March 2, 2018

    House Passes Long Awaited Mental Health Bill
    K-12 School Aid Falls Short Again
    Opioid Legislation Passes House Unanimously
    Regent Presidents Present to Legislators, Address Student Debt
    Fair Goers Get the OK to Use Credit Cards
    Derelict Building Grants Available to Help with Abandoned Buildings

    House Passes Long Awaited Mental Health Bill

    After years of bipartisan work, the House has passed a bill to begin reforming the mental health system in Iowa.

    One of the most important provisions of the bill is the addition of more services to the list of core services that the Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) regions must provide for. These services include Access Centers that provide immediate short-term assessments to people who do not need inpatient psychiatric treatment, Intensive Residential Service Homes that are comprehensive, 24 hour facilities that coordinate community living services for persons with serious mental illnesses, and Assertive Community Treatment Teams that provide flexible treatment for individuals that have transferred out of an inpatient program.

    The MHDS regions will now be able to contract with transportation service companies to transport patients under this bill. Currently, patients are transported by law enforcement or an ambulance service, and by contracting with an outside vendor, it will free up law enforcement to do other important work. Mental health professionals will also be able to disclose mental health information to a law enforcement agent to prevent a serious threat to the patient or to others.

    While the bill is a great first step in improving the system, many Iowans and lawmakers are concerned it does not include any additional investment from the state, causing a bigger strain on existing services and resources. The regions are being asked to fund most of the bill without receiving any sort of financial assistance. In order to truly make meaningful and lasting changes to the system, it needs to be fully-funded.

    HF 2456 will now go to the Senate Human Resources Committee for consideration.

    K-12 School Aid Falls Short Again

    The Senate has passed the K-12 school funding bill and sent it to the Governor. With another year of low funding on the way for public schools, students in K-12 schools will likely find higher class sizes and fewer opportunities next year. When adjusted for inflation, public schools have received just a $33 per student increase over eight years, which is less than 1% each year. Iowa’s per pupil funding is now $1,111 below the national average.

    At the same time the Majority Party was approving the plan to underfund public schools, new data was released that found 105 public schools buildings have closed their doors over the last several years. Iowans already know that closing public schools has a devastating impact on neighborhoods, small towns, and rural communities.

    Last year, the Majority Party got rid of the law requirement that schools be provided funding a year in advance to give them time to plan their budgets. Instead they established a 30-day deadline from when the Governor submitted her budget.

    With feuding between the House and Senate on a transportation plan tied to school aid, the Majority Party missed their own 30-day deadline, and schools will not receive their school funding quickly like they wanted. Legislators finally settled on a 1-year plan for transportation costs, instead of a long-term plan previously passed by the Senate. Both bills have now been sent to the Governor for her signature.

    Opioid Legislation Passes House Unanimously

    On a unanimously vote, the Iowa House passed a bill this week to help curtail the opioid crisis in Iowa.

    The bill, House File 2377, expands who is required to use the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), a tool that allows authorized prescribers and pharmacists to view information about their patients’ use of controlled substances. The bill also issues reports to each prescribing practitioner describing the summary of the practitioner’s history of prescribing controlled substances; a comparison to other practitioner’s prescribing activities, and educational updates.

    The bill also includes Good Samaritan language that provides certain protections to those that seek treatment for a drug-related overdose or a person who is seeking treatment for another person who is experiencing a drug-related overdose. This gives them certain protections against being prosecuted or arrested, with some exceptions.

    The bill now goes to the Senate.

    Regent Presidents Present to Legislators, Address Student Debt

    The Presidents from Iowa’s three state universities presented their budget recommendations to the House Appropriations Committee.

    University of Iowa (U of I)

    The University of Iowa presented information that showed 45% of their students graduate with $0 debt. They have had a $1,000 reduction in average debt since 2014. President Bruce Harreld presented information on the University’s LEAN efforts. They now run more efficiently than anyone in their peer group of like institutions.

    University of Northern Iowa (UNI)

    President Mark Nook noted that 90% of University of Northern Iowa students come from Iowa, and has largest percent of students that graduate and stay in Iowa. UNI’s “Live Like a Student” program to reduce student debt, has reduced student debt to just over $22,000 for the average student, while nationally it is over $30,000.

    Iowa State University (ISU)

    President Wendy Wintersteen noted Iowa State University’s current undergraduate student population has 60% from Iowa. She indicated that ISU’s enrollment is up 35% since 2009, but state appropriations are down 21% during that time period. The average teacher load has increased by 71% over that time period.

    The Regents have proposed a need-based financial aid increase of $5 million for the U of I and ISU each and a $2 million increase at UNI, for a total of $12 million increase. However, the majority party have proposed millions in budget cuts to the universities instead.

    Fair Goers Get the OK to Use Credit Cards

    One of the highlights of the year for many is making a trip to their local county fair, as well as the state fair. People from all over Iowa and even the country make their way to Des Moines in August to attend the Iowa State Fair. As fair goers attend in 2018, they will notice they now have more options to purchase tickets for midway games.

    The legislature has recently approved the ability for county fairs and the state fair attendees to purchase wrist bands for the use of midway games. This change comes after the state fair was selling wrist bands last year and accepting payment via credit and was inadvertently breaking the law. This change will only impact midway games and does impact the forms of payment that are currently accepted for food and drink.

    Iowa has fairs in all 99 counties and last year 1.1 million people attended the Iowa State Fair.

    Derelict Building Grants Available to Help with Abandoned Buildings

    The next round of funding for the 2018 Derelict Building Grant Program is open for applications. Requests to help deal with old commercial buildings or public structures can be submitted by communities until April 4th. The program helps small communities, or those with populations of less than 5,000, to deconstruct or renovate buildings that the community owns.

    The program was established in 2011 by the Iowa Legislature. Since its creation, the program has helped over 100 communities with deserted buildings to improve the street appearance of these towns and aid in commercial redevelopment of areas. The program focuses on reuse and recycling of building items. The program has diverted over 45,000 tons of materials that saved over $1.5 million in landfill costs.

    Funding is awarded annually on a competitive basis. Communities are chosen by a committee made up of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Society of Solid Waste Operations, Iowa Recycling Association, Iowa Economic Development Authority, and Keep Iowa Beautiful. Financial assistance can include building deconstruction and renovation, removal of asbestos, and other environmental services.

    For additional information on the grants and to obtain an application, contact Scott Flagg at 515-725-8318 or mailto:Scott.Flagg@dnr.iowa.gov.