|Week Fifteen News — April 24, 2023 |
We are close to wrapping up session and may very possibly be out by
the end of this week. Our last scheduled day is this Friday, the 28th.
There are a few policy bills that could be voted upon this week but our main focus is finishing up the budget. The amount of total spending and to which of the seven spending areas the money is disbursed have been agreed upon. Now it will be up to the House and Senate committees to agree on the individual line items within their budget committees.
The seven budget committees are Administration & Reg, Ag & Natural Resources, Economic Development, Education, Health & Human Services, Justice Systems, and Standings. The total budget for Fiscal Year 2024, which begins July 1, 2023 and ends June 30, 2024 will be $8.51 Billion.
I will send my final newsletter for the year once session wraps up.
Thank you all for the honor of serving you as your State
Week Fourteen News — April 17, 2023
This year’s session is flying by quickly. The
second funnel has passed us and we are finishing up floor debate on
policy bills in the House. We will be working mostly on budget.
Bills that passed the House last week include the following:
HSB 245 Caucus Election Bill
This bill does two things. First it requires that next year’s
Presidential Caucus be attended, and not allow mail-in balloting.
Allowing mail-in balloting changes the definition from caucus to an
election that operates more as a primary. If that happens Iowa’s
first in the nation status would be in further jeopardy. The bill
also requires that participants in the caucus be registered within
their party for at least 70 days prior to the caucus date. Last
election cycle some voters switched party affiliations at the last
minute to vote for a candidate from the other party that they believed
to be less likely to win in the general election.
HF 1 Property Tax Bill
Last week the House Ways & Means Committee passed HF 1, a bill
dealing with property taxes. It reduces the 5.40 levy by $1 and has
the state fund the difference. This will deliver more than $200
million in immediate tax relief to Iowans. It also caps increases per
parcel to 3% for residential and agriculture and 8% for commercial
SF 315 Raw Milk Bill
Last week this bill passed the House. It allows Iowans to buy and
sell raw milk. The House amended the Senate version by adding a
requirement that producers maintain bacteria test and antibiotic
records, and prohibits raw milk from being processed or distributed if
dairy animal’s bacteria count exceeds specified limits. It also
requires milk to be stored at 45 degrees or lower and distributed
within seven days of production.
Budget Process continues to move forward
The allocation of General Fund dollars for the next budget year is one
of the most important functions of State Legislature. The Senate and
House are in negotiations at this time to come up with the budget
numbers for next fiscal year which starts on July 1, 2023 and ends on
June 30, 2024. Once we have an agreement on next year’s budget we will
proceed quickly toward adjournment for this year.
Our final Forum of the year will be at the Dedham Legion this Saturday
the 22nd at 10:00 AM.
Week Thirteen News — April 10, 2023
Key Health Care Bills Await Senate Floor Action
This week the Iowa House passed House File 174 with bipartisan support. The bill allows physical therapists to order x-rays and MRIs for their patients. Additionally, it allows Iowans quicker access to a diagnosis and treatment. Currently it is awaiting floor consideration by the Senate.
This bill is one of many the Iowa House has advanced this session to expand access to health care. The Governor has also signed House File 161, to limit non-economic damage awards in medical malpractice cases, and Senate File 75, a bill to license Rural Emergency Hospitals in Iowa.
Additionally, the below bills have passed the Iowa House and await Senate floor action:
- Mental Health Non-Competes – House File 93 prohibits noncompete agreements with mental health providers, allowing the provider to stay with their patient.
- Psychologist Prescribing – House File 183 removes the requirement that a psychologist complete certain requirements within 5 years of being issued a conditional prescription certificate. This bill also changes that the physician supervising does not need to be board-certified in specific specialties.
- Psychiatrist Public Fellowship – House File 274 revises the state-funded psychiatry residency program that was established last session, to include two fellowship positions. The program will annually graduate 9 psychiatry residents and 2 psychiatry fellows.
- Physician Assistants – House File 424 repeals requirements that physician assistants’ practice under the supervision of a physician, and instead requires collaboration.
- Commitment Hearings – House File 466 allows health care providers who have examined a patient involved in a substance abuse or mental health commitment to testify by video. Current law only allows for telephone testimony.
- Mental Health and Disability Services – House File 471 comes from the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services to specialize the Independence Mental Health Institute to behaviorally complex youth and the Cherokee MHI to acute and forensic adults, makes changes to the Regional MHDS Governing Board makeup, and adds competency-based restoration to the core service domains of the MHDS Regions.
- 340B – House File 423 prohibits health insurers and PBMs from imposing additional costs and administrative barriers on 340B covered pharmacies that they do not impose on other pharmacies. 340B is a drug pricing program created by the federal government. 340B allows covered entities (critical access hospitals, community health centers, and others determined by the federal program) to access prescription drugs at a reduced price.
DOT Trying New Approach to Painting Lines on Interstate Highways
When it’s wet, snowy, or icy, it can be tricky to see the painted lines on Iowa roads, potentially making it tough for drivers to see where they are on the road. To help improve road safety, the Department of Transportation is working to find better, more durable paint systems that will help motorists more clearly see lines in adverse weather conditions. And this year, the Department is trying some new ideas in re-painting the lines on Iowa’s interstate highways.
Most roadway paint is a fast-dry variety that is mixed with tiny glass beads to reflect light. When the paint lines are covered with snow, ice, or water, the beads don’t reflect light as well, making the lines more difficult to see. In addition, the beads can wear down as snowplows scrape the lines and traffic drives over them, making them less reflective even in good weather.
Because of this wear and tear, the DOT typically repaints all lane lines and centerlines on U.S. and state highways every year and the edge lines every other year on a rotating basis. Before 2023, all lines on the interstate were painted every year but the Department is transitioning to a new paint system that provides increased visibility in wet conditions and enhanced durability and will not need to be repainted every year.
The Department will be applying a multi-component paint that is more durable than the previously used paint. They will also be widening the lines, going to six-inch-wide lines instead of the standard four inches. This change will make the lines more visible to drivers and recognizable to automated vehicle technologies. And they will be adding larger beads to the paint, which will shed water better and be more reflective.
In applying the paint, the paint/bead mixture will be painted into grooves cut into the pavement surface, making the paint less susceptible to being scraped off by snowplows or worn down by traffic. Most interstate lane lines will be painted with alternating black and white paint, improving visibility, especially on lighter-colored pavements and during sunrise/sunset when the low sun angle makes it difficult to see the lane lines.
Because the paint is more durable, the DOT expects to need to paint the interstates every 4-5 years instead of the current annual schedule. The change will mean a change in how the painting is done. The new mix would require significantly more expensive equipment to be purchased in order for DOT staff to do the painting. Instead, this task will be contracted out to vendors with the proper equipment.
Mad About Your New Property Tax Assessment?
This article focuses on residential assessments and property classes (various classes of property are assessed differently and by different entities.) How and when our homes are assessed? Iowa law requires that all residential property be reassessed every two years on the odd numbered year by the county assessor. That means Iowans had their homes reassessed this year.
When talking about assessing a home—what is really being talking about is the determination of market value. The law in Iowa is that assessed value is market value. The assessor finds the market value by analyzing recent sales, but also looks at the replacement cost (the amount it would cost to rebuild the property) less depreciation. Assessed value should be as close to market value as possible.
One thing people often wonder is how an assessor knows that they finished a basement or added a bathroom without ever coming into a home. Assessors actually find out most of this information by looking at building permits that are filed with the local city hall or the county. Another issue people have is when they find mistakes in their assessments—like a basement that claims to be finished when it is not. When homeowners find inaccuracies with their assessment, they should contact the assessor’s office. The assessor will review it and determine if the changes need to be made. An appraiser from the assessor’s office may need to walk through the property to obtain accurate data.
After considering all relevant information, assessments are sent out to homeowners by April 1 of the assessment year. A homeowner will not actually pay the taxes on these assessments until September of the following year.
What if a homeowner completely disagrees with the assessment of their home and property? Fortunately, there is a process for you to argue your case. The first step is NOT to call the Department of Revenue. Instead, file with the local Board of Review. Here is the form neede: Board of Review Petition. Additionally—this website will describe the process: https://paab.iowa.gov/appealing-your-assessment.
In a reassessment year, a property owner may protest an assessment for one or more of the following reasons:
- The assessment is not comparable to others with similar properties.
- The property is assessed at more than its actual value.
- The property is exempt from taxation.
- There is an error in the assessment.
- The assessment is fraudulent.
Completed protest forms can be received in the local assessor’s office starting April 2nd up to and including April 30th. The Board of Review will then review the assessment and determine whether the assessed value is fair. If, after review, you still do not agree with the assessed value, the homeowner may choose to appeal the case by filing in district court or with the Property Assessment Appeal Board at the Department of Revenue.
Winter Moratorium on Utility Disconnection Ends
The following information was provided by the Iowa Utilities Board.
Iowa’s annual winter moratorium regarding utility service disconnection ended April 1, 2023. Since April 1 was a Saturday, service shutoffs could begin on April 3. The end of the moratorium on disconnection of service for nonpayment often brings inquiries from customers who have been unable to keep up with their utility bills. To avoid disconnection, the IUB encourages customers to review their utility’s disconnection policies and procedures and contact their utility immediately to avoid natural gas or electric service shutoff and make payment arrangements.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) program assists thousands of Iowans with a portion of their heating bills every year. LIHEAP qualified customers are also protected from utility service disconnection from November 1 through April 1 annually. The end of the winter moratorium period can be stressful for customers. To assist customers during this time of the year, remember:
- Consumers can apply for LIHEAP through April 30, 2023.
- Local community action agencies may have additional resources.
- 211 Iowa is a resource for assistance with utility payments, housing, and other information that may provide financial relief to customers.
When can utility service be disconnected?
- For nonpayment of a bill, all Iowa utilities must provide written notice to a customer at least 12 days prior to disconnection. (Customers who have defaulted on a payment agreement may be disconnected with 24 hours’ notice.)
- Notice must include the reason for disconnection and the final date payment is due.
- Notice must include the “Customer Rights and Responsibilities” language from 199 of the Iowa Administrative Code.
- If a customer’s rental unit is subject to disconnect the utility must attempt to contact the landlord at least two days prior to the disconnection.
Can customers arrange a payment agreement with their utility?
- A utility must offer a reasonable payment agreement if the customer is not in default of a previous payment agreement.
- At a minimum, utilities must give the option of spreading payments evenly over at least 12 months. The first payment agreement may not ask for a down payment, but the second agreement can require the customer to pay the first month’s payment up front.
- A utility must grant the customer at least one late payment that is four days or less beyond the due date for payment.
Questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is encouraging Iowans who receive a ‘No Activity’ notice from his office in the mail to respond to it quickly. Registered voters who did not participate in the 2022 general election have been made inactive and will receive a notice in the mail to confirm their residential address. Those who do not respond will remain as an ‘inactive’ status.
Registered voters made inactive through the list maintenance process can return themselves to active status by requesting an absentee ballot, voting in an election, submitting a new registration, or updating their voter registration prior to the end of 2026 general election cycle.
Iowans who receive the mailing should check the appropriate box, sign their name, and return the postcard in the mail. Postage is pre-paid, so there’s no need to attach a stamp. If the voter no longer lives at the address, the current resident may discard the mailing. To check your voter registration status, visit VoterReady.Iowa.gov.
Week Twelve News
2023 2nd Funnel Survivors
Below are bills that have passed either the House or the Senate and their status. I voted in favor of all of these bills.
HF 201-Commercial Vehicle Torts
This bill addresses the tort liability of a commercial motor vehicle company for the actions of their employees. Last week I voted in favor of HF 201 and it passed successfully from the floor of the Iowa House of Representatives. This bill caps non-economic damages at $5 million dollars in cases of a person being injured or killed in traffic accidents involving liability by trucking companies. There have been cases where damages assessed by juries are excessive, in some cases reaching tens of millions of dollars. Some would say these caps are too high and others believe there should be no caps at all for damages. I feel like this is a good compromise, that gives the industry certainty and hopefully will lower the high cost of insurance. This bill is a result of an agreement between trucking companies in Iowa and the Trial Lawyers Association.
STATUS-Amended in House sent back to Senate
HF 425 – Newborn Safe Haven
This bill allows for a child to be relinquished under the Newborn Safe Haven law through a newborn safety device located at a 24-hour staffed hospital, fire station, or emergency medical provider. The device is a padded, climate-controlled receptacle with a motion sensor and a dual alarm system that provides a call to 911 after being opened.
STATUS – Passed the House and now on the Senate Calendar
HF 112 / HSB 7- Domestic Abuse Assault
This bill allows county attorneys to look at previous convictions of domestic abuse in order to increase the penalty for an abuser. Current law only allows a county attorney to consider the past 12 years of convictions. By expanding the look back, those who are habitual domestic abusers will face more time in prison and away from their victims.
STATUS-Passed the Iowa House and now on Senate unfinished business calendar
SF 538 / HSB 214- Transgender Procedures
The bill prohibits children (persons under 18) from being subjected to surgery to remove any of their healthy reproductive organs or from being prescribed puberty blockers or hormone therapy if it is being prescribed to change the characteristics of their sex.
STATUS-Signed by the Governor
HF 422/HS 63- Bicycles
Current law prohibits driving a vehicle unreasonably close to a person riding a bicycle. Language in this section adds penalties if the bicyclist is injured or killed
– Serious injury- fine of $500 and/or loss of license for 90 days
– Death – fine of $1,00 and/or suspension of license for 180 days
STATUS-House unfinished business calendar
Senate File 381 – Minor’s Special Driver’s License
Senate File 381changes the school driving permit or “Special driver’s license”. The bill would allow a student to travel up to 50 miles from home to school or a job. The bill also eliminated the current law that prevented students living closer than one mile to a school from getting a school permit.
Status: Passed Senate and House Transportation Committee
This session is going by fast and only policy bills that have gone through one of the two chambers and passed committees in the other chamber are floor eligible in the House and the Senate. At this point we are finishing up on these policy bills and turning our attention to tax and budget bills. Our scheduled adjournment date is April 28th.
Week Eleven News
Giving Iowans Energy Choices
Last week the Commerce committee passed SF 411, known as the Energy Preemption Bill. The bill prohibits local governments from preempting certain types of energy. In other words, local governments who are dedicated to green only energy projects, would not be allowed to force consumers to use only one type of energy, such as electricity over gas. This could be dangerous, because it has the possibility to skew the marketplace and cause energy prices to rise for consumers, if there is only one option available to them.
Last week, the Iowa House passed a bill to protect landowner rights as three major CO2 pipeline projects are in the works in Iowa. This bill gets at the crux of the issue – eminent domain should not be used for private gain. It requires that carbon capture pipeline companies to reach voluntary easements for 90% of the land on their route before they could seek to use eminent domain.
It also creates an interim study committee that will make recommendations that will improve eminent domain policy in Iowa. I understand that this bill may not be seen as perfect by folks on either side of this issue. I want to support the ethanol industry while ensuring private property rights are respected. I think this bill strikes that balance.
On Tuesday, the House passed legislation to ensure evidence and documents used in criminal trials are preserved, even if the defendant has been found guilty. House file 657 originated out of the Judiciary Committee with consultation from the Innocence Project and other groups working to support those who may have been wrongfully convicted.
The bill sets standards for how biological evidence should be preserved after a criminal investigation. If a person is convicted of a class “A” or “B” felony the evidence shall be kept for 20 years after the conviction or until the defendant is released from custody, whichever is longer. This ensures a defendant can have the evidence retested as new technology becomes available and the evidence is available for review should there ever be questions about the guilt of the defendant. It also prescribes how evidence can be destroyed with appropriate cause and notice.
House File 657 passed with unanimous support in the House. This bill helps ensure that if an innocent person is convicted of a crime, they have access to the evidence and documents to challenge their conviction.
Hands Free / Distracted Driving Bill
I am floor managing a bill this week that will make changes to Iowa’s distracted driving laws. The law will simply make it an offense to have an electronic device in your hands while driving. I will have more information on this next week, as the bill progresses through sub-committee and full Transportation committee.
Week Ten News
Revenue Estimating Conference Finds Iowa’s Economy, Tax Collections Strong
As has been the case since they set their initial forecast in December 2021, the panel again raised the revenue projection for Fiscal Year 2023. This time, they increased the forecast for the General Fund to bring in to $9.7504 billion. That is a $135 million increase over their forecast made in the meeting in December of 2022. When compared to Fiscal Year 2022, revenue would be down 0.5 percent. The reason state revenue would be lower is the implementation of the tax cuts passed during the 2022 session, which went into effect on January 1. LSA has projected that the tax cuts will return $575 million to Iowa taxpayers in FY 2023.
The positive impact of the tax cuts on Iowa’s economy is already being felt. According to the Department of Management, the average retiree in Iowa will have an additional $3500 in their pockets this year thanks to the elimination of tax on pension income and the higher Social Security COLA. That’s a big help to seniors being hit hard by the persistent inflation continuing to grip the national economy.
Volunteer EMS and Firefighters
In Iowa,over 80% of firefighting departments are volunteer departments. Iowans rely on the over 269 volunteer departments to protect their lives and property. Across Iowa we have seen an increased need for volunteer emergency medical care providers and firefighters. Rural communities in Iowa have for years seen a continued rise in need for volunteers. As Iowans have faced the challenges of natural disasters, a
pandemic, and the continued retirement of their local volunteer first responders.
One way to commit to improving Emergency Medical Services throughout the state is to authorize municipalities, counties, townships, or agencies to implement length of service agreement awards as described in 457(e)(11) of the Internal Revenue Code for volunteer firefighters and emergency medical care providers. The House of Representative has again unanimously passed legislation to create a grant program to allow municipalities to provide an award to volunteer firefighters, emergency medical care providers, and reserve peace officers. The grant would provide up to $1 for $1 match in funding for municipalities that have established the award with funds being offered by the Iowa Lottery Authority.
Authorizing local governments to establish these incredibly useful programs if they chose to, can give control to local governments to provide incentives for volunteers in communities in need of emergency services provided by these selfless volunteers. The bill has been received in the Senate where it has a companion bill.
House File 507 – ESG’s: Protecting Public Funds
- This year, Iowa House Republicans set out to pass a bill to protect Iowans’ money from activist Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) policies.
- This bill, passed through the Iowa House this week, requires that public funds act only in the best financial interest of the fund and its beneficiaries and not make decisions based on a political agenda.
- It also prohibits public entities from entering contracts with companies who participate in economic boycotts.
- There are three industries that we know are being boycotted against in the US are fossil fuels, gun manufacturers and the agriculture industry. All are important to the state of Iowa and deserve protections from unfair, politically-charged investment policies.
Week Eight News
First Funnel Survivors – We finished the first funnel last week. The first funnel is the deadline for policy bills to be eligible to become law. Policy bills must get through the House or Senate full committee.
- HF 96 – Non-Medical Switching
This bill prohibits health insurers from switching a covered person’s prescription drugs to a less costly alternative or increasing the cost of the drug on the covered person when the individual is stable on the drug and their health care provider continues to prescribe the same drug. I served on the sub-committee on this bill and voted for it. There are certain instances where a specific drug is effective and sometimes the generic will not work as well for the patient. This is especially true with psychotropic drugs that used for mental health. There have also been cases like this for Lupus patients.
Status: Passed House Commerce Committee
- House File 135/House File 11– Student Right to Know
Requires the Board of Regents to publish a report that includes information on income, debt, and post-graduate degree completion that is searchable by major, institution, and class. Each student at the Regent institution needs to take part in career planning as well as be provided with the report.
Status: Passed House Education Committee
- HSB 134 – Youth Employment
If you are interested in reading more about this bill, listed below are the sections of the bill, where these highlights can be found. This bill makes the following changes for work activities for those under 18 years of age:
- Adds work activities for 14-year-olds (Section 3)
- Adds work activities for 15-year-olds (Section 5)
- Extends the timeframe for persons under 16 to work (Section 7)
- Allow 17-year-olds to work the same hours as an 18-year-old (Section 8)
- Makes changes to the work prohibitions for 16 and 17-year-olds (Section 9)
- Makes changes to work-based learning programs (Section 10)
- Allows the labor commissioner to waive or reduce a civil penalty based on the evidence, and may allow for a 15-day grace period before imposing a civil penalty. (Section 16)
- Clarifies liability of students in work-based learning programs driving to and from work (amendment)
- Allows a retail alcohol licensee to employ a 16 or 17-year-old to sell and serve alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption if the licensee has on file written permission from the parent (Section 19)
- Allows a minor licensee to drive their vehicle between 5am and 10pm, during work hours, over the most direct and accessible route between the minor’s residence, school, and employment, as long as it is below 50 miles (Sections 20-22)
Status: Passed House Commerce Committee
- HF 143—Ransomware Penalties
Defines ransomware and creates penalties for when ransomware is used against certain entities. It also provides that a person who commits an unlawful act of ransomware and who causes monetary loss of at least $10,000 but less than $50,000 is guilty of a class D felony. An act causing losses of over $50,000 constitutes a class C felony.
Status: Senate Calendar
- HF 424 – Physician Assistant Supervision
This bill repeals requirements that physician assistant’s practice under the supervision of a physician, and instead requires collaboration. This will make it easier for PAs to practice in Iowa and help retain them.
Status: House Calendar
- HF 161 – Medical Malpractice
This bill limits the total amount of noneconomic damages for a medical malpractice claim at $2 million for causes of action involving a hospital, and at $1 million for all other causes of action. This bill does maintain an existing limit in law for noneconomic damages at $250,000 when there has not been a substantial or permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function, substantial disfigurement, loss of pregnancy or death. I voted in favor of this bill. Medical malpractice insurance has become so unaffordable that it has caused rural Iowa to lose medical professionals. Some have gone to other states that are able to offer less expensive insurance.
Status: Signed by Governor
- House File 583 – Certifying Odometer Readings of Vehicles at the Time of Sale or Transfer
Federal law requires an owner of a vehicle who is selling or transferring the vehicle to certify the odometer reading at the time of transfer. But what happens when the transfer is done by operation of law, like when a person has passed away? Current Iowa law requires a cumbersome procedure for transfer in these circumstances that can result in a loss in value of the vehicle.
House File 583 states that the person who receives possession of the vehicle as an operation of law becomes the deceased owner’s agent for the purposes of completing the odometer reading statement. This will allow for a simpler process for selling or transferring vehicles.
Status: On the House Floor
Week Seven News
Weight Load Limits Vary Across America’s Interstate System
How big of a load can a semi-truck haul on America’s interstate highway system? Surprisingly, it depends on what state your semi is located. Federal law sets out the weight limits for vehicles on interstate highways. Section 127 of Title 23 of the United States Code says the weight limit for vehicles with five or more axles is 80,000 pounds. BUT, Section 127 also contains many exceptions to that limit.
Section 127 grants exceptions based on what product is being hauled, like milk, logs, or sugar cane. Section 127 gives exceptions to an entire state, setting the weight load as the level allowed on state highways. The lucky states include Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Maine and Vermont. And there are exceptions for particular segments of the Interstate.
Iowa has an exception, for part of Interstate 29 that is in the Sioux City Commercial Zone. In that section of I-29 running between South Dakota and Nebraska, a seven-axle semi can haul 129,000 pounds. Get outside that zone, and the load limit goes back to the standard 80,000. That amount is 16,000 pounds lighter than what Iowa allows on two-lane state highways.
We hear of livestock haulers who haul to the Omaha stockyards, being forced to avoid I-80 and using State highways including driving through the city of Council Bluffs, past elementary schools in order to get the livestock delivered legally. This seems upside down and we are asking the Federal DOT to put all states at the same weight limit. I have written a House Resolution to request a change by the Federal Government.
Look at surrounding states, and the weight limit number varies. Here is the list according to the Iowa Dept. of Transportation:
- Iowa – 80,000 lbs. with exceptions up to 129,000 lbs. on I-29 in the Sioux City commercial zone.
- Illinois – 80,000 lbs.
- Wisconsin – 80,000 lbs. with some higher limits on I-94 based on commodity
- Minnesota – 80,000 lbs.
- South Dakota – 129,000 lbs.
- Nebraska – 95,000 lbs.
- Missouri – 80,000 lbs. with exceptions for 120,000 lbs. entering from KS, and 90,000 lbs. entering from OK for up to 20 miles from the state line.
The variation in weight limits raises a simple question – why? If an interstate highway can handle a 122,000 pound load in South Dakota, why can’t the interstates in Iowa or Minnesota handle a similarly sized load? The variation in load sizes adds to the issues impacting the nation’s freight-hauling system. With the numbers of semis drivers declining, larger weight loads could help keep products moving while also reducing the number of trucks on the road. It’s time for Congress to bring uniformity and common sense to these dated regulations.
Electronic Registration Information Center
Iowa utilizes the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to maintain clean and accurate voter lists. ERIC’s operating costs are funded entirely by annual dues paid by the member states. This partnership with 30 other states helps us identify deceased voters, voters who have moved both in state and out of state, and voters who might have cast a ballot in more than one state during an election.
ERIC is an effective tool for ensuring the integrity of Iowa’s voter rolls, and the Iowa Legislature agreed and made our membership in ERIC a state law in 2021. In less than one year, the program helped Iowa identify more than 1,300 deceased voters who were not included in the Iowa Department of Public Health’s data. ERIC does not have access to Iowa’s voter registration system and does not make changes to Iowa’s voter rolls. List maintenance activity, including changes to voter records, are done entirely by local and state election officials.
Maternal Health Bill Advances Through Committee
This week the House Health and Human Services Committee advanced HSB 91, the Governor’s Maternal Health bill, with bipartisan support.
This makes the following changes expand access to maternal health care in Iowa:
- Doubles the number of Regional Centers of Excellence Programs in Iowa
- Adds four annual family medicine obstetric fellowships every year
- Creates a statewide standing order to allow pharmacists to dispense initially 3-months of an oral hormonal contraceptive, hormonal vaginal ring, or a hormonal contraceptive patch, and then subsequent year supplies, to patients 18 years and older. The woman must complete a self-screening risk assessment and blood pressure check prior to being dispensed the contraceptive. At least 12 states allow women to get their birth control prescription directly from a pharmacist. This language was modeled after Utah’s law.
- Adds $1.5 million to the More Options for Maternal Support Program and allows for funds to be used to support fatherhood initiatives
- Increases the allowable expense for nonrecurring legal fees from $500 to $1000 per child for reasonable, necessary costs directly related to the legal adoption of a child eligible for Iowa’s adoption subsidy program
- Expands opportunities for foster care students under the All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship Program
Additionally, the Governor has already signed House File 161 addressing unpredictably high damage awards jeopardizing OB/GYN care in Iowa. The legislature will also address access to rural hospitals by establishing licensure for Rural Emergency Hospitals in House File 144/Senate File 75.
Week Six News
How Much Does a Snowstorm Cost to Clean Up?
Snow storms can be a fairly frequent occurrence in Iowa. These storms bring out emergency responders, panicked grocery store shoppers, and the familiar orange trucks clearing Iowa’s roads. But just how much does a snowstorm cost the state?
As part of their presentation to the House Transportation Committee, the Department of Transportation took a look at the impact of the winter storm that hit Iowa just a couple of months ago around Christmas. That storm impacted DOT operations for nine days and also impacted the Department’s budget.
During the storm, DOT staff logged almost 61,000 winter function hours. This includes plowing snow, snow blowing operations, making the salt brine laid down on roads before the storm, and post-storm truck clean-up and maintenance. Eighty-two of the Department’s employees were out working every day from December 21 to December 29. The storm’s total cost for labor came to $2.6 million.
The costs of a storm aren’t limited to personnel. There are equipment costs as well. These totaled $1.2 million for the Christmas storm. And then there are the materials used. The dollars spend on sand, salt, brine and other items used to prepare and clean up the storm came to an additional $1.6 million. Totaled up, the DOT spent $5.2 million during those nine days to keep Iowa’s roads open and safe for travel.
Over five million dollars for one storm seems like a lot, but this is Iowa and Iowans know winter can be unpredictable. That is why the Department of Transportation’s budget always includes funding for winter operations. Through Valentine’s Day, the Department has, so far, spent a total of $25 million on winter operations.
House Natural Resources Committee Approves Taking of Nuisance Furbearing Animals Measure
On Tuesday, February 14, 2023, the Iowa House Natural Resources Committee considered, amended and passed House File 113 that has become House File 317 by a largely partisan 14-aye to 7-nay vote. The legislation amends existing law on furbearing animals to provide a new circumstance when a person could take on their own property a raccoon, opossum or skunk, without prior permission of the state Natural Resource Commission (NRC) typically a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife officer or DNR wildlife experts) when such animals are a nuisance. Current law allows—
(a) the taking of fur-bearing in NRC specified hunting seasons, or
(b) with prior permission for protection of a person or public or private property, and
(c) when prior permission is not possible to deal with immediate threat to a person, domestic animal or property.
The measure was amended in Committee to preclude the non-prior permission taking of the nuisance furbearers that are listed on either the federal Endangered Species Act or listed as endangered by the NRC pursuant to 481B.3 (State endangered plant and wildlife list). The gist of the measure is that it will allow agricultural land owners to proactively take nuisance furbearers instead waiting until those animals are an active threat to themselves, their property and their domesticated animals. The DNR and Natural Resources Commission have recently attempted to address this issue somewhat by initiating an administrative rule that would create a year-round open hunting season on raccoons and allowing people without hunting/furbearing harvest license to live capture and relocate raccoons.
Transparency for Temp Staffing Agencies in Health Care
This week, the House Health and Human Services Committee unanimously passed House Study Bill 24 to ensure that Iowa’s taxpayer funds are not being gouged by temporary staffing agencies charging health care entities unnecessarily high costs. This bill ensures that temporary nursing staffing agencies (registered nurses, LPNs, CNAs, etc.) are the target of the requirements described below.
This bill helps provide transparency in pricing by requiring these temp nursing agencies report quarterly a detailed list of the average amount charged to the health care entity for each agency worker category, and average amount paid by the agency to the agency workers for each worker category. The bill also requires these health care employment agencies to register with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, and requires DIA to investigate complaints against these agencies. Importantly, this bill requires agency workers to be qualified and meet health regulation requirements for the health care setting they are working in. Lastly, this bill prohibits non-competes, as it has been seen that these agencies are using these for even CNA positions.
House Republicans look forward to supporting Iowa’s hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care providers, and ensuring lower health care costs by passing this bill on the floor.
Week Five News — February 13, 2023
House Passes Increase of $106.8 Million for Schools
House File 171/Senate File 192 sets Supplemental State Aid (SSA) at 3.00% for Fiscal Year 2024 for both the Regular Program and the Categorical Supplements. It also extends the Property Tax Relief Payment (PTRP) an additional year which has the state pick up any property tax growth in the Additional Levy portion of the school funding formula. This amounts to an increase of $106.8 million for the 2023-2024 school year.
The State Cost Per Pupil (SCPP) amount on which the school aid formula is based increases from $7413 to $7635, a $222 increase.
Iowa Hunters Harvest Nearly 110,000 Deer During 2022-23 Season
On Tuesday, February 7, 2023, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a press release announcing that Iowa’s 2022 deer harvest increased seven percent over the 2021 season, due, in part to the new Excess Tag January Antlerless Season approved by the Iowa Legislature last spring.
The far western counties and southwest region saw a decline in harvest, likely due to the recent outbreaks from EHD and from floods in the Missouri River valley. The deer population model indicates the herd size is stable to slightly increasing and is within the goal of the Iowa deer study advisory committee. The Iowa DNR has deer harvest information by county by year dating back to 2006 online at https://gooutdoorsiowa.com/RealTimeHarvestReport.aspx. The 2022 total deer harvest is the largest since 2012 when 115,608 were harvested. The record harvest since 2006 was in 2006 when 150,552 were taken. Antlered buck harvest for 2022 was 46,465 which is at the high-end of the average for the last decade of 45,240 and has ranged from a low of 38,555 for the 2013 season and 48,699 in the 2020 season.
Anamosa and Ft. Madison Prisons Making Changes
Changes are coming to the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC). Maximum security inmates in the Anamosa State Penitentiary will soon be serving the remainder of their time at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Ft. Madison. This will make Ft. Madison the only maximum-security prison in the state. These changes are the result of an overall review to DOC policies and practices after two corrections staff were murdered in Anamosa in 2020.
The Iowa Department of Corrections is responsible for the nine prisons throughout the state. These facilities hold almost 8,000 individuals convicted of various crimes. Inmates are sent to facilities based on their risk assessment and conviction. Anamosa and Ft. Madison can both hold maximum security inmates.
The Anamosa state penitentiary was built in 1874 and has gone through significant changes in the past 148 years. Most recently the facility was designated for medium to maximum security inmates. After an extensive review of polices, practices, and procedures the DOC determined that in order to create a safer environment for both staff and inmates, most maximum-security persons should be moved to the Ft. Madison. There is no set timeline for this move and the DOC does not announce official dates of prisoner movement.
The original Iowa State Penitentiary was built in 1839 and held the distinction of being the oldest prison west of the Mississippi. In 2015 a new facility was constructed a short distance away. This new facility provides housing for over 700 maximum security inmates and employs around 430 staff.
By moving the most challenging inmates to Ft. Madison, corrections officers and staff can better serve both facilities and ensure there are enough officers on every shift. The DOC continues to hire Corrections Officers and other personnel at most facilities, those interested can find out more here https://doc.iowa.gov/careers-doc/job-openingsapplication
Gubernatorial Line of Succession Passes House
The House passed House Joint Resolution 3, a proposed Constitutional amendment to clarify and update the line of succession for the office of Governor. Article IV, Section 17 of the Iowa Constitution states in the case there is a vacancy in the office of Governor, that the powers and duties of the Governor devolve upon the Lieutenant Governor. Following the appointment of Governor Branstad as the Ambassador to China there has been legal debate over the line of gubernatorial succession and what that means for filling vacancies and powers of the offices.
In 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers of the legislature and the Governor’s office, they amended Iowa Code to say that “An appointment by the Governor to fill a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Governor shall be for the balance of the unexpired term.” However, in 2017 when Governor Branstad resigned, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller issued a legal opinion that Kim Reynolds would assume the powers and duties of governor, but she did not have the authority to appoint a new Lieutenant Governor. In 2018 and again in 2022, Governor Reynolds won election along with Lt. Governor Adam Gregg.
Addressing this legal issue is important for Iowans to know that in the case of a vacancy in the office of Governor what the legal line of succession is. HJR 3 would replace and update Section 17 to clarify that the Lieutenant Governor or Lieutenant Governor-elect assumes the office if a vacancy occurs. The ascension to Governor then creates a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Governor, which can be filled by the new Governor as the Democrats wrote into Iowa law in 2009.
Amendments to the Iowa Constitution are required to pass both legislative chambers in consecutive General Assemblies. Last year, both the House and Senate passed the language. If the legislation passes the Senate, the proposed amendment will appear on the ballot in November 2024 for Iowans to ratify.
Iowa House Passes Bill on Medical Malpractice
This week, on a bipartisan vote, the Iowa House passed House File 161, a bill to limit the total amount to of noneconomic damages for a medical malpractice claim at $2 million for causes of action involving a hospital, and at $1 million for all other causes of action. This bill does maintain an existing limit in law for noneconomic damages at $250,000 when there has not been a substantial or permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function, substantial disfigurement, loss of pregnancy or death. This bill does not limit economic damages – those that are quantifiable like lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, past and future medical bills.
28 state currently have either a limit on noneconomic or total damages, including all of Iowa’s surrounding states, with the exception of only Minnesota and Illinois. Illinois did pass a $500,000 noneconomic damage cap, but it was overturned by their state court.
This bill will help Iowa recruit and retain physicians. Iowa already ranks 44th in the nation of physicians per capita, and it is even worse for needed specialty care like psychiatry and OB/GYNs.
This bill will also help Iowa maintain the existing medical residency programs that are needed to train future physicians to serve every part of Iowa. The state now funds the liability insurance for Sioux City’s family medicine residency program after they were unable to find coverage without taxpayer assistance. Iowans also saw the Cedar Rapids family medicine program close in 2020 after they faced 60% increases in medical malpractice premiums.
Every single medical provider in Iowa registered in support of this bill. The Iowa Chamber Alliance is also registered in support. Health care is a necessary component to every community, and the Chamber knows the extreme difficulty Iowa communities are having recruiting physicians to their area.
No amount of money can ever make up for the loss of a loved one. But in Iowa, massive noneconomic damage awards have increased exponentially. Iowa’s liability environment continues to get worse as juries are awarding bigger damages than we have ever seen. Last March, there was an award of $97.4 million with $40 million for noneconomic damages – unquantifiable amounts toward pain and suffering.
This bill compensates people for medical injuries, while also keeping Iowa’s health care industry intact, and maintaining access to health care for all Iowans.
Representative Brian Best