In the Legislature
There is less than a week left for our scheduled end of this legislative session. The 100th day is April 18. While we are still working hard to be done by this day, we have much left to do on the budget for the next fiscal year.
Finally more flexibility for our schools
This week in the Senate, we debated and passed unanimously, HF 564 and HF 565, both of which allowed for flexibility of funds for our local school districts. For example, HF 564 will allow schools to purchase textbooks and curriculum materials from the professional development fund, if they include professional development as part of the cost. It will also allow for preschool funding to be used for age-specific playground equipment and translations services for preschool students.
HF 565 creates a flexibility account within the general fund to collect unexpended and unobligated funds from a few different sources of categorical funding. This allows the district to use those funds for the original purpose of the categorical fund or general fund purposes.
Protecting Iowa’s Patients
This week the Senate addressed “fail first” policies by insurance companies. The bill provides that when a step therapy protocol is in use, the person participating in a health benefit plan or the person’s prescribing health care professional must have access to a clear, readily accessible “step therapy override exception,” which authorizes the expedited coverage of a prescription drug selected by the prescribing health care professional, based on the review of the exception request along with supporting rationale and documentation. Time-sensitive cases have a special significance when it comes to step therapy override requests.
We are addressing this barrier to effective healthcare with House File 233. The bill also requires that patients will have access to the steps they can take to request an override of a step therapy protocol. This bill was a step forward in protecting Iowa’s patients and ensuring they have access to the help they need.
Our nation is a nation of laws. Counties and cities do not get to decide which laws they want to obey and which can be ignored. This week the Senate took up Senate File 481, which directs cities and counties to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests if an undocumented immigrant is being held in a city or county jail on a criminal charge.
I believe local governments in Iowa must comply with all laws, and this includes lawful federal detainer requests. There have been some reports of Iowa communities not honoring detainer requests. Senate File 481 would have a financial impact on cities and counties if they fail to comply with the law. Those state and federal funds that could be impacted include state appropriations, grants, loans, certain tax credits, other economic development grants, property tax backfill, mental health funding and all other funds identified by the Department of Management.
The bill passed the Senate 32-15.
Progress Continues on State Budget
This week Senate Republicans continued to work with our counterparts in the House and the governor’s office to come to agreement on a budget for the state of approximately $7.245 billion of your hard-earned money. This budget represents a decrease of more than $14 million from the revised spending plan for the current year.
This year’s budget will actually be $100 million less than last year’s budget that was approved by the legislature. This is a very rare event. I am very happy our Education Committee was able to get the 40 million new dollars for K-12 education when we did. Had this amount not been agreed on early in the year, it would have been more difficult to get this amount of money for K-12 education.
The Senate and the House are working together to build a sustainable budget for next year. This process is moving quickly and consensus has been a common theme this week. Competing priorities have been worked through in a timely manner and we expect the legislature to move toward adjournment in the coming days.
Medical cannabis bill introduced in Iowa Senate
This week the Iowa Senate introduced SF 506, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act. The bill received bipartisan support in subcommittee and the Appropriations committee. The bill has taken the first steps in the legislative process and still has some work to be done.
First, the bill changes cannabis from a schedule I to a schedule II controlled substance. Schedule I drugs currently have no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and includes other drugs such as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. That schedule includes drugs like Vicodin, Methadone, OxyContin and Ritalin.
Second, the bill establishes a system for a controlled growing operation with up to twelve dispensaries for medical marijuana across the state. The bill would allow a doctor to certify a series of diseases that might be mitigated with cannabis. Twenty diseases are listed in the legislation as being potentially helped by medical cannabis, including conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder. If FDA approved drugs don’t help a patient, with their doctor’s recommendation the patient could then apply to the Iowa Department of Public Health to receive a medical cannabis card. The cannabis would not be allowed for recreational use and would not be allowed to be provided as a smoke-able product.
State Sen. Jeff Edler can be reached at (641) 751-5902 or firstname.lastname@example.org