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Legislature digs into Reynolds' state government reorganization bill

The interior of the Iowa Statehouse

Republican lawmakers passed another one of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ priorities last week, which caps non-economic damages for victims of medical malpractice.

Now, the Legislature is starting to work through Reynolds’ state government reorganization bill — and already finding some potentially controversial policies in it.

A cap on medical malpractice non-economic damages

Last week, the Legislature voted to put a hard limit on how much money Iowans can recover for pain and suffering when they’re a victim of medical malpractice. That means if a jury determines that medical malpractice caused severe injury or death, non-economic damages will be capped at $2 million when a hospital is involved and $1 million for an independent clinic.

The bill sparked a rare public debate among members of the Republican Party. Supporters said the bill will help Iowa fix its serious shortage of doctors and act as a step toward improving health care access, especially in rural areas. Opponents, which included almost all Democrats, said the bill won't help bring more doctors to the state and will only benefit insurance companies. They also argued that it puts a "one-size-fits-all" monetary value on a person's life.

Economic damages for things like medical bills and ongoing care will still be unlimited. Punitive damages are also unlimited, but are rare in these cases. Supporters expect the bill will keep medical malpractice insurance rates level and help providers stay in Iowa, although it's unclear if that will happen.

Reynolds turns to streamlining state government

In her Condition of the State address, Reynolds said she wanted to bring the number of state agencies from 37 to 16. The bill, which is over 1,500 pages long, is taking time for the Legislature to review. While a bill making its way through the Legislature will typically get one subcommittee hearing in the House and one in the Senate, each chamber is planning multiple hearings for this bill — possibly up to five in the House alone.

House Republicans are splitting up sections of the bill among different lawmakers to dig into the details. So far, the Senate has held one hearing on some sections of the bill and another one is planned for Feb. 13, but it has not been voted on yet at any level.

The overall goal of finding efficiencies in state government and improving access for Iowans has not been controversial. The governor’s office says no staff will be laid off as result and that the bill will save the state more than $200 million in the next four years. But as lawmakers start looking into the details of the bill, it’s becoming clear that there are some major policy changes in it.

One policy would allow Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird, a Republican, to override county prosecutors’ decisions in charging people with crimes, something Democrats and county attorneys are opposing. Some lawmakers say they’re also concerned about parts of the bill that could give up some of their power to the governor and executive branch.

A proposal to loosen Iowa’s child labor regulations

Some Republican lawmakers intend to expand the hours and places teenagers can work as one strategy for dealing with the state’s workforce shortage. Opponents of the bill say that will put the health and safety of kids at risk by potentially allowing them to work in more dangerous occupations, and the bill is likely to be amended.

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Clay Masters is the senior politics reporter for MPR News.
Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter