January 18, 2019

    2019 Session Gets Underway
    Governor Puts Forward Budget Plan
    Proposal to Restore Felon Voting Rights
    Food Assistance and the Federal Government Shutdown
    Chief Justice Focuses on Continuing Improvement and New Opportunities
    Federal Government Shutdown Effects FAFSA Filers
    Ice Fishing Tips

    2019 Session Gets Underway

    The 2019 Legislative Session opened this week and lawmakers pledged to work together and keep focused on improving the lives of everyday Iowans. Lawmakers said the Legislature needs to get back to the basics and create good jobs, invest in public schools, and make health care both affordable and accessible.

    Some additional issues lawmakers may be working on this year include improving Iowa’s mental health system, fixing Medicaid privatization, making college education affordable, expanding job training opportunities, and improving the quality of Iowa’s water.

    2019 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 go to: http://interspire.iowahdc.info/surveys.php?id=62.

    Governor Puts Forward Budget Plan

    During her Condition of the State this week, the Governor outlined her budget priorities for the upcoming legislative session. While there are proposals in the budget that the minority party will be able to find common ground on, the budget also shortchanges many priorities that directly impact working families in the State.

    After years of stagnant state funding that hasn’t kept up with rising costs, the Governor’s proposal for public schools falls short of what is needed. The Medicaid system continues to be in crisis and will need at least an additional $141 million for the current fiscal year, which ends on July 1. The Governor also recommended funding Medicaid for the upcoming year at $7.7 million below the estimated need by Medicaid Forecasting experts.

    House Democrats will continue to work to find common ground, balance the state budget, and improve the lives of everyday Iowans.

    Proposal to Restore Felon Voting Rights

    During the Condition of the State, the Governor proposed the General Assembly pass a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to convicted felons.

    Currently, Iowa and Kentucky are the only two states that automatically bar every convicted felon from voting for life. Iowa has one of the nation’s most restrictive bans, which permanently bars felons from voting unless they successfully petition the Governor or President to restore their rights.

    In 2005, Governor Tom Vilsack signed Executive Order 42, which immediately restored voting rights to felons for six years. Executive Order 42 restored 115,000 Iowans’ voting rights. Governor Branstad reinstated only 241 offenders’ right to vote. Governor Terry Branstad rescinded this order on inauguration day in 2011. As of January 15, 2019, Governor Reynolds reinstated 88 felons’ right to vote.

    Any Iowan convicted of a felony after January 14, 2011 cannot vote unless he or she has successfully petitioned the Governor via a 4-step process:

    • Sign and complete an application for Restoration Citizenship Rights;
    • Complete an Iowa Criminal History Record and pay a $15 fee;
    • Provide documentation that all court costs, restitution and fine payments are current. If these are not current, then the applicant must provide a written explanation detailing reasons for unfulfilled payments; and
    • Submit all documents to the Governor’s office via mail. Once the Governor’s office confirms all paperwork is present and accurately completed, then the Governor will immediately restore voting rights to the felon/petitioner.

    There are two ways the Iowa Legislature could restore voting rights to felons: (1) constitutional amendment; or (2) legislation redefining infamous crimes. A constitutional amendment would require the majority approval of two Legislatures. A bill that redefines ‘infamous crimes’ would limit the restriction of voting restoration to only certain felonies/crimes/convicted offenders.

    While waiting for the passing of legislation or a Constitutional Amendment, the Governor may also unilaterally restore felons’ voting rights by signing an executive order similar to Governor Vilsack’s 2005 Executive Order 42. This would potentially automatically reinstate an estimated 52,000 Iowa felons the right to vote. However, the Governor’s office has yet to indicate the Governor’s willingness to do so.

    Food Assistance and the Federal Government Shutdown

    As the federal government shut down drags on for another week, state officials are warning it may begin to affect the food assistance that many Iowans receive. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is funded mostly by the federal government and provides monthly money for food assistance to citizens across the state.

    With the government shutdown, this funding has been called into question. However, the Department of Human Services (DHS) recently announced that the payment for February benefits will come through later this month. February benefits will be available on the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards on January 17, 2019. These will be the normal benefits for February, but they are getting deposited earlier than normal. Contingency plans are being developed for March benefits if the federal government is still shut down at that time.

    SNAP serves around 380,000 Iowans, and around 44% of these families have children. SNAP benefits also help those with a disability and the elderly. Most of these recipients (84%) have jobs, but with stagnant wages and higher costs of living, many Iowans still need these benefits to help make ends meet.

    For more information and resources regarding food assistance, please visit https://dhs.iowa.gov/food-assistance/resources.

    Chief Justice Focuses on Continuing Improvement and New Opportunities

    Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered the 2019 Condition of the Judiciary this week. The Chief Justice discussed the vital importance of the courts, stressing the need for continual improvement and new opportunities for the judicial branch to offer court services to Iowans.

    The Chief Justice noted that the judicial branch continues to develop new ways to provide dispute resolution to all Iowans. He discussed the work of problem solving courts such as drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans’ courts, that have expanded in the state to deal with the problems specific to Iowans appearing in these specialty courts. The Chief Justice also emphasized the importance of juvenile court services to provide the appropriate treatment and services to give youth in the system an opportunity to be rehabilitated and avoid the criminal justice system.

    Culture of Continuous Improvement

    Chief Justice Cady discussed the continued improvements that the courts have undertaken in providing new and innovative ways of assuring all Iowans have access to the justice system. He highlighted dedicated business courts that have specialty trained judges who understand the needs of businesses and stated that the courts are committed to expanding to especially help farmers and other ag-based businesses. The courts are also undertaking a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system to assure the system is fair to all Iowans.

    New Opportunities to Lead the Nation

    The Chief Justice stressed the court’s commitment to advancing justice with continuous improvements, including the use of technology. The court’s focus on digital opportunities includes projects focused on using technology to better serve Iowans, including online dispute resolution, text messages to defendants and other court users, and remote court reporting and interpreting. The court will focus on increasing online access to the courts, including making specialty courts like veterans’ courts, mental health courts, and drug courts available to more Iowans. The Chief Justice also highlighted a “Rural Courts Initiative” to expand access in all 99 counties and improve efficiency throughout the justice system.

    Chief Justice Cady also stated the courts have a commitment to transparency and accountability and will issue an annual report next year on the successes of the Judicial Branch and opportunities for improvement. The report will include metrics and outcomes on all of the work the court is doing or will undertake. Chief Justice Cady stated the report would be done by the next legislative session.

    Federal Government Shutdown Effects FAFSA Filers

    State government remains open and is mostly unaffected by the federal government shut down, but there are some functions and crossover programs that are feeling the effects.

    Parents and students in college this time of year are filing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. For next college year the applications are accepted from Oct. 1st through March 1st. The Federal Student Aid office has allowed institutions to now accept tax returns for verification purposes, but issues still remain with the federal database for Selective Service registration.

    Because that database is not being currently updated, FAFSA filers cannot be matched to them. With deadlines for financial aid applications looming on March 1, the Iowa College Student Aid Commission is making students aware of possible delays, but continues to urge students and parents to file their FAFSA.

    Ice Fishing Tips

    As winter weather continues to change it is important to remember the ice on lakes fluctuates. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has several safety tips to insure you have a successful time ice fishing.

    • Check the DNR’s website for the weekly fishing report with ice conditions
    • Four inches of ice or more is recommended for safe ice fishing
    • 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 go to your favorite fishing spot
    • 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
    • Go with someone who has experience and equipment to use
    • 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.