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    March 29, 2019

    Children’s Mental Health System Legislation Passed House
    House Approves Medical Cannabidiol Expansion
    Politicized Judicial Selection Process Bill Could be Debated Soon
    State Budget Process Begins in the House
    Another Small Step to Improve Water Quality
    Iowa Awarded with $9.5 million to Help Homelessness
    Educator Misconduct Loophole Closed


    Children’s Mental Health System Legislation Passed House

    Iowa does not currently have a mental health system specifically designed for children.

    In April 2018, Gov. Reynolds signed an Executive Order creating the Children’s Mental Health System Board that was tasked with developing the system and laying out groundwork for future legislation. Last week, House File 690 passed the House and created an infrastructure for the system. The children’s system closely mirrors the adult mental health system that was created through legislation last year. First, the bill identifies what core services would be part of the children’s system. These services include prevention, early identification, education, behavioral health outpatient therapy, mobile response, crisis stabilization residential and community-based services, and a statewide 24-hour crisis hotline. The bill also makes some changes to the Mental Health and Disability Services Regions Governing Board to help integrate the children’s system into the current adult system. Finally, the bill provides eligibility requirements for those who are able to receive these services.

    The most important recommendation suggested by the Board was to find a stable funding source for this system. Unfortunately, the bill does not address this issue. Funding is especially important because the mental health regions will be asked to fund most of this system without receiving any sort of financial assistance from the state.

    In fact, it is estimated that the regions will have to pay over $3.2 million in FY 2020 and $5 million in FY 2021 just for the children’s system alone. The regions are already required to fund the vast majority of the adult mental health system, and in order to truly make meaningful and lasting changes to children’s mental health, the services need to be fully-funded without depending entirely on one source.

    The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.


    House Approves Medical Cannabidiol Expansion

    More Iowans with severe health problems and chronic pain will have access to medicine that could improve their lives after a bi-partisan bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis law was approved by the Iowa House.

    In 2017, the Iowa Legislature expanded access to medical cannabis to Iowans suffering from the following medical conditions: cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures; AIDS or HIV, Crohn’s disease; ALS, Parkinson’s disease; and other terminal diseases or untreatable pain. Currently, Iowa’s medical cannabis law is limited to the production of oils, capsules, and creams. Any production or sale of smokeable forms of marijuana is prohibited.

    House File 732 was approved this week and would eliminate the current 3% THC cap and replace it with a 25 gram over 90-day period maximum disbursement. If signed in to law, the bill becomes effective immediately.

    Currently, Iowa Relief and MedPharm are the only cannibis manufacturers licensed to operate within the state. MedPharm products opened in December at five licensed dispensaries, in Waterloo, Davenport, Council Bluffs, Windsor Heights, and Sioux City. As of the beginning of 2019, there were 505 health care professionals in Iowa who have patients certified for medical cannabidiol.

    In a poll released earlier this year, nearly 80 percent of Iowans support expanding access to the state’s Medical Cannabidiol program, according to the Des Moines Register.

    HF 732 now goes to the Senate for further consideration.


    Politicized Judicial Selection Process Bill Could be Debated Soon

    Despite strong opposition from Iowans, a bill that could inject more politics into Iowa’s judicial selection process is ready for debate and could be brought up at any time.

    House File 503 would allow additional political influence in the selection of judges in the state. Currently, local lawyers in the state have a direct role in the recommending judges to the Governor for state and district courts. Instead, the bill would also give political party leaders at the Capitol greater influence in how judges are selected in the state.

    The bill is currently on the House debate calendar and the Senate has already approved the bill. If the bill is approved by the House, it could be sent directly to the Governor to be signed.

    On April 5th, Governor Reynolds will appoint her second selection to the Iowa Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justice Christopher McDonald will take the oath of office in a public ceremony at the Judicial Branch Building in Des Moines on Friday. Governor Reynolds appointed Justice Susan Christensen to the Iowa Supreme Court in 2018. The Iowa Supreme Court is composed of seven justices. With the appointment of Justice McDonald, five of the justices will have been appointed by Republican governors and two of the justices will have been appointed by Democratic governors.


    State Budget Process Begins in the House

    After recent revenue projections of stagnant and declining revenues, the Iowa House began the budget process this week by moving multiple bills through subcommittees. It’s just the first step in a long process as there is no budget agreement between the House and Senate.

    The last two sessions have seen mid-year budget cuts and transfers that have had a negative impact on Iowa’s working families and students. The state budget next year won’t have any significant investments in public education, mental health, or health care due hundreds of millions in new tax breaks and a slowing economy.

    Throughout the budget process, House Democrats will continue to focus on improving the lives of everyday Iowans through good jobs, affordable health care, a good education, and revitalizing local communities.


    Another Small Step to Improve Water Quality

    Iowa conservationists will have another tool in their efforts to clean Iowa’s impaired waterways under legislation passed by the Iowa House. House File 735 allows Iowa’s soil and water conservation districts to carry out water quality projects in addition to the soil erosion and flood protections projects they currently conduct.

    Soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) were written into state law in the 1930’s. They were formed to help citizens conserve soil, water, and other natural resources and helped create a link between government resources and local landowners to work on soil and water conservation practices. There are 100 Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Districts, one in every county and two in Pottawattamie.

    The legislation adds to the duties of the districts, allowing them to carry out soil erosion control, watershed protection or improvements, water resource restoration, flood prevention or control, and water quality protect projects. The legislation also expands allowable water protection projects at SWCDs to include soil erosion control, watershed protection or improvement, water resource restoration, flood prevention or control, water quality protection practices, and any other projects to further objectives of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

    The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.


    Iowa Awarded with $9.5 million to Help Homelessness

    Iowa was recently awarded $9.5 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to use towards ending homelessness. That is an increase from previous years which is credited to organizations doing a better job showing a need for more projects. It is estimated there are over 16,000 homeless people in Iowa.

    The money from HUD will fund 47 projects across the state through the Continuum of Care (CoC) program. Towns are divided into three CoCs across the state. Individual organizations submitted their projects to the CoCs who then applied for money through HUD.

    One project that received funding is the Housing First project in Iowa City which is becoming a national model for giving people housing first and then helping them to be successful retain housing. Other projects around the state include Sioux City, Forest City, Cedar Rapids, Ames, Adel, Dubuque, Davenport, Muscatine, Waterloo, Clinton, Des Moines, and Oskaloosa.


    Educator Misconduct Loophole Closed

    Iowa, like other states, has had issues with certain school personnel and inappropriate behavior. Under current law, a school board or an Area Education Agency (AEA) is required to report actions taken related to misconduct of an educator. This could be such as using alcohol or drugs in an education setting, or having an inappropriate relationship with a student.

    Such misconduct can affect an educator’s license after reporting it to the Board of Education Examiners, the board that oversees educator’s licenses. However, due to a loophole in the law, some cases of educator misconduct were not being reported to the licensing board in an appropriate amount of time. Unsuspecting other districts may hire someone that may not be aware they have the misconduct on their record.

    HF 637 has now passed the House and it requires any action taken upon an educator for misconduct by a school board or an AEA to be reported within 30 days. The bill closes that loophole to provide important safeguards to protect students, as well as other staff, from potential predators who are able to bounce from district to district without any red flags, or having their license removed.