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Terry Branstad

Disability rights advocates sound alarm about Iowa Medicaid privatization

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 23, 2015 at 09:11:14 AM CDT

Iowans who advocate for people with disabilities have deep concerns about Governor Terry Branstad's plan to privatize Medicaid, shifting most recipients into managed care. Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum, who has been caregiver to a daughter with developmental disabilities, has been warning for weeks that the reorganization of Medicaid is too hasty and needs oversight from state lawmakers. Last week she discussed potential problems in more detail, citing the Kansas experience with Medicaid privatization as a cautionary tale. After the jump I've posted the transcript from that press conference. Supporting documents are available here on how managed care has affected Kansans with disabilities.

Meanwhile, Disability Rights Iowa Executive Director Jane Hudson shared her take on the "empty promises" in Branstad's plan for Medicaid. You can read the full text of her April 20 guest column for the Des Moines Register at the newspaper's website or at Disability Rights Iowa. I've enclosed a few passages after the jump, but you should click through to read the whole piece. Nearly 20 advocacy groups for Iowans with disabilities or mental health challenges signed on to Hudson's editorial; the full list is below.

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New Iowa Workforce Development Director cleaning up Teresa Wahlert's mess

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:58:14 AM CDT

Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend is implementing key recommendations from the U.S. Department of Labor to resolve concerns about the previous agency director's actions. Townsend's actions provide a refreshing contrast to Teresa Wahlert's management of Iowa Workforce Development, which sparked recurring controversy and not one, not two, but three lawsuits.
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Schools paying the price for Iowa legislative dysfunction

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 21, 2015 at 14:00:00 PM CDT

Nearly a week after the deadline for school districts to certify their budgets for the coming year, Iowa lawmakers are still not close to a deal on K-12 education funding. Some 300 teachers have been laid off in anticipation of no increase or only a minimal increase in state aid.

Statehouse Republicans who are resisting the obvious compromise on school funding claim Iowa doesn't have the money Democrats want to spend on K-12 schools, let alone the amount educators asked for. Reality: money could be found for an adequate increase in state aid to schools if not for an expensive commercial property tax cut lawmakers approved two years ago, adding some $277 million in fiscal year 2016 alone to other costly tax breaks for Iowa business interests.  

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Term limits would be terrible for the Iowa legislature

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 19, 2015 at 20:19:39 PM CDT

Annals of the absurd: Iowa's longest-serving state legislator, who sought a ninth Senate term last year at the age of 80, is now beating the drum for term limits.

What a terrible idea, especially for a state whose governor already takes an expansive view of his own powers.  

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Shorter Terry Branstad: It's good to be the king

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 07, 2015 at 20:26:59 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad made a remarkable claim at his latest press conference: because "the people of Iowa elected me to reduce the size and cost of government," he has the authority to "make tough decisions" on closing state-run mental health facilities and reorganizing Medicaid services for more than half a million Iowans.

To justify his position, Branstad channeled President Harry Truman: "The buck stops with me." But his view of governance reminds me more of Mel Brooks in the movie "History of the World, Part 1": "It's good to be the king."

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Outgoing Iowa Utilities Board member slams Branstad's attempt to "appease" major utility

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 03, 2015 at 09:45:28 AM CDT

Outgoing Iowa Utilities Board member Sheila Tipton sent Governor Terry Branstad a scathing letter after not being reappointed to the three-member board last month, Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press. Tipton defended a board decision from earlier this year, which greatly displeased MidAmerican Energy. She warned that by removing her and demoting Iowa Utilities Board Chair Libby Jacobs, Branstad was undermining state agencies' independence "in order to appease MidAmerican Energy," thereby doing "a disservice to the citizens of this State."

Tipton also characterized Branstad's recent personnel changes as  "unfair," saying she had received verbal assurances in 2013 that she would be reappointed to a full six-year term if she accepted the governor's offer to serve out Swati Dandekar's unexpired term.

I enclose the full text of Tipton's letter after the jump, along with a statement provided by the governor's office, which defends the appointment of Geri Huser and denies that Tipton was promised a full term on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Even if Branstad or his staff did promise verbally to reappoint Tipton, the governor retains the right to change his mind. However, Tipton is unquestionably correct that the latest Iowa Utilities Board changes look like "an attempt to 'bring the agency in line' and to influence its future decision-making in a way that favors the utilities."

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New Iowa law aims to ease cities' concerns about sledding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 02, 2015 at 15:05:00 PM CDT

Iowa received some some unflattering national media coverage this year after the Dubuque City Council banned sledding at most city parks, out of what many considered excessive fears about litigation.

A law Governor Terry Branstad signed yesterday should bring joy to thousands of Iowa sledders next winter.  

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Quit stalling and make a deal on Iowa school funding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 02, 2015 at 09:00:00 AM CDT

Iowa legislative leaders like to boast about how well they work together, in contrast to the "gridlock" seen in Washington when different parties controlled the upper and lower chambers of Congress.

Yet Iowa lawmakers can be remarkably slow to move toward obvious solutions to some disagreements. Less than two weeks before school districts need to adopt budgets covering the 2015/2016 academic year, Iowa House Republicans and Senate Democrats are nowhere close to a deal on K-12 school funding. What is their problem?  

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August 23 to be set as earliest start date for most Iowa schools

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 31, 2015 at 16:16:11 PM CDT

A bill prohibiting school districts from starting the academic year before August 23 is on its way to Governor Terry Branstad, who has indicated that he can accept the compromise. UPDATE: The governor signed the bill on April 10.

The school start date issue has taken up a lot of oxygen at the statehouse this legislative session, despite a lack of evidence that the timing of the academic year affects Iowa's tourism sector in any meaningful way. Follow me after the jump for details on Senate File 227's journey through the legislature, including how Iowa House and Senate members voted on different versions of the bill.

The governor's determination to use state power to supersede decisions reached independently by more than 300 school boards and superintendents is yet another example of the Branstad administration's disregard for local control in many policy areas. For my money, that's one of the most under-reported Iowa politics stories of the last five years.

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School Start Dates Have Nothing to Do With Tourism

by: daveswen

Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 10:15:00 AM CDT

(Not the first time and won't be the last that Iowa lawmakers get bogged down in a dispute based on a false premise. Click here to read the full text of the school start date bill and here for the bill history, which shows how it changed from the Iowa Senate version to what passed the House. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Dave Swenson 
 
We have a debate in the Iowa Assembly on constraining early school starts.  It arose after the Iowa Department of Education indicated it would no longer routinely approve school starts prior to the week containing the 1st day of September.  Governor Branstad weighed in as well indicating that early start dates negatively affected attendance at the State Fair and threatened tourism.   School districts squawked, and the legislature weighed-in. The current Iowa House bill wants no starts prior to the 23rd of August, which is around the time when the State Fair typically ends.  The Iowa Senate would allow districts to set school dates based on their localized preferences. Reconcilliation is in order.
 
Without citing any evidence at all, school start dates and tourism were pitted to be at odds with each other.  But it is a phony argument: there is no evidence that early start dates interfere in any meaningful sense with the Iowa State Fair or with any other tourism activity in Iowa.   
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Branstad insists he pressured Workers' Comp official because of business, not bias

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 19, 2015 at 10:17:05 AM CDT

New details have emerged about Governor Terry Branstad's testimony in the lawsuit Iowa's former Workers' Compensation Commissioner filed three years ago, charging discrimination, defamation, and other claims. Ryan Foley of the Associated Press reported highlights from the transcript of Branstad's deposition last November.
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Three ways to help save an important rule for Iowa water and soil

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 18, 2015 at 07:30:17 AM CDT

The next few weeks will be critically important for deciding whether Iowa keeps a statewide rule designed to preserve topsoil and reduce stormwater runoff, which carries pollution to our waterways. Bleeding Heartland discussed the 4-inch topsoil rule here and here. Todd Dorman has been on the case with several good columns for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, most recently here.

Follow me after the jump for background on the issue and details on how to weigh in. Submitting a comment takes only a few minutes, or Iowans may attend public hearings in Cedar Rapids tonight, Davenport on March 25, or Des Moines on March 27 (scroll down for times and locations).

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U.S. Department of Labor wants Branstad administration to clean up Teresa Wahlert's mess

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 17, 2015 at 12:16:30 PM CDT

The U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration has given Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend a list of tasks to "strengthen Iowa's compliance with Federal law" and address various concerns about the actions of Teresa Wahlert, Townsend's predecessor.

It's another sign that while Wahlert may not be Governor Terry Branstad's worst appointee during his current administration, she's a solid contender.

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New AFSCME contract: Branstad gets his way on salaries but not on health insurance

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 16, 2015 at 18:14:54 PM CDT

For the third time in a row, binding arbitration was needed to finalize a two-year contract for state workers covered by Iowa's largest labor union. For the first time in decades, workers covered by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) will pay a small amount toward their health insurance premiums, but not nearly as large a share as Governor Terry Branstad wanted them to contribute.

On the other hand, the arbitrator accepted the state's final offer on salary increases for the roughly 40,000 public employees covered by AFSCME Iowa Council 61. Details are after the jump.

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Weekend open thread: New jobs for former Iowa lawmakers edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 15, 2015 at 09:56:11 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Looking through Governor Terry Branstad's latest set of appointments and nominations, I was again struck by how many former Iowa House and Senate members end up on state boards and commissions. I remember Governors Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver appointing lawmakers to high-profile jobs too, but the trend seems more pronounced under the current governor. Background and details on the new appointees are after the jump.

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Iowa GOP chooses Boone site for revamped straw poll

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 12, 2015 at 11:40:00 AM CDT

The Republican Party of Iowa's State Central Committee voted this morning to hold this year's presidential candidate "straw poll" at the Central Iowa Expo in Boone on August 8. Three other sites were considered: the Iowa State Center in Ames, the Iowa Speedway in Newton, and Drake University in Des Moines. I figured Ames would be rejected to draw a clear line between the much-maligned "Ames Straw Poll" and the future. I figured Drake was out because it is the new home of the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement. The Newton Speedway is relatively accessible from all corners of the state, but Newton lies east of Des Moines area--the "wrong" direction from the perspective of the GOP base. Boone is more geographically central for the Republican activist community. The fact that Governor Terry Branstad used to live in Boone probably didn't hurt either.

In a press release I've enclosed below, Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann said the Boone location will help "showcase" Iowa's agricultural heritage and "keep ticket prices affordable." Speaking to reporters this morning, Kaufmann said

"Now comes the brass tacks. Now comes the actual details of how the voting will occur," Kaufmann said. "How are we going to go about being fair to the candidates who decide to participate? How much we're going to be aggressive toward sponsors all the way to exactly what is it that we are going to have to charge in order to be fair to the Iowa Republicans that want to attend, but at the same time making sure that our bottom line is guarded."

I expect this summer's event will much resemble previous straw polls, perhaps with less of a "winnowing" effect. Poor showings at the 2008 and 2012 straw polls prompted Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty to make early exits from the presidential race.

UPDATE: Added below excerpts from Kathie Obradovich's commentary.

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Two ways 40,000 Iowans could lose their health insurance

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 04, 2015 at 14:40:13 PM CST

At least 40,000 Iowans are in danger of losing their health insurance later this year, and not only because of the King v Burwell case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Regardless of how justices decide that case, Iowans could lose access to federal subsidies they need to buy insurance policies.

State legislators and Governor Terry Branstad could eliminate the risk by working together to establish a fully state-run health insurance exchange this year. But for reasons I can't comprehend, I see no sense of urgency to prevent a potentially devastating outcome for thousands of families.  

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Iowa Democratic lawmakers seeking to expand medical cannabis law

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 03, 2015 at 16:15:45 PM CST

Iowa Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Joe Bolkcom has introduced a bill to make medical marijuana more broadly available to Iowans suffering from life-threatening or chronic illnesses. Senate Study Bill 1243 would allow the possession and use of medical cannabis (not just the cannabis oil derivative legalized last year) for any of the following "debilitating medical conditions": cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, AIDS or HIV, glaucoma, hepatitis C, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (often known as Lou Gehrig's disease), Ehlers-danlos syndrome, or post-traumatic stress syndrome. Scroll to the end of this post for a detailed summary of the bill.

The latest Des Moines Register poll by Selzer & Co indicates that 70 percent of Iowans favor allowing medical marijuana use. Yet Iowa's new law allowing cannabis oil treatments has yet to benefit a single patient. Nevertheless, persuading Iowa House Republicans and Governor Terry Branstad to legalize marijuana for additional medical conditions may be an uphill battle. Follow me after the jump for more background on this issue, and excerpts from recent testimony before members of the Iowa Senate.

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Bakken pipeline links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 02, 2015 at 09:51:19 AM CST

The proposed Bakken pipeline is one of the most urgent issues facing Iowa's environmental community. The Texas-based company Energy Transfer Partners wants to build the pipeline to transport crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, crossing eighteen Iowa counties in the process. Governor Terry Branstad has made clear he won't support any legislative action to stop the pipeline. That will leave the initial decision up to the Iowa Utilities Board, though approval by other state and federal agencies would be needed later; more details on that are below.

Two dozen non-profit groups have formed a coalition to fight the pipeline. You can keep up with their work on Facebook or at the No Bakken website. I'm active with several of the coalition members and enclosed the full list after the jump. The Sierra Club's Iowa chapter outlined some of the key concerns concisely and explained how members of the public can submit comments.

Former state legislator Ed Fallon, who ran for governor in 2006 and for Congress in 2008, is kicking off a 400-mile walk along the proposed pipeline route today, starting from southeast Iowa and heading northwest over the next several weeks. I've enclosed below an excerpt from his first e-mail update about the walk, in which Fallon recounts a conversation with Lee County farmers whose land lies along the proposed pipeline route. Click here to view upcoming events, including a public meetings for residents of Lee County this evening, for Van Buren County residents in Birmingham on March 5, and for Jefferson County residents in Fairfield on March 6.

The latest Iowa poll conducted by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics found that a majority of Iowans support the Bakken pipeline, but a larger majority oppose using eminent domain to seize land for the pipeline. Excerpts from the Iowa poll findings are at the end of this post.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. - The company that wants to build the pipeline has claimed "the project would have an Iowa economic impact of $1.1 billion during two years of construction, creating enough work to keep 7,600 workers employed for a year." Economist Dave Swenson explained here why such estimates are misleading.

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Branstad signs gas tax hike, immediately calls for expediting new lane construction

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 25, 2015 at 13:00:00 PM CST

This morning Governor Terry Branstad signed Senate File 257, which raises the state gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon and includes several other provisions related to transportation funding, permit fees, and fuel taxes. The Iowa House and Senate just approved the bill yesterday, with substantial bipartisan support and opposition in both chambers.

Gas tax revenues go into Iowa's Road Use Tax Fund, which distributes money among state, county and local governments according to a set formula. Because Iowa lawmakers did not incorporate any  "fix it first" language in Senate File 257, I remain concerned that the bulk of the new money will be spent on new road construction or building new lanes on existing roads, rather than on fixing the crumbling infrastructure that was cited to justify this tax increase. Branstad already signaled as much this morning:

Branstad said having the tax hike go into effect March 1 means the state will collect more fuel taxes than expected in the last four months of the state fiscal year - and the starting date for some road and bridge projects may be moved up.

"Highway 20 is one of those that has been around for a long time and we want to see that completed and moved up," Branstad said, "and this is a way that hopefully that and other key projects can get priority and be expedited."

The project to expand all 300 miles of the Highway 20 route from Dubuque and Sioux City into a divided four-lane highway began 50 years ago. Branstad told reporters this morning that he's recently talked with the Iowa DOT's director about speeding up the Highway 20 project.

Current Road Use Tax Fund revenues fall an estimated $215 million short of what Iowa needs annually to maintain existing infrastructure. According to the fiscal note produced by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, Senate File 257 will bring in a little more than $200 million in additional funds each year for the next several years. Money spent on new roads or new lanes on roads like Highway 20 won't help us catch up with ongoing maintenance needs. How many structurally deficient bridges won't be fixed because four-laning Highway 20 was expedited? The same dynamic could play out in many counties and local governments too, because new roads or road expansions are often seen as better economic development than fixing a road or bridge that's in bad shape.

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