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Hot Issues in 2013 (and How They May Affect You)

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Iowa is one of only three states with a divided legislature (that is, Republicans control one chamber and Democrats control the other). If the Iowa Legislature is going to be successfully address education reform, property tax reform, mental health and disability services reform, and other such hot topics, they will have to do it together, in a bipartisan manner.
 
As Senate President Pam Jochum said in her opening day speech, "The troubling questions confronting us do not have a Democratic answer, or a Republican answer, or an urban answer, or a rural answer. They can only have human answers for they are the questions that ask what kind of life we want to live together. Early in this session, let’s show Iowans that rather than engaging in senseless partisanship, we will again listen to them and do what’s right."
 
So will the 2013 legislative session be stuck in the same partisan rut that made passing bills last year so difficult? That remains to be seen. There are a lot of big issues on the Legislature's "to do" list that could end with people locking up along partisan lines. However legislators say they will work very hard to find that middle ground.  Here are a few of the issues legislators hope to tackle this year:
  • Property tax reform. Supporters of tax reform say that commercial and industrial property taxes in Iowa are among the highest in the nation and are a barrier to economic growth. Others say they are concerned that cutting property taxes for businesses leaves local governments without tax dollars they use to pay for roads, public transportation, public health programs, libraries, parks, jails, etc. The Governor's plan gives city and county governments state funding to replace the lost property tax dollars, but local governments want to make sure that the Legislature lives up to its promise in future years. 

    Why is this important to you? Your property taxes could go down, business may be able to hire more people, or your cities and counties may need to cut services if the state doesn't live up to its promise to reimburse them for lost funds.

  • Mental Health & Disability Services Reform (Part 2). Legislators passed the reform bill last year, but didn't fund the new system. On the list of topics for discussion - funding for the Transition Fund (to help counties get through this "transition year"), and funding for the Property Tax Equalization Fund (the fund that allows counties to budget $47.28/person). Other legislators want to make changes to the law passed last year to make sure Iowans with developmental disabilities continue to have access to services, and that core plus services be moved into the list of core services so counties are not forced to drop them if funds are not sufficient.

    Why is this important to you? Access to the new list of core services depends on funding. Depending on how much money is available, your county may have to cut services or may not be able to make progress in adding core services. 
     
  • Medicaid Expansion. The federal government is encouraging states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover all persons earning under 133% of the federal poverty level. Right now to get Medicaid, you must have a disability, be elderly, or have a child that qualifies for Medicaid. There are special Medicaid programs that allow other populations, but this new expansion would allow anyone earning up to 133% of the federal poverty level to become eligible for Medicaid. The federal government has agreed to pay for all of the costs of expanding Medicaid to this new population in 2014-2016, and then will pay for 95% of the costs in 2017, 94% in 2018, 93% in 2019, and 90% in 2020 and beyond. Governor Branstad doesn't want to expand Medicaid without making sure it will really make Iowans healthier and that the federal government will live up to its funding commitment. 

    Why is this important to you? Expanding Medicaid makes sure more low income Iowans have access to health care, and it also helps counties/regions because some of those newly eligible people would no longer need to be served by the county-funded non-Medicaid services system.