INFONET 2021: Issue #3

Issue 3, 2/19/2021

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DEADLINE APPROACHES, LEGISLATORS NOT WAITING

The first legislative cutoff is only two weeks away, but legislators have not wasted any time.  The House and Senate have already completed work on 21 bills, and two of those have already been signed into law. Many other bills have already started moving through the second phase of the legislative process, having been voted out of one chamber and making their way through the committee process on the other side.  All signals show a Legislature eager to get done with their work in March, a full month before they are scheduled to end session.  

Friday March 5 is what legislators call a "funnel deadline," By the end of this day, any bill that has not been voted out of its assigned committee is dead for the rest of the year.  The only bills that escape this fate are those that spend money (Appropriations), involve taxes (Ways & Means), stop an administrative rule, are sponsored by combinations of leaders, or involve the Government Oversight Committee.  


FIRST FUNNEL RULES

House Bills (HF, HSB) out of House Committees by March 5.

Senate Bills (SF, SSB) out of Senate Committees by March 5.

If you care about a bill this year, now is the time to advocate!  Use our Bill Tracker to find out where your favorite bills are in the process, use our Advocacy Toolkit to perfect your message, and use our Action Center to send a message asking your legislators to take action on your issue! 

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MAJOR CHANGES TO ELECTION LAWS FAST TRACKED

Twin election bills were introduced on February 16; one in the House and an identical one in the Senate.  The next afternoon, subcommittees on both met to hear from people who oppose and support the bills.  Then, on February 18, both House and Senate State Government Committees voted the bills out without any changes (although they say a few will be considered).  That is about as fast as you can pass a set of bills.

The bills - House File 590 and Senate File 413 - will be debated and sent to the Governor next week.  Right now, without any changes, they make big changes to Iowa's early voting laws.  Here are a few that we think most impact voters with disabilities:

  • A county auditor cannot send an absentee ballot request to a voter even if a voter asks for one to be sent Voters wanting to vote early or by mail would be required to go to their county auditor's office during normal business hours, or they would have to print it off at home.  This is something that the bill's managers have said they will fix, but we have not yet seen an amendment.
  • Only the voter, a person who lives with the voter, the voter's immediate family, or a person caring for the voter are allowed to pickup and deliver a voted absentee ballot.  Friends or neighbors would not be allowed to take a voted ballot to the mailbox or drop it off at the county auditor's office - or they could be convicted of election misconduct.  The bill manager in the House has said this is something they will work on, but we are not quite sure how they plan to do it yet.
  • The early voting period is shortened from 29 days to just 18 days.  You might  remember that before 2017, early voting and mail-in voting started 40 days before the election.  This means voters have less time to vote, and less time to correct mistakes on their mail-in ballots.  
  • Ballots without a signature on the envelope (called an affadavit) will be considered incomplete. If a voter forgets to sign the affadavit, they will have to be contacted within 24 hours and be told how they can correct it for their vote to count. This may be difficult with only an 18-day early voting period, and could lead to confusion.  The bill does allow a voter six days after the election to fix the signature.  
  • Voters who want to vote by mail may not make the request until 70 days before the election (right now they have 120 days - or three months).  For 2022, that means requests cannot go in until August.  For voters that know they want to vote by mail, this just forces them to wait longer to make that request.
  • Auditors will not be able to accept any absentee ballot requests that have had information pre-filled out (except date of election & type of election).  Some groups sent out absentee ballot requests with information automatically filled in (like name, address, etc).  Those will not be allowed; the voter will have to fill in all fields themselves, or using a designee.  Pre-filled ballots can be time-saving to people who have difficulty writing, but they will still be able to have someone help them fill it out.
  • Voters who skip a General Election will be moved to the "inactive" voter list, requiring them to re-register or take some action to restore their voter registration.  Voters with disabilities often face a number of barriers that may cause them to miss an election (lack of transportation, illness, a snowstorm). This adds confusion and makes it more work to stay registered to vote.  There is a lot of confusion about this part; the bill's managers say it will be easy to restore the vote, but others say it is not clearly written into the bill.
  • Only allows one absentee ballot drop box in each county, requires them to be video-monitored for safety, and ballots must be picked up at least four times per day.  Everyone agrees that enhanced security around dropboxes is important, but some opponents of the bill think its unfair to limit the number without taking county population into consideration.  The bill managers say they may consider allowing more dropboxes for larger urban counties.
  • A person on the ballot is not allowed to help mark the ballot for a voter with a physical or visual disability or a person who cannot read English.  This would include a county supervisor who may want to help their adult child with a disability fill out their ballot; they would need to find someone else to fill out the ballot.  The Secretary of State's office has been working on some ideas to test technology that would allow voters that need assistance in marking their ballot to vote by mail independently, but those are in the early stages of discussion. 

Iowa had record voter turnout in 2020 - 73.2% of eligible voters voted, one of the top rates in the country. Iowa's elections were secure, voters were able to vote safely during the pandemic, and the new options like curbside voting all helped contribute to Iowa's record turnout. 

 

So who voted early in the 2020 Presidential Election?

Democrats
:

76.5% voted early or by mail. 
23.5% voted on Election Day. 

Republicans:
52.2% voted early or by mail
47.8% voted on Election Day.

Several legislators during debate on the bills cited information from the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL for short) on the early voting periods in other states:

 

  • Eight states begin mailing absentee ballots to voters more than 45 days before the election: Arkansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

  • Fifteen states begin mailing absentee ballots to voters 45 days before the election: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming.
  • Thirteen states begin mailing absentee ballots to voters 30-45 days before the election: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota and South Carolina.
  • Fourteen states mail absentee ballots to voters fewer than 30 days before the election: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Utah and Washington.  It is important to note that five of these states automatically mail ballots to all voters (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, Washington)
You can watch the Senate State Government Committee debate here (to start the committee, move the time up to 11:24:49).  The House State Government Committee debate was not taped.

SourcesIowa Secretary of State & NCSL

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ELECTION BILLS: WHAT'S NEXT?

If you are concerned about these election bills, you can contact your legislator now using our Action Center here.  You will need to send your messages before Tuesday (Feb. 23) if you want them to reach your legislators before debate.  You can also send a message to the Governor using our Action Center, as the bill will be headed to her very soon after debate.

There is a public hearing on the Election Bill (House File 590) for Monday, February 22, 5:00 - 6:30 p.m.  You must go to Room 102 at the State Capitol if you want to speak. Otherwise you can submit written comment.  Stay tuned to our social media to find out how you can watch the public hearing from your homes.

 The Senate plans to debate their bill on Monday or Tuesday; the House plans to debate their bill on Wednesday.  That means the bill will be ready to send to the Governor for signature late next week.  Stay tuned to our social media feeds (@infonetiowa) and our news alerts to find out how to watch or listen to the debates online.  

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DIRECT CARE WORKFORCE BILL PASSES SUBCOMMITTEE

Despite subzero weather that kept some advocates home, a House subcommittee advanced a bill that will begin the process of creating a single statewide database of direct support professionals.  The database would be the product of an inter-agency effort that will result in a public portal to help individuals locate the support staff they need. 

House File 402 is sponsored by Rep. Michael Bergan of Decorah, who led the subcommittee discussion.  Also voting in favor of the bill were Rep. Kristen Sunde of West Des Moines and Rep. Dennis Bush of Cherokee. 

Iowa CareGivers, an organization that represents direct care workers of all types, says this is needed to help policy makers make good, data-driven decisions about Iowa's direct care workforce and help families find the right staffing options for their loved ones.  This bill needs to be voted on by the full House Human Resources Committee before March 5 in order to survive the first legislative deadline.  

A Senate version of the bill (SF 161) has also been introduced by Sen. Pam Jochum of Dubuque.  This bill is more detailed and has a faster timeline, so it has not yet been brought up in subcommittee.  That means it has not yet survived the first deadline.

You can read more about this issue and find talking points here.
You can take action on HF 402 & SF 161 here. 

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ADULT CHANGING TABLES SAFE FROM FIRST DEADLINE

Iowans are one step closer to having adult changing stations installed in most Interstate rest areas - the House Transportation Committee unanimously passed out House File 492 last week.  Because it is now out of committee, it is now a live round until April 2, 2021.  To get past this second hurdle, the bill will need to be voted out of the House and then out of the Senate Transportation Committee (which has not yet moved their identical bill - Senate File 38).

Rep. Ann Meyer of Fort Dodge is the House floor manager, which means she will lead the debate when it is brought up on the floor of the Iowa House of Representatives.  Watch our social media posts (@infonetiowa) to find out when it is scheduled for debate (and how to watch it).  

If this is important to you and your family, contact your legislators here.

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ABLE TO SAVE? BILLS ALLOW TRANSFERS SO YOU CAN

Special needs trusts, supplemental needs trusts, and ABLE savings plans are all ways that people with disabilities and their families can save for expenses without losing their eligibility for assistance programs like Medicaid.  These savings options allow families to save ahead for their child’s future needs, but some options are more flexible than others.

Special needs trusts are difficult to navigate, not easily accessible, and hold account holders with disabilities to a higher standard when accessing their money. Small purchases might mean lawyers, trips to court, and DHS approval. ABLE savings plans, which are still a fairly new option, offer more flexibility and allow for higher levels of saving.  But in Iowa, you cannot move money from a special or supplemental needs trust to an ABLE savings plan.

Last year, at the request of a constituent, former Speaker of the House (and now retired Representative) Linda Upmeyer introduced a bill that allowed money held in these older trusts to be transferred into a more flexible ABLE savings account.  The bill passed Iowa House of Representatives with unanimous support (97-0), but just weeks later COVID-19 hit and shut down the legislative session. When legislators returned in June, the bill just didn't make the list of must-do priorities.  

Sen. Amanda Ragan of Mason City and Rep. Joe Mitchell of Mt. Pleasant are giving it another try and have both sponsored bills to allow these transfers - Senate File 60 is currently in the Senate Human Resources Committee and House File 595 is in the House Judiciary Committee.   One of these bills needs to make it out of committee in the next two weeks to stay alive.

If this important to you, take action here (just click on the "find officials" link).

Click here to learn more about Iowa ABLE Savings Plans.

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BILL HIGHLIGHTS FOR THE WEEK

The Senate Labor & Business Relations Committee passed out a controversial bill (Senate File 389) that will require the Department of Human Services to do extra income verification and check for additional assets (like a second car) to determine if a person should be receiving public assistance, which includes food assistance (SNAP), family assistance (FIP), or medical assistance (Medicaid).  Advocates say that this will end up adding more paperwork to people's lives, and could end up with people having their assistance interrupted unnecessarily.  They say Iowa has very low fraud rates.

On the other side, legislators that support the bill say Iowa has given millions in food assistance to people that did not qualify and was forced to repay the federal government.  They want to make sure tax dollars are spent wisely.   The Iowa Department of Human Services says the bill will cost too much and they already have plans to use a national system to do enhanced verification, so the bill is unnecessary.  One thing is certain - the bill is safe from the first funnel deadline, and has until Apri 2 to make its way out of the Senate and through a House committee.

Here are a few other bills to note:

  • Rep. Jon Jacobsen of Council Bluffs was shocked to find out that school children who are deaf or hard of hearing are on average four grade levels behind in reading by the age of 10 than their peers and wanted to do something about it.  He sponsored a bill to require the Department of Education to set developmental milestones to make sure children who are deaf or hard of hearing are not falling behind, develop resources for famillies and schools, update assessments, and more. That bill, now House File 604, is now out of committee and ready for debate in the House.  That means - it too is safe from the March 5 deadline! 
  •  A House subcommittee has decided to move a bill (House File 167) that requires schools to have a Seizure Action Plan in place if they have a student who has epilepsy or a seizure disorder.  The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ray Sorensen of Greenfield, who also chaired the subcommittee.  It will need to be voted out of the House Education Committee sometime in the next two weeks to stay alive.  A Senate subcommittee met on a companion bill (Senate File 103) but did not take action on it.

As of February 18, legislators have introduced 1,534 bills in the first six weeks of session.  You can keep track of them in the infoNET Bill Tracker.  Here are a few bills of interest that were introduced over the last two weeks:

  • HF 445 - Requires sign language court interpreters be availble to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. House Floor - safe from deadline.
  • HF 492 - New number for Adult Changing Stations (was HF 33)! House Floor - safe from deadline.
  • HF 506 - Creates a home modification grant program to help individuals with disabilities, older Iowans, or Iowans with chronic conditions to able to live in the community by helping pay for some changes to make the home more livable. House Human Resources Committee
  • HSB 221 - Allows cities, counties, schools and anyone required to publish public notices in a newspaper to do it online instead. House Local Government Committee
  • SF 293 - Includes transporttion as a core service in the regional mental health and disability services system. Senate Human Resources Committee
  • SF 395 - Requires any law enforcement report about a person experiencing a mental health crisis, substance-related disorder crisis, or housing crisis to be kept confidential if the report is used to provide crisis intervention. Senate Judiciary Committee
  • SF 423 - No longer requires Senate confirmation for Governor's appointments to several boards, including Civil Rights Commission, Commission on Persons with Disabilities, MH/DS Commission, DHS Council, Iowa Autism Council, Children's Behavioral Health System Board, and Commission on Deaf Services.  Senate Floor - safe from first deadline.
  • SSB 1200 - Requires health insurance to pay for the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS) and pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with steptococcal infections (PANDAS), if the person is 18 years or younger. 
          .

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CENSUS DATA DELAYS & REDISTRICTING

Every ten years, states  redraw their electoral maps and draw new boundaries for its Congressional and Legislative districts.  We do this after every US Census count to make sure each elected official represents about the same number of people. So in Iowa, we will divide our state's population up into four Congressional districts, 50 Iowa Senate districts, and 100 Iowa House districts.  That way, each elected official will represent about the same number of constituents as others in that same office.

Usually that is a pretty smooth process in Iowa, which is known to have the most fair and least political process in the country.  By law, Iowa's non-partisan legislative staff make the maps without consideration of current legislative districts or makeup of the district.  They can't look at party registrations or if current legislators get thrown into the same district.  They only look at population (making the number of people in each district as equal as possible), making the districts as compact as possible (not large districts with weird shapes), and respecting county and city borders as much as possible.  

The legislative staff then presents a map to legislators, who are only allowed to vote for or against the plan. They are not allowed to amend (change) this first plan.  If they reject that plan, then the staff prepares a second map (Plan 2) which is also not allowed to be changed.  If they go to a third plan, legislators can change it but they may risk a challenge in courts if they try to make it work for their political benefit.  But, this may all be thrown out this year anyway, thanks again to COVID-19.

The US Census Bureau has announced it will not be able to give states data from the 2020 census count until the end of September.  That puts Iowa and a lot of other states in a bind.  The Iowa Constitution requires the redistricting plan be approved by September 15, before the census data will be available to the state.  If the Legislature misses this deadline (which they will), the Iowa Supreme Court will get to draw and approve the redistricting plan (they will have until the end of the year to do that).

California is in a similar bind, and asked their Supreme Court to give them a delay.  It is not clear if Iowa's majority party will do that; they are very respectful of the Constitution and deciding to go against what is in it (even for a good reason) may be difficult for them to do.  If they do ask for a delay, that means an October special session to approve the plan.  Stay tuned as we continue to follow this important part of our election process.

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REGISTER FOR CAPITOL CHATS

Be sure to join us next week for our second Capitol Chat on Friday, February 26.  More than 20 advocates joined us during our first Capitol Chat to talk about everything from the future of Glenwood to Medicaid and local funding for services.  

Click here to register for all the remaining Capitol Chats:

Friday, February 26 @ 11 a.m.
Friday, March 26 @ 11 a.m.
Friday, April 23 @ 11 a.m.

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BILL'S BLOG: Learn More About Advocacy Each Week!

The Iowa DD Council has a new public policy expert on staff, and he is writing a weekly blog to give advocates advice during the four months the Iowa Legislature is in session. Bill Kallestad is the author of Bill's Blog and posts a new tip each Monday during the legislative session. For our print readers, here are the first few posts:

Advocacy - Why it is important?
February 15, 2021.  Give SHAPE!  Why do people hesitate to advocate? People are either intimidated to share their own ideas or they feel that if they do speak up it will not matter. As one advocate said to me the other day, "I share my voice all the time, but I don't think people listen." In considering my response and trying to provide some encouragement  - I said while your legislature might not do exactly what you have asked - your message is important because it does shape the laws and rules. If our legislators do not hear from people on a bill or only hear one side, that certainly shapes what all is it put into the bill and what they think about as they vote on that law. This session our legislator are pursing a bill, HF 492, requiring the installation of adult changing tables at highway rest areas. What perspective do you have that might be helpful in proving shape to this bill? What things should be included? Take time to email your legislator and tell your story.

5 Steps to Becoming an Advocate - Step 1 - Lock Down your Motivator
February 10, 2021.  In this ted talk I find motivation, believing in my motivator to be an advocate and to create a path forward to make a difference. I hope you find the message inspiring! www.ted.com/talks/joseph_r_campbell_five_steps_to_becoming_an_advocate

Contact Your Elected Officals - Introduce Yourself Today!
February 1, 2021. It's important to communicate with your elected officials about issues that are important to you, your loved ones and your community. The Iowa DD Council has tools available that allow you to look at proposed legislation, discover your legislators, and even contact your representative. Take sometime this week to look at our tool, infoNET (infonetiowa.org). Take time to contact your official today --  tell them who you are, and share what is important to you! This is a  first step is important in establishing your voice in advocacy. 

Believe in You!!
January 20, 2021. Your voice is important, sharing your own personal story is what connects the most with legislators. Representatives tell us time and time again that hearing directly from you and the personal story is what helps shape policy. What is important to you? What directly is effecting your day to day life? Believe in the power of your voice and the importance of your message. 

You can read all of Bill's Blogs here

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NEW 2021-2022 LEGISLATIVE GUIDE

The new 2021-2022 Guide to the Iowa Legislature
is now available online here. 

 Go ahead and share it!  Encourage people to sign up
with ID Action & infoNET to get a free copy in the mail!

For those that already receive infoNET by mail or email,
your copy is in the mail - so watch for it in your mailboxes soon.

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HOST A TOWN HALL!

The Iowa DD Council wants to help you hold a virtual townhall meeting in your area!  In years past, the Iowa DD Council has helped Iowans with disabilities host their own Capitol Days in Des Moines.  We are changing with the times, and now offering virtual opportunities to connect with your legislators.

This legislative session (now through April), we would like to help you host and participate in a virtual townhall meeting to discuss your issues with your local legislators. Let us help you connect to your state elected officials. For more information:  contactus@idaction.org 

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ATTEND A PUBLIC FORUM

Whether or not you decide to host your own virtual forum, there are still community forums and town halls being held both in person and online. 

You can find them all listed here.

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