Laws and Policy


Iowa Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer says the state is proceeding with a controversial plan to privatize the state’s health care program for the poor and disabled, in spite of a legal challenge by unsuccessful bidders for the contract. 

An administrative law judge will rule on complaints of irregularities in the choice of four companies to manage the more than four-billion dollar Medicaid program.     

Palmer says they’re proceeding with what they know.

“We'll operate from whatever we need to in response to that decision,” Palmer says.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

A years-long battle between Iowa’s community banks and its credit unions flared up at the capitol today, where a legislative committee is conducting a routine review of tax credits.  

The financial institutions are taxed differently, and banks argue it’s an unlevel playing field.  

Kevin VanderLee with the Iowa Bankers Association describes a new community bank that was started in Johnston.

“There were individuals who made their investment to start a bank,” VanderLee says.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Update at 5:00pm: Late this afternoon, Gov. Branstad ordered all state agencies to stop any work on settlement of Syrian refugees.  

Original story: Several states are rethinking plans to accept refugees after the terrorist attacks in Paris. So far, Iowa is not among them.

Investigators say at least one of the Paris attackers slipped through Europe’s immigration system. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A statehouse committee spent the day Tuesday hearing about what’s being called a massive change in how health care in Iowa is delivered to the poor and disabled. 

Private companies are scheduled to take over management of the state-federal health care program known as Medicaid which serves more than 560-thousand Iowans.  

Critics worry about the effect on the state’s most vulnerable populations.  

John Pemble/IPR

A Republican state lawmaker has called a hearing on what he calls obscene material presented at the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth.   

The House Oversight Committee will examine whether tax dollars were inappropriately spent.

There’ve been complaints from lawmakers in the past about the conference which is sponsored by Iowa Safe Schools to address bullying and other issues of interest to LGBTQ youth. 

Ted Murphy/flickr

A state lawmaker from Cedar Rapids today grilled the director of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission over a proposed license for a smoke-free casino in their city.  

The commission denied Cedar Rapids a gaming license in 2014, citing a saturated market for casinos.  

The city is arguing that a smoke-free casino would fill an unmet need, since smoking is allowed in other gambling houses, an exemption to Iowa’s law banning smoking in public places. 

Andy Arthur/flicker

Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources report a problem with enforcement of Iowa's 35-year old bottle bill. 

Some retailers are turning consumers away when they bring their bottles and cans back for a refund. 

Retailers sometimes contract with redemption centers to take back the containers. But officials say centers are cutting back their hours to make ends meet. They say their one-cent handling fee hasn't been raised since the bottle bill passed.

That throws the responsibility back to retailers. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

There was emotional testimony today before a legislative committee over a new tax break for Iowa manufacturers which Democrats say the legislature should have signed off on.   

The Branstad administration proposes a sales tax exemption on more of the supplies manufacturers purchase, from drill bits to lubricants and coolants, and from saw blades to air filters and hydraulic fluids. 

Hades 2K/flickr

Some Iowa consumers have gone without landline phone service for weeks at a time this summer, and the Iowa Office of Consumer Advocate is requesting proceedings against the CenturyLink phone company. 

Between August 24 and September 11th, the office received eight complaints of repair delays ranging from ten days to, in one case, more than a month.  

Consumer Advocate Mark Schuling has asked the Iowa Utilities board to consolidate the cases to speed things up.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad is minimizing complaints about the private firms selected to manage Iowa’s more than four billion dollar Medicaid program that provides health care for Iowa’s poor and disabled.  

A Des Moines Register investigation shows fraud and mismanagement by the firms in other states.       

The state is scheduled to turn over management of the giant program to the four companies starting in January.    But three firms that didn’t win the contracts are requesting a review of the bidding process, which they call haphazard.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

The NAACP announced today it will host a two-day summit next month to take a comprehensive look at racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system.  

Law enforcement, judges, corrections officials and others will examine why African-Americans make up a bigger percentage in Iowa prisons than they do in the population as a whole.   

It’s a bigger event than the group has sponsored in the past.   

Governor Branstad will attend and the national NAACP will be on hand for the Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities.  

Celebrating ADA

Jul 17, 2015
Americans with Disabilities

Twenty-five years ago, through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), our nation committed itself to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is proud to play a critical role in enforcing the ADA, working towards a future in which all the doors are open to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, integration and economic self-sufficiency for persons with disabilities. In honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, the U.S.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Iowa Public Information Board which is charged with enforcing Iowa’s open records law yesterday voted to continue looking into a fatal police shooting in Burlington earlier this year.    The Board must decide whether the public has the right to see a police report on the shooting and other materials  including 911 calls and a dash cam video.  

In January, Officer Jesse Hill responded to a fight between 34-year-old Autumn Steele and her husband.   Steele’s dog bit the officer, and Hill fired his gun twice, killing Ms. Steele.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Representative of Iowa industries which emit more than 100 tons of material into the atmosphere each year were at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Air Quality Bureau today.

They’re weighing in on plans to raise their fees to better enforce the Federal  Clean Air Act. 

The DNR proposes a new $24,000 application fee for operating permits.   Also companies would pay more each year per ton of emissions.   

Bureau  Chief Catherine Fitzsimmons says with the new money, the DNR can hire more staff.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad Monday went to a John Deere dealership in Perry to sign a bill to facilitate more broadband in Iowa.     

It’s dubbed the Connect Acre Bill, and Branstad says agriculture is just one business that will benefit from more high-speed internet access.   

The bill includes property tax breaks for communications companies to build out broadband to underserved areas, but not the five million dollars in grants the governor asked for. 

Photo by John Pemble

Iowa’s two Republican U.S. Senators Tuesday split their votes on a measure to strengthen the U.S. ban on torturing detainees.  

Senator Chuck Grassley voted yes on an amendment to bolster current law and give the Red Cross access to all detainees.   Senator Joni Ernest was among 21 Senators voting no.

“It is not wise to let our enemies known what our techniques are--that allows them to train, resist, and defeat it," Ernst said.

She says the president should be able to authorize torture if there’s a potential threat against Americans. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

By a vote of seven to two, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission Tuesday sided with developers over environmentalists and homeowners when it comes to putting back topsoil after new homes and businesses go up.     

The new rules will no longer require at least four inches of topsoil.     

Federal rules require restoration of topsoil to prevent stormwater runoff, but developers say Iowa’s standard is too strict.      

Photo by John Pemble

Governor Branstad today offered sympathy to the family of an Iowa Children’s Museum employee who was shot and killed inside the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville on Friday.   

Andrea Farrington, 20, of Cedar Rapids had reportedly complained that the suspect in the shooting had been watching her and leaving notes on her car. Governor Branstad is not ruling out new legislation on stalking as a result of the shooting.

Spring Dew/flickr

Utility employees from out-of-state who come in and save the day when there’s a major power outage would get some help at tax-filing time, under a bill state lawmakers have approved and sent to the governor. 

If Gov. Branstad signs the bill, employees who, for example, come to Iowa from Wisconsin would no longer have Iowa taxes withheld no matter how much money they earn here. 

Victoria Danielson at the Iowa Department of Revenue says the change will streamline tax-filing for the workers.

Photo by John Pemble

Budget disputes prevailed to the very end, as the Iowa legislature today wrapped up its 2015 legislative session.    It now remains to be seen if the governor signs all of the roughly seven-point-three billion dollars in spending approved in the waning days.  

It was the  145th day of what was supposed to be a 110 day session.     

As the Senate put its finishing touches on education funding,    Ames Democrat Herman Quirmbach got in one last complaint.

“This bill is a band aid on a festering sore in the area of education,” Quirmbach says.


It's clear that the sale of so-called farm-raised deer will be taxed under a bill that passed in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session.   Debate was marked by passionate input from a leading hunting advocate in the Iowa Senate. 

Up to now, some farmers had been considering the sales to be tax-exempt in the manner of the sales of other livestock such as hogs or cattle.

Des Moines Democrat Dick Dearden says deer which are raised on farms to be sold to preserves are not raised for meet, as other farm animals are.     They’re raised for their antlers.

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa House and Senate have reached a compromise on Governor Branstad’s proposal to encourage more broadband in the state, one of his top priorities for two years in a row.  

It’s one of several pieces that are falling into place as lawmakers strive toward adjournment.  

A House-passed bill offered property tax abatements for communications companies that expand broadband into underserved areas.   But Senate Democrats questioned   whether more Iowans would actually be served.


A fight by Iowa cities over where communications  companies can erect cellphone towers has been resolved at the statehouse.  

That eliminates one more roadblock as lawmakers slog toward adjournment of the 2015 session.  

Des Moines Democrat Janet Peterson says interested parties hammered out an agreement on how much say-so cities can have.

‘We had a number of concessions where the League of Cities came together,” Peterson.   “They said they thought they could live with the changes that are being made.”

John Pemble/IPR

After weeks of bipartisan negotiations, the Iowa House and Senate last night defied the governor, and voted to have the state continue to operate the Mental Health Institute at Mount Pleasant.  

A spokesman for Governor Branstad says he will carefully review the bill.

By a comfortable margin in the Senate, and a narrow margin in the House, a Health and Human Services budget was approved to hire back laid-off workers at Mount Pleasant and restore mental health services.   Clarinda will stay open through December with a plan to privatize services after that.  

Angelo Mercado/flickr

With some opposition, the Iowa Senate today approved a resolution that will allow the Meskwaki settlement near Tama to assume jurisdiction for criminal justice.

Tama County oversees law enforcement and prosecutions at the settlement.  

The resolution asks the federal government to repeal a 1948 law giving the state of Iowa oversight of offenses by Meskwakis against Meskwakis.  

State Center Democrat Steve Sodders says tribal leaders  have been asking for this for a long time.

Jim Wall/flickr

It would be easier for farmers to receive a sales tax exemption on off-road vehicles under a bill still eligible for passage by the 2015 legislature. 

Farmers get a sales tax exemption for machinery and equipment used for farming, including ATV’s.    But the law says the vehicle must be used directly for production agriculture.  

Victoria Daniels at the Department of Revenue says by law you can’t use the vehicle  “in preparation for or subsequent to” agricultural production.   She says that’s hard to enforce.

Ted Murphy/flickr

A new tax break for Iowa’s casino industry has so far not made it through the Iowa legislature. 

But backers say if it doesn’t pass this year, they will bring the issue back in 2016.  

Wes Ehrecke with the Iowa Gaming Association says casinos shouldn’t have to pay state sales tax on the full amount if a gambler is paying part of his bill with a coupon.

“You have a tax on unreal money, it’s fake money, it’s a coupon,” Ehrecke says. “And  when you go to Kohl’s or Hy-Vee or somewhere and you get a $20, coupon the business doesn’t pay tax on that.” 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Parents of grown children who died from drug overdose were at the capitol today lobbying for legislation they say might have saved lives.

Activists wore shirts bearing the name of Andy Lamp, a Davenport man who died of an overdose of heroin at the age of 33.    

His mother Kim Brown says a friend who was with him at the time was unable to help.

“He died May 25, 2011 of an accidental overdose,” Brown says.  “He wasn’t alone and I’m here in support of our overdose prevention bill.”

Children and Young People's Research Network/flickr

A $3 million state program to support treatment of autism in children will continue under a social services bill making its way through the legislature. But one backer wants a change in how the money is spent.   

Mount Pleasant Republican David Heaton says the program has faltered, not through lack of interest, but through lack of expertise in treating autism.       

Flickr / Eli Feldblum

Florida-based Global Travel International Inc. has reached an agreement with the Iowa Attorney General’s office to pay nearly $45,000 in refunds to Iowans. The buying club advertises savings on retail or travel-related purchases.

Attorney General Tom Miller alleges that starting in 2008, Global Travel enrolled Iowans without giving specific notices or disclosures. As a result people were charged monthly membership fees without the proper consent.