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Mental health and disability services (MH/DS) regions are facing their biggest challenge yet - steady, long term funding.  Since the system was created back in the mid-1990s, counties have had a tough time getting money to pay for services. Funding was always decided at the last minute, and counties (now regions) had a tough time planning ahead.  

One of the reasons the state created MH/DS regions was to make sure a core set of services was available throughout the state, and once that was done, build on that with cost-saving additional core services like mobile crisis and jail diversion. But the missing link was funding to grow.  

Counties are locked in at their 1995 property taxes, without any additional state dollars.   The Iowa State Association of Counties and a large coalition of advocacy groups led by the AMOS and NAMI Iowa are asking that the state give counties the ability to set their property taxes according to local need.  So some counties want to raise their property taxes so they can pay their fair share to the region, and give other counties' taxpayers in the region a break.  County boards of supervisors, who are elected by and accountable to their county's voters, would make the decision on the tax rates.  The Department of Human Services would still approve regional MH/DS plans to make sure counties are staying within the law.

To make this happen, legislators need to change the law this year.  Whle there is broad support for this, one powerful organization opposes it (Farm Bureau).  So the news after this funnel deadline is mixed.

  • The Bad News: Two bills that would give counties local control over their MH/DS levy rates did not survive the funnel (House File 342 and House File 343.  But since this deals with a tax, the issue can be brought up in the House Ways & Means Committee at any time, or dealt with in a budget.
  • The Good News: Senate File 365 survived the funnel, because it was sent to the Senate Ways & Means Committee (deadlines don't apply to this committee). It is sponsored by Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyden and is assigned to a subcommittee of Sen. Randy Feenstra of Hull, Sen. Waylon Brown of St. Ansgar, and Sen. Pam Jochum of Dubuque.

Another bill drafted by the Department of Human Services survived the funnel as well. This bill (House Study Bill 156) originally moved additional core services into core services, scooped any excess county tax funds from regions and put them into a state property tax relief fund, required hospitals and mental health institutes (MHIs) to use the psychiatric bed tracking system, and continued the work of a state work group that is developing regional strategies to address the needs of Iowans with complex mental health, disability, and substance use disorders.  

That bill passed of of committee, but all that is left is the psychiatric bed tracking system and the state work group.  In addition, legislators added regional work groups that pull in providers and law enforcement locally to develop plans to address this population's complex needs.  Those regional reports would be due in October, and the state work group would review them and respond with a state plan that would be due by December 2017.  Just in time to ask for action in the 2018 legislative session.  This scaled back version will be given a new bill number soon, so watch the Bill Tracker for updates.