June 21, 2017

    New Laws Hit the Books July 1
    New Individual Insurance Coverage Proposal
    State Budget Shortfall a Possibility
    Call for Additional Action in Death of Foster Children
    Regents Finalize 5% Increase in Student Tuition
    Tips to Reduce Summer Energy Bills
    Emerald Ash Borer Continuing to Spread Across Iowa
    Iowa Schools Use of Seclusion Rooms under Scrutiny
    Transportation Improvement Plan Approved
    Department of Education Releases Next Every Student Succeeds Act Plan

    New Laws Hit the Books July 1

    With the beginning of the state’s fiscal year, a host of new laws will take effect on July 1 relating to public health, workforce, and public safety.

    Lawmakers took action this session to stop texting while driving. Beginning July 1, law enforcement officers will now be able to pull over drivers and ticket them for texting while driving. Under the old law, officers could not pull over drivers just for texting.

    Starting the first of the month, there will be a new initiative to help first-time homebuyers save up for their first home. Another bill going into effect July 1st will expand business opportunities for small breweries, wineries, and distilleries that are now flourishing across Iowa.

    Several changes to Iowa law starting in July were made this year to protect Iowans. Some of the new laws include new protections for victims of stalking and abuse; protecting children from drugs; and a new program to reduce drunk driving fatalities.

    For more information and a full list of bills, log on to http://www.iowahouse.org.

    New Individual Insurance Coverage Proposal

    This past spring, Aetna and Wellmark announced that they would no longer participate in the health care marketplace or sell individual health insurance plans. With only one possible remaining smaller provider, Iowa is in a crisis due to the lack of individual insurance coverage options in 2018 which impacts about 72,000 Iowans.

    As a result, the Iowa Insurance Division (IID) has requested a waiver from the federal government to create a new insurance plan structure outside of the current marketplace that will entice more insurance companies to offer individual insurance plans to Iowans. The plan structure will maintain all of the essential benefit requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act as well as Iowa’s insurance coverage mandates.

    The new plan will have three key features that insurers have stated are necessary for offering an individual insurance plan in Iowa. These features are:

    • Increasing subsidies for younger, healthier enrollees;
    • Requiring continuous coverage; and
    • Subsidizing individuals with a high amount of claims.

    The plan would use the anticipated $352 million of tax credits and other assistance Iowans already receive to create a new system that would make individual insurance plans available to Iowans in a different way. A portion of this funding will be used to reimburse insurers for high claim individuals due to chronic or rare conditions.

    The IID is hopeful to have the proposal approved by the federal government within the next couple months. More information about the plan can be found here: https://iid.iowa.gov/documents/the-state-of-iowa%E2%80%99s-proposed-stopgap-measure-for-the-individual-health-insurance-market.

    State Budget Shortfall a Possibility

    As the state’s fiscal year comes to a close on June 30th, there is growing concern that Iowa’s revenue expectations will not be met and action will be needed to bring the budget back into balance. At the end of May, revenue collections were lagging behind projections by nearly $100 million, and with less than a month left in the fiscal year, it appears a shortfall is inevitable. This is the third time this year that action will need to be taken due to lagging revenue collections.

    Early in the legislative session, the 2017 budget was trimmed by more than $80 million and $25 million more from various trust funds were transferred to make up for the shortfall. By the time the Legislature was ready to adjourn in April, revenue estimates continued to falter causing the need for the State’s Cash Reserve Fund to be tapped for another $130 million to keep the budget balanced.

    Last week, Governor Reynolds determined that there was nothing more that can be done before the end of the year, so she plans to authorize up to $50 million to be transferred from the Economic Emergency Fund to the state general fund. Spending money from the Iowa’s reserve funds is a highly unusual move during a growing economy. The state’s workforce is near full employment, with unemployment at 3.1 percent and revenues are growing.

    The State Treasurer is concerned the Governor and Legislative leaders have been too generous in providing tax cuts and credits to corporations without accurately assessing the value of the benefits being provided. As a result, the state budget suffers from insufficient revenues to adequately cash flow the budget throughout the year. Spending down our reserve funds when we are not in a recessionary economy could jeopardize the state’s triple A bond rating.

    While the fiscal year ends on June 30th, the extent of the budget problems may not be known until the books are closed in late September. The Revenue Estimating Conference is likely to meet in October, and then the Governor and Legislative leaders will determine the need to meet in a special session to finalize action on the fiscal year 2017 budget, and to make any adjustments to the fiscal year 2018 budget if needed to keep it in balance.

    Call for Additional Action in Death of Foster Children

    Lawmakers called on the House Oversight Committee to continue their work reviewing the cases of the two teenage girls who died recently and take additional steps quickly to prevent other tragedies.

    Legislators are concerned about the care that ultimately led to the starvation deaths of two sixteen year old girls in the past eight months. Legislators are asking the Department of Human Services, Governor Reynolds, and fellow lawmakers to continue working on this and act quickly to evaluate other children who may be in the same situation by proposing the following:

    • Monthly Government Oversight meetings during the interim to review the progress of the Department of Human Services (DHS) and to hear from the DHS review team, parent groups, frontline DHS workers, Department of Education, home schooling coordinators, patrol officers, Child Welfare Advisory Committee, Iowa Child Death Review Team and current and future vendors who hold contracts with DHS.
    • A complete review and in-person follow up with every DHS case in which a child was fostered, adopted and is now home schooled.
    • Require parents who receives a state subsidy for an adopted or fostered child to have that child meet with a medical professional and a representative of DHS once a year.
    • The immediate hiring of 25 new social workers statewide to help with the burdensome caseload.
    • Begin educating Iowans about the Department of Human Service’s 24-hour child abuse hotline where tips can be left anonymously. If you see something, Iowans should call 1-800-362-2178 or if they believe a child is in immediate danger, call 911.

    The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee last met on Monday, June 5th. At this time, no additional meeting has been scheduled.

    Regents Finalize 5% Increase in Student Tuition

    After Republican lawmakers cut over $24 million this session from Iowa’s three state universities, students will be forced to pay higher tuition next fall. The Iowa Board of Regents gave final approval for a $358 increase in undergraduate tuition for Iowa students next year.

    The Board originally increased 2017-2018 tuition rates by 2-3% back in December, but the shortfall in state funding led to another 3%. For out-of-state students, tuition at the University of Iowa will increase by more than $1,700 while Iowa State tuition will increase by about half that.

    Iowa graduates already accumulate one of the highest debts to go to college in the country, and this will more than likely increase that problem. Community colleges have also been forced to raise tuition and fees next fall as state funding has declined.

    Many lawmakers disagreed with the GOP funding plan that raised tuition for Iowa students but left over $500 million in new corporate tax breaks in place. In addition, with the state budget ending the fiscal year in a deficit, there could be additional tuition increases coming for students.

    Tips to Reduce Summer Energy Bills

    As summer temperatures increase, so do energy bills. The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) reminds Iowans of cost-effective ways to lower summer energy bills while remaining safe and comfortable, and can take several steps to help reduce energy usage during the cooling season:

    • Service or check air conditioning (central or window units) regularly; clean or replace filters often. Keep air registers clean and clear of obstructions. Clean outside air conditioning coils and keep plant or other objects at least 12 inches clear on every side.
    • Block out direct sunlight whenever possible. Close shades, blinds and draperies or use sunscreens over windows and patio areas during the day.
    • Use fans to increase indoor air circulation. Only run fans when a room is occupied. Elderly persons and those with health concerns should check with their doctor before dramatically changing the temperature in their homes.
    • Close air vents/doors to unused portions of a residence.
    • Open windows to take advantage of breaks from the hottest and most humid weather, especially during the cooler evening hours.
    • Install/use a programmable thermostat to set the indoor temperature a few degrees higher when you are sleeping or away from your residence.

    For more tips visit: https://iub.iowa.gov/tips-save-energy or https://iub.iowa.gov/informational-brochures.

    Emerald Ash Borer Continuing to Spread Across Iowa

    The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently announced that Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) has been found in five more counties, bringing the total number of Iowa counties with the invasive pest up to 50. The five new counties with EAB include Benton, Buena Vista, Floyd, Howard and Warren.

    EAB was first detected in Iowa in 2010. Since its discovery in Michigan back in 2002, tens of millions of ash trees have been killed in the United States. EAB are small, shiny green beetles and their larvae are found under the bark of ash trees, where they feed. Once infected, a tree can be killed in as little as two years. These pests are thought to have arrived from their native Asia in wooden crates and shipping materials. Currently, EAB has been found in 30 states.

    There are ways to protect ash trees from EAB. Homeowners may soil drench their trees in insecticide, or use trunk injections. However, these treatments depend on the overall health of the tree, soil compaction, and other environmental factors to be effective.

    To help curb the spread of the pest, there is a quarantine of firewood, logs, and wood chips within all 99 Iowa counties. This means that wood cannot be moved out of the area without a permit, and all wood found within a county must be used within that same county.

    For more information regarding the Emerald Ash Borer, please visit http://www.iowatreepests.com/eab_home.html.

    Iowa Schools Use of Seclusion Rooms under Scrutiny

    The Department of Education (DE) has responded to a state complaint over the use of seclusion rooms in the Iowa City public school system. They have directed the district to make changes in their policy. Meanwhile, the district had already appointed a taskforce to look at the issue and they have made their recommended changes to the school board.

    DE has ordered corrective action in the district’s policy so that parents are shown and are reasonably informed of a seclusion room in their child’s special education Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Seclusion rooms can also be used for general education students as a disciplinary tactic so they will not harm themselves or others. However, DE told the district to address their length of seclusion, alternatives to seclusion, and their decision making process used if it would be effective for a child.

    The local school district’s taskforce report agreed with DE that further staff training on their use was needed, and the district will be developing their own policy with reasonably based alternatives. The Cedar Rapids School District is another district that the public has questioned their use of seclusion rooms, but it is not known how many schools in Iowa use them regularly. The Iowa City school district was the only district named in the December complaint that DE has now responded to.

    Transportation Improvement Plan Approved

    The transportation improvement plan that will guide Department of Transportation (DOT) improvements to state infrastructure over the next 5 years has been approved by the Transportation Commission. The program includes investments in transit, aviation, trails, and highways.

    Major investments are due to the legislature’s strong commitment to infrastructure in 2015 that allows for 100% of additional revenue to be spent on critical road and bridges projects. There is an estimated $3.5 billion projected to be available for highway right of way and construction.

    Over the next five fiscal years, $1.7 billion is slated to be used for the modernization of Iowa’s current highway system and for enhanced safety features. Another $1.2 billion is planned to address Iowa’s state-owned bridges. The number of structurally deficient bridges has been reduced from 256 in 2006 to 64 in 2016.

    The plan is available online and can be viewed here: https://iowadot.gov/program_management/FINAL-2018-2022-5YrProg.pdf.

    Department of Education Releases Next Every Student Succeeds Act Plan

    The Iowa Department of Education has announced that the second draft of Iowa’s state plan for meeting the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is available for public review and comment. Under ESSA, Iowa and other states must develop state plans that address assessments, school and district accountability, funding, and support for struggling schools.

    Iowans are invited to give feedback on the second draft in an online feedback survey, which is open through July 18th. Feedback also can be submitted via email at ESSA@iowa.gov or by mail: Iowa Department of Education, Attn: Deputy Director David Tilly/ESSA Feedback, Grimes State Office Building, 400 E. 14th St., Des Moines, IA 50319-0146.

    Department leaders will collect additional input on the second draft plan at a July 25th meeting of the ESSA Advisory Committee. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Room B100 of the Grimes State Office Building. A third draft of Iowa’s ESSA plan will be released in August, and a final plan will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education by September 18th.