A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest from Monday:
OVERSIGHT MEETING REQUESTED: Two Democratic legislators have called on majority Republicans to hold oversight committee meetings to review Gov. Kim Reynolds’ decision to reject $95 million in federal COVID-19 testing assistance for schools.
Sen. Claire Celsi of West Des Moines and Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines of Des Moines, Democratic ranking members on the government oversight committees in the House and Senate, sent a joint letter to the GOP committee chairs seeking the review.
In their letter, the Democrats say they were “flabbergasted to discover that Gov. Reynolds sent $95 million in COVID-19 testing funding back to the U.S. federal government instead of giving schools the option to use it for COVID-19 testing protocols in their districts.”
Reynolds made the revelation last week on a Fox News cable televised forum with five Republican governors. After the show, the governor released an April 23 letter indicating her administration had decided Iowa has “ample funding and testing capacity” available for school districts, so she was returning $95,029,161 intended to increase COVID-19 testing and safely reopen classrooms.
SMOKY AIR: As part of its national Clean Air Week observance, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is highlighting its updated fire and smoke map on AirNow.gov.
If the air seems smoky, Iowans can check for large or small fires burning close to them by setting the location on the AirNow map and clicking on the nearest air quality monitor to find results for small particulate matter (also known as smoke) levels. These small particles can cause serious health problems, including asthma and heart attacks, strokes and early death.
But you can protect yourself by using the Air Quality Index to plan outdoor activities. If the index is green, air quality is good. A yellow color indicates acceptable air quality, but there may be a risk for people who are sensitive to air pollution. Risks may be higher for people with heart or lung disease, and for children, athletes and older adults.
Although it seldom happens in Iowa, if the index shows orange or red, it’s more likely for sensitive groups to be affected (orange) or for some of the public to have health effects (red). On those days, you can limit your exposure to particle pollution by spending less time outdoors, choosing light exercise over strenuous activities and limiting time near pollution sources like busy roads.
PLANTING IN FULL BLOOM: Favorable weather allowed Iowa farmers to plant almost half of this year’s corn crop last week, according to Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.
“The weather over the past several days provided a great window for farmers to plant,” Naig said in a statement Monday.
“Now we need some rain, especially in the northern parts of the state, to help push the crop along. Short-term outlooks are promising with the potential for cooler and wetter days ahead.” Iowa’s weekly crop report indicated farmers were able to plant almost half of the state’s expected corn crop during the week ending May 2.
With about 69% of all 2021 corn acres planted, state officials said that is nine days ahead of the five-year average and, with the week’s warmer temperatures, there were scattered reports of corn emerged.
Also, state ag department officials say Iowa farmers planted over one-third of the expected soybean crop in the past week for a total of 43% of the acres planted, which is 12 days ahead of normal.
According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, there were 6.3 days suitable for fieldwork for the week due to limited precipitation. About 55% of Iowa’s topsoil and subsoil moisture levels are rated very short to short, and farm experts say dry conditions are a concern.
Overall, 95% of Iowa’s expected oat crop has been planted.
Pasture condition were rated 41% good to excellent with reports of slow growth due to lack of moisture.
STRONG ECONOMIC NUMBERS: Iowa’s index of leading economic indicators jumped a record 1.3% in March, marking the eighth month of positive growth since COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.
Officials with the state Department of Revenue said the index increased to 106.4 in March from 105 the previous month for a one-month record.
All eight of the components that go into the Iowa leading indicators index were positive in March. Those are average weekly unemployment claims (inverted), residential building permits, the new orders index, the agricultural futures profits index, the national yield spread, the Iowa Stock Market Index, diesel fuel consumption and average manufacturing hours.
State officials say the index has returned to pre-pandemic levels of February 2020 but is about 0.6 of a point below the last peak in November 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the index to drop to as low as 103.2 in June 2020 before recovering to the current point, according to the latest revenue agency monthly report.
Also, March marked the sixth consecutive month since one year ago that the index has not shown recessionary signals, officials said, with the positive improvements suggesting that employment growth likely will improve over the next three to six months.
-- Gazette Des Moines Bureau