2019 Iowa Legislative Advocacy Report

2019 Iowa Legislative Advocacy Report

June 05, 2019

Prepared by: 
Robert Mulqueen, 2019 consultant
Rev. Brian Carter, Legislative Team Leader

June 2019
 
Since 2014, the Iowa Conference has had its presence at the Statehouse by means of volunteer advocates and professional consultants. The Advocacy staff has been led by Reverend Brian Carter and this year included Rita Carter, Sheila Corsbie, Reverend Gary Nims, and Reverend William Steward. A month into the 2019 legislative session, Bill Steward passed away. He was a passionate advocate and he will be missed.
 
The priorities of the Iowa Conference for the 2019 legislative session were set forth under the following categories: Environment, Human Rights, Mental Health, Poverty, and Gun Safety. This report seeks to convey the fate of some pieces of legislation which fall under these priorities. In addition to these priorities, the Advocacy Team also advocated for the strengthening of public education and reforms of the criminal justice system. Each legislative bill listed was registered on, that is, officially declared on by the Iowa Conference with the Iowa General Assembly’s lobby declaration listing. Please know that legislation which did not pass this session, and which were either re-referred to a committee or placed on what is termed the “unfinished business calendar” is still eligible for consideration in the 2020 legislative session.
 
The Advocacy Team sifted through the approximately 2,000 bills which were submitted for consideration this year, and then declared either For, Against, or Undecided on approximately 320 bills which pertained primarily to our priority categories. Each bill is examined to see how it compares with the official position of the United Methodist Church as contained in The Social Principles, the Iowa Book of Resolution, and the 2016 Book of Resolutions adopted by the 2016 General Conference.       
 
If you have questions about the reasons for the position taken on the bills listed, or wonder about positions on other bills, please contact Advocacy Team Leader Rev. Brian Carter at briancar@dwx.com or check the Advocacy web site at www.iaumc.org/advocacy, or ask any member of the Advocacy Team, Sheila Corsbie, Rev. Gary Nims, or Rita Carter.

ENVIRONMENT
 
Senate File 583 (Against) - Would impose fixed charges on new solar energy customer, that is, those who install solar energy units on residences, farms, businesses. This would end “net metering” for new solar users, an arrangement dating back to 1987 which allows those who install and use solar energy panels to sell electricity generated from those units back to their utility. They may use for their own homes or businesses the electricity which they generate. This legislation would discourage solar panel use. It passed the Senate 28-19 on March 18. It stalled in the House of Representatives.

Senate File 520 (Against) - While this would raise the handling fee on designated used bottles and cans from one to two cents and, thus, financially encourage the opening or re-opening of redemption centers for beverage containers, this measure also provides that consumers must return empty containers to a redemption center rather than to the point of purchase, that is, a grocery store. Approved by a Senate committee and referred to a second committee. This proposal never reached the Senate for debate. Another bill, House File 181, (ICUMC registered For) provided for only an increase in the handling fee from one to two cents. It was approved by a subcommittee but did not go further.
 
Senate File 609 - This is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations* bill. It contained $1.9 million for the closure of more agricultural drainage wells, $3 million to the Water Quality Initiative, $900,000 for watershed protection, $2,955,000 for water quality monitoring, $2,375,000 for the water quality initiative, and $12,000,000 for the Resource Enhancement and Protection Fund. This legislation was approved. 
 
Senate File 638 - The Standing Appropriations*bill. Tucked into this legislation (in division IX) was the exact language of Senate Study Bill 1256. This proposal prohibits energy utilities from voluntarily spending any more than two percent of its revenues for energy efficiency programs. This is part two of legislation approved in 2018 which laid waste to Iowa’s twenty-eight-year-old energy efficiency programs. (The Iowa Conference had registered against the original legislation, Senate Study Bill 1256.)
 
*A note about APPROPRIATIONS bills. The Advocacy Team does not generally make a declaration on the appropriations bill because they contain both items we strongly support and items we strongly oppose. We talk to legislators about our concerns. When a declaration is made it is “Undecided.”
 
HUMAN RIGHTS
 
Senate File 296/Senate File 588 (Against) - Would restore capital punishment in cases in which the charge against the accused involves the kidnapping, sexual abuse, and murder of a minor. The proposal was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 11 by a vote of 8 to 7. Many letters and telephone calls which were strongly encouraged by the Advocacy Team were a factor in the legislation never reaching the floor of the Senate for debate.
  
Senate Study Bill 1038/House File 122 (For) - Relates to law enforcement racial profiling by standardizing the collection and standardizing the compilation and reporting of an officer and stop and compliant data. (This information would be helpful in determining the need for training or other actions.)  Would create a community policing advisory board.

The Senate proposal was approved by a subcommittee on January 30 but proceeded no further.
 
Senate File 516 (Against) - Would mandate that employers verify their employee’s immigration status using “E-Verify”, an online system. E-Verify is operated and maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Federal law leaves this system’s use to the discretion of employers. Proponents of this legislation claim that it will make verification quicker and easier for employers. Opponents say that this system has reliability problems and that an erroneous classification usually leads to the loss of that employee’s job and/or face delayed employment. This bill passed the Senate by 33-14 on April 2. It went no further.
 
Senate File 346 (Undecided) - Makes female genital mutilations class D felony. Such a surgical procedure would not be a crime if performed by a medical professional and is deemed necessary to protect the health of the person on whom it is performed. This practice is opposed by the General Conference. It is usually conducted by a family member among refugees from some African countries as a cultural ritual when girls reach puberty and can cause infertility and even death. We questioned the necessity of making this action a Felony. We supported educational efforts. Directs the Attorney General’s office to develop an education campaign to increase awareness about the dangers of the procedure. Signed into law on May 1. 
 
House Joint Resolution 14 (For) - This constitutional amendment would restore the right to vote to those who have been convicted of a felony and who have discharged his or her sentence by serving that sentence in an Iowa correctional facility and/or serving court assigned probation. Approved in the House of Representatives on March 28 by a vote of 95 to 2. Passed a Senate subcommittee on April 2. Failed to be dealt with by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 4.
 
House Joint Resolution 11/Senate Joint Resolution 8 (Undecided)- This constitutional amendment (also referred to as Marsy’s Law) would guarantee certain legal rights to the victims of crime. Those directly affected by a crime would have the right to request and be granted information about the release from a correctional facility of the crime’s perpetrator. They also would be informed about any public proceedings involving the criminal and the right to be heard at any such proceeding and the right to refuse to testify. Opponents of this proposal say that crime victims already have guaranteed rights under Iowa law and that this proposed amendment would grant crime victims’ rights to privacy which are granted to no one else. Both the House and Senate measures were approved by subcommittees in late February. Neither advanced from there.
 
Senate File 487 (For) - This measure would end the statute of limitations for criminal actions brought for sexual offenses against a minor. The current limitation is within ten years of the sexually abused person attaining eighteen years of age or within three years of identification by DNA evidence. Approved by a committee on March 6. There was no further action and the legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
 
Senate File 500 (For) - Would establish a needle exchange pilot program (for narcotics addicts) administered by the Department of Public Health in cooperation with the Department of Public Safety, approved by committee on March 6. Re-referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
 
House File 734 (For) - Removes the current restriction on eligibility to DNA testing for people who have been convicted of a felony or an aggravated misdemeanor after 2005.

Passed the House of Representatives by 98-0 on March 26 and the Senate by 50-0 on April 24 and signed by Governor on May 16.
 
MENTAL HEALTH
 
Senate File 376 (For) - Adds mental health awareness, coping skills, and suicide prevention to the subject matter which must be included in the unit of health education which school districts and accredited nonpublic schools must offer and teach in grades 9-12. Approved by the Senate Education Committee on February 26. Never brought to the full Senate. Re-referred to the Senate Education Committee on April 4. 
 
House File 690 (For) - Establishes a Children’s Behavioral Health System; a Children’s Behavioral Health System State Board; eligibility requirement for service by this system and the core services of this system; describes the new duties of the Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Disability Services, of the regional mental health services through the Adult Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) system, and of the regional governance system. This bill also establishes a statewide, twenty-four-hour mental health crisis telephone hotline. Approved by the House of Representatives on March 21 and by the Senate on April 16. Signed by the Governor on May 1. 

House File 758 - This is the Education Appropriations* bill. It includes, for children’s and student mental health, $2,100,000. Of this, $1,200,000 goes to the Area Education Agencies for mental health awareness training for educators and schools; $75,000 to the Area Education Agencies for identifying approaches to meeting mental health needs of schools and strengthening of community support for students; $150,000 to the Area Education Agencies to create a clearinghouse of mental health resources for use by schools and by community providers. Approved by the House of Representatives on April 4, passed the Senate on April 23 with amendments, and then, passed the House again on April 24.

House File 766 - This is the Health and Human Services Appropriations* bill. Of note, related to mental and behavioral health, are the following provisions:  $306,000 to the Department of Public Health (DPH) for the establishment and maintenance of a statewide twenty-four-hour telephone crisis hotline for the Iowa Children’s Behavioral Health System. $400,000 to the DPH for rural psychiatric residencies to support the annual creation and training of four psychiatric residents who will provide mental health services in underserved areas of the state. (The Legislative Advocates supported the efforts to add $700,000 to this appropriations bill to fund a manager in each mental health region to oversee the establishment of Children’s Behavioral Health components approved in House File 690.) $150,000 to the DPH for psychiatric training to increase access to mental health care services by expanding the mental health workforce by means of the training of additional physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners.
 
House File 204 and Senate File 292 (For)- This measure would restrict the ability of insurers to force patients off their prescribed medications for non-medically necessary reasons. These non-medical switching practices occur when patients who are stable on a prescribed therapy are forced off their therapy by their health insurer for reasons other than the patient’s medical needs. The Senate version of this proposal was approved by the Senate Human Resources Committee on March 6. It was not considered by the Senate. The House version was not approved by a subcommittee.

POVERTY
 
Senate File 617 (Against) - Authorizes gambling and wagering on sporting events and fantasy sports contests. The legislation prohibits wagering on minor league or high school sports, on individual players at the collegiate level or on sports teams within Iowa. Iowa casinos will be charged a 7.5% tax rate on revenue from sports wagering. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission must adopt administrative rules and establishing a regulatory framework governing sports betting. This measure was approved by the Senate on April 17 by 31-18 and by the House of Representatives on April 22 by 67-31. Support for this proposal was bipartisan. At least one state representative who supported this legislation stated that $300,000 would be added to the problem gambling funding. House File 766, (FOR) the Health and Human Services Appropriations, did add $305,881 to the budget of the Department of Public Health’s Division of Behavioral Health for addictive disorders. Signed into law on May 13.

Senate File 163 (For) - This bill directs the Department of Human Services (DHS) to provide income eligibility for the state’s childcare assistance according to family size for children needing basic care to families whose income does not exceed 185 percent of the Federal poverty level. It would direct the Department to adjust the childcare assistance co-payment schedule in incrementally increased amounts for families whose income level does not exceed 200 percent of the Federal poverty level. This proposal was assigned a subcommittee but did not advance beyond that stage.

Senate File 538 (Against) - This measure would require all non-elderly adult Medicaid beneficiaries to document twenty hours of work, education, substance use treatment, or volunteer activities each week(or eighty hours per month) to the Department of Human Services (DHS) to maintain their coverage, unless they qualify for an exemption. The DHS would shift Medicaid beneficiaries who do not meet the eighty-hour threshold to a limited benefit plan for coverage. After another six months of not meeting this requirement, beneficiaries would lose Medicaid coverage altogether. Those who would qualify for an exemption include women who are pregnant, a parent or caretaker of a child under six years of age, a child with a disability, an elderly person or someone with a medical condition, or someone in drug or alcohol treatment and a rehabilitation program. 

Those who would face particular risk of losing coverage include 1) people who work in unstable jobs, most commonly in restaurant and food service work, 2) people with disabilities and/or serious health conditions, 3) adults who live in rural areas where there are few employment opportunities, 4) parents of children over six years of age, 5) older adults under the age of sixty-four.

Approved by the Senate on March 19 by 32-17. It was then referred to the House Human Services Committee. No House subcommittee was assigned to this bill.
 
Senate File 334 (Against)  - This proposal would require any recipient of Medicaid, the Family Investment Program (FIP), or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to provide the Department of Human Services (DHS) information on their income, employment, residency, incarceration status, lottery winnings and other information  every three months. It would also allow the DHS to contract with a third-party vendor to verify this information. The Adult, Child, and Family Services director at DHS stated that the department already checks this information at least annually and often twice a year and that this information is verified through multiple sources.

Approved by the Senate on April 1 by 30-18. It was referred to the House Human Resources Committee on April 2. No further action was taken.
 
Senate File 305 (Against) - Would require the Department of Human Services to mandate that, as a requirement of eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, the SNAP recipient cooperate with the Child Support Recovery Unit at DHS in establishing and enforcing a court’s child support order. 

Approved by the Senate on March 13 by 46-3. The House Human Resources subcommittee on this bill met on March 20. This proposal did not advance.
 
Senate File 430 (Against)- This bill would direct the Department of Human Services (DHS) to assign anyone receiving food assistance who is between the ages of sixteen and fifty-nine into a workfare program regardless of any qualifying exemption which this individual may have, including pregnancy, current employment, or mental or physical fitness.

A fiscal note on this measure on March 4 estimated that this proposal if enacted, would increase the DHS operating costs in fiscal 2020 by $2.5 million and by $579,000 in fiscal 2021 and in subsequent years.

Approved by the Senate Committee on Labor and Business Relations on February 28. It was re-referred to the committee on April 4. No further action was taken this year. 
 
GUN SAFETY
 
Senate Joint Resolution 18 (Against) - Constitutional amendment which states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and that the State of Iowa “affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental human right. Any and all restrictions to this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.” The strict scrutiny provision means that, if added to the Iowa Constitution, any restrictions on firearms adopted would have to show that they are narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest.

Approved both the House of Representatives and the Senate on March 13. For this proposal to be added to the Iowa Constitution, this exact language must be approved by both chambers again following the next general election, in either 2021 or 2022 and then must appear on a general election ballot. The earliest which this amendment could appear on a general election ballot will be November of 2022. 

Senate File 165 (Against) - This measure would repeal current provisions of the Code of Iowa which require a firearm permit when a gun is acquired from another individual or acquisitions of firearms which do not fall under Federal law. Acquisition of a firearm from a Federally licensed gun dealer would still require a permit to own such a gun. Such a purchase would still require a Federal background check. Firearms permits would also be required if a gun is carried out of state.

This bill was reported out of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on February 6. It saw no further action.
 
House File 259 (Against) - States that any order from the state supreme court or any other judicial body which prohibits carrying, possession or the transport of a firearm in a county courthouse or another “joint use public facility”, other than a courtroom or a court office is unenforceable if the possession of the weapon is otherwise lawful. This bill also would allow anyone to carry a concealed firearm onto a public or a private school property if this person remains on the school’s driveway, parking lot, or sidewalk. It would prohibit an employer from banning an employee from carrying, possessing, or transporting a firearm or ammunition to their workplace if the firearm and ammunition are kept out of sight and inside a locked motor vehicle. A local government would be allowed to prohibit firearms at an entertainment venue.

Approved by the House Public Safety Committee on March 4. This measure saw no further action.
 
Senate File 116 (Against) – Would allow a person who possesses nonprofessional firearms permit to carry or transport a firearm on school grounds when that person is on the school grounds for the purpose of transporting a person to or from the school or delivering an item to or from the school. This person, so armed, must remain in a parking area or a driveway. A person who carries or transports a firearm on the grounds of a school commits a class “D” felony.

Approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 28. The bill had no further action and was re-referred to the Committee on April 4. 
 
2020 LEGISLATIVE SESSION
 
The 2020 Legislative Session starts on the 2nd week of January and ends the first week of May.

The Iowa Annual Conference United Methodist 2020 Advocacy Day in cooperation with the Iowa United Methodist Women will be held in late January or early February 2020.
 
WE NEED MORE MEMBERS OF THE ADVOCACY TEAM.
 
If you are interested in assisting or joining the Advocacy Team please contact Rev. Brian Carter, or the Bishop’s Office at the Conference Center, or Assistant to the Bishop Dr. Harlan Gillespie. You can find an application form with expectations of team members on the Iowa Annual Conference Advocacy page www.iaumc.org/Advocacy. Volunteer members of the Advocacy Team receive a stipend to cover expenses related to their service.