What a difference a week makes. There was floor debate every day this week. The bills we are passing now are the bills that survived last week’s first funnel.
We are getting House bills every day now. They will need to go through the same process that was required for Senate bills before the first funnel. If the House bills go through the same process without amendment, they are then ready to go to the governor for her signature. Tax bills and appropriation bills will come later and then we are done for the year.
In the Legislature
The halfway point of the legislative session is rapidly approaching. While many bills passed the whole Senate this week, a significant amount of work remains for the rest of this session.
This week Governor Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 2164, the transportation equity bill. The bill unanimously passed the Senate, completing a promise we made several years ago to level the playing field for all Iowa students and buy down the transportation cost of every school district to the statewide average. We have long held that a student’s zip code should not determine the funding available for their education. When rural schools have to spend more on transportation costs for students, less money is available to be spent in the classroom. I am proud of the work that has been done on this bill and I am happy to be see it be signed into law.
One of the bills the Senate passed out this week is Senate File 2272, establishing a real-time verification system for public assistance programs. This bill is crucial in working to eliminate fraud and waste in our welfare system. Just last year, Iowa was fined $1.8 million for overpaying SNAP benefits by $40 million dollars – almost double the national average. Once implemented, this system would save Iowa taxpayers an estimated $12.3 million per year.
Throughout the last several months, we heard from parents and teachers about violent student behavior in the classroom. We heard from parents who were concerned about the safety and well-being of their children, and teachers who had sustained injuries and were afraid to go to work. We have even heard about teachers who simply quit their jobs because they no longer felt safe going to work, having few options to help protect themselves or their students.
To fix this issue, the Senate passed Senate File 2360, an important bill in giving Iowa teachers the tools they need to ensure their classrooms are safe and productive environments for all students and teachers. This bill provides more training for teachers on violent student behaviors, creates therapeutic classrooms and access to alternative placements for children who may become violent, and provides protections for teachers who are dealing with violent student behaviors. It also creates methods for reporting such behavior.
These bills are only a few of the issues we debate over the coming weeks. Please contact me with any questions or comments you have on the issues important to you.
Improving Health Care in Iowa
One of the most discussed issues in government policy at both the state and federal level is health care. This week the Senate ran a number of bills designed to improve the access, control the cost, and increase the availability of health care, especially in rural Iowa.
The first major piece of legislation the Iowa Senate debated this week on health care was a bill to limit the non-economic damages awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits. Recently, awards for non-economic damages in Iowa have been higher than ever before. Huge awards for non-economic damages threaten the viability of rural health care in parts of Iowa, because a big award is much easier to manage for a large hospital in Des Moines than for a community hospital in Iowa’s smaller cities. It is important to note people affected by medical injuries are eligible for all economic loss and any punitive damages for recklessness in the provision of health care. Senate File 2338 works to achieve a balance between the need to compensate people who have medical injuries and the need to keep doctors and health care professionals in rural Iowa.
Senate File 2118 also addressed this issue by allowing physicians in the Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program and similar programs to continue to participate in that program if they refinance or consolidate their student loans. Physicians often have extremely high rates of student debt, and refinancing and consolidating can help ease that burden for young doctors. Iowa has some of the fewest OB/GYN doctors per capita in the nation and these policies can help address that shortage. Additionally, SF 2251, adds OB/GYN to the eligible specialties allowed to receive funding from the Rural Iowa Primary Care Loan Repayment Program. This program helps address critical doctor shortage areas by providing loan repayment incentives for up to five years if an individual agrees to practice in certain rural areas in the state.
Finally, SF 2261 authorizes schools to be acceptable locations for telehealth services. It implements a number of safeguards to ensure quality and confidentiality of the services provided.
Senate Republicans are committed to improving the availability of quality health care all across Iowa and helping control the costs. These bills are a prime example of policies to improve health care without the creation of a new tax or the elimination of choices in health care.
I have no forums this weekend.
Next Forum March 7 at Westside Legion Hall at 10 am.
Audubon Forum March 21 at 8 am
Carroll Forum March 21 at 10 am at Templeton Center
Buena Vista Forum April 11 at 10 am at King’s Pointe Storm Lake