2017 Issue #8

Issue 8, 6/7/2017

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It's official. Governor Kim Reynolds is Iowa's first female Governor.  Terry Branstad resigned from office after being confirmed by the US Senate as Ambassador to China; he and his family plan to leave for the new post immediately.  He will now be referred to as Ambassador Branstad.  Governor Reynolds has served as Lt. Governor with Branstad since their election in 2010.

It's been a historic few years for Iowa women, with the appointment of our state's first female Speaker of the House (Rep. Linda Upmeyer) in 2016 and the election of our first female US Senator (Sen. Joni Ernst) in 2014.  Governor Reynolds previously served as a State Senator (2008-2011) and a county treasurer.  

As you may recall, it was not clear if Governor Reynolds had the authority to appoint a new Lt. Governor, because Iowa's Constitution and laws do not explain how a Lt. Governor vacancy is to be filled. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller initially said that Governor Reynolds would be able to appoint a Lt. Governor, but changed his mind after more review in May.  

Governor Reynolds decided to appoint Adam Gregg as her "Acting" Lt. Governor. While Lt. Governor Gregg will fulfill the dutiies of the office and get the $100,000+ salary of a Lt. Governor, he would not become Governor if Governor Reynolds were unable to finish her term.  The Iowa Constitution states clearly that the next in line would be Senate President Jack Whitver.  However, the next Governor's election is only 17 months away. Already seven Democrats have announced they are running (State Senator Nate Boulton, businessman Fred Hubbell, Polk County Conservation Director Rich Leopold,  former Iowa Democratic Party Chair Dr. Andy McGuire,  former Des Moines School Board President Jon Neiderbach, State Representative Todd Pritchard, and John Norris, who served several top appointments in the Obama Administration and was Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's Chief of Staff.  On the Republican side, Cedar Rapids Mayor and former Speaker of the Iowa House Ron Corbett, are also considering challenging a Reynolds-Gregg ticket. Corbett has said he will let everyone know his decision (to run or not) on June 20.

Several key staff will also be leaving the Governor's Office, including Michael Bousselot, who has been the Governor's Chief of Staff since 2015.  Jake Ketzner, who worked on Branstad's staff before as a legislaitve liaison and has worked on several campaigns, will be the new Chief of Staff.  For a full list of Governor's staff changes, click here.

Sadly, there will be a new face at the desk of Rep. Greg Forristall.  Rep. Forristall died on May 10, following a battle with cancer.  Rep. Forristall was Vice Chair of the House Education Committee and was on the House Labor, Human Resources and Ways and Means Committees.  He was from Macedonia, and represented House District 22, which includes most of rural Pottawattamie County and some of the Eastern part of Council Bluffs.  The Governor has called a special election for Tuesday, June 27.  

Both Republicans and Democrats held conventions to nominate their candidates on May 30, but there was controversy on both sides.  Forristall's wife Carol, who has served as his legislative clerk and spent 35 years as a public school music teacher, announced she would run and seemed to have the support of legislative leaders. But local leaders picked someone else to represent the Republican party - Jon Jacobsen, a Council Bluffs bank vice-president and lawyer.  Following that decision, Carol Forristall filed papers to run as an Independent (no party).  There is also a Libertarian candidate running (Byron Jack Holder).  

Democrats nominated Ray Stevens, who has a military and community college teaching background and now works at the Council Bluffs Water Works, to run for the seat.  Unfortunately, Mr. Stevens didn't get his nomination papers to the Secretary of State by the deadline, so he will not appear on the ballot.  He still plans to run, but Democrats will not have a candidate on the ballot. He will run as a "write-in" candidate.  So that means, the choice for District 22 will be:

  • Carol Forristall (No Party)
  • Bryan Jack Holder (Libertarian)
  • Jon Jacobsen (Republican)
  • or they can write in Ray Stevens, or anyone else they want to elect.

If you live in this district and are not already registered to vote, you can do so until June 16.  After that time, you will have to follow same-day voter registration requirements (photo ID and proof you are living at your current address).  Voters can ask for a mail-in ballot until June 23, and can vote in-person absentee ballot at the Pottawattamie County Courthouse until June 26.  For more information about the special election, go to sos.iowa.gov/elections/electioninfo/sh22special.html

As if this was not enough change, the Iowa Senate has shuffled its committee leadeship assignments around, taking away the chairmanships of two Republican Sioux City Senators - Sen. Bill Anderson will no longer chair the Senate Commerce Committee (Adel Senator Jake Chapman will take over that role) and Sen. Rick Bertrand will no longer chair the Transportation/Infrastructure Appropriations Subcommittee (Sen. Craig Johnson of Independence is the new chair).

 You can see this updated list here.  In addition, we have already updated the 2017-2018 Guide to the Iowa Legislature which we will continue to update and offer online until later this year, when we're sure there will be no other changes.  We will mail out a hard copy of this Guide to our subscribers in the Fall of 2017 - so if you do not recieve infoNET by email or mail, register with ID Action and you'll get a free copy mailed to you!

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Before becoming Ambassador, Governor Branstad finished signing bills into law.  The Legislature sent 174 bills to the Governor this year - and all were signed into law.  The Governor did veto parts of four budget bills, but those vetoes did not affect any of the issues we've tracked for our readers.  The vetoes include:

  • Economic Development Budget (SF 513): The Governor vetoed language that made DHS the agency that decides who is eligible for the Iowa Finance Authority's rent subsidy program.
  • Infrastructure Budget (HF 643):  The Governor vetoed $1.8 million in new money to upgrade infrastructure and technology in the state's Community Action Agencies, and eliminated a requirement that the state inventory vacant buildings its owns.  
  • Health/Human Services Budget (HF 653):  The Governor vetoed several items in this budget including a requirement that the Iowa Veterans Home report monthly on spending, DHS report on the impact of Medicaid "cost containment" and "process improvement" changes, $202,000 for Drake University to establish remote learning sites and maximize outreach and enrollment in it master's program in applied behavioral analysis (ABA), $200,000 to expand internet training to additional providers, and language about Medicaid rates that is duplicative to contract language.

Normally we report statistics on the number of bills introduced, and the number of bills signed.  For example, this year, the Governor signed 100% of the bills sent to him, and 10% of the bills introduced this year became law.  That means only one in every ten bills sponsored by a legislator made its way to become law this year.  That's about the same as other years, which usually range between 9-11%.  James Lynch, a Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter, did some additional analysis to compare the 2017 Legislature to other years:

  • In terms of the number of bills passed -  legislators passed the most bills since 2010, when the all-Democratic Legislature sent 226 bills to the then-Democratic Governor Chet Culver.
  • Legislators were much more productive back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Democrats controlled both House and Senate (and Governor Branstad was in office).  They passed 327 bills in 1989, 275 bills in 1990 and again in 1991, and 261 in 1992.  
  • In 2011, when Branstad came back into office and the Iowa House became controlled by Republicans, the Legislature passed the lowest number of bills in at least 20 years (138 bills).  Over the next five years, legislators passed less than 146 bills and resolutions.

More bills doesn't mean better bills, and those that like less government may not want to measure success by the number of bills passed.  What is a fact - the new Republican leaders of the Iowa Senate and their House counterparts wasted no time in passing bills they had been waiting to do for years.  Things like defunding Planned Parenthood, medical malpractice reform, workers compensation changes, state employee union changes, and broad gun rights legislation.  All that, done in 15 weeks.

If your issues didn't make the cut this year, they still can be debated next year when the Iowa Legislature resumes session on Monday, January 8, 2018.  Legislators will also be able to introduce new ideas by requesting new bills.  Some thoughts for those of you that want to see something happen in the Iowa Legislature next year:

  • Call (or email) your legislators now and set up a meeting to talk about your issue.
  • Invite them to visit with a group of advocates, or come to an event you are having.
  • Tell them about your issue, the impact it has on your life or the lives of those you know, and ask them to help.
  • Ask them to sponsor a bill to address your issue.
Most importantly, remember to keep trying and not give up.  As Nelson Mandela said, "It always seems impossible, until it's done."  Or, since it's baseball season, in the words of Babe Ruth, "You just can't beat the person who won't give up."

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FINAL ACTION: New Laws in 2017

This year, we tracked over 100 bills that might be of interest to our readers; 27 of those will become law on July 1, 2017 (unless we note otherwise).  Here is a list of those new laws:

  • Health insurance plans will now be required to pay for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for children/youth with autism (HF 215).  This applies to any plans renewed or issued after January 1, 2018.
  • Health insurers will also be required to follow "step therapy guidelines" - to make sure "fail first" policies that require people to try cheaper drugs first are medically sound and consider doctor's decisions (HF 233).  This too applies to plans renewed or issued after January 1, 2018.
  • Mental health advocates will file reports as needed or as ordered by court, instead of quarterly (HF 234).
  • Pharmacists will be able to use bio-identical medications to fill prescriptions, if allowed by a physician (HF 305).
  • CNAs (certified nurse assistants) will be able to receive training online (HF 306).
  • County election commissioners will be able to combine or seperate precincts for any election, so voters can vote at a central location if more practical (HF 471).
  • Voters will be required to show a photo ID or a new voter registration card when voting, and their signatures can be questioned by poll workers. While this goes into affect this July, it is considered a "soft roll-out."  Poll workers won't actually enforce the new ID law until January 1, 2019.  (HF 561)
  • Iowans with several chronic conditions will be able to use low-THC medical cannabidiol, currently limited to people who have a severe form of epilepsy. New conditions include cancer, MS, seizure disorders, ALS, Crohn's Disease, HIV/AIDS, or any terminal illness. Iowans will also be able to buy the product from several dispensaries in the state, beginning December 1, 2018.  (HF 524)
  • Caretakers who personally degrade or do things to intentionally embarrass the people under their care can now be charged with "dependent adult abuse."  (HF 544)
  • Dependent adult background checks will now need to be run on all temp agency staff performing caregiver duties, closing a loophole in the law (HF 576).
  • A new rent subsidy program in the Iowa Finance Authority will help Iowans with disabilities enrolled in Money Follows the Person or HCBS waiver programs find affordable housing in their community (HF 586).
  • Hospitals will be able to more quickly evaluate and provide treatment to people who are facing commitment by allowing other mental health providers (not just doctors) to perform these services.  (HF 593).
  • Public health agencies will begin efforts to increase awareness on Cytomegalovirus (CMV), including mandatory testing of babies that have hearing loss at birth (SF 51).

  • MH/DS regions were given authority to tax at a per capita rate, which provides greater stability and predictability in the system for nearly all of the state's regions.  Two regions will need a future fix, to be reviewed in the 2018 interim - Polk County and Eastern Iowa (SF 504).
  • Hospitals, providers, regional MH/DS staff, and law enforcement will be able to more quickly and accurately find open inpatient psychiatric beds under a new law that requires hospitals and MHIs to update their bed status at least twice a day, and to note whether those open beds are designated as geriatric, child, adult, or only available to one gender. (HF 653).

You can always read more about the bills that passed (and didn't pass) this year in the infoNET Bill Tracker.  

  • Read about the bills that were signed into law here.
  • Read about the bills that did not pass in the "Inactive" list here.
  • Most bills go into effect on July 1, 2017.  You can see a full list of effective dates of bills here.

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While the Legislature has finished its work for the year, there is still plenty of activity going on over the summer months.  Legislative leaders will meet later this month (June 22) to decide which issues to study over the "interim," the word legislators use to refer to the months they are not in session.  These interim study committees will meet to discuss issues that needed more time than was available in the 15 weeks of legislative session.  We know that interims have been requested to address:

  • Iowa's opioid crisis
  • Iowa's alcoholic beverages laws 
  • Telehealth payment parity (paying same for service whether delivered in person, or remotely using technology)
Several other ideas for interims were floated this year, including the perennial request for something to be done about sex offenders and other sexually agressive persons living in nursing homes. The Legislature also approved an interim study that will begin NEXT SUMMER (2018) to address ongoing MH/DS regional funding issues.  While lawmakers didn't approve many requests for interims this year, some of these ideas may surface again on June 22.  If you think an issue should be studied over the summer, ask your legislators to request an interim study!  Any legislator can ask for something to be studied over the summer and fall, but ultimately their leaders will make the decision.  Remember, if you don't ask, the answer is always no.

 We will post the interim committees approved on our website and Facebook page once announced on June 22. Make sure you check back to see if there are any issues of interest to you.

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REMINDER: Public Forums in the Interim

Legislators do not hold as many forums over the summer and fall, but your federal elected officials (Congress, US Senate) and the new Governor/Lt. Governor team are busy traveling the state.  Make sure you check our Calendar regulary to find these opportunities to talk with your elected officials!  Click here, or go directly to http://www.infonetiowa.org/calendar/events/.

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