2019 ISSUE #1

Issue 1, 2/1/2019

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Iowa’s 150 elected legislators are back at it in Des Moines.  The back to back snow storms and below zero temps from the polar vortex didn’t slow down your lawmakers, who introduced 588bills in the first three weeks of the 2019 legislative session.  Legislators have until February 15 to sponsor bills, so look for that number to continue to grow for several more weeks.   

For the third straight year, Republicans control the Governor’s Office and both legislative chambers, with a 32-18 lead in the Senate and 53-46 majority in the House.   Thirty-one legislators are new this year (22 in the House, 9 in the Senate).  One out of every three legislators this year are women, a new record.  More than half of the House Democrats are women – a first for our state. 

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In addition to the record number of women in the Legislature, Iowa voters elected a woman Governor for the first time in history. Governor Reynolds was sworn in as Iowa’s 43rd and first elected female governor on Friday, January 18th. Governor Reynolds rolled out her budget and policy priorities during her Condition of the State speech on the second day of session.  

The Governor recommended spending 97.4% of the money available.  She is required by law to only spend 99%, so the Governor’s recommendations leave a significant amount of money unspent.  Among her requested increases: 

  • $93 million for K-12 education (2.3% allowed growth).  
  • $6 million for Medicaid coverage of new complex needs services.
  • $3 million to train teachers to recognize early signs of mental illness.
  • $1.2 million to reduce the Children’s Mental Health Waiver waiting list.
  • $150,000 to expand mental health training of physician assistants and nurse practitioners.
  • $400,000 to add four additional psychiatry residencies in the state (16 total).
  • $10 million to bring high speed Internet access to all areas of Iowa
  • $8.5 million to increase Medicaid payments to nursing homes.
  • $144.5 million for Medicaid in the current fiscal year (much of that is to pay for the MCO contract raises).

While the Governor’s budget does not include any recommendations for stabilizing funding for the mental health and disability services (MH/DS) regions, she does recommend giving regions more time to spend down their balances.  

Below is a chart shows how the money is spent in the Governor’s budget:

The Governor also recommended several policy initiatives, including her support for a proposed amendment to Iowa's Constitution that would restore the voting rights for individuals with felony convictions immediately after they are released.  Felonies come in many forms, and in Iowa, damaging property worth $1,000 or more can mean a felony conviction and a lifetime loss of voting.  Iowa is one of two states that permanently restricts voting for persons that commit felonies (Kentucky being the other).  

Constitutional amendments take at least four years.  The change must pass once in 2019 or 2020 session, then it must pass in identical form again in the 2021 or 2022 session.  If that happens, then it goes to the vote of the people in 2022.  If the amendment passes, the constitution will be changed. 

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The 2019 Legislature will have no shortage of issues to address this year.  Among those that might be of interest to Iowans with disabilities:

  • Stable funding for MH/DS regions. 
  • Funding for new complex needs – both Medicaid and MH/DS regions.
  • Roll-out (and funding) of new Children’s Mental Health System.
  • More managed care oversight.
  • Pulling long-term supports and services out of managed care.
  • Increased reimbursement for substance use providers.
  • Reallocation of the tiered rates for community-based providers.
  • Expansion of cannabidiol (CBD oil) use to additional health conditions.
  • Creation of a new program to help offset the costs of home modifications.
  • Workforce programs that encourage people to work in direct care, health care, and mental health field.
  • One-cent sales tax increase to pay for water quality, mental health, children’s metnal health and other state priorities.

Are your legislators missing something that is important to you?  If you care about something on this list or want to make sure another issue makes your legislator’s list this year, use our Grassroots Action Center to let them know.  Get started here.

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Guest Editorial by Dan Enderson, Senior Manager of Advocacy, National Multiple Sclerosis Society 

Almost all of us, at some point in our lives, will experience a disability, whether as a result of a chronic disease, illness, developmental disability, accident, or age. When living with a disability, the condition and functionality of a home can mean the difference between continuing to live in one’s home or leaving it for nursing or long-term care

Without the proper equipment and modifications, a home can become a dangerous place for someone with limited mobility. Falling in one’s home is one of the leading causes of visits to an emergency room or hospitalization for these Iowans. Falls are physically and emotionally traumatic and can result in death. Iowa has one of the highest fall-related death rates in the country.

In order to remain safely in a home, modifications such as ramps, lifts, grab bars, or hallway and room remodels are sometimes a necessity. However, home modifications can be expensive. Homeowners wanting to remodel a home to accommodate a disability could spend thousands of dollars on average and upwards of more than $25,000 for major modifications.

To help Iowa seniors and those living with disabilities live safely in their home, a coalition of aging, disability, and housing advocates this session are supporting the creation of the Accessible Homes for Iowans program. This program would provide grants up to $5,000 to low-income Iowans living with a disability or over the age of 65 to make accessible modifications to a home. This session the coalition will be requesting an appropriation of $1 million to the Iowa Department of Aging to create and administer this program.

Continuing to live in one’s home promotes emotional wellbeing, independence, and maintaining a connection to the community and employment. It is also a more cost-effective housing option compared to institutional care. Using an average of the current cost of long-term care in Iowa, by keeping around 20 Iowans in their homes and out of assisted living or nursing homes for a year would avoid $1 million in expenses.

Please join our effort this year by reaching out to your legislators and urge them to support an appropriation for this program. If you would like more information, please contact Dan Endreson, Senior Manager of Advocacy with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at dan.endreson@nmss.org. 

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A special contest committeewas appointed in the House to review one race, in which Republican Representative Mike Bergan beat Democrat Kayla Koether by only 9 votes.  Twenty-nine ballots were not counted because they did not have postmarks that are recognized by Iowa law.   

The contest committee decided that the ballots should not be counted, and the Iowa House later voted in agreement, putting an end to the dispute in that race.  The issue was the type of bar code; the bar code on the ballots was for a subscription service offered by the post office and the county did not pay for that service. There is a chance that the issue will end up back in court, but Representative Bergan will represent Decorah and parts of Winneshiek, Fayette, and Clayton Counties this year in the Iowa Legislature.

There is a bill that has been introduced to address this issue - Senate File 35 by Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Black Hawk).  It states that any bar code or other tracking system used by the postal service should be recognized.

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The 2019-2020 Guide to the Iowa Legislature is one resource you do not want to miss! Our Guide gives you all the information you need about the Iowa Legislature – how a bill becomes a law, significant dates, key committee members, contact information, and more.  You can get an online copy of it now here.

All mail and email infoNET readers will get a copy of this Guide in the mail soon.  If you do not receive a copy in the next two weeks, let us know at infonetiowa@gmail.com.

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The legislative session is fast-moving and it can be tough to stay on top of the issues being discussed at our State Capitol.  That’s why the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council will be hosting monthly advocacy calls.  Join lobbyist and infoNET writer Amy Campbell and DD Council Public Policy Manager Rik Shannon to talk about the issues being discussed at the Capitol and what you can do to make your voice heard.

infoNET/DD Council Advocacy Calls

Friday, February 15 @ 10-10:30 am

Friday, March 15 @ 10-10:30 am

To join by phone:
Call 1-866-685-1580
When prompted, enter 515 242 6150 #
You will be placed on hold until the leader signs in.

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The Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council and Iowans with Disabilities in Action invite you to join us for Advocating for Change Day. Advocating for Change Day is a day specifically for Iowans affected by disability to become skilled at communicating with their legislators and other elected state officials.  As a participant you will have the opportunity to attend a legislative briefing, visit with available legislators and other elected officials and lobbyists, and watch the legislative process from the galleries (when the Senate and/or House are in session).

Cookies and drinks will be provided at the Capitol. Lunch will not be provided. Attendance is limited to the first 150 people who register.  Those who attend the legislative briefing will hear about the exciting opportunities Iowans with Disabilities in Action will soon be offering to help you better connect with  your legislators. So don't miss out and get registered soon at www.idaction.org.

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  • Legislators have until Friday, February 15 to sponsor bills.

  • First deadline is Friday, March 5 (when bills need to be voted out of their originating committee; this doesn’t apply to tax and spending bills)

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Check out the full list of bills that may be of interest to Iowans with disabilities and their families in our online Bill Tracker here.  Status is updated daily, so check it out whenever you want to know the issues your lawmakers are tackling.

Don't forget to let your legislators know about the issues you care about using our Advocacy Center

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Do not miss out on the best way to advocate - in person, in your own area.  Iowa's elected officials are really good about getting back to their districts and talking to the people they represent.  That goes for our members of Congress as well as your state legislators, and Governor Kim Reynolds, who is continuing the tradition of visiting all of Iowa's 99 counties each year.

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Check out our new design!  Click here to get this issue in PDF.

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