D.C. Dispatch: Iowa’s delegation works to improve communication systems for severe weather

By: - July 29, 2022 3:27 pm

Damaged property in Winterset, Iowa, after a tornado hit resulting in the death of seven people and a power outage. (Photo courtesy of NWS storm survey)

All four of Iowa’s U.S. representatives supported bipartisan legislation this week to modernize the National Weather Service’s communication networks.

Iowa’s D.C. delegation also collaborated on legislation addressing fuel prices, while House members voted along party lines on an effort to ramp up domestic production of semiconductor chips.

Weather Service bill sees fair skies

The weather bill passed the House Wednesday with bipartisan support. The communication network known as the National Weather Service’s Chat provides information to the general public, broadcast stations and emergency managers regarding severe weather events.

“In March, South Central Iowa saw the deadliest storm to hit our state in more than a decade,” Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks said in an email response to Iowa Capital Dispatch. “As these disasters happen, we must ensure the National Weather Service is properly equipped to support communities across the United States to prepare for dangerous storms which are about to occur. This bill will give the National Weather Service the ability to update their systems to help keep our communities safe.”

In March, there was a computer glitch in the National Weather Services warning system during a tornado in Winterset, Iowa. Rep. Cindy Axne said this highlighted the need for multiple, modern communication systems during severe weather. 

“This legislation has the potential to save lives and will bring us one step closer to preventing communication issues and ensuring Iowans have the information they need to protect themselves,” Axne said. “I appreciated working with Rep. (Randy) Feenstra and the rest of the Iowa delegation to support this common-sense and important legislation.”

Feenstra originally introduced the National Weather Service Communications Improvement Act, which unanimously passed the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

“When I was elected to Congress, I promised that I would get things done for our families, farmers, small businesses, and thriving communities in Iowa,” Feenstra said. “My two bills that passed the House represent my commitment to finding solutions to the problems facing our state and nation.”

Feenstra also introduced a bill to create new qualification requirements for chief scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Chief scientists will have to enforce higher scientific integrity standards for the administration. The legislation also would require the United States president to accept recommendations from scientific organizations during the chief scientist selection process.

Congress passes legislation to ease America’s reliance on Chinese-produced semiconductors

All three of Iowa’s Republican representatives voted against legislation aimed at expanding semiconductor chip manufacturing in America. 

The Creating Helpful Incentive to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act passed Congress and now awaits a signature from the president. The act allocates more than $52 billion to develop domestic facilities and equipment to produce the microchips used in many cars and electronics.

“While I support the original intent of this legislation, the final $80 billion package will drive up inflation, undermine our long-term competitiveness, and could allow taxpayer dollars to boost Communist China’s economy,” Rep. Ashley Hinson said. “This is yet another example of Washington chaos and dysfunction standing in the way of legitimate solutions to serious challenges.”

Democrats were joined by 24 Republicans in the House. The bill will also support the development of mobile broadband and increase investments in public research. Democratic candidate and state Sen. Liz Mathis is running against Hinson in the November midterm. Mathis said this legislation will create good-paying jobs for American workers.

State Sen. Liz Mathis is a Democrat from Hiawatha. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Legislature)

“Instead of taking a vote to improve the supply chain and invest in manufacturing jobs here at home, Hinson voted to continue our dependence on China. American workers and Iowa deserve better,” Mathis said.

Addressing prices at the pump

Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley introduced legislation to allow for more ethanol to be used in fuel, which they said would help lower gas prices.

The Next Generation Fuels Act would allow the sale of fuels with higher octane levels, which is a standard measurement of fuel’s resistance from self-igniting while fuel is being compressed, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration

“As Iowans are getting crushed under sky-high prices at the pump, and America continues to depend on foreign countries for our energy, we should be turning to our own abundant domestic production right here in the U.S., including clean, homegrown biofuel,” Ernst said. “This is a no-brainer.”

The bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. A similar bill in the House is co-sponsored by all of Iowa’s representatives.

Grassley proposes updates to violent crime penalties 

With crime increasing in the U.S. during the pandemic, Grassley introduced legislation to clarify the ambiguity around congressional intent regarding certain laws relating to dangerous crime. 

Two dozen Republicans joined Grassley on Wednesday in support of the legislation that would ensure bank robberies and acts of conspiracy are punishable under the current statute. Victims of violent crimes who survive their injuries would no longer have a 366-day limit to file murder charges against the perpetrator. 

The Combating Violent and Dangerous Crime Act also increases penalties for carjacking and eliminates the duplicative intent requirement for the offense. Marketing candy-flavored drugs to minors would be outlawed, and penalties for violent kidnapping offenses would increase. 

The bill also addresses differing circuit court rulings that created a higher burden to prosecute violent offenses against law enforcement. 

“Some of the hardest hit communities are those cities with progressive pro-criminal prosecutors,” Grassley said. “I want my Democratic colleagues to know that we’re willing to work with them on this bill. I am sorry to say that none of them have responded to our request to co-sponsor. I hope they will change their minds because we need to reverse this persistent wave of violent crime and bring relief to the American people.”

Congress plays ball

Rep. Randy Feenstra and Sen. Joni Ernst playing in the 2022 Congressional Baseball Game. (Photo by Hella Sisca)

Republicans won the annual Congressional Baseball Game Thursday against Democrats 10-0 at Nationals Park. Republicans now hold a one-game advantage over Democrats, 43-42.

Over $1 million was raised and will be donated to local charities. Feenstra and Ernst were the only players from Iowa participating in the game

Jacob Fischler contributed to this report

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Kate Kealey
Kate Kealey

Katherine Kealey is a senior majoring in journalism and political science at Iowa State University. Before interning at the Iowa Capital Dispatch, she interned at the Carroll Times Herald. She will serve as the editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily in the fall.

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