Guest Columnist

Wahls: A plan to deliver vaccines and 'build back better'

Zach Wahls on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Zach Wahls on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

As we prepare to weather a challenging “winter wave” of COVID-19, Iowa Senate Democrats are laser-focused on:

• Rebuilding our broken economy;

• Protecting Iowans from COVID-19, including delivering safe, effective, and free vaccines;

• Establishing a Blue-Ribbon “COVID Commission” to learn from the mistakes of our state’s COVID response and hold accountable those whose actions endangered Iowans.

First, we must help hurting small businesses and employees. The failure of state and national leaders to mitigate this pandemic has sickened Iowa workers and shuttered businesses, from big cities to rural areas. Iowans from every walk of life have been affected — and the destruction has been especially painful for those already struggling before the coronavirus hit.

Second, we must defeat COVID-19 so we can see our families and neighbors again, safely send our children to school, and resume normal life. The difficult task of defeating COVID-19 has been worsened by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ refusal to enact crucial public health measures prescribed by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. These common-sense measures include a meaningful mask mandate, statewide contact tracing systems, and adequate PPE for health care workers.

Iowa Senate Democrats are committed to defeating COVID-19. Next session, we will introduce a package to codify the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommendations ignored by Reynolds. Her refusal to enact these policies has contributed to the spike of Iowa infections and further burdened Iowa’s heroic and weary health care workers. It took nearly six months for Iowa to record 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 and barely three months for that number to double to 2,023 deaths on Nov. 16.

Additionally, Iowa Senate Democrats will prioritize emergency legislation authorizing funds to rapidly distribute safe, effective and free vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration. All Iowans should be proud that this record-breaking vaccine development included a trial at the University of Iowa Health Care system in Iowa City. We owe an immense debt of gratitude to UI’s world-class medical experts, professors, health care workers and trial volunteers who made this breakthrough possible.

Third, Iowa Senate Democrats are committed to building our state back better and stronger than ever before. Our Build Back Better legislation will supplement the Biden Administration’s proposals and provide hazard pay to health care workers, teachers and other essential workers who are showing up to work during a pandemic.

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We will provide emergency authorization to use Iowa’s rainy day fund to support our state’s small businesses. If 2020 is not a “rainy day,” the phrase has no meaning. We also will work to repeal legislation passed last year by Republican legislators to protect negligent employers like Tyson. We need stronger protections for workers, not safe havens for bad actors.

Fourth, Iowans must know whether their tax dollars have been misused during COVID-19 and whether our state is prepared for the next pandemic. To ensure this, we propose creating a Blue-Ribbon “COVID Commission” to:

• Learn the lessons of this devastating crisis and prepare for future pandemics.

• Hold accountable those who profiteered from this pandemic and who knowingly jeopardized the lives of essential workers or vulnerable populations.

• Investigate the governor’s use of no-bid contracts and her misuse of COVID relief funds to pay for a new computer system and to pay her staff’s salaries.

Finally, we must have bipartisan support to push the U.S. Congress to pass the long-overdue “Phase 4” COVID package. Stop campaigning — start legislating.

As Scripture tells us: night is darkest before dawn. While 2021 won’t be perfect, Iowa Senate Democrats’ legislative priorities will ensure 2021 is brighter than 2020.

State Sen. Zach Wahls is Democratic leader in the Iowa Senate. He represents all of Cedar County, and parts of Johnson and Muscatine counties and lives in Coralville. zach.wahls@legis.iowa.gov.

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