March 31, 2017
Deficit Forces Governor to Update Budget Recommendations
Deficit Forces Governor to Update Budget Recommendations
According to new budget documents released this week, Governor Branstad is recommending the state borrow from their savings accounts to cover for a $131 million state budget deficit this year. When the state’s non-partisan budget experts met in mid-March, lawmakers learned the Republican Majority and the Branstad-Reynolds administration have turned a $927 million state surplus (FY 13) into a $130 million deficit this year (FY 17).
While Republican lawmakers were quick to blame others instead of taking responsibility, the state budget is in a deficit this year because Republican leaders in Des Moines failed to adequately manage the state budget. Earlier this year, the state faced another $110 million deficit and Republican leaders forced Iowa students and working families to pay for the shortfall to keep the budget in balance.
The state budget deficit is largely the result of new corporate tax giveaways that have increased exponentially and now top $500 million annually. According to state experts, those giveaways have not produced the economic growth Republicans promised and instead, have slowed the state’s economy. For the last three years, Republican lawmakers have also spent more than the state collected and used one-time money to fund on-going needs.
The lack of fiscal discipline by Republican lawmakers and the Branstad-Reynolds administration over the last several years creates significant challenges for the 2018 state budget. The budget documents provided by the Governor also include recommendations for further cuts next year to Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens – seniors, the disabled, and children.
House Democrats plan to work to restore fiscal discipline to the state’s budget-making process, and ensure Iowans no longer have to pay for the GOP’s excessive giveaways. Fiscal discipline is both what the state can afford and where those dollars are invested. The state budget needs to be re-balanced to prioritize people before corporate welfare, and a skilled workforce over top-down economics.
Bill Lowering Wages for 65,000 Iowans Heads to the Governor
Instead of increasing the minimum wage, Senate Republican lawmakers have approved a bill that lowers wages for 65,000 Iowans. The bill passed the House earlier, and now heads to the Governor for his signature.
The bill would preempt local ordinances on wages and products sold. After waiting for Iowa lawmakers to act for nearly a decade, four counties have recently increased the minimum wage in their own communities to finally give a boost to the lowest wage earners. The bill, House File 295, takes away the minimum wage increases already approved in some Iowa communities.
Now set at $7.25 per hour, Iowa’s minimum wage was last increased in 2008 and every state surrounding Iowa (except Wisconsin) has increased their minimum wage above $7.25. To meet basic living expenses, a single person in Iowa resident should make at least $13.16 an hour and that rises to $21.52 an hour for a single parent with one child. One of the counties that took action to increase the minimum wage is Wapello County, which has the 3rd highest poverty rate in Iowa and 2nd lowest per-capita income.
The Governor had indicated that he would be willing to increase the state minimum wage, but Republican legislators have refused to budge on any increase to Iowa’s minimum wage. Democrats in the House offered to do so, but it was rejected.
Stricter Laws for Texting & Driving
Iowa could soon be joining 39 other states that have stricter laws for drivers who text and drive.
Currently, Iowans cannot be pulled over for only texting while driving but must be committing another offense for the purpose of the stop. Iowa is currently 1 of 5 states in the country that enforces texting while driving in this manner.
Legislation that has moved through the Senate and the House Transportation Committees will make texting and driving a primary offense and will also allow law enforcement to crack down on distracted driving. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), there were 1,100 total crashes in 2015 as a result of distracted driving by use of a phone or other devices. Of those crashes, 14 resulted in fatalities and there were 601 injuries.
The legislation would allow someone to talk on their phone and does not require it to be on hands-free mode while operating. Similar legislation that required a mobile device be in hands-free mode pass the House Transportation committee earlier this year, but is unlikely to see the floor.
Rural Iowans Lose Under CAFO Legislation
A bill that limits damages from confined feeding operations (CAFOs) to Iowa homeowners has been signed into law by the Governor. Under the legislation, if a CAFO moves next to your property and lowers the value or ruins the enjoyment of your land, damages are capped and no further legal action is possible.
Under Senate File 447, a confined animal feeding operation that is found to be a nuisance will be conclusively presumed to be a permanent nuisance. A permanent nuisance is expected to continue unabated, while a temporary nuisance occurs occasionally and could be the basis for a number of lawsuits. This change caps the damages due to a homeowner and prevents any further action against the CAFO.
The capped damages fall into three categories: damages for any diminution in the fair market value of a person’s real property; damages due to a person’s past, present and future adverse health conditions based on medical evidence; and special damages for intangible injuries such as annoyance or the loss of comfortable use and enjoyment of real property. For special damages, the total awarded cannot exceed one and one-half times the combined amounts for property and adverse health condition damages.
Iowa raises about 21 million pigs per year. Of the roughly 6,300 hog operations in the state, 2,840 house more than 2,000 pigs and 1,000 house over 5,000. Despite these numbers, there are only 5-7 nuisance lawsuits a year on average.
There are currently nuisance protections for CAFOs in code, but they were found to be unconstitutional on a case-by-case basis in 2004. The constitutionality of this legislation was also questioned at the subcommittee and committee level.
Bill Making Asbestos Suits More Difficult Signed by Governor
Governor Branstad signed a bill this week that will make it more difficult for survivors of asbestos related diseases to sue companies that caused their illnesses. The bill will likely delay cases and could deny certain victims suffering from asbestos diseases any recovery. The bill was opposed by every Democrat in both the Senate and the House.
Senate File 376 will prioritize claims from people who have a physical impairment because of asbestos exposure before people suffering from other nonmalignant conditions. A victim has to provide a detailed narrative medical report and diagnosis to show that the person is sick enough to bring the suit. This requirement to prove how sick a plaintiff is must be established for each company that is being sued.
The bill will be effective starting July 1, 2017.
Domestic Abuse Changes Advance to Senate
A bill making significant changes to domestic abuse passed the Iowa House this week. House File 263 would implement mandatory minimums for repeat offenses of domestic abuse, expand the definition of what constitutes as stalking, create a criminal offense for unauthorized placement of a global positions (GPS) device, and allow for tracking and monitoring of abusers.
The bill creates a mandatory minimum sentence of 1/5 of the criminal penalty for a third or subsequent conviction of domestic abuse assault. A third or subsequent conviction for domestic abuse assault is a class “D” felony requiring up to 5 years of incarceration. Effectively, the bill would require a one year minimum sentence.
The bill would expand the offense of stalking and create a new offense for using a GPS device. The bill expands the definition of stalking to include the use of technological devices to track someone and broadens the elements of the crime so that it is easier for a victim to prove that they felt at risk. HF 263 also creates a new criminal offense for unauthorized placement of a GPS device for anyone that uses the device to track the movements of another person without a legitimate purpose.
There are other changes to domestic abuse laws that assure that anyone convicted of certain domestic abuse offenses participate in treatment programs and that these offenders receive less earned time and serve more time in prison. Courts may also require electronic tracking and monitoring of offenders as a condition of release for violating a no-contact or protective order, domestic abuse crimes, or any crime where another person is at risk.
HF 263 passed the House 90-8 and now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Maintaining Your Current Medication
Many times patients with chronic conditions have to try multiple medications to find the one that works to treat their symptoms and balance the side effects. That is why keeping your specific prescription drug to combat a chronic illness is important. Once a person finds a medication that works, they are forced to start the process over if they change jobs or obtain a new insurance provider despite having success with a specific medication.
The Iowa House passed legislation this week to standardize this process and the exceptions for when a person can bypass the requirement to start again when they change jobs or obtain new insurance after completing the therapy step protocol. A person may be approved for an exception if:
Local Boards Eliminated that Help Counties Decide Compensation
A bill has passed the House, despite wide bi-partisan opposition, that would eliminate county compensation boards. County compensation boards assist counties in developing their salaries and help prevent extravagant increases. They also compare their salaries to that of other counties.
Supposedly, this change was needed to lower increases in salaries of county elected officials. However, the legislation may have the opposite effect. Supervisors are currently limited to the recommendation of the compensation board or lower. They cannot go higher, which acts as a cap.
Without the County Compensation Board requirement, the County Board of Supervisors alone could approve higher salaries than what they submitted at the public hearing, and they would no longer be limited by a separate board’s recommendation.
Currently, if salaries are reduced, the County Board of Supervisors has to reduce the salaries of county offices equally. Now, they could target reductions to certain county officials which could play favorites to certain offices over another, and possibly, politicize the process.
Legislature Continues to Combat Opioid and Heroin Overdoses
Eastern Iowa has been experiencing a significant increase in overdoses from both opioids, whether the opioid was a prescription or heroin, and Democrats want to address this issue before its gets worse. According to the Department of Public Health (DPH), opioids were the leading cause in 67 deaths in 2016, up from 28 in 2005. Opioid related deaths (where opioid was referenced in the examiner’s report and could have contributed to the death), went up from 59 to 146 in 2005 and 2016, respectively. While there isn’t a silver bullet to solve the problem, the Legislature continues to pass legislation that will help.
Drug Prescription Monitoring Program
The drug prescription monitoring program is under the purview of the Department of Public Health and is used by doctors and pharmacists to report when and who they prescribe or fill a controlled substance prescription. One piece of legislation will require pharmacists to update data to the program on a daily basis rather than once a week. The Department of Public Health is also authorized to expand the number of states that enter into a data sharing agreement from just the states bordering Iowa to any state.
This year, the Iowa House passed legislation mandating practitioners that prescribe controlled substances, including opioids, to register with the Iowa Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP). Currently, only 40% of practitioners that are able to prescribe controlled substances are registered. The PMP allows authorized prescribers and pharmacists to view information about their patients’ use of controlled substances. This is a tool and is used as a tool in determining appropriate prescribing and treatment of patients without fear of contributing to a patient’s abuse of or dependence on addictive drugs or diversion of those drugs to illicit use.
Preventing Overdose Deaths
In 2016, the Legislature began addressing the opioid epidemic by passing a law which permits the possession and administration of opioid antagonist medications by authorized persons and distribution by pharmacists. As a next step, Dr. Quinlisk, the Director of Iowa’s Department of Public Health, issued a standing order to allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone to any eligible recipient. This standing order from DPH is to be used if the customer cannot get a prescription from their health care provider, and persons must complete training regarding recognizing and responding to suspected opioid-related overdoses. CVS Pharmacies have agreed to have naloxone available to those persons who would like to purchase a dose from a standing order.
Next Steps in Iowa
Democrats are ready to take additional steps that will be more noticeable to the public such as adopting what is known as a Good Samaritan Law, allowing someone to call 911 and wait with a person who is experiencing a drug overdose without fear of criminal prosecution. Another additional step is having more substance abuse treatment available for addicts. Family members of victims, health care professionals, and former addicts all report on the need for more, in-patient treatment. Insurance companies vary on the how much treatment they will cover, if at all.
Crime of Harassment to Include Revenge Porn
Iowa will be able to prosecute people who circulate or publish photos or video of another person in a state of full or partial nudity, or that are engaged in a sex act when the other person hasn’t consented to the circulation or publishing. In order to be convicted under this new crime of harassment, the person doing the distributing must be doing it with the intent to intimidate, annoy, or alarm the other person.
This legislation, House File 526, is meant to address what sometimes happens when a person sends or posts a picture of another person in partial or full nudity to get revenge on the person for breaking off a relationship. There are countless stories of people’s lives that have been ruined by this type of situation, both professionally and personally.
If convicted of this type of harassment, the person would be found guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor and would be subject to serve not more than two years in prison and be fined between $625 and $6,250.
Christian Education Exemption for Child Facilities Passes
The House majority party passed a bill this week to allow an education exemption for a specific child facility that uses the “Accelerated Christian Education” program. After issues last year were raised at the Midwest Academy, a bipartisan bill passed to regulate such facilities, but this would exempt the facility from education accreditations.
Currently, 50 schools in the state have gone through an alternative accreditation process allowed in Iowa. Most of those schools are private Christian schools. Two other current child residential facilities use that process or contract with a public or private school to provide educational services.
However, the Anchor Point Training Center of Fort Dodge does not provide a diploma for a student, and does not want to provide those optional accreditation options. They have some concerning educational practices including the following:
The bill passed the House on a party-line vote, and now moves to the Senate where a similar bill has already passed committee.
Spring Turkey Seasons Fast Approaching
The first of Iowa’s spring turkey seasons begins on April 8th for hunters younger than 16, and the first regular season begins on April 17th.
Hunters are required to report their harvest by midnight of the day after it is tagged. Reporting can be done through the website (www.iowadnr.gov), by using the phone number listed on the tag, or through a license vendor. The legal hunting time is one-half hour before sunrise and sunset, and resident hunters may obtain a maximum of two spring turkey licenses.
For more information regarding the spring turkey seasons, please visit http://www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/Turkey-Hunting.
Season 1 (Gun/Bow) Apr 17 – 20
Season 2 (Gun/Bow) Apr 21 – 25
Season 3 (Gun/Bow) Apr 26 - May 2
Season 4 (Gun/Bow) May 3 – 21
Resident Archery Apr 17 - May 21