Week 11 of the 2020 Session

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While the Legislature was not in session this week, things continued to evolve as state and national officials work to slow the spread of COVID-19. As legislators, we are continuing to work… answering emails from constituents, fielding phone calls from local officials, and keeping you all updated on what actions the state is taking to keep our families and communities safe and healthy.

Since the Legislature suspended its session, the Governor has exercised her emergency powers in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa. Among these orders includes the closing of businesses where people tend to congregate, such as bars and restaurants, entertainment venues, and salons and barbershops, among others. Many state departments have also taken action to help Iowans such as pushing back tax deadlines, extending unemployment benefits to workers impacts by COVID, and providing child care resources for parents working in essential industries.

While the Governor has not ordered a “shelter in place” or “stay at home” order, Iowans are encouraged to remain home and self-quarantine. This and other common sense practices like washing your hands, covering your sneezes and coughs, etc., will significantly help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Governor is also holding regular press conferences to keep the public informed on the state’s response. These press conferences are held at 2:30 pm, Sunday-Friday. Many TV news stations broadcast the press conference live or you can watch on the Governor’s Facebook page.

This is a difficult time for many small businesses so we must all do our part to show them our support. While restaurants are prohibited from dine-in customers, several are offering curbside and to-go orders. Other small businesses, like salons and retail stores, are selling gift cards and certificates that can be used once the Governor’s order is lifted.

As Iowans, we know how important it is to take care of our own. Let’s make sure we are supporting those who have supported us in the past!

Key Updates from the Week

Governor Announces Small Business Relief

This week, Governor Reynolds announced two rounds of assistance for small businesses who have been affected by COVID-19. They include:

  • Iowa Small Business Relief Grants – Grant awards ranging from $5,000-$25,000 for businesses with between 2-25 employees. Applications due on March 31.
  • Iowa Small Business Tax Deferral – The Iowa Department of Revenue is allowing sales/use and withholding tax deferral for businesses affected by COVID-19. Applications due on March 31.
  • Targeted Small Business Sole Operator Relief Fund – Grant awards ranging from $5,000-$10,000 for sole proprietorship or single member LLCs that are also certified as Targeted Small Businesses. The business must have been in existence for 12 months prior to April 10, 2020.

More information and full eligibility requirements can be found at IowaBusinessRecovery.com.

Early Voting Extended for June Primary

Secretary of State Paul Pate has extended the absentee voting window from 29 to 40 days for the Primary Election that is scheduled to be held on June 2. The Secretary of State’s Office is encouraging Iowans to vote by mail beginning April 23. Iowans can already request absentee ballots.

To download your absentee ballot request form, visit the Iowa Secretary of State’s website.

Eviction and Foreclosure Protections

Through emergency orders, the Governor has temporarily suspended evictions for renters and foreclosures of residential, commercial, and agricultural real property. Individuals must continue to pay rent, mortgages, and leases, but they are protected from losing their homes while the proclamation is in place. For renters, a tenant who doesn’t pay rent is still subject to penalties listed in their lease agreements, and landlords can still add late charges and other financial penalties.

Lastly,

These are just a few of the issues that came across my desk this week.  Things seem to be changing almost hourly at times.  If you would like more detail on any of these issues or something else that you would like verification on don’t hesitate to contact me.  I will be monitoring my email daily, if you have any questions or concerns please email or call my cell phone.  My email is lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov or call at 319-480-1997.

 

Capitol Update Week 10

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COVID-19 Update

House and Senate Suspend Legislative Session

Out of an abundance of caution related to COVID-19, leadership in the Iowa House and Senate have made the decision to suspend the legislative session for a minimum of 30 days. The decision was made in consultation with the Department of Public Health and the Governor’s office following the announcement of “community spread” in Iowa. The Legislature is following recommendations from the Center for Disease Control related to mass gatherings to protect vulnerable populations.

This was a decision that was not made lightly but is in the best interest of the public, press, staff, and legislators.


Schools

Governor Reynolds has recommended that Iowa schools close for a minimum of four weeks to prevent further spread of COVID-19. In response, the Legislature has waived the requirement for schools to make up days through April 12. After that, the Legislature has provided the Governor with the ability to forgive school days statewide or on a district by district basis. This decision will provide Iowa school districts with the certainty that they need to make decisions locally and move ahead this school year.


Workers and Businesses

Governor Reynolds has also announced assistance for workers and businesses impacted by layoffs related to COVID-19. Iowans who have been laid off due to COVID-19 or have to stay home to self-isolate, care for family members or due to illness related to COVID-19, may eligible for unemployment benefits, provided they meet all other eligibility requirements, and work search requirements will be waived.

Taking Care of Yourself and Others

During this time, we must all do our part to prevent the spread of illnesses and protect our health care system from becoming overburdened.

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus in the first place. This is especially important for people who are at a higher risk of getting very sick (older adults, people who have serious chronic medical conditions). If you are feeling ill, contact your primary care provider or your local county public health agency if you have any questions.

Prevention of COVID-19 is the same as that for other respiratory illness (like flu):
• Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper arm/elbow.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Stay home if you’re sick.
• The CDC recommends wearing a facemask if you are sick or if you are caring for someone who is sick. Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.

Lastly

I will be monitoring my email daily, if you have any questions or concerns please email or call my cell phone. My email is lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov or call at 319-480-1997. Be safe.




Capitol Update Week 9

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House Overwhelmingly Supports Childcare Legislation
This week, the Iowa House overwhelmingly passed four bills to expand access to childcare in the state. These bills are part of a legislative package this session to increase childcare workforce, increase provider rates to maintain existing childcare facilities, provide incentives to develop new childcare facilities, and support hard-working families afford the high cost of childcare.

The Childcare bills that passed the House this week do the following:

• House File 2424 passed unanimously to establish a state funded off-ramp program from Childcare Assistance (CCA) that will gradually increase cost-sharing from families as they increase their income. This bill removes the ceiling on Iowan’s ability to be successful. You often hear about the cliff effect in government programs – where individuals are stuck in welfare dependency and the program is limiting their ability to take a raise or promotion. This bill addresses the cliff effect in Childcare Assistance.

• House File 2270 and House File 2271 provide significant rate increases to childcare providers accepting Childcare Assistance. The increase between the two bills amounts to $11 million annually directly to childcare providers covered with federal carryforward funds. Between 2018 and 2019, we saw a reduction of 18 licensed childcare centers, 140 child development homes, and 99 unregistered homes accepting CCA in Iowa. These bills will help maintain current childcare providers.

• House File 2600 establishes a public/private partnership to expand the childcare workforce in the state. This bill will help recruit and retain childcare providers in Iowa by providing matching funds to communities that match the state funds.

Schools and the Coronavirus: What you need to know
The headlines in the media on the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, have certainly gotten everyone’s attention. It’s important to be prepared – much like schools prepare for any respiratory illness such as the flu.
In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the same precautions used against the flu should be implemented to stem the potential spread of COVID-19.
Here’s a list of precautions:

Encourage students, parents and staff to take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.

• Encourage students and staff to stay home when sick.
• Educate students, parents and staff on the importance of staying home when sick until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
• Advise respiratory etiquette among students and staff through education.
• Provide adequate supplies within easy reach, including tissues and no-touch trash cans.
• Encourage students and staff to wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, dry hands with a paper towel and use the paper towel to turn off the faucet. If soap and water are not available and hands are not visibly dirty, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol may be used.
• Create a routine surface cleaning.
To keep up to date on COVID-19, go to the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website.
Ben McDonald
This week I was visited by Ben McDonald from the Iowa Pork Producers to explain the benefits that pork producers are noticing as a result of recent legislation.

Hein Family
Also, on Thursday my family visited me at the capitol to help celebrate the last day of my 5th decade.

Capitol Update Week 8

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Legislative Session Reaches Halfway Point

This week marked the 50th day of the 100-day legislative session. The first funnel deadline has passed and the second funnel is coming up soon. Debate is picking up in both chambers as the House and Senate work to advance priority legislation.

Sales Tax Exemption
The past several years, I along with the late Paul Elmgreen have been working on a sales tax exemption for aircraft parts and service. The bill (HF 2573) worked its way through the Ways and Means committee on February 24th and passed out of the House on Thursday. Currently as it stands in the state of Iowa small aircraft when major maintenance is needed fly to neighboring states who already have a sales tax exemption for aircraft parts and services.  The goal of this bill is to help level the playing field and make Iowa’s small local airports and fixed base operators more competitive in providing repairs. This bill will especially have a positive impact on the repair facility in Monticello. The HF 2573 is now on its way to the Senate where they will quickly pass it and send it to the Governor for her signature.

Education: Supplemental State Aid
Also, this week, the House and Senate finalized K-12 funding for the upcoming school year. Iowa’s schools will receive almost $100 million in new money for the 2020-21 school year, with additional resources specifically targeted towards critical needs like rural school transportation costs and per pupil equity.

The agreement breaks down as follows:

Supplemental State Aid $85.57 million
Rural Transportation $7.65 million
Per Pupil Equity $5.8 million
TOTAL $99.02 million

With school funding settled, the House will continue working on additional ways to improve Iowa’s education system for students, parents, and teachers. The Education Committee has been working on bipartisan legislation to ensure the best learning environment for students by helping train teachers on strategies to deal with disruptive student behavior and make classrooms safe.

Since 2011, investment in Iowa’s schools has grown to an all-time high of nearly $3.4 billion annually, an increase of almost $1 BILLION over the last decade. K-12 funding makes up around 43% of Iowa’s budget, making it the top spending priority each year.

House Eases Requirement for Farmers Driving Their Own Trucks
On Tuesday, March 3, 2020, the Iowa House passed House File 2372 by a bipartisan vote of 79-19.  The bill amends the definition of ‘chauffeur’ in regards who is required to have a to exclude a farmer or his hired help  who is operating a farmer’s own truck that is licensed plated as farm trucks/’special farm registrations’ to transport the farmer’s own products or property to a destination no more than 100-miles from his farmland.  The bill was amended by the House to add language that the chauffeur exemption to driving farm-plated semi-trailers does not apply to person under 18-years of age.

Capitol Update Week 7

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Iowa faces a shortage of health care providers in many areas of the state. This includes primary care, specialty care, and mental health care. Easing this shortage and attracting health care providers, specifically to rural communities, has been one of House Republican’s top priorities over the last several sessions.

We can start to address a shortage of providers by keeping our best and brightest right here in the state. House File 2383 aims to do just that by requiring the University of Iowa Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry to prioritize Iowa students over out-of-state students. This legislation requires at least 75% of admitted students to be residents of Iowa or to have completed their undergrad here in the state.

House File 2383 will help Iowa retain health care professionals to practice here after graduation. Students with previous ties to the state are more likely to stay in Iowa, work in Iowa, pay taxes in Iowa, and raise their families in Iowa. There is no guarantee that students from New York or California will remain in the state following graduation.

In 2017, a small family-owned newspaper in western Iowa published a story about a local police officer’s inappropriate relationship with a teenager and other previous questionable actions. This story ultimately led to the resignation of the police officer, who was under threat of termination. The ex-officer then sued the paper for libel.

The newspaper ultimately won the lawsuit but was forced to incur thousands of dollars in legal fees, simply for exposing the truth.

These types of lawsuits, known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), are intended to silence bad press and suppress free speech by dragging people through costly and lengthy court fights.

House File 2339 provides individuals with a new avenue to have frivolous SLAPP lawsuits reviewed by a judge in a timely manner, so they can be dismissed early in the legal process. This legislation ensures that freedom of speech is protected and that when someone’s bad actions or misdeeds are brought to light, they are held accountable.

On Thursday the Ways and Means committee passed 3 bills relating to childcare in Iowa. The goal of these bill is to help provide affordable childcare for our young families in Iowa. As session proceeds, the House will continue to work on policies that will help to provide quality and affordable childcare in the state of Iowa.

There has been a growing concern through Iowa, especially in rural counties and communities, about the access to emergency medical services.  A common misconception is that emergency medical services are considered an essential service under the Iowa Code.  They are not.  However, it is currently an option for counties to choose to make it an essential service.  Under current law, county supervisors may offer for voter approval a local option income surtax or an ad valorem property tax.  Additionally, if it is considered an essential service, it has to be re-approved every five years.

House Study Bill 631/HF 2434 makes significant changes to the emergency medical services chapter (IA Code 422D).  The first change that it makes allows the county board of supervisors to declare EMS an essential service without calling for an election to approve this decision.  EMS advocates believe that this will greatly reduce the burden and cost of declaring EMS an essential service.

This bill also gets rid of the five-year sunset that required the voters to re-approve emergency medical services.  This gives the voters the option to end EMS as an essential service only under a reverse referendum.  EMS advocates have complained that they are uncomfortable purchasing equipment if after only five years the service could not be renewed.

A new requirement under this bill is that a county that adopts EMS as an essential service shall create an EMS Advisory Council to develop how the EMS program will be structured and work throughout the county.  Current law only allows counties to enter into 28E agreements with other counties.  This bill removes that barrier and allows counties to enter into 28E agreements with other entities besides just counties.

Currently, in the Health and Human Services Budget there is $303,000 that is appropriated to the Emergency Medical Services Fund.  The money is divided equally amongst the counties. Also, Iowa Code 422D.6(3) lays out an enumerated list of items that these funds could be spent on. This bill changes that to include any operational cost.

In addition to the above-mentioned changes to emergency medical services, House Study Bill 508/House File 2224 appropriates the revenue from sports wagering (estimated between $2-3 million) to the Emergency Medical Services Trust Fund.

On Thursday the Ways and Means committee passed 3 bills relating to childcare in Iowa. The goal of these bill is to help provide affordable childcare for our young families in Iowa. As session proceeds, the House will continue to work on policies that will help to provide quality and affordable childcare in the state of Iowa.

 

Forum Schedule:

Friday February 28 @ 9am

Monticello Golf Club with Governor Reynolds

Friday February 28 @ Noon

Monticello City Chambers

Friday March 6 @ 10am

Manchester Farm Bureau Office

Capitol Update Week 6

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The Legislature’s first funnel was this week, which means our focus has been narrowed to bills that have a better chance of being debated on the floor and signed into law.

 

What is the funnel? It’s a deadline when House bills are required to pass at least one House committee to remain eligible for discussion and vice versa for the Senate. If a bill fails to advance through a committee, it is considered “dead” for the session and is tabled. Oftentimes, a bill is not moved forward because it lacks support or needs improvement over the interim. The funnel does not apply to Appropriations or Ways & Means bills.

I have chosen a couple of legislative priorities that remain alive following the first funnel.

 

Child Care Access and Affordability

(House Files 2041, 2083, 2171, 2175, 2270, 2271, and 2424)

The House has introduced a wide-ranging package of legislation this session to improve access to affordable child care for families. Several committees have advanced common sense solutions to make child care more affordable for families, increase access to providers, incentivize employers to offer and expand child care to their employees, and address the “cliff effect” by easing Iowans off of government child care assistance programs. House leadership is also continuing to work with the Senate to expand eligibility of the child care tax credit program by doubling the household income threshold.

 

World-Class Schools

(House File 2243 and 2245 and House Study Bill 598)

In addition to providing Iowa’s K-12 schools with record investment this year, the House has been looking for additional ways to make our schools better for students, teachers, and parents. Building on previous efforts, lawmakers continued to bring down rural school transportation costs and reduce per pupil inequity by an additional $10 per student this session. Members from both parties have also worked together on legislation to help educators deal with disruptive behavior in the classroom to keep students and staff safe as well as get students the support they need. We look forward to working with Governor Reynolds on her school safety initiative jointly headed by the Departments of Public Safety and Education.

 

Access to Affordable Health Care

(House Files 2192, 2197, 2253, 2383, 2463 and House Study Bill 685)

The House has also been looking for ways increase access to high quality and affordable health care. Committees have advanced several pieces of legislation that provide more transparency and reduce the cost of prescription drugs, increase access to health services, and attract and retain more health care professionals to our state.

 

Rural Emergency Medical Services

(House Files 2224, 2280, and 2434)

One of the most basic functions of government is ensuring citizens have the ability to call for help when its necessary. This includes police and fire, but often forgotten are Emergency Medical Services (EMS) like paramedics, EMTs, and first responders. The legislature is committed to assisting local governments offer these services to their residents. Legislation passed through committee this year gives counties the ability to make long-term investment in EMS programs and infrastructure while also proposing additional funding to local EMS. Additionally, with many towns relying on volunteer fire and EMS departments, the House wants to ensure that small communities are able to attract qualified individuals. That’s why we are working to double the volunteer EMS tax credit and show our support to individuals who put their lives on the line to protect us and keep us safe when it counts most.

 

Expanding High-Speed Internet to Underserved Areas

(House Files 2023, 2107, 2213, 2242, and 2459)

The legislature also made the expansion of high-speed broadband to underserved parts of the state a top priority this session. Reliable internet has become a necessity in today’s economy and both employers and workers are depending on a steady connection to conduct business online or work from home. To help expedite this expansion, the Commerce committee has passed multiple bills to improve internet access and bring faster speeds to Iowa’s rural communities.

 

Capitol Update Week 5

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News From District 96

Floor Debate
The House held its first floor debate of the session this week, passing three critical pieces of legislation to support Iowa’s K-12 schools and victims of significant flooding across the state.

Last spring, much of the state was devastated by significant flooding, particularly in southwest Iowa and eastern Iowa around the Quad Cities. The Legislature acted quickly last session, providing $25 million in flood recovery aid: $15 million for immediate flood relief and $10 million in housing tax credits to rebuild homes.

Since the Legislature adjourned last year, it has become clear that additional support is needed to help these communities recover.

This week, the House passed a supplemental appropriation bill that will provide impacted communities with an additional $21 million for flood recovery. Legislators worked closely with the Flood Mitigation Board to identify critical projects that need investment before more flooding occurs this spring.

License Exemption for Farm Special Registration Vehicles
Also, this week the Iowa House Agriculture Committee passed House Study bill 530 by a by-partisan 17-aye to 6-nay vote.   The bill amends the definition of ‘chauffer’ in the Code to exclude a farmer or his hired help who operate a farmer owned truck tractor and are hauling the farmer’s own product or property to a destination no more than 100-miles from farmland owned or operated by the farmer.  Under these conditions, the individual no longer needs a chauffeur license.

The measure was amended in committee to further stipulate that this exception only applies when the farmer or his hired help is driving the farmers’ trucks that are licensed plated as farm trucks/Special Farm Registrations to transport the farmer’s own products or property to a destination no more than 100-miles from his farmland.

Keeping Health Care Professionals in Iowa
On Tuesday, the House Human Resources Committee passed House File 2115 to require the University of Iowa medical and dental schools to have 75% of their admitted students be from the state of Iowa. This work builds on legislation passed last year to require state-funded medical residencies to prioritize Iowans in the application process by looking closer at those that are originally from Iowa, went to undergrad in Iowa, or graduated medical school in Iowa.

Supporting Emergency Medical Service
Last week the House Ways and Means Committee passed House File 2280 by a vote of 24-1. The bill increases the Volunteer Fire Fighter and Volunteer Emergency Medical Services Personnel Member Credit and the Reserve Peace Officer Credit from $100 to $200. The bill makes the increase in the tax credit available this tax year.

House File 2280 is currently on the House Ways and Means Calendar and is eligible for consideration by the full chamber. House File 2280 is just one of several initiatives we are putting forth this session to support our volunteer EMS workers. These volunteers make Iowa a safer place to work and live and deserve this honor.

This week I had the privilege of welcoming students from  JCSHYC (Jones County Safe and Healthy Youth Coalition), Maquoketa Valley, and West Delaware the to the Iowa House of Representatives.  The groups were visiting the Capitol to bring awareness to the dangers of smoking, vaping and underage drinking.