I’d like to take a moment to thank all those who have been working during this pandemic. I want to thank not only the nurses, doctors, and health care workers who are helping those who are sick, but also the people who continue to work to ensure Iowans still have access to food, medicine, and other essential items.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) and the great job they are doing during this pandemic. I spoke with the chair, Barb Kniff McCulla, of their board this week and was very encouraged. Barb told me their staff is showing up each day eager to do their part to make it possible for government to serve the citizens of Iowa efficiently. Just last year, ICN updated its network to make it faster and cleaner. Today, that work is paying off as we see electronic media usage expand explosively. I am told we have not yet reached the full potential of the ICN.

This week I also spoke with Annette Dunn, our new Chief information Officer. She comes from a military background and is finding that very useful during this emergency situation. Because of information she got from a friend in New York, she began 4 weeks ago to build the capacity for her employees to work from home. They pulled old laptops that were going to be sold back into service. She even sent some employees to Best Buy to pick up extra laptops.

Because of Annette’s quick action, Iowa is near the top of the list for extending licenses with many of the major companies providing software and other tech services. When Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) was flooded with unemployment claims, the shared mainframe was overwhelmed. The staff of the chief information officer, within 24-36 hours, got the emergency mainframe at Camp Dodge set up to handle all of the IWD’s processing and keep those claims moving.

Iowans have always been strong, especially in the face of difficulty and challenge. All over our state, Iowans have been stepping up to help each other and bring each other comfort. Facing uncertainty is hard, but we are all in this together. I am so glad that the policies of conservative Republicans have put us in a good position to weather this storm. We will get through this, and when we do, our state will be even stronger. If you have questions, concerns or need anything else, please do not hesitate to call or email me.                         

 

 

 

3-27-20

As the situation in Iowa rapidly changes in response to the spread of COVID-19, I am getting a lot of questions about what resources exist to help Iowans who have been affected.
 
Iowa Economic Development Authority has put together a number of resources for both businesses and employees affected by COVID-19. This includes a small business relief program, information on the U.S. Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Assistance program, Community Development Block Grant funds to support infectious disease response, and unemployment related to the pandemic. All of this information can be found by going to www.iowabusinessrecovery.com.
 
Additionally, Iowa Workforce Development has a lot of information and resources on unemployment insurance on their website, www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/COVID-19. If you contact them for questions or information, I encourage you to be patient. People all over our state are calling and they are receiving a very high volume of calls. I know they are trying to be helpful to every Iowan in their time of need.
 
If you are looking for other resources, and not sure where to go, the Iowa Senate Republicans have put together a web page with links to various state agencies and departments and their information on COVID-19. This site includes updates from the governor’s office, tax information, and links to the above information. Please visit www.iowasenaterepublicans.com/covid-19-resources/ or contact me with questions you may have.
 
For more information on what is happening with COVID-19 in Iowa and across the country, here are additional resources you can use:

 A hotline has been set up for Iowans to call with COVID-19 related questions. It is available 24/7 and can be reached by dialing 2-1-1 or 1-800-244-7431.
 
The State of Iowa is doing whatever it can to help Iowans through this crisis. At the federal level, they are also working on a legislative package to help citizens and assist those who have been affected. Please stay home if you are feeling sick, wash your hands, check on your loved ones, and as always, call or email me with your questions and concerns as we navigate this crisis together.
  

 

 

 

The View From Here by Senator Dennis Guth

March 19

Monday night and early Tuesday morning, the Iowa Legislature passed a series of resolutions to pause the legislative session for 30 days while the state works to slow the spread of COVID-19.

We passed a resolution, SCR 102, to allow us to adjourn until April 15, 2020, and pause the legislative deadlines for this year. It would also allow us to come back into session before that date, if necessary, or after that date if we cannot come back in 30 days.

Senate File 2408 was also passed. This bill includes a supplemental appropriation to the State Hygienic Lab for additional COVID-19 testing, and additional money for Medicaid, Hawk-I, and the Glenwood Resource Center. It also increases the governor’s transfer authority, allowing her the power to move money between budget items as necessary. The total for this supplemental appropriation is $91.8 million. Additionally, this bill gave Governor Kim Reynolds access to the Economic Emergency Fund while session is suspended for needs related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Under this legislation, Governor Reynolds can spend up to 10 percent of the fund to address the impact of the virus. The Legislative Council, a committee of both representatives and senators, may approve up to a total of $196 million without the legislature having to reconvene.

Additionally, we set a level of spending to go into effect if legislators cannot make it back to the Capitol before the end of the current budget year on June 30. It sets spending levels for July and August 2020 at the current rate of funding for FY 2020, with the exception of education funding, which was passed and signed into law earlier this year.

Over the weekend, Governor Reynolds recommended schools cancel classes for four weeks. Since then, we have been getting a lot of questions from parents and teachers about what the school year would look like after the four weeks. The Legislature included in our legislation a provision to waive the requirement for Iowa schools to reschedule days canceled in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

All of these changes are temporary and only for addressing the situation our state is facing. We have not had to face a situation like this before. It was important for us to consider the precedent our actions would set, as well as ensure the resources would be there when we need them.

The good news is that due to the healthy economy spurred by Republican tax policy and conservative spending, Iowa is in very good financial condition. We have emergency reserves to meet this crisis today and provide a cushion should next year’s revenue see a drastic decline.

Information on the COVID-19 outbreak is constantly changing and I urge you to stay updated as much as possible to keep you and your families safe. Last week I included an update on the situation that was outdated before it was printed. To keep up to date on what is happening or to answer any questions, I encourage you to check the CDC website on COVID-19 or the IDPH website. Additionally, a hotline has been established which you can call 24/7 with questions. It can be reached by dialing either 211 or 1-800-244-7431. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or concerns.

One of the departments I deal with as joint subcommittee chair is the Iowa Communications Network (ICN). They are involved in cybersecurity constantly and have been called upon in the current situation to help expand the capacity of state employees working at home. They also provided the bandwidth that Iowa Public Television needed to have the governor do press conferences. They helped community and private colleges deal with the increased load on internet caused by classes at home and of course extra telecommunications for hospitals and clinics. Almost all of these requests for help have been accomplished in 24-48 hours. Hats off to the ICN!

 

March 12

We just finished the ninth week of the legislative session. Our job during this portion of the session is to debate on the floor bills that have come out of Senate committees. Once they pass on the Senate floor they go to the House and if they pass through committee may ultimately be debated on the House floor.
 
On September 11, 2019, a few county courthouses were broken into in central Iowa. It was soon discovered these break-ins were part of a security operation ordered by the Iowa Judicial Branch to test security procedures in these counties. After a Senate Government Oversight meeting, the Judicial Branch explained they had contracted with an out-of-state, third party vendor to organize these break-ins without notifying anyone in those courthouses or law enforcement. The contract lacked specifics on how those break-ins would be handled and what they would entail. Those involved are fortunate nothing serious happened when law enforcement arrived.
 
Senate File 2394 clarifies the Iowa Judicial Branch does not have the authority to contract an invasion into county courthouses and ensures those buildings remain the responsibility of the counties and taxpayers who fund these courthouses. It makes the county auditor, subject to the direction of the county board of supervisors, the person with custody and control of a courthouse and state courthouses are under the exclusive control of the country or city.
 
The Senate also passed two different bills relating to driver’s licenses in the state—one regarding a ‘school permit’ and another for driving farm equipment. Both of these bills are common-sense changes to make the everyday lives of rural Iowans easier. Senate File 2009 allows someone with a special minor’s driver’s license, often called a school permit, to operate a car to a site, facility or school within 50 miles for extracurricular activities. A bill like this is especially important for rural areas where schools often have sharing agreements for extracurricular activities. Senate File 2061 says a person is not required to have a driver’s license when operating a farm tractor or other type of husbandry equipment between a home farm building and farmland for the purpose of conducting farm operations. We also have a bill that would allow a student with a school permit to drive a vehicle to a farm field.
 
The biggest news of the week remains coronavirus. The governor is fully engaged with the CDC and all 49 state governors. So far, all the cases of COVID-19 in Iowa are easily traceable to a source. We have no cases as of March 12 with an unknown source. However, chances for containment ended when China did not shut down travel over a month ago. There is very little danger to children, although they can be carriers. If you have a fever or cough, it is suggested that you use telehealth sources first before going to the emergency room or doctor’s office. One thing to remember is that according to the current statistics, COVID-19 is about half as lethal as H1N1 (swine flu).
 
Another type of virus I am concerned about is ransomware. Ransomware is a computer virus that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid. It can totally shutdown computer systems. Several towns around the country have been hit with ransomware. In. Texas, 23 towns were hit in one attack. Too many times, when government officials are hit with ransomware, they are so embarrassed that they pay the ransom and don’t even report it to the authorities. This just emboldens the perpetrators to continue. Even worse, many of these attacks come from foreign entities that use the money generated to do harm to the United States. Senate File 2391 prohibits state and local governments from expending any public money for ransoms of a computer system.

 

 

 

Many issues were debated this week, and much progress was made on issues that have been “in the works” for a long time. On Tuesday, the House and Senate finally came to an agreement on K-12 school funding. We will be designating almost $100 million in new funding for schools. This will include $7.65 million for transportation and $5.8 million to equalize the per pupil funding which should give an extra boost to rural schools. The Senate and House acted quickly, passing SF 2142 and sending it to the Governor for final signing into law.
 
I have been lobbied by student groups from local high schools every year. One of the issues they asked for action on was raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco or vaping products. Federal law has mandated we must move to a 21-year minimum in three years. Senate File 2268 makes that change now. It passed 43-6 and goes to the House for their consideration.

America is the greatest country in the history of the world. The unparalleled success of this country is founded on a handful of ideas such a freedom, private property rights, and the rule of law. One of the greatest advantages Americans have had is their pride in hard work and achieving success through their own efforts. Work gives individuals meaning and dignity. It teaches life lessons and develops the skills of workers. Entry level jobs provide the foundation for more opportunities for success.

Those concepts inspired the text of Senate File 2366, a bill passed on the Senate floor this week. This bill requires individuals receiving taxpayer-funded health care or food assistance to work, volunteer, obtain job training or other schooling. This bill only applies to able-bodied adults and includes a series of exceptions for those who are not able to work, such as those who are pregnant, medically exempt, or caregivers.
 
The goal of this bill is to encourage work. It is designed to ensure that taxpayer-funded social programs exist for those people who truly are in need. Its aim is to encourage those individuals on public assistance to move to self-sustaining careers for them and their families. This has been done successfully in many other states already.
 
In addition to the moral and social benefits of work, Iowa’s economy needs more workers. The unemployment rate in this state has been below 3 percent for more than two years. Industry after industry is looking for more employees and trying to grow. Banners hang from many storefronts boasting of high starting wages and quickly escalating benefits. A period of nearly full employment is the perfect time to reform public assistance programs to encourage work and keep Iowa growing.

posted March 11, 2020

 

By the time you read this, funnel week, the first deadline for the progress of legislation, will have passed. This deadline means that more than half of all the ideas for new laws will be eliminated from the process, and it forces the legislature to focus on the things with the most support.
 

In the Appropriations Committee, we passed 19-1 the bill that would allocate $2.5 million for a therapeutic classroom in a school. The intention of this bill is to train teachers how to deal with violent student behaviors and provide a space for violent students. Currently, some schools “clear the classroom” of all other students while the problem student is dealt with. We hope this new legislation will help keep students and teachers safe and keep from total disruption of the class.

As we go through subcommittees, we often get information that changes the direction of the bill or questions the necessity for a law. This happened to me this week on a bill I wrote. Parents have contacted me about the mobile clinics hosted by some schools to provide vaccinations. They further told me that sometimes the Vaccine Information Statements (VIS), which list all of the possible side effects of a specific vaccine, are not distributed or parental consent is not required. Even worse, when a parental consent from was returned, it was marked boldly “REFUSED” and yet the child was vaccinated anyway.

I proposed a bill that would mandate that parental consent forms go out with the VIS papers. At subcommittee, we heard a lot of medical groups insisting we don’t want to do anything to hinder child vaccination. However, the Department of Education (DOE) informed us that there was already a federal law requiring written parental consent and the distribution of VIS before a vaccination. In later negotiations, the DOE assured me they would act on any parent’s complaint to ensure compliance in the future. As a result of this subcommittee, a solution to the problem was found, and I pulled the bill.

One bill I did not like to see die was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Over 61 percent of the population of the United States lives in a state with this type of law in place. The purpose of the bill was to restore religious freedom in Iowa to the same standard that prevailed in our country from its founding until 1990. In that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the application of the First Amendment.

In 1993, the U.S. Congress passed the first RFRA to restore the original standard, and it remains in place today. However, in 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal RFRA applied only to federal government. Since that time, 21 states have passed a state version of RFRA to apply to state governments. Eight more states have ruled in court to abide by the same high standard before infringing on a person’s free exercise of religion.

Iowa has lagged behind in passing this legislation, especially in today’s environment. RFRA was not brought forward in committee because there is no path to get it passed in both chambers.

posted 2.26.2020

 

Week four of the 2020 legislative session was shortened because of the caucuses on Monday. It was great to see local Iowans participating in this important first step in the 2020 elections. I often tell the young people visiting the Capitol that the proper functioning of our government depends upon people who are accurately informed and willing to engage. The caucus is your opportunity to show support for your candidate and have input in the platform of your party. If you missed the caucus this year, resolve to be part of the primary election and listen to the candidates’ position.
 
Lots of bills are going through subcommittee right now; a few have made it to the full committee level. The first bill we debated on the floor this year allocated $20 million of our surplus this year to flood relief. Iowa counties were ravaged by flood damage last spring when levees were breached due to ice buildup, winter melt and spring rains. This is a big problem that may require more money later in this session. The funding passed will pay for work being done right now on the levees that protect many homes along our major rivers. The goal is to complete a significant amount of this levee repair before spring rains threaten those areas again. Our state funds are combining with federal funds to maximize the amount of work we can do.
 
If you have followed my articles over the years, you know I am a vocal advocate for religious freedom. On Feb. 13, I will chair the subcommittee on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law in place for two decades on the federal level and enacted by more than 30 states across the nation. It says the government cannot inhibit a person’s free exercise of religion unless there is a compelling government interest to do so. Our Founders understood that a representative republic like ours cannot survive if government believes it is the ultimate power in the land. The Declaration of Independence recognized our most important rights come from God and cannot be legitimately curtailed by man’s laws.
 
These are rights listed in the Bill of Rights include freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, the right to property, and to self-defense. These rights are challenged in every generation, and it is up to each generation to defend those rights or see them eroded and our lives controlled by government.
 
One of our rights as U.S. citizens is the right of a parent to influence material presented to their children. I have just introduced a bill that would set up a local library review board. Their job would be to determine whether any sexual material provided to the public by the library is age appropriate. I am concerned complaints from parents concerning drag queens doing story time for young children are being ignored. Parents must have a say in materials presented to their children.

 

The 2020 legislative session began last Monday. The first week is full of speeches and introductions of new department heads. There is much enthusiasm for moving Iowa forward.
 
On Tuesday, Governor Reynolds spoke of her vision for Iowa and how she hopes the legislature will respond. We got our first look at her budget goals and priorities like tax reform, increased flood relief and expanding our workforce. One thing that I noted was that the governor had many things on her agenda. When our state is struggling, the governor’s speech will usually focus just on a couple of big issues. The many projects the governor addressed tell me the state is functioning in a healthy way and able to look at smaller items. 
 
The governor’s budget spends only 95% of our projected revenues for the year. The law allows us to spend up to 99% of revenue, but I appreciate the governor’s cautious approach when we are only halfway through our fiscal year.
 
In 2017 Republicans set out to reduce the tax burden on Iowans. We passed a bill that provided an average income tax reduction of 10% and that will increase by 2023. The result of those cuts is the healthy economy that has provided an increase in state revenue. The Governor proposed a 1% increase in sales tax and reducing our income tax by another 10%. The legislature will be considering those ideas.  In 2020, Senate Republicans are committed to ensuring a significant tax reduction for Iowans.
 
School funding for K-12 is one of the first issues we deal with every year. We are constantly hearing requests to fully fund education, but no one knows what “fully funded” is. Over the last three years the legislature has provided a $263.75 million increase to K-12 schools. That is every penny that we promised. That does not include millions of dollars allocated to address inequities in per pupil funding and transportation costs. In the past, Democrats promised much larger increases, only to have to take back those increases later, so that after four years Democrat control education spending was actually cut $65 million.
 
We started the subcommittee process Thursday and passed a resolution stating that there is no right to abortion in our Iowa Constitution. SJR 21 does not abolish abortion, it just sends a clear message to the court that the Iowa Constitution does not contain a right to abortion. In 2018, unelected judges invented that fundamental right to abortion in the Iowa Constitution. This constitutional amendment must be passed by both chambers, then go through the process again after there has been an election and then come before the people for a vote. It is a long and difficult process, but it should be difficult to amend our constitution.
 
Finally, I was again assigned to chair the subcommittee for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This Act would prohibit government from interfering with a person’s free exercise of religion. I agree with US Attorney General William Barr who said, “Today, we are not experiencing a problem with religion being pushed on others, but with irreligion and secular ideas being pushed on people of faith.” I will continue to seek ways to keep government from telling us how to think.

 

 

3/29/2019

 

The View from Here by Senator Dennis Guth 

With just over a month left in the 2019 legislative session, floor debate is picking up. Senate File 523 would make penalties for a crime committed against an unborn child the same as those committed against a born person. This bill does not have anything to do with abortion, accidents or contraception. It does say that if a pregnant woman is murdered and the baby dies, there would be two Class A felonies, not one. This bill provides penalties for crime against all persons, whether they are born or pre-born.



The incredible and massive flooding in Iowa has saddened us all. In response to all the flooding, Governor Reynolds has issued a disaster proclamation for more than 50 counties. This proclamation includes all counties in Senate District 4: Emmet, Kossuth, Winnebago, Hancock, and Wright. Residents of Senate District 4 can apply for the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program and the Disaster case Management Program. Federal assistance has also been granted due to a declaration by President Trump. You can learn about the federal programs at www.disasterassistance.gov.



One of the most interesting parts of my job involves meeting all of the people that come to the Capitol. This sometimes includes people from other countries who visit our state. On Tuesday, we had ten visitors from Kosovo. These were not civilians, rather they were a group of military people who were on a private tour with an Iowa Guard personnel. I learned that Kosovo and Iowa are sister states, meaning we have recognized them with a special status in trade and communications. I was surprised to find out the eight men and one woman in camouflage were not just soldiers but top brass of Kosovo’s military. One was the highest ranking woman in Kosovo’s military and another was a brigadier general. We discussed how American government and Iowa’s state government are organized, and how citizens are welcome to come and comment in subcommittees. Kosovo has a parliament with many political parties as opposed to just two like we do. Their judicial branch is very weak. I could tell these folks were very interested as they have been organized as a democracy for less than a decade. Their government is still changing; similar to how ours was between 1776 and the signing of the Constitution in 1789. I felt truly blessed to talk about our system. We should be thankful that our system of government has worked for over 240 years. I will continue to do all I can to keep it working for the next generation.



“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts”—Winston Churchill.



It is always a privilege to serve you. I appreciate hearing from those of you who took time to contact me whether by phone, email, or by taking time to drive to the Capitol to visit with me.

 

 

3/22/2019

 

 

Wow! Spring is here! As a farmer, I get pretty excited this time of year. The snow is melting, rivers are high, but soon it will be time to have equipment ready for planting. It is somewhat that way in the Senate. We have been preparing bills for floor debate since January. Now, we are getting “in the field” by debating bills on the floor.



One of the hotly debated bills passed this week was SF 548. There was confusion that this bill would stop or greatly reduce acquisition of land for conservation, recreation, and water quality purposes. The bill would prohibit a private entity from acquiring taxpayer subsidized loans in order to purchase land. The entity that has been doing this is the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. They do accumulate land that might later be used in conservation projects. This bill does not stop that from happening, it only says they can’t use 0- ½% loans subsidized by taxpayers to make those purchases. The INHF is okay with this bill as well as Pheasants Forever.



I spoke with a young farmer last year who had the experience of being outbid by the INHF on a piece of land bordering his own. He said there was no way to compete with someone with near unlimited funds and ultra-low interest rate. Why should an individual have to compete with a private entity with that kind of advantage? We agree that fairness (equal opportunity) should be maintained.



Another bill that deals with fairness is SF 583 which deals with small producers of solar energy. Many Iowans have chosen to install solar panels to produce electricity for their own needs. On days when they produce more electricity than they use, they can sell the excess to the utility company. The rate they are paid does not include a charge to maintain the grid that delivered their electricity to the utility.



SF 583 allows an investor owned utility to charge a reasonable amount for infrastructure. There were arguments that this would eliminate all new solar projects in the state. Currently, RECs and municipal utilities do the very thing we approved for investor owned utilities. RECs have more small producers of solar energy than any other utility group. This bill will make sure consumers without solar are not paying for the infrastructure solar producers use. It will not affect solar installations already in use.



Tuesday, the Senate passed a limited work requirement for individuals receiving Medicaid benefits. There are exemptions for pregnancy, having children under six, disability, and illness. The intent is to require able-bodied people, without dependents, to work, go to school or volunteer 20 hours a week in order to receive tax-payer funded healthcare.



We have a remarkably low unemployment rates now because Iowa has experienced a healthy business environment the last two years. Many employers have asked where they can find more employees. This seems like the right time to address welfare reform that will help eliminate fraud and improve accountability. Perhaps even more important, it may give that little nudge required to get some recipients back in the workforce. A job does a lot more than pay bills. It can provide a sense of accomplishment and pride in being part of a productive society.



“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” John Quincy Adams

 

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you. Please feel free to contact me by email or phone 641.430.8415 with any questions or concerns. Enjoy the warm weather!

 

 

 

The View from Here by Senator Dennis Guth 

The ninth week of the 2019 legislative session saw some significant bills pass the Iowa Senate. One of these was SF 274 which protects free speech on our college campuses in Iowa. In the past few years there have been court cases brought against one of our Regent’s universities for treating belief-based student organizations in adverse ways. SF 274 allows faith-based organizations the same privileges as any other organization and prevents administrators from restricting speakers to those that agree with the administration’s views. It will also protect free speech on campus, not relegate it to a small “free speech zone.”



A bill important to rural Iowa is SF 536. Currently, Iowa law restricts the operation of tele-pharmacies to an area more than 10 miles away from an existing brick and mortar pharmacy. The passage of this bill will eliminate that restriction and improve access in rural Iowa, especially when a person is released from the hospital in the middle of the night.



Agriculture is the driving force of Iowa’s economy. It plays a significant role in feeding the world, as well as providing fuel and a host of other items. When Agricultural production is interrupted by disease outbreaks, serious consequences result. Four years ago, the avian flu knocked the poultry industry off the rails. 30 million turkeys were lost, resulting in the loss of 8,444 jobs and $1.2 billion in economic losses.



That outbreak highlighted the need for strict biosecurity to be maintained. Republicans supported that biosecurity by passing SF 519 which adds criminal penalties for trespassing on an agricultural production facility. This bill punishes someone who trespasses on a facility not open to the public with the intent to cause physical or economic harm to the facility. It also provides for conspiracy charges against those who cause harm to our agricultural production facilities or animals. This is needed to protect our producers and their livestock from tampering and the potential spread of disease.



An issue I’ve heard about for the last two weeks is reforming the Iowa judicial system. While this has been talked of within the legislature for years, the recent decisions of the Iowa Supreme Court have caused this issue to come to the forefront. The justices themselves have written that they are no longer bound by the beliefs of the Founders who wrote the Constitution, and that our Constitution should change and evolve to fit today’s society.



This alarms me a great deal. Our constitution can be amended through a slow process—being passed by the legislature in two different general assemblies and then coming up for a vote by the citizens of Iowa. It should not be changed by the opinion of a few Supreme Court justices.



Currently, the justices are selected by the governor from a pool of candidates presented to her by a judicial nominating commission. It is made up of 16 individuals, half chosen by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, and half by members of the Iowa Bar. There is much concern about having a non-elected group having so much power in the selection process.



SF237 would leave eight members to be selected by the governor while the remaining eight are appointed by legislative leaders: two by the Senate Majority Leader, two by the Senate Minority Leader, two by the Speaker of the House and two by the House Minority Leader. This bill does not included Senate confirmation since this method frequently falls victim to party politics. This method assures that the minority party always has some commissioners on the selection commission. I think this is a great way to make sure the selection process is fair across the political spectrum.



Finally, SJR8 passed the Senate as the first step in putting the right to keep and bear arms into the Constitution. Only 6 states lack a constitutional provision to protect those rights. The language of this resolution mirrors the U.S. Second Amendment, but adds that the Iowa Supreme Court must use the strictest of scrutiny (evaluation) on any legal restrictions on the rights of Iowans to keep and bear arms. I believe this puts the Second Amendment rights of Iowans back on par with what the Founders of our country intended. This should put a check on the court’s encroachment of these rights in modern times.



At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Well doctor, what have we got---a republic or a monarchy?” To which he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Our work this week reminds me of this conversation. Keeping our republic requires effort and diligence. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you!



The last forum scheduled this year is March 16 at 10AM at the Algona Library. After a long and tough winter, I hope my weekends in April will find me preparing to get in the fields!

 

 

The View from Here by Senator Dennis Guth

Week eight in the 2019 legislative session is the end of all bills that have not passed out of committee in either the House or Senate. Up to this point, we have been considering too many things to actually accomplish them all. This deadline forces legislators to focus on high priority bills that have a reasonable chance of passing.

An important bill coming through committee this week was SSB 1227. This bill makes it a criminal offense to falsely gain access or employment at an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public, if the intent is to cause physical damage or economic harm. The first offense would be considered a serious misdemeanor and a repeated offense would be an aggravated misdemeanor. The legislation would protect livestock producers from malicious activists who seek to destroy animal agriculture with negative media coverage and false accusations.

Private property is key to the United States’ exceptionalism. Several issues before the Senate dealt with this vital aspect of our country’s success. We are considering how wind turbines affect neighboring property and local government placing caps on property rental.

Perhaps the most misunderstood debate came over Senate Study Bill 1221. There were claims that this bill would end the purchase of land by government entities. In reality, it only ensures that private entities cannot obtain subsidized loans to bid on land when private individual cannot obtain the same subsidies.

In 1989, a state fund for water quality and drinking water projects was established to provide very low cost loans to local government to improve their infrastructure. These funds were never intended for use by a private organization that sometimes competes with farmers or private individuals for purchase of property. I have been contacted by a young farmer in my district who complained of this very thing. SSB 1221 does not inhibit any practice underway that permits conservation boards, local governments or the DNR from purchasing land for water quality or conservation. It does bring fairness to all parties competing for the purchase of land in this state.

 

SF 502 is a bill I will be presenting on the Senate floor in coming weeks. The intent of this bill is to protect a state employee who reports a violation of law or mismanagement of funds or authority. If we pass this bill, he cannot lose his job or be treated unfairly. If the whistleblower loses his job, he could seek reinstatement, back pay, and civil damages equal to three times their annual salary.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed out of committee this week. There has been a methodical movement to squash religion, especially Christianity, across the nation.

Examples of this are:

    Vice-President Pence was attacked when his wife went back to teaching art at a Christian school.

    Houston’s mayor subpoenaed pastor’s sermons.

    Memorials with religious symbols are being removed.

    An Iowa State University professor was black balled for writing an article on Intelligent Design.

    The University of Iowa discriminated against two campus student groups, Business Leaders in Christ, and Inter-Varsity.

    The Iowa Civil Rights Commission shut down Dick & Betty Odgaard’s business when they refused to celebrate a same sex marriage.

There have been claims this bill would damage business. It has proven to be more noise than fact in other states that have passed the same bill. It is because of this freedom that many come to America from all over the world. They come not only to realize their dreams but to live out the convictions of their heart. Religious Freedom is not some malicious threat. It is stabilizing, allowing for the freedom of thought with a variety of opinions. If we give government, companies, or people the right to invade our thoughts and convictions, have we not become like slaves? This is not freedom of thought. We should not be swayed by the threats of companies that have bowed to special interest groups rather than pursuing freedom for all. Persuasion is more effective than coercion when it comes to building a healthy society. All Iowans should be able to live and work according to their beliefs. Every generation must step up to defend freedom in their time. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is our opportunity to do that.

Human nature evermore publishes itself. The most fugitive deed and word, the mere air of doing a thing, the intimated purpose, expresses character---Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is an honor to serve you in the Iowa Senate. I will have a town hall meeting March 16 in Algona at 10 AM at the library. Please feel free to call or email with your comments or concerns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The View from Here by Senator Dennis Guth

The 2019 session is approaching the halfway mark. Next week is called funnel week, with Friday being the deadline for Senate bills to be out of committee in order to be considered for passage this year. One bill I was contacted about this week was SSB1190. This bill deals with giving local school districts more control over what happens in their school. It removed state mandates for using environmentally friendly cleaning products or requiring notice of a public hearing in a newspaper, if the district chooses to use an online notice instead.

The most controversial part of the bill eliminated state requirements for a school nurse or librarian. The school can still have a nurse or librarian, but the state would not mandate every school to have one. There was a large protest from nurses and librarians who evidently feared their school board would deem their position less important than some other use of the money. It is frustrating to hear that schools want more local control over themselves and then ask us not to remove mandates. The nurse and librarian part of the bill was eliminated and the rest of the bill may die for lack of interest.

I’ve enjoyed Benjamin Franklin’s famous line, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Unfortunately, even death does not end the last round of taxes. Many Iowans work hard and sacrifice their own pleasures in order to leave something for their posterity. During the course of their lives, they pay income tax, property tax, sales tax, and maybe capital gains tax. The inheritance tax is applied to their assets when they die, even though they already paid taxes on the money used to purchase them.

In the case of a farm or family business, many times a death forces the sale of those assets in order to pay inheritance taxes. Senate File 1 has passed out of committee and is now eligible for debate on the Senate floor. This bill would eliminate the inheritance tax in Iowa, effective July 1, 2019. It is my hope this bill will help families pass on assets in a way that will eliminate hardship for their heirs

I’ve spoken about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in previous newsletters. It would keep government from interfering with a person’s free exercise of religion as the First Amendment intended. Some of you might be asking, “Do we really need a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Iowa?” Absolutely! First of all, freedom of religion is foundational and a natural right. When it is curtailed everyone suffers eventually. The Founding Fathers knew that this Constitutionally protected liberty would encourage peace and steadiness within the nation, as well as in the world.

The Constitution prohibits the establishment of a national religion, and at the same time it protects freedom of religion. You may not realize that it is religious freedom that keeps our government functioning in its limited scope. The Founding Fathers said that righteousness and religion are important in preserving a society that is free. If religion is stifled or regulated, our conscience is crippled and we no longer think for ourselves. In totalitarian countries, when guns and religion are taken away from a people, there is bondage. In America, we prize the liberty of conscience and a just government. None of us wants to live lies forced upon us by the government.

People like to say that the conflict is between good and evil. The real conflict is between truth and lies—Don Miguel Ruiz

It is a privilege to represent you at the Capitol. I look forward to meeting you at a town hall meeting. The next ones will be: March 8-- Garner, Public library at 9AM;Corwith, City Hall at 11AM; Britt, City Hall at 1:15PM; March 16--Algona, Public library at 10AM.

It is an honor to represent the people of Senate District 4. You may contact me at  dennis.guth@legis.iowa.gov or (641) 430-0424.

 

 

 

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