In the ninth week of session the House debated many non-cons that were priorities of both parties. Like I’ve stated before, over 90% of the bills we run are bipartisan compromises.
This week, we took additional action on child care by passing our 7th and 8th bills of the session to address that crisis. We have been aggressive in tackling the child care crisis facing Iowans as we continue to face a shortage of child care providers, all while having one of the highest rates of both parents in the workforce. These bills were just a piece of a legislative package brought forward by our Economic Growth Committee and other House committees, to increase the child care workforce, increase provider rates to maintain existing child care facilities, provide incentives to develop new child care facilities, and help hard-working families afford the high cost of child care.
The Future Ready Iowa Child Care awards were distributed to child care providers to increase slots statewide by 4,024. In our district/area, Little Panther Daycare in Panora, Iowa received the DHS Award: $174, 674 – Child Care Challenge Award: $10,000 – Total Award: $184,674. This project will add another room to the existing location and provide an additional 15 child care slots for the community. Nishna Valley Family YMCA in Atlantic, Iowa received the DHS Award $203,331 – Child Care Challenge Award: $3,680 – Total Award: $207,011. The YMCA Board of Directors identified some underutilized space in the current building that with some renovation could create 21 new child care slots that could be ready to fill by the end of 2021. Several foundations have provided funds towards the project which will help address the child care desert in this area.
Another issue we heard about often on the campaign trail was the need to expand access to mental health in Iowa, so this week we passed two bills on the matter. HF 294 requires health insurers to reimburse for mental health services provided through telehealth at the same rate as services provided in-person. This will be a huge help to all Iowans, especially those in our rural communities. HF 773 is a bill to create a statewide study of Iowa’s mental health services. This will help identify opportunities to better serve Iowans suffering from mental illness, and is also the first step in requesting an 1115 Waiver from the federal government which would provide additional funds for services to treat mental illness.
The House also passed two pieces of legislation to support victims of sexual assault. House File 426 creates a tracking system for sexual abuse evidence kits in Iowa. Any kit preserving evidence of sexual abuse after a reported victim undergoes a forensic medical exam will be entered into the system the moment of its manufacture and tracked until it is no longer needed. The bill also requires the victim be notified if a DNA match is found for a potential assailant. HF 603 creates the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Program. This program trains, certifies, and provides technical assistance to certain medical professionals on how to provide medical forensic services, including the sexual assault abuse kits.
Many Iowans, especially in rural areas, still do not have access to reliable broadband internet. The Broadband Bros in the House have worked on a number of ways over the last few years to close the gap of Iowans without access to broadband internet. This year, the governor proposed a number of changes to the existing broadband grant program along with an aggressive funding package over the next three years to focus on deploying broadband internet to every part of the state. Before the funnel deadline, the IT committee worked with the governor to ensure Iowans currently without internet access, rural, and hard to reach places, are the highest priority and focus for the broadband grant program. There is still work to do, but House File 796 (HSB 133) passed unanimously out of IT committee and out of the Appropriations subcommittee.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced that Gov. Reynolds, Secretary of Ag Mike Naig and DNR Director Kayla Lyon have invited Iowans to nominate individuals or families in their communities for the 2021 Farm Environmental Leader Award. Nominations will be accepted until Monday, May 3, 2021, to be considered for the 2021 awards ceremony held at the Iowa State Fair. Farmers and landowners who invest in conservation practices, like cover crops or wetlands, and incorporate best management practices into their operations to improve and protect the state’s natural resources are eligible for the award. They must also actively serve as leaders in the agriculture community. [https://iowaagriculture.gov/farm-environmental-leader-awards]
Iowa Ranks #1 in opportunity, according to “U.S. News and World Report”. Sara Clark, managing editor to U.S. News stated “Iowa ranks No. 1 in the opportunity category largely on the strength of its performance in two of the opportunity subcategories—affordability (at No. 4) and economic opportunity (at No. 12). The state’s housing affordability is No. 1 in the country, and the state has the third-lowest level of food insecurity, according to our rankings data.”