Some bad laws for Iowa's environment take effect today

Continuing Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of the Iowa legislature’s work during the 2019 session.

Iowa’s environmental community had something to celebrate when state lawmakers adjourned for the year without passing legislation that would crush small-scale solar development. An unusual coalition including solar installers, environmental groups, and livestock farmers helped keep the bill bottled up in the Iowa House despite intense lobbying by MidAmerican Energy and its allies, along with massive spending by undisclosed donors.

Unfortunately, lawmakers approved and Governor Kim Reynolds signed several other measures that will be detrimental for Iowa’s natural resources and take our state’s energy policy in the wrong direction. The new laws take effect today, as the 2020 fiscal year begins.

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Logical, but disappointing: Reynolds vetoes medical cannabis bill

Carl Olsen analyzes the big news the governor tried to bury in a pre-holiday weekend news dump. He has been a leading advocate for medical cannabis in Iowa for many years and closely follows legislative happenings related to the issue. -promoted by Laura Belin

Governor Kim Reynolds vetoed House File 732 on May 24. The bill passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both legislative chambers: 96 to 3 in the Iowa House and 40 to 7 in the Iowa Senate. The full text of the governor’s veto letter is enclosed at the end of this post.

This is a tough issue for me to write about. I totally agree with the governor’s logic. At the same time, I am disappointed with the outcome.

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Iowa Senate district 20 preview: Brad Zaun vs. Rhonda Martin

What a difference a few years makes.

Democrats did not field a candidate against State Senator Brad Zaun in 2008 or 2012. The party provided no financial assistance to Senate district 20 nominee Miyoko Hikiji in 2016. That year, the Senate Majority Fund spent almost nothing on offense, as six-figure sums went toward trying to save Democratic-held seats around the state. Zaun won a fourth term by more than a 7,000 vote margin.

With central Iowa’s suburban voters trending toward Democrats, Zaun has emerged as one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans for the 2020 cycle. As of May 15, he has a top-tier challenger: Johnston City Council member Rhonda Martin.

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Iowa Republicans choose not to look for overspending on Medicaid prescriptions

The Iowa Department of Human Services will not audit a practice that could be inflating costs for Medicaid prescription drug payments by millions of dollars a year.

State Representative John Forbes raised concerns after finding discrepancies on bills for some prescriptions his Urbandale pharmacy filled for patients served by Amerigroup, one of Iowa’s Medicaid managed-care providers. Earlier this month, House members unanimously approved Forbes’ amendment to the health and human services budget, instructing DHS to “audit all prescription drug benefit claims managed by a pharmacy benefit manager under the Medicaid program.”

However, House and Senate Republicans dropped that section from the final version of House File 766.

State Senator Mark Costello, who floor managed the health and human services budget in the upper chamber, claimed Iowa’s Medicaid director Michael Randol and an Amerigroup representative had told him the audit was unnecessary.

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Where things stand with Republican bills targeting Iowa workers

Republican attacks on working Iowans have received less attention this year than in 2017, when new laws shredded public employee collective bargaining rights, blocked local governments from raising the minimum wage, and reduced workers’ compensation benefits, especially for those who hurt their shoulder on the job.

But below the radar, GOP lawmakers have moved several bills lately that would make life harder for working people, including some facing the difficult circumstances of unemployment or workplace injury.

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Iowa House approves small steps on medical cannabis

“Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect. Are we moving in the right direction? Absolutely,” Democratic State Representative Wes Breckenridge said shortly before Iowa House members approved a bill to improve our state’s medical cannabis program.

House File 732 would allow some Iowans to use more potent products and would make it easier for some patients to apply for a registration card. The House passed the bill by 96 votes to three after Breckenridge and Republican State Representative Jarad Klein praised each other’s consensus-seeking.

But for a suspenseful few minutes during the March 26 floor debate, the future of the bill was in doubt because of a first-term Republican’s far-reaching amendment.

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