U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, both Iowa Republicans, made legislative attempts this week to require schools to offer in-person learning if they were going to access billions of dollars in aid from the most recent COVID-19 pandemic relief bill.
Hinson introduced the Reopen Schools Act, which conditioned qualification for the $54 billion Congress earmarked for K-12 schools in December on schools reopening for in-person learning.
“It would require schools to offer at least partial in-person learning in order to receive these federal pandemic relief funds — funds that were intended to help students get back in the classroom while taking important precautions,” she said on the floor of Congress.
As noted in her address, the effort was inspired by a bill in the Iowa Legislature, signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, which requires school districts to at least offer full-time in-person learning.
“It’s about accountability and making sure we can get students back in the classroom,” Hinson told the Telegraph Herald on Tuesday after she introduced the bill. “Iowa is leading the way on this, but one-third of K-12 schools across the country are all virtual. Mental health is deteriorating.”
Hinson’s bill, however, failed in a party-line vote to be considered.
House Republicans asked the chamber again on Friday to consider Hinson’s bill but again were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Ernst joined a coalition of Republicans trying to pass something similar in the chamber they controlled for years until last month.
Led by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, the Put Students First Act would also prohibit federal funding to schools that do not provide an in-person learning option by April 30.
“President Biden’s own CDC director agrees that we can safely open our schools — and we should,” Ernst said in a release. “This is a matter of emotional and academic development and the mental health of our kiddos, as well as the well-being of our working families.”
That effort failed as well, along party lines.
Area lawmakers split on Statehouse health measures
Iowa Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, this week was critical of what she saw as a lack of proper mitigation measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the Capitol building.
“Five times in three weeks I’ve had direct exposure to COVID at the Capitol. Five cases and counting. Four cases just this week alone. Seven colleagues in quarantine. Three nasal swabs. Ninety-
three days left this session,” she posted on social media.
Democrats and some Republicans were critical of limited mitigation measures before returning to Des Moines.
Iowa Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, said that while the atmosphere is strange, the changes that were put in place have made the Legislature — the majority party at least — more efficient at moving bills through the system.
“This year, with less staff and legislators on the floor, less visitors, no in-person events and our subcommittee meetings being reserved to certain time blocks, the workflow has less disruption and we are accomplishing more,” she wrote in her weekly newsletter. “Don’t get me wrong, I like the hustle and bustle of the Capitol in a normal year, and I look forward to the organized chaos returning.”
Durbin to lead Senate judiciary
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., last week announced that he had been chosen to take over as chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
“This moment in history demands much of the Senate Judiciary Committee and I am honored to lead my colleagues as we face these challenges,” he posted on his Facebook page. “We start by confirming President Biden’s nominees; combating the threat of domestic terrorism; passing long-overdue reforms, like the Dream Act, to fix our broken immigration system; and addressing systemic racism in our society and criminal justice system.”
Durbin is the second area senator to serve in the position recently. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, served as judiciary chairman until 2019, when he shifted to chair the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. His spot was taken by U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina — with plans that Grassley return to the position this year. But Republicans then lost the majority in the chamber during the 2020 elections.
Chesney: ‘Leading by example means waiting our turn’
Illinois Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, lashed out at Gov. J.B. Pritzker this week regarding the latter’s plan to allow special vaccination of state lawmakers against COVID-19.
“Illinois citizens are tired of a special set of rules for politicians and the ruling class. Public servants should wait in line and be treated no different than anyone else,” he said in a release. “I cannot look a cancer or transplant patient in the eye as their public servant if I jump in line ahead of them to get vaccinated.”
Other states, including Iowa, have included state lawmakers in the groups of individuals qualified for early rounds of vaccines.
Bustos targets rural broadband
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., has been appointed to the U.S. House Task Force on Rural Broadband — a group of 27 House Democrats.
“Nearly half of Illinoisans lack options in the broadband marketplace and without access to reliable and affordable high-speed broadband, rural communities are being left behind economically,” Bustos said in a release. “Families across our region have shared stories with me that underscore the desperate need to connect our communities — like the parent of a young student who has to complete homework and study in the school parking lot in the evening.”
Bustos said an early goal of the task force will be reintroducing the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act.
U.S. Reps. Ron Kind and Mark Pocan, Democrats from Wisconsin, also serve on this task force.