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Sunday Talk: Stone on the Funnel Week in the House

This week was the second funnel week of this session and we stayed busy. We passed a handful of bills through floor debate and received a lot of Senate files that now have to go through the subcommittee and committee meetings before they are debated on the floor. There are some budgets that were passed by the House Appropriations Committee. All budgets have to be passed by both the House and Senate in order for us to adjourn for the year. This week we passed legislation providing more access to mental healthcare, protects Iowans’ personal data, and support for foster children.

State Government Committee Passes Moratorium on Eminent Domain

I submitted a bill earlier in the session that put an extremely high threshold on the use of eminent domain and it’s usage.  Unfortunately, that bill did not make it to the floor for debate.  But this week the State Government Committee adopted an amendment to a Senate File that prohibits the Iowa Utilities Board from granting a pipeline company the right of eminent domain until March 1, 2023. The moratorium also prohibits pipeline companies the ability to apply for the right of eminent domain or exercising the right of eminent domain to complete hazardous liquid pipelines without the consent of affected property owners.

Currently, pipeline companies are required to petition for a permit to construct, maintain, and operate a new hazardous liquid pipeline within the state. Within the permit, petition companies are required to describe the route and potentially affected areas of the pipeline. The companies must request from the Iowa Utilities Board the right of eminent domain.

The committee amendment will be considered by the full House of Representatives if the Senate File is considered on the floor. If adopted, the language prohibiting eminent domain for these hazardous liquid pipelines would replace the Senate File and be sent to the Senate for consideration. Nothing in the prohibition would stop carbon dioxide pipelines from continuing but would force the companies to negotiate with property owners for the right to use their property. The committee members felt property owners in Iowa must have their constitutional property rights.

With session coming to an end here in about a month, this moratorium was necessary to put a stay to the use of eminent domain until we start our next session so we can fully vet Iowa Code to make sure the necessary changes are made to the rules in which eminent domain is used.  This is a high priority for you and so it remains a high priority for me as well as others in the caucus.

Adult Education and Beyond

Adult education and literacy opportunities, like high school equivalency courses, are vital programs provided at Iowa’s community colleges. Over 7,500 students enrolled in an Iowa adult education and literacy course during the 2020-21 school year, and opportunities for adult learners from all skill levels are available. Courses like English language learner (ELL) classes, digital literacy, and workplace literacy are tailored by the colleges for a working adult’s schedule and can provide new opportunities to earn credentials as well as confidence.

Community colleges providing dual opportunities in adult education and other training are becoming a growing trend. Integrated education and training (IET) programs are popping up across the state and offer students in high school equivalency and ELL programs the chance to learn a new trade and potentially earn college credits while also strengthening basic skills. IET programs can help students address short-term goals and also propel them towards a new career pathway.

House Republicans Continue to Expand Access to Mental Health Care

Over the last 5 years, the Legislature has passed bipartisan mental health reform, created the state’s first-ever children’s mental health system, created long-term sustainable funding for the Mental Health and Disability Services Regions, provided significant funds to mental health providers through Medicaid rates, and expanded access to mental health care through telehealth.

However, too often legislators continue to hear that there are open beds at the 27 hospitals with inpatient psychiatric units, yet nowhere to put difficult mental health patients. Iowa House Republicans are committed to always working towards additional ways to treat mental illness like any other health care condition.

That’s why this week, the House overwhelmingly passed three pieces of legislation to address the mental health workforce and additional beds for Iowa’s most difficult patients.

Adding Psychiatrists: House File 2529 funds 12 psychiatry residents per year with a focus on training through Iowa’s state facilities, including the mental health institutes. Iowa ranks 44th in the country in psychiatrists per capita. This bill will help increase the number of psychiatrists trained in Iowa, and provides preference to Iowans in the application process.

Mental Health Provider Loan Forgiveness: House File 2549 provides $1.5 million per year to expand loan forgiveness opportunities to recruit and retain mental health providers in Iowa. To receive the funds, the mental health provider must commit to providing care in Iowa for at least 5 years. The funds will be prioritized for those working in mental health shortage areas.

Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit: House File 2546 is a bill to require the Department of Human Services to establish a Medicaid rate for those needing a higher level of inpatient psychiatric care. By paying hospitals based on the acuity of the patient, more hospitals will be willing to care for the most difficult mental health patients.

It takes time to develop the new mental health services and attract mental health providers to the state, and Iowa has made great progress in expanding community support statewide. Once all of these services are up and running, they will serve mental health patients in the proper setting, decrease the time law enforcement will spend transporting patients and waiting in Emergency Rooms and jails, but most importantly, these bills will treat Iowans with mental illness like any other health condition.

Supporting Children in Foster Care

Recently, the House unanimously passed House File 2507, a bill that supports Iowa’s children in foster care. This bill comes from the Department of Human Services as a way to implement the federal Family First Act.

Family First is a federal law that changes the direction of child welfare services across America. Iowa is the 11th state in the nation to receive approval for its prevention services and programs plan, and Iowa is receiving more federal money than any other state to support high-quality legal representation for parents. Family First is intended to safely reduce the foster care population, place children with known and stable caregivers, and reduce the number of youth in shelter and group care settings.

Importantly, this bill requires courts to secure the least restrictive care and preferences placement with the child’s family whenever a child is removed from their parents. Too often, the child has been left out of the process and their voice is the most important in determining who will care for them. Children do best in families.

The House also unanimously passed House File 2252 which will increase the upper age of foster care from 18 to 21 to ensure these foster youth can have adequate support as they transition to adulthood. The bill also requires the courts to contemplate sibling placement throughout the adoption process for foster children, as we know that it can be extremely traumatic for children that have lost their parents, to additionally lose their siblings.

House Republicans Act on Data Privacy

In the absence of federal privacy legislation, states are starting to take the lead. California, Colorado, and Virginia all have data privacy laws. In Utah, a data privacy bill awaits the governor’s signature.

House Republicans are also taking the lead on consumer privacy and passed HF 2506 this week which establishes consumers’ rights over their data, including the ability to see what data a company has collected about them. Additionally, it gives consumers the right to delete any personal data they have provided the company. It also sets parameters on how companies can handle and use the data they collect on consumers. HF 2506 also sets penalties for businesses that violate the law and consumers’ privacy.

HF 2506 received bipartisan support in the House and awaits consideration in the Senate ahead of the second funnel deadline.


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