November 1, 2017
Veterans Day - A Time to Honor our Veterans
Veterans Day - A Time to Honor our Veterans
Veterans Day is Saturday, November, 11 and there are many ceremonies being held across the state to honor those who have served our country. First recognized in 1919, the date commemorates the end of fighting in World War I when an armistice took effect between the Allied nations and Germany at 11 am on November 11, 1918.
As part of the numerous events honoring veterans across Iowa, the annual Veterans Day Program in Des Moines will be held on November 11, 2017 at the Iowa Events Center at 11:00 a.m. This event is open to the public and will include representatives from all Veterans Service Organizations.
Last session, the Legislature passed various bills to help Iowa’s veterans and those still serving. One important bill ensured that equal military leave, nondiscrimination and reemployment rights are given to a National Guard member of another state if they work in Iowa, and helped to streamline and simplify the process of serving for Guard members.
A full list of Veterans Day events statewide is available at: https://va.iowa.gov/.
Iowans Overwhelmingly Vote to Keep Union Representation
Teachers, nurses, law enforcement officials, and snowplow drivers were among the 93% of Iowa public employee unions who voted to recertify their local union in October.
After Republicans passed legislation last session to take away the voice of Iowans in their own workplace and severely restrict public employee unions, it was the first time bargaining units were forced to vote on re-certification under new stringent regulations.
Despite the new barriers, working Iowans voted overwhelmingly to keep their union representation. In the elections, 28,447 people voted to keep their organization and just 624 voted to de-certify. 4,043 did not participate, which is considered a “no” vote under the new law.
Under the new regulations, the public employee union must hold a recertification election every year or two before bargaining a new contract. Additionally, Republicans changed the rules from the vote of the majority participating in the election to the majority of bargaining unit. Non-participation in the election effectively becomes a “no” vote.
Marketplace Open Enrollment Begins
The federal open enrollment period for plans available on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace has begun. Iowans looking for individual health insurance for 2018 have from November 1st until December 15th to find and select a plan. Unfortunately, due to Wellmark and Aetna no longer offering plans, there is only one provider available, Medica.
In 2017, around 72,000 Iowans found health insurance coverage through the marketplace. Iowans below 400% of the federal poverty level, which is $48,240 for a single adult, is available for subsidies to reduce monthly premiums. The majority of Iowans that selected plans on the marketplace were eligible for subsidies.
Iowans that currently have coverage through the exchange but do not choose a plan for 2018 by the end of open enrollment; they will be re-enrolled in a similar plan offered by Medica. To review plan options and select an insurance plan, go to www.healthcare.gov.
Secretary of State Public Hearing, Leaves Public Out
Last legislative session, lawmakers made changes to Iowa’s election laws that will impact every Iowan who casts a ballot in every election. While the legislation made numerous changes, it also gave the Secretary of State’s office a wide range of authority on implementation of the rules that will guide the enforcement of the change of the law. Administrative rules are proposed by state agencies and departments and approved by a legislative committee.
Earlier this month, the Secretary of State’s Office held a public hearing on the proposed rules changes but, unfortunately, most of the public was left out. The room in which the hearing was held could only accommodate 20 people while over a 150 people stood outside in the hallway. When new people were let in to voice their opinion, others were asked to leave.
Even though Secretary of State Paul Pate was not in attendance for the public hearing, many voters expressed concerns about the potential of many Iowans having a more difficult time both registering and voting as a result of the changes in Iowa’s election law. The new changes will begin in 2018 and include shortening the amount of early voting days and putting more regulations in place for voters who wish to vote on Election Day.
Future Ready Iowa Recommendations
Iowa employers are saying the workforce has a skills gap problem. The Future Ready Task Force had over a year to develop strategies to reach the goal of 70% of Iowa’s workforce obtaining education or training beyond high school by the year 2025. However, despite being a large bipartisan group, their recommendations on this critical issue are largely duplicative.
One of the main obstacles to reaching the workforce goal is the cost of higher education, and the student debt accumulated to obtain a degree. According to the Institute for College Access and Success’ (TICAS) 2017 report on college debt, Iowa ranks 8th nationally in the proportion of students graduating with debt (65%).
However, many of the recommendations of the Future Ready Iowa task force are duplicative of current student financial assistance programs that Iowa currently has. According to the Fiscal Services Division, the current programs underserve between 10,000 and 14,000 Iowans. The recommendations chose not to fund the current programs effectively, but to create new duplicative ones.
It is unclear how much funding the Governor will recommend for these new programs, especially given Iowa’s cloudy budget situation. Three times this year that Republican lawmakers and the Governor have had to make adjustments to keep the state budget in the black. Also underfunding Iowa’s K-12 and higher education systems have contributed to the skills gap.
Business Development Recommendations
The business development recommendations have the opposite problem. They realize that Iowa has effective current businesses development programs that should not be duplicated, yet they did not recommend any modifications or new programs to further business growth and create new jobs to meet our future workforce needs.
The business development recommendations include using existing business councils or associations that already exist. These existing relationships “can work collaboratively to build new and expand existing career pathways,” the recommendations state.
Medical Cannabidiol Board Continues Discussion on Form and Quantity
At their October meeting, the Medical Cannabidiol Board began discussion regarding products and quantity of medical cannabidiol that will become available to patients with a registration card on December 1, 2018, at licensed dispensaries. The Board didn’t take a vote to approve any administrative rules at this meeting, but could take place at the December 1 meeting.
The Board considered what types of products are offered in other states, while keeping in mind that Iowa’s law doesn’t allow for edible products or for patients to smoke the cannabidiol. Discussion was held regarding the fact that different forms might be better for different patients. For example, what might be a best form for a patient with a probable life expectancy of less than one year may not be the best form for a pediatric patient. The Department of Public Health reported that at this point in time, the medical condition for a vast majority of patients under 18 years old with a cannabidiol card is seizures, while for card holders over the age of 18 years is a terminal illness.
The issue regarding quantity was not as straight forward since there are very few clinical trials regarding dosages of cannabidiol. Another major point of discussion revolved around which professional would be advising the patient on what to purchase and how much will make up a dosage. Board members acknowledged that doctors may not feel comfortable advising patients on how much should make up a dosage, since there’s not a lot of research, and Iowa’s law does not require that a pharmacist be available at the dispensary. An easy way to get more research done on cannabis is to have the Legislature reschedule it from a schedule I to a schedule II controlled substance.
The next meeting is scheduled for December 1, and more information about Board, including agendas can be found at https://idph.iowa.gov/mcarcp/meetings.
Department of Agriculture Seeks Significant Budget Increase
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) asked the legislature for a nearly 50% increase in the department’s annual budget. The Department requested an additional $10.225 million in general funds next year. The Department of Natural Resources, which is also funded through the same appropriations subcommittee, requested a status quo budget, or no additional funds, for next fiscal year.
IDALS requested an additional $5.2 million for the Water Quality Initiative (WQI). The WQI was established in 2013 to implement the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a plan to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Iowa waterways. The WQI received $3 million from the general fund last legislative session. In addition, the initiative also received $5.2 million from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF), which is funded through taxes on Iowa’s casinos.
IDALS requested an additional $150,000 for the Foreign Animal Diseases Program. That program received $100,000 from the general fund last year. The funding is intended to help IDALS prepare and respond to a potential animal disease outbreak, such as avian influenza, in the state.
IDALS also requested an additional $1.9 million for the Agricultural Drainage Wells program and $3 million for the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program. These funds were funded through RIIF last fiscal year. The request did not include any reduction in funding to IDALS from non-general fund sources.
DNR requested an additional $4 million from non-general fund sources for the Research Enhancement and Protection Fund, known as REAP. This increased funding will still leave REAP below the statutorily set funding level of the program. DNR also requested $1 million from the Technology Reinvestment Fund for a system for submitting air quality permits. The Technology Reinvestment Fund is a separate fund specifically established to pay for computer hardware and software developments.
Military Records Now Have Greater Access
Recently, an Iowan sought access to military records for historic purposes. What he found was that Iowa’s law was far stricter in this area, and he would have to wait a dozen more years to gain access to a WWII Veteran military record compared to Federal requirements.
He did not think that was right, so he contacted his local State Representative, Scott Ourth, who took action on his behalf. Ourth was able to gain bi-partisan support for a change in the law for historians, or any Iowan, wanting to seek records of WWII veterans to tell their story.
The bill would match the waiting period of access to military records of federal law of 62 years. This is a decrease from current Iowa law of 75 years. The copies provided would be required to not contain social security numbers.