Newsletter March 3, 2017

Newsletter March 3, 2017

Statehouse News

Public hearings scheduled for Monday, March 6.

Des Moines Water Works (HF 316)
10 – 11 AM in Supreme Court Chamber
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Pre-emption & Lower Wages for 65,000 Iowans (HF 295)
5 – 6:30 pm in Supreme Court Chamber
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Voter Suppression & Photo ID (HSB 93)
7-8:30 pm in Supreme Court Chamber
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Lower Wages on the Way for 65,000 Iowans

Lower wages are likely on the way for 65,000 Iowans as Republican leaders in the House are pushing a host of bills that strip local governments in Iowa from making their own decisions.

Already approved by the House Local Government Committee, the most controversial bill would preempt local ordinances on civil rights, wages and products sold.  The bill, House File 295, would lower wages for 65,000 Iowans by taking away the minimum wage increases already approved in some Iowa communities.

Now set at $7.25 per hour, Iowa’s minimum wage was last increased in 2008 and every state surrounding Iowa (except Wisconsin) has increased their minimum wage above $7.25.  To meet basic living expenses, a single person in Iowa resident should make at least $13.16 an hour and that rises to $21.52 an hour for a single parent with one child.

Another part of the bill rolls back local civil rights protections that are different from the state.  Proponents say the bill is necessary because a few cities have now passed an ordinance that bans landlords and property managers from discriminating against Iowans who use low-income assistance housing vouchers.  However, the bill also goes beyond just this case and would roll back other ordinances in communities to prevent discrimination in housing, education, and employment.

A public hearing is scheduled for Monday, March 6th at 5:00 pm at the Statehouse to hear from those concerned about the bill.

Republican Voter Suppression Bill Moves to House Floor

Despite opposition from local election officials and voting rights activists across the state, Republican lawmakers passed legislation late Tuesday that could potentially disenfranchise over 200,000 Iowans. The legislation would implement new regulations and hurdles for Iowa voters who want to participate in our democracy.

The new regulations proposed by Republican lawmakers will make it especially difficult for minority, elderly, students, and Iowans with disabilities to participate and guarantee their voice is heard in electing their officials.  While the House Republican Majority claims this will not have a disproportionate impact on certain voters, they refused to accept a provision that would study the impact of the new regulations on potential disenfranchised voters.

Before the bill will be debated on the House floor, there will be a public hearing on Monday, March 6th at 7:00pm at the Statehouse where Iowans can voice their concerns over the new hurdles voters will face. Iowa has a long history of being a voter-friendly state and the system currently in place is a model for the country.

According to the independent Election Integrity Project, Iowa has the second highest score in the country for election integrity.

The Week in Photos

We began the 8th week of the legislative session with a visit from two very important youth organizations. The Iowa Youth Council (IYC) and the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council (SIYAC) were both present in the Rotunda and the House Chamber today.

The IYC strives to be a force in ending bias by providing Iowa high school students from diverse backgrounds opportunities to develop leadership skills and practice civic engagement.

SIYAC is a non-partisan policy advising organization comprised of young people between the ages of 14 and 20 from across Iowa. The council’s youth demonstrate leadership qualities and follow legislation that could impact Iowa’s youth. The youth also meet with policymakers to discuss relevant bills.

IYC and SIYAC were here to present their positions on a wide variety of issues ranging from school funding and mental health, to synthetic drug legislation and gender identity inclusion in the Iowa hate crimes law.
I want to thank these very eloquent and articulate young adults for presenting their positions in such an informed, persuasive and polite way. If the future of Iowa is in the hands of young people like these then our best days are still ahead of us.

Image 1: Teagan Roeder, Amulya Pilluta, and Abby Melbourne
Image 2: Sibani Ram and Lexi Konig
Image 3: Andrew Dunn, SIYAC Exec. Dir; TJ Foley, SIYAC Chair Emeritus; and Ethan Lowder, SIYAC Vice

For more information visit:


Monday morning I sat in on the heartbreaking testimony of Malayia Knapp. Malayia told her story about being starved, beaten, and imprisoned by her adoptive parents in Urbandale. For reasons unknown to me, Republicans did not want to move forward with her testimony in a bipartisan hearing requested by Senator McCoy. Malayia, therefore, presented her story to a Government Oversight Committee consisting of only Democrats from the Iowa House and Senate.

This story is, unfortunately, not unique. Just last year the story of Natalie Finn broke. Natalie was a 16-year old Des Moines resident who starved to death after being tortured by her adoptive parents. In Natalie’s case, warning signs were missed and reports from the Principal and School Nurse from the alternative school she attended were not taken seriously enough.

As Malayia and her biological grandmother presented their story this morning the room sat in shocked silence with choked back tears as the story unfolded. It is hard to comprehend how abuse of children could happen – and within a few miles of the Iowa Capitol. The nature of the abuses Malayia lived through and the fact that her siblings remain in the custody of the Knapp family require additional actions. That Republican legislators would choose not to listen to her testimony defies logic.


Meeting Tuesday morning with Mark Rasmussen, a Director at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture was created to identify and develop new ways to farm profitably while conserving natural resources and reducing negative environmental and social impacts. (Big important mission!)

Mark and I discussed a variety of topics, including the costs and benefits of various plants as cover crops, the profitability of this type conservation farming, and the long term benefit to Iowa soils of various sustainable farming initiatives.

I greatly appreciate the work that they are doing at the Leopold Center. Finding and implementing profitable and sustainable agriculture, which improves the soil and protects our water, is key to Iowa maintaining its role as a leader in agricultural production and innovation.


Tuesday was Early Childhood Day at the Capitol, which gave me the opportunity to speak with Cathy Meyer, of the Save the Children Activation Network (SCAN), and Dr. Amy Shriver Co-Medical Director of Reach Out and Read Iowa.

SCAN is an advocacy organization that seeks to be the political voice for young children in Iowa and other states. Iowans overwhelmingly support investing in our kids, and especially early education. This is key because research shows the first five years of children’s lives are critically important for their development. In Iowa, on average, single parents pay 41% of of their income for infant center care, and that number rises to 76% for a single parent with two children. This contributes to a distressing financial cycle, as parents must often choose between taking time off from work to cut down on the cost of care while sacrificing wages, or working more to cover costs and thus being a less present part of their young child’s life. The cost of center-based care for 2 children is more than 2 times the annual cost of college tuition at a four year college. SCAN and the Iowa State Child Care Advisory Committee (SCCAC) are seeking to increase Child Care Assistance to current market rates in order to remedy this situation. This, I strongly support!

Dr. Shriver filled me in about Reach Out and Read Iowa. This initiative is part of a nationwide program that prepares America’s youngest children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together. Doctors, nurse practitioners, and other medical professionals incorporate Reach Out and Read’s evidence-based model into regular pediatric checkups, by advising parents about the importance of reading aloud and giving developmentally-appropriate books to children. Kudos to Dr. Shriver!

It was certainly my pleasure to speak with both Cathy and Dr. Shriver. As a state, we have prided ourselves on our education system. Recent years have seen a backwards slide in the reputation of Iowa public schools, with legislation passed this year almost certainly contributing to a further erosion of quality. Now, more than ever, it is important that we invest in Iowa’s children. One of the most cited factors in young families choosing to move to Iowa, over the years, has been our great educational system and the future opportunities this provides. I’m dedicated to making sure we maintain our stature as a leader in early childhood education.

Pictured: Dr. Amy Shriver, M.D.; and Cathy Meyer of SCAN

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The Iowa Association of Community College Trustees visited this week, along with students and faculty from many of Iowa’s outstanding community colleges, including Kirkwood.

Iowa’s community college network collectively represents the largest postsecondary education system in the state, with more than 135,000 credit students and 240,000+ non-credit students. 81% of these students will remain in Iowa and contribute positively to our economy. The median entry level salary for an employee with an Associate’s Degree in Iowa is 30.7% higher than national entry level wages.
Needless to say, Iowa’s community college system plays a critical role in both our current and future economic prospects as a state.

Tuesday’s conversations with IACCT included workforce development and adult education. Iowa is approaching a period of economic change as we transition many non-agricultural jobs to middle and high skill positions. Iowa’s community colleges are uniquely positioned to address the skills gap for Iowa businesses and provide students a pathway to meaningful, gainful careers. Our community colleges offer a wide variety of short- and long-term credit and open-ended programs/courses designed to meet the education and business needs of Iowa’s communities.

Pictured image 1: Bobby Wade, Instructor Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics Technology at Kirkwood Community College; Doug Vranek, Sales and Project Manager NIS Inc. Kirkwood Community College; Austin Chapman Instructor, Advanced Manufacturing & Robotic Technologies at Kirkwood Community College; and Stephanie Bredman, New Jobs Training Program Manager Kirkwood Community College.
Pictured image 2: Mick Starcevich, President Kirkwood; and Lorraine Williams, John Swanson, and Alan Jensen who are all Board Members at Kirkwood

For more information about Iowa’s Community Colleges visit:


The theme Tuesday at the Iowa Capitol included early childhood and education advocacy – shared by the groups who visited the Rotunda this morning. In keeping with this theme, the School Nutrition Association of Iowa was here reminding us about the crucial role of nutrition on children’s health and well-being and that Child Nutrition Programs have an integral role in the educational day of Iowa’s children.

SNAI has 941 members, 591 of whom are certified members and have had additional training in safety/sanitation and nutrition. In addition, 19 members are School Nutrition Specialists credentialed through the School Nutrition Association.

During the 2015-16 school year, Iowa schools and Residential Child Care Institutions served:
• 309,730 breakfasts
• 62,894,427 lunches
• 17,185 suppers
• 39,494 snacks

For students living in poverty in Iowa, school meals represent their most reliable source of food – every week day. Because of this it is our responsibility to guarantee that the meals they are receiving are of nutritional value.

I want to thank SNAI for being here to explain their role to legislators, and for everything they do to help make sure that Iowa students have their nutritional needs met. Students who have their nutritional needs met are much more successful in school, and have better long-term health benefits throughout their lives.

Pictured with Kelly Lavely, Past President of the School Nutrition Association of Iowa and Sandy Moore, Executive Board member of the School Nutrition Association of Iowa

For more information visit:


My final stop Tuesday, during a busy morning, was a reception with the Iowa Off Highway Vehicle Association. The IOHVA is the recognized state association for advocating off-highway vehicle recreation and opportunities. The IOHVA works closely with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the clubs that manage the riding areas in the state.

Linn County has 2,387 registered off-highway vehicles, second only to Polk County for total number in the state of Iowa, and with a designated OHV park just south in Johnson County (Lakeview OHV Park). The opportunity to speak with members of the IOHVA was very much appreciated.

By partnering with local clubs and the DNR, Iowa is able to provide exceptional rider-focused recreation at designated sites and still protect our state’s natural environment. Several of Iowa’s riding parks have been recognized nationally for design, innovation, and location.

Pictured: Rep. Kevin Koester, Alan Rodenburn, Mark Maxwell, and Donnie Clark

For more information visit:


The Education Initiatives team from United Way of East Central Iowa visited Tuesday to speak about how to close the achievement gap, and how to fight summer learning loss among Iowa’s youth. I was truly struck by the contrast with yesterday. Little more than 24 hours earlier I sat in the exact same room and listened to Malayia Knapp pour out her heart about the years of abuse she had endured at the hands of her adoptive parents. And now, here, I was conversing with a group of professionals passionate about helping Iowa’s youth in every way they can. This job has its good days and bad days but I will never lose the sense of happiness that comes from realizing that really good and compassionate people are working to make our lives better – and knowing that our government can help citizens – when it is functioning well on their behalf.
Summer Learning loss accounts for 2/3 of the achievement gap in the U.S. between low-income students and their counterparts who do NOT qualify for subsidized lunches. Research shows that children from economically disadvantaged families can be up to two years behind in language development before they enter school when compared to their higher-income peers. That equates to a 30-million word gap by the time the two groups of children are just four years old. In 2009, a Department of Education study showed that half of Linn County’s low-income five-year-olds were not ready for kindergarten.

In response, United Way of East Central Iowa organized a group of local early childhood professionals to determine what gaps existed in the community that, if filled, could get children back on track. Together, they created the Campaign for Grade Level Reading and the Read Every Day (RED) Ahead program.

RED Ahead provides, to parents, information and activities to help their young children develop the language skills they need to be ready for kindergarten. As a result of this program, in 2015, 76% of students improved reading outcomes, and in 2016, 87% of students improved reading outcomes.

Pictured: Laura Columbus, Coordinator of Education Initiatives UWECI; Debbie Ackerman, Program Manager for RED Ahead initiative UWECI; Karla Twedt-Ball, Senior VP Programs and Community Investment for Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation; and Karen Lewis, Sr. Manager Community Building UWECI
For more information visit:


I had a surprise visit Tuesday from volunteers with RefugeeRISE, an AmeriCorps program. These young people, working in the Cedar Rapids area, serve on teams combining refugee community members and native English speakers in order to address barriers faced by refugees.

Cedar Rapids has 2 sites with a total of 4 RefugeeRISE members. State wide there are 38 members, serving in 7 cities and 10 locations. The teams work to educate and train refugees in work readiness, English, life skills, and more. They do this by providing direct services in native language, and working with refugees to comfortably integrate them into their local community. The result of their effort has been a measurable increase in social and economic opportunity, increased self-sufficiency, an increase in cultural understanding in affected Iowa communities, and increased integration and service opportunities for refugees.

These young adults were here to advocate for the program so that the Iowa Legislature will maintain funding (which receives a 2:1 federal match) at $300,000, and to ask for support of the Iowa Reading Corps.

Pictured (Left to right): Stephanie Domingo, Clark Cunningham, Leya Neema, Meghan Smith, Program Coordinator Shana Kargbo, and Sara Gustason with Volunteer Iowa

For more information visit:


Members of an organization with a special place in my heart visited the Capitol Wednesday. Tanager Place opened their doors in 1879 as Iowa’s first children’s human services agency. Since then, Tanager has evolved into a leading child-centered comprehensive behavioral health organization.

Children from birth to age 18 benefit from the variety of critical programs offered at Tanager Place, including:
• Outpatient Clinic
• Community-Based Services
• Camp Tanager
• Expressive Music and Arts Therapy
• School Based Therapy
• Psychiatric Inpatient Programs

1 in 5 children have a diagnosable mental illness, and 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14. Tanager Place’s treatment options cultivate empowerment and encourage healing for children and adolescents struggling with mental and behavioral issues.

Wednesday, Tanager was at the Capitol to advocate support of Psychiatric Practitioner Loan Repayment Bill (HSB 122 & SF 285), Autism Insurance Coverage (HF 215 & SSB 1043), and Art Therapy Licensing (SF 85) and Music Therapy Licensing. This last issue was particularly apt Wednesday, as we are in the middle of Music Therapy Awareness Week. Music Therapy benefits children in a variety of treatments and is also used to enhance motor skill and language development.

Tanager is on the cutting edge of using and researching treatments like art and music therapy, and is an invaluable resource for improving the health and well-being of youth in the Cedar Rapids Community.
Pictured image 1: Carly Ramthun, Music Therapist; Joan Hackbarth, Community relations; and Teresa Kurtz, Director of Community Outreach & Research

In the additional image: playing a Hapi Drum, one of the many instruments used at Tanager for Music Therapy, as Rep. Mary Gaskill listens.


I was very pleased Wednesday morning to have the chance to visit with Emily Blomme, of Foundation 2, and Anne Gruenewold, of Four Oaks. Emily and Anne were here with the Coalition for Family & Children’s Services in Iowa. This coalition is a statewide alliance of agencies dedicated to providing a safety net to children and youth who have been abused/neglected and/or are in danger of abuse.

In 2014, the Department of Human Services instituted a policy called Differential Response. In short, what this did was create two distinct pathways for handling reports alleging neglect. Reports which are initially viewed as low risk are assigned to the Family Assessments pathway, which does NOT lead to a determination about whether or not abuse has occurred. Reports with a higher risk to children are assigned to the traditional Child Abuse Assessment pathway, where DHS staffers DO determine whether abuse has occurred. In 2015, out of a total of 24,298 total accepted reports, 7,469 were assigned to the Family Assessment pathway (non-determination), 16,829 were assigned to Child Abuse Assessment, and 6,042 cases were confirmed by DHS to be cases of abuse. This represents 35.9% of all accepted reports.

The Coalition would like Legislators to support HF 276 and SF 242. These bills would expand the definition of child abuse in Iowa code to include unlawful using, possessing, manufacturing, cultivating, or distributing a dangerous substance with a minor dependent present. They also expand the definition of “dangerous substance” to include many of the recreational derivatives of more common drugs like cocaine & heroin which are not currently included in the code. Finally, these bills expand the mandatory reporter code to require health care workers who are involved in the delivery of an infant affected by substance abuse, withdrawal symptoms, or fetal alcohol syndrome to notify the department of the infant’s condition.

I will look closely at this legislation, and I look forward to working with the Coalition for Family and Children’s Services in Iowa in the future.

Image 1: Emily Blomme, Executive Director of Foundation 2
Image 2. Anne Gruenewald, President and CEO of Four Oaks


Met Wednesday afternoon with a talented and dedicated group of Board Certified Music Therapists from here in Iowa.

Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

The qualifications to be a Music Therapist include:
• Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy from a four-year degree program
• Medical courses in psychology, disabling conditions, biology, and social and behavioral conditions
• Music therapy courses in music and research, practicums, music therapy approaches, and psychology of music
• Supervised and approved six-month music therapy full-time internship
• General music courses such as music theory, music history, conducting, and ensemble arrangement
• And, astonishingly, proficiency in piano, voice, guitar, percussion, improvisational techniques, and movement skills

Additionally, for National Board Certification, music therapists must complete 1,200 hours of clinical practice, a comprehensive board examination, and 100 recertification credits every five years.
The list of conditions that Music Therapy has been proven to alleviate is extensive and includes Alzheimer’s, Autism Spectrum, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Neonatal Intensive Care, Substance Abuse/Addiction, and Traumatic Brain injuries among others. Because Iowa does not certify/license MT-CBs, patients and therapists receiving/administering this therapy do not qualify for Medicaid assistance or reimbursement. It is time to change that.

Currently Iowa does not license Music Therapists, and I have fighting for passage of licensure legislation on these professionals behalf, for several years, in the Iowa House.

Pictured: Stephanie Johnson MT-CB, Rachel Belen MT-CB, Rachel Abbe MT-CB, Erica Rath MT-CB, Kristin Conrad MT-CB, Alisha Luymes MT-CB, Kristin Stuck MT-CB, Laura Ketchum MT-CB, Madi Pote MT-CB, Kelly Carlson MT-CB, Megan Steepleton MT-CB, and Maggie Scheppmann MT-CB


In the back of the House this week speaking with Jack Vanderflught, the Advocacy Director/Government Liaison for the Iowa Council for the Social Studies (ICS).

The ICS promotes, supports and provides leadership to improve Social Studies education. Their mission is to be the premier organization of Iowa Social Studies professionals, ensuring that all students have a high quality Social Studies education.

ICS proposes additional support for teaching social studies courses at all grade levels, creation of a social studies consultant in each Iowa Area Education Agency, additional professional development for social studies teachers, and an annual reporting requirement – to ensure accountability for teachers and students.
As a teacher myself, I know how busy school days/years are already. But, an Iowa Dept. of Education study found that Iowa elementary teachers are only spending 100 minutes per week on social studies (about 5% of the instructional week). Social studies is an important subject that helps prepare students to understand the role of government, the tools of Democracy and be informed citizens.


Employees of Blank Children’s Hospital, an institution that is a point of pride for the state, visited the Rotunda Thursday morning.

Blank Children’s is completely dedicated to meeting the unique health care needs of children. Blank Children’s is a 96-bed facility that embraces and encourages families to be a part of their child’s healing and recovery. Everything from equipment to decor is designed specifically for children.

I discussed several issues with Blank employees, including the difficult environment for funding this session. They were here to advocate expanded funding for programs which support prevention and early intervention for children’s mental health issues, maintaining the current funding for the Iowa Poison Control Center, and an increase in funding for Child Protection Centers in Iowa. Iowa saw an 11% increase in confirmed cases of child abuse by a parent or caregiver in 2015, and Blank Children’s would like to see an increase in funding for prevention and treatment of these cases to reflect this.

Image 1: Janna Day, Project Coordinator BCH; Deb Willcockson, Department Secretary for Advocacy Outreach BCH; and Chaney Yeast, Director of Government Relations BCH


Representatives of United Way were on the Hill again Thursday. There is hardly a day that passes that representatives of this indispensable organization are not here supporting an important community initiative/cause.

This week they were here highlighting the central Iowa Community OpportUNITY plan. This plan aims to address the concern that 35% of Central Iowans live in poverty.

In June 2014, more than 100 community members came together to learn about both the attributes and the challenges in our communities, and the concerns that people have about poverty. The group represented four sectors: business leaders and philanthropists, government and school leaders, non-profit and faith leaders, and community members who have lived with the stresses of poverty, personally.

Since the initial work in 2014, four priority areas have emerged as focal points for the OpportUNITY program:
1. Education: k-12 investments and adult education /employment readiness programs
2. Transportation: providing easy access to low-cost transportation so central Iowans can afford to get to work/school
3. Change: individual, place-based and systems changes. This aims to promote community, and develop an equitable approach to address poverty based upon need as determined by ZIP code.
4. Food insecurity: food-insecure households, access to food limited by a lack of money and other resources. For families to thrive, healthy and nutritious food needs to be accessible and affordable.

The work of the United Way across the state of Iowa is invaluable. I want to thank each of the United Way employees, and the organizations that support them, for their presence here at the Capitol – standing up for the needs of vulnerable Iowans throughout all of our Iowa communities.

Pictured: Dave Stone, Advocacy Officer United Way of Central Iowa; and Barb Bremner, Polk County Early Childhood Iowa

For more information:


Thursday was Direct Care Givers day at the Capitol and care givers from all over the state made their way to the Rotunda to talk with Legislators.

Between April and May of last year, Iowa CareGivers and Iowa Workforce Development teamed up to learn more about the workforce in Iowa that provides direct care, support and services.

The partnership was designed to identify the following:
1) Number of individuals working in direct care
2) Current vacancies and job openings in the fields
3) Employer obstacles to retention
4) Future demand for the direct care field

The survey found that there were 11,100 total Iowans reported to be employed in this field and 1,826 reported vacancies. Simply put, we do not have enough direct care workers in Iowa to meet the current needs and, with an aging population, the needs are continuing to grow.

The Iowa Caregivers are recommending funding for the Iowa Department of Public Health to serve as the “backbone” for addressing recruitment and retention of the direct care workforce. Additionally, they are advocating forgivable loans, an increase in the minimum wage, and a multi-stakeholder interagency initiative within the IDPH to identify and implement strategies to increase wages and compensation for direct care workers. This is all part of a multi-pronged approach to increase the compensation and staffing level of this critical sector of Iowa’s workforce.

Pictured are Iowa Direct Care givers Laura Schroeder, Jeff Weinstock, Cindy Ramer, Tracy Hoveland, Donna Cheers, Vicky Garske, Laura Stein, Sally Chapman


Every year I look forward to the Iowa Firefighter’s Association visit to the Capitol. Not only are these firefighters a critical part of community safety in Iowa, but every year they cook some of the best chili around.

This year they brought along a delicious red chili made with steak and a white chicken chili. I am a self-proclaimed chili aficionado but today I could not decide which was better. No problem – I’ll just have to extend my research further.

Pictured: officers Marv Trimble, Jim Shutts, Wendy Lensing, Nick Riley, and Jason Barrick

Continue Reading the Statehouse News

Great Iowa Treasure Hunt
Bill Targeting Des Moines Waterworks Advances
Small Step for Medical Cannabidiol
Electronic Application for Search Warrants

To read the rest of my Statehouse News go to:

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