Capitol Update: Week 14

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Keeping Iowa Safe

Public Safety is frequently one of the top things that Iowans identify as something the Legislature needs to address.  The House Majority has taken this topic seriously, passing many bills this session that will keep students, motorists, and senior citizens safe across our state.

Whether it’s through policy or in the budget, I will continue to make public safety a priority and ensure that Iowans are protected.

Improving School Safety

One of the biggest priorities this session was extending the school infrastructure tax, known as SAVE. This provides schools with significant resources to make building improvements and ensure safe, modern classrooms. We included a provision in the bill that prioritizes upgrades like secure entrances, security cameras, and other safety enhancements, before using SAVE funds on athletic facilities.

We also passed legislation that protects students from known predators who move from school to school. House File 637 is an important school safety bill that requires administrators to report employee misconduct in a timely way.

Empowering Students on College Campuses

In recent years, the number of assaults and rapes on college campuses in Iowa is increasing. Additionally, a climate survey of students at the University of Iowa showed that more than 1 in 5 female undergraduates say they were raped during their time at UI. This is a serious problem that requires serious solutions.

Just this week the House passed a bipartisan bill that provides students with more tools to protect themselves on campus. The legislation prevents Iowa’s public universities and community colleges from implementing a policy that bans the carrying of a stun gun for personal protection. In a situation where seconds matter but law enforcement is minutes away, the use of this device could be the difference between life or death.

Safe Roads and Highways

Another bill passed this session, Senate File 113, holds repeat drunk drivers accountable and keeps them off the roads to make our highways safer. This bill clarifies that a person convicted with three or more OWIs can be charged as a habitual offender and face stiffer penalties. Drunk driving is not only irresponsible, but it puts those who wish to travel safely on our roads and highways at risk.

This year’s legislation builds on successful efforts from previous years to crack down on drunk and distracted driving and hold individuals accountable for their actions.

Protecting Seniors and Vulnerable Iowans

The House passed several pieces of legislation this session to protect seniors and other vulnerable Iowans in a number of ways. House File 731 updates Iowa’s mandatory reporter law to better protect dependent adults from abuse through more frequent and streamlined training. House File 323 ensures a person can be found guilty of dependent adult abuse even if they didn’t personally profit from the abuse. Finally, House File 569 ensures that an individual who intentionally shames, degrades, humiliates, or harms the personal dignity of a dependent adult is held accountable.

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Capitol Update: Week 13

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House HHS Budget Includes Significant Funding for Mental Health

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee passed House File 766, the Health and Human Services Budget for FY2020. This budget appropriates a total of $1.94 billion from the state general fund to the Department on Aging, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Iowa Veterans Home. When combined with federal block grants, federal matching funds, and other revenue sources, the HHS budget tops $5 billion to fund human services in the state for the next fiscal year.

Importantly, this budget provides significant funding for mental health including an additional $1.2 million in state funding and total $3.1 million in funding next year to eliminate the waiting list for the children’s mental health home and community based services waiver. There are currently around 1,000 children on this waiting list, and this appropriation will allow these children and their families to receive much needed services close to home.

Additionally, this bill funds the single statewide 24-hour crisis hotline for all ages and funds our current and soon to be 22 Assertive Community Treatment teams statewide. This funding amounts to about $2.8 million that is currently being subsidized by the 14 Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) Regions. This budget provides a $5.2 million increase to Medicaid to pay for the additional mental health services passed last year, like Access Centers and Intensive Residential Service Homes, in the Mental Health Complex Needs Act (HF2456).

This budget also focuses on mental health workforce by funding 4 additional psychiatric residencies in rural communities and increases psychiatric training for physician assistants and nurse practitioners

These increases are in addition to the status quo appropriation of $96 million to Iowa Medicaid for children’s mental health services, $1.4 million towards children’s systems of care, $2 million towards the Medical Residency Training State Matching Grants Program which has funded 8 new psychiatric medical residency slots in central Iowa, and continues the appropriation to Des Moines University to partner with NAMI to prepare family physicians and other medical providers to help those suffering from mental illness. There are also additional funds appropriated through the federal community mental health block grant, Iowa Medicaid, and Public Health for substance abuse, 1st Five, home visitation, and other mental health prevention work for Iowa children, to name a few.

The House Majority has  made significant state investments into the state mental health system, and continue this important work with increases this year in the House HHS Budget as well as the Education Budget.

House Ways & Means Committee Passes Child Care Tax Credit Bill

This week the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously passed House File 227—a bill that doubles the income limitation for the Iowa child and dependent care tax credit. This is a credit that supports working Iowa families who spend large portions of their paychecks on childcare.

Currently, the federal tax code provides for a Child and Dependent Care Credit equal to 20 percent to 35 percent of qualified expenditures paid to care providers for a child under the age of 13 and for certain other dependents of the taxpayer. Qualified expenditures are limited to $3,000 per year for one qualified dependent or $6,000 for two or more qualified dependents. The federal tax credit does not have an upper income limit.

Iowa provides its own tax credit as a percentage of the amount of the federal credit. The Iowa tax credit is allowed on a sliding scale, based on the taxpayer’s net income. The Iowa tax credit amount ranges from 75 percent of the federal credit for net income of less than $10,000, to 30 percent for taxpayers with net income of $40,000 to $44,999. Currently, there is no Iowa child care tax credit available for net income of $45,000 or higher.

House File 227 doubles the Iowa income limit and makes the credit available to taxpayers with net incomes of less than $90,000. The legislation does not change the income based percent ranges—so all taxpayers with income over $40,000 will receive a credit of 30 percent of the federal credit.

The bill makes the change apply to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2019. The legislation would have a state fiscal impact of -$5.4 million in fiscal year 2020. It  is now ready for further consideration on the House floor.

Capitol Update: Week 12

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Property Taxes: Understanding the Plan to Reduce Growth in your Tax Bill

House Study Bill 165 has cleared a House subcommittee and is eligible to be considered in the House Ways and Means Committee. The legislation has been diligently worked on for the last several weeks and a strike-after amendment will be offered that takes into account the suggestions of many legislators, taxpayers, and interest groups.

The legislation seeks to limit the growth of city and county budgets to two percent per year. Increased valuations have been driving outsized growth in county and city budgets.  The two percent limitation represents a reasonable growth rate that taxpayers can understand the necessity of. This legislation removes the property tax surprise legislators have heard about from their constituents.  While Iowans are told their property tax rate hasn’t increased, they are hit with a unexpectedly large tax bill driven by the increased value of their home.

Under the bill, to figure out what a local budget can be (and therefore what needs to be levied) for the next year,  local governments will have to start with their prior year’s budget. To explain it simply—they would be able to levy up to two percent more than last year’s budget. When they receive their property valuations—the Department of Management will assist in calculating what the levy needs to be in order to collect the correct amount of property tax.

The legislation recognizes that there are some funds, levies, pots of money, whatever you want to call it—that need to be outside of this calculation of up to 102 percent. The legislation leaves all net new property out of the limitation.  If a city had a new development built one year—the legislation would not include that value in the calculation that first year. Additionally—any bonding, mental health, EMS, capital funds, or voted upon levies (symphonies, libraries, etc.) live outside of this limitation calculation. The things that are included in the limitation calculation are the emergency, trust and agency, transit, utility replacement transfers, anything under the city 8.10 levy or the county general or supplemental levies. These are things taxpayers would generally think of as “general fund” pots of money.

So now that we understand what a local government’s budget can be and we have a tax rate—what if the elected officials think it is not enough? If a local government feels strongly that they need to certify a budget higher than 102 percent of the prior year they can—and pretty easily. The council or board simply passes a resolution of their intent to do so. If the taxpayers do not have an issue with it—it is certified and that budget (despite being over the 102 percent) becomes the base for the next year’s calculation.

But what if the taxpayers do object? House Study Bill 165 provides a mechanism for taxpayers to call for a vote on whether the government should go over the 102 percent limitation. If the taxpayers get the requisite signatures, the local government can either abandon the proposal and go back to 102 percent—or wait for the results of the referendum.

The bill also contains some suggestive language on reserve funds. It is not mandatory or statutorily required, but the legislation asks that a local government’s undesignated reserves be kept at 25 percent of the prior year’s budget.  If a government has more than that, say for bond repayment and rating purposes, they need only designate those funds for that stated purpose to meet the goal of keeping reserves at a reasonable level.

House Study Bill 165’s goal is to provide transparency for taxpayers as well as local control. It provides opportunities for local governments to communicate with those that fund them. The legislation is ready for amendment and consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Capitol Update: Week 11

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Responding to Severe Flooding Across Iowa

Over the last few weeks, much of the state has experienced severe flooding which doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.  The western part of Iowa has been impacted significantly compared to the rest of the state with several towns being evacuated.

In response to the flooding, Governor Reynolds has been traveling the state to survey the damage and meet with local officials. I want to thank the Governor for her work and quick action to help in recovery efforts.

Governor Reynolds requested an expedited Presidential Disaster Declaration for $1.6 billion in aid which President Trump quickly approved for 56 counties, making them immediately eligible for federal disaster relief.

This is how the $1.6 billion in aid will be disbursed to assist in recovery efforts:

Agriculture $214,000,000
Public Assistance $77,417,455
Business (4,244 commercial parcels) $300,000,000
Homes with minor damage $417,000,000
Homes with Major Damage $64,000,000
USACE Levees (70 miles) $350,000,000
Non-Federal Levees (175 miles) $175,000,000
TOTAL $1,597,417,455

 

Learning from past disaster events, the Legislature passed legislation in 2011 that gave the Governor the authority to use the Economic Emergency Fund to quickly respond to disasters across the state.

Thanks to this forward-looking legislation, it is unlikely that the Legislature will need to take actions this session, but the House stands ready to assist with recovery efforts if necessary.  Individual legislators with flooding in their districts have been actively working with local officials and community leaders to assist in cleanup efforts and will continue to do so.

Capitol Update: Week 10

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Misconceptions on Energy Equity Bill

HF 669 proposes an equitable change so utility infrastructure costs are not transferred from one electricity customer to another. This relieves end electric customers from subsidizing their neighbors. As simple as this concept is, opponents have looked for ways to confuse the issue.

For example, some have claimed HF 669 would effectively end net-metering in Iowa.  This is not accurate. This legislation grandfathers the status of current customers and preserves net metering at full retail rate for new private generation (e.g. solar or wind) customers. Net metering stays the same; the only change is that private generation customers pay for their use of the grid just as their non-generating neighbors do.

It has also been said that the increased cost will make the payback not worth the investment thus costing jobs in the solar industry. Similar concerns were raised in 2003 when legislation was passed regarding wind energy. In 2003, the wind industry impacted approximately 850 jobs. Over 15 years later, that number has increased to approximately 8,000.

Another claim is that private generation users already pay for their use of the grid. However, this is misguided at best. The basic service charge is a flat fee to cover administrative costs like billing and meter reading; it also covers the cost of connecting to the grid (like a driveway connects a garage to the street).

Others argue that private generation and solar in particular brings value to the grid by putting energy on the grid during peak times relieving demand during the most expensive time to purchase or create electricity. They forget that a rate-regulated utility is required to be prepared and able to serve the needs of all customers at the instant they demand it. This is the same for private generation owners and their neighbors who pull all their energy from the grid. In order to provide maximum reliability the utility must stand by and be ready to supply energy and grid services as though the private generation does not exist.

Motives have also been questioned. Some have suggested this is an effort by the utilities to increase their monopoly and profits. However, rate-regulated utilities will not see any additional income from this legislation. The IUB determines what costs are recoverable from customers and this legislation would simply allocate the grid costs across all customers, not just those who cannot afford or chose not to install a private generation system.

It is also important to remember HF 669 will have no effect on current customers who have invested in private generation (solar, wind, etc.). All current private generation owners will be grandfathered in at whatever arrangement they chose when they made the investment.  Nothing will change for them.

Sports Betting Bill Update

A version of sports betting has passed the House Ways & Means Committee on a bipartisan vote of 16-9. This bill had previously passed the House State Government Committee with bipartisan support on a vote of 13-10. This bill continues to allow for sports betting on professional and collegiate level through a licensed casino.  It also legalizes internet fantasy sports contests.

A limitation was placed on collegiate sports betting through an amendment.  House File 648 now places a ban on commercial sports betting on in-state collegiate individual bets.  Another amendment committed .25% of tax revenue from sports wagering to the Department of Public Health for problem gambling programs.

The last amendment also requires Prairie Meadows to use receipts from gambling games and sports betting to support the horse racing industry and to supplement purses for races particularly for Iowa-bred horses pursuant to an agreement. The amendment also expands what the horse purse money designated for quarter horses and thoroughbred horses can go to include benevolence, quarter horse aftercare, breeder promotions and awards, and improvements to the horse racetrack in Polk County.

Capitol Update: Week 9

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House and Senate Pass Ag Protection Bill

On Tuesday, March 12, 2019, both Chambers of the Iowa Legislature approved Senate File 519 by bi-partisan votes.  41-aye to 8-nays in the Senate and 65-aye to 32-nay vote in the House.  SF 519 creates new agricultural production facility trespass provisions that specifies certain offenses relating to agricultural production operations that cause economic damage or other injury are illegal.  Those offenses include sabotage, adulterations, and destruction of property such as agricultural crops or animals.

The measure provides for a criminal offense of agricultural production facility trespass that involves the use of deception to obtain access to a facility not open to the public with an intent to cause physical or economic harm or other injury to the facility’s operation, property or persons.  The offense may include obtaining by deception with intent to harm the operation, property, person.

The legislation is similar to aspects of an Idaho law that has withstood a federal Court challenge.  This legislation is of great interest to Iowa’s livestock and food processing industry as fraudulent trespass could result in the introduction of catastrophic animal diseases such as foot and mouth, or African Swine Fever.  Either disease could cause billions of dollars of economic damage to Iowa farms, businesses and employees and would likely be ten to fifty larger impact than the avian influenza outbreak of a few years ago.

Under the Radar Bipartisan Work

While the press likes to focus on divisive issues and controversial topics, the truth is that the vast majority of the Legislature’s work is either unanimous or bipartisan. Through the first funnel, 91% of the bills passed out of House committees had bipartisan support (217 out of 238).

Here are a couple examples of bipartisan bills that that flew under the radar and passed this week but weren’t covered by the press:

Keeping roads safe from drunk drivers: Senate File 113 holds repeat drunk drivers accountable and keeps them off the roads to make our highways safer. This bill clarifies that a person convicted with three or more OWIs can be charged as a habitual offender and face stiffer penalties. Drunk driving is not only irresponsible, but it puts those who wish to travel safely on our roads and highways at risk.

Combatting opioid dependence: House File 623 requires the Iowa Medicaid program to offer at least one form of medication-assisted treatment without prior authorization. This legislation increases access to medication-assisted treatment which has shown to be an effective way to reduce opioid abuse and dependence.

Capitol Update: Week 8

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Private Electric Generation Equity Bill Passes House Commerce Committee

This week the House Commerce committee considered HSB 185, which proposes an equitable change to how customer use utility infrastructure and the costs associated with that use.  The goal is to make sure costs are not inequitably transferred from one customer to another. The bill moved out of committee ahead of the funnel deadline and will be eligible next week.

At its core, HSB 185 is about equity and fairness. The bill simply allows electric companies to do what RECs and municipal utilities currently have the ability to do: charge customers based on their energy usage and the demands placed on the system.  Currently, rate regulated electric companies (Mid-American and Alliant) are not able to charge all customers for their use of the infrastructure used to provide electricity to their home or business.  Private generation customers (e.g. customers who generate solar energy) do not pay for these infrastructure costs, even though they use it more than traditional customers. These customers take energy off the grid and send energy back to the grid using the distribution infrastructure more than a regular customer.

Utilities must ensure the electric grid has reliable service 24/7 for all of their customers, including private generation customers.  Private generation customers are really “super-users” because they both receive and send energy through the grid.  Private solar customers use the grid for all but about 40 seconds of an average day because they’re almost always either receiving or sending energy. This means they are not off the grid.  And since they are not off the grid it seems reasonable to expect all customers to equitably share the costs of it – whether they receive energy, send it, or both.

Many have expressed concern that HSB 185 will completely change the current structure and system. However, this legislation does not eliminate net metering.  With net metering, a customer that owns private solar can “bank” excess energy and use it to offset their bill when their energy needs are greater than the energy they produce.  Under the proposed legislation, net metering is still one of a menu of billing options solar customers could choose.  In addition, HSB 185 “grandfathers in” current solar energy customers with their existing status, maintaining the pricing and payment structure they currently have.

The Solar Industry will remain highly subsidized – over 50% of the installation cost for solar is covered by federal and state tax credits.  HSB 185 does not affect the federal, state or local tax subsidies that solar customers currently receive and which cover at least half of the cost of a typical residential solar installation.

HSB 185 is an equitable and fair solution because it stops the transference of costs from one customer onto another while making sure everyone pays their share.  Often those stuck subsidizing solar installations are customers on fixed income/low income and renters.   This bill eliminates the shifting of electric grid costs from those who can afford private solar to all other customers and gives customers more options for connecting solar to the electric grid.

Budget Priorities for FY2020

 

Children’s Mental Health

Last session, with complete bipartisan support, the legislature passed a comprehensive mental health bill to fill gaps in Iowa’s adult mental health system. House File 2456 increased access to mental health services and created new services for urban and rural communities in Iowa. By removing the statewide sub-acute bed cap and adding new services to the core list required by Iowa’s 14 Mental Health and Disability Service (MHDS) Regions, this bill helps deescalate mental health patients before crisis and wraps services around them when they are prepared to return home.

Building off of last year’s comprehensive mental health bill for adults, the legislature is now focusing on building the foundation for a children’s mental health system. This week, the House Human Resources unanimously passed House Study Bill 206. This bill develops Iowa’s first coordinated children’s mental health system. This bill ensures that there is local access and coordination to mental health services for children, and that parents have a place to turn when seeking treatment for their child.

 

Future Ready Iowa

Ensuring that Iowans have the job skills needed by Iowa’s employers is one of the biggest issues facing this state.  The House Majority has committed to fund implementation of the Future Ready Iowa program that was created last year.  This will include $15 million for assisting community college students with the Last Dollar Scholar program and $1 million for helping those who started four-year degrees in certain fields to go back to college and finish them.

 

Additional Medicaid Funding for Nursing Homes

With the growing number of nursing home residents whose care is covered by Medicaid, nursing homes are facing tighter operating budgets.  To help ensure Iowans have access to this important level of care in their local communities, the House Majority is planning to provide an additional $19 million of General Fund dollars to Iowa’s Medicaid program to increase the daily nursing home payment rate.  These funds will also help control the growth of private pay rates in nursing homes.

 

Protecting Iowan’s Safety

Iowa’s safe communities are a big drawing card for this state.  The House Majority budget will build on this by providing an additional $3.8 million for the Department of Public Safety in FY 2020.  These commitments will allow DPS to bring on additional troopers and DCI agents in the next year.

 

Expanding Access to Health Care in Rural Iowa

Having trained health care providers is necessary to having functioning hospitals and nursing homes across Iowa.  And to attract health care providers to rural communities sometimes requires additional steps to make this appealing to new practitioners.  To help more communities attract doctors, the House Majority will be taking two steps.  First, we will provide an additional $400,000 for medical residency programs and dedicating these funds to those who will practice in rural Iowa.  Also, the House Majority will increase funding for the Rural Primary Loan Repayment program by $300,000.  This program helps communities attract and retain newly-licensed doctors.

 

Continuing Iowa’s Investment in Higher Education

Increasing support for Iowans seeking higher education will be part of the FY 2020 budget beyond what is included in Future Ready Iowa.  Increases for all three legs of Iowa’s higher education system will be part of the House Majority budget.   Community Colleges will receive an additional $7 million in FY 2020 under the House Majority plan.