The Behn Report

Sen Jerry Behn, (R) Boone

March 31, 2017

This week was a little quieter as we did a mix of floor debate and committee work. This was the second funnel week of the legislative session. Much like the first funnel, we need to get bills out of committee for them to be considered for the rest of this session. This deadline moves the process along and helps us adjourn on time. We only have a few weeks left before we hit the hundred-day mark and we have a lot of work to do regarding our budget.

After this week, our work will focus on debating House bills, bills sent back to us from the House and budget bills.

Governor Branstad has proclaimed this week as Severe Weather Awareness Week in Iowa. The goal is to raise awareness and encourage Iowans to plan ahead for severe weather. This includes having a safety plan for your home and finding a safe space at home or when traveling during severe weather.  The governor, along with weather organizations across the state, promoted different safety plans throughout the week about severe thunderstorms, weather warnings, tornadoes and flash floods. The governor also signed several bills into law the Senate discussed recently. These include:

  • House File 372, regarding turns against red lights made by vehicular traffic. The bill passed the Iowa Senate on March 13, 49-0.
  • House File 203, authorizing the use of primary road fund moneys for the secondary road and municipal street systems. The bill passed the Iowa Senate on March 13, 26-21.
  • House File 577, exemptions from disciplinary action for persons licensed to practice health-related professions based on their treatment of Lyme Disease or other tick-borne diseases, and including effective date provisions. The bill passed the Iowa Senate on March 21, 49-0.
  • Senate File 376, disclosure of asbestos bankruptcy trust claims in civil asbestos actions, asbestos and silica claims prioritization, and successor corporation asbestos-related liability, and including applicability provisions. The bill passed the Iowa Senate on March 8, 27-22.

Safe Haven: This week the Senate passed SF 360 unanimously, expanding Iowa’s Safe Haven law. The Safe Haven Act is a law that allows parents – or another person who has the parent’s authorization – to leave an infant up to 14 days old at a “safe haven” without fear of prosecution for abandonment. All states have safe haven laws, although provisions differ. In Iowa, a safe haven is currently defined as a facility providing medical or health services that is open 24 hours per day, seven days per week and is a hospital emergency room, a residential care facility, a nursing facility, or an intermediate care facility for persons with mental illness.

This bill states that in lieu of the current options, a person may call 911 to relinquish physical custody of the newborn. The 911 dispatch would send the most appropriate first responder to care for the child. The child would then be delivered to the nearest institutional health facility, which in most cases would be a hospital.

Currently, a person can leave an infant up to 14 days old at one of these safe havens. This law would extend that age to babies up to 30 days. Additionally, in order to keep the mother’s identity secret for fear of judgement or reprisals, all information, including the 911 call, are to be kept confidential and not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

This bill would make it easier to find somewhere to safely leave a child, therefore giving the parent more of an opportunity to ensure the health and well-being of the child in the future.

Updating Iowa’s asset forfeiture laws: The Iowa Senate approved legislation this week protecting the constitutional rights of Iowans by giving them due process as it pertains to their personal property.

Senate File 446 enhances property rights protections by shifting the burden of proof on law enforcement and prosecutors when it comes to civil asset forfeitures. Under current law, when someone is suspected of committing an aggravated misdemeanor or felony, civil asset forfeiture may occur despite if the charged individual is convicted of the alleged crime.

Presently, there is not a cap on the value of the property. The bill passed out of the Iowa Senate says asset forfeiture on less than $5,000 is prohibited unless the alleged crime leading to the forfeiture results in a conviction, the property owner is deceased, the property owner is unable to be located or the property owner has not claimed the property or expressed interest in the property.

SF 446 also requires law enforcement to keep specific records on seized assets in regard to the amount of property acquired: the date property was acquired; the disposition of the property; date of disposition; and detailed financial records concerning any property sold the name of anyone who received the property. This bill passed unanimously and now heads to the House for consideration.

Certainty, predictability and consistency for job creators: This week the Senate passed House File 295. While there have been many headlines about a minimum wage bill moving through the Legislature, this is not a minimum wage bill. By passing this legislation, the state is simply setting the requirements and letting businesses decide how they should operate their business. Arbitrary local government decisions on business operations creates inconsistency and uncertainty.

Known as the pre-emption bill, HF 295 reestablishes legal certainty and uniformity across the state of Iowa. There is nothing in the bill that forces an employer to stay at the minimum wage. It only evens the playing field and reinstates consistency across the state. As stated at the beginning of this session, we continue to focus on economic growth for our state and rural communities. We cannot grow if arbitrary regulations are scattered all over different jurisdictions to create a hodgepodge, patchwork framework to conduct business. Iowa will grow with consistent regulations and creating a positive job climate and trained workforce for the future.

Senate passes workers’ compensation reform: During the first week of this session of the Iowa legislature, Senate Republicans charted a course to implement policies that increase economic growth in Iowa. On Monday the Iowa Senate passed workers’ compensation reform. This reform legislation is a vital component to that agenda of promoting job growth in Iowa.

It is so important to job creators that a coalition of 250 businesses came together to promote this legislation which would undo many costly and anti-competitive decisions implemented by bureaucrats and judges. These costly decisions drove up the cost of hiring in this state and made our job creators less competitive. Ten years ago Iowa had the 5th lowest workers’ compensation premiums in the country. Today, Iowa’s rating has fallen to the 24th highest cost for those premiums.

This bill makes a number of common sense changes to the workers’ compensation laws in Iowa. For example, if employees are injured in another state, they are no longer allowed to receive benefits in Iowa. Double dipping is prohibited in different ways, including prohibiting individuals from collecting unemployment benefits while also receiving permanent total disability benefits. It also prohibits individuals from receiving both partial and total workers’ compensation benefits so the total of the benefits exceeds 100 percent.

I was contacted by several job creators in our district that indicated this was a top priority for them. It is well known that getting an injured worker healed, and back to work, is the best outcome for everyone. This is the primary goal of the legislation. Long, drawn out litigation slows everything down. We want to protect benefits for those injured and lower costs. Many hours of work went into this bill both before and during debate in an attempt to create the best policy possible. This legislation is a key component to getting workers healed and back to work, while improving the climate for job creators in this state.

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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