End of Session
Law Enforcement, Teachers, Nurses Lose Voice in the Workplace
Law Enforcement, Teachers, Nurses Lose Voice in the Workplace
Despite objections from thousands of Iowans, Republicans at the State Capitol unraveled 40 years of teachers, firefighters, law enforcement, and other working Iowans having a voice in their own workplace this year.
Written behind closed doors without input from Iowa workers, House File 291 gutted public sector collective bargaining rights and returns working Iowans to a system where the political party in power has the right to decide the fate of all public employees. After it was approved by Republican lawmakers, Governor Branstad signed the bill the next morning in a private ceremony closed to the public, but open to corporate-backed special interest lobbyists.
Under the new law, teachers, nurses, and other working Iowans are prohibited from discussing workplace conditions and how their job is done. Every year or two, the public employee union must organize entire bargaining units to vote in a mandated election not requested by any public employees in the union.
As the bill was fast tracked by Republicans, many bargaining units across the state quickly negotiated and approved new agreements before the new law took effect. After the bill was signed, any contracts that were being negotiated and not completed had to start over under the new provisions of the bill, costing taxpayer’s additional money.
GOP Turns Budget Surplus to Deficit
Lawmakers closed the 2017 legislative session putting the finishing touches on the fiscal year 2018 budget as well as addressing a $131 million state budget deficit in fiscal year 2017. While the state had a $900 million surplus just a few years ago, the deficit was the result of years of mismanagement of the state budget by Republican lawmakers that included $500 million in corporate tax giveaways that overwhelmingly go to out-of-state corporations.
Now, Iowans are being forced to pay for the GOP’s budget mess. Students will be paying higher tuition. Fewer at-risk kids will be able to attend preschool. Victims of domestic violence may not get the support they need and Iowans will be paying higher property taxes.
To cover the state budget deficit this year (FY 2017), Republican lawmakers were forced to make $113 million in budget adjustments at the beginning of session which led to tuition hikes and job losses. To close out the 2017 session, the Legislature still had to borrow $131 million from the state’s savings account to cover the deficit.
For next year (FY 2018), the GOP Legislature approved a $7.27 billion state budget, which is an increase of 0.12% compared to fiscal year 2017. In addition to shortchanging public schools another year, the budget cut millions from state universities and community colleges that means higher tuition for Iowa students. It also has includes reductions for preschool scholarships, services for foster children, and drop-out prevention. Many Iowans are also concerned about Republican plans to close the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and a 25% reduction in grants to support victims of domestic violence.
K-12 School Investment 3rd Lowest in Iowa History
Iowa schools will get the 3rd lowest increase in basic state funding in Iowa’s history next year. That’s according to the plan approved by Republican lawmakers this session. The shortfall in school funding again next year means seven of the last eight years have been the lowest funding levels in the history of Iowa.
Signed in to law by Governor Branstad, basic K-12 school funding, called State Supplemental Aid (SSA), was increased by just 1.11% for 2017-18 school year. That level would increase the state cost per pupil would increase from $6,591 to $6,664 (or $73). The bill was approved despite the objection of school leaders who said they will be forced to raise class sizes, cut teachers, and reduce opportunities for students.
After years of underfunding, some small rural school districts have reached the tipping point and more schools will close. Education continues to not be the priority since Republicans are now spending over $500 million in new corporate tax giveaways starting this year while their funding plan for half a million public school kids is less than 1/10th of that for next year.
GOP Lawmakers Limit Health Decisions for Women
Iowa women will face new restrictions on difficult medical decisions next year while also having less access to family planning and cancer screening services.
In the closing days of the legislative session, Republicans passed legislation that will leave thousands of Iowa women without access to critical health care services, like cancer screenings, birth control, and STD tests. The bill approved rejects millions in federal funds used to reimburse health care clinics and providers for key medical services for women by ending the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver. One health care clinic in Decorah has already announced it will close its doors later this year.
Despite strong opposition from Iowans who believe medical decisions are best left to a woman, her family, and her doctor, Republican lawmakers also approved new restrictions this year to require a pregnant woman after 20 weeks to continue her pregnancy to full term, even if a physician determines that the fetus has a congenital defect and will not survive after being born. The bill does include very narrow exceptions for the health and life of the mother, but does not allow for any exceptions in the cases of rape or incest.
Another aspect of the bill requires a woman to wait at least seventy-two hours to obtain an abortion service in Iowa. The physician must also provide her with specific information that may not be applicable to her health or situation.
The Governor is expected to sign both bills.
Bill Lowers Wages for 65,000 Iowans
Instead of raising wages, Republican lawmakers approved a bill this year to lower wages for 65,000 Iowans.
After waiting for Iowa lawmakers to act for nearly a decade, four Iowa counties 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 those local minimum wage increases. The bill also preempts local ordinances to place restrictions on some products sold.
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.
Medical Cannabidiol Takes a Step Forward
In a surprise ending, the Legislature passed language that will allow persons with a valid registration card to get cannabidiol with a THC level of not more than 3% in Iowa. This was done as a next step to Iowa’s current Medical Cannabidiol Act, which left many families without the ability to get the medication here in Iowa.
If approved by the Governor, the new legislation authorizes the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) to approve licenses for two manufacturers to cultivate, harvest, and package cannabidiol in Iowa, and approve licenses for up to five dispensaries to be in Iowa. If everything goes as planned, these manufacturers and dispensaries would begin supplying December 1, 2018.
Eight additional debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease, are added that will allow more people to get a registration card and access the cannabidiol product in Iowa. Current law limits the registration to persons with intractable epilepsy, or their primary care giver. The bill also creates a Medical Cannabidiol Board to work with IDPH to implement the new law and make additional recommendations to the Legislature.
Until the new program is running, Iowans who already have registration cards for cannabidiol will be able to keep that card for an additional 12 months.
Since the Iowa Senate overwhelmingly approved a more comprehensive medical cannabis bill earlier in the session, many Iowans are concerned the final bill approved is not comprehensive enough and will not allow for effective treatment of the additional debilitating medical conditions due to the 3% limitation on the THC level. The Senate bill also allowed for more than just cannabinoid ingredients to be available for symptom relief.
New Changes for Voting Iowans
Voters in Iowa will have more hurdles and less time to vote after Republican lawmakers approved new changes to Iowa’s elections this legislative session. The changes include shortening the voting window and requiring a photo ID to vote. The legislation was pushed by Republican lawmakers despite opposition from both local election officials and voting rights advocates due to the new regulations and challenges voters will face.
The effects of the proposal could make it harder for over 200,000 Iowans who don’t currently have the required documents to vote. The impact of the legislation will especially hurt the elderly, disabled, minorities, and low-income Iowans who disproportionately lack the needed requirements. These negative effects will also certainly lead to the challenging of the new regulations in court to determine if the new law is constitutional.
The elimination of 11 early voting days will make it harder for Iowans to vote and gives communities less time to have satellite voting locations throughout their area. Approximately 34,000 Iowans voted in the first 11 days of early voting last year.
Throughout the debates House Democrats offered multiple amendments that would have made voting easier for Iowans by expanding the number of IDs accepted and keeping the early voting timeline in place.
Major Gun Changes Signed by Governor
Significant changes to the regulation of guns in Iowa were enacted by the legislature this session. Major reforms were made to the purchasing, carrying, and use of firearms - specifically handguns.
House File 517 makes the permit to buy handguns valid for five years. Under current law, the permit is valid for just one year. This change removes the annual background check required for these permits and instead only requires a background check every five years when the permit is renewed. The bill does allow local law enforcement to do spot background checks of permit holders, but the background check must be initiated by local law enforcement and is not automatic.
The bill also makes substantial changes to the justified use of reasonable and deadly force. The bill removes the requirement to retreat before using deadly force as long as a person is not engaged in an illegal activity. The bill also allows a person to be wrong in the estimation of danger or force necessary as long as there was a reasonable basis for the person’s belief and the person acts reasonably.
Many local officials have expressed concern with the bill because it also creates a process that prevents a city council and county supervisor board from restricting weapons in local government buildings. Concealed carrying of firearms is allowed in the Capitol building under the bill as well.
Other changes in the bill include allowing the possession of short-barreled shotguns and rifles, making all personal information on firearms permits confidential, allowing anyone under the age of 21 to possesses a pistol or revolver with adult supervision, preventing officials from keeping weapons off the street in a time of public emergency such as a riot, and expanding who can carry a concealed weapon in K-12 schools.
The final version passed the House 57-36 and was signed by the Governor. Most of the changes will take effect July 1 of this year.
Iowa Cracks Down on Distracted Driving
Iowa has joined the majority of other states in the country that have stricter laws for drivers who text and drive.
Previously, Iowans could not be pulled over for only texting while driving, unless they committed another offense for the purpose of the stop. Iowa was one 1 of 5 states in the country that enforced texting while driving in that manner.
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 new law will still allow someone to talk on their phone and does not require the phone to be in hands-free mode while operating. Similar legislation that required a mobile device be in hands-free mode pass the House Transportation committee earlier in the legislative session, but never made it to the floor of the Iowa House.
Homeowners Affected Under New CAFO Law
Iowa homeowners whose quality of life or property values have been impacted by confined feeding operations (CAFOS) may now have even fewer options. Under a bill approved by the Republican-led Legislature, if a CAFO moves next to your property and ruins the value and enjoyment of your land, damages are now capped and no further legal action is possible.
If a confined animal feeding operation is found to be a nuisance, it 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.
Iowa raises about 21 million pigs per year. Of the roughly 6,300 hog operations in the state, 2840 house more than 2,000 pigs and 1000 house over 5,000. Despite these numbers, there are only 5-7 nuisance lawsuits a year on average.
Iowa’s Workers’ Compensation Laws Changed
Iowa workers injured on the job would receive less medical care and benefits under a plan approved by Republican lawmakers this year.
For around 100 years the Iowa’s workers’ compensation law has acted to balance the rights of employers with those of employees. As part of the balance, if an employee is injured, they cannot sue the employer, and the employer will pay compensation benefits based on the type of injury the employee suffered while on the job.
The Republican bill, which was approved by the Iowa Legislature, makes numerous changes to Iowa’s workers’ compensation. In addition to limiting how long an injured worker can receive benefits, the bill reclassifies how a shoulder injury is compensated by moving the injury from a whole body injury to a scheduled injury. This eliminates an additional benefit an injured employee may have qualified for had the injury been classified as whole body.
Employers would also be required to take into account pre-existing conditions and past injuries in determining benefits for a new injury. Lastly, the bill no longer incentivizes employers to pay compensation benefits to injured employees on time. As a result, injured workers may have to wait years after they were injured on the job to receive compensation benefits.
These changes take effect on July 1, 2017, and apply to injuries and claims filed after that date.
Criminal Justice Reforms Sent to Governor
Significant criminal justice reform measures were passed by the legislature this year. Senate File 445 will bring the penalties for crack cocaine offenses more in line with powder cocaine penalties. The bill will also give the courts more discretion in sentencing for some crimes.
The bill lowers the crack-powder discrepancy that exists in current law where someone caught with as much as 10 times as much cocaine as crack receives the same penalty, even though pharmacologically the drugs are the same. While the discrepancy is not entirely erased under the changes, the ratio is lowered to 1:2.5.
The courts are also given more discretion in sentencing for certain crimes, such as some drug offenses. They are now also allowed to reconsider sentences for crimes that require a prison sentence to determine if someone should be released.
The amended bill that includes these criminal justice reforms passed both the House and Senate on unanimous votes and is headed to the Governor.
Legislature Passes Sobriety 24/7 Program to Target Drunk Drivers
In an effort to prevent repeat drunk driving offenders, a new program commonly called Sobriety 24/7 passed the legislature this year. The program requires anyone convicted of a criminal offense where alcohol was a contributing factor, including certain Operating While Intoxicated Offenses, to test at least twice daily for alcohol or controlled substances.
A court or other governmental entity can require participation in the program as a condition of bond, pretrial release, sentencing, probation, parole, or as part of a temporary restricted license. Any jurisdiction can participate in the program by submitting an application to the Department of Public Safety.
Anyone required to participate in the program can test daily at a central location, such as a sheriff’s office or local police department, or at any alternate location determined by the Department of Public Safety. A person required to be in the program also must install an ignition interlock device that requires the person to blow into a device and prove that the person is not intoxicated before operating a motor vehicle. The bill allows for alternate provisions to be established if the program would create an undue hardship to participate.
If the bill is signed by the Governor jurisdictions can begin participating in July of this year.
Cost Saving Construction Measures Now Banned
Local governments ability to screen contractors and control costs on large projects are now banned after action taken by Republican lawmakers this year. After the new law, government entities are no longer allowed to have bidders for public contracts fill out a contractor qualification questionnaire as a requirement for the project and bans all government agencies (state, cities, counties, schools, community colleges) from entering into project labor agreements.
A Project Labor Agreement (PLA) is a pre-hire agreement used to set the terms under which a contractor proceeds in all labor relations connected to its subsequent work on the project. PLAs are discretionary tools available to both public and private entities to manage complex or time-sensitive construction projects. PLAs determine wage rates, benefits and working conditions for all labor on a project. Many agreements contain provisions for the use of local labor and preventing work stoppages due to strikes or lockouts.
Local governments are now prohibited from asking simple questions of bidders for projects using public money such as; has your contractor registration ever been suspended or revoked in any jurisdiction; have you been debarred by any federal, state or local entity from bidding on projects; or has your company been cited by any governmental regulatory agency in the past 3 years? These questions allow governments to assess safety records, tax compliance history, past bidding history, and pending litigation, to obtain information that local governments feel helps them protect taxpayer dollars and are now banned under law.
Autism Insurance Coverage Approved
There are limited resources for coverage of autism services for minors provided by the State of Iowa. The Autism Support Program provides payments for applied behavioral analysis treatment for autism spectrum disorder. However, the Program has strict age, income, duration, and maximum amount of coverage limitations.
After years of work, the Iowa Legislature finally approved legislation requiring any state regulated insurance plans for large employers, which employ more than 50 employees, and non-state public employers to cover applied behavioral analysis treatment for autism services. However, the new law does not apply to individual health insurance plans, or small employer group plans.
The coverage does have limitations based upon the age of the child, but there are no income limitations like the current Autism Support Program. Periodically, a child may have their treatment plan reviewed to ensure they are receiving the appropriate services.
The new coverage requirement will take effect January 1, 2018.
Major Tort Reforms Passed by Legislature
Several changes to how Iowan’s seek relief in the courts passed the Legislature this session. Major reforms were made to medical malpractice suits, suing for defects in property, and for those seeking relief from asbestos related illnesses.
One bill approved will impose caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases of $250,000. Noneconomic damages include pain and suffering and the loss of companionship to loved ones because of an injury or death. The bill also imposes new requirements before someone can serve as an expert against a doctor facing a medical malpractice case.
In another bill, Senate File 413 makes changes to when a lawsuit can be brought for improvements to real property, such as land and buildings. Generally speaking, time limits are placed on when injuries caused by improvements to real property that are called statutes of repose. Unlike similar statutes of limitations that apply to other injuries not linked to property, statutes of repose begin when the improvement is completed, not from when the injury occurs. SF 413 will reduce the current 15 year limit to 8 years for many types of commercial buildings and 10 years for residential construction.
Governor Branstad has also signed into law a bill that will make it more difficult for survivors of asbestos related diseases to sue companies that caused their illnesses. Senate File 376 prioritizes claims for people that are sicker because of asbestos complications over people with nonmalignant conditions, requires victims to provide detailed medical reports and diagnosis to prove the person is sick enough to seek relief, provides liability protection to certain companies for asbestos claims, and requires disclosure of all potential claims before a suit may continue. The bill will cause cases to take longer and could deny certain victims suffering from asbestos diseases any recovery.
Veterans Programs Take Hit in GOP Budget
This year, the GOP-led Legislature reduced support for key programs used by Iowa veterans.
One such area that saw a significant shortage is the Veterans Home Ownership program. The program received $2 million for FY 18, a reduction of $500,000. This program provides $5,000 to veterans to be used for house down payments and closing costs. Cuts to this line item will leave many of Iowa’s veterans without this benefit, and may hinder their ability to become homeowners and provide a safe place to live for not only themselves, but their families. The House Democrats showed their support for the veterans of the state by voting against this bill.
Another group that saw a large cut is the veteran county commission offices. These offices are often the best resource for veterans to learn about the benefits they are entitled to. Each year, these offices are allocated funds to use for the upkeep and operation of their respective offices. However, next year there will be $42,000 less for these county offices. Each office serves several veterans within their county, and the House Democrats opposed this measure and voted to keep supporting the important work that these county offices perform.
Finally, a bill that garnered full bi-partisan support in the Iowa House but wasn’t passed in the Iowa Senate, would have allowed the Veterans Trust Fund to be used, with some exceptions, to assist with veteran homelessness. Had the bill passed the Senate, the Veterans Trust Fund money could have been used by veterans for rental deposits, application fees, and assistance obtaining vital documents.
Iowa House Democrats will continue to work towards supporting our veterans, and fighting for the help they deserve.
Domestic Abuse Mandatory Minimum Sentences Created
The legislature made several changes to stop domestic abuse this session, including mandatory minimums for repeat offenses of domestic abuse and better tracking and monitoring of abusers.
The approved bill creates new mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenses of domestic abuse. A mandatory minimum sentence of 1/5 of the criminal penalty is required for a third or subsequent conviction of domestic abuse assault. Effectively, this means someone convicted of third offense domestic abuse would have a one year minimum sentence and could face up to face years in prison. The bill requires treatment for domestic abusers or they must serve more time in prison. The bill allows for greater use of electronic tracking of offenders when they are released.
The offense of stalking is expanded and a new offense for using a GPS device is created. Stalking is expanded to include the use of technological devices to track someone and makes it easier to prove a case of stalking by expanding the ways a victim can prove that the person felt they were at risk. A new criminal offense of unauthorized placement of a GPS device is created for any time someone uses one of these devices without a legitimate purpose.
Updated Mammogram Reporting Bill Takes Effect
Breast cancer affects every Iowan in different ways. According to the American Cancer Society, finding breast cancer early and getting state-of-the-art cancer treatment are the most important strategies to prevent deaths from breast cancer. Breast cancer that’s found early, when it’s small and has not spread, is easier to treat successfully.
One reason detection can be delayed is due the density of breast tissue. In addition, many individuals do not know they have dense breast tissue and the impact it may have on their mammogram results. As a result, a person may not be diagnosed with breast cancer until the cancer is much larger or spread to other parts of the body.
After many years of considering legislation, a new law was signed adding breast density information to mammogram reports sent to Iowans with dense breast tissue. Iowans with dense breast tissue will now be provided information including evidence-based information on dense breast tissue, the increased risk associated with dense breast tissue, and the effects of dense breast tissue on screening mammography.
The bill took effect April 13, 2017.
New Changes to Iowa’s Natural Resources
This year, the Legislature worked on many bills relating to Iowa’s natural resources.
One piece of legislation gives the State Forest Nursery more flexibility in pricing the seeds and plants they sell. The nursery provides good-quality native plant materials to the public at fair prices and will now be able to sell seeds in smaller quantities directly to Iowans.
Another piece of legislation signed by the Governor makes changes to state-sponsored bass fishing tournaments. The bill increased the number of bass you can submit for weigh-in from three to five. It also erases the minimum fish length requirement that most tournaments enforce for weigh-in. This gives sportsmen and women more flexibility when entering these state tournaments.
Finally, the Legislature voted to put Palmer Amaranth on both the primary noxious weed list and the list of invasive plants. Palmer Amaranth is a fast growing plant that crowds out crops such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. As a primary noxious weed, Palmer Amaranth seeds will no longer allowed to be sold or imported within the state. Also, this bill will allow for county weed commissioners to enter land and destroy the weed in certain circumstances.
For more information regarding the hunting and fishing laws in Iowa, please visit the Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s website at http://www.iowadnr.gov.
Bills Allow Iowa Schools Flexibility in Funding
Two bills have been sent to the Governor that allow school districts flexibility in using funds after they have met the obligations of their intended purpose. This would allow school districts to fill in some gaps in educational programing.
Democrats warned that this should not be seen as a cure-all of the underfunding of our K-12 school system for the last seven years, but welcomed the local flexibility to school districts these bills will provide. Statewide, districts have millions of dollars in unspent balances, and in creating a flexibility account for schools, they could better meet the needs of students.
Talented and Gifted funds and at-risk programs would not contribute to the flexibility accounts, but could receive funds from the flexibility accounts. They also give more flexibility in preschool funds including the costs of programming being paid from the ending balance or from the flexibility account.
Changes to Alcohol Policy Could Spur Economic Development
The Legislature has approved sweeping changes to Iowa’s alcohol policy intended to encourage economic development and tourism across the state.
Some of the main changes will allow for breweries to now sell wine by the glass and small native distillers to sell by the glass to patrons at the distillery, which they could previously not do. The changes also increase the number of bottles that can be sold at some native distilleries and allows for all native distillers to offer samples to patrons whether they are on a tour or not.
The changes approved will implement some of the policy suggestions of the alcohol policy working group commissioned by the Governor that met over the fall months leading up to the this past legislative session. The working group included members of Iowa’s three tier system, including regulators, distributors, and producers.
New Student Assessment Approval Process
The Department of Education is required to issue a new bid process for the assessment that Iowa will use in public schools, and the State Board of Education will evaluate and make a decision on which test to implement. The new law approved this year requires a new assessment to be approved by the State Board of Education by July 1, 2018, which would be put in place for the 2018-19 school year.
A taskforce previously selected the “Smarter Balanced” assessment, but lawmakers grew concerned over the potential costs of the new assessment. Currently, Iowa use the “Iowa Test” developed by Iowa Testing Programs which costs the state less than “Smarter Balanced.”