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D.C. Dispatch: Delegation calls for National Weather Service improvements after tornado warning glitches

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Posted at 7:53 PM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 21:04:01-04

DES MOINES, Iowa (Iowa Capital Dispatch) — After a series of deadly tornadoes swept through central Iowa in early March, Iowa’s D.C. delegation called for improvements to the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lawmakers also weighed in on student loans, aid to Ukraine, the Iran nuclear deal and mask mandates. Here’s your weekly update:

Delegation calls for improvements to tornado alert system

Rep. Cindy Axne and Rep. Ashley Hinson sent a letter to the National Weather Service asking for more information about why the communication system malfunctioned during the March 5 tornadoes. A NWS spokesperson told the Des Moines Register that a technical problem caused severe weather alerts to be delayed by several minutes.

“Every minute counts for saving lives, preventing injury, and mitigating property damage when severe weather strikes,” the letter reads.

Sen. Joni Ernst and Sen. Chuck Grassley introduced the TORNADO Act, a bill to test and improve the efficacy of dangerous weather alert systems.

“It’s critical we do everything we can, as quickly as we can, to protect and keep our communities safe from these disastrous weather events, and this important legislation will go a long way in doing just that,” Ernst said in a statement.

Biden signs Violence Against Women Act reauthorization

President Joe Biden signed into law the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, a priority for Ernst.

“As one of the one out of three women that have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, I’ve worked for three years, in good-faith and across the aisle, to reauthorize and modernize this very important legislation,” Ernst said in a statement.

With the passage of the bill, Ernst said she hopes survivors of assault will have “ the necessary support and resources in a moment of crisis to cope with and ultimately overcome their trauma.”

Ernst and Grassley introduce student loans bill

Ernst and Grassley introduced a bill to require more transparency in the student loans process. The STUDENT Act would give students an estimate of the total interest they would pay on a student loan before they choose to accept it.

Iowa College Aid and the Iowa Student Loan Liquidity Corporation support the proposal, according to a Grassley news release.

Senators react to Zelenskyy address

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress this week, calling on U.S. lawmakers to send additional help to the country.

Ernst and Grassley told reporters they were moved by the speech.

“It leads you to think we need to do all we can to help Zelenskyy and his people, short of getting the United States into a third world war,” Grassley told the Des Moines Register.

In a press conference, Ernst said the images of war were “truly heart-wrenching.”

“This administration should be signaling to President Zelenskyy we are here to help, and we are here to provide,” Ernst said. “And by doing so, that will signal to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin that we are together as NATO allies and partners standing strongly behind Ukraine.”

Iran nuclear deal: Almost all Republican senators oppose

Republican senators signed onto a statement announcing their opposition to a deal between Biden and Iran on nuclear weapons. The Republicans raised concerns the deal would lift sanctions without enough restrictions on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

“Republicans have made it clear: We would be willing and eager to support an Iran policy that completely blocks Iran’s path to a nuclear weapons capability, constrains Iran’s ballistic missile program, and confronts Iran’s support for terrorism,” the statement reads. “But if the administration agrees to a deal that fails to achieve these objectives or makes achieving them more difficult, Republicans will do everything in our power to reverse it.”

Grassley and Ernst both signed onto the statement. The only Senate Republican who did not join was Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY.

Ernst proposes EPA transparency bill

Ernst announced a new bill to increase congressional oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency. She said Biden used environmental concerns “as a smokescreen to impose more onerous federal rules and regulations, often to the detriment of Iowa’s farmers and small businesses.”

Under the bill, every new EPA rule that “increases the size of the federal government over an individual’s private land and property” would come with two reports: one with hard data about why the rule addresses climate change, and a fiscal analysis of the bill’s impact.

Axne leads letter on fertilizer prices

In a letter led by Axne, 60 lawmakers asked the U.S. International Trade Commission to eliminate or suspend duties on fertilizers from Morocco or Trinidad and Tobago.

“Iowa growers are particularly affected and are facing increased stress and uncertainty… With record-high prices and uncertain future, I’m hopeful the International Trade Commission will listen to the concerns expressed by the bipartisan group of Members and reconsider and suspend trade duties that have contributed to the price increases,” Axne said.

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Rep. Randy Feenstra and Ernst signed on to the letter.

Republicans oppose transportation mask mandate

Grassley and Ernst voted in favor of a resolution to end mask mandates on public buses, trains, planes and ride-shares.

“It makes no sense for masks to be required on public transportation simply because the CDC doesn’t know what arbitrary guidelines to set next,” Grassley said. “Enough is enough.”

The measure passed the Senate with some bipartisan support, but it faces an uncertain future in the House.

Miller-Meeks and Feenstra signed a letter with over 40 House Republicans asking the CDC to drop the public transportation mask mandate.

“Given the widely available vaccines, studies highlighting the ineffectiveness of cloth masks, and a drop in coronavirus cases across the country, continuing a mask mandate on public transportation is unscientific and unnecessary,” the letter reads.

Some lawmakers took a step further, suing the CDC over the rule. None of Iowa’s delegation is involved in the suit.

Grassley, Axne meth bill signed into law

A newly signed law, introduced by Grassley in the Senate and co-sponsored by Axne in the House, declares methamphetamines as an “emerging drug threat” and requires the Office of National Drug Control Policy to reevaluate its approach to methamphetamine use. Grassley said the law will allow police to “better respond to the challenges presented by drug traffickers’ evolving tactics.”

Senate introduces police funding bill

Grassley co-sponsored the “Invest to Protect” Act in the Senate. The bill would provide an additional $250 million to small police forces. Axne co-sponsored the same bill in the House.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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