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DEAPPROPRIATION SIGNED, BUT NO FINAL BUDGET AGREEMENT

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Legislators are running out of time.  While they can work as long as they want, they will only receive their expense checks through April 17.  That means lawmakers will return to the Capitol with only a few working days left, and a lot on their plates.  Here is a quick update:

  • Current Year Budget Cut (aka "Deappropriation):  The Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a bill (Senate File 2117) that cuts $23.3 million in spending from the current state budget, and stops another $20 million from being used for business tax credits. These cuts include $55,000 from vocational rehabilitation, $660,000 from public health programs, and $4.3 million from DHS.  The DHS cuts cannot be made in a way that cuts Medicaid benefits, but may impact Medicaid in other ways. The cuts need to be made in the last three months of this fiscal year (before June 30, 2018).  You can read more about these cuts here.
     
  • Next Year's Budget & Tax Cuts: People always think that when one party controls the Legislature and the Governor's Office, negotiations are a breeze.  Not so.  Legislative leaders have been working on budgets for next year (fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1).  However, the budget is complicated this year by an effort to cut taxes.  The Iowa Senate wants to cut taxes by $1.7 billion; the Governor recommended $1 billion.  The Senate wants to cut taxes on businesses; the Governor suggested a task force review it before making changes.  Cutting taxes means less money is available for budgets.  So, it is impossible to come up with a budget until there is a decision on taxes.   There is apparently light at the end of the tunnel.  House Speaker Linda Upmeyer and Senate President Charles Schneider agreed that next year’s budget will be more than the $7.25 billion currently being spent (after deappropriations).   “I anticipate it will be a little bit bigger, yes,” Upmeyer told reporters this week. “We will fund the priorities of Iowa. That’s not to say that nobody might move backwards, they may.”  Schneider added, "Our numbers are very close to one another. There’s not a whole lot of daylight between the two of us.” 
     
  • Budget Targets.  The first step in getting a budget moving is to announce budget targets. Once leaders decide how much money they want to spend next year, they will divide it up between the 10 budget areas (Administration/Regulation, Agriculture/Natural Resources, Economic Development, Education, Health/Human Services, Judicial Branch, Justice Systems, Infrastructure, Standings, and Transportation).  Each of those budget subcommittees will then take that number and decide how much each agency, service, or program will get.  That process does take some time, even if there are joint budget targets.  Without joint budget targets, the House and Senate will come up with their own budget bills, and then have to negotiate.  It just adds to the overall time needed to pass a budget.  
     
  • Bills Signed Into Law or Sent to Governor. On the same day the Complex Needs Bill was signed into law, the Governor signed another bill to address mental illness in Iowa's teens, and begin to address the increase in suicide rates.   SF 2113 requires teachers to have at least one hour of suicide prevention and awareness training each year, including the identification of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and ways to address toxic stress response.   SF 192 is on its way to the Governor's desk; it licenses behavior analysts and assistant behavior analysts under the Board of Behavioral Science.  These professionals are experts in applied behavior analysis (ABA), which is an effective therapy that helps people with autism improve specific behaviors (and reduce others).  Another bill is one step away from being sent to the Governor.  The Senate need to take one final vote (which we expect it to do next week) before SF 2360 can be signed. It establishes a Dyslexia Task Force in the Department of Education to make recommendations on screening, interventions, teacher preparation and professional development, classroom accommodations, and assistive technology.  The report is to also include an overview of the symptoms and effects of dyslexia, review of current practices in treating dyslexia and teaching kids with dyslexia, and an analysis of the state's current response.  
     
  • Bills Still Needing Action.  Time might run out on several bills that passed earlier deadlines, but have not yet been sent to the Governor.  If you care about these bills, now is the time for action:
     
    • Brain Injury Prevention (HF 2442): This bill requires school sports programs adopt and follow policies intended to identify and treat brain injuries and concussions in student athletes.  Schools would be required to remove kids from games if there is a suspected brain injury, and prohibits return to play until a licensed health care professional gives their okay.  The Advisory Council on Brain Injuries is tasked with making further recommendations on the prevention, identification, and treatment of sports-related brain injuries. The bill passed the House 96-1 - Rep. Tom Moore (R-Griswold) was the only "no" vote.  The Senate has not yet voted on the bill; if they pass it, it will go to the Governor for signature.
       
    • Medicaid MCO Directives (HF 2462):  The  House unanimously passed this bill, which directs MCOs to follow certain industry best practices, including requirements that MCOs pay timely claims, denied claims include reasons for denial, the development of standardized provider enrollment forms and credentialing processes, extension of services for members who win appeals, requirement that court-ordered substance use or mental health treatment be authorized for at least five days, required DHS review of any level of care reassessments that decrease services, mandate that MCOs continue services at existing levels for those whose level of care determinations find no change, and an independent audit of all small claims for long-term care supports and services.  In addition, the bill establishes a health home work group (with representation of health home providers and MCOs) to review the health home program.  Another work group (with MCOs and Medicaid providers) will determine the effectiveness of prior authorizations used by MCO and develop a threshold when they are no longer needed.  The bill is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee, assigned to Sen. Mark Costello (R-Imogene).  During a committee meeting several weeks ago, Sen. Costello said this bill will probably not move, but that MCO-related changes would be done in the Health/Human Services Budget (which he co-chairs).  So while this bill might not move, the issue itself is still very much alive, so talk to your legislators about changes you would like to see in the MCO world.
Some of our readers were watching the discussion about ending the can and bottle return law, as many organizations collect and return cans and bottles as a way to raise money.   Grocery Stores and Convenience Stores don't want to be in the business of collecting cans and bottles.  Environmental groups want to expand the law to include plastic water and juice bottles. Two subcommittees were held; both the House and Senate said they would not be looking at changes this year to the state's bottle redemption law.