There was quite a flurry of activity at the Capitol last week as lawmakers faced down the first funnel — a deadline to eliminate bills in each chamber that are not a priority for the majority party.

There was one specific bill, a little out of our wheelhouse, that really caught my eye. 

Environmental advocates showed up in force against a House bill that would have severely limited the ability of state and local governments to acquire — and individuals to donate — land for conservation. It was pretty impressive: the subcommittee had to be moved to a larger meeting room to accommodate the turnout; speakers were impassioned. Folks flooded lawmakers with emails and phone calls. Subcommittee members ultimately declined to advance the bill, despite the backing of a powerful interest group: the Iowa Farm Bureau. A scaled-down version of the bill is still alive in the Senate, but its prospects seem uncertain. 

As an Iowan interested in passing a healthy environment down to future generations, I was happy and inspired by this turn of events — which seemed to take lawmakers by surprise. As someone who spends her days on the well-being of children and other vulnerable Iowans, I was also jealous. 

How in the heck do we generate that kind of uproar for Iowa kids and families?

We know from polling that children's issues are incredibly popular. By large margins and across parties, voters favor affordable child care, preschool, afterschool programs and strong public schools. We know they overwhelmingly have favorable views of Medicaid and believe no one should go without the basics, like food and shelter. 

We also know they are rarely the deciding issues for voters. 

Right now at the Capitol we're facing a series of damaging bills that would slash our social safety net, make it harder for folks to be good workers and caregivers and make our state a little meaner. Bills to help people productive community members — by, say, expanding child care or providing more oversight of our Medicaid managed care program — have gotten little traction. 

Often the bad bills are supported by just a few organizations, usually the local affiliates of national groups promoting conservative legislation, like the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity or the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability. On the other side? Social workers, health care providers, religious groups, advocates for victims of domestic violence and Iowans with chronic diseases, to name more than a few. 

The latter are dedicated advocates. We think we are, too. We all come to the Capitol every day armed with data and smart policy analysis. On good days, individual Iowans show up to tell their stories. 

But the bills we're dealing with aren't generating the kind of blowback that makes enough lawmakers pause. They're not the ones getting moved to bigger meeting rooms or overwhelming lawmakers' inboxes. 

There's a lot of session left. And many key decisions to be made. In the upcoming weeks, you will be seeing action alerts from us, advising you on important pieces of legislation. Can we count on you to pick up your phone, drop an email or show up at a legislative coffee? Or, heck, at the Capitol? There's real power in these actions — we saw it last week. Let's raise the roof both for the environment around us and for the people living in it.

Anne Discher, executive director


Here's the status of key legislation post-funnel:

Medicaid work reporting requirements: Short-sighted Medicaid work reporting requirement bills remain alive at the Capitol. They would add layers of red tape and a complex new reporting system to track participants' work hours and exemptions. Taking health coverage away from people who don't meet rigid reporting requirements will only make it harder for people to work and take care of their families.    

Safety-net cuts: Several costly bills that would make live more difficult for low-income families in Iowa are still alive. They would all put up bureaucratic obstacles to accessing needed services, but are unlikely to meet their stated goals. They would:

  • Direct certain SNAP recipients who exempt from federal requirements into a rigid and expensive "workfare" program. Even a 17-year-old high school students would have to file paperwork to apply for an exemption. The fiscal note projects that 45,000 Iowans would lose food assistance. 

  • Make SNAP benefits contingent on cooperation with child support enforcement, making it even harder for non-custodial parents to support their children and putting kids at risk of going hungry. Its efficacy is not supported by evidence, and has proven unpopular among states that have tried or considered trying it.

  • Require quarterly verification for a series of public assistance programs, increasing the amount of red tape families need to slog through and requiring over 500 new DHS workers to process paperwork. The fiscal note notes this: "Quarterly reviews have the potential to reduce public assistance program enrollment, but no significant savings are expected because many items that would be reviewed quarterly are currently checked on a frequent basis."

Children's mental health: Related bills in both chambers made it through funnel. The Senate version passed without amendment, but the House included an amendment that would remove a requirement for an Serious Emotional Disturbance diagnosis for crisis services, add timelines, classify the crisis line as a core service and clarify membership of the governance and advisory boards. We are supportive of this amendment, but it doesn't address all of our concerns. Unfortunately, kids with ADHD disorders would not be eligible for children's mental health services, shutting out a considerable number of kids from valuable services.

Health screenings: A Senate bill eliminating the requirement for health screenings in schools and certain data collection moved through the Senate Education Committee last week. We will see if members of the Senate Human Resources Committee will weigh in on the bill, since it addresses health in addition to education. Common sense tells us  and data show us  that kids are better off when we catch problems early. 

School vouchers: A voucher bill passed out of the Education Committee last Wednesday. It would strip already underfunded public schools of scarce resources and reallocate them to private institutions (for more on this issue, check out our current podcast — links below). 

Child care: Multiple bills increasing the eligibility level for child care assistance failed to survive funnel week. However, the opportunity remains for increased funding through the appropriations process since any bill can be given a second look if attached to an appropriations measure. This means child care could resurface as we get closer to budget talks at the conclusion of session. 

Public health boards and commissions: A House bill that eliminates various boards and commissions from IDPH moved out of committee last week. An amendment added back in few of the groups (e.g. Brain Injury) eliminated in the original bill. However, others, including the Patient Centered Health Advisory Council, would still be eliminated. We oppose this bill because it removes guidance from and accountability to the public. 

Looking ahead

The next couple of weeks will be devoted to floor debate, and talk about the FY 20 budget, which starts July 1, 2019. We'll know more about the budget after today, when the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) meets. The REC provides periodic estimates of available general fund revenues. It last met in December. If the conference raises its net revenue estimate when it meets Friday, the Governor and Legislature must continue to base their budget on the lower December estimate. But if it lowers its estimate, the Governor and Legislature must instead base their budget the new, lower amount. Stated another way, lawmakers must budget based on the lower of the two estimates. If they use the March numbers, the Governor will have until March 29 to submit to Legislature revised budget recommendations using that lower estimate.  

New podcast: School vouchers

Students may be on spring break, but threats to Iowa's public school system continue to pop up. Implementing school vouchers—attempts to divert vital funding from our public schools to private entities—is the latest effort to undermine our state's education priorities. This week we take a deeper dive into these harmful proposals with special guest Melissa Peterson from Iowa State Education Association. Listen here, or find our channel on iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud


Bill tracker

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. 

505 5th Ave., Ste. 404
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 280-9027 /

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