Lots of continued debate at the Capitol these days as we head to the second funnel next week—although this period probably qualifies as the calm between storms (if there is such a thing in the legislature)!

For a bill to remain alive after the next funnel, it will have had to pass at least one chamber and the other chamber's subcommittee and committee process. In other words, all Senate bills must have passed out of a House committee and all House bills must have passed out of a Senate committee. Clear as mud, right? 

We have made more updates our bill tracker, but below are three issues worthy of special note this week. 

Webinar next Monday
Tax bill 101

Adequate revenue—raised fairly—is essential to providing the services Iowans need to thrive. The Legislature still has not resolved a shortfall for the current budget year, yet lawmakers are now talking tax cuts. Health, education, human services, child welfare, public safety—all are at risk.

Join the Iowa Fiscal Partnership for a webinar about what is at stake in the tax discussions at the Capitol. 

FACTS & ALTERNATIVES — but no ‘alternative facts’
Monday, March 12 at 11 a.m. 
Register here

You’ll hear an update on the status of current legislation, background on the state’s budget problems and ideas to make our tax system fairer and more robust. The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint effort of the Center and the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City. 

The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint effort of the Center and the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City. 

Lots of lobbbyists at the House subcommittee on Gov. Reynolds's tax bill. The subcommittee recommended passage last Thursday. The House is taking a slower approach to taxes than the Senate: this bill had been out for a couple of weeks prior to subcommittee. The Senate moved from introduction of its tax bill to approval on the floor in the span of one week. 

Mental health at Eldora 

The Center opposes a House bill that opens the door to fundamental changes in the nature of services at the state training school at Eldora. Instead of directing the facility to develop programs focusing on “appropriate skill development, treatment, and rehabilitation”—a juvenile-justice approach—HF 2399 directs it to instead help youth “recognize accountability for delinquent behavior by confronting and eliminating delinquent norms, criminal thinking, and anti-social behavior”—a tact much more line with the adult prison system. 

Officials with the Department of Human Service—the only organization registered in favor of the bill as of Monday morning—have said they don’t expect it would lead to marked changes in kinds of services currently in place. Eldora does offer counseling, but has no comprehensive mental health program, and is not considered by the state to be mental health facility. 

Despite those facts, many of the youth there suffer from mental health and drug addiction issues. The facility has repeatedly been singled out in recent years for failing to adequately provide treatment and rehabilitation, including mental health services, to the boys in residence. 

The change, removing language on diagnosis, evaluation and treatment, would put Iowa in increasingly limited company. As reporter Clark Kauffman noted in a Des Moines Register piece Thursday, “The proposal is unusual in that most states are moving away from a corrections-based model of juvenile justice and toward one that’s focused more on treatment.”

It should go without saying that eliminating requirements to provide meaningful mental-health services does not eliminate actual mental-health needs. What is needed instead is adequate funding to provide comprehensive mental health and addiction treatment for youth at Eldora. 

Having passed both subcommittee and committee, the bill is headed to the House floor for a vote. Rep. Mary Mascher (Iowa City) has submitted an amendment (H-8112) to restore the treatment and rehabilitation mission of Eldora. There is not currently a companion bill in the Senate. Please contact your representative, and ask them help protect youth place in Eldora by opposing HF 2399.  

Children's mental health

Last week we told you about proposed improvements to Iowa’s adult mental health system. Legislation to enact those improvements continues to move forward. On Wednesday, Feb. 28, lawmakers got recommendations for a “children’s system” that would represent a step forward in bolstering mental health services for younger Iowans. 

Two members of the Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Advisory Committee—Ann Gruenewald, president and CEO of Four Oaks, based in Cedar Rapids, and Kim Scorza, president and CEO of Seasons Center, based in Spencer—outlined to the HHS appropriations subcommittee a strategy to provide equitable access to quality mental health and well-being services to children with a full array of needs, and in all areas of the state. 

The workgroup promoted a cross-systems approach that both treats a child's mental health symptoms and provides for broader well-being of the child and his or her family, including education, health care, employment and basic needs. Service delivery would occur at the local level; cross-system coordination and collaboration at the regional level; and the establishment of standards and measures of effectiveness at the state level. 

They recommended several initial steps yet this year, including establishing legislative support for the children’s system concept, continuing to fund and expand some local pilot efforts already underway, and creating a statewide board to oversee subsequent phases.

The workgroup helped explain their vision for a children's mental-health system with this art from an Iowa City teenager. 


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. 

How does a bill become a law, again?

The state Legislature's website is chock full of information that helps us do our job speaking out on behalf of Iowa children and their families. You'll notice in our newsletter we link to frequently to proposed bills posted there. The language in those can be a little dense, we know, but there are also terrific, more accessible resources on all aspects of the legislative process. This primer on how an idea becomes a law is likely familiar to all of us who spent time in government classes, but adds in some details specific to Iowa. 

This terrific flow chart is among the resources on the legislative process available at www.legis.iowa.gov

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