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INFONET 2021: Issue #1

Issue 1, January 24, 2021

Articles in This Issue:


LEGISLATURE IS BACK, BUT NOT BACK TO NORMAL

Legislators are back at it in Des Moines, but it is not going to be your normal legislative session.  Legislators have passed new rules to allow them to meet safely, while still giving the public an option to participate in the legislative process.  The result may very well be the most open session in Iowa history.  As an advocate, you can now watch every committee meeting from your home.  

In the past, if you wanted to take part in a subcommittee reviewing a bill, you had to come to the Capitol. Sometimes those subcommittees would be cancelled at the last minute, so advocates would have wasted a day traveling to Des Moines.  Now, you can participate virtually from your home.  In the Senate, which is using Zoom, the subcommittee meetings are entirely online. The public has a choice to speak, listen/watch, or submit written comments in the Senate.  In the House, you must still be at the Capitol to speak on a bill, but you can watch or submit comments online either through the "chat" function of their system (called WebEx) or by submitting written comment (all public comment is public - others will see what you write).

Neither system - Zoom or WebEx - require that you buy anything. There are free apps for your phone or you can view from a browser. Because the Senate had a recent zoom with someone doing something highly inappropriate, they are now requriing people to have a Zoom account (but it is free, you just need to enter your information).  There are also call-in options to listen.  They are not recorded, and close captioning is not available.  The sound on the WebEx system is different from room to room, and depending on the room, the sound can be quite bad.  These are all growing pains since the Capitol staff had to assemble the equipment and technology needed (then train their people on its use) just before the session began.  If this becomes the "new normal" (which we hope it does) - the Iowa DD Council and other advocates will step up to help address expanded accessibiity.  

You can see the things the Legislature is doing to make the Capitol a safe space here.

There are some things that are "back to normal."  The Legislature still plans to make it through their 110-day schedule, with session ending on or around April 30, 2021. There are still times when policy bills need to get out of committee; they call these deadlines "funnels" because they sort out the bills that are making progress from those that are not moving at all.
  • March 5 (Friday):  To keep moving in the legislative process, a bill needs to be voted out of a committee before this date. This is the first funnel.  Bills that don't make it out "die" and won't move further this year.
  • April 2 (Friday): This second funnel is a hard one. To keep going, a bill needs to be voted out of either the House or Senate, then out of committee in the other chamber.  For example, a House bill needs to be voted out of the House, then out of a Senate committee to stay alive.
Our 2021-2022 Legislative Guide will be done soon, and explains this process in more detail.  Watch www.infonetiowa.org - we will post it on our site as soon as it is ready (we're waiting on results of the special election).  It will then me mailed out soon after.   Some other resources to help you advocate this year:
  • Schedules.  You can find all the daily schedules for meetings here.  This is where you will find the links to the virtual meetings and the links to submit comments.  You can change the dates if you want to look at the full week, but keep in mind the schedules change frequently and many meetings are set the night before.  You can also change from Senate to House to see what is on the calendar in each.
  • Bill Tracker.  We are keeping track of bills that may impact the lives of Iowans with disabiities, their families, and the people who support them.  You can find it here - it's updated every day.  Would you believe that in the first two weeks of session, legislators have introduced 634 bills?  It's true!  Our list is much shorter.

  • Action Center.  We have a new tool for you and it's so easy to use.  Check it out here.  You can easily email your legislators from our action center.  We have an alert posted to help with the Adult Changing Table Bill; but you can email your legislators about anything by going down to the "Find Legislators" box. It'll ask you for your name and address (once you enter it, you never have to do it again) and find your legislators for you.  Just write your message and click send. It's as easy as that. Try it out!  
  • Advocacy Toolkit.. Not sure what to say - or how to say it? We've got you covered with tips in our Advocacy Toolkit here.  You can also get tips from Bill's Blogs & our Capitol Chats (see next two items).
  • Bill's Blogs.  Many of you may have already met the Iowa DD Council's new public policy manager Bill Kallestad.  Bill is posting weekly tips on his new blog - so check it out here.  Just go down to the links under "Blog Post."
  • Capitol Chats. We are continuing our monthly Zoom calls to update advocates on things going on at the Capitol, and talk about any of the issues or bills our advocates want to bring up!  It's a great time to listen to other advocates, bring up your issues, or just learn more about what's going on.  

    • Our first one is this Friday (Jan. 29) at 11 a.m. capture.zoom.us/j/95192143136 or call (312) 626-6799 (ID # 951 9214 3136).

    • Next ones are on Feb. 26, Mar. 26 & Apr. 23 - all at 11 a.m.  You can find dial-in or online links here.
We don't want to overwhelm you - but we do hope you take advantage of these resources and options. This year you are on equal footing with the lobbyists at the Capitol - and are a step up because you actually live in your legislator's district!  If you're nervous, it's okay.  As the Nike ad says - just do it! 

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QUICK REVIEW OF 2021 LEGISLATURE

While you wait for our Legislative Guide to hit your mailboxes, we wanted to give you a quick review of the new Legislature. 

  • Republicans control both Iowa House of Representatives and Iowa Senate. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • There are only two things the Legislature must do in 2021. The must pass a budget and they must pass a new redistricting plan.  We'll talk about this in future issues, but every 10 years, following the US Census, the Legislature must redraw its legislative and Congressional maps.  That has to be done this year, but it may be delayed because the Federal government may not get Iowa the information on time.  COVID-19 slowed the national census count so we may not get the information until May.  Legislators are saying they may come back for a summer special session to pass a redistricting plan.  Iowa's constitution requires this be done by September 15.
  • We have some new leaders in the Iowa Senate, but most of the Iowa House leaders stayed the same. We have linked to their opening speeches if you want to see what their priorities are for the year.

    • House Minority Leader Todd Prichard (D-Charles City)
    • House Minority Whip Jennifer Konfrst (D-Windsor Heights)
    • Assistant House Minority Leaders: Representatives Eric Gjerde (D-Cedar Rapids), Lindsay James  (D-Dubuque), Charlie McConkey (D-Council Bluffs), and Brian Meyer (D-Des Moines).
  • You can see a full list of committee members here.

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GOVERNOR RELEASES 2021 PRIORITIES, BUDGET

Governor Kim Reynolds delivered her annual "Condition of the State" speech in a prime time television spot, a change from the normal 10 a.m. time slot. The Governor's top priorities for 2021 are clearly shaped by the state's COVID-19 experience.  They include:
  • High Speed Internet: Iowa is not only low in the list of states in access to broadband Internet, it is the second lowest in speed. The Governor recommended a $450 million investment over three years ($150 million per year) to expand and address access and speed. 
  • Childcare:  Working families need childcare, and this was an issue on the Governor's list before COVID-19. The Governor recommended expanding the number of families qualifying for the child/dependent tax credit to families earning up to $90,000/year (up from $45,000/year), giving businesses incentives to create onsite daycare or provide childcare benefits to their employees, and addressing the "childcare cliff" by allowing working parents to gradually phase out their assistance as their earnings increase. Right now, if famillies hit the cap, they lose all benefits.

  • Economic Recovery: While the top two issues are definitely a part of that economic recovery, the Governor recommends starting some tax cuts that were passed in 2018 earlier than planned.  The state will lose about $157 million in taxes paid when all the cuts take effect.
  • Medicaid Providers: Medicaid providers that provide services to individuals in residential settings will see a bump in their reimbursement rates under the Governor's plan. Psychiatric Medical Institutions for Children (PMICs) will get a $3.9 million more, Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waiver providers will see $8 million to increase in rates (about 3.5% increase), and nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities will see a $10 million added.
  • Education: Governor Reynolds added $20 million to the current year to help schools that chose to have a 100% in-person option available to kids, and then added 2.5% “allowed growth” to schools for each of the next two years (about $20 million each year). She also asked the Legislature to pass a law that requires all schools provide 100% in person option and end 100% online-only classes.
  • Mental Health: COVID has been tough on Iowans’ mental wellness. The Governor recommended adding $15 million each year for two years to help fill in gaps in the state’s Mental Health and Disability Services (MH/DS) regional system. It should be noted that this does not “fully fund” the system as the Governor said in her speech, as one region alone has a $15 million gap and others have budget troubles too. The Governor did not recommend how to distribute those dollars and in a budget meeting the Republican chair said they want to look at this more closely, because "we do not want to overfund the system."  It's clear legislators will want to see where regions are with fund balances, services, and full use of local property taxes.  
  • Housing: The Governor wants to push hard to help Iowans find and afford housing. She is recommending more than doubling local housing trust funds (increasing the $3 million available now for affordable housing and homeless programs to $7.7 million). The Governor also recommended creating an affordable housing tax credit for developers ($4.4 million) and doubling the existing workforce housing tax incentive program (to $50 million). 
Governor's Budget: The rest of the budget doesn't change much from where we are this year. Medicaid will have a healthy balance at the end of this year and has money left over from the last fiscal year, thanks to the additional help coming for the Federal government because of COVID (called an enhanced federal match). Just a few notes about the budget:
  • The Governor’s budget is for Fiscal Year 2022, which starts on July 1, 2021.  We are currently in Fiscal Year 2021.
  • The Governor's budget for Fiscal Year 2022 spends 3.7% more than the current year (about $289.5 million more).
  • The Governor spends $253.2 million less than allowed by law (remember we can only spend 99%). 
  • That means the Governor's budget will leave $340.9 million unspent at the end of June 2022.
  • The state's bank accounts ("rainy day funds") are full - Iowa will have $825 million in savings at the end of FY 2022
  • Funding for just two things (Schools and Medicaid) make up 60.2% of the Governor’s budget.
Legislative leaders cautioned everyone to slow down in their run for the money; the extra federal money is not permanent. Rep. Joel Fry (Chair of the Health/Human Services Budget) told lobbyists watching the first meeting of the group that the extra money in the Medicaid system is short-lived and the state will eventually return to normal, so big requests will need to include how the state is to pay for it in the long run. You can read the non-partisan fiscal staff review of the budget here.

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ADULT CHANGING TABLE BILL OUT

Last year, advocates tired of changing their loved ones with disabilities on the floors of public bathrooms asked legislators to do something to make access to adult changing tables in public spaces.  Advocates asked for adutl-sized  changing tables be available in nearly every public rest room, the adult-sized versions allow a people assisting an individual with a disability with tolieting can do it safely and respectfully.  

As a start, Rep.Ann Meyer (R-Fort Dodge) and Rep. Kristin Sunde (D-West Des Moines) sponosored a bill last year to require Interstate rest areas to install these in their more modern facilities. The bill is back this year and the Iowa DD Council supports these efforts:

  • House File 33: Reps. Meyer and Sunde have teamed up again on this bill.  It was sent to the House Transportation Committee, but hasn't been sent to a three-person subcommittee yet.  That's not a good sign, so if you care about this issue, send an e-mail to the House Transportation Committee here.
  • Senate File 38: Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) introduced this bill in the Senate, and it too was sent to the Senate Transportation Committee.  It has been assigned a subcommittee: Sen. Dan Zumbach (R-Tama), Sen. Carrie Koelker (R-Dyersville), and Sen. Jackie Smith (D-Sioux City).  
  • If this is important to you, you can share your personal story and take action on both bills at the same time here.

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COVID-19: When Will I Get My Vaccine?

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BILLS FROM THE FIRST TWO WEEKS

You will want to check out the Bill Tracker to keep track of bills during session. Here are a few to note: 

  • HF16 - Ends Medicaid Managed Care: Ends all Medicaid managed care (MCO) contracts. House Human Resources Committee

  • HF50  - Medically Necessary Food: Requires insurance cover medically necessary food, vitamins, and individual amino acids. House Commerce Committee

  • HF89 - Mental Health Telehealth Reimbursement: Requires insurance plans pay the same for mental health services delivered in-person or onine (virtual "telehealth" visit), no matter where the patient or provider are located. House Human Resources Committee

  • HF90 - Housing Discrimination: Prohibits a landlord from denying housing to a person with a disability who has a support animal. House Judiciary Committee

  • HF118 - Long Term Care Ombudsman: Increases the number of local ombudsmen and sets standards for responses from the Office of the Long Term Care Ombudsman. House Human Resources Committee

  • HF135 - Electronic Absentee Ballot Requests: Allows voters to request absentee ballots online (electronically). House State Government Committee 
  • HF137 - Absentee Voter Status: Allows voter to ask to be a permanent absentee voter, so they do not have to request a mail-in ballot for each election. House State Government Committee 

  • HF191 - Nursing Facility Visitation Restrictions: Requires the Department of Inspections and Appeals to consult with the state long-term care ombudsman before issuing information about restricting visitation at nursing homes during a national public health emergency. House Human Resources Committee
  • HSB27,  HSB38SF31,  SSB1035 - Adult/Minor Guardianships and Conservatorships: Closes gaps and makes changes to the state's adult and minor guardianship and conservatorship laws. House & Senate Judiciary Committees
  • HSB50 - Prescription Insulin Coverage: Requires insurance carriers to cap the total amount of cost-sharing that a covered person is required to pay for prescription insulin. House Human Resources Committee

  • HSB51 - Emergency Prescription Refills: Allows a pharmacist to refill a prescription on an emergency basis without the prescriber's permission (but can only be done once in a year).  House Human Resources Committee

  • HSB70 - Legal Interpreters/Translators: Requires sign language interpreters be available for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in legal proceedings. House Judiciary Committee

  • HSB109 - Open Enrollment: Adds prekindergarten students enrolled in special education programs in the September 1 deadline for open enrollment.  House Education Committee
  • HSB122 - Interstate Audiology Compact: Establishes an Audiology & Speech Pathology Compact to allow licensing across state lines. House State Government Committee
  • SF17 - Disability Provider/Income Tax Exemption: Make income earned by a person working for a nonprofit organization that provides services to individuals with disabilities or mental illness from state income tax.
  • SF38 & HF33 - Adult Changing Stations: Requires installation of adult changing stations at some Interstate rest areas. Senate & House Transportation Committees

  • SF53 - Electronic Absentee Ballots: Allows voters who have a physical disability that prevents them from reading and marking a physical ballot without assistance to receive an electronic absentee ballot. Senate State Government Committee

  • SF60 - Iowa ABLE Transfers: Allows funds in other special needs trusts to be transferred to an individual's Iowa ABLE savings plan trust account. Senate Human Resources Committee

  • SF61 - Medicaid Improvements: Requires DHS to ensure conflict-free delivery of long-term services and support services. Requires MCOs to develop and administer a workforce recruitment, retention, and training program. Establishes an external independent review process for Medicaid providers to appeal MCO decisions. Makes changes to MCOs' responsibilities regarding member disenrollment. Requires MCOs to apply uniform authorization criteria for credentialing and recredentialing providers. Adds funding for the office of long-term care ombudsman and the Medicaid managed care ombudsman program. Senate Human Resources Committee

  • SF91  - Voting Changes: Closes election polls an hour early (at 8 pm instead of 9 pm). Senate State Government Committee
  • SF92 - Telehealth Reimbursement: Requires health insurance to pay the same for physical, mental, and dental health services delivered virtually (telehealth) or in-person. Senate Commerce Committee
  • SF103 - Epilepsy/Seizure Disorder Training: Requires schools that have an enrolled student with epilepsy or a seizure disorder to have a seizure action plan developed and provide training to staff on the administration of medication and implementation of the plan. House Education Committee
  • SF105 - Student Sexual Exploitation: Makes sexual exploitation of a student with a disability by a community college employee a criminal offense. Senate Judiciary Committee
  • SF115 - Absentee Ballots: Changes the due date when a mail-in ballot request must be received to 15 days before the election (was 10 or 11 days before depending on election) and the postmark date to 10 days before the election (from the day before the election).  Senate State Government Committee
  • SSB1065 - Governor's Education Plan: Proposes new education initiatives, including a student first scholarship program for certain students attending a nonpublic school (vouchers), a new charter school program, and opens up open enrollment to anyone. Allows taxpayers to receive tuition and textbook tax credit for each dependent receiving private instruction and makes changes to current law governing calculation of each school district's additional enrollment because of special education. Senate Education Committee

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CONGRATULATIONS TO REYMA McCOY McDEID

Iowa advocate Reyma McCoy McDeid has been chosen to be the new  Adminstration on Disabilites Commissioner!  This agency is a part of the Administration on Community Living in the US Department of Health and Human Services, which has  the goal of advancing options for community living and integration.   You can see the administration's organizational chart to see how it all fits together.

Many of you know Reyma from her work as the Executive Director of the Iowa Centers for Independent Living.   She reviously served as the Employment Director at Candeo, where she led the day-to-day supportive employment operations of the agency. Reyma has Master's degrees in Non-Profit Administration and Education.

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ID ACTION TOWN HALLS: LET'S PARTNER!

The Iowa DD Council wants to hold a virtual townhall meeting in your area!  This legislative session, Iowans with Disabilities in Action is looking for local partners to host and participate in virtual townhall meetings across the state to discuss your local advocacy topics and share their legislative priorities with your local legislators. These local forums can be held as a town hall meeting (where you ask questions) or listenening post (where legislators are there to listen to your concerns and learn more about your issues) - or a combination of the two.  It's format, design, and focus are up to you - the local advocate. 

More details will be coming soon! Email us at contactus@idaction.org for additional information or to let us know you'd like to participate.  These town hall meetings will replace our typical "Local Capitol Days," which will be suspended this year in lieu of this virtual advocacy opportunity.  Added bonus - you don't need to worry about rescheduling these because of snow days!

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PUBLIC FORUMS

Several organizations that typically host public forums have changed to a virtual town hall format.  Others are still doing in-person forums, but with more space between people attending. Remember you can always see what's ahead for the next three weeks on our calendar - we list all the forums being held in the state.

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DIFFERENT VIEW OF CAPITOL IN 2021

We thought you might want to see how different the Capitol looks these days. If you have attended a Capitol day, you know that the building is usually so crowded it's hard to get through.  Very different in COVID-times.

Committee meets in old Supreme Court Chambers everyone sitting six feet apart with screen in front for public to watch.

Legislators watch the screen - you can see people watching.

View looking down into House chambers with almost no one there during a "busy" day at the Capitol.

People wait outside law library for a meeting in a vacant rotunda.

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