Behn report

Sen Jerry Behn, (R) Boone

March 24, 2017

This week we passed a series of bills on the floor. Next week will be our second funnel week in the Legislature. The second funnel is when Senate bills need to be out of House committees and House bills out of Senate committees in order to be considered for the remaining weeks of this legislative session.

Wednesday was REC Day on the Hill and I was able to meet with REC members from our community. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the work RECs do in our neighborhoods. These electric cooperatives are owned by their members and governed by elected directors of the membership, ensuring they meet the needs of our rural communities.

Some of the bills passed this week were:

  • HF 577, prohibiting a physician from being disciplined solely on their recommendation of a treatment for Lyme disease. This allows patients to get the treatment they need in our state instead of having to travel elsewhere to get treated. This bill passed the Senate unanimously.
  • SF 420, expanding the definition of dependent adult abuse by caretakers in facilities regulated by the Department of Inspection and Appeals to include personal degradation. Personal degradation is defined as a willful act or statement by a caretaker in a facility or program where the caretaker reasonably should have known their action is intended to shame, degrade, or humiliate an adult dependent. Actions that meet the definition of dependent abuse include taking or transmitting an image of a dependent adult. This is an update to the definition to keep up with technology advancements in our daily lives and ensure we are protecting our state’s vulnerable populations. The bill passed 49-0.
  • SF 51, a bill creating a cytomegalovirus public health initiative and aims to raise awareness of the disease. The bill requires the Center for Congenital and Inherited Disorders to collaborate with state and local health agencies and other public and private organizations to develop and publish informational materials to educate and raise awareness of Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Congenital CMV among women who may become pregnant, expectant parents, parents of infants, attending health care providers, and others as appropriate. This disease spreads from person to person through body fluids and can be passed on to a baby during pregnancy. The CMV virus is a common virus that infects people of all ages. Over half of adults by age 40 have been infected with CMV.  Once CMV is in a person’s body, it stays there for life and can reactivate. This bill passed the Senate 49-0.
  • SF 220, regulating traffic cameras. Traffic cameras have been a big topic around the Capitol. This bill originally would have prohibited all use of traffic enforcement cameras in the state. It was amended to continue to allow traffic cameras, but requires local authorities to hold a public meeting, have a justification report, and pass an ordinance prior to the operation of a traffic camera.  In addition, the bill sets calibration requirements, limits the use of money generated from these cameras, and provides a petition process for citizens to ask their local government to remove a certain location.  The bill, as amended, passed 31-18.  I voted yes.
  • SF 234, making texting while driving a primary offense. Currently, texting while driving is a secondary offense which means an officer cannot use texting while driving to pull someone over. You can still use your phone to make phone calls and as a GPS, but you cannot view text messages, email, browse the internet, or play games on your phone while driving. The bill passed the Senate 43-6. I voted no.  It is virtually impossible to enforce as written.
  • SF 359, which prohibits a person from knowingly acquiring, providing, receiving, transferring, or using fetal body parts in the state of Iowa. This does not apply to diagnostic or remedial tests, procedures, or observations which have the sole purpose of determining the life or health of the fetus. It also allows for the donation of a fetal body if there is a spontaneous termination of pregnancy or stillbirth and is willingly donated for the purpose of medical research. In addition a fetal body part isn’t considered a cell, tissue, organ, or other part of a fetus that is terminated by an abortion that occurred prior to January 1, 2017. The bill passed the Senate 43-6.  I voted yes.
  • SF 431, which allows wireless companies to have access to rights-of-way, public facilities, and utility poles in a timely and cost-efficient manner to increase their capacity to deliver wireless access, and more specifically, 5G. This is an important bill for Iowans as technology use grows each day and the demand for better internet access grows.
  • SF 468, expanding the definition of stalking, passed 49-0. This bill expands the crime of stalking to include the repeated use of a technological device to locate, listen to, or watch a person without legitimate purpose and expands the conduct that would constitute the crime from fear of bodily injury only to also include making a person feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, or threatened.
  • SF 400 makes changes to the autism support program to include behavior analysis treatment and to ensure the program is available only to people who are not eligible through other forms of coverage. It also requires insurance coverage for applied behavioral analysis for persons under the age of 19 years for insurance plans issued to employers who had more than 50 employees during the preceding calendar year.  There are dollar caps for applied behavioral analysis that is scaled depending on the age of the child. The bill passed the Senate 48-0.

Better online education for Iowa students: We did one bill regarding education in Iowa this week, particularly regarding online education. The bill, Senate File 475, strikes limitations on online education including which schools may have online learning, enrollment caps, some specific requirements for posting student performance, and a school’s ability to develop and offer online education. The bill increases student opportunities beyond the classroom as well, allowing students open enrolled for the purposes of online education to participate in extracurricular activities locally.

The bill also creates a working group to make recommendations to the legislature for making student health requirements uniform and streamlined to reduce the administrative burden on schools. In addition to this working group, a task force is created under the bill to review and prioritize the important tasks of the state’s area education agencies. This provision will assist legislators and education leaders alike in better understanding the mission of the area education agencies and where resources are needed most.

Additionally, the bill requires the Department of Education to develop a seal of biliteracy program to recognize students who demonstrate proficiency in two or more world languages, which must include English. This program is voluntary on behalf of schools and students. Students who successfully complete the requirements of the program will receive a sticker or other authorized endorsement to affix to their high school diploma signifying their successful completion.

Legalizing fireworks in Iowa: Each year, Iowa families often gather during the summer for picnics, reunions and get-togethers. Most of our communities have their own festivities, including farmer’s markets, county fairs and festivals, and a family favorite – fireworks.

On Tuesday, the Iowa Senate passed Senate File 489, legalizing the sale and use of fireworks in the state of Iowa. Currently, Iowans can possess fireworks, but are prohibited from using them.

This bill has been worked on for a while now. It has been brought up in previous sessions, but often fizzled out before making it to the floor for a vote by the Senate. The bill would allow for the sale and regulation of first and second class consumer fireworks in both permanent and temporary structures. The bill provides for a limited sale and use period for the retailer and consumer and also allows the state fire marshal to order the suspension of use of all fireworks if they deem a threat to public safety.

The state fire marshal shall adopt rules to:

  • Sell fireworks in accordance with APA standards, 2006 edition
  • Require a retailer or community group to carry proper insurance
  • Allow sales at a permanent building between June 1 and July 8 and between December 10 and January 3rd each year
  • Allow sales at a temporary building between June 13 and July 8 each year

This bill also prohibits a retailer from selling to a person under the age of 18 and allows county supervisors and cities through ordinance or resolution to opt out of allowing fireworks usage in their jurisdiction. Additionally, the bill allows the DNR, by permit, to authorize the use of consumer or display fireworks.

A person is only allowed to use consumer fireworks between June 1 and July 8, between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. with additional hours on the 4th and New Year’s Eve, and only on their own property or with consent on another person’s property.

The bill did cause a few sparks on the floor, but after a several hour debate passed 34-14. It now heads to the House for consideration.

Continuing to strengthen our rural communities: Main Street businesses across Iowa are not alone in the persistent struggles they face in our rural communities. Many health care providers in our rural communities wrestle with some of the same challenges, including the rising costs of doing business when dealing with higher medical liability premiums.

There are currently three kinds of damages in these medical malpractice lawsuits: economic damages (those necessary to make someone whole again), non-economic damages (pain, suffering, loss of consortium and other nebulous and vague concepts) and punitive damages (those imposed to punish bad behavior).  This bill simply limited non-economic damages to no more than $250,000.  No new ground was created here.  We are simply mirroring other states. This is something liberal California has had since the 1970s.  Those costs get passed on to us, the consumers, through higher doctor fees and higher insurance premiums.  Over 30 other states have caps of some form or another and do so to keep malpractice rates down.  Iowa has the highest malpractice rates of our surrounding states.  This bill is designed to reduce those rates & help keep doctors in Iowa.  We currently have the lowest number of doctors per patient in the nation.  We certainly don’t want to make it worse.

Most damages will be paid through economic damages, which are still unlimited.  Those are designed to make a person whole again after they have been harmed by a doctor.  A victim’s total medical costs, recovery costs, lost income, living expenses, etc. are all paid through these economic damages.  That award can be in the millions and remains unlimited after this bill.  And, if a doctor does something intentional or without any regard for safety or best practices they can be hit with punitive damages to make an example out of them and punish them.  Those damages are also untouched by this bill.  It turns out that non-economic damages are a big driver behind high malpractice insurance rates for doctors.  We are simply trying to limit the use of a vague damages concept that trial lawyers have abused.

Other aspects of the bill include strengthening expert witness standards by requiring the witness be trained in the area of practice for which they are testifying; creating a certificate of merit for suits by having an expert certify how the care failed to meet standards; promoting evidence-based medicine by creating an affirmative defense and placing uniform limits on contingency fee arrangements for medical liability.

Election integrity: Voting is a fundamental principle of our republic. Iowans want to vote with confidence that the elections in this state are accurate and reliable. Confidence in an election is an important aspect to encourage higher voter turnout.

This week the Iowa Senate debated a bill that will apply a reasonable voter ID requirement for Iowans before they cast their ballot. This bill does a few simple things: it requires voters to prove they are who they say they are before they vote, it creates more safeguards around absentee voting, it updates voter lists, and it provides more education for poll workers on these changes. Finally, this bill provides for outreach and education to voters of this change prior to the election.

Recently, The Des Moines Register published results of a poll that stated nearly 70 percent of Iowans supported a proposal to require identification prior to casting a ballot. So much broad based support for this bill exists because Iowans understand voter ID is a common sense proposal.

Iowans use their identification on a daily basis to deposit a check, board a plane, or take their children to certain video arcades. A free society requires the engagement of the citizens in the political process. An increasingly skeptical public has clearly stated it supports a voter ID requirement. They support reasonable and appropriate verification of the votes cast. This gives them confidence that the results reflect the will of the governed.

The bill is designed to increase voter security.  The bill would improve list management at the local and state level.  The bill removes the option of straight party voting and continues to provide easy access to voting in Iowa.

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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