April 17, 2021

Continuing safe and secure elections

HF 590 — A bill was introduced by the majority party this week that would make casting a ballot more challenging for citizens who want to vote absentee or vote early in person. Under HF 590 (identical to SF 413) Iowa’s early voting period would be further shortened from 29 days to 18 days. (In 2017, the window for voting was reduced from 40 to 29 days.) Given postal delays that will likely get worse, this 18 day time period is very problematic. HF 590 would also prohibit campaign volunteers from collecting and delivering absentee ballots to the county auditor’s office; only someone in a voter’s household, a caretaker or staff member of an assisted living facility could drop off a ballot. The time period to request an absentee ballot would be reduced from 120 days to 70. Ballot drop boxes and satellite voting locations would be curtailed.

HF 590 would impose significant challenges on our district’s voters who may not have family around and can’t easily travel to the polls or to the auditor’s office to request or drop off an absentee ballot. This includes the elderly and those with disabilities. This measure does little to enhance election security. Some say that by shortening the early voting period, citizens would be subjected to less campaign door-knocking and political TV commercials. It is naïve to think so — experiences by folks in other states show differently.

This legislation is on a fast track. A public hearing is set for 5 p.m. Feb. 22. Voting on the house floor will likely happen soon. I want continued safe and secure elections, but I don’t believe that this bill fixes anything that’s broken. What are the problems we are trying to solve and do these changes fix a problem or create others?

Ag budget — I sit on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget subcommittee, and this week Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig gave a good presentation highlighting the proposed FY21 budget. The budget for the Iowa Dept. of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) remains status quo for the most part. Secretary Naig asked for an appropriation request of $500,000 for a Value-Added Agriculture Grant Program that would help add value to Iowa’s core commodity and livestock economic drivers as well as expand fruit, vegetable and other crop production, increase processing capacity and open new market opportunities for livestock products. Strong emphasis will be placed on incentivizing ideas that provide economic activity and jobs in rural communities. Examples of existing value-added ideas are “farm-to-fork” and farm-to-schools programs. Grants under the program would vary in size and would require 50 percent match by the applicant. Individuals, farmers, businesses, ag cooperatives and local governments would be eligible to apply.

Secretary Naig also summarized some expenditures connected with the CARES Act Program including $7M allocated to the Renewable Fuels Retail Recovery Program, $4.8M to the Iowa Disposal Assistance Program, $4M to Meat Processing and Expansion Program and $750,000 to Local Produce and Protein Program.