December 11, 2019

    Iowa Seniors Impacted by Controversial Privatization Plan
    Iowa Chief Justice Cady Passes; Court Begins Selection Process
    Court Blocks Second Attempt at Ag-Gag Bill
    Dyslexia Taskforce Releases Recommendations
    First Day Hikes at Iowa State Parks
    Iowa to Start Hiring Census Workers
    Department of Education Proposes a Sports “Dead Week”


    Iowa Seniors Impacted by Controversial Privatization Plan

    After months of controversy, a plan to privatize the state office that protects seniors from abuse has been put on hold.

    Last month, the Office of the State Long Term Care Ombudsman (SLTCO) put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to privatize some of their work. However, no RFP’s were received by the deadline because many companies saw the devastating results when the state’s Medicaid program was privatized. The SLTCO investigates complaints at nursing facilities, residential facilities, assisted living programs, and group homes for seniors across the state. This move would impact six state employees, who are the local long-term care ombudsman.

    One potential reason for this change is that Majority Party lawmakers cut appropriations to the SLTCO over the last few years. In 2016, the Office was appropriated $1.6 million, and this fell to $1.26 million in FY 19. During that same time, the number of employees went from 14.4 full-time positions to 9.6.

    Due to these budget cuts, the SLTCO had to cut out travel to facilities and instead told the ombudsman to investigate complaints over the phone or through Skype, rather than investigating the facility in-person. According to the Institute of Medicine, the national recommendation on the number of ombudsman positions a state should have is one per 2,000 beds. For Iowa, that would mean about 26. Currently, there are only six regional LTCOs throughout that state.

    With the disastrous results that privatization had on our Medicaid program, the move to privatize this office is very concerning. It is essential that an independent agency with proper resources and staffing are able to do their job to keep Iowans safe in long-term care facilities.


    Iowa Chief Justice Cady Passes; Court Begins Selection Process

    Last month, Chief Justice Mark Cady of the Iowa Supreme Court unexpectedly passed away. Chief Justice Cady was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1998 and was selected as the Chief Justice in 2011.

    Following this unfortunate news, the State Judicial Nominating Commission, which is responsible for helping to select Iowa Supreme Court Justices, announced it was starting the process of selecting a new justice for the court. Applications for the vacancy on the court were opened last month. The commission received notice of the vacancy from the Governor on November 20th and has 60 days from that date to send a slate of nominees to the Governor. The Governor then makes an appointment to the Supreme Court from that slate of nominees.

    The Supreme Court announced that it was taking the initial steps to create the Chief Justice Mark Cady Learning Center at the Judicial Branch Building. According to the Judicial Branch, one of the goals of Chief Justice Cady was to create an interactive learning center for all Iowans to experience. The announced learning center will have interactive exhibits on the process of Iowa’s court system, highlight important civil rights moments involving the court, and discuss the importance of fair and impartial courts.


    Court Blocks Second Attempt at Ag-Gag Bill

    A federal court judge has ruled that Iowa cannot enforce a law targeting fraudulent access to agricultural production facilities. The ruling, the second in less than a year, prohibits the implementation of agricultural trespass legislation that was passed into law in March. The previous 2012 law was struck down in January for violating free speech protections.

    Under the law, often referred to as “Ag-Gag” an individual would be guilty of agriculture trespass if they used deception to gain access to agricultural production facility that is not open to the public with an intent to cause physical or economic harm, or "other injury" to a facility’s operations, property, or persons.

    Opponents of the law cited speech concerns it would have a chilling effect on undercover investigations. Supporters of the legislation argued that protections are needed for biosecurity reasons and to stop bad actors from producing misleading videos.

    Similar laws have been struck down in in other states including Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.


    Dyslexia Taskforce Releases Recommendations

    Iowa’s Dyslexia Taskforce has submitted its report to the legislature. The report outlines current practices and concerns regarding Iowa response to dyslexia and key recommendations for the state to move forward in meeting the needs of students with dyslexia.

    The report highlights five recommendations for the legislature and additional recommendations for the Iowa Department of Education, Iowa Area Education Agencies, education teacher preparation programs, and Iowa school districts. The recommendations will be considered during the upcoming legislative session, and the report is available to the public on the Iowa Dyslexia Task Force web page.


    First Day Hikes at Iowa State Parks

    On New Year’s Day, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will be hosting its 9th Annual First Day Hikes. Forty-nine of Iowa’s state parks will have free guided hikes for everyone to enjoy. Most hikes are a mile to two miles. They are a great way for people to get outside to enjoy the different landscapes Iowa has to offer. Many parks will have hot chocolate and snacks before or after the hike. For more information about the hikes visit www.iowadnr.gov/firstdayhikes.

    Iowa’s state parks are turning 100 years old in 2020. The first state park was Backbone State Park in northeast Iowa and was dedicated in 1920. The First Day Hikes on January 1st are the kickoff event for the centennial celebration. There will be many events throughout the year at state parks across Iowa. For more information about the centennial celebrations visit www.iowadnr.gov/parks2020.


    Iowa to Start Hiring Census Workers

    Once every ten years the nation counts the number of people living in the country. As the calendar turns to the year 2020, Iowa is gearing up for the upcoming effort through the U.S. Census Bureau. At the end of October, the state created the Complete Count Committee to increase awareness among Iowans about the importance of the census. The official count starts on April 1, 2020 and respondents for the first time will be allowed to complete the census online. The U.S. Census Bureau is currently starting to hire thousands of Iowans to help the census get an accurate count.

    It is important to get an accurate count as the population data helps determine how many seats Iowa has in the United States House of Representatives, as well as re-drawing boundaries for state lawmakers, county officials, and other local governments. Iowa is one of just two states nationally that uses a unique non-partisan redistricting process. After receiving the census data in early 2021, the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency will use the information to re-draw lines and make sure there is equal representation in the Iowa Legislature.

    According to the US Census Bureau, billions of dollars in federal funds Iowa receives every year are also based off of census information. In 2016 alone, Iowa received $8.8 billion through 55 different federal programs that used data from the 2010 census, including Medicaid, student loans, housing, the nutrition assistance for kids, and special education grants.


    Department of Education Proposes a Sports “Dead Week”

    A proposed rule by the Department of Education (DE) allows school associations, at their discretion, to set a dead week or weeks during the summer for a period up to 14 days which no contact with students would be allowed. This could apply to the state’s boys Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union.

    If an organization adopts the policy, and a violation occurs, a coach or volunteer could not participate in an organization sponsored event for up to 1-year of the violation. Given the summer camps and other private organized competitions outside of school year-round, allowing the rule would give students a break, or a little time off.

    Another rule change involves elimination of the “double jeopardy” rule. Currently if a middle school or high school student is academically ineligible, for any grading period, they have to sit out for 30 days. Then if they are involved in another activity, for example, band, chorus, or orchestra, they have to sit for another 30-days per activity. The rule would eliminate this “double jeopardy.”

    The Iowa Senate last session passed Senate File 437 that would have eliminated “double jeopardy,” but it stalled in the House. The DE is proposing it now as a regulation rule change under their discretion.