Statehouse and Politics

Joyce Russell/IPR

A workgroup studying how to protect drug-endangered children is considering changes in state law to address caregivers involved with illegal and legal drugs.   

The current law was designed to protect kids in homes where methamphetamines were being used, sold, or manufactured.           

Under a proposed bill, a wider variety of controlled substances could lead to a child abuse assessment.     

Janee Harvey with the DHS Child Welfare Bureau says currently cocaine, heroin, or opioids are treated differently from meth.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A three-year-old state law to crack down on theft of public funds from Iowa’s smallest cities has not cut down on fraud.   

Six-hundred small towns are now getting surprise visits from the state auditor’s office.     

The law mandates an audit at least every eight years.   

State Auditor Mary Mosiman says so far city employees are stealing public funds at about the same rate.

“I have to say we haven’t seen any reduction,” Mosiman said.   “When people want to commit fraud they figure out a way to try to do it until it's brought to the attention.”

House GOP caucus

Republicans in the Iowa House have voted to re-install the leaders who oversaw last week’s GOP success at the ballot box.

Republicans now enjoy at a 59 seat majority in the House after defeating two Democratic incumbents last week.

Meeting in private on Wednesday, they re-elected Rep. Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake as Speaker of the House and Rep. Chris Hagenow of Windsor Heights as majority leader.   He will direct the House debate calendar.

House Republicans will meet next month to discuss specifics on the agenda.

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled Governor Branstad had the authority to close the state-run Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant last year.      

The court threw out a complaint by two dozen Democrats in the state legislature and the president of the union that represented many of the workers at the two facilities.  

The Mental Health Institutes were closed on June 30th of last year, putting members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees out of work.

WonderWhy/flickr

Governor Branstad says a higher minimum wage in some parts of the state but not others is causing problems for businesses and local governments.   

He says he’ll work with the legislature to try to agree on a higher statewide minimum wage.

Linn, Polk, Wapello, and Johnson Counties have approved a higher countywide minimum wage.    But not all towns in those counties have gone along.  

Also, the governor says, some cities straddle county lines.  

Iowa Public Radio/Sarah Boden

A federal report released last year shows in 2014, for-profit companies managing part of Iowa’s three billion dollar Medicaid program made far fewer faulty payments than the state-run portion of the program.  

Governor Branstad says that shows fraud and abuse will go down, now that for-profit companies are in charge of most of Iowa’s Medicaid patients.      

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Terry Branstad confirmed on Monday that the for-profit companies now managing Iowa’s multi-billion dollar Medicaid program did not follow the rules in the first two months of operation. But the governor also says the state issued no warnings or fees, in spite of complaints of late payments to health care providers and delayed care to patients.  

Gage Skidmore/flickr

A spokesman for Governor Branstad confirms that the governor has agreed to advise the Donald Trump campaign on renewable fuels and other issues, what the spokesman calls “issues important to Iowans".  

But the spokesman declined to comment on reports that another prominent Iowan, agribusiness leader Bruce Rastetter, is on the list for a job in a Trump administration.  

Branstad spokesman Ben Hammes is downplaying the announcement about the governor advising Trump.

John Pemble/IPR
John Pemble/IPR

There are enough state troopers roaming the Iowa State Fairgounds, so fairgoers don’t need to bring in their own weapons to protect themselves.     

That’s from Governor Branstad, commenting on the current ban on fairgoers carrying loaded guns, even  for those with concealed weapons permits.

Branstad says he supports the right to carry.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad’s chief information officer says state government is at moderate risk of attack by hackers and other malicious operators on the internet, and a new cybersecurity strategy should help mitigate that risk.    

Robert von Wolffradt says state government is concerned about the kind of attack on the Department of Revenue in South Carolina that exposed social security and credit card numbers for thousands of taxpayers.   

He says the new strategy includes a comprehensive analysis of risk and how to mitigate it.

ACLU of Iowa

A long-time employee at the Iowa Women’s Prison in Mitchellville has filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission alleging discrimination on the basis of gender identity. 

According to the complaint, 34-year old Department of Corrections transgender nurse Jesse Vroegh is being denied access to male restrooms and locker rooms, but  is allowed to use unisex facilities instead.       

Joyce Russell/IPR

A new state law is in effect expanding access to a drug that can stop the effects of a heroin or opioid overdose and prevent it from being fatal.  

In the waning hours of the legislative session, lawmakers agreed to let family members purchase the antidote ahead of an overdose emergency.   

Earlier in the session lawmakers approved a bill allowing family members or friends to possess and administer naloxone but under that bill they couldn’t buy it.  

Kevin Gabbert at the Iowa Department of Public Health says that was a big gap.

Cabrera Photo/flickr

Children living in homes where caregivers are using, selling, or manufacturing drugs may see new protections as a result of a working group convening soon in Des Moines. 

The group will study the issue after a bill filed this year on drug-endangered children failed to pass. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republican State Auditor Mary Mosiman warns that an $800 million state budget surplus has now fallen to about $80 million because of big property tax cuts and a new teacher leadership program.   

She warns against new multi-year commitments, now that state tax receipts have dwindled. 

Mosiman says when lawmakers passed the big programs, the state could afford them.

“It’s taxpayer money and we need to do something with it,” Mosiman says.  “So they put it to use with the multiyear commitments being education and property tax reform.” 

Randy Bayne / Flickr

In a speech after his victory in the West Virginia primary Tuesday, Bernie Sanders made a nod towards unity in his party. 

"Our message to the Democratic delegates who will be assembling in Philadelphia is while we may have many disagreements with Secretary Clinton, there is one area we agree, and that is we must defeat Donald Trump."

John Pemble/IPR

Lawmakers wrapped up the 2016 legislative session at the Statehouse on Friday, April 29. While the House and the Senate reached a deal on the budget which included tax credits for couples who adopt instead of defunding Planned Parenthood, they did not compromise on bills that would have expanded access to medical marijuana or funded new water quality initiatives in the state. 

Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia / Wikimedia Commons

Supporters of a sentencing reform bill approved by the Iowa legislature this session call it a "step in the right direction," despite the fact that there is bipartisan agreement that more steps are needed to address racial disparities in Iowa's criminal justice system.

The bill is awaiting Governor Terry Branstad's signature.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad and the top Democrat in the Iowa Senate exchanged harsh words Monday over the legislature's failure to approve a plan for water quality improvements before adjourning last week.    

Governor Branstad's proposal to tap school infrastructure dollars to raise billions of dollars for water quality fell flat.  

On a bipartisan vote, the House passed a bill to divert money from other state programs but the bill was not debated in the Senate.  

Branstad says Majority Leader Mike Gronstal wasn't serious about doing something about water quality this year.

John Pemble/IPR

State lawmakers brought their 2016 legislative session to a close last evening before darkness fell,   wrapping things up a week and a half past their scheduled shutdown.    

The roughly seven-point-three billion dollar state budget is now on its way to the governor, and lawmakers go home to campaign for re-election.  

One of the most highlighted ambitions for the 2016 session did not come to pass, and that’s a long-term plan to clean up Iowa’s rivers and streams.

Joyce Russell/IPR

After months of negotiations, statehouse Democrats and Republicans have reached agreement on how to keep an eye on the new privatized Medicaid system. Since April 1, health care for more than half a million Iowans has been managed by for-profit companies. 

Rep. Linda Miller (R-Bettendorf) says under the compromise more consumers will be added to a key Medicaid advisory council.

“We’ve told the governor he has to get the consumers on there,” Miller said, “at least ten consumers on there, I think, by July 1st.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

An expansion of Iowa’s medical cannabis law was defeated this week in the Iowa House, leading to an emotional reaction from affected families.

"I'm disappointed," says Sally Gaer. "I feel misled by the members of the House. We've been working on this for months, and what they did [Monday] night shows they have no conscience - pure and simple. They decided not to help Iowans most vulnerable because they, quite frankly, don't care."

John Pemble/IPR

 

The lobbying groups who treat state lawmakers to thousands of dollars worth of free food every year could face some new requirements under last-minute legislation at the capitol.   

It’s part of an 11th hour budget bill under consideration as the legislature marches toward adjournment.  

Interest groups routinely serve breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks to elected representatives as they work to influence legislation.

There’s no limit on what they can spend during the session as long as all lawmakers are invited.  

John Pemble/IPR

A state senator who oversees spending on public buildings, including the capitol complex, has harsh words for Governor Branstad as state lawmakers move toward adjournment.  

The governor has rejected borrowing for infrastructure repairs, including more than $600 million in deferred maintenance.

As a result, repairs will be left undone at the Wallace State Office Building, the State Historical Building, and the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

Des Moines Democrat Matt McCoy charges that Branstad will not leave public buildings in better shape than he found them.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Activists held a news conference at the statehouse today, visibly shaken by Monday night’s defeat in the House of a medical marijuana bill.  

Backers of medical marijuana say they are still hoping lawmakers will approve a bill legalizing its production and distribution in Iowa so patients don’t have to travel to other states. 

Parents of epileptic children including, Sally Gaer of West Des Moines, say the legislative session is not over yet.

”There is a way to fix this and I implore the house to continue to fight,” Gaer said. 

Des Moines Water Works Blog

The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit against three northwest Iowa counties over nitrates in the water sparked debate in the Iowa House today.   

A rural lawmaker wants to expand representation on the Water Works Board of Trustees.

He says that’s in part because of the lawsuit alleging drainage districts in Sac, Calhoun, and Buena Vista counties are responsible for high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River.

Rep. Jared Klein (R-Keota) wants urban and rural areas surrounding Des Moines to have a seat at the table if the Water Works raises its rates. 

John Pemble/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa House last night offered legislation to expand the number of medical conditions covered by Iowa’s medical cannabis law.  

But the legislation would still require Iowans to travel to another state, and it was defeated by a wide margin.  

The measure was debated as a bill to legalize the production and distribution of medical marijuana in Iowa remains stalled in the House.   

Under last night’s bill, Iowans would still have to travel to a limited number of states to purchase cannabis, but that could be expanded to nearby Minnesota.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa public safety officials say they make a handful of arrests each year for attempted child abductions, and they’re advising Iowans to be aware of suspicious activity now that children will be outside in spring weather.  

The Department of Public Safety last year formed a Child Abduction Response Team after abductions and murders of children in Evansdale and Dayton.  

Department Director Roxann Ryan says Iowans are already phoning in when they see something that looks like an abduction in progress.

John Pemble / IPR

Lawmakers return to the capitol in Des Moines for what is expected to be the final week of the 2016 legislative session. Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talked with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell about the big issues they’re going to tackle (or not) before they can go home.

1)      The State Budget. This is always an issue Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House have to agree over.  A GOP Human Services Budget bill that defunds Planned Parenthood must be reconciled with the Democratic Senate.  

John Pemble

Families striving to raise autistic children would get help under a human services budget approved in  the Republican-controlled Iowa House this week.   

But Democrats say private insurers should cover the treatment to take the burden off taxpayers.

Under the bill, more families will have access to a revolving fund to pay for intensive treatment.

“To be able to have early intervention will offer an opportunity to reach a state of normalcy,”  said Rep. David Heaton (R-Mount Pleasant).  

Photo by John Pemble

The golden dome of the historic Iowa State Capitol is succumbing to damage from the inside out, and scaffolding will soon envelop the structure as part of a $10 million restoration.  

The dome was regilded in 2005, but McCoy says the current problems weren't apparent during a prior restoration project. 

Des Moines Democrat Matt McCoy says moisture has seeped in and eroded the mortar.

“They are going to have to go up into the dome, with scaffolding all around the dome,” McCoy says, “and fix and repair the cupola on down.”

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