May 24, 2017
Memorial Day- A Time to Remember our Veterans
Memorial Day- A Time to Remember our Veterans
As Memorial Day approaches, it is a good time to remember the sacrifices our veterans have made, and to thank them for their service. This year, the Iowa Legislature approved several bills to thank and support Iowa veterans.
One important bill that was passed this session ensured that equal military leave, nondiscrimination and reemployment rights are given to a National Guard members of another state if they work in Iowa, helping to streamline and simplify the process for Guard members. Also, the Legislature continued to fund the Veterans Home, Veteran county grants, and the Veterans Home Ownership Program which provides $5,000 to veterans to be used for house down payments and closing costs.
To celebrate our veterans during Memorial Day weekend, there are several events being held across the state. There is a free military breakfast taking place at the Iowa Gold Star Museum on May 29 from 6-9 a.m., an open house at the Iowa Gold Star Museum on May 29 from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., as well as several other events across the state. To find Memorial Day events near you, please visit https://va.iowa.gov/events.
Thousands to Lose Health Care Access
Four health care clinics in Iowa will close their doors next month and leave 14,000 Iowa patients without access to critical health care services like health exams, cancer screenings and birth control.
The clinics will be closed after Republican lawmakers approved a plan last session to eliminate Iowa’s Medicaid Family Planning Waiver and shut the door on $3 million in federal funding to provide critical access to health care serves.
The closures are four Planned Parenthood of the Heartland clinics in Sioux City, Burlington, Keokuk, and Bettendorf.
According the Republican lawmakers, Iowa’s current waiver program will be replaced with a state-only plan, but the impact of the new law is already reducing access to health care services. Even though state and federal dollars are already prohibited from being used for abortions, the new plan restricts any abortion provider from participating in the new state-only waiver system.
Leopold Center Continues; But Without Funding
The Governor preserved the existence of the Leopold Center at Iowa State University, but in name only. Using his line-item veto authority, the Governor took action to keep the statutory language allowing for the existence of the center, but removed all funding from the center while prohibiting the center from undertaking any new activities.
The Leopold Center was established at Iowa State University to conduct and sponsor research to identify and reduce negative impacts of agricultural practices and to develop practices consistent with sustainable agriculture. The center focuses on ecology, marketing and food systems, policy, and cross-cutting. The center makes funds available through a competitive grants program to researchers, investigators, and educators across the state for research projects.
Since 1988 the center has awarded over 500 competitive grants.
Medical Cannabidiol Law Gets Updated
In the final hours of the 2017 Legislative session, lawmakers approved a bill seen as the next step to Iowa’s medical cannabiodiol law, which left many families without the ability to get the cannabidiol medication here in Iowa.
Signed into law last week, the new bill allows cannabidiol to be grown and produced in Iowa with a THC level no more than 3%. The new law also adds eight additional debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and creates a Medical Cannabidiol Board to work with the Iowa Department of Public Health (DPH) to implement the new law and make additional recommendations to the Legislature.
Iowa’s old law allowed for patients or primary caregivers of patients with intractable epilepsy to be able to access cannabidiol with a THC level of not more than 3%, but it was not available in Iowa. Iowa’s Department of Public Health (DPH) will oversee the licensing of manufacturers and dispensaries for the medication.
In signing House File 524, the Governor issued a statement encouraging the General Assembly to address five issues of concern with the legislation. Some of those issues are the need for more precise language for DPH to complete a more comprehensive criminal background check, and whether the annual fees identified in the bill would raise enough money for the DPH to carry out all of the regulatory duties.
Iowa State Parks in Trouble
With summer fast approaching, many Iowans look to state parks for vacation plans. There are about 87 state parks and recreation areas across the state, but due to severe budget cuts, some of these areas may soon have to reduce the hours they are open.
As of right now, there are no definite plans for closures, but this is a very real possibility for future seasons. Last year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) received approximately $1.5 million less than the year before. This reduction has led to a freeze on hiring permanent and seasonal workers. These workers mow lawns, clean restrooms, and are responsible for cabin rental maintenance.
During this session, a bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee that would have allowed the DNR to set dynamic pricing at the state parks and recreation areas. Dynamic pricing would have given the DNR flexibility to set prices based on current market demands, and the type of cabin or piece of property being rented out. This extra revenue could have been used for seasonal staffing, as well as updates and repairs to state parks and camping areas. However, the bill was not approved by the Iowa House or Senate.
House Democrats will continue to work to provide the state parks adequate funding and preserve these important areas for future generations of Iowans.
Iowa Dental Wellness Plan Updated
Since 2014, the Iowa Dental Wellness Plan has provided dental services to adults participating in the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan. The Iowa Dental Wellness Plan provides basic dental services, like x-rays and cleanings. When a member makes regular visits to their dental provider, they will get access to more services, such as root canals and denture repairs. After surveying stakeholders, the Department of Human Services (DHS) has decided to change the Iowa Dental Wellness Plan to streamline the program with the current dental benefits covered by Medicaid.
Starting July 1, 2017, the new Iowa Dental Wellness Plan will provide dental coverage to current members and to adult Medicaid enrollees, aged 19-64. The new plan will allow members to choose which dental insurance provider to use, rather than it being administered by DHS or only a single private provider. In addition, the new Iowa Dental Wellness Plan will eliminate the requirement to earn more benefits, so members will have access to full benefits during the first year. To maintain full medical and dental benefits for the following years, a member must complete “Healthy Behaviors” during each year to maintain their benefits the following year. For dental coverage, “Healthy Behaviors” include completing an oral health self-assessment and a preventative service.
Current Medicaid and Iowa Dental Wellness Plan members are being notified of the change by DHS. Medicaid members are receiving enrollment packets and current plan members are receiving information about the change and they will maintain their coverage. More information about the change and the new Dental Wellness Plan can be found here: https://dhs.iowa.gov/dental-wellness-plan.
County Mental Health Levy Structure Changed
Sustainable funding for adult mental health services continues to be an issue that has plagued the Iowa Legislature for decades. In 2013, the Legislature mandated certain counties to lower their mental health property tax rate to a certain amount, and provided funding to other counties to raise their levy amount to the same rate. However, with the forming of mental health and disability service (MHDS) regions, this meant there was still an inequity in funding services between counties.
This year, the Legislature allowed counties to have the option to equalize their funding amount across the region based upon the total number of people within a region. As a result, each county within a MHDS Region will have the same levy rate. However, the equalized levy rate cannot exceed the previous rate limit established in 2013. This change must be approved by each County Board of Supervisors within a MHDS Region before being implemented.
This change allows Regions more flexibility for counties in how they collect funding for mental health services. Counties are allowed to make this change starting July 1, 2018.
New Social Studies Standards Adopted
After more than a year of development by a special review team, the State Board of Education has adopted new statewide social studies standards. The new standards aim to provide clarity that teachers have been asking for, as well as the real-world knowledge and skills in social studies that students need. Full implementation would take effect in the 2020-21 school year.
The new social studies standards:
• Emphasize critical thinking and problem-solving skills that students need to be successful in postsecondary education, training, and to compete for today’s most rewarding jobs.
The review team developed a survey of social studies teachers, of which, 58% said that they have not had opportunities for professional development. The standards will ensure ongoing access to professional development in social studies, and encourage Area Education Agencies to have dedicated social studies consultants. Program that Helps English Language Students Eliminated Grants to help students learn English in public schools were eliminated this year by Republican lawmakers and the Governor.
According to the latest Department of Education data, the number of English Language Learners (ELL) have more than doubled in Iowa schools since 2000. Certain districts in Iowa have a large number of ELL students, and some have an overwhelming variety of languages spoken by students.
According to the Des Moines School district, students participating in their ELL program speak more than 100 languages and dialects and one in five of their student population is an English language learner.
The grants eliminated next year by Republican lawmakers targeted the districts with the highest number of ELL students. Each of the school district's programs applied innovative research-based practices with clear achievement goals to impact student performance. This additional help is needed since ELL students in Iowa are behind in math and reading compared to national scores or even other Midwest states.
Five-Year Iowa Road Plan Released
A plan for the construction and maintenance of the 8,871 miles of road maintained by the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) has been released and set for approval in June. The plan spends a total of $3.5 billion over the next five years from 2018 through 2025.
In 2016 there were 404 traffic related fatalities, the highest total in the last four years. In 2017, there have already been 104 traffic related fatalities. The DOT will spend $1.7 billion across the state to address safety enhancements and highway modernization.
The plan calls for spending a total of $1.2 billion to upgrade state owned bridges. In 2006 there were 256 structurally deficient bridges across the state, and that number has been reduced to 64 in 2016. The plan also sets aside $41 million each year for road projects that are linked to economic development programs that can go to state, county and city road projects.
Iowans can view the road plan here: https://iowadot.gov/program_management/DRAFT-2018-2022-5YrProg.pdf.
Coaches CPR Requirements Now in Effect
Iowa coaches will have to obtain Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) training or risk licensure delays. This is due to a requirement established by the Board of Education Examiners that is now in effect following the 2017 legislative session.
Official CPR training through reputable organizations such as the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, or other trainings that meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines will be accepted. Online-only programs do not meet the OSHA requirements and will not be accepted.
The CPR requirement is added to the list of minimum requirements for coaches which already includes training in the care of athletic injuries and medical safety, and a mandatory background check. Typically, CPR certification is valid for two years, and coaching applicants will need to provide a copy of their certification card.
Coaches would have had an additional year to comply if HF 563 had passed with the same requirements, but after passing the House during session, the bill failed to pass the Senate. Besides the CPR requirement, the bill would have required the girls and boys athletic associations to develop return to play protocols for student athletes that have suffered a concussion.