Incoming Iowa House Speaker promises to fund education "early," not fund Planned Parenthood

Incoming Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer says the majority House Republican caucus will handle education spending early during the 2016 legislative session, and will likely not approve funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa. I recommend reading Erin Murphy’s whole interview with Upmeyer, which appeared in the Quad-City Times on Sunday. Follow me after the jump for more thoughts on Upmeyer’s comments and how state support for public school districts and Planned Parenthood’s family planning programs may play out next year.

I got a kick out of Upmeyer’s response when Murphy asked what she would “emulate” from outgoing Speaker Kraig Paulsen’s approach to the job:

I think the demeanor and the way the House is run. I think that when Speaker Paulsen came in, he sort of restored the decorum. We start on time. … And I think that’s just an important thing, that people have an expectation of how a good-working organization is run, and we should run the Legislature that way.

Punctuality’s an admirable trait, but Iowans would have been better served by a chamber that funded education on time. On Paulsen’s watch, the Iowa House abandoned the practice of setting state aid for K-12 schools more than a year in advance, as required under a law Governor Terry Branstad signed in 1995.

During the 2015 legislative session, not only did Iowa House Republicans refuse to vote on “allowable growth” levels for K-12 school budgets for the 2017 fiscal year, they were in no hurry to cut a deal on school funding for the upcoming year, which was only a few months away. Paulsen refused for months to budge from the initial House Republican proposal on state aid for K-12 schools. He knew that school districts were supposed to approve their budgets for the 2016 fiscal year (covering the 2015/2016 academic year) by April 15. But he would not meet Senate Democrats in the middle, forcing school districts to fly blind when approving their budgets.

During a public appearance in Cedar Falls last month, Upmeyer indicated that she wants to resolve education funding quickly next year. I was relieved to see her echo that sentiment during the interview with Murphy.

Q: Looking ahead now to the 2016 session, what is your outlook on getting the budget done this year?

A: […] I think we have an opportunity actually to really focus this year on a few things. One of the things the caucus will want to do early is take care of the education budget and get that passed, get the SSA over to the Senate. And we will do that as quickly as possible at the highest responsible number that we can come up with within those dollars.

Q: Do you have an idea yet what that number will be?

A: You know, I don’t yet. I really want to see the December revenue estimate.

“SSA” stands for state supplemental aid to K-12 school districts, another way to describe allowable growth. Last year, House Republicans called for increasing school aid by only 1.25 percent, while Senate Democrats approved 4 percent. Last year, Governor Terry Branstad requested a 1.25 percent increase for the 2016 fiscal year and a 2.45 percent increase for the 2017 fiscal year. In light of declining budget revenue estimates, Branstad is no longer committing to ask lawmakers to set allowable growth at 2.45 percent for the coming year. Senate Democrats will surely call for a higher increase in state aid to school districts, probably the 4 percent they have already approved.

For Upmeyer to acknowledge that lawmakers should deal with school funding promptly is encouraging. Whether she will take that sentiment to the next level and compromise sooner rather than later is still an open question. Paulsen’s approach to school funding was a key reason the legislature went into more than a month of overtime this year.

I’m also curious to see whether Upmeyer will return to Iowa’s longstanding practice of setting state aid for K-12 schools more than a year in advance. Following state law would require the Iowa House to approve bills early next year setting allowable growth for the 2018 fiscal year as well as for the 2017 fiscal year.

This revealing exchange came near the end of Murphy’s interview with Upmeyer.

Q: Issues related to abortion came to the forefront in recent months with the release of secretly recorded videos that show a Planned Parenthood employee discussing transfer fees for fetal tissue. Will House Republicans be introducing new abortion-related legislation this session?

A: Remember we did not fund Planned Parenthood last year. Our caucus would prefer to fund women’s health clinics that did not also engage in abortion activity. So that would be their priority. So I predict that once again the budget this year will not fund abortion activity. Additionally, you’re absolutely correct, the videos kind of raised a new awareness and also raised the question of does Iowa have a fetal tissue law that would be something that would reflect federal law. Looking at that, I would suspect, but primarily defunding.

Upmeyer should know that Iowa has no law on fetal tissue transfers, as Attorney General Tom Miller informed Republican state lawmakers in September. Maybe she meant that House Republicans would look at adopting a state law to “reflect federal law” in this area. Doing so would be a solution in search of a problem, since Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa do not and have never participated in fetal tissue donation programs.

Upmeyer engaged in some sleight of hand by saying, “once again the budget this year will not fund abortion activity.” State funding has never paid for abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa. Before 2013, the state used to reimburse for a small number of abortions each year through the Medicaid program; those took place at hospitals, not Planned Parenthood clinics. In any event, since lawmakers approved and Branstad signed unusual language allowing the governor to determine whether those procedures should be covered by Medicaid, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics have not sought reimbursement for abortions provided to Medicaid recipients due to rape, incest, health risks for the mother, or severe fetal abnormalities.

To address the meaningful part of Upmeyer’s answer: when asked about “introducing new abortion-related legislation,” the incoming speaker pivoted to defunding Planned Parenthood. I infer that she will not revive legislative battles over banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy (a dead letter in the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate), and will follow Paulsen’s practice of not pushing for “personhood” legislation or allowing personhood to come to a floor vote in the Iowa House. During five years as majority leader, Upmeyer didn’t highlight abortion in any of her opening-day remarks to fellow House members.

Bleeding Heartland covered the House Republican effort to strip Planned Parenthood funding in detail here. Short version: the Iowa House approved language in the health and human services budget that would eliminate the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver, replacing it with a state program on family planning services. That state program would be barred from distributing funds to any “entity that performs abortions or that maintains or operates a facility where abortions are performed.”

Federal government rules do not allow states to remove Planned Parenthood as Medicaid providers for family planning services. Courts have blocked attempts to do so in Alabama and Louisiana. The Iowa House approach would be more expensive than the status quo, as separate funds would have to be approved in place of current Medicaid funding for family planning. But it would allow the state to cut out Planned Parenthood as a provider. Upmeyer is cultivating an image of House Republicans as “the leading voice for pro-life issues at the Statehouse” and has pledged a “deliberate and unwavering battle” in this area. But Senate Democratic leaders will never agree to end the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver. I doubt Upmeyer will drive a hard bargain on that point, especially since the House Human Resources Committee Chair Linda Miller (who will be a key budget negotiator in this area) is not seeking re-election in 2016.

Incidentally, when I sought comment last month on Branstad’s position on replacing the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver with a state program excluding Planned Parenthood, the governor’s spokesperson Ben Hammes provided this non-response:

Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds are committed to continue working hand in hand with pro-life legislative leaders both in Iowa and federally to ensure women have access to high quality health services while also protecting the sanctity of life. The governor will carefully review any legislation that makes its way to his desk during the legislative session.

Your guess on how to interpret that statement is as good as mine, but if Republicans hold the Iowa House majority and win a majority in the Iowa Senate after the 2016 elections, I expect family planning funds for Planned Parenthood to be on the chopping block during the 2017 legislative session.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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