In Week 11 of the 2022 Legislative Session, House Republicans stood up for transparency and accountability in public education, the American work ethic, employers looking for workers, hometown pharmacies struggling to remain open as a result of Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) policies that are unfair and inconsistent, and landowners concerned about the use of eminent domain for CO2 pipelines. It was a good week for freedom and commonsense in Iowa.
Education Transparency that Works for Parents & Teachers:
I believe that most educators and school districts in Iowa are doing their very best for their students. However, concerns regarding inappropriate books in some school libraries and left-leaning curriculum reported in some classrooms have led many parents to demand a greater say in their child’s education. House Republicans have heard these concerns, and this week we took concrete action, as HF2499 advanced through the House Appropriations committee. We believe that parents have every right to know what their child is being taught and exposed to in the classroom.
HF2499 was amended to address concerns that these measures were not workable or flexible enough for teachers. Under the provisions of the bill as amended, school districts and teachers are required to post their syllabus, textbooks, related core materials and a list of instructional materials to an online portal parents can access.
Most teachers are already using a platform such as Canvas or Google Classroom, so this requirement should meet the need that it be quick and flexible for teachers to use. Schools that do not already have a classroom management software system will have until July 1, 2023, to be in compliance. If they fail to do so, a civil penalty will be assessed against the district. A teacher who is not compliant will also be referred to the Board of Educational Examiners for potential sanctions on their license.
Accountability in Education: Reforming the Board of Educational Examiners:
House Government Oversight Committee hearings this session exposed that the Board of Educational Examiners (BOEE) has in many cases not been holding teachers accountable, preferring light sanctions that endangered students. In one case, a male teacher was found to have violated Iowa Administrative Code that prohibits “soliciting, encouraging or consummating a romantic or otherwise inappropriate relationship with a student,” and was allowed to return to the classroom.
The BOEE investigation found that the male teacher engaged in inappropriate phone, text, Snapchat, and social media communications with a 14-year-old female student. The report stated the teacher exceeded the appropriate bounds of teacher-student interaction. He discussed his drug use as a teenager and his marital problems with the 14-year-old female student. He also took the student into his car after she told him she was thinking about running away, and later dropped her off late at night near her home, never telling the parents of her intention to run away. This teacher was clearly grooming this student for sexual exploitation, yet the sanctions by the BOEE was for the teacher to attend an ethics class, have a mental evaluation, and receive an 18-month suspension of his license. When I questioned the BOEE on this case, they were unable to provide any justification for this teacher ever being allowed to be back in the classroom. This case is just one of many. The worst possible outcome for our hardworking, honorable teachers is for bad teachers to remain in the classroom. As a result of the record of the BOEE that reflects the need for change, this week the House passed HF2567 with strong bi-partisan support, and sent it to the Senate for consideration.
Positive changes to BOEE procedures will help ensure greater accountability and will make our students safer. Reforms in HF2567 include higher standards for mandatory reporters; a directive to the Department of Education to implement a process for the reporting and investigation of any incident that would reasonably lead to the conclusion that a teacher employed by a school has committed a felony; prohibiting school officials from entering into confidentiality agreements that would not allow them to discuss incidents, past performance or past allegations leading to discipline or adverse employment action with a government agent or potential employer; more stringent determinations on whether a teacher should remain in the classroom after an incident has been reported, as well as a number of other initiatives to ensure accountability. Additional actions will be taken in the next legislative session if these changes do not achieve the desire result.
Making Unemployment a Re-Employment System:
We are facing a workforce shortage in Iowa and across the country, in part due to government increasingly paying people not to work. This toxic charity is destroying the great American Work Ethic. We need our state’s unemployment system to serve as a reemployment system, not as a hammock for some who choose to take advantage of the hard work of others.
This week, the House passed HF2355, which makes a number of reasonable reforms to Iowa’s unemployment insurance system, in order to encourage a return to the private sector.
This legislation shortens the amount of time Iowans can collect unemployment from 26 weeks to 16 weeks. Four months is a reasonable amount of time to expect someone to be able to find work, especially in a job market in which there are far more jobs than there are people looking for work. If an individual on unemployment declines a job offer, the percentage of benefits received will decrease.
These important changes help ensure we are encouraging a return to the private sector, as opposed to encouraging government dependency. Iowans will be helped in a difficult time of need, while being encouraged to get back to work as quickly as possible. Commonsense prevails in policy, a win for all Iowans.
Partnering with Regents to Address the Workforce Shortage:
This week, Iowa House Republicans released our education budget proposal. Included is a new innovative funding approach for Iowa’s Regent Universities to help address Iowa’s workforce crisis.
The bill provides $12 million for scholarships for students preparing to fill high-need jobs. The students in their junior and senior years of qualifying programs will receive scholarships of $5,000 per year. This money is on top of the Regent’s usual general fund appropriation. The State and Regent Universities need to be better partners in addressing the state’s workforce needs. This new funding will incentivize the regents to help address the workforce shortage in Iowa.
Increasing Transparency with Pharmacy Benefit Managers:
The issue of Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and their impact on hometown pharmacies and prescription costs has been an issue of concern for a number of years. It has been a challenging problem to address, due to the federal requirements surrounding PBMs. This week, the Iowa House passed bi-partisan legislation to create a framework for pharmacy prescription drug reimbursements from Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs).
PBMs serve as the middleman of the pharmaceutical industry and many states across the country are looking at ways to reform the industry and provide additional transparency and fairness. This legislation will help protect our rural pharmacies so they can continue to provide essential services for their communities, and we hope it will help lower the cost of prescription drugs for the consumer.
Eminent Domain Protections:
As I discussed in last week’s newsletter, this week, we placed an amendment on one of our budget bills to address the concerns of landowners on the use of eminent domain for CO2 pipeline projects in Iowa. The initiative states that pipelines cannot seek or use eminent domain before March 1, 2023. At that time, the Legislature will be back in session and prepared to take further action if necessary.
The goal of this effort is not to interfere or stop any pipeline projects in Iowa. The goal is to allow landowners and pipeline builders to negotiate on a level playing field, without the threat of eminent domain being used. This initiative is now in the Senate for consideration.
I will continue to support all efforts to ensure that the power of eminent domain is not abused in Iowa.