The Behn report

February 23, 2017

Sen Jerry Behn, (R) Boone

In the Legislature: Last week, we talked about a bill to make texting and driving a primary offense.  There was a subcommittee this week on Senate Study bill 1079 which is commonly referred to as the “hands-free” bill.

This bill would prohibit the use of a hand-held electronic communication device while driving a motor vehicle unless the motor vehicle is at a complete stop off the road.  This bill would allow such devices to be used in a hands-free mode.  The bill also exempts GPS from the prohibition.  The bill makes these violations moving violations.  The scheduled fine is $30 for this violation.

There is an amendment to exempt navigation systems and other devices which are physically or electronically integrated into the vehicles.  The amendment would also exempt built in items such as On-Star or built in electronics on the dash of a vehicle. This bill is an attempt to reduce distracted driving, but would still provide a way to use cell phones legally.

Patient protection bill moves forward: There was also a subcommittee this week on SSB 1072, a bill related to the use of step therapy protocols for prescription drugs. Currently, under Medicaid Managed Care, step therapy protocols are used to help keep healthcare costs lower and control the risks posed by prescription drugs.  The practice begins medication for a medical condition with the most cost-effective drug therapy and progresses to other, more costly or risky therapies, only if necessary. This process is also called step protocol or a fail first requirement, and is a type of prior authorization requirement.

The bill discusses legislative findings that step therapy protocols are increasingly being used by health carriers, health benefit plans, and utilization review organizations, to control health care costs. Step therapy protocols, based on well-developed scientific standards and flexibly administered, can play an important role in controlling health care costs. The findings also show in some cases, use of such protocols, can have adverse or dangerous consequences for the person for whom the drugs are prescribed. In those cases, step therapy is inappropriate regardless of the cost.

The bill also includes findings that uniform policies for the use of such protocols that preserve a health care professional’s right to make treatment decisions, and providing for exceptions to the use of such protocols, are in the public interest. The bill highlights the fact that nothing should come between the doctor and the patient, when making such important medical decisions.

Recent trends in prescription drug prices in the United States have led to increased pressure on health care providers to keep down the cost of prescription medication while maintaining high levels of availability to the patient. The use of generic drugs when possible allows health care plans to pursue both goals effectively. As the bill moves through the legislative process, it is important to weigh both the needs of the patients and insurance providers. While this process can help control costs and prescription drug risks, we don’t want to impact patients through decisions which cause costly adverse impacts.

SF 1 jobs impact statements for administrative rules: At the beginning of this session, we set out a number of priorities for the coming months. One of those priorities is Senate File 1, which requires a job impact statement for administrative rules. This would put into code what is currently found in Executive Order 71. We believe this is so important to job growth in Iowa, we want to codify this requirement so future governors cannot remove this requirement with the stroke of a pen.

Jobs impact statements identify the purpose of a rule and the anticipated costs for state agencies, local governments, the public, regulated industries (including regulated businesses and self-employed individuals) to comply, and whether a rule would have a positive or negative impact on private sector jobs and employment opportunities in Iowa.

Additionally, they also include which categories of jobs will be impacted, the number of jobs, and which regions of the state will be impacted by the rule, as well as additional costs to employers due to implementation of the rule. The bill requires agencies take steps to minimize adverse impacts on jobs prior to implementation of the rule.   This bill will help ensure businesses and jobs are not overburdened by excessive regulations from the State. Requiring a jobs impact statement forces agencies to consider how a rule will impact jobs, a consideration which is vital to creating job growth in our state.

SF 180 – Apprenticeships: Helping create an environment for job growth in our state is something we have been focusing on for a long time. Along with SF 1, the Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed SF 180, strengthening Iowa’s apprenticeship programs. The bill clarifies, that in order to qualify for an apprenticeship training grant, under the Iowa Economic Development Authority; the applicant must be an Iowa resident.

Iowa training programs which improve the skills of Iowa workers and are funded by Iowa taxpayers, should apply to Iowa residents, period. Previous Iowa taxpayer funded grant approvals have gone toward apprentice trainees that lived outside of Iowa. With our bill, employees that are not Iowa residents can still be enrolled in the training programs they just don’t qualify for the grants. Programs like our apprenticeship program are important for our state and ensure we have the skilled workers we need.

School funding equity: Another  issue that has come up related to education and education funding, is the challenge of school funding for rural schools. Rural schools cover a much larger geographic area than urban or suburban districts. Consequently, those districts have much higher costs per pupil to transport those students between school and home. All those dollars spent on transportation are then unavailable to spend in the classroom, creating more disparity in resources between rural schools and urban schools.

There have been proposals offered  to address this inequity in recent years, but we have not been able to see this policy advance through the legislative process. This year we have filed Senate Study Bill 1124 (SSB 1124), which will start to bring equity to the funding levels between small and large geographic districts. Funds approved may only be spent on transportation costs.

This bill was approved in subcommittee this week and will be discussed in the Education Committee next week. We have long believed student educational opportunities should not be determined by a student’s zip code. This bill is important to many rural districts across the state as they seek to provide the best education to their students regardless of where they live in Iowa.

Election integrity in Iowa: The integrity of Iowa’s elections has long been a priority of many Iowans.  It is also a priority of mine. When it comes to voting, we want to ensure the integrity of Iowa’s great voting and election process. We are working on legislation that would require all voters to provide an approved identification document at a polling site or when they vote absentee. This ensures each Iowan’s vote counts once and they are, who they say they are.

We also want to continue to boost voter participation. That also is the goal of our Secretary of State Paul Pate. The Secretary of State has been promoting his voter integrity proposal across Iowa in recent weeks. His plan includes requiring an ID such as a driver’s license, passport, military ID or state-issued free ID for voting purposes.

Secretary Pate’s proposal also includes requiring an ID number on all absentee ballot request forms, putting E-Pollbooks in all precincts, and including precinct worker training for greater consistency in operation of the polls. There are 72 counties which presently have some version of an E-Pollbook.

Current proposals continue to work to increase voter registration and participation in Iowa so that every Iowan that wishes to vote can be confident their vote will count, and not be negated by an improper vote.

As always, I want to hear from you.  My senate number is (515) 281-3371 and my home number is (515) 432-7327 or write me at:  State Capitol, Des Moines, IA  50319 or at my home address:  1313 Quill Avenue, Boone, IA  50036 or email me at jerry.behn [at] legis [dot] iowa [dot] gov

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