D.C. Dispatch: Iowa senators focus on ‘drug paraphernalia,’ safe injection sites

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Posted at 12:01 PM, Feb 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-19 13:01:53-05

The U.S. Senate passed a bill this week to keep the government open while longer-term spending negotiations continue. Iowa’s senators and representatives, meanwhile, focused on policies related to illegal drug use, inflation, and foreign policy in Taiwan and Ukraine.

The government isn’t shutting down (for at least three more weeks)

The Senate on Thursday passed a bill to fund the government for another three weeks while negotiators come to an agreement on a full-year package.

Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst, both Republicans, voted against the bill.

The bill’s passage was delayed by a debate on a federal “harm reduction kits” – supplies provided to drug users to prevent the spread of disease. Some Republican senators alleged the kits would include glass crack pipes. Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services said federal funds would not be used to purchase or distribute pipes.

Just in case, Grassley and Ernst co-sponsored a bill to prevent the use of federal funds for “drug paraphernalia.” They also signed onto a letter condemning a possible openness to safe injection sites, arguing the centers lead to “an increase in crime, discarded needles, and social disorder.”

Advocates for the centers say they would prevent overdose deaths.

In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, about 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses.

Inflation: Axne convenes working group, Ernst focuses on diapers

Rep. Cindy Axne and a group of Democrats convened an Inflation Working Group tasked with finding solutions to U.S. inflation.

“I am proud to help launch this critical group of lawmakers who will be laser-focused on combating inflation, strengthening American industries, lowering prices for our workers and their families, and building a stronger and more resilient economy in the years and decades to come,” Axne said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Ernst signed onto a bipartisan bill to address rising diaper prices. The proposal would allow Americans to use flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts on disposable diapers.

“Having access to a clean diaper is a basic and absolutely essential necessity for every Iowa parent with a newborn or toddler, but with costs soaring under record inflation, far too many families today are facing difficult choices,” Ernst said.

Iowa Republicans continued to be critical of President Joe Biden’s policy priorities, which they say contributed to increased inflation.

Senators sign onto Russian deterrence proposal

Grassley and Ernst co-sponsored the Never Yielding Europe’s Territory (NYET) Act, which would provide resources to Ukraine and threaten additional sanctions on Russia.

“We need to send a clear message to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin: A completely unprovoked, violent invasion will come with enormous costs for Russia,” Grassley said in a statement.

There are no Democrats cosponsoring the legislation, making its passage unlikely in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Leaders from both parties issued a statement Tuesday reaffirming their support for Ukraine, even as a bipartisan bill on the issue has yet to materialize.

“Our troops stand ready to reinforce the defenses of our Eastern European allies, and we are prepared to respond decisively to Russian efforts to undermine the security of the United States at home and abroad,” the bipartisan statement reads.

Axne calls for Polk County rental aid

Axne held a Thursday event in Des Moines, calling on the Department of the Treasury to approve a $35 million transfer to fund a rental aid program.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) distributed money to both state and local governments to assist renters during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Iowa, local governments quickly distributed the funds, while the state was slower to distribute its larger allotment.

In January, the Treasury Department allowed the Iowa Finance Authority to transfer $30 million of the state allocation to Polk County. But an additional transfer of $35 million from the Iowa Finance Authority to Polk County has not yet been approved.

“For more than a week now, residents of Polk County have been unable to apply for rental assistance funds, leaving my constituents in need and waiting on Treasury to approve a transfer that both parties want to make,” Axne wrote in a letter to the Treasury Department.

House Republicans affirm support for Taiwan

Reps. Ashley Hinson, Randy Feenstra and Mariannette Miller-Meeks sent a letter to the Taiwan ambassador, condemning threats from China and reaffirming their support for Taiwan.

“To be clear: posturing by bad actors, like Russia and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), will not deter our steadfast support for Taiwan and democracy globally,” the letter reads.

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: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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