116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — A Linn County legislator is defending his 10 excused absences from the Iowa Senate this session due to what he considers lax coronavirus precautions at the state Capitol in Des Moines during a deadly public health pandemic.
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said Monday he has been present for what he considered “essential” days when the Senate was debating bills where he thought his contribution could have an impact. But as a minority member in a chamber dominated 32-18 by Republicans, he noted most votes were party line regardless of points made during floor debate.
“The bottom line for me is the Republicans didn’t provide a safe working environment, and so I have tried to minimize my exposure to the coronavirus as the state Capitol and I’ve tried to be there when I thought it was essential to be there,” Hogg said in an interview.
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The lawmaker’s Capitol attendance was called into question in an April 8 article posted on the conservative Iowa Standard website under the headline: “Democrat Sen. Rob Hogg cannot show up for work, but shows up for Black Lives Matter riot at Iowa Capitol.”
The website, which bills itself as an alternative to the leftist bias of Iowa’s news media, noted the Cedar Rapids Democrat steered clear of the Statehouse citing health risks but was inside the building on the day of the racial justice protests wearing a mask and talking in proximity to others at the Capitol.
Hogg, a Senate member since 2007, said generally he has avoided being inside the Statehouse but has participated in his assigned subcommittee meetings via online links provided to legislators, lobbyists, media and the public. He said he attended the April 8 event in person at the request of Cedar Rapids constituents who are members of Advocates for Social Justice.
“They specifically asked me to be there, and so I was. I was masked up, I was outside and I stayed away from people as much as possible. That’s the situation there,” Hogg said.
He noted he went into the Capitol to use the restroom, stop by his desk in the Senate and provide water to people wanting to remove chalk graffiti that protest detractors had written on the Capitol’s west steps.
According to the Senate journals that keep track of daily Senate business and list senators who were excused during the 57 session days that have occurred this year, Hogg was excused 10 days.
A total of 11 excused absences have been granted to GOP senators, and Sen. Zach Nunn, R-Altoona, has been absent for the 2021 session while he is serving on active military duty with the Iowa Air National Guard.
On days when there is no floor action, like Monday, when the Senate was in session for two minutes, no attendance is taken to reflect who was present at the Capitol.
Hogg, who has asthma, said he missed time last June when the 2020 session reconvened after shutting down for a time after Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a public health disaster emergency proclamation. He said he has chosen to limit his presence this year during the session’s 99 calendar days because he does not think GOP leaders have taken adequate precautions at the Capitol to protect against COVID-19 exposures.
There have been at least eight publicly reported disclosures under voluntary guidelines of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus since the Legislature convened Jan. 11. They included Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, who has had ongoing health issues after testing positive Jan. 30, noted Hogg, who was critical of GOP COVID-19 protocols for the 2021 session.
“They have not had a mask requirement. They have not had public health screenings for legislators or legislative staff. They have not made ventilation improvements. They have not required or enforced social distancing. They have done a few things to allow for remote participation in subcommittees, and I’ve participated in my subcommittees that way. But they did not make other remote access available,” he said.
“They have been knowingly risking people’s lives and furthering the spread of coronavirus, and I just think it’s unconscionable that we’re now in the 14th month of a public health emergency declared by Gov. Reynolds that Republican legislative leaders failed to follow basic safety precautions,” Hogg added.
“It’s not a safe workplace, and it’s really kind of an abomination to have the Iowa Legislature not even follow the recommendations of Gov. Reynolds.”
GOP leaders have recommend legislators, employees or visitors to the Capitol wear masks and disclose positive tests or close contacts but do not require those steps. They have defended their decision to return to the Capitol under certain limitations to complete the tasks Iowans have elected them to accomplish.
Iowa legislators receive $172 in per-diem payments ($129 for those who live in Polk County) to cover travel and daily living expenses for 110 days through April 30. The Senate last conducted floor action on April 13, but all senators received per diem for the six days since then.
So far, regular legislative per diem had amounted to $14,580 through last Friday, and the Iowa Standard article called into question whether per diem should be paid to legislators who are not at the Capitol.
Hogg said he voluntarily contributed a share of his June 2020 per diem to charitable organizations in Cedar Rapids and expects to do something similar this year. But he has not made a final decision at this point other than he “will not be reimbursing the state” for the per diem he has received.
“We’re going to see at the end of the session where we stand on that,” he said. “I know other senators and legislators have missed votes and missed meetings. If we want to adopt a policy about per diem, I would be interested in seeing what those policies would be.
“I don’t have a strong feeling one way or another on it. I do think if we want to start having a rule that people who aren’t there to vote, that we should adopt that rule across the board,” he added.
“I’m happy to mask up and risk coronavirus to go tell them what I think are the good parameters on that. Should people get per diem for weekends? If we have that discussion, it should be a full discussions.”
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