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Under the Golden Dome: Second Deadline

Some bills move through a chamber quickly.  A bill changing the testing to obtain a teaching license passes in the Senate after three and half minutes of discussion. In the House, the discussion is quite different.

Democrats present amendments that would terminate the state’s Medicaid managed care contracts in favor of a state-run system. It’s in response to UnitedHealthcare announcing it will leave Iowa sometime this year.  In 2016, Iowa’s Medicaid system went from a state-run program to being managed by private companies. This transition was controversial and both parties admit there have been problems going to this kind of system.

Proposing Medicaid changes as an amendment to a bill about teacher certification isn’t likely to go anywhere, but it gives Democrats a stage to speak.  Most speeches from representatives are limited to 10 minutes, but that rule doesn’t apply to opening remarks. For 50 minutes, Democrats hold the floor with sharp criticism about privatized Medicaid.

The amendments are ruled not germane and the discussion about licensing teachers resumes. It will allow for a student to pass an assessment test based on testing scores from neighboring states.  It also allows a school to hire a new teacher for one year before they are required to take the assessment test.

The bill is approved by the House. Since it also passed the Senate, the governor can consider signing it into law.

This is the 12th week of the session which has a funnel deadline. By April 5th, a bill must pass in one chamber and pass the committee of the other chamber. For example, a bill establishing penalties for animal cruelty has already passed the House, but for it to continue it must also pass a Senate committee.

A similar version of this animal abuse bill has come up in the past, but it’s never made it this far. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee and Committee advance this bill and it is eligible to be debated in the Senate chamber.

A House Commerce Subcommittee consideres a bill that passed in the Senate on party lines that could limit unemployment benefits.  It would put into Iowa code conditions denying a person from receiving unemployment benefits due to misconduct on the job.

It identifies 16 conditions for denying unemployment that deal with misconduct.  Critics say the language is too vague and open to interpretation. A Democratic opponent says one of the conditions would allow an employer to deny unemployment to a person if they spoke poorly of their company.

The supporter of the bill agrees that portions of this bill are not well-worded and it can be hard to understand, but encourages passage by the committee and pledges to have it amended if it comes before debate in the House.

The E-Verify system compares information from a person’s I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form and other records to confirm they are authorized to work in the United States.  Using this system is optional, but in some states it is mandatory.

In the Senate, a bill passes that would make it mandatory to use E-Verify to hire anyone in Iowa.  But House leadership does not schedule it for a committee, effectively killing this bill.

Another piece of legislation that needs to clear a committee to stay alive is a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights for felons. It’s a priority for Gov. Reynolds, but because it’s a resolution the governor’s office can only urge the legislature what to do. There is no power of veto or signature to make it a law. A constitutional amendment must pass in the House and Senate during two back to back General Assemblies, then be voted on by the public.

The House of Representatives has voted for the felon voting rights resolution, 95-2. It’s also passed a Senate Subcommittee. Hours before a Senate Committee, Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Ottumwa, speaks during a point of personal privilege on the Senate floor with a personal story to urge the committee to pass it.

She talks about her late brother, Michael, who served in the military for 21 years. He was convicted of stealing $1,000 and served a year in prison.  She says they learned he had a gambling problem, and helped him as much as they could until he died in 2017.

The felon voting rights resolution makes Miller-Meeks think about her late brother and says everyone has a person who has made mistakes in their family or to whom they’ve known.

A few hours later, the Judiciary Committee meets but does not place the resolution up for a vote, killing this measure for the 2019 legislative session.

John Pemble is a reporter for IPR