2019 ISSUE #6

Issue 6, 4/19/2019

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KEEP CALM AND SINE DIEWhile Iowans get a taste of spring fever, legislators are getting shutdown fever.  With the official end of the Iowa legislative session coming up on May 3, it’s clear that leaders are lining things up to end session sometime in the next ten days. Legislative leaders have said privately that they will end session one week early, on or around April 26. However, experience tells us that it takes time for the paper (amendments, bills, fiscal summaries) to catch up.  Every amendment and bill goes through an extensive editing process, where bill drafters and proof readers review it to make sure errors do not end up in Iowa lawbooks.  That’s why it is more likely sine die (the official term for the end of session, roughly translated as without another day) will happen closer to April 30.

It’s the time of year when bills that have been lingering on the debate calendar get thrown overboard or held over until next year. It’s also that time of year when there is a lot of sitting around and waiting for caucuses to be done and for amendments to be drafted.  During that down time, legislators can get pretty creative and start finding ways to revive dead bills.  It keeps everyone on their toes.  

So, while it looks like a bill may be dead, it can still be resurrected.  Keep at your advocacy.  Legislators still need to hear from you about your budget priorities, as well as bills you want done before that final “sine die” fall of the gavel.

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There are two signs that the end of session is near:

  • Legislative leaders agree on a joint spending plan (done - April 18).
  • The last bill of the year is introduced, the Standings Bill (done - April 18).

While budgets are moving through the process, the House and Senate versions of the budgets are different because they each had a different amount of money they were allowed to spend for the budget year that starts on July 1, 2019 (aka “Fiscal Year 2020”).  Now that legislative leaders have agreed to a joint spending plan, the House and Senate budget subcommittee chairs can begin to negotiate a deal for their area of the budget.  They started those meetings Thursday night, April 18.

Below is a chart of the differences between the current year, the Senate’s plan, the House plan, and the joint target they have been given. You can see a current version of this daily here. This link also includes links to budget descriptions done by the state’s nonpartisan fiscal bureau.


We don’t know what is in the Senate version of the Health/Human Services budget, but you can read more about it online at www.infonetiowa.orgnext week. The subcommittee will meet on Monday (April 22) at 10 am to discuss the Senate version, so we’ll report on the differences later that day.  The Senate spends less than the House and may have different policy language included in the bill.  As a reminder, the House-passed budget (HF 766) includes the following:

  • Extra money for Medicaid this year ($150.3 million) but only carries about $90 million of that into next year.
    • Eliminates the children's mental health waiver waiting list ($1.2 million).
    • Improves Medicaid rates for Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams ($1.1 million).
    • Requires the Legislature be notified within 30 days of an MCO contract change.
    • Requires MCOs and DHS develop and use a uniform prior authorization form and process by October 1, 2019. DHS is also to look into the development of a single electronic portal for submitting prior authorizations.
    • Requires an expedited claims process for MCOs ending contracts, including faster dispute resolution (so providers get paid before they leave).
  • Expanded YourLifeIowa website to add 24x7 children's MH hotline/information ($306,000).
  • Repurposes $191,00 used for direct care workforce initiatives, instead using it for broader "health care and public health workforce initiatives."
  • Expands access to psychiatric services with four new rural psychiatric residencies ($400,000) and psychiatric training for physician assistants and nurse practitioners ($150,000).
  • Requires the Departments of Public Health and Human Services to work on a five-year plan to better coordinate and streamline substance use disorder and mental health treatment programs.
  • Continues direct funding for brain injury and epilepsy programs that receive funding from the Iowa Department of Public Health (all same level as current year).
  • Stabilizes Polk County MH/DS region by allowing them to use other funds.
  • Eliminates travel reimbursement for public members serving on public health boards, and requires a teleconference option.

Other budgets include the following:

  • New $3 million appropriation for school-based children's mental health training and support, of which $1.4 million is for AEAs to develop "range of approaches to best meet the MH needs of students and strengthen community supports" and $200,000 for AEA clearinghouse of MH resources for schools and community providers (in House but not Senate version of Education Budget).
  • No change in funding for vocational rehabilitation, independent living programs, Centers for Independent Living, the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities program, Office of Persons with Disabilities and Office of Deaf Services in the Department of Human Rights, and public transit.
  • Secretary of State’s Office will get an extra $1.05 million to help upgrade the voter registration system.
  • $25,000 new funding for Best Buddies (in Senate, not House version of Education budget).

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The infoNETBill Tracker is updated at least once daily – book mark it to watch how your priorities are progressing.   Just a few things to note from the last two weeks:

There are several bills that have been signed or sent to the Governor:

  • Setting up a children’s mental health system at the regional level (HF 690).
  • Making needed changes to Iowa’s guardianship law (HF 610, HF 591).
  • Closing a loophole in Iowa’s dependent adult “financial exploitation” laws (HF 323).
  • Giving MH/DS regions with big reserves more time to spend them down (HF 691).
  • Allowing Iowans who are deaf or hard of hearing to designate this on their driver’s licenses (HF 643).
  • Protecting Iowans with service animals from landlord discrimination, while also making it a crime to falsely state need for a service animal or an animal’s training (SF 341).

There are a few bills that could still make it to the Governor’s desk this year:

  • Interim study on special education (SF 316 – in House)
  • Home improvement fraud (SF 461 – in House)
  • Expanded use of medical cannabidiol (HF 732 – in Senate)

One bill we were closely tracking (HF 692) faces an uncertain future. This bill, as passed by the House, fixes a problem with Iowa’s mail-in ballot laws.  Right now, the law is unclear about how counties are to track a mail-in ballot. Some counties used bar codes, some only post marks.  Since post offices do not always postmark ballots, this has become an issue in close races.   

HF 692 requires all county auditors to use the post office’s bar code tracking system, and changes the law to count ballots that are received on time, either physically received by the due date, bearing a post mark showing it was mailed before the election, or using the bar code tracking system showing it entered the postal service’s system in time.

The Senate, however, added a 56-page amendment with dozens of election law changes, including closing polling sites an hour earlier (at 8 p.m.), changing procedures for constitutional amendments, requiring signature verification on absentee ballots (and throwing out if signatures do not match), prohibiting candidates that lose in a partisan primary from running as an independent in the general election (aka “sore loser” law), and stopping auditors from distributing sample ballots to the public.   It also requires a mail-in ballot to be received by election day, otherwise it will not be counted (no matter when you mailed it). 

The House does not seem to want to entertain big changes to Iowa’s election law, as the public is still getting used to the voter ID law passed two years ago. The House could reject the Senate amendment (but the Senate could insist on it, sending it to conference committee).  That would take time, so it is more likely the bill will end up dead, or be added to another bill like the Standings budget.  

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This will be our last biweekly report before the end of session. Our next issue will report on what passed, what didn’t, what was funded, and what wasn’t.  

  • We will post updates on Facebook and Twitter (@infonetiowa), as well as in our Alerts section of the website.
  • Remember to visit with your legislators on the issues you care about when they are back at home (check out events).
  • Watch the progress of bills in our Bill Tracker.
  • Watch debate online, live or archived, on the legislative website

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