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Sunday Talk: Stone on the Fifth Legislative Week

Week five was another busy week. We didn’t gavel in on Monday since the Iowa caucuses were being held, but on Tuesday we got right to work. There were more than 85 subcommittee meeting this week in a rush to get bills through committees before the first funnel week.

On Thursday, my bill HF 2039 went through a subcommittee. HF 2039 prevents transgender athletes from competing in girls sports. This assures our Iowa girls fair competition in their high school sports. Many people showed up to speak how they felt about  the bill and after a lengthy subcommittee meeting, the bill will now make it’s way to the Education committee.

COVID-19 Disaster Proclamations to Officially End
On March 17, 2020 Governor Kim Reynolds issued her first COVID-19 disaster proclamation. The original proclamations were broad and impacted a significant amount of everyday life, but as more was learned about the virus, the proclamations changed and Iowans continued with their everyday lives. Next week the last disaster proclamation will expire and COVID-19 will be treated like other infectious diseases.

Many have wondered what will change with the expiration of this disaster proclamation. The fact is, not much. Thanks to strong Republican leadership Iowa has been opened for business, kids have been back in school (despite efforts from legislative Democrats), and vaccine passports have been prohibited for over a year. Multiple laws have also stopped local cities, counties and school boards from implementing draconian stay at home orders, useless masking policies, and mandatory vaccination for COVID-19.

Below is a short summary of laws supported by House Republicans since 2020 to stop government overreach and ensure Iowa remains open:

HF 889 prohibits government created COVID-19 vaccine passports. The bill stops business and governmental entities from requiring a person to provide information on their COVID-19 vaccination. A business or governmental entity who requires this information cannot qualify for a state grant or state contract. Health care facilities are exempt.

HF 902 protects Iowans medical and religious freedoms. If a business requires employees to be vaccinated, the employee can fill out a religious or medical exemption and in most cases the business must accept the waiver and work with the employee to provide them with reasonable accommodations.

SF 160 requires schools to offer in-person classes five days a week to all families. The bill did not prohibit online classes, but ensures everyone has access to in-person education.

This bill prohibited schools from requiring masks on children in schools, or colleges. While some of the law is being litigated in court, we are hopeful there will be a ruling that gives parents the rights to decide if their child wears a mask or not.

Many liberal states are learning what Iowans have known for well over a year. COVID-19, while serious for some people, is another virus like the flu and can easily be mitigated through individual’s personal decisions.  Government edicts have proven to be useless.

House Republicans Continue to Prioritize K-12 Education
Each year the Legislature sets Supplemental State Aid (SSA) for K-12 schools.  SSA is percentage growth in state aid to schools.  The House Republican K-12 education funding plan places over $159 million of new money into schools. Claims that funding for schools has been cut or that K-12 has been “underfunded” are political sleight of hand tactics.  Republicans have increased funding each year over the past 10 years. The last time funding was cut was while Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the Governor’s Office.

In just the State Supplemental Aid bill, schools see a funding increase of 2.5% for both the regular program and categorical supplements. The State Cost Per Pupil (SCPP) amount on which the school aid formula is based increases from $7,234 to $7,413, an $186 increase per student.  The House GOP plan  includes a $5 State Cost Per Pupil increase to narrow the District Cost Per Pupil (DCPP) gap, as well as a transportation equity piece that makes all payments necessary to get all school districts up to the state-wide average when it comes to transportation costs. That means K-12 school districts are seeing increased funding from the Legislature for normal operations plus additional support to help transportation costs and other budget demands.  Additionally, the plan extends the Property Tax Relief Payment program for another year which has the state pick up any property tax growth in the Additional Levy portion of the school funding formula providing a break on property tax increases.

On top of that money, House Republicans are appropriating an additional $19.2 million for schools to use to offset the extra costs of employing para-educators, substitute teachers, bus drivers, and administrative and support staff due to worker shortages, and other increased costs incurred by the school district resulting from inflation. House Republicans recognize what is happening around the country with inflation and with worker shortages. This helps put money towards those areas and get positions filled at schools as well as offset higher costs. Claims that House Republicans are shortchanging education remain as hollow this year as they have been for the last decade.

Statewide Mental Health Efforts See Progress
Recently, the House Human Resources Committee had a presentation from the Department of Human Services on the implementation of mental health legislation. Over the last five years, the legislature has passed bipartisan mental health reform, created the state’s first ever children’s mental health system, expanded telehealth access, created a long-term sustainable funding stream to the Mental Health and Disability Services and provided significant funds to mental health providers through Medicaid. These bills have been consistently regarded by mental health advocates as the most significant steps forward Iowa has ever taken to increase access to mental health services statewide.

It takes time to develop the new mental health services, and the charts below reflect the great progress that has been made in expanding access to mental health care statewide. Once all of these services are up and running, they will relieve the pressure placed on inpatient psychiatric beds, serve mental health patients in the proper setting, decrease the time law enforcement will spend transporting patients and waiting in Emergency Rooms, but most importantly, these services will treat Iowans with mental illness like any other health condition.

Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams serve individuals with severe mental illness in their own community at all hours and all days preventing crisis. ACT teams are interdisciplinary, individualized, flexible treatment and supports to individuals with a serious and persistent mental illness. The chart below shows the statewide expansion of this important service.

Unemployment System Needs to Become a Re-Employment System
Iowa has a workforce shortage. Legislators hear it from every part of the state and across several sectors. Right now, the top job opening is registered nurses. There are 5,415 advertised openings across Iowa. The second job opening is heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers at 1,055. Iowans see companies looking at ways to make their openings look appealing by offering bonuses, higher pay, benefits, etc. House Republicans see the worker shortage along with the job openings and see the need to make a change with Iowa’s unemployment system to make it a re-employment system.

Beginning in January, Iowa Workforce Development launched a Reemployment Case Management (RCM) system. The new program offers extensive job search assistance to newly unemployed Iowans with the goal of getting them back to work more quickly. The RCM program has been specifically tailored to Iowa’s unemployment process based on proven national models. Its intention is to provide enhanced services so claimants can more quickly discover the best possible pathway toward a new job and minimize the amount of time spent receiving unemployment benefits.

Governor Reynolds and IWD Director Beth Townsend announced the Reemployment Case Management (RCM) program in October as part of a series of steps to address Iowa’s urgent need for more workers in the economy. When fully implemented, the RCM program will include 18 new Career Planners who are assigned to meet individually with Iowans seeking reemployment beginning with the first week of their unemployment claims.

The Career Planners will work to directly connect unemployment claimants with training and educational opportunities in high-demand careers. They will be assisted by new technology that’s being added to Iowa’s existing IowaWORKS system, thereby making it easier to match an unemployment claimant’s work history with the skills in demand by Iowa companies with open jobs.


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