Republicans in the House have voted to cut money from a division in the state Health Department that Democrats say is crucial in coordinating a response to outbreaks of disease. Republican Representative Dave Heaton of Mount Pleasant says the cut to the state epidemiologists’ office can be made up with the extra federal dollars that’ve flowed into the agency after 9/11. Heaton says the Iowa Department of Public Health is getting 101.6 million dollars in federal funds, and while other state agencies have downsized in the past three years, the number of staff in the state’s public health agency has increased by 10 percent. Heaton says the 136-thousand dollar cut would affect just one “environmental” epidemiologist, and agency managers could shift some federal money to pay the salary. But Democrat Representative Vicki Lensing of Iowa City says the legislature needs to ensure that position is filled, and use state tax dollars to do so.Lensing says with Iowa’s population, the state should have five environmental epidemiologists. She just proposed having three. Republicans voted to ensure just two are on staff.If Iowa is struck by an outbreak, whether it’s SARS or the flu or something not even named yet, Lensing says the legislature will regret the decision it made this week.
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