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PSN on May 15, 2008 - 10:18am
In a solid session of achievement, the Iowa legislature made significant progress on expanding health care coverage, expanding public school and pre-K funding, advancing clean energy proposals, protecting veterans and students, taking on foreclosure abuses, expanding workers' rights, and improving the integrity of state ballots. However, the session was marked by a few significant setbacks, including the governor's veto of a major labor rights bill.
Health Care: The signature achievements in Iowa came in advances for health care and public health.
- Capping the legislative session was HF 2539, a bill to move the state towards full health coverage for children of families earning up to three hundred percent of the poverty line. The bill also allows young adults to stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 25 and eases barriers for people with pre-existing conditions to move to individual health plans. The legislation also creates a "medical home" system to reduce minority health disparities and encourage preventive care. With a $25 million investment in health care over three years, the bill draws a roadmap for covering all adults by 2013.
- SF 2425 earmarks a reimbursement increase for Medicaid providers to boost nurses' wages in Iowa by up to $5.1 million, critical in working to head off a projected shortfall of 9,100 registered nurses in the state by 2020.
- HF 2212 banned smoking in restaurants and bars throughout the state.
- HF 2145 requires insurers and health plans to cover vaccinations for the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Education: With approval of a $1.3 billion education bill, teachers will receive higher salaries, community colleges will see funding increases, and pre-K funding will be expanded with the goal of universal preschool for every 4-year old in the state by 2010.
Clean Energy: While lawmakers settled for making it merely a goal, not a requirement, for state utilities to derive 25 percent of their energy from alternative fuels in SF 2386, the legislature did make some important progress on clean energy goals:
HF 2689 modified the Iowa Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program to encourage more biofuel options, support new marketing efforts for alternative fuels, and encourage the purchase of renewable fuels by government.
HF 927 provided an additional $25 million for Iowa Power Fund's alternative energy research.
Workers' Rights: One of the biggest disappointments of the session was that, while the legislature enacted HF 2645 to require all public employees to pay their fair share of the costs of collective bargaining, the Governor gave into rightwing pressure and vetoed the bill. The legislature did enact HF 2194 to end exemptions from the minimum wage for small laundries, construction companies, and health care facilities, and protected whistleblowing employees by approving SF 2281, which expands protection for employees taking legal action or otherwise being a witness in civil proceedings.
Stopping Foreclosure Fraud: HF 2653 was approved to improve consumer rights in regard to foreclosure consultants and foreclosure reconveyances, providing for criminal and civil penalties for abuse of consumer rights.
Veterans: The legislature took a number of actions to help veterans in the state, including funnelling money from new lottery games towards veterans, assuring that every county has a veterans office, and preventing judges from modifying soldiers' child-custody rights because of active duty service.
Students: With HF 2690, the legislature promoted better guidance for students seeking loans to pay for college and millions of dollars were set aside for grants and foregiveable loans for low-income students and others in need. In HF 2197, colleges were also encouraged, although not required as the original draft proposed, to post the titles and book identification numbers of required books 14 days before the start of classes so that students can shop around for the lowest prices.
Voter Protection: With SF 2347, all Iowans will now vote on machines that have paper ballots that can be recounted by hand. Digital machines will be eliminated from the state.
What Wasn't Done: A saving grace of the session was that a stalemate between the two chambers meant that a harmful anti-immigrant bill approved by the House went nowhere in the Senate. Instead, as we documented a few weeks ago, the Iowa Senate approved the far better approach with a bill to significantly crack down on wage abuses by employers which lowers wage standards for all Iowans.
One key reform that failed to advance in the legislature was a "combined reporting" proposal by the Governor to close the loophole that allows multistate corporations to avoid paying much of the state corporate income taxes they owe.