2017 Issue #1

Issue 1, 1/23/2017

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Iowa’s 150 newly elected state legislators returned to the Iowa Capitol to begin the 110-day legislative session. But not everything is the same; there is a new sheriff in town.  For the first time since 1998, Republicans control the Iowa House of Representatives, Iowa Senate, and the Governor’s office.  So there are new leaders, new committee chairs, and new faces at the Capitol this year.  

  • There will be 24 new legislators this year (this includes the winner of the special election).  
  • There are 59 Republicans and 40 Democrats in the Iowa House (there is one vacancy pending 1/31 special election).
  • There are 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and 1 Independent in the Iowa Senate. 
  • New committee lists can be found here.

The first two weeks were like any other session  – speeches and applause, handshakes and hugs, signing papers and picking seats, and trying to get used to chaotic schedules and the constant sound of voices around them. But as bills started coming out, it was clear that this would not be a quiet session.

Legislators have already introduced some controversial bills – including defunding Planned Parenthood, legalizing machine guns, reforming collective bargaining, ending red light cameras, requiring IDs to vote, and legalizing fireworks.  More are to come, like an expansion of Iowa's medical marijuana laws to allow in-state distribution and production, and fixing the funding for the state's Mental Health and Disability Services (MH/DS) regions.

It's hard to know what all will be introduced this year.  Legislators still have plenty of time to file more bills - the last day they can request bill drafts is February 10.  Only leaders and committee chairs can request bills after that deadline.  Legislators definitely do not want to wait until the last minute to file their bills, because they need to be introduced with enough time to make it through several legislative hurdles before the clock runs out; these deadlines are called "funnels."

We are also just 40 days away from the first legislative "funnel" deadline, when all bills need to be voted out of their committee of origin.  By March 3, all House bills need to be out of House committees, and Senate bills out of Senate committees.  The second funnel deadline comes quickly after, when bills need to be voted out of committee in the opposite chamber.  By March 31, all House bills need to be out of Senate committees, and all Senate bills must be out of House committees.  Bills that fail to make it out of committee by the March 3 and March 31 funnel deadlines are no longer eligible for debate.

The 110th day of session - the last day legislators get their expense checks - is April 28, 2017. That is what most call "the last day of session," but we know that legislators frequentlly go longer.  Leaders have vowed to be out early this year. 

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NOTE: This article has been updated with new information about budgets (1/25/17).

This is a good news, bad news kind of story.  The good news is the state's economy is growing.  The bad news is that its not growing as fast as experts thought. back in March 2016, when legislators passed the budget.  Farm prices and summer floods have a lot to do with this slowing of the economy.  Regardless of what caused it, legislators' first order of business willb e to cut the current year budget by nearly $120 million, and most of those cuts will be permanent for the next couple of years.

Republicans are not happy that their first act of business after taking total control of Iowa government is to cut budgets mid-year, and seriously limit spending next year.  Many new legislators came to town to cut taxes and create a better business environment so Iowans could get jobs (or better paying jobs), so state budgets and family budgets would improve and there would be less need to rely on the social safety net.  Instead, they get to cut those very programs, and cannot afford to do the tax restructuring that was central to many of their campaigns.  

The first bill new legislators will need to vote on is a $117.8 million “deappropriation bill” – which cuts money that programs had planned to spend this year (fiscal year 2017).  There are now five months left in the state's fiscal year, and the budget passed by the Legislature last year spends more money than the state is going to get this year.  So legislators must adjust their spending - and that means is cutting budgets, what lawmakers call a "deappropriation."

The proposed Deappropriation Bill (Senate File 130 & House Study Bill 27) includes:

  • $88 million in cuts to programs and services.
  • $26 million transferred from business and other tax credit programs.
  • $4.5 million from unused property tax credits (they estimated more would claim these, so this doesn't affect anyone).
On average, the cut is about of 4.5% of each department's budget, but they are given the ability to make the cuts as they think best.  That is why we have not been able to list the effects of each cut - because we simply do not know which programs will be cut within each department. Unfortunately, most of these cuts will need to be permanent, and if passed, may not be restored in the next budget.  Here are some of the cuts in the bill (you can see a full spreadsheet here).
  • Department on Aging ($400,000) - 3 unfilled positions plus additional cuts
  • Medicaid ($13.9 million)
  • Other human services ($22 million)
  • Public health ($2 million) 
  • Legislature ($600,000)
  • No cuts to vocational rehabilitation and Department for the Blind (Governor recommended; not in final agreement)
For the next year (fiscal year 2018), the Governor recommends a 3% increase in funding, and keeps that funding pretty much the same for Fiscal Year 2019.  The Governor's budget leaves only $3.7 million on the table that he could have been spent under the state's 99% expenditure limit.  This is how it breaks out for next year's budget:
  • $219.2 million total increase in spending ($7.457 billion budget)
  • $132.2 million for schools (2% increase)
  • $49.8 million for Medicaid (lower end of estimate)
  • $17.5 million Technology Reinvestment Fund
That leaves only $20 million left to pay for any other services, so not enough to restore most of the $117.8 million FY17 mid-year cuts. Again, these are just recommendations, but as you can see above, legislators do not have much room to move money around unless the economy turns around. 

There are some bright signs for Iowa's economy - Amazon is building a distribution center in Iowa, so is now charging sales tax for Iowa residents.  Legislators will be looking at the March revenue estimates to see if they can add anything to their spending list. 

  • You can see a spreadsheet of the Governor's health/human services budget proposals for both FY17 and FY18 here.   Other areas of the budget can be found here.
Legislators hope to have the deappropriation bill on the Governor's desk sometime the week of January 30.  Then legislators can move on to job two, school funding.  By law, legislators must pass school funding in the first 30 days of session (February 7). They have blown past that deadline in the past several years,  but new leaders are confident they can meet the deadline and give schools time to set their budgets.  The Governor is recommending 2% increase, but some legislators think that may be too much.  
Once the current year budget is fixed, and legislators have finalized how much of next year's budget goes to school funding, they can then set their budget targets for FY 2018, and the work of the seven budget subcommittees will begin.

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Iowa’s Secretary of State (SOS) Paul Pate will ask to change state laws this year to require Iowans show identification when voting at the polls or absentee.  Secretary Pate discussed his plans with legislators this week, but told them he would not be requiring a photo ID.  Secretary Pate said his plan will “make it easy to vote, but tough to cheat.”     The plan will:

  • Require all voters to show their ID when voting at the polls.  Driver’s licenses, state IDs, military cards can be used. Free voter registration cards (no photo) will automatically be given to those without other IDs. These non-photo IDs would be similar to the voter registration cards you get today.
  • Iowans voting by absentee ballot will have to include the number on their voter registration card or ID when sending in their absentee ballot requests.   They will not have to show the ID to anyone.
  • Anyone without an ID can still vote.  “No one will be turned away,” said Secretary Pate.  Voters can cast a “provisional ballot” or can have another voter verify who they are. 

There are other changes, and the laws will not be fully enforced until after the 2018 elections.  That leaves plenty of time for educating the public about the new laws, and getting people used to the idea of showing an ID when voting. 

Secretary Pate’s bill has not yet been introduced; they wanted to make sure it was written correctly before it became public.  There is another, more strict voter ID bill that has been filed by Sen. Brad Zaun (SF 47).  It is not the same.

You can see frequently asked questions & a fact sheet about Secretary Pate’s Voter ID bill here.

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FEDERAL UPDATE: Repealing “ObamaCare"

On January 13, the US House of Representatives passed the 2017 Budget Resolution 227 to 198.  All but one of Iowa’s US Representatives voted for the repeal (Representative Loebsack did not). The budget resolution begins the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also called “ObamaCare”). 

Many people with disabilities have been watching this unfold at the federal level, and many national organizations have expressed concern about getting rid of the ACA without a plan to replace it.  So far there is no replacement plan, and the budget resolution was “fast tracked” (which means it can be finalized in the US Senate with 51 votes, rather than the 60 currently required to avoid a filibuster).  For those of you unfamiliar with a “filibuster”, it is when those against a bill talk for hours, days, and even weeks to stop a bill’s progress and force a compromise.   ACA supporters in Congress have said they will do that to make sure all Americans have access to affordable and comprehensive health care.

If you have an opinion about the ACA, or want to know more about the replacement plan and how it will impact you, contact your members of Congress in Washington DC.  You can email them using our Grassroots Action Center.

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A special election was held in December to find a new State Senator to represent Davenport.    State Representative Jim Lykam won that election, so he is now a State Senator. Now there is a special election scheduled for Tuesday, January 31, 2017 to pick a new State Representative to represent Davenport (House District 89).  

Here are a few things to note if you live in this Davenport district:

  • Monica Kurth, a Davenport community college teacher, is the Democratic candidate. Mike Gonzales, a Le Claire police officer, is the Republican candidate.
  • If you are not registered to vote and live in this district, you are past the deadline.  You can find out if you are registered to vote here, and find out how to register at the polls on Election Day here.
  • Polls will be open 7 am to 9 pm on Tuesday, January 31, 2017. If you want to vote by mail, you must have your request in by 5 p.m. Friday, January 27, 2017.
  • Democrats have big registration lead in this district (7,500 Democrats vs. 4,200 Republicans), so this seat is not expected to upset the balance in the overall Iowa House of Representatives (currently 59 Republicans, 41 Democrats)

After this special election, we hope to finalize our 2017-2018 Guide to the Iowa Legislature.

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ADVOCACY OPPORTUNITY: Medicaid Listening Posts

The Iowa Medicaid Enterprise and the Medical Assistance Advisory Council (MAAC) are again hosting monthly listening posts this year to give the public and Medicaid providers a chance to discuss how things are going with the change to managed care.  Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs) attend these meetings as well.   The feedback received in these meetings is reported back to the Iowa Legislature.  The next meeting will be:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 @ 5:00-7:00 p.m.
Spirit Lake Public Library, Community Meeting Room
702 16th Street, Spirit Lake

You can view other meetings planned in our Calendar here.

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NEW THIS YEAR @infonetiowa

Last week our country got a new President, but our leaders are not the only things changing.  You may notice a something new with infoNET this year.

  • We changed our website to make it easier for you to find what you need. Read social media posts, catch up on breaking news, find a local forums, email your elected officials (including President Trump), read our newsletters, research issues, and more.  Check it out at www.infonetiowa.org.
  • The website is now more compatible with screen readers, so everyone has access to the same great features.  Let us know if you have any problems, and thank you Mike Hoenig!
  • We are using social media more – so you can find out what’s happening, as it happens.  Make sure you follow us on Twitter (@INFONETiowa) and like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/infonetiowa/).

  • Our mailed newsletter will be shorter –but we’ll provide more detail in the electronic and online versions.  We have readers that want less detail, and others that want more. To get a balance, we are writing a shorter mailed version, and ask you to visit our website (or sign up for our electronic version) if you want more detail.  We will always post a PDF version of our most recent mailed version so you can access the shorter one too.  
  • Coming soon – more videos!  We know that many of you are visual learners and prefer to watch your news, not read it.   We may do a few during session, but you will start to see short informational videos this summer.  If you know of someone that would be great talking about an issue on camera, or giving good advocacy advice, let us know!

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As we mentioned before, our mailed version of infoNET is much more concise than our e-mailed and online version. Click on the image below for the PDF version.








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Join other self-advocates at the State Capitol for Advocating Change Day 2017 on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Register now at  www.idaction.org.

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Know your stuff!  Use our online Bill Tracker to follow bills introduced this legislative session.   Our bill tracker is updated daily, and keeps tabs on bills of interest to Iowans with disabilities.  Just click here to see bills tracked.

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Last year, we tracked over 500 public legislative forums, Congressional town hall meetings, and various elected official listening posts.  So check out our list, and see if there is a legislative forum near you.  These are great opportunities to meet your legislators, introduce yourself, ask questions, or just get more informed.  Click here to find a forum near you.

Our list only shows three weeks at a time, so make sure you check back often.

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