2021 INFONET: Issue #7
Issue 7, 4/16/2021
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Articles in This Issue:
- The End is Near (Maybe)
- Budget Bills in Position, Ready for Compromise
- Redistricting the Iowa Way
- Stay Engaged!
- Iowa DD Council State Plan Feedback
- Get Out the Vaccine - #GOTVaccine
- Bill Tracker 2021
The End is Near (Maybe)
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 legislators get their expense checks. If they plan to work longer, they'll do so without being paid and without extra staff to help answer emails and schedule their days. You would never know the end is near if you visited the State Capitol this week. Legislators spent long days in caucus before doing a handful of bills; the Senate did only 12 bills this week, all on Tuesday. The House did 22 bills over three days, yet still has 57 bills that are or could be debated. The Senate has almost double that - 97 bills that are ready for debate. These include:
- Limiting the amount a jury or judge can award someone fornon-economic damages (also called "pain and suffering"). (HF 592, SF 557)
- Another round of guardianship and conservatorship changes, this time cleaning up from the last two years' bills. (HF 836, SF 348)
- Allowing occupational therapists licensed in Iowa to practice in other states without an extra license. (SF 463)
- Allowing only county supervisors to vote on budgets (spending of tax dollars) in mental health and disability services regions. (SF 461)
- Establishing new charter schools that are overseen by the state Board of Education instead of local school districts. (HF 813)
- Stopping schools from talking about racism and sexism in ways that are "divisive." (HF 802)
- Directing all health professional licensing boards to recognize telehealth as an appropriate way to deliver services. (HF 431)
- Allowing only therapists certified in music therapy to use the title "music therapist" in Iowa. (HF 285)
- A set of bills to expand access and affordability of child care. (HF 301, HF 302, HF 606)
- Outlining a process for reporting of suspected financial expoitation against an older person or person with a disability. (HF 839)
- Allowing Iowans with disabilities to convert older special needs or supplemental trusts into more flexible ABLE Accounts. (HF 835)
- Reviewing the psychiatric bed tracking system, which was amended in committee (H-1334) to require insurers to pay equally for services provided to a person with a mental health condition, whether delivered in person or virtually via telehealth. (SF 524)
We are still waiting to hear whether the Governor will sign SF 252, which stops cities and counties from passing laws that would protect people using federal housing choice vouchers to pay their rent. Nationally, two in every three people using these vouchers is a person with a disability or is elderly. The cities of Marion, Des Moines, and Iowa City have all passed local laws (called ordinances) that tell landlords they are not allowed to make decisions on whether to rent to somone based only on the fact they use a federal housing voucher. Des Moines' law goes even further, stating that a landlord cannot discriminate against someone whose income comes from public assistance (such as SSI) instead of work income.
Budget Bills in Position, Ready for Compromise
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 June 30, 2022. It is referred to as "Fiscal Year 2022" and the budgets developed this legislative session will outline how the state will spend its money in that fiscal year. For the first time in three decades, legislative leaders are not announcing their targets for each budget area. This is probably a planned move.
Legislative sessions are a lot like long chess matches, where legislators position the pieces (budgets, priorities, bills) in a way to help them "win." Many people think that because the Republicans control all parts of the decision-making process (Governor, Iowa Senate, Iowa House of Representatives) they would all agree. That is absolutely not the case. They have big disagreements, and will be trying to out-smart each other in order to get the advantage and win on their top priorities. One example, the Iowa Senate and Governor want to remove a barrier to having income tax cuts made in 2018 go into effect this year (called "triggers" because the state must increase the amount of money it takes in by 4% before they "trigger" the income tax cuts). The House prefers to take a more careful approach and see if the state will get to that 4% increase on its own over the next year, as state economic experts say will happen. If the Senate and Governor want this, they will probably have to give in on something else the House wants. This end of session deal making is done in leadership rooms and away from the public; so we won't know the final "deal" until it's filed as an amendment sometime in the next few weeks.
This brings us full circle back to budgeting. House and Senate leaders want budget bills in a place where they can move quickly once a deal is struck. That's why we now have almost all of the budget bills on the House and Senate calendars. There are only three of the eleven budget bills missing from the calendars.
- The final "standings" budget that usually is the catch-all bill where last-minute compromises are made. So if you have bills that were important that didn't pass - you can ask your legislators to drop it into the standings bill. There are always plenty of surprises when this bill comes out (and when you see it - you know session will be ending in the next few days).
- The Federal Block Grant Bill (SSB 1257) is in the Senate Appropriations Committee awaiting action. Usually this is a simple, non-controversial bill that just passes federal block grants on to the appropriate agencies. This year, however, legislators may want to add in directions on how to spend the last round of COVID-19 stimulus funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
- The Senate version of the Health/Human Services (HHS) Budget came out on Thursday, April 15. The House has not yet released it's version.
You can see how the bills differ in a PDF spreadsheet attached at the end of this article. Few things to note:
- The Department of Transportation budgets include a $400,000 increase for interstate rest areas, including funding for adult changing tables!
- There is more money for children's mental health through the Area Education Agencies in the Education budget, along with new funding for new teacher training on dealing with challenging classroom behaviors and the new "therapeutic classrooms" that were approved last year (and were controversial - moving kids with challenging behaviors to separate focused classrooms that may/may not be in the same school).
- The Senate HHS Budget includes $8 million to increase home and community based service (HCBS) and habilitation provider reimbursements and $3.9 million to increase reimbursements for psychiatric medical institutions for children (PMICs). It also requires the Department of Human Services (DHS) to review Medicare, state law, and administrative rules to identify changes needed to make sure physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, applied behavioral analysis, and other health services to Medicaid-eligible children are consistent with the Early Periodic Screening Diagnostic Treatment/EPSDT program (report due 10/1/21).
- We mentioned several times in the past issues that budget bills can become the dumping grounds for bills that died in one of the two funnels. That's happened in the HHS Budget; Senators have included Senate File 389, the so-called "Pubic Assistance Oversight Bill." This bill adds new asset tests for all household members, more frequent eligibility checks, and identify verification for public assistance programs, including food assistance (SNAP), Medicaid, and family support (FIP). This effort is expected to save the state $11.8 million in the second year (FY 2023); when combined with federal funds, the total savings is $47.7 million.
Watch our social media feeds and our website breaking news to find out as things happen at the Capitol.
Redistricting the Iowa Way
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 roughly equal in population size. In some states (probably most states) this is a political process and the political party in control of the Legislature can draw the districts in ways that favor their candidates or protect their elected officials. This is called gerrymandering and it is not constitutional (but it still happens). But not in Iowa. Iowa's process for redistricting is a national model, one that keeps the politics out of the decisions. But this year, even Iowa's model is challenged.
The Iowa Constitution requires the State Legislature to complete the redistricting process by September 1, with the new maps in place by September 15. If this does not happen, the Iowa Supreme Court is to "cause the state to be appportioned into senatorial and representative districts to comply with the requirements of the Constitution by December 31." Because of COVID-19 delays in the Census count, the Federal government will not have census data ready for states until the end of September. So what does Iowa do?
The Iowa Supreme Court issued a statement this week saying they will "cause" redistricting to happen by having the State Legislature follow Iowa's current law, basically giving them until December 31 to have something adopted. That probably means the Legislature will be back for a special session in October to pass a redistricting plan. Here are a few things you need to know about it:
- Non-partisan legislative staff develop the first plan; legislators may vote for or against, but they cannot amend it.
- If the first plan fails, the non-partisan staff go back and come up with a second plan. As with the first plan, it cannot be amended.
- Legislators have never forced a third plan, but if they do, it can be amended. However, legislators could only amend as allowed by law.
Iowa law is very strict about what can and cannot be considered when drawing the maps. It's a lot of math, but luckily computers do it now. The team of four non-partisan staff that will be in charge of the map drawing are very experienced. This will be the third redistricting cycle for three of them, and the fourth for the other staffer. Since it's unlikely that those reading this are statistics experts, the following is a simplified version of Iowa law. You can read more about it here.
- Each Congressional District must be as close to equal as possible (they cannot vary in population by more than 1%). Iowa has four congressional districts; that is not expected to change.
- Iowa's 50 state senate districts must be as close to equal as possible. They cannot vary from the ideal population by more than 1%. In addition, the senate district with the greatest population cannot vary by more than 5% from the district with the lowest population.
- The same goes for Iowa's 100 state representative districts - they must also be within this 1% margin from the ideal population and have no more than a 5% spread between the district with the most and least population.
- The maps are also a jigsaw puzzle. Two state representative districts must fit within one state senate district. Each state senate district must fit entirely within a congressional district. In addition, the districts are not to split cities and counties is possible.
- If cities or counties are to be split, the most populated areas are to be split first before the least populated areas.
- The districts are all to be as compact as possible (square, rectangular, or hexagonal in shape). They are not to be "irregularly shaped." Iowa law actually has two tests for compactness in the law to help with this.
- The law does not allow the following to be taken into consideration: registered voter political parties, addresses of current elected officials, previous election results, and demographic information thta could be used to dilute or weaken the voting strength of a language, racial, or other minority group.
- A five-person Temporary Redistricting Advisory Committee is appointed to communicate redistricting plans and get public comment. This committee has met three times, but has still yet to select a fifth member. Two members are selected by Republicans, two members by Democrats, and the last member is selected by the other four. The committee must be gender-balanced. Currently the two Republicans (former Department of Management Director Dave Roederer and former House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow) are men and the two Democrats are split (former Secretary of State candidate Deidre DeJear and Quad Cities lawyer Ian Russell). That means the fifth member will need to be a woman. Republicans want former State Representative Carmine Boal of Ankeny, and Democrats put forth Terese Grant, the League of Women Voters of Iowa President and former Grinnell College professor.
It is important to get districts done as soon as possible, because people who want to run for office must make that decision in March 2022. If legislators are put in the same district as their friends, one of them may move. There is a lot to consider; if you are thinking about running for office, you probably will want some time to look at the map before jumping all in on a campaign. Speaking of which, isn't it about time that Iowa elect a person with a disability? Maybe you want to run. The first place to start is contacting your local county political party to let them know you are interested. If you're not interested in running, think about helping out those that do. It's the best way to get to know your future elected officials!
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 next session. Until the session ends, there are some great ways you can stay engaged, or restart your advocacy.
- Join us for our next virtual (Zoom) Capitol Chat on Friday, April 30 at 11:00 a.m. Click here to register. If you have registered for another Capitol Chat you do not need to do it again. Stay tuned for a May or June special Capitol Chat once session is done.
- Check to see if your State Senator or State Representative have a town hall meeting in your area here. You don't have to ask a question or say a word, but we encourage you to at least introduce yourself to them.
- Consider hosting your own virtual or in-person town hall with your legislators or key legislators that work on your issue.The Iowa DD Council is partnering with self-advocates to reach out virtually to legislators, provide an opportunity to connect with local DD Council members and help us identify new or existing areas of advocacy. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
- Mark your calendar for the 2021 Make Your Mark Conference: Be A Game Changer! Yes, we're planning to get back together in person at the West Des Moines Marriott on September 15-16, 2021. Registration will open July 1, but you might as well get this on your calendar now!
- You can watch recordings of Iowa DD Council legislative panels, virtual town halls, and previous Capitol Chats in our video library here.
Stay tuned for more opportunties!
Iowa DD Council State Plan Feedback
Get Out the Vaccine - #GOTVaccine
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 organization, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) have launched GetOutTheVaccine.org to help people with disabilities, their loved ones, and caregivers learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines.