2019 ISSUE #2

Issue 2, 2/24/2019

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As the Legislature ends its sixth week out of the roughly sixteen-week session, we have watched legislator’s power through a lot of crazy weather while still introducing a staggering 1,305 bills.  With the first legislative deadline fast approaching on March 8th, the pace will continue to speed up.  This “first funnel” deadline stops discussion of any bill that has not yet made it out of committee.  The next two weeks will be a race up to the deadline.  Our next issue will focus on the issues that are still alive post-funnel, and what you can do if your issues didn’t make the cut. 

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The groundhog didn’t see his shadow this year and predicted an early spring.  He may not have been right in his weather predictions, but he certainly could have predicted an early end to the state’s legislative session.  The pace has been fast since the beginning of session, but the real sign of an early end to session is the February announcement of budget targets.

Budget Targets:  Senate and House majority leaders give their budget subcommittee chairs a total dollar amount that they have to spend.  Sometimes they are joint targets (agreed to by both the House and Senate).

House leaders announced their budget targets this week, but the Senate has said they have not agreed to them.  They will likely have their own targets announced soon. Typically the real budget work begins once the Revenue Estimating Conference meets on March 15 to review how the state’s finances look.  If everything looks good, legislators will move forward with budget development.  If things are looking bad, they may look for cuts to make sure they don’t overspend.

House Republican leaders have announced they will put together a budget that spends $7.668 billion in fiscal year 2020.  While they are allowed to spend 99% of the money the state is expected to take in during the fiscal year, the House targets only spend 97.5%.  In other words, they leave about $80 million on the table that could legally be spent. Those funds will go into the state’s savings account instead. 

Fiscal Year 2020:  Funds state government from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. Often shortened to FY20.

Below is a chart that shows how the House budget targets compare with the Governor’s proposed budget, and the current year (FY19) budget. 

As you can see, the House targets are $193 million over the current year’s budget, and about $10 million over the Governor’s recommended budget.  If the House sticks to this budget, they’ll put nearly $300 million in the state’s savings account this year. 

Budget subcommittee chairs have already started working on their individual budgets, so now is the time to start talking about your budget priorities.  What do you want to see funded? What areas do you think need increases?  Some things that will be considered this year as new funding:

  • Mental health complex needs & funding for regions
  • Medicaid & HCBS waiver waiting lists
  • Children’s mental health services
  • Home modification grants for people with disabilities or health issues

Individual budget subcommittee chairs have already begun the development of the FY 2020 budget and over the next several weeks will recommend funding levels for each of the individual line items contained within each budget target.  Budget subcommittees will wrap up all their presentations this week and will not meet again until they have joint targets.

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Governor Reynolds signed Iowa’s school aid bill into law this week, increasing K-12 school funding by $90 million for the upcoming school year.  That’s a 2.06% increase, or about $144 more per student.  Total state spending will now be $6,880 per student. 

While school funding for next year is settled, legislators are also considering a review of the state’s special education system. Senate File 316 asks for an interim legislative committee to review and make recommendations to improve outcomes for students that have individualized education programs (IEPs).  The bill passed out of committee last week (making it safe from the funnel) and is ready for Senate debate. 

The interim committee would get input from AEAs, Department of Education, school administrators and board members, special education teachers and general education teachers, children’s mental health professionals, and parents of both special education and general education children, and look at: 

  • State and federal laws.
  • Ways inclusion requirements and least restrictive environment placements affect the classroom.
  • Evidence-based practices and strategies to best accommodate and improve outcomes for students with IEPs.
  • Graduated process to transfer a child requiring special education from a self-contained classroom to a general education classroom.

If this bill is passed, the Legislative Council would make the final decision to hold the interim, which would need to have its report done by December 18, 2020.

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Six weeks into session and we have not yet seen a bill implementing the recommendations of the Governor Reynold’s Children’s Health System Board.  It was a key part of the Governor’s “Condition of the State” address, but to date no bill has been introduced.  

Likewise, many legislators promised to follow through and fund last year’s legislative mandate requiring regions to develop an array of services for Iowans with complex mental health needs.  The Iowa State Association of Counties has asked that county property tax limitations be lifted, so that regions could equalize their levies and generate the money needed to fund these core regional mental health and disability services. Counties are also asking to be given more time to spend balances they have.  To date, no bill have been introduced on these issues.

Because bills that address taxes and spending are funnel-proof, and since budget discussions are beginning, now is a really good time to ask your legislators what they plan to do about this.  You can do that using our grassroots action center – we have an action item on this ready to go!  Click here to get started.

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The growing use of comfort animals has blurred the line for many landlords, who say renters without disabilities are claiming pet restrictions should be waived under civil rights laws.That’s why Sen. Dan Dawson (R-Council Bluffs) requested a bill to help address the issue; to protect the rights of those who depend on their service or assistance animals and penalize those who misrepresent their animals.  

Senate File 341, which passed out of committee last week, requires property managers and owners to waive extra fees and housing restrictions against pets for individuals with disabilities that have a documented need for a service animal.  Any licensed health care provider could provide this documentation. The bill does:

  • Make the renter responsible for damage done by their animal.
  • Allow denial of waiver if the renter does not have a visible disability and is unable to provide documentation of need.  

Landlords or property owners that deny these rights would be charged with a simple misdemeanor (jail up to 30 days and/or fine of $65-625).  Likewise, a person who intentionally misrepresents an animal as a service animal, assistance animal, or service-animal-in-training would also be charged with a simple misdemeanor. 

During the subcommittee process, grocery and convenience store owners talked about untrained comfort animals injuring customers and creating serious health concerns.  One example given was that of a comfort lizard, which can carry salmonella, being in the grocery produce aisle with its owner.  “Most of us want guidelines so bad actors are weeded out,” said one industry lobbyist.

It’s also an issue for our service members.  According to Robert Beeston of the National Veterans Recovery Center, as much as 80% of those using service or assistance dogs are either active or retired military.   You can weigh in on this issue with your Senators using the “Email your legislators” function in our Grassroots Action Center here.

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Senators Liz Mathis (D-Cedar Rapids) and Amanda Ragan (D-Mason City) have introduced a bill to address ongoing problems that constituents say they are still having with the state’s now three-year-old Medicaid managed care system.  

Senator Mathis emphasized, “Iowans need privatized Medicaid to do three things and do them well. One, make sure Iowans get the healthcare services they need when they need them. Two, make sure Iowa healthcare providers are correctly paid for the work they do and paid on time. Three, key Medicaid decisions should be made by Iowans rather than by employees of out-of-state, for-profit companies.” 

Senate File 156 ends managed care for those receiving long-term services and supports (LTSS) and goes back to the fee-for-service system. The bill also:

  • Prohibits the use of prior authorization for medication assisted treatment used for those with substance use disorders;
  • Requires independent conflict-free case management and assessments to avoid the conflict of interest;
  • Directs MCOs to partners with providers to improve efforts to keep workers; 
  • Implements an independent, external review system that allows providers to go through a neutral party to assess denied claims, just like they have with claims denied by other health insurers; 
  • Allows patients to switch MCOs in 10 days, rather than 45 days; and
  • Moves the Managed Care Ombudsman Program to the State Ombudsman’s Office in order to get federal matching funds that will allow the hiring of additional ombudsman.

A similar House bill is expected soon.  Bills addressing Medicaid managed care are not likely to move unless people share their stories.    

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State Senators decided to set aside a bill that would have required people receiving services through the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan to work, volunteer, or go to school for at least 20 hours a week.  Senate Study Bill 1134 would have only applied to the “expansion population” and not to those on traditional Medicaid or to children.  It also would not have applied to anyone who was physically or mentally unable to work, was pregnant or caring for a child under the age of one, or was the parent of a dependent child with a disability.

Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) tabled the bill after hearing that early estimates showed 8 out of every 10 Medicaid members already worked.  Iowa Medicaid was unable to provide updated estimates.   However, Sen. Schultz did advance a broader public assistance bill earlier in the week. That bill, Senate File 334, would require DHS or a contractor they hire to electronically verify the eligibility of everyone receiving Medicaid (all Medicaid), food assistance (SNAP), and the Family Investment Program (FIP). This verification would be done quarterly, and a person would have 30 business days to respond if they are shown to no longer be eligible.  To test eligibility, DHS is to look at death records, lottery winnings, earned and unearned income, employment status or changes to employment, immigration and residency status, enrollment in other public assistance programs, incarceration, enrollment in out-of-state programs (i.e. no double dipping), and records of fraud or identity theft.  

The bill is safe from the funnel, but there is not a companion bill yet in the House. You can see how organizations are registered on this bill here and you can take action on this bill here

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The Iowa House District 55 race in the Decorah area set off a controversy at the State Capitol this year. Rep. Mike Bergan won his race by just seven votes, but there were 29 mail-in ballots that could not be counted because they were not post-marked.  A bar code on the envelopes showed the ballots arrived before the election deadline, but they did not bear the postmark or “intelligent bar code” Iowa law requires.  Lawmakers decided a few weeks ago that the type of bar code on these 29 ballots did not meet the type of barcode addressed in Iowa law.    

Legislators are trying to figure out what to do about this situation, so Iowans can be sure their mail-in ballots are counted.  They are looking at two options:

  1. Require all ballots be received by Election Day (no postmarks or bar codes, just need to be in hand by Election Day).

  2. Expand the types of bar code tracking systems that can be used by counties to track ballots and have Iowa law recognize them all.

The Iowa Secretary of State's office has reported that 1,045 ballots were not counted in November 2018 statewide. The reasons include they either didn't have a postmark or barcode or the ballots arrived to late. 

Where are you on this issue?  Do you think ballots should be received by a certain date, regardless of when mailed? Or do you like the idea of using technology and bar codes to track when your ballot was received?  Let us know what team you are on – Team Mail Date, or Team Bar Code.  Click here to take our poll.

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Yes, you heard right.  Just five weeks into the state legislative session, a State Senator has resigned from office, effective immediately.  

Cedar Falls Democratic Senator Jeff Danielson announced he would resign from the Iowa Legislature last week.  Danielson quit his job at the Cedar Falls Fire Department and will be starting a new job leading policy efforts in the Midwest for the American Wind Energy Association.  Danielson and ten other firefighters have quit their jobs in recent months after the city announced they would begin having police officers filling in as firefighters.  

Sen. Danielson is known for his work on election-related legislation and was always working to expand access for Iowans with disabilities.  

Senate District 30:  Covers all of Cedar Falls, Hudson, and parts of Waterloo and southwest Black Hawk County. It is considered a toss-up seat, with 13,333 registered Democrats, 12,488 registered Republicans, and 15,986 voters with no party affiliation.  Several of Danielson’s earlier races have been very close – he won by just 22 votes in 2008.

The Special Election will be on Tuesday, March 19.  This date may be difficult for some voters, as it is Spring Break week for both public schools and UNI.  If you live in this district, contact the Black Hawk County Auditor's Office immediately if you are not registered to vote, are not sure if you are registered to vote, or need to vote early.  There isn't much time, so it's best to contact them ASAP (319.833.3002; auditor@co.black-hawk.ia.us; Courthouse @ 316 E. 5th Street, Room 213).  Remember this could be a close race, so make sure your vote is counted!

There are three people running:

Eric Giddens(Democrat): Giddens lives in Cedar Falls and is a program manager for the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at UNI.  He is also a member of the Cedar Falls School Board, is involved in the Aldo Leopold Distinguished Lecture Series, Dry Run Creek Advisory Board, Cedar Falls Food Coop Investment Campaign Committee, Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa’s Scholarship Selection Committee, and Cedar Valley Activate.  His wife Kendra is a teacher; their son is in 8thGrade at Peet Junior High.

Walt Rogers (Republican): Former State Representative Walt Rogers lost his re-election in 2018 to Dave Williams after serving  eight years in the Iowa House of Representatives. Governor Reynolds appointed him recently to the Iowa Public Employee Relations Board, but he resigned from that position in order to run.  Rogers is a former youth pastor and has served on several community boards, including Leader in Me, One City United, Guiding Star Cedar Valley, Safe and Drug-Free Committee, Alternatives Pregnancy Center, My Waterloo Days, and Love Cedar Valley.  He and his wife Jenny have three adult children.  Rogers ran against Danielson in 2008 and lost by only 22 votes.

Fred Perryman (Libertarian): Perryman also lives in Cedar Falls and is a sales manager.  He ran unsuccessfully for State Auditor in 2018.

There could be more candidates announcing Independent runs; they have until March 5 to file paperwork.  SD 30 residents are also likely to see many national candidates get involved in the race given Iowa’s upcoming “first in the nation” Presidential Caucuses.  

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Right now, Senate Democrats have only 17 members in the Iowa Senate.  Sen. Danielson’s resignation meant Senate Minority Leaders had to reassign members to cover his committees until the special election determines the makeup of the Iowa Senate. Will it go back to 32-18, or swing more Republican with a 33-17 margin.  Until then, Senate Democrats have temporarily been assigned to the following committees:

  • Transportation Committee: Sen. Todd Taylor (D-Cedar Rapids) moves up to Ranking Member, and Sen. Pam Jochum joins the committee. 
  • Senate Education Committee: Sen. Amanda Ragan (D-Mason City)
  • Senate State Government Committee: Sen. Jim Lykam (D-Davenport)
  • Senate Veteran Affairs Committee: Sen. Kevin Kinney (D-Oxford)
  • Senate Ways & Means Committee: Sen. Jackie Smith (D-Sioux City)

Sen. Danielson isn’t the only one that’s missing these days at the Capitol. Rep. Megan Jones (R-Sioux Rapids) gave birth to her third child two weeks ago. Baby boy Archie joins Megan and her husband Will and their other two kids, Alma and Anchor.  But don’t plan on her being gone long; Rep. Jones made national news when she returned to the Capitol just weeks after giving birth last year with baby daughter in a front-pack.  For now, her committees will be covered by:

  • House Judiciary Committee: Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley)
  • House Local Government Committee: Rep. Dan Huseman (R-Aurelia)
  • House Ways & Means Committee: Rep. Brian Lohse (R-Bounderant)

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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.

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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Advocating for Change Day 2019 is April 10
Briefing starts at 9:00 am
Click here to register.

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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 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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