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Rep. Cahill recaps eventful week at Iowa Capitol

Members in the Iowa House take the oath of office during the opening day of the Iowa Legislature, Monday, at the Statehouse in Des Moines.

The first week of the legislative season was a busy one for freshman representative Sue Cahill.

The start of the 89th General Assembly kicked off with maskless protestors in the rotunda of the capitol building in Des Moines. The demonstrators were protesting mask orders ahead of the first day in session.

“I appreciate and support people’s rights to free speech and assembly but I think we are being reckless and careless as we have people interacting and we have the ability to protect people,” Cahill said.

The democratic representative from Marshalltown said she is disappointed there is not a mask mandate in place for the capitol building. She noted Democratic members proposed an amendment to require masks in the committee chambers which are smaller spaces.

“In the House chambers men have to wear a suit coat or a tie. In the Senate chambers they have to wear both,” she said. “Why can’t we mandate they wear a mask? I do not understand why this is becoming such a divisive issue.”

The Iowa Department of Public Health advises wearing a cloth face mask can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect vulnerable members of the population.

“This agency we support and ask to protect the public health of Iowa says wear a mask,” Cahill said. “Why can’t we follow what they propose.”

COVID-19 proved to be a dominant issue through the first week of the assembly. Gov. Kim Reynolds called for the legislature to put a bill requiring in-person learning in schools across the state on her desk.

Cahill, a longtime teacher in the Marshalltown Community School District, said her district has proven in-person learning can work but not all districts are the same.

“I am reluctant to have a one-size-fits-all decision for everybody across the board,” she said. “I don’t think we can mandate all children need to go 100 percent in-person learning. We have to respect the decisions of local school boards.”

The financial impact of in-person learning during the pandemic was another issue Cahill underlines as a hurdle for some districts.

“I don’t know how many tubs of antiseptic wipes we go through in a week,” she said of MCSD. “The custodial costs and mitigation costs – some districts are not going to be prepared to do that.”

The impact on the mental health of students returning to the classroom is another issue Cahill believes districts need to be prepared to address.

“I’ve gotten numerous emails from constituents saying I’ve lost people close to me and my children are traumatized,” she said. “Some of them are afraid to go back to school. We have to take care of students’ mental and physical health.”

Cahill expects it to take some time to develop a plan for returning students to the classroom in Iowa’s 367 school districts. Since her party is in the minority at the legislature, Cahill is anticipating a healthy amount of debate before reaching a compromise.

“The key is making sure the kids are safe and the staff is safe. We’re not doing it haphazardly,” she said.

With one week at the capitol under her belt, Cahill is looking forward to working on behalf of her constituents.

“It’s been an exciting week. I have heard from many people and encourage them to email me at the legislature,” she said. “I will listen no matter what.”

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Contact Joe Fisher at 641-753-6611 or jfisher@timesrepublican.com

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