Capitol Update Week 5

More oversight needed for Iowa unemployment benefits

Last week the state auditor released a report questioning whether Iowa Workforce Development has sufficient checks to prevent employee theft. The findings of the audit showed how a former employee was able to use dormant unemployment insurance accounts to divert money for personal benefit. The employee has since been sentenced to four years in federal prison and ordered to pay $43,582 in restitution.

While the focus on the investigation was between June 1, 2008 and November 30, 2009 – the audit raised concerns about the previous administrations response as Iowa Workforce Development didn’t begin an investigation until May of 2010, though concerns were raised and identified about this employee in November of 2009.

The current Director of Iowa Workforce Development, Theresa Wahlert said in a statement, “procedures and processes used in the previous administration were not stringent enough to prevent a deceptive practice of fraud” and IWD agreed with the findings of the state auditor’s report and has since tightened procedures in the past two years.

This audit is a reminder that state agencies, as stewards of Iowans’ tax dollars need to be vigilant in ensuring that proper controls are in place to ensure that tax dollars are being spent wisely and effectively as possible. Waste, fraud and abuse weaken taxpayers trust in government. In addition, this audit is a reminder that those who want to embezzle or steal taxpayer dollars can, and will be caught.

Iowa Lottery Games Benefit Veterans Trust Fund

Since 2008 the Iowa Lottery has been releasing games to benefit Iowa veterans and their families.  Recently, they have released two new games to benefit veterans.  On January 3rd, the “A 10 Hut” instant-scratch game was released, followed by the “Veterans Amazing 8’s” pull-tab game on January 28th.

Under legislation approved in 2008, the Iowa Lottery is authorized to create two new instant-scratch games and two pull-tab games each year.  All proceeds from the net sales of these games go to the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund, a fund which provides assistance to veterans in the state for different purposes.    The veterans lottery games generally raise between $2-3 million per year and have raised more than $12 million since the games began in July of 2008.

The Veterans Trust Fund, established in 2006, provides assistance to veterans and their families.  The Veterans Trust Fund can be used for:

  • Unemployment/Underemployment assistance due to service-related causes
  • Assistance with vision, hearing, dental care, durable medical equipment and prescription drugs
  • Counseling and substance abuse services
  • Housing repair
  • Transitional housing during an emergency

Those interested in applying for assistance through the VTF should contact their County Veterans Office (which can be found here https://va.iowa.gov/counties/index.html) or the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs by visiting their website (which can be found here https://va.iowa.gov/) or calling (800) 838-4692.

State Government Committee Passes Ballot Changes

House File 13 passed the House State Government Committee last week on a party-line vote of 13–10.

Straight party voting allows individuals to fill in one bubble to indicate a vote for all of the candidates of one party. However, for non-party or non-partisan races—a straight party option is not available and a voter must mark each candidate or issue individually. Examples of this include retention of judges or a soil conservation commissioner.

Although a straight party voting option is one that has been around since the early 1800s, Iowa is one of only 15 states that currently allow it.  According to data available from the county auditors, slightly less than 25 percent of all voters choose the straight party option. The recent legislative trend has been to eliminate straight party voting, with seven states abolishing it since 1990.

States who currently offer straight party voting include:  Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia.

House File 13 eliminates the option to vote straight party for candidates of a party or nonparty political organization and applies to general elections and elections in which more than one partisan office is on the ballot. It now moves to the house floor for further debate.

Recap of Week Five

This week I attended an Iowa Cattlemen board meeting at the state fair grounds. I met with members and the DNR about their concerns on the nutrient reduction strategy. I’m excited to put their concerns into action on the environmental protection committee which I chair.

On Tuesday bankers from around the state were in Des Moines. I meet with Dave Kehoe from Ohnward Bank to discuss issues.

Bob Ballou from Monticello was at the Capitol on Tuesday. He is the chairman of the WIRB board (Watershed Improvement Review Board). They fund watershed projects to improve water quality and prevent flooding throughout the state. Currently, they are administering 51 watershed projects with city and county conservation boards, watershed improvement committees, and soil and water conservation districts. The board accounts for 50.7 million dollars in watershed funds. Project partners provide $3.20 for every one dollar provided by the Board. Since 2005 the WIRB has provided funding to 117 projects statewide.

On Thursday I filed a bill I sponsored known as the social host bill. The bill provides a fine for an owner or leaser that knowingly allows minors to drink alcohol on their property. Currently, there is no state law punishing a person for allowing an underage person to drink alcohol at their residence. However, some counties do have ordinances in place. Jones County has an ordinance similar to this bill and Delaware County is discussing putting an ordinance in place.

The House passed HF 160 which appropriates mental health transition funds to qualifying counties this year to assist with the transition to the redesigned mental health system. The 32 counties that applied will receive 11.6 million dollars of one-time funds to ensure continuation of non-Medicaid funded services in 2013 and assist in repayment of Medicaid bills to the state. Delaware County was one of the 32 that applied for transition funds and will receive $89,618 from this bill. The bill will now go to the Senate.

Tomorrow, Friday the 15th, I will be on 600 WMT radio at 10 am for the legislative hour. On Saturday I will be in Monticello for a forum in the city council chamber. It runs from 9-10:30 and is open to the public. All are welcome to attend.

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.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

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