In a call with the Telegraph Herald on Friday, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, gave updates on numerous topics that were top of mind.
Ernst — a combat veteran — serves on the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee, so she keeps a close eye on developing tensions between nations worldwide.
So, throughout the week, as a border clash between China and India — which began in early May — intensified where the northeast Indian state of Sinnek meets the Tibet Autonomous Region, Ernst watched anxiously.
“This is an issue where we need to be partnering with India right now,” she said. “India has been a great partner, where China not always has. I get very concerned about China and its goals globally right now.”
Ernst said China has started “again” to become involved in areas it has “no reason to be.” She did not give any details or plans regarding the conflict.
The first-term senator also said Friday that she and her cohorts are all finalizing their own plans for an expected fourth phase of economic relief — what Ernst called “rescue” — related to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that would likely come between mid-July and early August.
“I have a list of priorities,” she said. “After that Fourth of July break, there will be a huge flurry of activity.”
Ernst also voiced her disappointment in Senate Democrats’ blockage of a police reform bill, penned by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC — the party’s lone, Black U.S. senator. Supportive Republicans lost a procedural vote, 55-45, to even begin debate on the bill.
Two Democrats and an independent senator voted yes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was the only Republican to vote against the motion in a procedural move that would provide him an opportunity to bring the bill back up for debate. Democrats opposed and said the bill did not go nearly far enough.
“The bill we had that was written by Tim Scott and included one of my provisions — and something that is so important — had 70% to 80% things the Democrats wanted,” Ernst said. “We need to take a first step. Where we go from here is yet to be found out.”
Dubuque lawmakers, hotels, advocates cheer bill against human trafficking
After two years as a political football, a bill that sets an incentive for hotels to train staff to spot signs of human trafficking passed both houses in the Iowa legislative session this year.
The bill establishes a training program for hotel employees to learn about established signs of the crime, thereby certifying that hotel. Then, the bill encourages any lodging being booked by any public official in Iowa, on the government’s dime, to be made only at thus certified hotels.
That bill had its start in and around Dubuque, via the Tri-State Coalition Against Human Trafficking and Slavery — a group of Catholic sisters and religious and community leaders committed to the cause. Through them, Iowa Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, took lead on the bill in the 2019 session, introducing it alongside then-brand-new Iowa Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque.
The pair knew it might be a long shot to have two Democrats backing a bill in a capitol under a trifecta of Republican control. And, in subcommittee, the bill folded under pressure from the hotel lobby.
In Dubuque, though, hotels worked with the coalition. Steve Geisz, general manager of Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark, was first to be certified by the coalition, in September 2019, training his full staff. Geisz did not respond with a comment for this column.
But he is not alone. Hotel Julien Dubuque General Manager Dwight Hopfauf said the city’s general managers association all agreed to back the program.
“We were working on it, but the pandemic hit and everything stopped,” he said. “It’s a project we’ll start again later this summer. Hotels are unfortunately a place where this problem rears its ugly head.”
With its failure in 2019, the coalition began hunting support from a member of the majority. They found that in Iowa Rep. Gary Mohr, R-Bettendorf.
“It’s really a perfect example of how, now, if you really want something done, you shouldn’t give up and make sure community action drives it,” Isenhart said after the session closed. “It’s so partisan (that) we all need to get creative.”
He and James worked with Mohr and others on both sides of the aisle. It was among just a few policy bills approved when the session resumed after a COVID-19 hiatus.
“We were happy to support his efforts because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whose name is on a bill, just what it can do,” James said.
Dubuque County Democrats opt out of fair
The Dubuque County Democrats announced that they would not have their annual booth at the Dubuque County Fair.
It was unclear whether this year’s event would be held, as many other county fairs were called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials recently announced that a shortened, four-day fair will be held in Dubuque from July 30 to Aug. 2.
When that announcement was made, fair officials gave groups a July 1 deadline to commit to booths, according to a press release from the Dubuque County Democrats. It states that the group did not have time to call a meeting of the central committee quickly enough to meet that deadline. So, leaders emailed its executive committee — from which “no” votes outweighed “yes” votes.
“We did not feel that it was safe to participate,” wrote Chairman Steve Drahozal in the release. “We made this decision before the significant uptick in known cases in Dubuque County.”
A record 35 new confirmed cases in the county were reported between 5 p.m. Monday and 5 p.m. Tuesday. That was followed by six, 18 and nine cases in the next three 24-hour periods.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61 — which represents Iowa, Missouri and Kansas — endorsed Iowa Rep. Andy McKean, D-Anamosa, for re-election. McKean faces Republican Steven Bradley in this fall’s election.