Iowa Department of Public Health

(Des Moines) -- Democrats in the Iowa Legislature are sounding the alarm after a key state board has been unable to meet due to having too many openings.

Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register reported that Iowa's Board of Health cancelled its July meeting because only four of the 11 seats on the board are currently filled. Openings on the board are supposed to be filled by an appointment from the Governor's office. Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn says with COVID-19 case numbers rising, it's critical to have a full Board of Health meeting.

"Only 46% of Iowans are fully vaccinated, as the Delta variant continues to spread across our state," said Wilburn. "We need real leadership to help us to reverse the course that we're on. I'm calling on Governor Reynolds to do her job and appoint individuals to the State Board of Health, so that we can continue to have that advice and to have that public input and to have the professionals on the State Board of Health to give that support and that advice as we continue to recover from the pandemic."

With an 11-member board, six members would need to be present for a quorum and to meet. Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls says not only does the board not have enough members to meet, but it currently doesn't satisfy state law when it comes balance.

"State law requires the State Board of Health -- like every other board and commission in the state of Iowa -- to have a partisan balance," said Wahls. "Right now, there are three Republicans on the State Board of Health, one independent and no Democrats. This is another illustration of the challenges of the Governor's partisan approach to the pandemic and another illustration of her failed leadership during this incredibly important and challenging time for our state."

Senator Liz Mathis is ranking member on the Senate Human Resources Committee, which overseas the Board of Health. Mathis says she and other colleagues brought up the growing number of vacancies on the board with the governor's office this spring.

"We had a conversation during the session with one of the liaisons to the Governor's office and asked why these positions were not being filled," said Mathis. "We really pushed it and pressed it. He got back to us with an answer and the answer was that there was someone absent or missing from that decision-making process. This should have been done by now. This is mismanagement. It is going to slow any kind of potential solutions for what will go on with the pandemic and overall public health."

The board's focus is advising the Iowa Department of Public Health on several policy matters, including COVID-19 strategy. House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst says not having the board meet for over two months is not a good idea during a pandemic.

"Since the board last met on May 12th, there have been 8,861 new cases of COVID-19 identified and diagnosed in the state of Iowa," said Konfrst. "May 12th was not the end of the pandemic, so May 12th should not be the last time that the public health board has met. It's important that these people get together now and give the governor good advice and that she start to seek counsel from experts outside of her political team."

Mathis says there were applicants for the open positions. During a press conference Wednesday, Governor Kim Reynolds responded to the board vacancies, saying her office is working to fill the open positions.

"This board had a quorum throughout the pandemic," said Reynolds. "They have made the decision to meet every other month. They decided not to meet in June. They knew that they would have appointments that would be expiring the end of June, so if they felt the need to meet, they could have done that. They actually have a precedent of doing that. I think they did that in October. The team is really close, if not we are quorum right now. I think there's a lot of misinformation that went out regarding the Board of Health and how it was handled."

Reynolds says the Board of Health appointments are not required to be confirmed by the State Senate and are typically made once appointments expire in June.

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