Follow-up Iowa licensing bill is dead

A new bill that would have named a task force to study licensing requirements in Iowa will not move forward this legislative session, Republican State Representative Dawn Pettengill told representatives of the National Association of Social Workers Iowa chapter. House Study Bill 174 replaced an earlier proposal from Governor Terry Branstad, which would have eliminated licensing requirements for numerous professions. During the past week, House Study Bill 138 generated as many constituent contacts to Iowa lawmakers as the bill passed earlier this month to destroy collective bargaining rights. Among other things, the governor’s licensing bill would have reduced insurance coverage for mental health care services. On February 27, an Iowa House State Government subcommittee voted not to move that bill forward.

House State Government Committee Chair Ken Rizer introduced the replacement licensing bill on February 28. In addition to changing regulations in several other areas, House Study Bill 174 called for a new task force to review Iowa’s licensing requirements and report back to the legislature by the end of 2017.

Although Rizer’s bill would not have immediately affected marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, or social workers, the leading association representing Iowa’s social workers expressed concern that “the taskforce as outlined would mostly be selected by the Governor, who has demonstrated that he wants to de-professionalize many different important professions that serve some of our most vulnerable populations.” (You can read the task force membership provisions on on page 37.) The social workers group was seeking an amendment to give licensed professionals greater influence over the task force membership. But last night, Pettengill–one of two Republicans on the subcommittee where the new bill was assigned–said House Study Bill 174 was dead.

Most non-appropriations bills must be approved by at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by March 3 in order to stay alive for this year. Bills need to clear a subcommittee before coming up for a full committee vote.

Whether the licensing task force language led to the new bill’s demise is not clear. The lobbyist declarations on House Study Bill 174 show substantial opposition, presumably related to other provisions on regulating hospitals and electricians.

P.S. Attention-seeking State Representative Bobby Kaufmann could have let the governor’s original licensing bill die quietly by not scheduling a subcommittee hearing, as is normal practice in the Iowa legislature. Instead, the publicity hound wasted a lot of people’s time before drawing cheers as he ripped up the bill’s cover sheet. Alas, television cameras had already left the meeting room before Kaufmann’s dramatic gesture. The young Republican lawmaker was literally not ready for prime time.

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Branstad bill would reduce insurance coverage for mental health care

Governor Terry Branstad has introduced a bill that would make Iowa the only state not to license mental health counselors. House Study Bill 138 would remove licensing requirements for a number of professions and eliminate some state boards, including the Board of Behavioral Sciences and the Board of Social Work. Mental health counselors are expressing alarm about language that would make social workers, marriage or family counselors, and mental health counselors “registered” rather than “licensed.”

The likely consequence would be insurance companies refusing to cover services by unlicensed providers, depriving Iowans of access to therapy unless they are able to pay the full cost of mental health counseling out of pocket.

I enclose below an action alert the Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association posted yesterday, which contains talking points to use when communicating with state lawmakers about House Study Bill 138. The bill has been assigned to a subcommittee of Republican State Representatives Bobby Kaufmann and Dawn Pettengill and Democratic State Representative Mary Mascher.

The lobbyist for the association representing mental health counselors said yesterday, “The bill as drafted will not be having a subcommittee next week and is taking on serious water. The speaker’s office said that [House Speaker Linda Upmeyer’s] members are getting more emails on the licensure provisions of that bill than they did on collective bargaining.” According to one rumor, the bill may be revised and reintroduced next week, so concerned citizens should call the governor’s office (515-281-5211) to share their views with Branstad’s staff.

UPDATE: A Facebook commenter reached Kaufmann, chair of the subcommittee, by phone on February 24: “He said this bill was assigned to him, he thinks it’s a bad bill and he’s going to kill it.”

SECOND UPDATE: On a different Facebook thread, someone reported speaking to House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow about this bill, having run into him while shopping. Hagenow indicated House Study Bill 138 would not advance in its current form.

Multiple sources confirmed on Friday that lawmakers have been bombarded with constituent contacts about this legislation. When the governor’s staff introduce a new and improved version of this proposal, I would guess they will leave licensing of mental health care professionals alone.

According to Claire Celsi, Hagenow announced at a February 25 legislative forum in Clive that the governor is wrong on this bill and that lawmakers do not support it.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2017

The Iowa House opens its 2017 session today with 59 Republicans, 40 Democrats, and one vacancy, since Jim Lykam resigned after winning the recent special election in Iowa Senate district 45. The 99 state representatives include 27 women (18 Democrats and nine Republicans) and 72 men. Five African-Americans (all Democrats) serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the Iowa Senate following the 2008 election.

After the jump I’ve posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year.

Under the Ethics Committee subheading, you’ll see a remarkable example of Republican hypocrisy.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Taylors (one from each party) and two Smiths (both Democrats). As for first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Roberts (two Robs, one Bob, and a Bobby), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), and three men each named Gary, John, and Charles (two Chucks and a Charlie). There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Brian, Bruce, Chris, Greg, Michael, and Todd.

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Fewer women will serve in the new Iowa Senate and House (updated)

The non-partisan organization 50/50 in 2020 has set a goal of electing 25 women to the Iowa Senate and 50 women to the Iowa House by 2020. Yesterday’s elections will bring a lot of new voices to the state capital. However, chambers that were already less diverse than most other state legislatures will become even less representative of the state’s population.

LATE UPDATE: The new Iowa House will in fact have one more female member than the chamber did in 2015 and 2016, following Monica Kurth’s victory in the special election to represent House district 89.

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How many more Iowa GOP women will find their voice on Donald Trump?

Melissa Gesing reached her limit this week. Four days after a 2005 video showed Donald Trump telling a reporter he could “do anything” to women, two days after Trump insisted in the second presidential debate that those comments were merely “locker room talk,” Gesing stepped down as president of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women. In her October 11 resignation letter, she described her move as a “last resort,” saying she can’t “look at myself in the mirror each morning if I do not take a stand against the racism, sexism, and hate that Donald J. Trump continues to promote.” She explained her decision at greater length in a blog post called “Ending this bad and unhealthy relationship.”

So far, no other woman in the top echelon of Iowa Republican politics has jumped ship. The Iowa Federation of Republican Women named a new president today and restated its support for the Trump-Pence ticket.

But how long can that last, with more women coming forward every day to say Trump kissed or groped them without consent, and used his position of power to walk in on women or underage girls undressed?

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Never let it be said that the 2016 Iowa legislature accomplished nothing

In four months of work this year, Iowa lawmakers made no progress on improving water quality or expanding conservation programs, funded K-12 schools and higher education below levels needed to keep up with inflation, failed to increase the minimum wage or address wage theft, let most criminal justice reform proposals die in committee, didn’t approve adequate oversight for the newly-privatized Medicaid program, opted against making medical cannabis more available to sick and suffering Iowans, and left unaddressed several other issues that affect thousands of constituents.

But let the record reflect that bipartisan majorities in the Iowa House and Senate acted decisively to solve a non-existent problem. At a bill-signing ceremony yesterday, Governor Terry Branstad and supporters celebrated preventing something that probably never would have happened.

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