Halfway point of the session … significant amount of work remains
After the flurry of committee work last week, the main focus this week was floor debate. Now in the seventh week, the halfway point of the legislative session is rapidly approaching. While many bills passed the whole Senate this week, a significant amount of work remains for the rest of this session.
This week Governor Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 2164, the transportation equity bill. The bill unanimously passed the Senate, completing a promise we made several years ago to level the playing field for all Iowa students and buy down the transportation cost of schools to ensure every school district is at or below the statewide average. We have long held that a student’s zip code should not determine the funding available for their education. When rural schools have to spend more on transportation costs for students, less money is available to be spent in the classroom. I am happy to see this bill signed into law.
One of the bills the Senate passed out this week is Senate File 2272, establishing a real-time verification system for public assistance programs. This bill is crucial in working to eliminate fraud and waste in our welfare system. Just last year, Iowa was fined $1.8 million for overpaying SNAP benefits by $40 million dollars – almost double the national average. Once implemented, this system would save Iowa taxpayers an estimated $12.3 million per year.
Throughout the last several months, we heard from parents and teachers about violent student behavior in the classroom. We heard from parents who were concerned about the safety and well-being of their children, and teachers who had sustained injuries and were afraid to go to work. We have even heard about teachers who simply quit their jobs because they no longer felt safe going to work, having few options to help protect themselves or their students.
To fix this issue, the Senate passed Senate File 2360, an important bill in giving Iowa teachers the tools they need to ensure their classrooms are safe and productive environments for all students and teachers. This bill provides more training for teachers on violent student behaviors, creates therapeutic classrooms and access to alternative placements for children who may become violent, and provides protections for teachers who are dealing with violent student behaviors. It also creates methods for reporting such behavior.
Senate File 2118 allows physicians in the Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program and similar programs to continue to participate in that program if they refinance or consolidate their student loans. Physicians often have extremely high rates of student debt, and refinancing and consolidating can help ease that burden for young doctors. Iowa has some of the fewest OB/GYN doctors per capita in the nation and these policies can help address that shortage. Additionally, SF 2251, adds OB/GYN to the eligible specialties allowed to receive funding from the Rural Iowa Primary Care Loan Repayment Program. This program helps address critical doctor shortage areas by providing loan repayment incentives for up to five years if an individual agrees to practice in certain rural areas in the state.
SF 2261 authorizes schools to be acceptable locations for telehealth services. It implements a number of safeguards to ensure quality and confidentiality of the services provided.
This week I ran the confirmation of Kayla Lyon, the new Director of Natural Resources. Kayla was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday. Prior to this appointment Kayla was Policy Advisor for agriculture and natural resources to the governor. Director Lyon’s enthusiasm for our natural resources blended with her knowledge of agriculture can help bring us together while moving forward for a better environment.
In the Transportation Committee we are receiving bills from the House that we need to assign to subcommittees. One bill deals with permits when transporting hay across the state. We are approaching a critical time of year when cattlemen in certain areas may run short of hay before the pastures green up. Many areas faced real challenges harvesting good quality hay last summer, creating some areas of short supply. We hope to be able to help with this transportation issue.
The new director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, Scott Marler, spoke to the Transportation Committee. He is no stranger to the department but is new to this role. He demonstrates a strong desire to enhance efficiencies in the system while striving to drive down traffic fatalities. I look forward to moving Director Marler’s confirmation forward in the Senate and believe he will serve well in that position.