In the legislature

Jerry Behn (R), Boone

~by Senator Jerry Behn

April 5, 2019

This was the 12th week of the 2019 legislative session and budget bills have started moving in both chambers. The first budget bill passed off the floor of the Senate this week. Senate Republicans have proposed a budget for the next fiscal year that is sustainable, responsible, and conservative. It is a budget that supports our pro-growth agenda and also funds the priorities of Iowans, such as health care, education, and public safety.

As we get closer to the end of session, we will see more budget bills pass through the chamber as we work on a budget agreement with the House and governor.

This week was the second legislative deadline of the year, refining our focus to the main priorities we want to get done this year. These bills are priorities for the Senate, but also have support in the other chamber.

One of the bills we passed off of the Senate floor was Senate File 597. This bill makes changes to tax policy for blood centers across Iowa and expands the sales tax exemption on these locations for items needed to perform testing on donated blood. It passed 47-0. This bill was necessary because the tax reform package passed last year inadvertently affected blood centers. Thanks to all of you who contacted me about the issue.

Another bill the Senate addressed this week was self-driving cars. Senate File 302 authorizes driverless-capable vehicles to operate on public highways both with and without an actual driver in the vehicle. Vehicles will only be allowed if they meet certain criteria and the bill also requires the owner of the car to submit proof of insurance to the Department of Transportation. This bill is necessary to start setting up the framework for these cars in Iowa as this technology continues to advance and more employers start to experiment with how this could help their industries.

On Wednesday the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, addressed senators from the floor of the Iowa Senate. He spoke eloquently about the strong relationship between the United States, Iowa, and Israel. Ambassador Dermer highlighted the shared mission and values between our two countries of freedom, security, and human rights. He noted it was the first time a sitting Israeli Ambassador has visited Iowa. It was a privilege to hear from a high ranking official from one of America’s closest allies.

Many of you have expressed concerns about the recent decision by Governor Reynolds to end contract negotiations with UnitedHealthcare, one of Iowa’s two Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MCO). I share those concerns, and know many of you are frustrated. Here are some of the performance measures that UnitedHealthcare NO LONGER wanted to be accountable for:
*Timely and accurate claims reprocessing and adjustments
*Compliance with requirements related to members’ services care plan and case notes
*Ensuring members are a part of their service planning
*Increasing the rate of well child visits
*Increasing the rate of follow-up after hospitalization for members with mental illness
*Improving health outcomes
*Reducing the rate of emergency room usage

At the end of the day, Governor Reynolds decided it was not in the best interest of Iowans to move forward with a company that demanded less accountability for how taxpayer dollars are spent. The decision to move to privatized Medicaid several years ago was intended to improve patient outcomes and keep Medicaid available to patients in a sustainable way as costs to the state were growing out of control. Without making steps towards modernization, Iowa would have had to slash benefits to people on the program and to the providers who deliver care.

There is a transition plan over the next several months to ensure Iowans are receiving the care they need. While the exact timeline still needs to be finalized, the patients who have UnitedHealthcare as an MCO will be moved to a new MCO. That could be Amerigroup or Iowa’s new MCO, Iowa Total Care. As the details of this transition continue to be worked out, I encourage you to reach out with any questions or problems you may have.

Welfare reforms continue to pass the Senate – Taxpayers  fund public assistance programs to support those people truly in need. It is important for policy makers to be vigilant in defending public assistance programs against fraud and waste. Iowans work hard, pay taxes, and live frugally. They expect the public safety net they fund is in place for fellow citizens who actually require assistance. No one should tolerate individuals defrauding them, by abusing those programs.

Those principles led the Iowa Senate to pass its fourth major welfare reform policy on Thursday. Senate File 334 requires the Iowa Department of Human Services to implement, or contract with a third party to implement, a real time eligibility verification system for recipients of Medicaid, the Family Investment Program, and food assistance.

The bill requires the monitoring of 11 different eligibility requirements, among those criteria are immigration status, residency status, enrollment in other assistance programs, and death records. Real time verification of eligibility ensures oversight of the public assistance programs and provides accountability of those programs to the people funding the programs, Iowa taxpayers.

Several states have implemented similar programs including Colorado and Washington. This initiative is a common sense solution to ensure Iowa’s public assistance programs exist for US citizens, Iowa residents, and people legitimately in need.

E-Verify legislation – The  Iowa Senate also passed a bill this week to help protect legal workers in Iowa and promote better hiring practices. Senate File 516 would require employers use a web-based system, called E-Verify, to confirm potential employees are eligible to work in the United States. It passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

Under the bill, employers would be required to use the federal E-Verify program to confirm the identity of an employee and imposes penalties for businesses who knowingly hire undocumented workers. Those penalties include temporary to permanent suspension of a business license as well as repayment of economic development money if it is determined an employer hired undocumented employees.

This federal program is available in all 50 states, but is currently voluntary unless the employers hold federal contracts or subcontracts. Then, the businesses with federal contracts are required to utilize the E-Verify system. Under our bill, Iowa Workforce Development is the enforcement agency. The Secretary of State’s office would track Iowa employers and E-Verify registrations through the federal government.

This legislation is responsible and fair. It protects Iowa businesses adhering to the rule of law and prioritizes those who live here legally. It also protects law abiding Iowa workers and employers from being undercut by unscrupulous businesses willing to hire illegal laborers and depress wages.

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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