Senate ignores deadbeat corporations while targeting Iowans on Medicaid

Matt Chapman closely follows Iowa legislative happenings, including bills affecting Iowans on public assistance. -promoted by Laura Belin

Iowa Senate Republicans on March 19 approved new work requirements for tens of thousands of Iowans on Medicaid or receiving food assistance. Senate File 538 would instruct the Iowa Department of Human Services to request a federal waiver for the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, our state’s version of Medicaid expansion. Approximately 170,000 adults receive Medicaid through that plan, and an roughly 61,000 of them also receive Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) benefits.

If the waiver were approved, Medicaid recipients would face new reporting obligations for “community engagement.” If not part of an exempted group, they could lose coverage due to paperwork errors, even if they were working the requisite number of hours per week. Nonpartisan analysis estimated this bill would cost the state budget nearly $5 million the first year after the waiver and nearly $12 million each subsequent year.

During floor debate (beginning at 11:53:20 of this video), Republicans characterized the bill as a way to hold Iowans accountable. Democrats offered two amendments that would have extended that accountability to large employers and the for-profit insurers known as managed-care organizations (MCOs), which oversee Iowa’s privatized Medicaid.

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Iowa lawmakers pass another unconstitutional "Ag Gag" bill

Iowa legislators just can’t quit violating the constitution in the service of livestock farmers and their lobby groups.

Two months after a federal judge comprehensively dismantled Iowa’s 2012 law prohibiting “agricultural production facility fraud,” the state House and Senate approved a bill creating the crime of “agricultural production facility trespass.” Governor Kim Reynolds has indicated she will sign the legislation. (UPDATE: She signed it on March 14.)

Although the drafters modeled the new bill after portions of an Idaho statute that survived a legal challenge, federal courts could and should strike down this law. Like the previous “ag gag” legislation, its primary purpose is to suppress speech reflecting certain viewpoints.

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MidAmerican's bid to crush small solar creates strange lobbying bedfellows

MidAmerican Energy’s effort to crush small-scale solar generation made it through the Iowa legislature’s first “funnel” and will be eligible for floor debate in both chambers. The House Commerce Committee on March 4 approved House Study Bill 185 (now renamed House File 669) without amendment on a party-line 12 to 10 vote. The Senate Commerce Committee amended the companion Senate Study Bill 1201 before advancing it on March 7.

The bill will likely pass the upper chamber, where Republicans have a 32 to 17 majority. Although Republicans outnumber Democrats by 54 to 46 in the House, and MidAmerican’s political action committee donated to dozens of incumbents’ campaigns last year, getting the solar bill through the lower chamber will be no easy task. A utility-backed bill to undercut energy efficiency programs was one of the heaviest lifts during the 2018 session. Only after several concessions did supporters cobble together 52 Republican votes in the House. The GOP held 59 seats at that time.

More than three dozen corporations, industry groups, or advocacy organizations have lobbyists registered for or against MidAmerican’s solar bill. While it’s not unusual for a high-profile bill to draw that kind of attention, the two camps seeking to persuade legislators on this issue reflect alliances rarely seen at the statehouse.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2019

The Iowa Senate convened for its 2019 session on January 14 with 32 Republicans and 18 Democrats. A record eleven senators are women (six Democrats and five Republicans), up from six women in the chamber at the start of the last legislature’s work.

I enclose below details on the majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Iowa Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve mentioned changes since last year’s legislative session. Note that Democratic Senator Nate Boulton will serve on committees after all. Minority Leader Janet Petersen had declined to assign him to any committees last month.

A few words about demographics: all current state senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first. No Asian American has served in the Iowa Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two Smiths (a Democrat and a Republican) and two Taylors (both Democrats). As for first names, there are three Marks, three Zachs, and two men each named Dan, Jim, Tim, Tom, and Jeff.

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Half-baked state audit doesn't settle questions about Medicaid savings

Privatizing Medicaid saved the state of Iowa about $126 million during the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to a report State Auditor Mary Mosiman released on November 26.

I put low odds on that estimate holding up after a more diligent auditor takes office.

Even if it did, this review of “savings” was too narrow to reveal whether turning Medicaid over to for-profit companies was a good deal for Iowans.

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