D.C. Dispatch: Lawmakers highlight meatpacking, weapons safety, health care

By: - September 8, 2023 3:40 pm

Sen. Joni Ernst, left, grills pork chops with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Iowa Pork Producers at the Iowa State Fair. (Screen shot from Ernst video on X, formerly Twitter)

During their August recess, Iowa’s members of Congress were back in their home state, touring with presidential candidates, making state fair appearances and making progress on county tours. 

Rep. Randy Feenstra showed presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott around parts of the 4th District, Rep. Ashley Hinson completed her 22-county tour, Rep. Zach Nunn completed his 21-county tour and Sen. Chuck Grassley completed his 99-county tour for the 43rd consecutive time.

Senators returned to their Washington offices this week, resuming session Sept. 5. House members will return on Tuesday.  Here’s what they’ve been doing in the meantime:

Ernst sets scope on maintaining school-funded weapons

Sen. Joni Ernst has signed on to legislation to maintain funding for archery and hunter’s safety programs in schools. 

The call for the legislation comes after the Federal Department of Education interpreted a provision in last year’s bipartisan gun safety law to “prohibit the use of elementary and secondary education funds to provide any person with a dangerous weapon or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.”

The law and its interpretation are not consistent with the beliefs of Iowans, Ernst said.

“The Biden administration’s action could eliminate opportunities for students in Iowa schools to learn safe and responsible firearm handling, lessons about recreational shooting sports and experience the outdoors,” Ernst said in a news release. “This is completely out of touch with Iowa, where we appreciate and participate in this recreation, and our students should not be forced to miss out.”

The legislation would amend last year’s bipartisan safety law to maintain funding for “sports clubs, teams, training or related activities provided for students.”

Feenstra heads effort to analyze effects of meatpacking mergers

Iowa pork, poultry, beef and dairy producers would be researched to analyze the effects of meatpacking mergers under a proposed law led by Feenstra.

Feenstra introduced legislation to study the changes in size and location of farms, ranches, processing facilities and packers in the United States to analyze financial, market-entry, dietary and accessibility impacts caused by livestock consolidation. 

“Competition is vital to a functioning and fair economy,” Feenstra said in a news release. “In my conversations with producers — especially Iowa cattlemen — there is frustration that the current marketplace, with such few players, can harm and push out family farms and small producers.”

This effort is in addition to Feenstra and Grassley’s bipartisan, bicameral effort in March  to combat price-fixing schemes within the meat-packing industry, a bill that remains in committee in both bodies. 

Grassley joins caucus to represent veterinarians

Iowa, home to Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine and world-ranking heads of livestock, has representation on the inaugural Senate Veterinary Medicine Caucus. 

A bipartisan caucus to raise awareness of veterinarians’ successes and challenges was created this year, and Grassley has joined. 

“Veterinarians’ important work makes them a trusted voice in the food and ag industries,” Grassley said in a news release. “Thanks to the creation of this caucus, Washington will benefit by bringing the input and expertise of veterinarians to the policymaking table.”

Ernst seeks unused visas for international doctors

Ernst announced legislation intended to boost Iowa’s physician population by reallocating unused waivers granting visas to international medical school graduates.

Currently, each state is granted 30 slots for international medical students to remain in the United States on a three-year visa under the condition they work in an area experiencing a health professional shortage. 

The legislation would reallocate unused slots to states that have used all 30 slots, an effort to combat rural shortages, Ernst’s office said. 

“I’m working to ensure all Iowans, particularly those in our most rural communities, have access to high-quality health care,” Ernst said in a news release. “My Directing Our Country’s Transfer of Residency Slots Act expands opportunities to recruit doctors by developing a pipeline for more specialty providers to practice in our state.”

Ernst formally announced the legislation Aug. 11 at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines.

Iowa’s senators ask for examination of educational funding

Based on a report from Parents Defending Education, a “national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas,” Grassley and Ernst, along with 16 other Republican senators, are requesting a nationwide audit by the U.S. Department of Education. 

According to the report, nearly $18 million has been traced between “Confucious Institutes and Nonprofits” and U.S. schools since 2009. 

The senators are asking for the Department of Education to find how much money from Chinese influences has flowed into American classrooms. 

“The Chinese Communist Party is constantly working to move the needle in its brazen desire for global dominance,” Grassley said in a news release. “The CCP is playing a strategic long-game – by buying up farmland near military installations, gaining control of critical supply chains and attempting to influence our students, to name a few ways. The United States must keep our eye on the ball and hold China accountable.”

Ernst asks for ag and business loans to expand

Ernst has announced bipartisan legislation to increase limits on various agricultural and industrial bonds and loans, a move she said will update limits with inflation and expand opportunities for farmers and small and mid-size manufacturers.

“Farming and manufacturing are critical to the success of Iowa’s economy,” Ernst said in a news release. “By modernizing and clarifying the rules for Aggie Bonds and Industrial Development Bonds for the first time in over 30 years, we can ensure that first-time farmers and entrepreneurs can access the capital they need to get started, create jobs, and fuel our communities.”

The legislation, if passed, would more than double Aggie Bond limits, increasing from $450,000 to $1 million, triple Industrial Development Bonds, making the limit $30 million and change definitions to increase accessibility to the programs. 

Nunn offers new law to combat child sex abuse material

Nunn announced bipartisan legislation to strengthen reporting to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in early August, and discussed it Wednesday at the Boys & Girls Club of Des Moines, alongside local law enforcement. 

Current law does not require online platforms to report child sex trafficking, according to Nunn’s office. Additionally, for situations that are reported, there is no requirement for the contents of the report, which can hinder law enforcement investigations.

“As a father with six young children, there’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t do to protect them,” Nunn said in a news release. “The appalling number of reports of sexual abuse to the CyberTipline indicate that we have a crisis on our hands. We must take action to stop this horrific abuse and ensure victims get justice.” 

Nunn’s legislation would require online platforms to report instances of child trafficking and extend the preservation timeline of reports to the tipline. 

The legislation would also replace the term “child pornography” with “child sexual abuse material.”

Grassley releases report regarding Mexican use of U.S. funds

 A report by the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control found U.S. resources provided to Mexico to combat drug trafficking have been “allowing corrupt Mexican officials to use U.S. resources to advance cartel activity,” according to Grassley’s office. 

Grassley announced the report as the co-chair of the caucus, along with a statement and a post on X.

Iowa’s senators oppose Biden’s SAVE plan

Grassley and Ernst joined a resolution to overturn Biden’s Saving on A Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, as previously reported by the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Biden’s SAVE is an alternative to his former student loan forgiveness program, which was blocked by the Supreme Court. 


On a personal note for the delegates, Grassley and his wife, Barbara, celebrated a wedding anniversary and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks celebrated a birthday:

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Jay Waagmeester
Jay Waagmeester

Jay is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch intern. Jay is based in Ames and is currently a senior majoring in journalism and marketing at Iowa State University. He has interned at New Century Press and contributed to the Iowa State Daily.