March News 2013 (Issue #5)

Issue 5, 3/22/2013

Print This Newsletter
Go To Newsletter Archives

Articles in This Issue:

Legislature Crawls Toward Second Funnel

The 2013 session enters its final trimester this week, with only six weeks left before legislators stop getting paid.  That means the past two weeks were spent on the three Bs - budgets, bills, and board appointments.  So here is a quick rundown.

  • Budgets. Legislators have started work putting together their preliminary budgets, the starting points for negotiations between the Republican-led House, the Democratic-led Senate, and the Governor.  Senate and House budget leaders have decided where each of the eleven budget bills will start (some will start in the Senate, others will start in the House).  So far, three budgets have passed the House, two budgets are ready for Senate committee action, one budget is ready for House committee action, and three more ready for release in the next few days.  The final two usually don't come out until very near the end of session.
  • Bills. Out of the more than 1500 bills that have been introduced this year, only about 20% of them survived the first deadline.  Just a little over 300 bills made it out of committee in time to continue their path to becoming law.  Legislators have only four weeks between deadlines, so the two weeks since the deadline have been spent debating bills on the House and Senate floor.  One day, the Senate passed 25 bills, almost all unanimously.  The next two weeks will be a balance of floor debate and committee work.

  • Board Appointments. The Governor appoints hundreds of Iowans to serve on various state boards - from boards that oversee plumbers, barbers, state universities, and health professionals to boards that regulate utilities and the state's liquor warehouse.  The Governor submits these appointments to the Iowa Senate, who must approve them by 2/3 vote.  If a person fails to get that 2/3 vote (33 Senators), they are not appointed to the position and the Governor must make a new appointment. It seems every year there are 1 or 2 people who do not get confirmed, usually because of politics.  You may start to hear more of these discussions in the coming weeks.

The Senate continues to struggle to keep 26 votes in the chamber at any given time.  While Sen. Tom Courtney returned after having major surgery, others in the chamber caught one of the many viruses that are circulating in the Capitol biosphere.  Others got to town late because of Monday snow storms, and still others left town early for various family spring break commitments.  So our report this week will be a short one; probably a welcome respite after the novel we sent out two weeks ago.  

Looking ahead, the next major hurdle is the second funnel deadline, on Friday, April 5.  That's the day when the remaining 300 (or so) bills need to be voted out of one chamber, and out of committee in the other chamber.  Basically, they have to have passed one chamber, and be ready for debate in the second chamber.  That list usually halves by the end of the second funnel.  So after April 5, the debate will really be all about those "big issues" that the Legislature has been toiling over since it came into session (education reform, continuation of last year's mental health and disability services reform, property tax reform, budgets, and Medicaid expansion).  Guess next issue you'll have another novel to read!

Back to Top

Budget Work Begins

Each year, the Iowa Legislature passes eleven budget bills, each funding a different area of the state's nearly $6.5 billion budget.  Budget work is now full speed ahead as we enter our last six weeks of the legislative session, so keep watch on the infoNET website and Facebook for breaking budget news.  Here is a quick update on the status of each of the eleven budgets:

  • Administration/Regulation Budget:  This budget funds various state agencies, including the Department of Human Rights (which houses the Commission on Persons with Disabilities and Deaf Services Commission).  While the overall budget is being reduced by $480,000, the Department of Human Rights is getting a slight increase.  The House has passed this budget (House File 603), and it is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee.  You can read more detail on the budget here
  • Agriculture/Natural Resources Budget: This budget funds agricultural and natural resources programs, including funding for state parks, fish and game programs, and clean water initiatives.  Funding for these programs is increased by $28 million.  The bill (SSB 1245) is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee; it will get a new Senate File (SF) number after it is voted out of committee.  You can read more detail here.  
  • Economic Development Budget: This budget funds the states business incentives, tourism marketing, workforce development, and cultural initiatives.  The bill (SSB 1246) increases spending by $40.8 million, and includes a new $100,000 appropriation for AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) to provide job training to unemployed and underemployed Iowans. Many of you know AMOS for its work in the area of mental health and disability services reform.  The bill is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee; it will also get a new Senate File (SF) number after it is voted out of committee.  You can read more detail here.
  • Education Budget: This bill funds various education programs, including the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program, vocational rehabilitation and independent living center grants.  The bill (House File 604) increases spending by nearly $34 million (including $200,000 increase for the Department for the Blind for vocational rehabilitation services and $150,000 to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for additional client services).  The Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program and Independent Living Center grant program are both funded at current levels.  The bill has passed the House and is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee.  You can read more detail here.  
  • Health/Human Services Budget:  The bill is not yet out on either House or Senate side, but we hear both sides are working on it and we should see a bill next week.  The Senate has released a spreadsheet showing where they would like to put $227 million in additional funding.  The Senate's new funding and increases include $25,000 to help the Prevention of Disabilities Commission host a summit; $98,000 to expand the Children at Home pilots to two more areas (Family Support Subsidy); $500,000 to expand the Linn County Autism Project to Dubuque; $3 million for Autism support; $100,000 to establish a Children's Mental Health Cabinet; $10 million to buy-down the state's Medicaid waiver waiting lists; $7.1 million to increase HCBS provider reimbursement by 3%; $1.5 million for changes required by the Affordable Care Act; $25,000 to establish the Direct Care Professional Board; $300,000 for Prevent Blindness Iowa; $410,000 for expanded services to persons with brain injuries; and $50,000 for youth suicide prevention.  You can see the details here
  • Judicial Branch Budget: This budget is not yet out, but the House and Senate have been working on their separate targets, so you should expect to see it soon. This budget funds Iowa's court systems. 
  • Justice Systems Budget: This budget is not yet out, but the House and Senate are close to releasing their plans for funding.  The House Justice Systems Budget Subcommittee met privately three times this week to work on their bill, so we hope to see it early next week.  This budget funds community based corrections, prisons, the Attorney General's office, and victim's assistance programs.

  • Transportation Budget.  This is typically not a very controversial bill, because most of the funds that go into building Iowa's roads and fixing our bridges come from the federal government and road use taxes (like taxes on gasoline). This budget funds the Department of Transportation and the administration of road funds.  The bill (House File 602) passed the House this week, and is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee.  You can see more detail here.

  • Federal Block Grant Budget.   Each year, the state gets money from various federal block grant funds and must distribute the money to various programs. This year, it is a significant bill because sequestration cuts at the federal level may be affecting how much money these programs get.  There isn't much detail out on the bill yet, but you can read the bill here (House Study Bill 221).  There is a public hearing set on this on Monday, March 25, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 19; the House Appropriations Committee will vote on the bill next week.

  • Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF) Budget. This budget is usually one the last to come out. It spends the state's gambling dollars, and is used to pay for one-time expenses and usually only for infrastructure (buildings, technology, computers, state park improvements, trails, water quality, environmental programs, etc.).  You won't see this bill for another couple of weeks.

  • Standings Budget.  This really is the last bill of the year; some years we don't see this until 48 hours before they session ends.  It appropriates the money needed for automatic spending programs, things like property tax credits and other programs with funding guaranteed in Iowa law.  This could be where the Mental Health and Disability Services "Per Capita Equalization Formula" funds are approporiated, but that decision hasn't been made yet.  This is also a catchall bill and ends up getting a lot of bills that didn't make deadlines or ran into snags along the way put on as amendments.   When you see us announce this bill, you'll know the session end is near.

The Governor made it a priority when he was elected two years ago to do biennial (two-year) budgets.  However, some lawmakers were reluctant to fund a full year the second year, for fear that adjustments would not be considered in the second year.  So two years ago, the Legislature passed a full budget for the first year, and 50% budget for the second year (with the Legislature going back in and making increases and adjustments in the next session).  That seemed to work out okay, and legislators are back on track to do something like that again this year.  House leaders want to fund the second year budget at 85%; Senate leaders want to fund it at 35%.  If you split the difference, it's 60%. 

Back to Top

All's Quiet on the MH/DS Redesign Front

While legislators are not doing much in committees or debate on Mental Health and Disability Services (MH/DS) Redesign, we know that there are many informal closed meeting negotiations going on to try to reach a compromise that will affect the future of the redesign effort.  This is concerning some advocates for counties, providers, and non-profit organizations, who feel the compromise was passed last year, and the Legislature just needs to live up to its commitment to fund services.

Here is what we know so far:

  • Transition Fund:   House File 160 passed the House and Senate, and is waiting for the Governor's signature.  This bill gets $11.6 million quickly into the hands of the 26 counties facing budget shortfalls this year.  The Governor has not yet stated whether he will sign the bill or not, but we expect a decision soon after he returns from a family vacation in Arizona this weekend.  Counties will receive checks within two weeks of this bill being signed.
  • Per Capita Equalization: The Fiscal Viability Committee met this summer to review the redesigned MH/DS system, and make recommendations to address any unintended consequences, and make sure the funding formula (per capita equalization) works.  That committee made several recommendations, which are included in Senate File 415.  Key among those recommendations were 1) making sure that counties could continue to serve non-priority populations (like developmental disabilities and brain injuries) if they were serving them prior to the redesign, and 2) funding the per capita equalization formula.  As you will recall, the Per Capita Equalization Formula allows every county/region to budget up to $47.28 per person in their area for non-Medicaid services.  Counties that collect more than $47.28 per person must lower their property taxes.  Counties that collect less than that will receive state funds to bring them up to that level.  

There is some discussion going on about the $47.28 formula.  Sen. Joe Bolkcom believes some counties are getting too much money, while others are not getting enough.  He wants to propose a new way to distribute the funds, but that is being met with a lot of resistance from advocates and counties, who based their budgets on the $47.28 formula.  We do not know much about the "alternative plan" being proposed, but what we do know is they are spending the same amount of money as is needed for the $47.28 plan.  That money would be divided up differently: 

  • $13 million to cover the shortfalls in counties they have identified (there is some dispute among counties as to whether this information is accurate).

  • $7 million for growth (about $2.50/person).

  • $10 million for an emergency fund to help counties cover unanticipated shortfalls or costs associated with the ongoing transition to regional systems. Counties would have to apply to DHS for this, similar to how they applied for Transition Funds.

Back to Top

Medicaid Expansion Debate Scheduled

The Senate has scheduled debate on Senate File 296, the bill that expands Medicaid to any Iowan earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level.  This expansion was allowed by the federal health care reform law (Affordable Care Act), and is paid for entirely by the federal government for the first three years.  After three years, the federal share goes down gradually until the state begins picking up 10% of the costs in 2020 and after.  The regular Medicaid match is 58% federal, 42% state; so many legislators think the enhanced Medicaid match of 90-10 is a good way to pay for services to the 150,000 Iowans that would be eligible for this coverage.

Those opposing Medicaid expansion say the federal government in an unreliable partner, and the state should develop their own program even if it means picking up more of the cost (42% as opposed to 10%).  There has been no alternative plan developed, although the Governor's office is said to be working on a plan that would cover about half as many people (89,000 Iowans earning up to 100% of the federal poverty level) at a cost of $162 million (of which $43 million is taken from county MH/DS levies and used for this instead of MH/DS services).  We will let you know as soon as the Governor's alternative plan is released.

If you want to listen or watch the Senate debate on Senate File 296, you can do that at the Capitol or from home on your computers:

  • Watch in Person.  You can watch the debate in person from the Senate gallery or Room 116.  Arrive early to be sure of getting a seat.   While there are areas in the galleries that are accessible, they have set aside Room 116 for those with physical disabilities that may make it difficult to get into the galleries.

  • Watch from Home.  You can watch the debate live online here.  You can listen to debate live on Apple devices here, or on a computer or tablet using Windows here.

Back to Top

Bills of Interest

As we move closer to the April 5 "funnel" deadline, committees will start to make decisions about which bills will live, and which will be set aside for the year.  To stay alive, a bill must have been voted out of one chamber (House or Senate) and then out of committee in the opposite chamber. So basically, House Files need to be out of Senate committees, and Senate Files must be out of House committees.  

Whether you lobby on the bills you care about from home or at Advocating for Change Day on Wednesday, March 27, it is important for you to take action if you want your issues to survive the second funnel deadline.  

  • You can use our Grassroots Advocacy Center to send your emails - get started by clicking here.
  • You can see a full list of bills and their updated status here.

Back to Top

All Advocacy is Local: Go to a Public Forum

Local advocacy is the best advocacy. Your legislators come home to their legislative districts on Fridays-Sundays during the legislative district, and many hold open public forums during that time. They call them by many names - public forums, town hall meetings, listening posts, Eggs & Issues, Pizza & Politics, legislative breakfasts, legislative forums.   But they all give legislators a chance to talk to the people they represent, answer their questions, and hear their concerns.  They are great and highly effective ways to advocate.

To find a forum near you, click here.  
For tips on going to a forum, click here.

Back to Top