Capitol Update: Week 3

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Contested House Race Resolved

This week we debated whether to count 29 ballots in the election race for House District 55.  It came down to what the law says.  In order for the ballots to be counted, an absentee ballot must have a traditional postmark or an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb).  The ballots received by the Winneshiek County Auditor’s office contained neither.  The IMb is generated within the Auditor’s office and is placed on the absentee ballot prior to it mailed to the voter.  There is a charge by the postal service to have the IMb added to the ballot.  Only 7 of 99 counties adopted the IMb tracing program and were able to count late-arriving absentee ballots that did not contain a postmark.

  • Winneshiek County did not opt in nor did they purchase the service
  • Jones County was one of the 7 counties that did pay to add the IMb.  Had these ballots been cast in Jones County and mailed before the election, they would have been counted. I commend our Auditor Janine Sulzner for taking the extra steps to insure the integrity of the elections.

In 2016, the Intelligent Mail barcode language was added to House File 2273 in amendment S-5128, and was proposed by Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls).  In his floor remarks, Sen. Danielson referred specifically to the IMb Tracing program offered by the United State Postal Service:

“If an individual auditor would like to purchase this service from the postal office, barcodes will be provided and put on the return envelope for every absentee ballot”

I remember the discussion distinctly because I floor managed the bill through the legislative process in the House.  The rules cannot be changed after the fact because one party did not like the legal and certified result.  Based upon information received from the Secretary of State’s Office, there were 1,027 late-arriving ballots that were rejected across the state because they lacked a postmark or IMb.  If these 29 late-arriving ballots were to be counted, we would be treating them differently than other late-arriving ballots.

If legislative action is needed to update Iowa Code regarding late-arriving absentee ballots, which is possible, but cannot retroactively change this situation.  I do believe we need to review process and make changes so that this doesn’t occur in the future.

 

 

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Capitol Update: Week 2

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Governor Reynolds Budget Priorities

Last week, Governor Reynolds released her budget plan for the 2020 Fiscal Year, which runs from July 1st, 2019 to June 30th 2020.  Her budget proposal funds a number of priorities share by the House Majority.  Budget subcommittees have already begun reviewing these recommendations are looking forward to working with Governor Reynolds to fund the priority needs of Iowans.  I appreciate that Governor Reynolds has proposed a responsible budget plan that spends less than the state is expected to collect in revenue.

Highlights of the Governor’s budget include:

Education and Workforce

  • $93.4 million increase for K-12 schools
  • $4.7 million increase for community colleges
  • $18 million increase for Regent universities
  • $1.1 million increase for Iowa Tuition Grant Program
  • $17.2 million to the College Student Aid Commission to fund the Last-Dollar Scholarship program as part of Future Ready Iowa

Health Care

  • $6 million to increase the number of regional Access Centers and for additional mobile treatment teams around the state to further implement last year’s mental health reforms
  • $3 million for training teachers to help detect students’ mental health issues

Rural Iowa Intiative

  • $10 million to expand access to broadband throughout Iowa

News from District 96

I was honored to have Justin Grawe, a senior from West Delaware and a talented musician sing the National Anthem during the Wednesday morning opening ceremonies. Justin has received many honors including two years at All-State Choir, participating in various honor choirs, and top ratings in contests.

This week I also had the opportunity to discuss agriculture issues with constituents from both the Soybean Association and Pork Producers.  I appreciate their commitment and willingness to come to Des Moines to share their thoughts.

Capitol Update: Week 1

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Ways and Means Chairman

It was an honor to be chosen by Speaker Upmeyer to lead the Ways and Means Committee.  This committee handles all of the Iowa House’s tax discussions and policy.  As a lifelong farmer, I understand the importance of certainty and simplification of the tax code.  I will continue to protect hard-working taxpayers while working to leave more money in the pockets of Iowa families and small business owners.  I am looking forward to the opportunity to lead this important committee.

While I am excited to become Ways and Means Committee Chairman, it does require that I leave my position as Agriculture Committee Chairman.  I enjoyed serving in that role and am proud of our many accomplishments.  Over the last three years we worked diligently and passed a long-term stream of funding for water quality.  We also protected Iowa farmers from special interest groups and from unnecessary government regulation.

Get your REAL ID Sooner than Later

Beginning October 2020, the federal government will require you to show a valid REAL ID driver’s license or identification card for:

  • Flying commercial airlines
  • Entering federal facilities (Post Office not included)

A REAL ID is marked with a gold star in the upper right hand corner.  This ID cannot be obtained online.  You must go to an Iowa driver’s service center, such as the Jones or Delaware County Courthouses, and present certain documents validating your identity.  Some of these can include birth certificate, social security card, marriage certificate (for name changes), or passport.  Your address must also be verified as well. This can be done with a bill or letter addressed to you.  A full explanation of the process can be found at: https://iowadot.gov/mvd/realid/real-id-home and is a good resource to use before you head out to get the REAL ID.

Because the state driver’s license stations are busy and as we approach October 2020, the traffic into the driver’s license stations will grow with longer wait times. I am encouraging you to start going to the DOT service centers, the Jones or Delaware County Treasurer’s office now and not wait until the fall of 2020. Tuesdays and Saturdays are the busiest at the Iowa DOT Service Centers and are not open to the public on Mondays.

News from District 96

The first week of this legislative session was similar to most.  The House and Senate heard from Governor Kim Reynolds, Chief Justice Mark Cady, and Major General Timothy Orr.  The Governor’s State of the State Address was a historical one as Governor Reynolds is the first duly elected female Governor of Iowa.  She discussed the importance of education funding and criminal justice reform during her speech.

If you would like to discuss an issue feel free to come to one of my forums or send me an email.  It is an honor to serve as your State Representative for another term in the Iowa House.

Capitol Update: Week 17

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Senate File 359

This week we ran Senate File 359 known as the Heartbeat bill.  It is a passionate issue and constituents on both sides have been contacting me.  I believe life starts at conception.  I also believe it is very a moral, religious, and most of all, should be a family decision.  I firmly believe government should be neutral in this very personal issue, and that the family should be able to make the decision.

I did not support this bill and would like to share with you how I reached my position on this issue.  Our family recently had to make that very tough decision that affects the life of the mother.  My daughter informed us back in January that we were to be grandparents for a second time.

The week before Easter, she had an ultrasound which detected issues with the baby.  There still was a heartbeat.  After additional ultrasounds and a CVS test, the doctor informed her that the baby had a chromosome abnormality.  The missing chromosome in a baby’s DNA usually causes a miscarriage at some time during the pregnancy; some go to term but are stillborn.  Only one percent survives, but these are babies that did not have the same health issues that the ultrasounds were showing. She was told that she would miscarry at some point in the pregnancy but they could not tell her when.

When you get a diagnosis like that, everyone does some soul searching.  I believe it becomes a family issue and a family decision.  I have been a part of those discussions.  Believe me, my family shed a lot of tears and the decision was not taken lightly.  Our daughter and her husband made the decision to terminate pregnancy with the support of our family.

Medical technology has come a long way.  It gives us information to support both sides of this issue.  I have supported the 20 week legislation, waiting periods for abortions, and defunding Planned Parenthood.  They were the right decisions to protect life.  But in our situation, government was not a part of the equation and it allowed us to make a family decision that I believe protected life in our family.  I pray every day that God will bring more life to our family and I believe he will in the future.

SF 359 in its original form did not allow for families the option to make this decision.  I could not support the legislation that did not give families that option and cause a woman to carry the baby to term knowing the outcome.   An amendment did make some exceptions but I chose to keep the current law that would allow the families to make decision.

Life is precious and we need to do everything we can to encourage it but I believe we need to have some options also.

Capitol Update: Week 16

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Increased Salaries and Lower Underemployment Reported in 2017

The median annual salary increased $4,000 to $64,000 per year and the median hourly wage increased $1 to $17 per hour based on the 2017 Statewide Laborshed Study published by Iowa Workforce Development.

In addition, the statewide estimated total underemployment rate dropped from 5.1 percent in 2016 to 4.5 percent in 2017. Total underemployment measures three categories: inadequate hours, mismatched skills and low income.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said an increase in wages and a decrease in underemployment are signs of Iowa’s strong economy.  “Jobs that pay higher wages require more skills, education and training,” said Reynolds. “As Iowans continue to train for the jobs of today and tomorrow, salaries will also rise. That’s why Future Ready Iowa is so critical to our state’s future.”

Governor Signs Children’s Mental Health Executive Order

This week, Governor Kim Reynolds signed her second executive order to create a Children’s System State Board. This Children’s Board will serve as the single point of responsibility in the development and implementation of a Children’s Mental Health System in Iowa. The Executive Order can be found here.

The Children’s Board will be co-chaired by the Directors of the Iowa Department of Human Services and the Iowa Department of Education. The Executive Order requires the Children’s Board to submit a strategic plan to the Governor by November 15, 2018.

The strategic plan is required to:

  • Analyze and identify target populations to be served in the system
  • Analyze and design a long-term sustainable funding structure for the Children’s Mental Health System
  • Establish governance expectations for the Children’s System
  • Analyze and identify any legislative, regulatory, and policy ideas that are designed to improve children’s mental health in the state

This Executive Order builds on the comprehensive mental health legislation that was passed this session to expand the state’s existing adult mental health system. The Iowa House Majority continues to support the leadership the Governor is showing in this important area, and are committed to working with the Children’s Board to improve the mental health system. No parent should feel hopeless searching for treatment for their child with mental illness, and this Executive Order is an important first step in ensuring that parents have somewhere to turn.

House Working to Wrap Up Legislative Session

Extra innings are fun in baseball, but not so much when it comes to the Legislative session.  However, we are still down here working hard for Iowans to come to an agreement on tax reform and appropriations.  We have run three budget bills out of eight and hopefully by next week we will run the other five and wrap up session.

Capitol Update: Week 15

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House Majority Continues to Address Managed Care Solutions

Last week the House majority passed a bill out of House Appropriations Committee to address the Medicaid managed care program. Since the implementation of managed care, there have been challenges, and the House majority has listened to Medicaid members and providers about the difficulties they have had.  These issues include communication from the managed care organizations (MCOs), timeliness of payment, prior authorizations, appeals, level of care determinations, health homes, and credentialing.

This bill (HF 2483) addresses all of these concerns and brings even stronger oversight and accountability to managed care.

Holding MCOs Accountable to Providers:

  • Require MCOs to pay providers in a timely manner and provide justification for denying a claim
  • Require evaluation of all prior authorization requirements by MCOs
  • Require a uniform credentialing process between all MCOs
  • Require mental health and substance abuse services to be paid for court committed individuals

Holding MCOs Accountable to Members:

  • Require the state to review any decrease in level of care for a LTSS member by an MCO
  • Extend services for a member that has won on appeal against an MCO
  • Require an evaluation of health home services with providers and the MCOs

Stronger Oversight of the Medicaid System:

  • Require the state to update Medicaid eligibility files promptly to provide notice to providers
  • Require an audit of small LTSS claims paid or denied by MCOs

This is the House majority’s second attempt to have this legislation passed by the Senate on managed care. The House majority remains committed to passing meaningful managed care legislation and to have it signed by the Governor this year.

The House majority is dedicated to assisting any Medicaid member or provider that is having issues navigating the managed care program. The MCOs are contractors for the state, and they should be held accountable if they are not fulfilling the obligations to the state and those it serves. Please contact me if I can assist in any way.

House Sends Campground Rental Bill to Governor

Last week, the Iowa House passed Senate File 2389 with a vote of 89-8. This bill will now be sent to the Governor for signature.

This bill allows the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to shift the way it establishes camping and special privileges (rental) fees at state parks and recreational areas. Previously, for any slight change in pricing for any state park or rental facility, the change had to go through the long administrative rules process with the Natural Resources Commission. With this bill, the DNR will have flexibility to increase, decrease, or allow for promotional packages during certain seasons or holidays.

The bill does include oversight over the DNR by requiring them to make the fees reasonably competitive with fees established in other public parks or recreation areas within 60 miles of each park, as well as explain their methodology for the fee policy. The legislature will also receive an annual report from the DNR with information about fees and occupancy rates at each camp/rental facility and special promotional events or holiday rates during the year.

Capitol Update: Week 14

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Agricultural Asset Transfer Tax Credit Moves Ahead

On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, the House Ways & Means Committee was scheduled to considered House File 495.  The bill extends the beginning farmer tax credit program established in 2013 that was scheduled to sunset on January 1, 2018 to January 1, 2023.  Since this legislation did not proceed in 2017 session, the codified automatic repeal occurred.  Consequently, the Ag Asset Transfer Tax Credit program reverted back to its form prior to the 2013 legislation and was subject to a cap of no more than $6-million a year.

I am the subcommittee chair for the bill and the floor manager.   As part of the process we created a substitute amendment that adds back to the Beginning Farmer Agricultural  Asset Transfer Tax Credit program several functions.

It reset the tax credit cap for the Agricultural Asset Tax Credit program to an annual $9-million amount.  This is $3 million higher than the current, and pre-2013 legislation level of $6-million, but below the $12-million a year cap in effect between 2013 and through 2017.

A veteran beginning farmer incentive is recreated on the ag asset transfer tax credit of 1% for the first year of an agreement.  Hence for the first year of an agreement for cash rents non-veterans earn 5% and 6% for veterans but all participants earn 5% in subsequent years.  Likewise for commodity share basis leases agreements veterans qualify for 16% for the first year of the agreement and non-veterans earn 15% as do veterans in second and subsequent years of the agreement.

The aggregate amount that a taxpayer could receive each year is reduced from $50,000 to $25,000.

Public Hearing on Governor’s Tax Bill

This week as part of the House Ways and Means Committee I listened to comments from the general public in a hearing held on Monday night in the old Supreme Court chamber. The hearing was on House Study Bill 671—the Governor’s tax reform proposal.

The bill proposes to cut individual income taxes starting next year by reducing rates and increasing the standard deduction. It also couples with provisions in federal tax code related to 529 plans and teacher education expenses. The Governor’s proposal includes future tax rate cuts that are tied to revenue triggers and the phasing out of federal deductibility.

The House tax bill reduces Iowan’s income taxes by $139 million in Tax Year 2019 and $298 million in Tax Year 2020.  An average Iowa taxpayer will see their income tax reduced by 8.9% an 90% of middle-class Iowans that will see their state income tax liability reduced.

House Study Bill 671 also proposes to modernize the sales tax code and tax things like ride sharing, online marketplaces, and subscription and streaming services.

The public hearing attracted speakers on different parts of the bill—but an overwhelming amount of comments came from people representing banks and credit unions. Neither one of those groups were directly affected by the proposal, but numerous showed up to give comments.

News from District 96

This week both John Harms and Joe Yedlik were here with the County Fair Associations.  I enjoyed seeing both of them and visiting about issues important to the Jones County Fair.