When the Iowa legislature recessed in March due to Covid-19, we knew things would be different when lawmakers reconvened ... and they sure are. Since returning last week, the legislature has tried to make accommodations for the public to watch and participate in the process, but the results have been disappointing at times, and outright frustrating at others.
House and Senate subcommittee and committee meetings being livestreamed online, including via Facebook and YouTube, and have proven difficult to access. Kathie Obradovich noted in the Iowa Capital Dispatch that one House subcommittee video stream offered "audio that sounded like it was broadcasting from the bottom of the Des Moines River."
Public input at subcommittees is being taken virtually, but we've seen in the livestreams and heard from lawmakers that some submitted comments aren't always being read, limiting Iowans' ability to educate and inform their elected officials. We're also seeing some legislation crafted behind closed doors without public comment or fiscal notes — the nonpartisan analysis that helps lawmakers understand a bill's costs and impacts on Iowans.
Legislation is moving fast, and the rumor mill says lawmakers will finish up their work this weekend.
Here is a status report on some bills of note:
Police reform bill marks an important first step toward racial equity
We join our fellow Iowans in applauding this step to dismantle structural racism in our state. The police brutality legislation, introduced in and passed unanimously by both the Senate and House on Thursday and signed by Gov. Reynolds today, bans most chokeholds and prevents officers with a history of misconduct to be hired in Iowa. It also requires training for officers on bias and de-escalation methods and gives the Iowa Attorney General the authority to investigate deaths caused by the police and to prosecute officers. Read more in the Des Moines Register.
House and Senate differ on reimbursement rates for telehealth
Covid-19 has upended the health care delivery system in Iowa. The House has passed legislation that requires telehealth services to be reimbursed by insurers at the same level as in-person services. Rates lower than that — like those proposed by the Senate — are a disincentive for providers to deliver care via telehealth, hurting Iowans who rely on these critical services, including folks in rural communities with limited access to local health care services.
Child care is still in the mix
We expect several child care bills that have already passed the House to appear on the Senate debate calendar soon. These good if relatively small-scale bills would push more resources into our child care system — for example, raising the Child Care Assistance provider reimbursement level for some infants and toddlers, and helping local businesses, non-profits and consortiums establish child care facilities to increase the supply of quality, affordable care in their communities.
We must note one disappointing child care bill that may still advance. It sounds good on its face: it increases CCA provider reimbursement rates to the 50th percentile of 2017 market rate survey for some providers. But because of how it's structured, much of the benefit would go toward unregistered providers, giving providers a disincentive to register and participate in quality initiatives. We believe Iowa should increase rates in a way that rewards registered and licensed providers who provide quality care.
Lawmakers have so far declined to revisit punitive safety-net bills
Before session paused in March, the Senate had passed a series of bad bills that would take away health insurance from Iowans who don't meet harsh working reporting requirements — and implement costly and unnecessary verification checks for public assistance supports including Medicaid, SNAP and TANF. We're glad to see that the House has shown no interest in taking up these counterproductive bills. We need to make important supports like health insurance and food assistance easier, not harder, for Iowans to access — especially during a health and economic crisis.
House and Senate budgets ignores current crises
Both chambers have introduced their respective funding bills: the House calls for status-quo funding (with a few exceptions) largely following last year's budget, while the Senate is expected to make some cuts and policy changes. This isn't unexpected, but it is disappointing. We need policymakers to make bolder decisions to meet the needs of Iowans facing health and economic hardship right now and protect state finances to preserve the foundations of long-term economic growth.
House bill includes a long-needed boost for FIP
One of those small changes from last year in the House budget bill is a $1.5 million funding increase for the Family Investment Program (FIP). Although relatively modest, it's a big deal: FIP, which provides cash assistance to low-income families, hasn't seen since a funding increase in decades. Boosting FIP will help families with fewest resources pay for basics, like rent, food, diapers and personal hygiene supplies, and avert serious hardship, including eviction and homelessness.
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