House Happenings from Rep. Terry Baxter 1/16/2020
The second year of the 88th Session of the Legislature got off to a fast start. Monday, Jan. 13, the new leadership of the House Majority Party was put in place. Rep. Pat Grassley became the new Speaker of the House, and Rep. Matt Windschitl became the Majority Leader. The team is organized and energized. It promises to be a great year.
On Tuesday, Governor Reynolds delivered her State of the State address. Her speech highlighted the health and strength of the state of Iowa while setting out a bold plan for the next decade. She talked about everything from funding k-12 to her invest in Iowa/IWILL trust fund. Her plan calls for a 1 cent sales tax increase that is offset by property and income taxes reductions. In the process, it raises significant new funds for mental health while setting aside the 3/8 of a cent for water quality, conservation and recreational development voted on by the public 10 years ago.
Her speech also included provisions to increase childcare across Iowa, work on criminal justice reform and bring high speed internet to all rural areas of Iowa. I expect some wrestling between the governor’s office and the legislature in trying to fine tune these bold initiatives.
I am personally working hard on several bills this session for my constituents. A top priority bill I am sponsoring this year will address the drainage crisis in North Iowa. It will raise the trigger point where engineers get involved in a project. Engineers are needed at some point and for complicated issues, but the current $50,000 trigger is way too low. The bill has several other provisions that should be helpful as well. This bill is the result of numerous meetings with supervisors and farmers this past fall.
A second bill also came about after numerous meetings with constituents. I call it The Second Chance Bill for non-juvenile offenders. Currently, the Iowa Law Code has a track for juveniles who received a life without possibility of parole sentence to, at a later date with proper screening and merit, have that sentence commuted to a “term of years” making eventual parole possible.
However, the current Iowa Law Code has no such provision for non-juveniles who received the same sentence. This bill will not make it easy but does recognize there are a handful of inmates serving life sentences who have changed and accomplished commendable achievements while incarcerated. The bill recognizes these men and women may deserve a second look and establishes a pathway for that to happen.
A third bill seeks to place additional requirements for clear history and health records on companion animals brought into Iowa through rescue measures. With Iowa having so many domestic herds, we cannot afford the spread of disease from animals imported from other countries with little or no health screening. These are common sense measures that breeders already adhere to under the USDA.
A fourth bill I am working on is a Child Protection Act. It prevents child abuse and child endangerment by preventing sex change alterations or surgeries on minors apart from certain birth conditions that merit medical intervention. The bill acknowledges that these procedures result in sterilization and should not therefore be forced on a minor. It leaves that decision to informed adults who are responsible for their own destiny in life.
In addition, for the past five years I have been working on a bill to help contain and irradiate infectious diseases in wildlife populations in Iowa. I learned five years ago through attending the Legislative Sportsman Caucus in Vermont, that Iowa is one of a handful of states that has no state agency in our law code specifically designated as responsible for this task. This bill aims to correct that oversight. I was lobbied the first day of session by sportsman groups alarmed at the increase in Blue Tongue and Chronic Wasting Disease in our white-tailed deer population. They encouraged me that my bill from last year is absolutely crucial. Public awareness is finally putting urgency and momentum behind this effort.
I am also a strong advocate for two amendments to the Iowa constitution. One relates to a clear statement on the right to life for the unborn with no provision for abortion in the Iowa constitution. The second would put a clear statement in the Iowa constitution granting law-abiding Iowa citizens the right to keep and bear arms. The current Iowa constitution simply says that Iowans “have the right to private property and to protect it.”
Why are these two amendments necessary? The Iowa Supreme Court has recently stepped on the Iowa Legislature in both of these measures. It is time for the people of Iowa to speak. These amendments need to be passed in two separate sessions of the legislature with a general election between the sessions. If so passed, they will then be added to the 2022 general election ballot for the people of Iowa to decide. The outcome of the 2020 general election is crucial. If Republicans lose the majority in either chamber, these two amendments will be blocked indefinitely.
It is an honor representing my constituents in the Iowa House of Representatives. Thank you for your trust and confidence.
Terry Baxter, State Representative, Iowa House District 8
House Happenings from Representative Baxter 3/7/19
As we come to the end of the first funnel many bills have been passed out of the various committees. I usually take the time to write my own newsletter, but my perspective is limited to actions taken only in those committees where I personally serve. This week I decide to cut and paste most of our Republican Caucus Newsletter because it gives a much broader overview for my readers.
Key Priorities Remain Alive After First Funnel
What is the funnel? It’s a deadline when House bills are required to pass at least one House committee to remain eligible for discussion and vice versa for the Senate. If a bill fails to advance through a committee, it is considered “dead” for the session and is tabled. Oftentimes, a bill is not moved forward because it lacks support or needs improvement over the interim. The funnel does not apply to Appropriations or Ways & Means bills.
Several House Republican priorities remain alive following the first funnel including:
SAVE Extension – House File 546
This would extend the school infrastructure penny, known as SAVE, through 2050. This ensures that schools have the resources needed for safe and modern facilities while delivering significant tax relief to local property taxpayers. It also provides funds to enhance school security, ensure state of the art classroom technology, and address the worker shortage through career academies.
Children’s Mental Health – House Study Bill 206
Last session, Republicans and Democrats came together to pass landmark mental health legislation that fills many of the gaps in Iowa’s adult mental health system. This session, the House is working to advance legislation that establishes the framework for a children’s mental health system to ensure Iowa kids can access the services and support that they need.
2A Rights in Iowa’s Constitution – House Joint Resolution 3
House Republicans have consistently championed efforts to strengthen and protect the Second Amendment rights of Iowans. However, Iowa is one of only six states that does not include Second Amendment protections in its state constitution. It is long overdue that Iowa joins the 44 other states with this language in the Iowa Constitution. While progress on this issue was set back due to Secretary of State Pate’s failure to print public notice, House Republicans are more determined than ever to get this issue to the voters in 2022.
Judicial Selection Reforms – House File 503
House Republicans are also working to bring more transparency, fairness, and accountability to Iowa’s judicial selection process. Currently, a small number of attorneys have an outsized voice in our process, and an even smaller number of those attorneys actually participate in the elections to appoint members to the state commission. Our reforms give regular citizens a bigger voice in the process in a way that is accountable to Iowans. They also preserve Iowa’s merit-based selection system and continue to keep attorneys an important part of the process.
Companion Animal Protections – House Study Bill 114/House Study Bill 227
Countless Iowans have heard the heartbreaking news stories about mistreatment of pets and animals across the state. House Republicans are advancing legislation that will protect our pets and ensure that abusers are held accountable for their actions.
Expanded Access to Birth Control – House Study Bill 214
Last fall, Governor Reynolds proposed the idea of making it easier for women to access common forms of birth control without a prescription. House Republicans are always looking for ways to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in Iowa and this legislation could help achieve that goal. We also want to ensure that whatever is being prescribed to women is also safe and doesn’t put their health at risk.
Felon Voting Rights – House Study Bill 68
In her Condition of the State address, Governor Reynolds stated that one of her top priorities is amending the Iowa Constitution to include automatic restoration of voting rights for convicted felons once they have served their sentences. This legislation is about second chances and House Republicans are interested in looking into the issue. This has typically been a topic for the Executive Branch so we are studying the Governor’s proposal closely and making sure we are thoughtful in our efforts.
Bad Bills Stopped by House Republicans
Advancing positive bills that make Iowa an even better place to live, work, and raise a family is always House Republican’s top priority. However, we can also ensure our state continues to move forward by stopping bad bills from becoming law. House Democrats have introduced several pieces of legislation that are dangerous and would send Iowa backwards.
House Republicans were proud to stop bills that would harm Iowa’s economy, limit choice for Iowa families and consumers, and restrict basic freedoms and liberties. Here are some examples:
Socialized, government-run health care (House File 96)
With the first-in-the-nation caucuses less than a year away, prominent national Democrats like Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren have begun visiting Iowa in their pursuit of the presidency. In their race to the fringe left, these candidates are endorsing extreme ideas and socialism. Not to be outdone by presidential candidate’s leftward lurch, Iowa House Democrats have introduced legislation that would force Iowans into a socialist, government-run health care system that would eliminating private insurance. It sounds far-fetched, but it’s 100% true and would be terrible for Iowans. This “free” health care plan is unaffordable and would lead to massively higher taxes on Iowa families and businesses. Not only that, but banning private health insurance would lead to job losses in the thousands. This socialist pipe-dream hasn’t worked in the most liberal states that have attempted similar ideas and is clearly something that Iowans can’t afford.
Infringements on homeschool freedom (House Files 100, 182, 272)
House Republicans are always looking for opportunities to provide parents with more educational options for their children. Unfortunately, House Democrats are looking to do the exact opposite which is why they have introduced several bills that make it more difficult for parents to homeschool their kids. This shouldn’t be surprising to Iowans. House Democrats were on record last session voting to shut down private schools and eliminate homeschool options for Iowa families.
Restricting Second Amendment rights (too many bills to count)
House Democrats have long been hostile towards Iowan’s Second Amendment rights. This year is no exception and they have flooded the Public Safety Committee with countless bills that would arbitrarily restrict these fundamental, individual rights. Multiple bills introduced by House Democrats would ban the sale or possession of commonly-owned firearms like shotguns, hunting rifles, and handguns that are used for self-defense.
As always it’s a pleasure to serve you at the Iowa State House.
Iowa House District 8
House Happenings from Representative Baxter 2/28/19
House Republicans Release Key Budget Increases
With the release of budget targets last week, House Republicans on the seven budget subcommittees have started to formulate their spending proposals for the next fiscal year. While members continue to refine their Fiscal Year 2020 proposals, commitments to Iowans’ top priorities are already being made. They include:
· Ensuring Access to Health Care through Iowa’s Critical Access Hospitals – $1.5 million increase.
· Committing to Future Ready Iowa – $17.7 million in FY 20.
· Additional Funding for Nursing Homes serving Iowans on Medicaid – $19 million increase.
· Protecting Iowans’ Safety - $3.85 million increase
· Expanding Access to Health Care in Rural Iowa by Recruiting Additional Providers – $700,000 increase
· Continuing Iowa’s Investment in Higher Education – $7 million increase
· Improving Iowa’s Mental Health System –$5.3 million increase
Managed Care Organizations in Iowa.
Iowans are very interested in what is happening with Managed Care Organizations in Iowa. The House Government Oversight Committee met on Wednesday to follow-up on the Medicaid Managed Care Oversight legislation (Senate File 2418, Section 128) that was passed last year. The Committee heard from Director Jerry Foxhoven of the Department of Human Services, Alissa Weber, CEO at United Healthcare Community Plan of Iowa, and Jeffrey Jones, President at Amerigroup Iowa. Based on the legislation, the Committee specifically asked to hear about progress with credentialing, prior authorizations and payment accuracy to ensure that there is consistency between MCOs and limited administrative difficulties for providers. Director Foxhoven started off the meeting by announcing that over the last year, there has been a 50% decrease in escalated member issues and an 81% decrease in escalated provider issues. Director Foxhoven also announced that starting this July, Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) providers will have a uniform credentialing form between MCOs and Iowa Medicaid Enterprise. Provider training will begin this May for these providers on the single form. DHS is working on rolling out additional provider groups with a standard enrollment form as well, but that will take time. Most other health care providers utilize the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare Proview Solutions (CAQH) which already collects this provider data for managed care credentialing. These single credentialing forms will also apply to Iowa Total Care as they join our state Medicaid program in July.
The legislation also required DHS to look into prior authorizations and see if these authorizations are causing barriers for Medicaid members in getting services. To put in context, there were 118,000 prior authorizations last year compared to the 6.5 million claims in the Medicaid program last year. Even with this relatively small number of services that require prior authorization, the MCOs announced that over 200 prior authorizations have been eliminated since the legislation was passed. Examples include removal of authorization requirements for admission and ongoing care in nursing facilities, hospice care, as well as reductions in authorization frequency for ongoing therapies like physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.
On the topic of payment accuracy, SF 2418 required that DHS have an outside organization to review small dollar long-term services and support (LTSS) claims. The audit focused on 12 particular service codes since those codes account for 95% of the overall volume of LTSS claims. The audit found that MCOs reimbursed providers the full amount of what the provider billed more than 97% of the time.
Prioritizing School Infrastructure, Safety, and Technology
In 2008, the Legislature created the SAVE Fund to help schools make much-needed investments in crumbling school infrastructure. SAVE has served as an important tool for schools to make important improvements that ensur modern facilities, safe classrooms, and state of the art technology that enhance students’ educational experience. However, SAVE is set to expire in 2029, which is making it difficult for schools to secure financing for critical infrastructure projects.
The House passed an extension of SAVE last session, but it did not move forward in the Senate. Extending SAVE is a top priority for House Republicans this session, and we have already begun advancing legislation that would do this through 2050. The bill, House File 546, has passed both the Education and Ways & Means committees overwhelmingly and in a bipartisan fashion.
SAVE is important for a number of reasons including:
· Resources for school infrastructure
· Prioritized school safety
· Better technology for students
· Career readiness and workforce training
Significant property tax relief
A final aspect of SAVE that is important to many Iowans is the tax relief that it provides to local property taxpayers.
Currently, 2.1% of the funds generated from the SAVE tax are devoted to reducing property taxes for local residents. Under this year’s legislation, that portion will increase to 12% over the next 10 years (a 470% increase), resulting in more than $120 million in annual property tax relief at full implementation. This is a major improvement compared to the current rate.
House Republicans are always looking for ways to address the priorities of Iowans while also giving hard-working taxpayers a seat at the table.
An extension of SAVE demonstrates House Republican’s clear commitment to supporting Iowa’s schools. This is in addition to the $90 million in new funding that was signed into law earlier this session and the unprecedented flexibility that House Republicans have provided to local districts over the last several years.
House Republicans are making education a priority and have a proven track record of addressing the needs of our students and schools.
This week I met with a group from Direct Sellers Association (pictured on the right) and Constituent Pat Ennis (pictured on the left) from the Iowa Honey Producers Association.
As always it’s a pleasure to serve you at the Iowa State House.
Iowa House District 8