LINN COUNTY LEGISLATIVE FORUM
Nonpartisan Public Legislative Forum
Linn County League of Women Voters
Saturday, March 18 @ 10:30 am – 11:30 am
Mercy Medical’s Hallagan Center,
701 10th St SE, Cedar Rapids
Entrance on 10th Street
Iowa Economy Needs Help as Budget Goes into the Red
Iowa’s Revenue Estimating Conference, a panel of nonpartisan budget experts, met this week to assess state revenues and expenses. They reported that Iowa has a shortfall of $131 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30; and less growth than expected for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.
Some of the GOP-driven actions that are contributing to the revenue shortfalls:
• A privatized Medicaid managed care system that has not shown savings
• New laws that strip Iowans of workplace rights and protections
• Repeated votes for measures that drive down wages
• Hundreds of millions of dollars in continued tax giveaways
Democrats stand ready to work with legislative Republicans and the Branstad-Reynolds Administration to restore fiscal stability to our state budget by investing in local schools and job-creation initiatives, and by re-examining and reforming out-of-control spending on tax credits. These decisions cannot be ignored and actions must be undertaken to balance the state budget and grow Iowa’s economy.
The non-partisan Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) met on Tuesday and reduced their projected revenue for fiscal year 2017 (FY17), which ends on June 30, 2017, to $7.1 billion. The Governor and Republicans are signaling that they plan on taking the $131 million shortfall from the state’s reserve funds, which are full at $738 million.
The members of the REC noted that the growth in Iowa’s economy is slow, but we still have unprecedentedly low unemployment rates, commodity prices stabilizing, and home sales remaining strong. Two revenue items that didn’t meet their expected levels are sales taxes and income taxes.
Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers had to make an additional $114 million in budget adjustments with cuts to the Judiciary, agencies, services and universities and those have already been signed into law.
For the fiscal year 2018 state budget, which the Legislature must approve before adjourning this year, budget experts told lawmakers there will be $192 million less in revenue than previously predicted with revenues totaling $7.36 billion.
Lower Wages for 65,000 Iowans Passes House
Instead of increasing the minimum wage, Republican lawmakers approved a bill last week that lowers wages for 65,000 Iowans.
Passed on a party line vote, the bill would preempt local ordinances on wages and products sold. After waiting for Iowa lawmakers to act for nearly a decade, four counties have recently increased the minimum wage in their own community to finally give a boost to the lowest wage earners. The bill, House File 295, takes away the minimum wage increases already approved in some Iowa communities, including Linn County.
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.
This session has been tough on working Iowa families and local communities. Many Republican-initiated bills will drive down wages, cut health care and workplace protections, and could damage our quality of life.
Iowa’s collective bargaining bill HF291, signed into law on Feb. 17, will silence voices in the workplace. Limiting the ability to negotiate salary, benefits, work hours and safety will make it harder to get the top-notch nurses, teachers, and public workers that Iowa communities need.
Here are three additional issues that would harm Iowa workers:
1. Driving down wages and quality work on local projects – HF 203 passed the Legislature and awaits the Governor’s signature. Contact the Governor and the Lt. Governor at 515-281-5211 and ask for a veto of this bill. It circumvents wage and Buy American requirements for construction projects that use federal dollars. These changes could drive down construction wages in rural areas, and result in out-of-state contractors with an out-of-state workforce coming in to do Iowa jobs with materials imported from China and other countries.
2. Taking away local control on construction projects – SF 438 passed the Senate and is now under consideration in the House. This bill bans all government entities from using project labor agreements in publicly funded projects. These agreements are important tools to manage complex and time-sensitive jobs. In addition, government entities could no longer ask for a bidder’s safety record, tax compliance, bidding history or pending litigation. Call your Representatives at 515-281-3221.
3. Cutting protections for Iowa workers injured on the job – HF 518 and SF 435 change Iowa’s workers’ compensation system, which is the only recourse for Iowans injured on the job. It’s one of the best in the country, but this legislation would gut worker protections and encourage employers and insurance companies to avoid paying claims.
Please speak up and tell your elected officials you don’t agree with these changes. After finding your state legislators at www.legis.iowa.gov/
New Barriers to Voting Passes House
Iowa doesn’t have a problem with voter fraud or election integrity.
In October, as a reaction to Donald Trump’s statements on rigged elections, Secretary of State Paul Pate said: “I take the integrity of our elections very seriously. It is my number one priority. As the state’s Commissioner of Elections, I can assure you Iowa’s elections are not rigged. My pledge to every Iowan is that you will be able to cast your vote and your vote will count. Iowa is one of the best states in the nation for both voter participation and voter integrity. Participation and integrity are not mutually exclusive. We work on a bipartisan basis every day with Republicans and Democrats, and all 99 county auditors, to maintain the integrity of the vote. I will do everything in my power to ensure Iowa’s elections remain clean and fair.”
The Election Integrity Project gives Iowa the second highest score nationally. In November’s General Election 1.6 million Iowans cast their vote. Of those, only 10 ballots were deemed “irregular.” And most of these were human error—not voter fraud. There was one case of deliberately attempting to vote twice (a Donald Trump supporter), but the safeguards in our current system alerted election officials and the situation was rectified.
That’s why many believe a bill that recently passed the Iowa House would make unnecessary and harmful changes to Iowa’s election system. HF 516 would eliminate straight-party voting, allow polling staff to use a voter’s signature to determine if they are really the person depicted on their ID card, and require voters to present specific photo ID at the polls. Only 16 states have this type of strict voter ID requirement. That’s because it is costly, deprives many citizens of their right to vote and has reduced participation in the democratic process.
The League of Women Voters of Iowa, Iowa State Association of County Auditors and other advocates for citizen participation oppose the bill. Linn County Auditor, Joel Miller, told legislators that we don’t need a voter ID bill. He believes, along with many County Auditors, that some parts of this bill, including the photo ID, will create more problems, confuse voters at the polls, and add costs to the county election budgets.
According to a 2014 U.S. Government Accountability Office study, fewer citizens vote in states with strict identification laws – laws typically requiring voters to produce a driver’s license, passport or military ID to register to vote, to cast a ballot or to get a special voter registration card. That’s a real problem when you consider that 11 percent of Iowa adults—more than 260,000 people—don’t have a driver’s license.
The Legislature should be working on ways to increase voter turnout, not creating new government barriers to voting.
The Week in Photos
One of my favorite things to do, when I am not teaching or working in the legislature, is to spend time outdoors exploring and enjoying Iowa’s beautiful natural landscape. For this reason alone, it was a pleasure to spend some time this week with Andrea Boulton and Joe Jayjack of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) is a statewide nonprofit conservation organization that works with private landowners and public agencies to protect and restore Iowa’s land, water and wildlife. Since their founding in 1979, members and staff have protected more than 150,000 acres of Iowa’s natural resources.
The INHF members were here today to advocate for support of the Natural Resources & Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. In 2010, 63% of Iowans voted for a constitutional amendment to create this fund, which was designed to be a permanent and protected funding source dedicated to clean water, productive agricultural soils and thriving wildlife habitats. Now, seven years later, the Trust Fund remains empty because it requires that the legislature pass a sales tax increase of 3/8 of a cent for funding.
The INHF supports the 3/8 of a cent sales tax increase that would fund the Trust and go a long way towards addressing Iowa’s water quality crisis.
I want to thank Andrea and Joe for talking with me this week. As a heavily agrarian state, Iowa’s natural resources play a vital role in our economy, our health, and our way of life. It is our duty, in the Legislature, to make sure that we responsibly manage our state’s resources so that they may be enjoyed both now, and for generations to come.
For more information: http://www.inhf.org/about-us/
Iowa’s Small Business Development Center visited Tuesday morning and I had the opportunity to speak with District Director, Jayne Armstrong about capital and various aspects of the export market that are not fully utilized by Iowa businesses. Jayne has a lot of information to share and is available to speak with business groups who are interested.
Established in 1981, America’s SBDC Iowa (SBDC) is a public-private partnership that provides no cost, confidential, customized, professional business advice in all 99 Iowa counties to entrepreneurs and existing businesses. They also present affordable workshops that teach practical skills and techniques, conduct research, provide comprehensive information services, and offer access to subject matter experts in a variety of fields.
In the last 5 years, SBDC has assisted in the creation of 6,603 Iowa jobs, 1,148 business openings, helped access an additional $254,729,783 in capital, while helping 13,781 clients increase their sales by $221,530,119. That’s jobs and economic development.
This week SBDC was here to honor several award winners including Alisa Roth. Alisa opened a floral shop in downtown Council Bluffs in 2004 with the assistance of SBDC. Her business grew so quickly that she moved to larger locations twice in her first five years and she is now considered to be a top influencer in the Midwest floral industry.
Pictured: Senator Rita Hart, SBDC Director Jayne Armstrong, and Senator Tod Bowman
For more information: http://www.iowasbdc.org/
After several years in the legislature, there are still days that truly surprise me. Tuesday was one of those days. I had the privilege of visiting with a group of deaf Iowans and American Sign Language Interpreters. What I learned left me stunned.
In Iowa, the best available information tells me that there are approximately 27,000 Iowans who identify themselves as Deaf, and an additional 200,000 (approximately) Iowans who are Hard of Hearing. This 227,000 represents nearly 8% of the entire population of Iowa. The 27,000 Iowans who are completely deaf require interpreters in order to pursue their education, work, or even to do many day to day activities, like renew a driver’s license or conduct business at the bank.
With 27,000 Deaf Iowans, Iowa has only 270 certified American Sign Language Interpreters. This means we have one interpreter for every 100 deaf citizens. This is truly unfortunate. The richness of sign language affords them the possibility of deeper personal communication, including insight, invention and more. The relationship with a sign language interpreter is a strong one and consists of much more than simple gestures or casual connection. Sign language is an indispensable and empowering tool that is extremely valuable to those who are deaf. Not having enough well-trained and qualified interpreters creates a truly unfortunate and unfair situation in the state.
I heard that a set of circumstances has led to the current situation. At one time, Iowa had four community college programs geared towards training students to be certified Interpreters. DMACC, Kirkwood, Iowa Western, and Scott Community College all had these programs. Now, however, only Scott has a program. In order to be certified nationally, as an ASL interpreter, you must take and pass a certification test. To become eligible to take that test you must have a Bachelor’s degree in the field of sign language interpretation. This requirement puts the 2 year program at Scott Community college, the only program left in the state, at risk. I was informed that Iowa does not offer the 4 year degree at any of its colleges.
Additionally, small businesses with fewer than 15 employees (a relatively large number of businesses in Iowa) are not required to fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act which would require/provide accommodations for these citizens in the workplace. Employment becomes another issue.
In order to address this problem Iowa has allowed for Temporary Licensure. I heard today that this path does not have a strong enough fluency requirement and permits the temporary licensure of many individuals who are underqualified, unfamiliar with deaf culture and who have little experience with the Interpreter’s Code of Conduct, requiring neutrality of content during interpretation. This can lead to serious interpretation problems that create miscommunications between the deaf citizen and the person/people with whom they are trying to communicate – a violation of the “do no harm” principle of interpretation. The qualification of the interpreters is an essential element in every aspect of sign language and interpretation.
I will be drafting/sponsoring legislation aimed at addressing the core/roots of this problem in Iowa, including educating/producing enough Iowans in the field of sign language interpretation. Currently, we may be driving away students who would like to pursue interpretation as a career – simply because we do not offer the courses and the opportunities here in the state. Students must leave the state for their education and then return (which many of them do not), or pursue a degree in state for several years then leave to finish coursework in another state – in order to acquire full national certification. The other choice is to strive only for a 4-year Temporary Licensure and face drastically decreased earning potential as well as limited success as an interpreter.
Pictured left to right: Peggy Choicine, owner of Life Interpretation; Dirk Hillard, Iowa Commision on Deaf Services; Michael Ballard, Iowa State Lecturer on American Sign Language along with his daughter; Amber Tucker, Sign Language Program Instructor for Scott Community College; and Holly Shannon, President of Iowa State Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (ISRID)
Visiting Wednesday morning with representatives of the Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS). The IVRS provides expert, individualized services to Iowans with disabilities – services which help them achieve their independence through successful employment and employment support. Partially, as a result of IVRS, Iowa ranks 6th in the nation for the percentage of its citizens with disabilities who are employed, at 46.3% (2015). In 2016 more than 2,225 Iowans working with IVRS obtained employment.
Despite the very positive report, there is still work to do. The overall rate of employment for Iowans with disabilities is still 36.1% lower than Iowans as a whole. IVRS was here to encourage the Legislature to continue funding this very successful program – in order to continue closing the employment gap.
Pictured: David Mitchell, IRVS Des Moines; Holly Mateer, IVRS Cedar Rapids; and Lee Ann Russo IVRS Resource Manager.
For more information: http://www.ivrs.iowa.gov/
Employees from several statewide programs fighting to reduce homelessness were in the Rotunda Wednesday, including the Abbe Center and Waypoint Services of Cedar Rapids. The presence of these and other organizations serving the homeless is especially timely with our recent return to normal winter temperatures in Iowa.
In 2016, the number of Iowans served with emergency shelter services topped 12,800. 80% of those entering shelters were homeless for the first time, 10% were US Military veterans, 51% were families, and 24% were children. Thanks to the work of many organizations, 35% of transition clients exited to permanent destinations and 86% of those served in 2014 were in stable housing after 2 years.
Linn, Polk, and Pottawattamie counties have the largest number of homeless citizens of any county in the state. While this is to be expected, given the population of these three counties, it also means that organizations serving the homeless in these areas need additional support from the state and the community.
Pictured left to right: Carrie Slagle, Waypoint Managing Director of Critical Services; Chris Poole, Abbe Center’s PATH homeless outreach; and J’nae Peterman, Director of Homeless & Housing Services Waypoint
To learn more about Waypoint’s housing assistance services in Cedar Rapids:
Abbe Community Center information can be found here:
United Way was back on the Hill Wednesday morning and I am impressed by both the number of times the organization has been here to advocate for Iowa’s community services, and the large number of Cedar Rapidians who have given of their time to be here with legislators and share their concerns and thank yous – and making requests for assistance and support.
This week, United Way was here to advocate the Skills2Compete initiative, designed to make High School Equivalency Degrees (HSED) more accessible to Iowans.
Currently, the only way to achieve a HSED in Iowa is through the HiSET Assessment. Many other states offer multiple alternative pathways, in addition to the exam. Some of Iowa’s community colleges offer Adult Diploma Programs that offer the ability to bundle prior high school course work with secondary or post-secondary education courses.
The problem in Iowa is large, with 200,000 Iowans over the age of 18 without a high school diploma or its equivalent. 145,991 of these are between the working ages of 18-64. 40% of Iowans who have dropped out of high school were less than one course away from attaining their high school diploma. An option like the Adult Diploma program could help many Iowans in obtaining their HS degree.
The scope of this problem comes sharply into focus when you consider that by 2025, 68% of all jobs in Iowa will require some postsecondary training or education. Additionally, adults without a high school diploma are two times more likely to require public assistance—creating an economic strain on both the individual and the State.
Pictured left to right
Image 1: President of South Central Iowa AFL-CIO, Mark Cooper; and Angie Arthur, Central Iowa Workforce Investment Board. Both Mark and Angie are members of the Income Cabinet with United Way of East Central Iowa Legislature
Image2. Ashley Zitzner, Community Building Manager at United Way of East Central Iowa; and Kay Fisk, Director of Transportation Resources/Legislative Liaison Neighborhood Transportation Service
For more information about this initiative visit: http://www.unitedwaydm.org/
Wednesday morning I had the honor of reading-in House Resolution 10, along with Representatives Abdul-Samad, Hinson, Baxter, Anderson, Nunn, and Gustafson. It is Canada Day at the Capitol today, in recognition/celebration of Canada’s 150th Anniversary as an independent state. HR10, sponsored by Representative Baxter, honors the strong bonds of history, culture, friendship and economics that tie Iowa and Canada.
After the resolution we had the privilege of hearing from Canada’s Consul General to Minneapolis, Khawar Nasim; Saskatchewan Premier, Brad Wall; and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Andrew Leslie. All three discussed the history of economic interaction between the United States and Canada, and especially Iowa and Canada, in addition to comments about the shared values that make the relationship between Canada and the United States one of the strongest between any two countries in the world.
To Read HR10: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/
Pictured left to right: Rep. Gustafson, myself, Canada’s Consul General to Minneapolis, Khawar Nasim; Saskatchewan Premier, Brad Wall; Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Andrew Leslie.
Tuesday was Marshalltown Day at the Capitol and we had Maid-Rite sandwiches to celebrate! I ate mine the correct way, with mustard and a layer of pickle slices.
But the real highlight was having a chance to visit with my good friend Bob Untiedt. Bob used to live in Cedar Rapids and was the Executive Director at the Linn County Nonprofit Resource Center. Today, he is the Director of the Orpheum Theater Center in Marshalltown, Iowa. Check out the website, linked below, for a schedule of the Black Box Events.
If you are looking for some great music this summer, the Orpheum is hosting/sponsoring a free concert series every Friday night in Marshalltown – starting on June 23 and running through August 25.
For information about the concert series and theatre visit: https://mcc.iavalley.edu/
The privatization of Iowa’s Medicaid program, now run by 3 Managed Care Organizations, has remained one of the much talked about topics among many legislators here at the Capitol. A host of issues seem to defy resolution at the MCO level and make their way from constituents and providers to their legislators. These issues include delayed payments, low reimbursements, service denials, coverage disputes and caseworker changes.
Since the level of services by the Managed Care Organizations continue to be a concern for lawmakers, a group of House Democrats met at noon Tuesday to air their concerns with; Mikki Stier, Iowa Medicaid Director; Jean Slaybaugh, Chief Financial Officer at the Iowa Department of Human Services; and Merea Bentrott, DHS Liaison. Hopefully we see positive results from the meeting in the weeks to follow.
I also had the opportunity to visit briefly with Rhonda Shouse, founder of the MCO Watchdog website where Iowans impacted by the Medicaid transition have shared their news, messages, concerns, and solutions to similar problems – working with one another in mutual assistance. Thank you to Rhonda for her continuing advocacy and for the website – a successful grassroots initiative that has undoubtedly helped many Iowans.
On what was a very long day here at the Capitol, we started off with two memorable events on Thursday. One was a beautiful and rare winter rainbow appearing over the Statehouse early in the morning, and the other was a Rotunda filled with groups that often include friends and constituents from Cedar Rapids.
The first visit was with the Iowa Fraternal Alliance. Created in 1928, The Iowa Fraternal Alliance is an organization that seeks to bring together Iowans who are members of numerous fraternal organizations.
Fraternals are a different kind of life insurance provider, securing members’ futures through financial service offerings, and giving back to their local communities through volunteer work. This volunteer work takes place within the communities the chapter serves, and is aimed at reducing hunger, fighting poverty, and providing funding for needed medical research. In 2015, 213,870 members, from 624 Iowa Fraternal Alliance chapters, contributed $11,341,142 to Iowa charities and volunteered for 1,758,130 hours. I have had the opportunity to join with the Iowa Fraternal Alliance in helping prepare food packages for the hungry. And I look forward to participating again this year.
For their members, Fraternals provide numerous matching funds programs, allowing local chapters to address community needs in their hometowns, including Cedar Rapids.
Pictured left to right: John Baumhover, Modern Woodmen of America and past IFA President; Don Krall, Western Life chapter member and IFA Treasurere; and Craig Van Dyke, West Fraternal Life Delegate.
Thursday was Epilepsy Awareness day at the Capitol, and it is always heart-warming to visit with those who have been impacted by this condition. Representatives from the Epilepsy Foundation and advocates were also in attendance to help raise awareness about treatments, promising research and supportive legislation.
The Epilepsy Foundation’s mission is to stop seizures and Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), find cures and overcome the challenges created by epilepsy through efforts including education, advocacy and research to accelerate ideas into therapies.
Here are the numbers:
1 in 26 people will develop Epilepsy in their lifetime
150,000 new cases are diagnosed in the US each year
1 in 10 people will have a seizure in their lifetime
1 in 1,000 people with Epilepsy die of SUDEP annually.
Supporters were here this week advocating for a comprehensive medical Cannabis program, access to treatments through physician-directed care, and legislation that protects physician-directed care.
Thank you to the advocates here today, and for their continued efforts to fight this deadly disease.
Pictured left to right, holding the proclamation signed today in honor of Epilepsy patients:
Lexi Carlberg, Cedar Rapids resident Lucas Kitelinger, Bob Cooks, Sloane Henry, Victoria Kitelinger, Lucas’s mother and also a resident of Cedar Rapids, and Roxanne Cogil, Director of Iowa Epilepsy Services at the Epilepsy Foundation.
For more information: http://www.epilepsyiowa.org/
Continue Reading the Statehouse News
State Income Tax Refund Delays
Bills Allow Schools Flexibility in Funding
Medicaid MCO Re-Enrollment Period
House Considers Bicycle Safety Bill
Hirschman to be New State Ombudsman
Emerald Ash Borer Now in 43 Iowa Counties
To read the rest of my Statehouse News go to:http://iowahouse.org/
Having trouble viewing images? View it in your web browser: http://interspire.iowahdc.