Laws and Policy

IOLTA / Office of Professional Regulation, Iowa Judicial Branch

Nearly $240,000 in grants will be given to 14 Iowa legal non-profits that assist low-income people. This funding comes from the state's Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account program, which has suffered extreme decreases over the past decade.

So while this year's grants total $28,000 more than what was distributed in 2015-16, the funding is still less than what some legal service organizations say they need. 

A New Jersey man and his companies have agreed to pay $45,000 to the state of Iowa in the settlement of an alleged psychic mail scam.

Timothy Clements owns both TCA Mailing Inc. and T. Clements & Associates Inc. The state of Iowa suspects these companies marketed to and billed at least one Iowan in a psychic services scam.

Flickr / Michael Coghlan

In February, only 61 percent of those who took the Iowa State Bar Examination passed.  That's the lowest pass rate in more than a decade.

Taking the bar is required of all who wish to practice law in Iowa. February's 69 test takers came from more than two dozen law schools. 

Drake Law School Dean Ben Ullem says to better prepare its students for the bar exam, the school has altered the structure of courses.

Iowa Gunowners

There’s division in the ranks of gun rights groups in Iowa over pro-gun bills which have gained final passage in the Iowa legislature.

A group that calls itself Iowa’s Only No Compromise Gun Lobby is criticizing the compromise bills, and blaming the NRA and the Iowa Firearms Coalition for their role in the negotiations.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

The organization that represents some 63,000 Iowans with Alzheimer’s disease had its annual lobby day at the capitol today. 

Officials with the Alzheimer's Association say they want more accountability for health care workers providing dementia care.    

Currently, health care workers in nursing homes and other facilities must have a certain number of hours of dementia training.  

Carol Sipfle, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association Iowa Chapter, wants workers to show their competence as well.

Bryan McDonald/flickr

More than a year later than required by state law, negotiators in the Iowa House and Senate have agreed to a two-point-two-five percent increase in basic state aid for K-12 schools next year.  

Democrats say that’s the “best they can do” with a divided legislature.  The compromise is about 80 million dollars less than the 4 percent increase Democrats approved, but Republicans say schools will receive 87 percent of all new state revenue next year.   

Tom Narak with the School Administrators of Iowa calls the compromise obviously inadequate.

Iowa Senate Video Archive

On a mostly party-line vote, the Iowa Senate has approved a bill to add transgender individuals to those protected by Iowa’s hate crimes statute. 

The vote on Tuesday came after the killing last week of a teenager in Burlington.

Sixteen-year-old Kedarie Johnson was shot to death last Wednesday.   The student’s body was later discovered in an alley.

State Senator Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) says Johnson was transitioning from female to male.

jubilo haku/flickr

Iowa school districts will not be required to offer at least one high school computer science class under a bill that was scaled back in the Iowa House this week. 

The bill instead creates an advisory committee to make recommendations in time for the 2018-2019 school year. 

The committee will address whether schools should include a unit on coding for seventh and eighth graders.  

They’ll also consider whether students should be able to take a computer class to meet a school’s math requirement, and how many new teachers would be required.    

wintersoul1/flickr

Lifetime handicapped parking permits would become a thing of the past if a bill in the Iowa Senate becomes law.

Lawmakers say some drivers may be acquiring permits from other family members, and using them to take up parking spaces reserved for drivers with real disabilities. 

Statehouse lobbyist Brian Johnson has a permanent disability.  

He believes some drivers are using permits passed down to them from parents or grandparents.

Russell/IPR

After a vigorous debate, a state board today voted not to try to recover nearly half-a-million dollars in unemployment benefits that mistakenly went out to workers two years ago because of a technical malfunction at Iowa Workforce Development  

The former director of the state agency that distributes unemployment benefits came under harsh criticism today at a meeting of the board of directors for IWD.

Valdosta-Lowndes MPO/flickr

Vehicles overtaking bicyclists on roadways without bike lanes would have to give the cyclists plenty of room under a bill that passed the Iowa Senate today.    

Under the bill, the car or truck would have to get completely over in the adjoining lane to pass, just as they do while passing any other vehicle. 

Lawmakers told stories of fatal or near-fatal accidents on county roadways. 

Waterloo Democrat Bill Dotzler described harrowing experiences on a bicycle in rural Butler County.

John Pemble/IPR

After months of discussion, out of state for-profit companies now have the go-ahead to take over Iowa’s Medicaid program for the poor and disabled on April 1st.  

The Branstad administration Tuesday received word of approval from the federal government though the date was once again delayed.  

In December, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services delayed implementation from January 1st to March 1st, stating that key requirements on 16 action items were not met, including adequate provider networks to serve Iowa’s more than 500,000  Medicaid patients. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Some third graders who can’t read at grade level would get help this summer under a pilot project the Branstad administration announced today.  

The project will help prepare the state for next year, when struggling students will attend summer school, or be required to repeat third grade.    

It’s part of a compromise struck in 2012.     Some GOP lawmakers wanted to keep back all third graders  not reading at grade level.     The compromise instead requires summer school if a student wants to advance to fourth grade.  

Stephen Chin/flickr

Another gun rights bill got its first airing at the statehouse today, with majority Republicans on a three-member panel signing on, and the lone Democrat objecting.  

The bill would allow loaded firearms on snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles on both public and private property.     Currently, a gun must be unloaded and in a case.  

Richard Rogers with the Iowa Firearms Coalition says there are two problems with the current law.

Photo by John Pemble

State education officials say they’ll spend the next 18 months figuring out what a new federal education law requires.  

President Obama signed the law replacing the controversial No Child Left Behind statute.  

The new law is dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act.

It gives more power back to the states for accountability, teacher evaluations, and how to push poorly performing schools to improve. 

Speaking to the state board of Education, Department of Education Director Ryan Wise says there’s a lot in the bill to digest.

Iowa Department of Education

The Iowa Board of Education today agreed to ease up on a summer school mandate for students who don’t yet read at grade level.

It’s part of a new state law that will affect thousands of 3rd graders starting after the 2016-2017 school year. 

Some Republican lawmakers sought to hold back all 3rd graders not reading at grade level.  In a compromise with Democrats, the law mandates intensive summer instruction instead.  

Phil Wise with the Iowa Department of Education warns students will be held back if they don’t meet the summertime requirements.

flickr

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.  

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