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INFONET 2021: Issue #8

Issue 8, 05-24-2021

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Session Ends: 2021 Highlights

The 2021 Iowa legislative session ended just before midnight on May 19; it was the 129th day of the scheduled 110-day session.  People always think that if one party controls both House and Senate and Governor's office (like Iowa), agreement is easy.  That was not true when the Democrats controlled all three when Chet Culver was Governor (2007-2011), and it was definitely not true this year, when Republicans are in full control.  You might think about it like a family feud; after months of not talking to each other they found a way to move on.  Moving on did mean some things got thrown into the mix at the end (like more election law changes and kids waking up the next morning to find out schools could not longer require masks in school) and other things were thrown overboard (like ethanol changes the Farm Bureau wanted and the Govenror's call for banning transgender girls from competing in girls' sports). 
 
30 Days:  Governor Kim Reynolds has 30 days from the end of session to review and take action on the bills that have been sent to her. She has three options: sign the bill into law, veto the bill (stopping it from becoming law), or doing nothing (which also stops it from becoming law - this is what is called a "pocket veto").  On budget bills, the Governor has the added option of using her line item veto authority to take out sections of a bill while still signing the rest of the bill. Given the exhaustive deal making that happened this year, we don’t think there will be many (or any) vetoes this year.
 
Masks in Schools: On some bills, Governor Reynolds won’t need the 30 days. One of those bills was HF 847, an education policy bill that was amended on Wednesday night to prohibit Iowa schools from having mask mandates. As  been widely reported, the bill was signed into law less than four hours later, shortly after midnight on Thursday morning, in time to be in force for the Thursday school day.  Earlier in the session, lawmakers passed and the Governor signed HF 889, which bans state or local government "vaccine passports" (documents that prove your vaccination status).
 
Last Minute Election Changes: Early in session, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed a bill (SF 413) that made major changes to Iowa's election laws that moved up the deadline for registering to vote before an election by five days (15 days before instead of 10 - but you can still go through the process of same day registration at the polls); shortened the early voting period from 29 days to 20 days; prohibiting non-family and non-household members from delivering or mailing your voted ballot (friends or neighbors would be guilty of a felony for taking your ballot to the post office for you); closing polls an hour early (so voting will be 7 am to 8 pm); moving voters who do not regularly vote to the "inactive" list that may end up requiring them to re-register to vote (basically you'll have to vote in each general election - held every two years - to stay "active"); gives the Secretary of State more control over county auditors; changes the earliest date a person can request an absentee (vote by mail) ballot to 70 days before the election (from 120 days); limits the local use of ballot drop boxes; and requires mail-in ballots be received in the county auditor's office by the time the polls close on Election Day.  Currently ballots will be counted if the postmark or bar code shows they were mailed before Election Day. County auditors are also not allowed to mail an absentee ballot request to a voter unless they have asked for it to be mailed (so no blanket mailing of requests to all voters). 
 
On the last night of the legislative session, legislators amended an elections bill (SF 568) that had been stalled for over a month, adding in a number of additional changes, including allowing outside groups to challenge Iowa elections in court.  One change made allows voters with disabilities and voters who are blind ("blind" is used in the legislation) to designate someone other than a family member, household member, or caregiver to take back their voted mail-in ballot.  The voter would have to fill out a form designating the other person as their ballot handler, and the designated person is only allowed to deliver the ballot in person to the county election office, where they will have to present the form, the ballot, and an ID. They will not be allowed to drop the ballot in the mail or in a dropbox.  These changes are pretty big - but rest assured; we'll spend more time before the next election helping you understand your rights and the new law.  If this concerns you or you have questions, join us at one of our Capitol Chats and we'll try to answer your questions or connect you with someone who can!
 
Legislative Highlights:  Groups opposing vaccines and mask mandates were active throughout the session this year; their advocacy led to dozens of bills being introduced and debated.  They all died, but they didn't give up until legislators did something.  That something was ending mask mandates in schools. This session also saw a lot of action on other Republican priorities, including tax cuts, state takeover of mental health funding, affordable housing, broadband (high-speed) Internet, childcare access, permitless carry for gun owners, manufacturing changes, police protections ( "Back the Blue" legislation), two constitutional amendments (guns & abortion), more funding for corrections after prison workers were killed in the line of duty, and landlord protections.   In addition: 
  • Health insurers will have to pay equally for telehealth-delivered mental health care, regardless of where the patient or the provider is located (telehealth payment parity). This was added to the tax plan that passed at the end of session (SF 619).  This has not yet been signed into law.
  • Iowa's regional mental health and disability services (MHDS) system will be entirely financed by the state, with a two-year phase out of the property taxes that have paid for the majority of services since the mid 1990s.  Also a part of the tax bill (SF 619), the plan will provide regions with an incentive fund to address shortfalls but make no changes to the service expectations in place now.  Legislators believe this will help address the inequities in funds availble thorughout the state and free counties up to join regions that may make more sense after removing  financial barriers. 
  • Additional layers of “public assistance oversight” that could have kicked people off food assistance, Medicaid, and family support did not pass!
  • Iowans will be able to convert their special needs or supplemental needs trusts into an ABLE Account without risking their eligibility for Medicaid or Social Security under HF 835, which was signed into law on May 20.  ABLE Accounts are more flexible, have higher investment limits, and are protected against most Medicaid estate recovery.  You can learn more about them at iable.gov.
  • Beginning November 1, courts will have to make sure a sign language interpreter is available at any legal proceeding involving a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. (HF 707which has been signed)
  • The Department of Human Services (DHS) is directed to make policy changes to ensure pediatric health services are covered by Medicaid when delivered by telehealth (including physical therapy, occupational therapy, applied behavior analysis, speech-language pathology). (HF 891which has not yet been signed)
  • Families receiving childcare assistance (including special needs childcare assistance) will have a ladder to step down as they earn more money, rather than a cliff they fall off (graduated eligibility), if HF 302 is signed into law. Also, more families will be able to receive the childcare tax credit if SF 619 is signed - the income threshold will double from $45,000 to $90,000.  Both are expected to be signed, as the Governor had recommended these and several other childcare changes in her Condition of the State speech in January. 
  • Massive changes that could have ended professional licensing and oversight boards for many state-regulated professions (including health care professions) did not pass.
  • Major election law changes as noted above that combined shorten and complicate early voting, especially for those that rely on the assistance of others to exercise this constitutional right. (SF 413SF 568)
  • The Governor did sign a bill that stops cities and counties from passing local laws that prevent landlords from discriminating against a tenant who uses federal housing choice vouchers to pay their rent.  Three communities - Marion, Iowa City, Des Moines - have passed these ordinances. They will stay in effect for two years (until January 1, 2023), but no new communities will be able to pass enforce similar laws.  Two out of every three people using these vouchers are either a person with a disabiity or an older person. (SF 252)

Bills that would have rolled back (or fixed) some of the changes made last year in the guardianship laws did not pass, but there are a few of these bills that will become "live rounds" in 2022.  Many other bills failed to make it through the entire legislative process this year and will also be eligible again for debate in 2022 , including bills that would have created a public portal to a direct caregiver database (HF 692), controlled the rising cost of prescription medication (HF 263HF 526), required adult changing stations in almost all public places (HF 306), set up a program to help offset home modification costs (HF 506), developed milestones and school plans for deaf and hard of hearing children (HF 604), required AEA services to be provided to a child in school regardless of whether they attend a private or public school (SF 168), and required insurers to pay for treatment of PANS/PANDAs (SSB1200). You can see more about these and other bills in our Bill Tracker

 

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Budgets, Redistricting, and Taxes (Oh My!)

At the beginning of the year, we said the Legislature really only has two things it must do this year - pass a budget and complete the redistricting process.  Budgeting is usually a really hard process and the Health/Human Services Budget is usually the bill that holds up the end of session.  Not so this year.  In fact, budgeting was relatively easy this year, thanks to extra federal funds helping pay for COVID-19 expenses and picking up a greater share of Medicaid expenses.  Legislators had more flexibility in spending this year, but budgets were held up while House and Senate leaders were gridlocked on a tax cut bill.  Since tax cuts mean less money coming into state bank accounts, legislators could not agree to budgets until the tax plan was hammer out. 

The second "must do" of 2021 is redistricting, and that has been delayed as the state waits for the federal Census data to be delivered. The Federal government hopes to get the census data to states in August, but it may be later in September.  Iowa's redistricting process is very structured, with non-partisan staff drawing the new maps and legislators voting on them. We'll talk about this more, but legislators will have to come back into session in August to pass a redistricting map before September 1, the deadline set by the Iowa Constitution. You can read more about this process here

Taxes: As mentioned, the biggest delay forcing the session overtime was the "Omnibus Tax Bill" (SF 619).  The House and Senate started the month of May off having more than 30 areas of disagreement in the tax bill; when the final deal was sealed, there were 28 sections, each section making a significant change in Iowa's tax laws.  The bill is considered the crown jewel of the session for many legislators, including some changes that have been more than thirty years in the making. It contains more than $400 million in tax relief, including the elimination of the property tax that pays for regional mental health and disability service (replacing it instead with an automatic state appropriation). The tax bill:

  • Makes the income tax cuts made in 2018 effective in 2023 (the original law required Iowa's revenues to increase by 4% before "triggering" the tax cuts; this just eliminates the triggers and has them go into effect).
  • Eliminates the inheritance tax.
  • Creates a new fund to provide investments in manufacturing and adds more incentives for the redevelopement of environmentally contaminated sites (called "Brownfields" and "Grayfields").
  • Increasing the volunteer emergency responder income tax credit from $100 to $250.
  • Increases the number of people eligible for child care tax credits (those earning up to $90,000/year - up from $45,000).
  • Exempts any COVID-19 grants or funds received by businesses or individuals from state income tax.
  • Increases workforce housing tax credits (that incentivize developers to build housing in area where there are jobs but not enough houses to meed the demand).
  • More than doubles the Housing Trust Fund - sending out $7 million for local affordable housing and homeless programs (up from $3 million).
  • Phases out county MH/DS property tax levies over two years and instead funds with an automatic (standing) state appropriation. 
This last one is a  big deal  for Iowans with disabilities, who have been through a lot with the transition to managed care and the regional restructuring that began in 2015. The bill calls for county levies to be immediately reduced to $21.14 (beginning July 1, 2021).  The state will add in funds to bring the per capita spending level to $37 per capita.  That will increase to $38 in FY 2023, $40 in FY 2024, and $42 in FY 2025.  After that time, increases can be up to 1.5% per year, depending on the state's economy. Regions with over 40% ending fund balance in FY 2022, 20% in FY 2023, and 5% in FY 2024 and beyond will not be eligible for a special $3 million "incentive fund" that can help pay for services in regions with a per capita rate above what is provided to them.  Regions would have performance based contracts with DHS, which would ensure they are meeting expectations.  To make sure regions continue to operate as efficiently as possible, DHS will hire a consultant to review budgets and services provided in each region and report back to the Legislature before the 2022 legislative session. 
 
There is on other part of the tax bill that many groups were not happy to see included; the phaseout of the property tax backfill to cities and counties (about $150 million promised to local governments when the state cut commercial property taxes). The Legislature allowed local governments either 5 or 8 years to phase out, depending on whether they were growing.  This is important to Iowans with disabilities because your city and county depends on this money to pay for things like libraries, trails, public transportation, parks, and other services. The Iowa League of Cities sent a message to their members that you can download the Excel document here; the Excel table shows each city and the option under which they fall. 

Budgets:  Even after the $400 million price tag for tax cuts, budgets still had a lot of room for increases, and that translates to some really good news for Iowans with disabilities and their support networks.  The FY 2022 budget spends $8.1185 billion in the upcoming year (FY 2022). This represents 97.7% of the money available to spend, an increase of $291 million over the current year (FY 2021).  Even after these increases and paying for the tax cuts, the state's two main "rainy day" funds are expected to be full. These reserve funds are like savings accounts and help the state through rough times, so having them full just one year since the pandemic began is really good news.

To the left, you will see a chart produced by House Republicans that shows how the budget breaks out by Appropriations subcommittee within the Legislature.  As you can see, spending on health and human services, education and school aid, and other automatic required spending make up 85% of the state's budget.  Here are some highlights - you can click on the links provided for a more robust description.

HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES BUDGET (HF 891) 

  • $11 million for HCBS waiver provider rate increases and an additional $7 million for habilitation services. 
  • $3.9 million to increase Psychiatric Medical Institution for Children (PMIC) rates. That is a 28% increase!
  • A little over $1 million to take more kids off the children’s mental health waiver waiting list.
  • Adds $200,000 to fund two more (six total) rural psychiatrist residencies to address rural access issues.
  • Increases funding for special foods for kids with metabolic disorders like PKU by $35,000 ($188,000 total)
  • Shifts funding from Glenwood ($1.9 million cut) to Woodward ($1.3 million increase) to reflect a move of a cottage.
  • Medicaid is increase by $44.2 million overall (no mention of how that translates into MCO contracts).

EDUCATION BUDGET (HF 868) 

  • Additional $1 million for AEA school-based mental health services ($3 million total).
  • Increases the Department for the Blind by $528,723, including funding to hire another Independent Living teacher).
  • Adds $300,000 to Vocational Rehabilitation to draw down more federal funds for independent living.
  • New appropriation for therapeutic classrooms authorized in 2021 to address classroom behavioral issues ($1.6 million).

ADMINISTRATION/REGULATION BUDGET (HF 867)

  • $100 million to improve access to broadband (high speed) Internet. The discussion has been entirely around access, not affordability.  Federal COVID-19 relief funds can also be used for this purpose, should the Governor decided to do so.

JUDICIAL BRANCH, aka "the courts" (HF864

  • Sets aside $700,000 to pay for increased ASL interpretation services, per HF 707.

We know this is all confusing, so if you have questions or want to know more, join us for our summer Capitol Chats - you can register for them here.


There are still a lot of people on the waiting lists for the Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waivers, even after these increases.  You can see the current (as of May 5, 2021) list here.  This may be something advocates want to continue to address, as some people have been waiting for these services now since 2017.  

  • There are a total of 26,151 Iowans served by the seven HCBS waivers, and another 15,956 on one of the waiver waiting lists.
    • Health & Disability Waiver (5,966 waiting)
    • Intellectual Disability Waiver (4,802 waiting)
    • Brain Injury Waiver (2,201 waiting)
    • Physical Disabiity Waiver (1,858 waiting)
    • Children's Mental Health Waiver (1,129 waiting)
    • Elderly Waiver (no waiting list)
    • AIDS/HIV Waiver (no waiting list)  

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Federal Advocacy: Contact Congress

Iowans are represented by two US Senators in Washington DC - Sen. Charles Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst.  Iowa is divided up into four congressional districts, which are represented by Rep. Cindy Axne, Rep. Randy Feenstra, Rep. Ashley Hinson, and Rep. Marianette Miller-Meeks. They are facing a number of issues of interest to Iowans with disabilties as they serve out in our nation'a Capitol.  We have a couple that we wanted to let you know about.

SENIOR CARE (TICKET TO WORK).  US Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced the bipartisan Supporting And Empowering the Nation to Improve Outcomes that Reaffirm Careers, Activities, and Recreation for the Elderly (SENIOR CARE) Act (S.1476). This bill would get rid of the Ticket To Work Program's Medicaid age restriction to allow individuals with disabilities who are over the age of 65 to continue to work and keep their Medicaid coverage. Senators Portman and Casey first introduced the SENIOR CARE Act in 2019. 

   Plain language:

  • This bill would help older adults with disabilities to have Medicaid while still working.

   What it means to you:

  • Under current law, when individuals with disabilities reach 65, they are often forced to make a choice between their job and their Medicaid benefits. Unfortunately, the advantages of meaningful employment are not enough to offset the increased healthcare costs that would result from a loss of Medicaid benefits. While many individuals find meaning in their work well into their later years, the current system discourages workers with disabilities from staying on the job they enjoy.

   Action steps:

  • Contact Senators Charles Grassley & Joni Ernst to urge support by email here, or by calling the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
     

CARE OPPORTUNITY ACT. Representatives Bobby Scott (VA-03), Susan Wild (PA-07), and Susie Lee (NV-03) introduced the Direct Creation, Advancement, and Retention of Employment (CARE) Opportunity Act (H.R. 2999). This bill would invest more than $1 billion over five years in training for direct care workers. 

   Plain language:

  • This bill would help direct care workers get training.

   What this means to you:

  • This bill can be a part of the conversation about the $400 billion investment in HCBS as proposed in the American Jobs Plan.

   Action steps:

  • Learn more:

o   Fact sheet on the Direct CARE Opportunity Act.

o   Bill text of the Direct CARE Opportunity Act.

  • Email or call the Capitol Switchboard at (202)224-3121 (voice) or (202)224-3091 (tty) and ask to be connected to your Senators and Representative. 

o   You can find your Members of Congress on www.congress.gov.

o   Leave a brief message sharing the Home and Community Based Services and Competitive Integrated Employment are important to you. Ask to be updated on how the Member plans to vote on the Direct CARE Opportunity Act.

 

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Take the Next Step: Join our Summer Capitol Chats!

We have had a great time sharing information and hearing from you during our Capitol Chats this year, and the events aren't over yet! Even after this legislative session ends, we want to continue the advocacy conversations.  Join us throughout the summer to learn more about what happened at the end of this session, how you can keep advocating for yourself and others, and additional ways to get involved in the community. 

Upcoming Events 

Friday, June 4th | 11 AM 
Friday, July 9th | 11 AM 

If you plan to attend both events, you will need to register separately for each one.

Did You Attend a Previous Chat?  Let us know what you thought! Click the button below to share your feedback so we can continue sharing the best information and updates for our community. 

 

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Bill Tracker

Our bill tracker is updated and will be changed as the Governor takes action on the bills.  A reminder: 

  • You can find the list of bills that passed and were sent to the Governor on the "Active" list.
  • You can see the bills that didn't make it (but wil be eligible for debate again in the 2022 session) in the "Inactive" list.
  • You can print a copy of the entire list or download it in an Excel spreadsheet and make it your own! 

We would love to hear how we can make this Bill Tracker more user friendly to you.  We will be making changes to it over the summer/fall, so let us know what you think by emailing us at infonetiowa@gmail.com. 

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JOIN: June 16 HCBS Webinar

Monday, June 7, 2021

Your federal elected officials in Congress are still thinking about new ways to help our country recover from COVID-19, including helping those with...

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Session Ends: 2021 Highlights

Monday, May 24, 2021

The 2021 Iowa legislative session ended just before midnight on May 19; it was the 129th day of the scheduled 110-day session.  People always think that if one party controls both House and Senate and Governor's office (like Iowa), agreement is easy....

Read more

Take the Next Step: Join our Summer Capitol Chats!

Monday, May 24, 2021

We have had a great time sharing information and hearing from you during our Capitol Chats this year, and the events aren't over yet! Even after this...

Read more

Federal Advocacy: Contact Congress

Monday, May 24, 2021

Iowans are represented by two US Senators in Washington DC - Sen. Charles Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst.  Iowa is divided up into four congressional districts, which are represented by Rep....

Read more

Budgets, Redistricting, and Taxes (Oh My!)

Monday, May 24, 2021

At the beginning of the year, we said the Legislature really only has two things it must do this year - pass a budget and complete the redistricting process.  Budgeting is usually a really hard process and the...

Read more

Bill Tracker

Monday, May 24, 2021

Our bill tracker is updated and will be changed as the Governor takes action on the bills.  A reminder:  You can find the list of bills that passed...

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June & July Capitol Chats Set

Friday, May 14, 2021

  We've had a great time sharing information and hearing from you during our Capitol Chats this year, and the events aren't over yet! Even after this...

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Action Needed for Direct Care Worker Database

Friday, May 14, 2021

Iowa's direct care givers, health professionals, and other "essential workers" like public bus drivers all deserve praise for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.  They...

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Federal Update: Things are Happening in Washington DC

Friday, May 14, 2021

It took a pandemic to dislodge the gridlock in Washington DC, but it happened and there are a lot of bills that we'll be tracking for you over the summer.  We have a couple that we wanted...

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Session Drags On...But End May Be Close

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Iowa Legislature was scheduled to be in session for 110 days this year.  Today (May 14) is the 124th day and there is still no agreement that will allow the session to end.  For...

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Health & Human Services Budgets Now Public

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Iowa House of Representatives and Iowa Senate have now made their budgets public, and they are about $22.3 million apart in the area of Health and Human...

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The End is Near (Maybe)

Friday, April 16, 2021

There are just two more weeks left until the Iowa Legislature is scheduled to finish its work.   April 30 is the 110th day of the 2021 session and the last day...

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Budget Bills in Position, Ready for Compromise

Friday, April 16, 2021

The budget is the one thing legislators must do before they leave town in a couple of weeks.  The state's new budget year (called a "fiscal year") begins on July 1, 2021 and ends on...

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Redistricting the Iowa Way

Friday, April 16, 2021

Every ten years, following a new US Census count, states must redraw their political maps.  That means drawing new Congressional and state legislative districts so they are...

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Stay Engaged!

Friday, April 16, 2021

It's easy to drift away from advocacy after the legislative session, but that is the biggest mistake you can make!  Summer is a great time to gear up for the...

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Bill Tracker 2021

Friday, April 16, 2021

Check on the status of the bills you care about in the infoNET Bill Tracker here. Status is updated daily, so check back frequently.

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Get Out the Vaccine - #GOTVaccine

Monday, April 5, 2021

More Iowans are becoming eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.  It’s time to "Get Out the Vaccine!"  The Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council and its national...

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Iowa DD Council State Plan Feedback

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Iowa DD Council hosted a series of listening posts Aprll 6-8 to learn more about their five year plan and get stakeholder feedback.  If you missed the...

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State Revenue Estimates; Time to Start Budgets

Friday, March 19, 2021

Today the state's three-person Revenue Estimating Conference met to revise its estimates, which help state lawmakers develop the budget for the fiscal year that...

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President Signs New Relief Package

Monday, March 15, 2021

This week, Congress passed and President Biden signed a $1.9 TRILLION package to help respond to the economic impact of COVID-19. The following information is from...

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Funnel Week Ends!

Friday, March 5, 2021

The first legislative deadline is today (March 5) - the date when most bills need to be voted out of a committee.  This "funnel" deadline does not apply...

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Special Election Information: January 26

Friday, January 8, 2021

Voters living in Senate District 41 will go to the polls on Tuesday, January 26, 2021 to select a new state senator.  We wanted to make sure those of you living in this area had all the...

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SPECIAL ELECTION SET: January 26, 2021

Monday, January 4, 2021

Ottumwa physician Mariannette Miller-Meeks has been "provisionally" sworn in as a U.S. Representative, as she awaits the review by a Congressional...

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LEGISLATURE STILL PLANS TO MEET

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Many of you have asked what the next legislative session will be like.  Our answer continues to be - who knows!  At this point, we believe the Iowa...

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2021 Committees Assigned

Friday, December 18, 2020

Each legislator serves on several committees - standing committees that deal with policy issues in a certain area, and budget (appropriations)...

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Revenues Holding Steady, State Economy Looking Good

Friday, December 11, 2020

Every year we talk about the way Iowa budgets.  It all starts with the law that only allows the state to spend 99% of the money it collects each year.  So if the state...

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Legislative Leaders Elected; Looking Ahead at 2021

Monday, November 30, 2020

The majority and minority party members of the Iowa Legislature have picked their new leaders. Committee assignments should be coming out in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.  Below are the new leaders - an...

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CALL TO ACTION: Contact Congress

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Congress has yet to pass a new COVID-19 relief package that will help people who continue to face unemployment, health centers and hospitals caring for those with the virus, and local governments...

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Iowans with Disabilities Face Danger, Isolation During COVID-19

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Des Moines Register featured a great article on the challenges Iowans with disabilities face during the COVID-19 outbreak.  Titled "Iowans with...

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