Capitol Update: Week 1

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Water Impairments Do Not Mean Pollution

Each year thousands of Iowans enjoy swimming, fishing, and boating in our state’s waterways.  Yet, many people continue to be concerned about the number of water impairments in Iowa.  I firmly believe that Iowans can safely use the vast majority of our state’s waterways and the water impairments are broadly overstated.

It takes very little for a body of water to be ‘impaired.’  At the time the Clean Water Act was created our waters were truly polluted with industrial waste, plastic, and other chemicals.  The Clean Water Act created broad designations for water uses.  The EPA has used these guidelines to create standards that are difficult if not impossible to meet.  A lake or river may have many uses or designations and if just one does not meet these strict EPA standards then the waterbody is declared impaired.

The vast majority of Iowa’s water impairments are considered low priority.  This essentially means that very little can be done to take the stream or lake to get off of the impairment list.  It also means that a cause for impairment may be impossible to determine.  Possible causes may be that there is not enough shade over a stream resulting in warmer water than required or that carp have stirred up too much sediment.   These impairments are simply caused by Mother Nature and do not affect Iowan’s opportunities to enjoy their waterways.

News from District 96

This was a busy first week back in Des Moines that was filled with speeches and new introductions.  I am humbled that Iowans from House District 96 have once again reelected me to serve as their Representative.  This session we have fifteen new representatives and eight new senators.

On Tuesday the Governor gave what he called his final State of the State Address.  Governor Branstad reflected on various items from his time in office as well as his excitement to serve as Ambassador to China.  The Governor talked about increased highway deaths and urged the legislature to approach the issue of distracted driving.  Governor Branstad also discussed the current 110 million dollar shortfall in the FY 17 budget ending in June.  The Governor recommended various approaches to addressing the shortfall that the legislature will need to look at.

Upcoming Forums:

January 21st 9:00 am-11:00 am Jones County Farm Bureau Forum at the National Motorcycle Museum

January 27th 12:00 pm-1:00 pm Jones County Economic Development Forum at the Monticello City Council Chambers

February 3rd 9:00 am-11:00 am Delaware County Farm Bureau Forum at the Delaware County Farm Bureau Office

Please get in touch with me about your thoughts and concerns as we move through the legislative session.

 

December Capitol Update

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Revenue Estimating Conference Moves FY 2017, 2018 Revenue Down Again

December 12th meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference was one of the more lengthy meetings of this body in recent memory.  There was good reason for additional time and discussion as the three members agreed to significantly lower their projection for the current fiscal year and to again lower their forecast for Fiscal Year 2018.

All three members acknowledged the difficulty of finding confidence in the revenue number for FY 2017 due to several unsettled factors.  The agriculture sector and related manufacturing industries are still feeling the impact of lower commodity prices being compounded by the strength of the dollar.  The group believes ag-related income collections are bottoming out in tax year 2016.

In the end, the REC lowered their estimate for FY 2017 to $7.2119 billion.  This is $96.2 million lower than the October estimate of $7.3081 billion for the current fiscal year.    After the October estimate, the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency calculated that the state needed to find $14.6 million to balance the state budget.  With the new figure, the revenue shortfall is projected to be $110.8 million.  LSA is also projecting that Medicaid may need an FY 2017 supplemental appropriation of $22 million, which would add to the overall amount.  This will more than likely force us to go back in to last year’s budget and do a de-appropriation.

As for FY 2018, all three members of the REC were significantly more confident when compared to FY 2017.  It is believed that many businesses are taking losses in tax year 2016, which should help corporate tax collections.  Also, any improvement in agricultural income has a substantial impact on state revenue.  The continued wage pressure due to a shortage of qualified workers to fill many of the open jobs in the state should also drive up income tax collections.

The REC agreed to a revenue estimate of $7.5563 billion for FY 2018.  This amount is $51 million lower than the October estimate of 7.6073 billion.  With the official estimate now set, LSA has calculated that the expenditure limitation for Fiscal Year 2018 would be $7.4807 billion.  This figure is $268.8 million above the new revenue level for FY 2017, or an increase of 4.2 percent in collections.

NEWS FROM DISTRICT 96

November and December have been filled with meetings both here in the district and in Des Moines.  As we prepare to start the session, many issues are being discussed as the agenda is being set.

Once again, I will be chairing the Agriculture Committee and serving on State Government.  I have been assigned to the Labor and Veterans Affairs Committees too.   These are two committees that I have not served on before but I am looking forward to new challenges.

If you have any issues you think need to be looked at or addressed in the upcoming session please feel free to contact me.  My email address is lee.hein@leigis.iowa.gov Or by phone 319-480-1997.

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

Capitol Update

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With the warm summer months quickly approaching, more Iowans are finding time to enjoy a cold drink outside with friends. But with this fun comes some serious dangers.  Drunk driving is on the rise across the state. According to the Iowa Department of Transportation there were 123 deaths related to drunk driving last year. This accounted for 38% of all traffic deaths in Iowa and those numbers are expected to rise this year. There are alternatives to drinking and driving and it’s up to Iowans to make a responsible choice and find a sober ride home.

According to Iowa Department of Public Safety a first offense OWI is a serious misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,250, or both. A person must also serve a minimum of 48 hours in jail. In addition to criminal penalties, a person convicted of an OWI can lose their license for 180 days if they submitted to a chemical test. During that time a person may apply for a temporary restricted license.  When all the costs are taken in to consideration, a first offense OWI, without injury, can cost close to $3,000 and that’s not counting any the cost of SR 22 insurance, an ignition interlock device or attorney fees.

Alternatively, taking a cab, Uber, staying in a hotel or having a designated driver will cost you much less.  It will also save you the embarrassment of asking friends and family for rides while your licenses is under suspension.  By choosing a sober ride home, you’re not only saving yourself money, your potentially saving a life.

If you are over the age of 21, a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or above is considered legally drunk, even if you just “had a few.” Those under the age of 21 can lose their license if their BAC is above .02.

So enjoy the weekend, but make plans to not drink and drive.  Have a safe Memorial weekend and don’t become a statistic.

Capitol Update: Week 15

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Veteran Designation on Driver’s Licenses

The current process for Veterans who want their service annotated on their Driver’s License requires both a visit to their local VA and the DOT. The purpose of the VA visit is to inform the Veteran about various programs and benefits they earned with their time in the service.  However, some legislators learned through personal experience that this was not occurring.

In order to remedy the situation and make the process easier for Veterans the House passed a bill changing the process. The new process sends the Veteran directly to the DOT to receive their designation.  Then, the DOT will inform the VA about the Veteran.  The VA is then required to reach out and explain benefits and programs.  This ensures that Veterans understand the benefits they are eligible to receive from their service.

Ensuring Timeliness of Absentee Ballots

Midway through this session I managed a bill on the floor that dealt with Iowa election laws. The bill had a couple of different functions. It addressed the confidentiality program administered by the Secretary of State, the printing of ballots, satellite absentee voting, and the conduct of school district elections.

This bill reached the Senate where an amendment was added. The Senate amendment represents a “work-around” solution to a long-experienced challenge with postmarks on absentee ballots by giving an alternative to prove that an absentee ballot was mailed before the deadline. The amendment has no other impact on absentee ballot policy or procedures or deadlines.

Specifically, the amendment allows, but does not require, county auditors to use the Intelligent Barcode (IMBC) in place of traditional postmarks as proof that absentee ballots were placed into the mail system before the deadline. The Intelligent Mail barcode is the next generation of USPS® barcode technology used to sort and track letters and flats. It will verify the exact time the absentee ballot was scanned into the postal system.

It also requires Secretary of State to prepare a report to the legislature on the impact of intelligent bar codes by counties that choose to use them. This amendment grants the Secretary of State authority to create emergency rules for use of the intelligent bar code.

I thought this was a good amendment that helped update our election laws and an effective use of technology to ensure timeliness and accuracy.

The majority of the week was spent debating budget bills. I am looking forward to adjournment next week if not in the next couple of days.

As always if you have any comments, questions, or concerns please feel free to get in touch. My phone number is (319) 480-1997 and my email is lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov.

Capitol Update: Week 14

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Medicaid Modernization

Unprecedented Oversight

This week, the House released our oversight plan for Medicaid Modernization. Our approach will require an unprecedented amount of data and reporting, from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS), and the three managed care organizations (MCOs), to be submitted to the legislature for review.  This will provide legislators with a wide assortment of figures and information on the Medicaid program that has never been available in the past.  This plan ensures that consumers are protected, patient health and financial outcomes are monitored and transparent, and the integrity of our health care system remains.

Consumer Protections

Medicaid patients must be able to have access to protections and advocates when needed to ensure that they are receiving the high-quality healthcare that they expect. Our plan requires that the legislature receive reports on consumer protections like:

  • Customer service satisfaction including call center performance, grievances and appeals filed, and how timely issues are resolved with DHS and the MCOs
  • The number of doctors and providers that are available to patients to ensure adequate access
  • The total number of Medicaid patients and how that changes over time.

Healthy Outcomes

One of the main goals of Medicaid Modernization is to promote wellness and healthy living. However, we need a way to track whether or not people are becoming healthier, which was never part of the old Medicaid system.  As part of our plan, the legislature will receive detailed reports on outcomes like:

  • Annual health care effectiveness data to ensure that patients are becoming healthier
  • Specific reporting on vulnerable Medicaid patients like those with special needs, behavioral issues, and the elderly
  • The percentage of claims paid and denied to confirm that patients are receiving the care they need
  • Cost savings to the Medicaid program including the amount spent on medical care versus administrative cost.

Program Integrity

Finally, federal, state, and contractual safeguards are in place for Medicaid Modernization to prevent, detect, and eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse. Even with all of these protections, the legislature will be monitoring to ensure efficient and effective use of tax dollars and will be able to act on any cases of fraud or abuse.

Equally important is that all of this information will be made public online for Iowans to view. This provides a level of transparency that the Medicaid program has never before seen.  While patient-specific information will not be made public, aggregate data and summaries will be available in an easy to read format so that Iowans can also review the information themselves.

This plan offers Iowans the assurance that the health care of Iowa’s most vulnerable are not being put in jeopardy. As the new system continues to roll out, the House Majority will keep a watchful eye on the transition to ensure that Iowans continue to receive the care that they count on.

News from District 96

The end of the legislative session is fast approaching. We reached budget targets last week and now we are getting into the details.  I currently believe that we will be done with this session sometimes late next week.

This Tuesday I had the chance to visit with the Grow Iowa Ag who promotes the advancement of Iowa Agriculture. We had the chance to discuss issues that were important to Iowa’s Ag Community. Wednesday morning I had the chance to welcome John Harms and Joe Yedlik to the Capitol.  They were here with the Association of County Fairs.  They shared with me some of the newer projects that are taking place at county fairs across Iowa.

On Thursday we passed the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Budget out of the House. It is the first budget to be completed this session.  This is a status quo budget that remains largely unchanged from last year and is now on its’ way to the Senate.

As always if you have any comments, questions, or concerns please feel free to get in touch. My phone number is (319) 480-1997 and my email is lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov.

 

Capitol Update: Week 13

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House and Senate Reach Agreement on Budget Targets

On Wednesday, the House Majority and Senate Majority reached an agreement on the funding levels for the FY 2017 budget.   The Legislature is limited to spending $7.351 billion out of the General Fund under the state‘s expenditure limitation law.  The budget levels include the additional funding already authorized by the FY 2017 Supplemental School Aid bills, which increased school funding by 2.25 percent.

In addition to the budget targets, the House and Senate agreed to place certain standing appropriations under the control over the budget subcommittees. Many of these on-going appropriations had not been reviewed for years until a separate subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee examined the programs in January and February.  The funding for the programs had been accounted for under the Standings Appropriations bills.  Now, the programs and funding will be turned over to the appropriate budget subcommittee and accounted for in FY 2017 budget.  Beginning with the next General Assembly, the budget subcommittees will be conducting oversight and review of the programs.

Iowa Water Quality Improvement Plan

Currently, Iowa dedicates over $20 million annually towards improving the state’s water quality through the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. This is a significant investment, but we as a state need to do more to advance these efforts.

The Iowa Water Quality Improvement Plan will continue implementation of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy while significantly increasing the state’s investment in a manner that addresses both urban and rural water quality issues.

The Iowa Water Quality Improvement Plan has dedicated, sustainable long-term funding sources from both the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF) and the excise tax on metered water.

The funding from the water services excise tax would be dedicated to urban conservation practices, improvements to wastewater and drinking water facilities in communities, and a financing program for water quality projects.

Funding for rural efforts will come from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, focusing on long-term improvements that will reduce the runoff of nitrates and phosphorus into Iowa waterways and reduce soil erosion.

These improvements will involve in-field and edge of field practices. They will be funded on a cost-share basis.

Register Your Boat Today

2016 is a boat registration year. Boat registrations must be renewed every three years.  There are about 235,000 boats in Iowa that need to be registered before April 30.  Boat owners have to register their boats with the DNR.  Make sure to carry the registration certificate on the boat.  Residents can obtain registrations and renewals from a County Recorder Office.

Registration is not required for the following:

  • Inflatable vessels 7 feet in length or less
  • Canoes and kayaks that are 13 feet or less and have no motor or sail
  • Vessels registered in another state

Weekly Update

Big news of the week was the agreement of budget targets. Over the past couple of weeks this has been a stumbling block on the road to adjournment. Now that the House and Senate have set the targets, budget bills should be moving out of committee and to the floor for debate sometime next week.  If that happens, we should be on the path to end the session on time or soon after the official end of the session, April 19th.

As always, please feel free to contact me by email at lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at 319-480-1997 if you have concerns about any issue.

 

 

 

 

Capitol Update: Week 12

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Medicaid Managed Care Begins April 1

After months of resistance by legislative Democrats in Iowa over the transition to managed care, the program will go live on April 1, 2016.

House Republicans have focused on how to make the system better and ensure that Medicaid recipients have all of the information they need to be confident in the change. However, Democrats have focused on scaring Medicaid members, telling them that their benefits will be gone and deaths will result from this change to managed care.

The status quo is no longer an acceptable option for Medicaid members or Iowa taxpayers because of skyrocketing costs in the program and the absence of accountability measures for health outcomes. The past year has been filled politically motivated rhetoric, discontent and resistance to change.  Despite perpetuating many of the scare tactics and fear pushed by Democrats, the media has managed to report a few success stories:

According to a report by America’s Health Insurance Plans, the following are examples of what managed care has done in other states:

  • New York City – Medicaid participants report better access to care than patients in the fee-for-service program and are more likely to have a regular source of care and to go to a doctor’s office rather than an emergency room
  • Rhode Island – Infant mortality rates have dropped from 4.5 deaths per 1,000 births to 1.9 per 1,000 since health plans began came into the state for Medicaid members.
  • Wisconsin – Children with asthma enrolled in managed care are less likely to require hospitalization than asthmatic children in the state’s fee-for-service program.
  • Oregon – Participation in treatment programs for substance abuse for people receiving care through health plans has increased nearly 40%.
  • California – Medicaid members enrolled in health plans were up to 38% less likely to have been hospitalized.

These are just a few examples of what managed care is able to do. The focus needs to be on ensuring that this program works for Iowans that need assistance during the transition.  In addition, there are safeguards in place for Medicaid members:

  • Medicaid members will be able to keep their current case manager until September 30, 2016.
  • Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) are required to continue current service plans until a new plan is created and agreed upon.
  • MCOs cannot reduce or modify a service plan without additional assessments.
  • MCOs have to ensure access to enrollees’ current prescriptions during the transition.
  • The state will monitor the MCO member services helplines to ensure timely and accurate information is available to beneficiaries.

Finding Committed Funding for Water Quality

The Ways & Means Committee introduced new legislation Tuesday to pay for programs to curb water pollution. HSB 654 would convert an existing 6 percent sales tax Iowans pay on their water bill for metered water into a 6 percent excise tax. The money would flow into a state fund for water quality initiatives that will help fund waste water and drinking water facilities.

Currently the sales tax is put into the General fund to be used for any purpose. The excise tax will redirect it to be used solely for water quality and the upgrading of water facilities.  I was a part of the subcommittee that held discussions on Thursday morning.  It also passed out of the Ways & Means full Committee later that day.

News from District 96

This week was very slow in the House. We were here on Monday; however, the Senate Democrat Leadership decided to not gavel in until Tuesday afternoon.  The Majority of their members went home Wednesday evening with little to nothing work accomplished for the week.  Once again we did not have agreed upon targets with the Senate.  If this continues the chances of finishing the session on time seems to be slipping away.  April 19th is quickly approaching and that is the official end of session this year.

I had the chance to discuss many constituent’s concerns this week. Pam Goodyear and I visited about the Iowa Health Care Association at their annual event.  I also chatted with Jim Grief from the Iowa Corn Growers about Water Quality and other issues.  Bruce Neiman and Kevin Glanz from the Delaware Farm Bureau were also in the Capitol this week and we review issues important to them.

U.S. Senator Ernst was in Des Moines this week and I briefly spoke with her on the CRP rent issue. The formula that sets CRP rental is not in line with current market conditions.  I suggested that she look into the issue to make the CRP formula more responsive.

I attended another bill signing ceremony this week. This bill was HF 2269 and it updates the code section which refers to the Beef Check-Off.  I was excited to be joined by members of the Cattleman’s Association at the bill signing.

As always if you have any questions feel free to get in touch. My phone number is (319) 480-1997 and my email is lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov.