April 6, 2018

    Local Officials Warn of Higher Property Taxes, Cuts in Services
    Anti-Immigration “Sanctuary Cities” Bill Passes Iowa House
    Medicaid Privatization Continues to Hurt Iowans, New Report Shows
    Tuition Rises Again after Budget Cuts
    Mental Health Bill Signed Into Law
    Applications for Teacher of the Year
    Controversial Gun Rights Constitutional Amendment Approved
    Educators to Now Receive Suicide Prevention Training
    Volunteers Needed for State Park Spring Clean-up
    Greater Flexibility in School Funding

    Local Officials Warn of Higher Property Taxes, Cuts in Services

    According to a new survey of local officials released this week, Iowans could be facing steep hikes in property taxes, as well as cuts in local services like police and fire next year. The survey was sent to gather input from local governments on a plan offered by Republican lawmakers to phase out or end the state’s property tax backfill.

    Of the local officials who completed the survey, 93% said they will have to raise property taxes on homeowners and farmers if the state ends the backfill. Here are some other key highlights from the on-line survey of local officials:

      • 90% said it will lead to cuts in services or programs they offer to Iowans.
      • 76% of city and county officials said they would have to make cuts to public safety, including police, fire, sheriff, or other law enforcement.
      • School officials said they would be forced to do the following if the backfill is phased out: raise class sizes (29%), reduce pay or benefits for teachers (24%), and delay technology upgrades (23%).

    If approved, the bill would cut $50 million in payments next year to local governments. In 2013, these funds to local governments were promised by the legislature as property tax rates were reduced for commercial and industrial property. House Study Bill 678 would scale back the backfill payments from $152 million this year down to $25 million over several years. A similar bill in the Senate would end the backfill entirely in just two years.

    The House held the first subcommittee meeting on the bill this week.

    Anti-Immigration “Sanctuary Cities” Bill Passes Iowa House

    Despite strong opposition, legislation passed the Iowa House that would ban and penalize any form of a so-called “Sanctuary City”, even though no such “Sanctuary Cities” exist in Iowa. With only one Iowa organization supporting the legislation, the bill would crack-down on cities and counties who do not comply with federal immigration authorities seeking to deport immigrants who entered the country illegally or risk losing state funding.

    Senate File 481, which was approved on a 55-45 vote, would ban local entities from crafting policies that prevent law enforcement officers and other local officials from inquiring about the immigration status of a person. State funding will be restored to local governments after a 90 day lapse if it rescinds any “sanctuary” policies.

    After reaching out to multiple law enforcement professionals, GOP lawmakers crafted this bill without input or feedback from them. The bill also does not take into account the misplaced fear, perceptions and instability it could cause within local communities and families. Law enforcement are concerned that many crimes may now go unreported.

    According to a new non-partisan fiscal analysis, the GOP bill could also jeopardize state funding to Iowa’s public schools. It would put educators and our schools in the middle of immigration enforcement activities that are best handled by law enforcement. This may also lead to an increase in property taxes to supplement being penalized for not complying with the new legislation.

    The bill has now been sent to the governor for a signature.

    Medicaid Privatization Continues to Hurt Iowans, New Report Shows

    According to a new report released by the State Ombudsman Office, there has been a 157% increase in Medicaid-related problems reported to the agency in 2017. Most of these complaints came from the members and providers involved in Home and Community Based Waivers (HCBS), services that allow people to stay in their homes rather than moving to an institution.

    The report by the Ombudsman, which is an independent department responsible for investigating complaints against state and local governments, describes several of the investigations, including an 80-year-old woman who won an appeal against one of the Managed Care Organizations (MCO) and was still denied services. Other investigations include payment disputes taking a year and a half to settle; and severe reductions in services without official notification.

    One case involved a quadriplegic whose services were cut by 71%, was forced to leave his house and move into a nursing home. The report found the move to the nursing home actually cost the state more money per month than if he was able to stay in his home.

    Finally, the report indicated that the office believes the Department of Human Services (DHS) is not providing adequate oversight of the MCOs. The full Ombudsman report can be found here: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/DF/961421.pdf .

    The Governor unilaterally privatized Medicaid in April 2016, and the results have been disastrous for Iowa. This report proves that Iowan’s have been denied critical care and had their services drastically cut. Many lawmakers believe this isn’t the way to treat Iowa’s most vulnerable populations and are trying to improve oversight or end the failed Medicaid privatization experiment.

    Tuition Rises Again after Budget Cuts

    Students who plan on attending one of the state’s three public universities next year will be paying more money and taking on more debt to earn a degree. The Board of Regents (BOR) announced this week that they will be addressing a proposed tuition increase that will impact Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa. The tuition increase will average 3.4% across the state’s universities.

    The announcement of tuition increases comes just a week after the Governor signed into law more than $10 million in cuts to the Board of Regents. Earlier this session, these cuts were approved at the insistence of Republican lawmakers even though they were not needed to balance the budget.

    The increase in tuition could lead to more Iowa students looking at out-of-state schools in bordering states that offer lower tuition for Iowa students. Many current college students spoke out against the cuts at a public hearing held at the Capitol. The students fear that college will soon become unaffordable for many working families in Iowa.

    Mental Health Bill Signed Into Law

    After years of bipartisan work, a bill that begins the process of reforming the mental health system in Iowa has been signed into law.

    To fill critical gaps in the system, the new law will allow more Iowans to access mental health services and also provides several new choices to patients and their physicians in determining what type of assistance they may need.

    New access centers will provide immediate short-term assessments to people who do not need inpatient psychiatric treatment. Intensive Residential Service Homes are comprehensive, 24 hour facilities to coordinate community living services for persons with serious mental illnesses. Assertive Community Treatment Teams will provide flexible treatment for individuals who are transferring out of an inpatient program.

    While the bill is a great first step to 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.

    In fact, the Governor recently signed a bill that cut $4.3 million from the Department of Human Services, the agency that oversees much of this work. The mental health 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.

    Applications for Teacher of the Year

    Applications are now being accepted for the 2019 Iowa Teacher of the Year. The award is an opportunity to recognize an exceptional Iowa teacher who is helping to redefine education. Nominations will be accepted from anyone, including students, parents, school administrators, colleagues, college faculty members, and associations. The deadline to nominate a teacher is April 27, 2018. To enter in your nomination go to: https://www.educateiowa.gov/documents/educator-quality/2017/12/2019-iowa-teacher-year-nomination-form.

    The Iowa Teacher of the Year award was established in 1958. The annual program is sponsored by the Department of Education (DE) through an appropriation from the Iowa Legislature. Winners are chosen by a committee that includes DE, the Iowa State Education Association, the School Administrators of Iowa, the Parent Teachers Association, the Area Education Agencies, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and the current Iowa Teacher of the Year.

    The Teacher of the Year serves as an ambassador to education and as a liaison to primary and secondary schools, higher education, and organizations across the state. Aileen Sullivan of the Ames Community School District was named the 2018 Teacher of the Year.

    Controversial Gun Rights Constitutional Amendment Approved

    A proposal to amend the state constitution to include firearms rights has moved closer to being on the ballot for a statewide vote from Iowans. The amendment states the right to keep and bear arms cannot be infringed and provides the highest level of judicial protection to firearms rights.

    The amendment has been approved by both chambers of the Iowa Legislature this year. In order to appear on the ballot, the amendment must pass an identical form during the next General Assembly which starts next year. If the amendment passes during the next General Assembly, the amendment will appear on the ballot to be approved by a majority of the voters in the next statewide general election.

    House Joint Resolution 2009 passed the House on a vote of 54-42. The Senate approved the amendment 34-15.

    Educators to Now Receive Suicide Prevention Training

    The Governor has signed a bill that addresses suicide prevention training for educators. By July 1, 2019, school boards are now required to have one hour of nationally recognized training on suicide prevention and post intervention for all licensed school personnel who have contact with students grades K-12.

    School boards will also be required to annually have evidence-based, evidence-supported training on the identification of “Adverse Childhood Experience” (ACE) strategies to mitigate toxic stress response. The training is required for all licensed school personnel with regular contact with students in K- 12. The content of the training is required to be based on nationally recognized best practices.

    ACE are potentially traumatic events occurring in childhood that can have negative, lasting effects on an individual’s health and well-being. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, in 2017, there were 433 people in Iowa who died of suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Iowans ages 15-34. It is hoped that this bill would provide the proper training for educators to recognize the signs of possible suicide and prevent future tragedies.

    Volunteers Needed for State Park Spring Clean-up

    The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) needs volunteers to help with state park spring cleaning. Throughout April and May, the DNR will be hosting volunteer days at parks around the state. Activities include picking up litter, planting trees and plants, painting, and clearing trails. Volunteers are asked to dress for the weather and bring gloves.

    Decreased funding to the DNR in recent years has left parks with fewer maintenance workers. Volunteers at these spring cleanup days are critical to ensuring parks remain open for the public to enjoy.

    April 7th
    Walnut Woods State Park, Polk County
    Meet at the bird blind parking area just behind park office

    April 20th
    Lake Anita State Park, Cass County
    Meet at the campground near the popcorn stand

    April 21st
    Springbrook State Park, Guthrie County
    Meet at the campground gazebo

    Bellevue State Park, Jackson County
    Meet at the Dyas Unit shower building

    Elk Rock State Park, Jasper County
    Meet at the equestrian campground

    April 22nd
    Walnut Woods State Park, Polk County
    Meet in the campground

    April 28th
    Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, Webster County
    Meet at the park office

    May 12th
    Palisades-Kepler State Park, Linn County
    Meet at the park lodge

    May 19th
    Bellevue State Park, Jackson County
    Meet at the nature center

    For more information visit http://www.iowadnr.gov/About-DNR/DNR-News-Releases/ArticleID/1807/Volunteers-invited-to-state-park-spring-clean-up-events.

    Greater Flexibility in School Funding

    The Iowa House made final touches on a bill to provide greater flexibility in the use of school funds. If signed by the Governor, the bill will allow the salary and benefits of security personnel, psychologists, licensed independent social workers, master of social workers, and licensed mental health counselors to be paid for with “at-risk funds”.

    The bill also expands the ability of school districts to lease property to now include existing school property. It also creates greater flexibility for at-risk funds and allows a school to lease a building for an alternative energy project. Currently, a school board has to pay out a portion of the lease agreement profit to other political subdivisions. The bill would not apply for projects designed to generate electricity for a school district, such as a solar power project.

    During the debate it was pointed out that school districts should have even greater flexibility in the funds that they have. However, it will not make up for another year of low funding for public schools. 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.