Des Moines Register. Dec. 23, 2020.
Editorial: State lawmakers should not meet in person until vaccines are available to most Iowans. In addition to mitigating spread of COVID-19, a remote session could improve public involvement and transparency in legislative process
The Iowa Legislature is scheduled to convene on Jan. 11. In a normal year, 150 lawmakers from all corners of the state — as well as staff, lobbyists and pretty much anyone else — would congregate in the State Capitol..
Except there is a contagious virus circulating that has already killed more than 3,600 Iowans.
Bringing lawmakers together is a very bad idea. It’s irresponsible. And it’s unnecessary.
Leaders of the Republican Party, which controls both chambers of the Legislature, told Register reporters this month that, although plans are still in flux, meetings and sessions are expected to take place largely at the Capitol under mitigation measures such as having committee meetings in large rooms.
That’s not enough. Legislators can and should conduct business largely or entirely from their homes, as many workers have been doing for months. As more and more people are vaccinated, they could re-evaluate a more conventional session.
Lawmakers can use teleconferencing tools. If they feel voting must be done in person, they can schedule a few days throughout the session, wait in their cars and wear masks to enter the building in small groups.
Article III, Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution states a quorum is needed to “transact business” and that legislators totaling less than a quorum “may compel the attendance of absent members in such manner and under such penalties as each house may provide.”
But you’re not “absent” if you’re present online in real time. This is the 21st century.
The workers, students and families meeting on Zoom the past several months are very much present. Health insurance companies paying doctors to treat patients through teleconferencing agree.
The legislative experience can be replicated online — complete with private chats among lawmakers, caucus strategy sessions, committee meetings and communications with the Legislative Services Agency.
This is not the time to gather hundreds of people in any space, let alone one indoors with many shared surfaces and crowded, unventilated conference rooms.
The U.S. House of Representatives knows this. For months, many members have worked from home, voting remotely by giving binding instructions to a proxy present on the House floor.
The U.S. Supreme Court began working remotely in the spring and heard oral arguments by telephone conference. The public is able to listen to the live audio in real time, which is not normally possible in major cases. In October the court announced the continuation of remote practices for all oral arguments in November and December. Iowa’s Supreme Court also held its most recent oral arguments virtually.
Office workers, members of Congress, judges, call center employees, teachers and many others have figured out how to do their jobs without sharing air. The Iowa Legislature can, too.
And the benefit of working remotely is not only minimizing spread of a deadly virus.
Live video and audio would improve public transparency of the committee portion of the legislative process (they’re already available for chamber action). Many Iowans who would not venture in person to the Statehouse would be willing to watch sausage made on the screen.
Lawmakers could also get meaningful experience about the reliability and speed of internet in their part of the state. Would someone be able to live there and successfully work remotely? If the answer is no, lawmakers can focus on addressing the expansion of dependable internet service.
Even before this pandemic, some of us occasionally daydreamed about the Iowa Legislature operating online permanently, with each member remaining at home during the session. Our citizen, part-time lawmakers would work amid their neighbors instead of under the thumb of special-interest groups in Des Moines.
Lobbyists can still call and email.
Fort Dodge Messenger. Dec. 26, 2020.
Editorial: New grant will help bring computer science to local schools. It will pay to train teachers
For rural school districts, recruiting teachers that can lead classes in highly specialized or technical subjects is often an uphill battle.
A grant just received by the Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency will help ease the struggle to get teachers who can lead computer science classes.
The $68,300 award will pay for some area teachers to take computer science classes through Drake University in Des Moines and then share that knowledge with their students. The courses available through the grant are computer science methods, computer science in the elementary classroom and introduction to computer science.
The money comes from the state’s Computer Science Professional Development Incentive Fund.
Initiatives like this have been a priority for Gov. Kim Reynolds ever since she became lieutenant governor in 2011. In the ensuing years she has championed science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs.
Her goal, and that of everyone involved in the program, is to give Iowa kids the best possible education in the technical areas that include the good jobs of the future.
That is a worthwhile goal and well worth the investment of $68,300 in the local area education agency.
We’re pleased that our state is willing to make such investments. We hope area teachers will take advantage of this opportunity.
Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Dec 27, 2020.
Editorial: Every citizen can help combat COVID-19
This holiday season, there’s a gift we can give to ourselves, to one another, for the greater good of humankind.
It won’t cost much — for most, it will be free. But its impact will be life-changing for millions of people. It can provide hope, boost the economy and reunite loved ones.
As we close the book on 2020, commit to getting the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021.
For some, it’s a given. It’s not a question of “if” — it’s a matter of when the vaccine will be available to them.
But for many others, the decision is not so simple.
A poll taken earlier this month by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed 27% of surveyed U.S. adults aren’t sure if they want to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Another 26% say they won’t.
If many of the “undecideds” turn into “won’ts,” not enough people will get the vaccines to gain control of this disease. We must do better.
Experts say it will take about 70% of the U.S. population getting vaccinated to achieve “herd immunity” — when enough people are protected that the virus can be considered under control.
The people reluctant to get the vaccine might not be who you think they are, according to the poll.
More women than men are skeptical of the vaccine. Only 36% of people younger than 45 think they will get the vaccine, while the rest aren’t sure they need it. Though minority groups have been hit hardest by the virus, polling shows Black and Hispanic citizens among the most hesitant to get the vaccine.
Much of the polling was done before the vaccine was put into use. Now that Americans have seen Vice President Mike Pence, President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci roll up their sleeves — not to mention, staff members at Dubuque’s two hospitals and other local medical providers — maybe some apprehensions will be put to rest.
The more people learn about the vaccine, its effectiveness and its impact, the more likely they are to get vaccinated. Transparency by the U.S. government will be critical — even about the unknowns, such as how long the vaccine’s effectiveness will last.
But every American can play a role in promoting vaccinations. Ask your friends, your neighbors, your grandchildren. Make sure everyone you know knows just how much this matters.
Americans have lost more than 300,000 loved ones to COVID-19. The darkest days might well be still ahead of us, as it will be months before the vaccines are available to the public at large. The vaccine is a shining light that can lead us out of the dark tunnel.
Support your fellow Americans. Support your local businesses. Get the vaccine, and let’s get on with our lives.