Four area legislators convened for their second Jones County forum at the Anamosa library to discuss what they were working on and took questions from the public. In addition to discussing legislation coming across their respective desks, representatives Lee Hein and Steven Bradley and senators Dan Zumbach and Carrie Koelker responded to recent concerns put forward by local officials about the vaccine rollout.
Jones County Public Health Director Jenna Lovaas had expressed concerns about communication between the state and county for how vaccines could be withheld and the fact that extra vaccines were being sent to HyVee instead of to local public health departments. A letter from Lovaas was forwarded to the legislators after the concerns were expressed to the Jones County Board of Supervisors.
“I’ve been in constant contact with the governor’s office about that particular issue, and I’m a little disappointed,” Hein said about overflow going to HyVee but added that there were limited places in the state that had a footprint large enough to handle the doses.
Hein said his wife had been getting up every night to try to find his father a vaccine through HyVee’s website but had been unsuccessful. Those elderly living at home were the ones Hein felt were “falling through the cracks a bit,” but encouraged seniors to keep trying to set up vaccine appointments.
“The biggest thing is we’re not getting the vaccines flowing in from the federal level so we can meet the need,” Hein said, something he felt would be helped if the emergency use for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was approved. “Hopefully within the next month or so, we can get to that point where if you want a vaccine you can get it.”
Zumbach felt that the logjam would be cleared in the coming month, particularly with the approval of the Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine for emergency use by the Federal Drug Administration, which came the following day.
“My guess is within 30 days we’ll have supply ahead of demand. It’s going to turn that quickly,” he said. “The folks that don’t want vaccines, or don’t care about it, that’s getting closer and closer to the top. As we have more and more doses coming in, my guess is by April this is going to have a complete turnaround.”
Election law changes discussed
A major talking point of the forum was a recent bill that passed both legislative bodies that change election laws in the state. The legislation cuts the early voting period to 20 days ahead of election day, closes the polls at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m., lays out penalties for not following laws on the books and does not allow for ballots received by the county auditor past 8 p.m. to be counted, with exceptions for military ballots, overseas ballots and voters participating in the state’s Safe at Home program.
In highlighting why the changes were made, the panel Republican legislators pointed to lawsuits filed in Linn, Johnson and Woodbury counties where auditors sent absentee ballot request forms with voter information pre-filled out.
When asked why they passed the legislation with the opposition of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors, Zumbach reiterated the legislation was aimed at a small portion of auditors.
“Ninety-nine percent of them are doing a fantastic job,” he said. “Those bad actors created this environment. Now, we have a responsibility to prevent problems.”
Bradley, citing his wife’s experience working at the polls, and Koelker, citing conversations with auditors, said the closure of the polls an hour sooner had been something that had been requested. Koelker also said the moves to shorten both the early voting period and when the polls closed kept the state in line with the national average.