Keeping the State Budget Balanced and Building Back Iowa
As we approach the end of the 110-day session on April 30th, the only bills that are required to be approved before we adjourn for the year involve the state budget. Lawmakers are still working on finding an agreement and it is unclear what priorities will be funded.
With only a week left, the budget has reached a stalemate, with Majority Party lawmakers refusing to compromise with each other and shutting the public and other lawmakers out of the budget process.
House Democrats are going to stay focused on common sense ideas in our Build Back Iowa plan. It’s a bold recovery and relief package we’ve been working on all session to help families, small businesses, students, and our dedicated health care workers get through this pandemic and get life back to normal.
We’re going to do all we can in the closing days of the session to make sure the state budget meets these key priorities for Iowans.
Democratic Lawmakers Request Federal Investigation into Anamosa
This week, Democratic lawmakers and Congresswoman Cindy Axne sent a letter to the US Departments of Labor and Justice requesting an independent investigation into last month’s deadly assaults at Anamosa State Penitentiary and increasing violence within Iowa’s correctional facilities.
Currently, Iowa’s prison system is 10% over capacity while 9% staff positions remain vacant. Since 2009, staff levels have dropped by 17% throughout the state’s correctional facilities while offender assaults on staff have increased.
For the last several years, the Reynolds Administration and DOC have disregarded several warning signs leading up to the Anamosa tragedy. These signs include: rising violence, prison overcrowding, staff reductions, and continued budget cuts.
Last year, the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration (I-OSHA) issued numerous warnings and serious violations to the Department of Corrections (DOC) for inadequate communication and prison staffing. One I-OSHA report warned Anamosa employees did not have reliable communication equipment or adequate staff for emergency responses. Instead of fixing the problems, DOC began denying state inspectors access to facilities for fair and independent safety assessments.
The letter also requests the Departments’ investigate Iowa’s correctional facilities to help prevent further violence and loss of life.
Elimination of Diversity Plans Heads to the Governor
Education studies have shown that high concentrations of low-income students can affect student achievement. Some Iowa school districts have used Voluntary Diversity Plans to boost achievement among all students. Yet the Iowa House has sent a controversial bill to the Governor’s desk that would eliminate the ability of five school districts to provide additional support for these students.
Many schools assist low-income students with free or reduced-price meals and before or after school programs that provide extra tutoring. The bill, HF 228, will prevent the ability to control enrollment which will adversely affect a district.
Normally, for students to open enroll out of a district, the deadline for the next school year is March 1. If signed into law, the open enrollment window for next year will reopen districts with diversity plans. Based on the school count’s possible changes in those districts, it will cost these districts a total of $2.6 million dollars, even though they have already certified their budgets for next year as of April 15th.
Bill Gives Adoptees More Access to Records
Adopted persons may have more access to the information on the original birth certificate under a new measure that advanced in both chambers. Under current Iowa law, HF 855 most adoptions are “closed,” meaning the adopted person does not have access to an original birth certificate without a court order showing good cause for the person to get access to the original birth certificate. Instead, adopted individuals in the state receive a new birth certificate when they are adopted. Adoptees in the state may be able to get access to some information, such as medical and developmental family history, but currently do not have a streamlined process to get access to their original birth information.
The streamlined process is only available to adopted persons that were born before January 1, 1971. The adopted person must be 18 years of age to apply to receive a non-certified copy of the original birth certificate. The bill also allows an “entitled person,” such as a child of a deceased adopted person, to make an application. The State Registrar will create a form for requesting the non-certified copy of the original birth certificate and can require a fee.
The State Registrar will also develop a contact preference form for biological parents. The form allows a biological parent to state a preference for contact by the adopted person that makes an application to receive an original birth certificate.
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BLOOD AND PLASMA DONATION NOW EASIER FOR STATE EMPLOYEES: State employees will now be able to take off work for two hours, four times a year, in order to serve as voluntary blood and plasma donors with SF 366. This is especially important because only about 3% of eligible people donate blood yearly, and the demand for blood and platelets continues to grow. About 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the United States, and every two seconds someone will need blood or platelets. The need has further increased during the pandemic when it was found that convalescent plasma taken from people fully recovered from COVID-19 can help save the lives of other COVID-19 patients. The bill now goes to the Governor for her signature. To find blood and plasma donation locations near you, please visit: redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/how-to-donate/how-blood-donations-help/blood-needs-blood-supply.html.
ATTORNEY GENERAL WARNS OF VACCINATION CARD SCAMS: This week, the Attorney General’s office issued a consumer warning relating to the production and sale of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards. Earlier this month, the Attorney General joined a bipartisan group of attorneys general in sending letters urging Twitter, eBay, and Shopify to block fraudulent vaccination card sales. The FBI has also issued a public alert warning against selling and purchasing fraudulent vaccination cards, nothing that this is a federal law violation. The AG’s office highly discourages sharing COVID-19 vaccination cards on social media because scammers are using vaccination cards posted online to forge and sell for profit. Cards contain personal information, which could be used for identity theft. Iowans who see fake vaccination cards for sale can report to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at email@example.com or (888) 777-4590.
APRIL 24 IS PRESCRIPTION DRUG TAKE-BACK DAY: In a continued effort to fight prescription drug abuse, communities across the country are participating in the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, which takes place on Saturday, April 24. In 2020, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) collected 492 pounds of unused prescription medications during this event. Over 90 sites across Iowa will be available on October 26, from 10 am to 2 pm, for people to drop off their prescription medicine- no questions asked. Most of these sites are located at pharmacies and law enforcement agencies. Site locations can be found at: takebackday.dea.gov/. For more information about the safe disposal of prescription medication, please visit: safe.pharmacy/drug-disposal/.
ELECTRIC BIKE BILL NOW HEADS TO GOVERNOR: Electric bicycles, more commonly known as e-bikes, are becoming more popular in Iowa. But, there is confusion where e-bikes can be ridden and who can ride them. This week, both chambers passed HF 493, which would allow e-bikes to be ridden anywhere a regular bike can operate unless a local government creates an ordinance limiting where they can be ridden. E-bikes must fit into one of three classes, Class 1 is an e-bike that can assist a rider when they are pedaling but the motor no longer aid after the bike reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour. Class 2 is an e-bike with a motor that can propel the bike without assistance but cannot reach a speed greater than 20 miles per hour. Class 3 is an e-bike with a motor that can be used to assist a rider when they are pedaling but no longer provides aid after the bike reaches a speed of 28 miles per hour. The bill now heads to the Governor for her signature. If signed into law, Iowa will join over 28 other states currently using the 3-class system.