January 17, 2020

    2020 Legislative Session Starts with Focus on Iowans
    Governor Outlines Budget Priorities
    More Privatized Medicaid Problems; MCO Payment Withheld for Not Paying Providers
    Legislators Look to Reform Manufactured Housing Laws
    Governor Provides Minimal Funding Amounts for Education
    Acting Chief Justice Wiggins Highlights Strengths of Iowa’s Court System
    Felon Voting Database Controversy
    Ice Fishing Safety Tips


    2020 Legislative Session Starts with Focus on Iowans

    This week the 2020 Legislative Session began and lawmakers pledged to work together to keep focused on everyday Iowans, including creating good jobs, investing in public schools, and making health care both affordable and accessible. Lawmakers intend to focus the 2020 Legislative Session on four key initiatives including;

    • bringing better jobs to the community through increased job training and decreasing the cost of childcare;

    • affordable healthcare by lowering the cost of prescription drugs and providing increased mental health access;

    • making Iowa schools #1 in the nation again through affordable higher education and increasing investments in K-12 education and early education;

    • and revitalizing small towns and rural areas by investing in small businesses and increasing access to affordable housing for families.

    The 2020 Iowa State Legislature runs 100 days and is scheduled to adjourn on April 21, 2020.

    2020 Legislative Survey

    In an effort to learn about what’s important to Iowans, lawmakers are requesting Iowans participate in a brief survey. To complete the survey and share your views click here.


    Governor Outlines Budget Priorities

    As the legislative session begins, Governor Kim Reynolds outlined her budget priorities in the annual Condition of the State address to the Legislature. While the Governor laid out the main themes of her budget, the budget recommendations made will now be considered by the Legislature.

    Along with budget recommendations, the Governor urged lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment to allow felons the right to vote, but once again has refused to sign an executive order that could grant them their voting rights immediately. Legislation to enact voter felon rights passed last session in the House but failed to make it through the Senate.

    The Governor also introduced both a sales tax increase and an income tax plan, but left out many details leaving lawmakers with more questions than answers. Other ideas outlined by the Governor include a constitutional ban on abortion, growing Iowa’s skilled workforce, expanding high speed internet access, and making child care more affordable.

    While there are a lot of areas that demand and can get bi-partisan agreement, House Democrats will be making sure the 2020 Legislative Session is focused on issues that are important to every day Iowans, including creating good-paying jobs, investing in education, affordable health care, and revitalizing our rural communities.


    More Privatized Medicaid Problems; MCO Payment Withheld for Not Paying Providers

    In July, Iowa Total Care, Iowa’s new Managed Care Organization (MCO), began providing services to Medicaid members. Since that time, there has been massive problems with paying providers in a timely manner, paying providers accurately, or not paying them altogether. Because of this, the Department of Human Services (DHS) has decided to withhold almost $44 million from Iowa Total Care this month. The release of this payment to the MCO will be determined in late February, and is based on goals the company must reach. If these goals aren’t met, the money will continue to be withheld.

    This is just the latest example of the disastrous results of privatized Medicaid. In response to these compounding problems, Governor Reynolds and Republican lawmakers have continued to only throw money at the MCOs without getting to the root of the problem. In fact, MCOs have gotten a $730 million increase over these past two years. Iowa Medicaid members are receiving worse care, while the MCOs have been given massive bonuses. This stands in direct opposition to the “better care for less money” idea that the Governor has repeatedly quoted.

    Many Iowans are concerned that the Governor and majority party lawmakers are avoiding more rigorous oversight of the MCOs that are supposed to provide critical care for vulnerable Iowans.


    Legislators Look to Reform Manufactured Housing Laws

    Last month, Iowa legislators held a public hearing to discuss proposed protections for residents of Iowa manufactured housing parks. At least 85 residents and affordable housing advocates attended the hearing.

    During the hearing, attendees highlighted blind spots in the state’s current landlord-tenant laws, including allowing unreasonable rents and fees, short eviction notices, and retaliation against the tenant. Unlike Iowa apartment renters, manufactured housing owners are not automatically refunded security deposits or prepaid rent after lease termination. Additionally, owners of manufactured houses are prohibited from seeking damages from landlords who knowingly include illegal provisions in rental agreements.

    Last session, the Iowa Senate unanimously advanced HF 638, which would have required manufactured housing park owners to give residents a 180-day notice for rent increase rather than the current 60 days. However, Iowa Republican lawmakers killed the bill during the final hours of session.

    Currently there are at least 550 manufactured housing communities, encompassing 35,443 units, in 80 Iowa counties. Of these communities, only 414 are owned by in-state entities. The remaining 136 are owned out by out-of-state companies per the Iowa State Association of Counties.

    This session, Iowa Democrats are continuing discussions with stakeholders in order to reform the state’s current inadequate and exploitable manufactured housing laws.


    Governor Provides Minimal Funding Amounts for Education

    Every legislative session one of the first tasks charged to lawmakers is to set the school funding amount for Iowa schools. This year Governor Kim Reynolds is recommending a 2.5% increase in State Supplemental Aid (SSA) for K-12 schools. This would continue the trend of not funding at least the cost of inflation increase to Iowa schools for 9 of the last 10 years. The Governor also does not include any additional dollars to address the district cost per pupil inequity that the Legislature had started to address in the last couple years.

    However, the Governor is recommending an increase of $5.5 million for school transportation to continue to bring high transportation cost districts down to the statewide average. This would leave them about $4 million short needed in this effort, but continues to be a step in the right direction.

    Governor Funding Recommendations for the State Universities and Community Colleges Left Short

    The Governor recommended $3 million below the requested amount for Iowa’s three public universities. The Iowa Board of Regents indicated that if the request was met, tuitions would rise between 3% to 5% at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.

    If dollar amount from the state was met as requested from University of Northern Iowa, they indicated their tuition would remain the same as they try to make their tuition more competitive with their peers. Now, with the lower proposed level from the Governor, they may have to increase tuition putting the cost on the backs of Iowa students and their families.

    Iowa’s Community Colleges would receive a $5.2 million increase under the Governor’s proposal. Community colleges had requested an $8.8 million increase for all 15 community colleges in Iowa. Community college tuition will likely continue to increase even though they are already one of the highest in the country.


    Acting Chief Justice Wiggins Highlights Strengths of Iowa’s Court System

    Acting Chief Justice David Wiggins delivered the Condition of the Judiciary this week. Justice Wiggins is serving as the chief justice after the sudden death of former Chief Justice Mark Cady last November. The acting chief justice discussed the impact former Chief Justice Cady had on the Iowa justice system.

    “His death sent shockwaves not only through the Judicial Branch but also throughout the state and nation. Chief Justice Cady was an outstanding legal scholar, a thoughtful colleague, a good friend, and a strong leader. Under Chief Justice Cady’s leadership, and with your support, the Iowa judicial system has become one of the best in the nation. His leadership brought our justice system to where we are today and provides us with a clear vision of where we need to go in the future in order to achieve his goal to be the best justice system in the nation.”

    The acting chief justice noted that Chief Justice Cady had begun work on this condition of the judiciary before his passing and included his thoughts in his speech. Acting Chief Justice Wiggins noted that the Judicial Branch has great respect for the legislature and other public officials around the state and their devoted service. The courts in the state serve a different role though and the independence of the courts from the other political branches is not a divide but the very strength of the institution.

    Justice Wiggins noted that Iowa’s courts are community based and have a physical presence in all 99 counties in the state. The Judicial Branch is therefore working to provide specific programs for those communities to address issues unique to each of those communities, including an Auto Theft Accountability program in the Quad Cities, Fast Track and Swift, Certain, and Fair programs in Waterloo for technical or misdemeanor probation violations, improved child welfare outreach in Storm Lake, and the expansion of business courts to all four corners of the state.

    Acting Chief Justice Wiggins stressed that the Judicial Branch must continue the work of former Chief Justice Cady to improve the state’s justice system. The Judicial Branch continues to change the delivery of justice in the state to reflect the needs of the community that they serve by providing for the special needs of each of Iowa’s communities. Acting Chief Justice Wiggins called for the Judicial Branch to continue to promote public understanding of the justice system and display the shared values of a strong democracy.


    Felon Voting Database Controversy

    Iowa is currently the only state in the nation that permanently prevents someone convicted of a felony from voting unless they are restored by the Governor. After a recent investigation turned up many errors, the Iowa Secretary of State has decided to stop using the database of people convicted of felonies used by county auditors to verify eligibility.

    Currently, the system has more than 100,000 entries. An investigative report by the Associated Press in December found that 4% of just 700 entries reviewed were incorrect. Since 2016, the Secretary of State has restored rights to more than 2,500 people who should not have been on the list, twenty people alone in 2018 who should have been allowed to vote were prevented from voting because of errors in the database. The Secretary of State has proposed Administrative Rules that will instill a six-step process to ensure the integrity of the database.

    Governor Reynolds has vowed to review the current backlog of 300 people who have applied for restoration before the Presidential caucus on February 3rd. Last session, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have restored voting rights for those convicted of a felony failed to pass the legislature. The Governor could sign an executive order to give the voting rights back, as Governor Vilsack did, but has so far refused to do so.

    Those who have questions or concerns should contact their local auditor whose contact information can be found here: https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/auditors/auditor.asp?CountyID=00.

    Those wishing to apply to have their rights restored can find the application here: https://governor.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/Application%20for%20Restoration%20of%20Voting%20Rights.pdf.


    Ice Fishing Safety Tips

    While it is winter in Iowa some parts of the state have seen warmer than usual temperatures. Due to the unusually warm and changing temperatures, not all ice on Iowa’s waterways is safe to walk on. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends people stay off ice that is less than four inches thick.

    DNR ice safety tips:

    • Wait until ice is at least 4 inches before walking on it
    • New ice is usually stronger than old ice
    • Avoid off-colored snow or ice, it is usually a sign of weakness
    • The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process

    DNR safety tips for ice fishing:

    • Four inches of ice or more is recommended for safe fishing
    • Check the DNR’s website for the weekly fishing reportwith ice conditions
    • Drill test holes near shore and periodically as you move to measure the thickness and quality of the ice
    • Check the ice often as you make your way to your favorite fishing spot
    • Go with someone and bring along ice picks, about 50 feet of rope, a floatable seat cushion you can throw to someone in case of a rescue, and your cell phone
    • Fish early and late in the day. Fish are more active during these times
    • Use small jigs, spoons or minnows, and light line
    • Learn to use spring bobbers (a piece of metal or wire that extends off the rod tip). Fish use less energy during the winter and are less aggressive. Spring bobbers let you set the depth of line and see when you have a bite, often before you even feel it on your line

    For more information, safety tips, and to find a class on ice fishing, visit the DNR’s website.