2014 INFONET #1

Issue 1, 1/24/2014

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2014 Session Begins

The Iowa Legislature is back in session.  Even though they worked only six days in the last two weeks, legislators have already introduced 270 new bills. That’s in addition to the nearly 1,900 left over from last year.  While the date to ask for new bills has now passed, the people that write the bills (called “bill drafters”) are still working on hundreds of requests.  So you can expect to see many more bills added to the infoNET Bill Tracker in the coming weeks. 

Since this is our first newsletter of 2014, we wanted to remind you of a few ways infoNET can help you be a better advocate.

  • Stay Informed.   infoNET got its name by being an information network for Iowans with disabilities.  While it started as a mailed newsletter, infoNET now provides updated real-time information using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, websites, emailed action alerts, and e-newsletters as well as a printed newsletter.  You can:

    • Get breaking news between issues of infoNET by following us on Facebook or at www.infonetiowa.org.

    • Watch progress on bills as they move through the legislative process using our Bill Tracker.  The infoNET Bill Tracker is updated daily and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Whenever you need it.  Click here to check it out.

    • Discover ways to advocate locally. Whether it's planning a local Capitol Day with the help of an ID Action grant, or going to one of your legislator's public forums, infoNET can help.  You can find a list of town hall meetings legislators have on Fridays and Saturdays during the legislative session here.  This list, which already has over 70 forums included, is updated daily with new local advocacy opportunties.  Just click here to check it out. 

    • Browse our Tips & Tools to help you jump start your advocacy.  This year, we will unveil a series of 3-minute videos with great tips on communicating with your legislators.  In addition, our Policy Tools page on our website has lots of information on issues and advocacy that are updated frequently.  Click here for more.

To quote Thomas Jefferson - an informed citizen is essential to our Democracy.  Without informed citizens, lawmakers make uninformed decisions. 

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Governor's Budget Tops $7 Billion

During the opening week of Iowa's 2014 legislative session, Governor Terry Branstad rolled out his budget requests for fiscal year 2015, which starts on July 1, 2014. The Governor is recommending three new initiaties intended to stop bullying, make sure all Iowans have high-speed Internet, and get veterans good jobs.  Here are some highights:

  • The Governor is asking for $7.9 billion, an increase of $508.7 million (7.8%) compared to the current year.  That's more than the state will take in this year, but the Governor is able to do that because the state currently has $928 million in reserves (that is, in a state savings account).  Some of the Governor's spending comes from those reserves.

  • Over $330 million of the increase in spending goes to implement two bills passed last year - the Commercial Property Tax Relief bill and the Education Reform package.

  • Of the $7 Billion budget, $3.88 Billion (or 55%) would go to Education. 

  • The tuition freeze at the state's three universities (Iowa State, University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa) will remain in place - so tuitions will not go up for Iowa residents.

  • The Governor's FY 2015 recommendation leaves an estimated $723.2 million surplus in reserves.

  • The Governor announced an new Connect Every Iowan Initiative to make sure all Iowans have access to high-speed Internet - and his budget includes tax incentives to encourage broadband expansion.

  • The Governor also announced a new intiative (Home Base Iowa) to recruit veterans to Iowa with good jobs. 

  • The Governor announced he will again introduce antibullying legislation so schools can take action on bullying that takes place off school grounds and on social media.

  • The Governor is not recommending a supplemental appropriations bill for the current fiscal year.  Instead, he will fund Medicaid's shortfalls from other sources of funding (one-time funds). 

  • Continued funding for the regional Mental Health & Disability Services System ($29.8 million for property tax equalization).  However, the Governor did not recommend eliminating or delaying the "clawback" - which says that counties that save money on services because of the Affordable Care Act have give back 80% of those savings to the state or to their taxpayers.  So while the money is appropriated this year, counties may be forced to pay it back if the people they serve now have some type of insurance coverage (rather than reinvesting that savings to meet core services, make progress on core plus services, filling gaps in services, increasing provider reimbursements, addressing waiting lists, or serving other "non-targted" populations like people with developmental disabilities and brain injuries). 

  • Incrased funding for Vocational Rehabilitation ($150,000), which is matched with federal dollars. There is still over $1 million that is needed to draw down all federal funds available for Iowa.

  • Reinstates funding for the Office of Substitute Decision Maker ($325,000) to help Iowans who need help making decisions about their health care, personal care and finances.   This Office is in the Department on Aging, but has not been funded for many years.  This appropriation would begin to re-establish the office.

Budget subcommittees have begun to meet, and this year plan to have "joint targets." That means, the Republicans in the House and the Democrats in the Senate will agree on how much money each budget subcommittee gets to spend.  That budget subcommittee will then take that "target" and figure out how much each thing in their budget will get.  The following people serve on the Health & Human Services Budget Subcommittee - you can find out how to contact there here.


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What's Ahead: Short Session?

The Legislature took action on its first day to speed up the session (normally set for 100 days, ending April 22), by moving all timetables up by two weeks.  The funnel deadlines this year - the dates by which legislation needs to pass key milestones in order to remain alive - will be February 21st and March 14th.  Whether this rule change actually ends up shortening the session by two weeks remains to be seen.

To stay alive this year, a bill must be voted out of the committee of origin (that is, the committee where it begins) by Friday, February 21.  If it does not, it is no longer eligible for debate.  In essence, it is dead.  The second legislative funnel deadline is March 14, when a bill must have passed the House or Senate, and then been voted out of committee in the opposite chamber.  So, a House bill must have passed the House and then passed out of a Senate committee by Friday, March 14 in order to continue to be discussed.

One of the major reasons for the shorter timetable this year is the election in November, when Iowa will see its first open U.S. Senate seat in many years, in addition to at least two open Congressional races.  There are legislators running for Governor and Congress, and all 100 Representatives and half (25) of the Iowa Senate have to run for re-election if they want to return to the Capitol next year.  With narrow margins in the Senate (Democrats control with one vote) and House (Republicans control with three votes), there is a lot at stake in November, and legislators want to get back home and work on their re-elections as soon as possible.

Another major reason for the attempt at the shortened session is the fact that last year's Legislature passed more major legislation in a single year than most people in the policy arena can ever remember passing.  Major property tax reform.  Education Reform.  Mental Health Redesign and Health care reform.  All while working in a bipartisan fashion and building the largest budget surplus in state history.  Many agree that trying to fatten that resume up even more in an election year is just going to backfire on last year's accomplishments.

Legislative leaders have set a goal of finishing up by April 4, a little more than two weeks before legislative pay runs out.  So look for lots of agreement and expect anything that looks controversial to be set aside for future years.

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Legislative Guides Now Available

Our popular Guide to the Iowa Legislature has been updated and reprinted, and was mailed this week to all of our readers that have given us their addresses. This Guide includes leadership changes, new committee assignments, and new legislators (three special elections were held since our last printing).  If you do not receive your Guide by February 25, let us know and we'll get you one (infonet@idaction.org).  You can also see it online here.

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Local Capitol Day Grants Available

ID Action is accepting Local Capitol Day grant applications for the 2014 Legislative session. Local Capitol Day grants support advocacy groups that are interested in attending an advocacy training and meeting with their legislators at the Capitol to talk about disability related issues.

ID Action will have eight (8) Local Capitol Day grants available to help offset the costs of groups traveling to Des Moines. Grant recipients can receive up to $500 as a reimbursement for expenses, including transportation or accommodations for participation. Find more information about this grant opportunity at www.idaction.org or call us at 866-­432-­2846.

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Bill Tracker

Check out disability-related bills that have been introduced so far this year - click here to go to our Bill Tracker.

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Get This Issue in PDF

Click here to get a PDF of this issue.

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