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House Democratic Leader Talks Priorities For 2020 Iowa Legislative Session

todd prichard
John Pemble
Iowa House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, speaks at the Iowa Capitol in January 2019.

The top Democrat in the Iowa House of Representatives says state institutions for vulnerable residents with health challenges need more funding and oversight.

Federal authorities are investigating allegations of human subject experiments at the state-run Glenwood Resource Center for Iowans with disabilities, first reported by the Des Moines Register, and are looking into potential civil rights violations at a similar facility in Woodward. Other state institutions also run by the Iowa Department of Human Services have recently been the subject of workplace safety complaints and a civil rights lawsuit.

House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said the state needs to find out what has been happening at Glenwood and address it. But ultimately, he said, the state is underfunding the system.

“You hate to say it, but if we don’t support this department and give it the tools that it needs in terms of resources and funding and staffing, then you’re not going to appreciate the results that you get,” Prichard said in an interview with Iowa Public Radio. “And that’s really what’s been happening.”

Prichard noted Democrats proposed legislation last spring to increase oversight of state-run health facilities. Republicans, who control the statehouse, did not allow amendments to the final health budget.

Last week, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters she is “optimistic about the opportunity” to provide Glenwood residents with the resources they deserve.

“This feeds right into what we’re talking about the health care system, is making sure that we have a health care system that works for Iowans,” Prichard said.

House Democrats get very little say in setting the lawmaking agenda, but Prichard said his party plans to continue focusing on fixing issues with the private companies that manage government health insurance for poor and disabled Iowans.

Prichard said he still hears from a lot of health care providers that aren’t getting paid on time by the Medicaid management companies. Lawmakers have personally intervened to help providers in their districts get paid.

“They are really struggling,” Prichard said. “Large numbers of providers are on the edge economically or fiscally with their businesses to keep making payroll, to keep the business afloat. It’s got to be addressed, not only for them but for their patients, as well.”

Prichard responds to tax proposals

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, and Gov. Reynolds have referred to ongoing discussions about raising the sales tax to fund a voter-approved natural resources initiative.

Whitver said remaining revenue from the proposed sales tax increase should fund income tax cuts. Reynolds has said she was considering using the remaining revenue for mental health services.

Top Democrats, including Prichard, say they have not been included in that conversation. Prichard said improving Iowa’s environment is a priority for House Democrats, but he has concerns.

“Sales taxes hit lower income earners harder than people in higher tax brackets,” Prichard said. “From that standpoint, the devil will be in the details, and I haven’t seen those yet.”

Whitver said there are sales tax exemptions for some basic necessities, and that it is important to improve Iowa’s tax climate.

Looking ahead to the 2020 election

Democrats are in reach of gaining a majority of seats in the Iowa House of Representatives. There are currently 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the chamber, which means Democrats would have to flip four seats to gain control of the House.

“We need to talk about a vision for Iowa that will move the state forward—that will resonate with voters, urban and rural, across the state—that we have a vision and a plan that will improve the lives and lots of all Iowans,” Prichard said.

He added that includes prioritizing building the economy, supporting the state’s education system, and providing affordable health care.

The legislative session scheduled to start January 13.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter