Capitol Update for February 2nd

Recap of Week 4

This week I had the privilege of meeting with the Jones County Safe and Healthy Youth Coalition. The group of students are working hard to promote the dangers of underage drinking and to encourage harsher penalties for those who supply alcohol to minors.

Tuesday was Insurance Day at the Capitol and I had the opportunity to meet with Scott De Sousa of Dubuque. I also met with Doug Martin of Wendling Quarries this week.

On Saturday, February 4th, the Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, Chuck Palmer, will be giving a presentation on the Mental Health Reform Bill. The event will be held in the Harbor Room at the Diamond Jo Casino, located in the Port of Dubuque, from 11:30-1:30. Also on Saturday there will be a forum in Olin at Selma’s Kitchen at 9:00 am, weather permitting.

Next Saturday, February 11th, I will be holding a forum with Rep. Steve Lukan at the American Legion in Ryan at 8:30 am. Everyone is invited to attend and share any comments or concerns you may have.

House Republicans Propose Conservative Budget Blueprint

On Thursday, February 2, House Republicans announced targets for the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.  House Republicans have proposed a budget that is honest, transparent, and sustainable.  The budget does not spend more than the state takes in, and will provide for priority services in the areas of education, health and human services, and public safety.  It also does not use one-time money to balance the budget and it does not purposefully underfund commitments like the property tax credits.

The House Republican Budget proposal spends $6.059 billion or $313 million less than the total overall spending for FY 2011 and $59.9 million more than the FY 2012 budget.  The increase is almost all due to $55 million to fully fund the property tax credits.  If enacted, this will be the first time the property tax credits have been fully-funded since FY 2000.  Despite the increase to fund the property tax credits, it is still only a 1 percent budget growth over FY 2012.

A key component of the targets is $42.9 million for state employees, including legislators, to contribute to the cost of their health insurance.  This assumes that all state employees, including legislators, will pay at least $200 per month for their premiums.  This is a reasonable thing to ask considering the private sector premiums.

Another key component is $20 million in efficiency savings.  The bill, which will originate in the State Government Committee, shows House Republicans are committed to the most efficient government possible.  House Republicans will continue to find efficiencies that the taxpayers demand.

The FY 2011 budget spent $6.372 billion in total.  This includes $5.344 billion from the general fund, $872 million in other funds used for ongoing spending and $156 million of underfunded K-12 spending.

The FY 2012 budget spends $6.137 billion in total.  This includes $5.999 billion from the general fund, $106 million from the Health Care Trust Fund and $32.5 million in commerce revolving fund.  This is $235 million less than total spending in FY 2011.

Under current law, the Legislative Services Agency estimates the expenditure limitation is $6.475 billion for FY 2013.  However, this includes ending balance funds that should not be used to support ongoing spending.  The Governor’s budget recommendations appropriate $6.244 billion in general fund spending and leaves an ending balance of $296 million.  The Governor’s budget aligns ongoing spending with ongoing revenue.

These targets will not be easily achieved without difficult work being done to eliminate unnecessary and duplicative programs and spending.  But this work must be done in order to ensure the state has the ability to fund Iowans’ priorities.

The budget subcommittees will have to approve the bills by February 9th and the House Appropriations Committee will approve House-originated bills by February 16th.  The hope is that the Senate Appropriations Committee will approve Senate-originated bills by that date as well.  Then after the first funnel the House and Senate will begin approving the budget bills on the floor.

House Republicans believe that ongoing spending must be aligned with ongoing revenue to ensure that the budget is sustainable in the future and to create a climate that encourages job creation.

Iowa’s Unemployment Rate Drops to 5.6% in December

Iowa Workforce Development announced last week that Iowa’s unemployment rate had dipped to 5.6% in the month of December.  This marks the second month in a row that the rate has dropped.  In October, Iowa’s unemployment rate was at 6.0% and in November it had dropped to 5.7%.  The drop in to December places Iowa as the state with the 6th lowest unemployment rate in the nation.  The national average also fell to 8.5% for the month of December.

Despite the percentage drop, nonfarm employment actually fell from 1,487,100 to 1,482,400, a net loss of 4,700.  The sector reflecting the biggest drop was ‘leisure and hospitality’, while the ‘manufacturing’ sector actually saw an increase of 800 jobs.

For the whole of 2011, the state’s unemployment rate dropped .5% and the state saw nonfarm employment increase by a net of 9,000. The sectors most responsible for the increases were ‘manufacturing’ (+8,500) and ‘educational and health’ (+3,900).  Over the last year the sectors that saw the largest decreases in employment were ‘government’ (-3,000) and ‘financial activities’ (-1,800).

Human Services Moves Child Abuse Registry Reforms

The House Human Resources Committee continued its work to balance the due process rights of Iowans while protecting Iowa’s children with the discussion of House Study Bill 510.

During the 2011 session, the Legislature passed legislation calling for steps to be taken by state agencies to speed up appeals for those challenging placement on the state’s child abuse registry.  One of these efforts was the creation of a work group to examine many of the concerns people had about the registry process.

The group brought together state agencies as well as child protection advocates and those representing people accused of abuse.  The group met through the fall and identified a series of issues related to the speed of appeals, the parties that have the right to appeal child abuse assessment decisions, and how to handle those who are on the Registry now but should not be on there for the full ten years.  A number of items have already been implemented by the Department of Human Services, Attorney General’s office, and Department of Inspections and Appeals that have significantly sped up placement appeals.  These steps have enabled the Department of Inspections and Appeals to hear an appeal within 6 weeks of a party receiving notice.

The group also identified a series of actions that they felt would improve the Registry, but required legislative action.  These recommendations have become House Study Bill 510.  Among these are clarifying who has a right to appeal a child abuse assessment decision, ensuring people have the right to provide information to DHS on their case, and the ability to hold off Registry decisions if there is an ongoing court case. 

Currently, a person who is found to have committed child abuse is placed on the Registry for 10 years.  There is no distinction for the circumstances of the case, meaning a mother whose child slipped out of their apartment to play in the sandbox outside is on the Registry as long as a person who commits sexual abuse.  The group felt DHS should be given the authority to remove people from the Registry prior to passage of the ten years when the Department feels it would be prudent to do so.  The bill requires DHS to come forward with a plan for implementing this by December 2012.

The bill also calls on the Department to study changing Iowa’s child abuse assessment system to create a differential response where cases would be triaged at intake and those that are do not rise to a level are not placed on the Registry.  The federal Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging states to consider this change.  Finally, the bill requires DHS to report back to the Legislature on the impact the proposed and implemented changes have had on the timeliness of appeals.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.state.ia.us or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Lee Hein

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