Issue 1, 6/8/2020

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The Iowa Legislature came back into session last week after having shut down for two months to help contain the COVID-19 outbreak.  While they are back, it is not business as ususal.  Anyone other than elected officials entering the building must have their temperature checked, and masks are optional (but are available at no cost when entering).  Lobbyists sit at tables in the basement spaced 10 feet apart, and watch debate on two big screen televisions (one for the House, one for the Senate).  Some will head up to the back galleries to watch the debates in person.  Debate has been extremely charged and some may think exciting to watch.  There are a couple ways to watch debates:

  • If you are interested on debate on a specific bill, just click on the bill from the Bill Tracker (or enter the number here).  On the left side of the website, there will be a link to the House and/or Senate debate, along with bill history and floor manager.
  • If you want to see debate for the entire day, you can find that for the House here and the Senate here.
  • Each day, you can tune into live debate via audio or video.  The links are at the top of the Legislature's website.

Legislative leaders still want to finish session this week, but they do not have an agreement on budget targets yet.  Budgets are the one thing legislators must pass before finishing the legislative session.  It's never an easy process, but this year legislators do not really know how much the state will suffer from the economic consequences of COVID-19.  That's slowing down the process.  Legislators are not working on Monday and Tuesday of this week while they wait to see if their legislative leaders and the Governor can come to an agreement on the budget. Wednesday legislators will start to debate the list of bills they want to get done for the year.  Committees are mostly done - only Appropriations and Ways and Means will meet, and they will continue to meet in the House and Senate chambers so they can be broadcast live.

This issue of INFONET is only available for those that receive it electronically.  We will post updates and breaking news on our Facebook and Twitter feeds (@infonetiowa), so make sure you watch those.

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Last Friday was the reset "funnel" deadline when bills had to be passed out of committee.  Legislators used the first three days of the restarted session to get bills out of committee and ready for debate.  Any bills that didn't make it out of committee last week are now dead, and will not be debated this year (unless of course they deal with spending or taxes; those can be discussed at any time).  

We have updated our Bill Tracker - only those bills that remain alive are marked as "active."  Those that failed to make the cut have now been moved to the "inactive" list.  Among those that are still alive:

  • Parents will be able to use their child's 529 plans (college savings accounts) to pay for special education provided out of state under House File 2340, which is now waiting for the Governor to sign into law.
  • Iowans with special needs trusts or supplemental needs trusts will be able to convert them into the more flexible 529-like plans called ABLE Savings Plans under House File 2526, which passed out of Senate Human Resources Committee last week and is ready for Senate debate. Rep. Linda Upmeyer, former speaker of the Iowa House, introduced this bill after constituents explained how much it cost them in both time and money to go to the courts for every little withdrawl made from supplemental needs trusts, and the flexibility of the newer ABLE Accounts. You can learn more about Iowa's ABLE Accounts here.
  • Iowa is one step closer to ending organ transplant discrimination against people with disabilities, with a Senate committee advancing House File 2561. Some transplant policies require a recipient to be able to self-care for the months and years after receiving the organ donation, but do not necessarily recognize that some people with disabilities may use supports to help them with that self-care. This bill, which was introduced by Skyler Wheeler on behalf of a constituent Emma Bouza and her daughter Ruby, will help make sure that type of descrimination doesn't occur in Iowa.  The bill now needs to pass the full Senate, and it'll be on its way to the Governor.
  • Iowa's law books (called the Code of Iowa) will get an language update if House File 2585 passes the Senate this week; this bill replaces "deaf" with "deaf and hard of hearing," and "speech and hearing impaired" with "persons with speech disorders and deaf and hard of hearing."  The bill is also ready for Senate debate.
  • An update to the state's medical cannabidiol law (House File 2589) is on its way to the Governor.  While it caps THC (the part of the cannabis plant that gets people "high") at 4.5 grams every 90 days, it also allows physician assistants and nurse practitioners to certify that a person has a condition that by law can be treated with mCBD, allows use for those with PTSD or autism with self-injury or aggressive behaviors, and allows those who are terminally ill to exceed THC limits. A bill that went beyond this was vetoed by the Governor last year, but this bill is more in line with her recommendations.
  • Another bill on its way to the Governor paves the way for the use of telehealth in schools to address student mental health needs.  In her speech at the opening of the legislative session, the Governor said she wanted to have kids walk down the hall during the day for their mental health visits, versus going across the county and missing school. This bill, Senate File 2261, does that and requires private insurers pay for the services delivered on school sites at equal rates to those that would be provided in a provider's office.
  • Senate File 2301, which requires insurance companies to cover treatment for pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS) and pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococal infections (PANDAS).  The bill came out of House committee unanimously last week, and is ready for a full House vote.
  • Updates to Iowa's guardianship and conservatorship laws also made it through last week's deadline (Senate File 2321 & Senate File 2323); once passed we'll get a full explanation out.
  • A heavily-amended Senate File 2360 also made the deadline and is ready for House debate.  This bill creates a grant program for the estabilishment of short-term therapeutic classrooms for children who are disruptive in the classroom, limits the use of classroom clears, and requires the establishment of clear guidelines on the use of force to remove a child from the classroom.  It does not, however, contain any of the concerning pieces that would have broadened the authorized use of corporal punishment, and given teachers immunity when force is used from Board of Educational Examiner discipline.  It also continues to include that all "behavioral intervention plans" and therapeutic classroom placement decisions be in line with a student's IEP.  Since this was a House Committee Amendment on a Senate bill, the House will need to pass the amendment and the bill, and the Senate will need to vote again on the bill with the House amendment.  However, we understand that this is agreed to, so should move forward this year.
  • The Governor asked legislators to pass a "universal professional licensing" bill that would allow anyone in a profession licensed or certified in Iowa to be automatically licensed when moving to the state, even if standards for licensure in another state are weaker.  This applies to all licenses and Iowa's got a lot - realtors, hair braiders, interior designers, plumbers and electricians, doctors and mental health counselors, and amusment ride contractors.  A bill will pass this year, but the House and Senate are working out their differences with special interests and the Governor.  Senate File 2393 and House File 2627 remain alive - and one will move once there is a final compromise.

 Unfortunately, while the above is mostly good news, there are a few bills that advocates will be disappointed didn't make the cut this year.  They include:

  • House File 2097 failed to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, mainly because there was so much controversy in the handful of bills that did make it out, it just got lost in the shuffle.  This bill would have required the Department of Transportation to put adult changing tables into modern interstate rest areas.  They could still do this, and advocates wanted this to go beyond rest areas, so look for this to be an issue in 2021.  In other words, don't give up the fight, you've gotten off to a good start!
  • The House Human Resources Committee did not meet last week, so bills that were in it when the COVID-19 pandemic hit were unable to advance.  That included Senate File 2017, which required Iowa Medicaid to create and maintain an interactive list of community choice option (CCO) and consumer-directed attendant care (CDAC) providers to help Medicaid members explore personal care service options.
  • Efforts to shore up Iowa's criminal laws around dependant adult and elder abuse failed when the House Judiciary Committee took up only one bill last week, despite the efforts of banks, credit unions, county attorneys and advocates to come up with a compromise that all could support.  Unless it finds its way into a budget bill, Senate File 2341 will not make it to becoming law this year.
  • With all that's going on, legislators decided to dump efforts to require individuals receiving publicly funded services (like Medicaid or food assistance) to prove they worked, volunteered, or went to school for at least 20 hours per week (or lose the assistance).  Therefore, Senate File 2366 is dead.

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We have often said that if a bill dies in the legislative process, a creative and motivated legislator can find a way to revivie it.  Amending other bills is one of those ways, and that's what Senator Roby Smith did late Friday night to a simple one-page "use of county seals" bill.  Sen. Smith, who chairs the Senate State Government Committee, attached a 40-page amendment that included controversial election law changes.   Because it was added in committee, the public had no opportunity for comment, although much of what was in the amendment was in a previous bill introduced by Sen. Smith two years ago.

The amendment to House File 2486 is also not yet available to the public, as committee amendments are not made public until the bill is ready for floor debate.  We'll let you know all the details later, but we know that it:

  • Does not allow the Secretary of State or county auditors to mail out absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters (as was done this year because of pandemic) and limits the ability of the Secreatary of State to make emergency election changes in times of a disaster (and also defines disaster to only include acts of nature or threats by people - not public health emergencies).  
  •  Does not allow the county auditor to use the voter files to look up missing information on an absentee ballot request form (so if you forgot to fill out a required field, auditors will have to call/email/mail you and wait for you to call back with correct information, even if they have it in their files already.

  • Does not allow the postponing of a primary or general election in even-numbered years.

  • Requires candidates to get more signatures if they want to run for office (for President, US Senator, and Governor it goes from 1,500 to 4,000; for other statewide offices from 1,500 to 2,500; and for US House set at 2,000; the numbers for  Iowa House and Senate are not changed).

  • You can read more in the news: Mason City Globe-Gazette; Des Moines Register; Dubuque Telegraph Herald; and Iowa Public Radio.

Again, watch our social media feeds for more news on this issue.

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If so, take action!  If you are concerned about the election law changes, tell your legislators.  If you are excited about ending organ transplant discrimination, speak up!  Our Grassroots Action Center is ready to take your messages to your legislators.  Right now, it's the only way to get in contact with them, so give it a whirl.  All you need is your address, name, and some thoughts about what you want to say.  Remember, you can find helpful tips on messages in our advocacy guide here.

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