We're nearing the home stretch of the 2019 Iowa legislative session. Lawmakers are scheduled to wrap up in only two weeks! That means right now they are working to narrow down the field of existing bills and set the state's yearly budget through the appropriations process. All appropriations bills have been introduced at this point.
The Education appropriations bill passed the House and the Senate committee process; it should be debated early next week in the Senate. Frustratingly, the Senate didn’t include the additional $1 million for Early Childhood Iowa that we had hoped for, which means Iowa's child care crisis will go unaddressed this session. The Health and Human Services appropriations bill has yet to be taken up by the Senate. We expect to see their version next week.
Both chambers now spend most of their time negotiating or debating bills on their respective floors. Like watching the sausage being made? Follow along and watch or listen to debates online on the legislature's website.
Q&A: Danielle Oswald-Thole
Danielle Oswald-Thole is the Iowa government relations director at American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which focuses on policies and investments that reduce the burden of cancer in Iowa and across the nation. One of the group's current priorities is curbing the use of tobacco and nicotine products among Iowa youth. A bill that would raise the purchasing age for tobacco in Iowa to 21 passed out of subcommittee late last week. Sounds like something ACS-CAN would support, right? Despite its good intentions, SF 607 misses the mark of protecting youth from addictive substances, argues Oswald-Thole. The Center's Stephen Dykstra talked with her this week.
SF 607 would raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 in attempt to curb use by minors. Is this an effective approach? Why or why not?
Raising the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 can be effective if the language [in the bill] is evidence-based and coupled with other strategies proven to reduce tobacco use. We know raising the tobacco tax by more than a dollar is effective; we know investing in tobacco prevention is effective. So, it can work if included with these efforts. Unfortunately, we don’t have a strong tobacco tax [in Iowa] — we’re ranked 30th in the country. And our tobacco prevention funding has been constantly slashed to where we’re at only $4 million today, down from $12.8 million in 2008.
There’s concern SF 607 does little to hold the tobacco industry accountable, and instead penalizes youth only. How can the state legislature address that?
That’s something we see across the country even though it varies from state to state. The difference is whether or not a bill focuses on penalizing the sellers and retailers, or if the bill focuses on penalizing youth. Our bill has a youth penalty in it, which is simply not based on research — it doesn’t impact the use rate. We know the real impact we have is influencing the retailers, the licensed establishments selling tobacco products. And we believe the current penalties for retailers outlined in this bill are not strong enough. We’d like to strengthen them and get rid of youth penalties.
Your organization, American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, opposes SF 607 in its current form, correct?
We’re thankful Senate President Schneider has come out with an effort to address the issue, because e-cigarettes are clearly a problem. We’ve seen a 78 percent increase in use by teens across the nation in the past year alone. In Iowa, 23 percent of 11th graders report using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days — a huge increase. Having said that, we know traditional tobacco use is still a huge problem, and it remains the leading cause of preventable death. But we are currently registered against the bill because it is not evidence-based, so what we’re asking is to have a seat at the table in order make some key changes and improve the bill’s effectiveness.
Describe the changes you’d like to see implemented in the bill.
Our top ask is changing the way we define ‘cigarettes.’ Right now, vapor products and electronic nicotine delivery devices are defined separately from tobacco products, meaning they’re not regulated the same way, they’re not included in smoke-free laws, and they’re not even taxed beyond the normal sales tax. We want these newer products to be included in the broader definition so that the government can regulate them the same way. The second change is the youth penalty piece — we argue the state should penalize retailers, not youth. Also, there’s a military exemption. But given that we know the harms of tobacco use, no one should be exempt.
What’s the thinking behind the proposed exemption for veterans and military members?
The argument we hear a lot is if you’re old enough to fight and die for your country, you’re old enough to choose whether or not to use tobacco products. Our counter: We don’t make that argument for alcohol, so why would we make it for tobacco? I also recently heard a good argument from [state] Senator Quirmbach at the bill subcommittee hearing. He argued it’s a constitutional right to vote; it’s not a constitutional right to smoke cigarettes. But ultimately it comes down to this — when anybody, including military members, get sick from tobacco use, we all as taxpayers take on that expense.
Why is advocating for tobacco-free living so important for children and families in Iowa?
Like I mentioned, tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death. I think we as a culture in Iowa have lost sight of that due to the smoke-free laws passed in 2008. Certainly, we’ve seen a reduction in the visibility of smoking — which is great. But tobacco use remains a prevalent problem that we have to continue addressing. Kids using tobacco and getting addicted to nicotine today are the same kids who are going to lead our county 10, 15, 20 years from now. They’re going to be engineers, doctors and teachers. The way we respond today to tobacco use by our young people—and whether or not we keep them healthy — impacts the health and well-being of our state long term.
A deeper dive into Iowa's child care crisis
Three in 4 young children in our state live in families where all parents work. But many parts of the state are child care deserts, where supply — for numerous reasons — hasn't kept up with demand. And the families who can find child care face staggering costs that can rival tuition at our state universities. Simply put, Iowa has a child care crisis.
The good news: solutions are out there, along with an urgency to act across private, nonprofit and public sectors. This week on the podcast, join two seasoned advocates — the Center’s Sheila Hansen and Dave Stone with United Way of Central Iowa — as they unpack the child care situation in Iowa, the crisis we face and opportunities to respond.
Want to go deeper? Curious about the status of key bills? The Center maintains a bill tracker to outline the specific legislation we are following this this session.
Find your legislator
Not sure who represents you? With 50 senators and 100 representatives, it can be hard to keep tabs. Visit our Legislator Lookup tool to find out who represents you in the state house and senate, biographical information about each one and a link to their legislative websites, which list contact information and committee membership. All you need to do is enter your home address and zip code.