The Behn Report

Sen Jerry Behn, (R) Boone

April 14, 2017
There is less than a week left before this legislative session is scheduled to end. The 100th day is April 18 which means that day is the last day legislators (and our clerks) get paid for this session. While we are still working hard to be done by this day, we have much left to do on the budget for the next fiscal year.

In addition to our work on the budget, we have been bouncing bills back and forth between the Senate and the House, and passed a couple more bills through the Senate. This week we debated: 

  • HF 253, which makes several changes to paternity and child support obligations. Currently, the law states only fathers who fail to comply with or violate an order will be held in contempt of court. This is changed to any party. This bill passed the Senate 48-0.
  • HF 263, providing more protections for victims of domestic violence. The bill increases the penalty for domestic violence, and creates a mandatory minimum sentence for some crimes associated with domestic violence. This bill addresses stalking, unauthorized GPS tracking, harassment, and domestic abuse assault. This bill also expanded the definition of stalking, so a person can be convicted of stalking if they purposefully engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, or fear the other person intends to cause bodily injury or death to the person or their immediate family. HF 263 passed the Senate unanimously.
  • HF 134, which prohibits cities from restricting occupancy of residential rental property based on familial or non-familial relationships between the occupants. This bill prevents discrimination of potential renters to a property. This bill passed 43-6.

More flexibility for our schools – This week, the Senate debated House File 564 regarding school funding flexibility. The bill provides new allowable uses for specific funding received by school districts, and requires the state Board of Education to give deference to local school boards when the Board of Education adopts rules.  It lifts restrictions previously put on a series of funds for education, giving more local control to our schools and letting them decide better ways to use their funding.

The bill applies to funding related to professional development, at-risk/dropout prevention, preschool, and student activities. It permits the purchase of textbooks and curriculum materials from the professional development fund, if they include professional development as part of the cost and, allows for preschool funding to be used for age-specific playground equipment and translation services for preschool students.

The Senate also debated House File 565, another bill giving more flexibility to our schools. The bill allows for the creation of a Flexibility Account within the General Fund of each school district to collect unexpended and unobligated funds from a few different sources of categorical funding.

This also allows the district to use those funds for purposes of the original source or other general fund purposes. The account, as a part of the school district’s General Fund, would consist of unused funds from the Home School Assistance Program, preschool funds, and professional development funds. Those funds could then be used for preschool programming, professional development purposes, Home School Assistance Program purposes, at-risk/dropout prevention programming, Talented and Gifted programming, or other general fund purposes.

Both HF 564 and HF 565 passed the Senate unanimously. These bills are a great step forward to give our schools more control over the dollars we send them, and how they are spent in our school districts.

Monitoring devices in certain public places – Recently, we addressed a growing concern for Iowans regarding the protection of privacy in public spaces.  Senate File 499 was introduced as a measure to remove and ban cameras and monitoring devices in certain public spaces where there is a clear expectation of privacy.

The bill, which passed the Iowa Senate 49-0, prohibits the placement of cameras and monitoring devices in bathroom stalls, shower and bath facilities, locker rooms, spaces such as sink or changing table areas, and other public spaces where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.  The bill applies to public hospital settings (except when necessary to protect a patient during treatment), public libraries, and public schools.

Under the bill, cameras and monitoring devices in these spaces must be removed by July 1, 2017.

Protecting Iowa’s patients – This week the Senate addressed ‘fail first’ policies by insurance companies. Step therapy is a cost-saving measure used by insurance companies that requires patients to begin with the lowest-cost drug treatment and, if that fails, “step” to the next-lowest cost treatment until the patient finds a drug therapy regimen that works.

In some situations, step therapy can hurt patients by prolonging their illness until they have access to effective medication.  The bill provides that when a step therapy protocol is in use, the person participating in a health benefit plan or the person’s prescribing health care professional must have access to a clear, readily accessible “step therapy override exception,” which authorizes the expedited coverage of a prescription drug selected by the prescribing health care professional, based on the review of the exception request along with supporting rationale and documentation.

Time-sensitive cases have a special significance when it comes to step therapy override requests. In one case that was heard during the legislative process, a patient with glaucoma lost some of her vision while taking ineffective medication because she had to start over with her drug regimen as part of a step therapy program.

We are addressing this barrier to effective healthcare with House File 233. The bill also requires that patients will have access to the steps they can take to request an override of a step therapy protocol. This bill was a step forward in protecting Iowa’s patients and ensuring they have access to the help they need.

It passed unanimously.

Sanctuary cities – Our nation is a nation of laws. Counties and cities should not get to decide which laws they want to obey and which can be ignored. This week the Senate took up Senate File 481, which directs cities and counties to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests if an undocumented immigrant is being held in a city or county jail on a criminal charge.

I believe local governments in Iowa must comply with all laws, and this includes lawful federal detainer requests. There have been some reports of Iowa communities not honoring detainer requests. Senate File 481 would have a financial impact on cities and counties if they fail to comply with the law. Those state and federal funds that could be impacted include state appropriations, grants, loans, Main Street Iowa tax credits, Historic Preservation tax credits, other economic development grants, property tax backfill, mental health funding and all other funds identified by the Department of Management.

The bill passed the Senate 32-15.  I voted “yes”.

Progress continues on state budget – This week we continued to work with our counterparts in the House and the governor’s office to come to agreement on a budget for the state of approximately $7.245 billion of your hard-earned money. This budget represents a decrease of more than $14 million from the revised spending plan for the current year.

It is rare for a budget to be less than it was the year before. We believe it is possible revenues will continue to lag behind our expectations. The most appropriate budget is one that conservatively and sensibly plans for the future, and takes the steps to prevent any mid-year budget cuts when we come back again next year. The Iowa economy is growing, only at a slower pace, while lower commodity prices have affected the agricultural economy.

The Senate and the House are working together to build a sustainable budget for next year. This process is moving quickly and consensus has been a common theme this week. Competing priorities have been worked through in a timely manner and we expect the legislature to move toward adjournment in the coming days.

The challenging budget environment reinforces the priority we have focused on all session – implementing policies that create an environment that encourages economic growth. Long term, sustainable economic growth encourages job creators to invest in Iowa. It can best be achieved with policies we have pursued, from workers’ compensation reform to eliminating costly regulations on public construction projects and creating consistent economic policies across the state.

Medical marijuana bill introduced in Iowa Senate – This week the Iowa Senate introduced SF 506, named the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act.

The bill received bipartisan support in subcommittee and the Appropriations committee, and it has several important factors.

First, the bill changes cannabis from a schedule I to a schedule II controlled substance. Schedule I drugs currently have no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and includes other drugs such as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. That schedule includes drugs like Vicodin, Methadone, OxyContin, and Ritalin.

Second, the bill establishes a system for a controlled growing operation with up to 12 dispensaries for medical marijuana across the state. If the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs are not effective for an illness or disease, the bill would allow a doctor to certify a series of diseases that might be mitigated with cannabis.

Twenty diseases are listed in the legislation as being potentially helped by medical cannabis, including conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If FDA approved drugs don’t help a patient, with their doctor’s recommendation the patient could then apply to the Iowa Department of Public Health to receive a medical cannabis card. The cannabis would not be allowed for recreational use and would not be allowed to be provided as a smoke-able product.

Iowa would join 28 other states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico that have comprehensive medical cannabis programs.  Midwest states who have similar programs include Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio.

The bill has taken the first steps in the legislative process and still has some work to be done.

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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