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State Capitol Report 
 Issue 1 |  January 20, 2017  

New Faces, New Priorities for Iowa Legislature
Io wa's 150 newly elected state legislators returned to the Iowa Capitol two weeks ago to begin the 110-day legislative session. But things have changed, and there is a new sheriff in town. F or the first time since 1998, Republicans control the Iowa House of Representatives, Iowa Senate, and the Governor's office.    There are new leaders, new committee chairs, and new faces at the Capitol.  And with that comes a new set of priorities.

While the faces have changed, the first two weeks were like any other session  - speeches and applause, handshakes and hugs, signing papers and picking seats, and trying to get used to chaotic schedules and the near constant sound of voices around them. But it was clear as bills started coming out that this was not going to be a quiet session.  Legislators have introduced bills to:
  • Defund planned parenthood.
  • Legalize machine guns and adopt "Stand Your Ground" laws.
  • Legalize fireworks.
  • Require IDs to vote.
  • Ban traffic/red light cameras.
  • Reform collective bargaining.
  • Strengthen texting/driving laws.
  • Allow women to sue abortion doctors for emotional distress (and ironically we hear there will be legislation introduced to eliminate "frivolous lawsuits" and cap medical malpractice awards for non-economic damages - i.e. "pain and suffering").
Legislators still have plenty of time to file more bills - the last day they can request bill drafts is February 10.  Only leaders and committee chairs can request bills after that deadline.  Just 41 days away is the first legislative "funnel" deadline, when all bills need to be voted out of their committee of origin.  That's March 3, followed by the second funnel (when bills need to be out of committee in the opposite chamber) on March 31.  The 110th day of session - the last day legislators get their per diem checks - is April 28, 2017. Leaders have vowed to be out early. Stop me if you've heard that one before....


The first big controversy legislators face is cutting the state budget. As you have most likely read in your local news, legislators need to cut $120 million out of the current state budget with only five months left in the fiscal year.  Many legislators are unhappy about this, but the state does not have enough money to go around, and tough decisions need to be made.  

This may have come as a shock to some, but legislators were very worried about the quarterly revenue reports this year, after agricultural prices tanked and flooding in some areas of the state disrupted commerce.  The good news is, the state's revenues are growing.  The bad news is, they aren't growing as much as estimated back in March 2016.  So that has trigged the need for the $120 million cut to FY17, the year we are in currently.   That also means legislators will want to be ultra-careful with next year's budgeting (FY18) to make sure they don't end up in the same situation.

So with that, the first bill new legislators will need to vote on is the $120 million "Deappropriation Bill" - which cuts money that programs had planned to spend this year.  The Governor recommended cuts to Medicaid ($13.9 million), other human services ($20.3 million), and public health programs ($2.5 million), but every state agency was hit with an average of 4.5% cuts. The Governor scales back business  tax credits by $50 million, and shifts other funds around to address some of the revenue shortfalls, but cuts are still needed.

Some of those cuts may be permanent - others may be restored when legislators start preparing the budget for next year.  At this point, we do not know the impact these cuts will have on our own priorities within the Department of Public Health (psychologist internship program, workforce programs, and Board of Psychology which is charged with implementing psychologist prescribing laws passed last year).  There is a $2.1 million cut to "community capacity," where our psychologist internship program is funded, but no word on how those cuts will be handled internally.  You can see a spreadsheet of the Governor's health/human services budget proposals for both FY17 and FY18 here.  Other areas of the budget can be found here.

Senators are getting ready to have the discussion, and have scheduled a subcommittee on the Governor's Deappropriation Bill ( Senate Study Bill 1018for Monday at 12:30 pm in Room 22 at the Capitol.  We have been told they are positioning the bill, so it can be amended quickly with the final agreement. 

At this stage, all discussions about how to handle the FY17 funding shortfall are at leadership level, behind closed doors. By the time we see details - it'll be a done deal.    We do know there will be some action on this in the next two weeks, so stay tuned.  

Oddly, the Governor's budget includes significant underfunding in FY18, but gives the Iowa Legislature an 11% increase. Let's see if legislators agree to that, while cutting programs to the most vulnerable Iowans.


 Governor Branstad gave his annual "Condition of the State" speech, his last one and an end to an unprecedented era.  Governor Branstad became the country's longest serving Governor last year, and it looked very much like he was going to stick around. But the call came - and the Governor will be off to China soon, trading in his title for "Ambassador Branstad."  

This move sent constitutional scholars back to the books - the Iowa Constitution and Iowa Code are very clear on succession plans, and all clearly state that the Lt. Governor takes over.  But that is where it ends. Very little is said about what the Lt. Governor does once becoming Governor - does she pick her own Lt. Governor? does the party select a candidate at the special convention?  It appears the answer was the former - when Kim Reynolds becomes Iowa's first Governor, she will pick her new Lt. Governor.  Lots of names on the list - Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey,  State Representative Peter Cownie, Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham, and former State Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart, to name a few. 

A month ago, most thought the Governor would stick around through the end of session, or at least until March. Now we hear the DC confirmation schedule may require him to leave earlier than anticipated. Even "sure thing" nominees can take months to confirm, "it's just a lot of work and a lot of meetings and a lot of private one-on-ones" said one former DC staffer.  So some bills this year may bear Governor Branstad's signature, and some may be signed into law by Iowa's first woman Governor. I'm sure that everyone will be wondering what that final (and first) bill will be; undoubtedly it'll be symbolic.


Budget subcommittees will start to meet soon, so we'll get more information out as we can.  These small group meetings allow legislators to drill down on various budget items, and hear testimony from those that support them.  But its important to remember that just because the House and Senate leaders are Republican, and the Governor is Republican, doesn't mean they will all agree. We're already seeing that with the Deappropriation bill, and the same is likely for the FY18 budget.

Just a few reminders about this year:
  • There is a special election being held for House District 89 in Davenport.  Sen. Jim Lykam won the special election to take over the seat left open after the death of Sen. Joe Seng.  Sen. Lykam resigned from his House seat following his election.  The special election is set for January 31 - Mike Gonzales (a Le Claire police officer) is running as the Republican, and Monica Kurth (a community college professor) is the Democrat.  I don't often predict elections in politically charged climates like this, but with 7,500 registered Democrats in the district, and only 2,400 registered Republicans, you can guess the outcome.
  • There will be 24 new legislators this year (this includes the special election winner - either one will be new).  
  • Republicans control the Iowa House with 59 votes; Democrats have 41. Republicans also control the Iowa Senate with 29 votes; Democrats have 20 and there is 1 Independent (Sen. David Johnson).  Of note, Independents are not allowed to serve on committees, but the Senate Democrats gave him a seat on the Natural Resources Committee so he could advocate for water quality.  New committee lists can be found here.
  • Since today was the day of the Women's March, I thought it would be interesting to look at how many women we have in the Iowa Legislature. The answer - 34 (or 23%).  There are only six women in the Iowa Senate - and Sen. Amy Sinclair is the sole Senate Republican woman.  She said that she's used to it - having raised three sons.  Also interesting - women make up 56% of the committee leadership positions in the House minority party (and 5 of the 7 budget subcommittees have female ranking members).  


The IPA Bill Tracker tracks all bills of interest to psychologists and the people  and communities they serve. There are currently a dozen bills in there - conversion therapy, mental health information disclosure to law enforcement, art therapy licensure and more.   Just click here for the list.

It is updated daily with new bills and actions, and you can download IPA-flagged bills and use for your own board meetings and newsletters. You can check on bills at any time, and know they are up-to-date.  

You can also find a list of legislative forums planned throughout the state  here   Local legislative town halls or forums are a great way to connect with your legislators and advocate on priority issues. This list is updated frequently, and always has three weeks of forums displayed (so check back frequently).  I went to mine today....and it was anything  but boring!

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