ABI January Virtual Legislative Briefing; Legislative Reception Postponed
The ABI public policy team will once again provide ABI members a preview of the legislative session, this year in a virtual setting. Given ongoing restrictions and to ensure the health and safety of all members, last Wednesday the ABI Executive Committee voted to postpone the annual legislative reception and move the legislative briefing to a virtual format.
The virtual Zoom legislative briefing will be held Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 4 p.m., the same time as originally scheduled. ABI members will be able to take advantage of this by registering online. There is no cost to register for the virtual briefing. If you have already registered for the reception and briefing, you will automatically be registered for the virtual briefing. Additionally, your registration will be transferred to the reception when the new date has been finalized. Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks. A special thank you to our sponsors of this event.
Gov. Reynolds Announces Updates to Coronavirus Proclamation; Administration Seeks Employer Input on Vaccination Deployment
On Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, Iowa Gov. Reynolds held a press conference and announced that bars and restaurants may return to normal hours of operation while respecting distancing and masking requirements previously prescribed. Limits on the number of persons at gatherings have been lifted, but social distancing of six feet is still required. No changes have been made to the mask requirements at this time.
During the press conference, IDPH/DHS Director Kelly Garcia also spoke about the Iowa Infectious Disease Advisory Council (IDAC) meetings and vaccine prioritization. Minutes from the group’s meetings will be available on the IDPH website, in addition to a dashboard with the number of Iowans who have been vaccinated.
ABI staff begins meetings today with Department of Public Health representatives to ensure our members' interests are advanced. If you have input or questions please contact JD Davis.
REC Projects Substantive Growth for FY22; FY21 Remains Steady
Last Friday, the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) met for its December meeting and is projecting a positive outlook concerning Iowa’s budget moving forward. The REC, a three-person panel that provides budget recommendations to the Legislature and Gov. Reynolds, forecasts a budget of $8,265.7 billion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. This is 3.7% or $296.4 million more in revenue than the current projection for FY21. The panel also increased its budget estimate for the current fiscal year, going from $7,911.7 billion in October to $7,969.3 billion or an increase of $57.6 million in December.
Gov. Reynolds must use the December REC estimate to formulate her budget recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year, while the Legislature must use the lower estimate between December and the upcoming REC estimate in March. Iowa has had one of the most resilient budgets and economies in the country since COVID-19 and government orders shut down the economy in March. This is largely due to the governor deeming approximately 80% of Iowa’s workforce as essential, prudent budgeting by the Legislature, the $1.25 billion block grant Iowa received via the CARES Act and a diversified economy.
Tens of Thousands of Iowa Employers Will See Unemployment Tax Relief Next Year Thanks to Gov. Reynolds’ Actions
Gov. Reynolds’ Office issued a press release on Monday that included a number of different measures she has taken to provide economic relief to small businesses, farmers, healthcare providers, individual families and others through the CARES Act block grant that Iowa received earlier this year.
One action she took that will be paramount to the business community’s recovery is the infusion of $490 million into the unemployment trust fund. As unemployment claims rose throughout the spring and summer, the trust fund was being drained of resources.
The governor’s action prevented a $400 million tax increase from coming into effect next year and 40,766 Iowa employers will benefit from what she has done. Without her action, employers of all sizes across the state would have seen a massive increase in their unemployment tax payments next year. ABI strongly supports what the governor did and is grateful for her leadership on this issue.
Can Iowa Employers Require Employees to Take the COVID-19 Vaccine? In Most Cases, Yes.
As Iowa prepares to deploy and administer the COVID-19 vaccine over the coming weeks and months, companies might wonder if they can require individuals who work for them to receive the vaccine to ensure a safe working environment. According to Drake University Law School Associate Professor Denise Hill, the answer in most cases is yes.
In an article posted by WHO 13 News, Hill confirms “there is a strong case for a legal basis to do so” regarding mandated vaccines. She goes on to say the law goes back to 1905 when a smallpox outbreak occurred and confirms there would likely be exemptions for taking the vaccine including religious beliefs and medical reasons. This is just one of the critical decisions employers will have to make as the vaccine becomes more widely available to the public next year.
DNR Air Quality Bureau Requests Feedback on Updated Communications Services
The Construction Permitting Section of the DNR Air Quality Bureau seeks comments regarding the most recent updates it has implemented concerning communications services. Some of those updates include revisions to EASY Air automated emails and an improved dashboard system, assignment of an engineer familiar with a company’s most recent project, the addition of a Project Kick-off Meeting and more. The new communications procedures started on applications in November. If you have any feedback for ABI on this issue, please send it to Brad Hartkopf by Dec. 28.
Federal Spotlight: Agreement on COVID-19 Relief Package Imminent
Leaders in the U.S. House, Senate and the White House have been furiously negotiating this week as both Democrats and Republicans have indicated they must pass another COVID-19 stimulus package before the lame-duck Congress officially adjourns for the year.
The leaders of both caucuses in both chambers and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are near a deal that could approach $900 billion. Some of the aspects expected to be included in the bill are a replenishing of the Paycheck Protection Program, direct payments to qualifying Americans, an unemployment benefit extension of likely $300/week through March or April, and several billion dollars for vaccine distribution, transportation, health care and more.
Two items that are not expected to be included are funding for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses and other institutions. Those two issues are the most contentious, and it appears that both parties are living to fight another day when it comes to them. Any package is expected to be attached to an omnibus spending bill that must pass by midnight on Friday or else there will be a government shutdown.