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The legislature adjourned the legislative session late Friday night, or rather in the wee hours of Saturday morning. There were so many bills that passed out of the Senate during the last week that I will use 2 newsletters to report on them to you.

Guaranteed Basic Income:  This bill prohibits local governments from establishing guaranteed income, otherwise known as Universal Basic Income (UBI), to individuals. Guaranteed income programs are those that provide individuals with unearned cash payments without spending restrictions. This does not apply to programs that require the individual to perform work or attend training. This bill is in response to a program like this in the Des Moines area.

Non-Medical Switching:  This bill is designed to address the situation where a patient is “medically stable” on a certain drug and then changes insurance companies and the new insurance company doesn’t want to cover that drug. The bill prohibits an insurance company from limiting or excluding coverage of a prescription drug for any covered patient who is “medically stable” on that drug as determined by their doctor. Certain conditions apply and if met, the insurance company shall continue to cover the drug through either the end of the health benefit plan year or the last day of the patient’s coverage under their insurance.

Curriculum Standards:  The bill requires the Dept. of Education (DOE) to conduct a comprehensive review of the Iowa Core standards focused on English language arts, math, science, and social studies, with a focus on United States & Iowa history, Western civilization, civics, U.S. government, founding philosophies, principles, and documents, exemplary historical figures and events, and American citizenship. The DOE will collect input from the public, including teachers and parents, during this review. The DOE is instructed during the review to keep in mind Iowa law prohibiting promotion of critical race theory (CRT).

Reading and English Language Arts:  All schools must include in the K-3 English language arts program reading instruction that is based on phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Instruction must no longer rely on context, sentence structure and syntax, visual cues and pictures or rote memorization (whole language). Teacher preparation programs must implement this change in reading instruction.

Each school district must provide written notice to the parent of any K-6 student who is not reading proficiently. If the parent requests the student be retained (held back to repeat the grade), the school must grant the request. Otherwise, the school will decide if the student is to be retained.

If a student in grades K-6 is not reading proficiently, the school must provide them with a personalized reading plan until they read at grade level.

Minor Driver’s License:  This bill authorizes the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) to issue a special minor’s restricted license that entitles a person under 16 to drive from the minor’s home to the minor’s school, up to 25 miles, regardless of kind of school, public, private or homeschool. Certain exceptions apply. To get a special minor’s restricted license, the minor must: 1) Have a DOT instruction permit, 2) Have completed driver’s ed, 3) Submit a certification that the minor is enrolled at the school.  The minor is prohibited from getting this special minor’s restricted license if: 1) the minor’s driving privileges have been sanctioned, 2) the minor was at fault for causing an accident or collision, or 3) the minor has been convicted of a traffic violation.

The bill also authorizes a minor with a special minor’s restricted license to drive up to 25 miles to the minor’s place of work, regardless of whether it is farm work or other types of work. However, the minor may not drive as part of their work, only to get to the place of work. The minor’s parent must provide the DOT with written consent for the minor to drive to work.

The bill only allows the minor to drive for one hour before and after the school event or work shift. The DOT is required to suspend the minor’s license for 3 months if: 1) the minor violates the license restrictions, 2) the minor is at fault for causing an accident or collision, or 3) the minor is convicted of violating any other traffic law. Various conditions and penalties apply.

Traffic Camera Regulation:  This regulation covers speed cameras, mobile traffic cameras and automatic license plate reader cameras. It does not cover red light cameras. Cities and counties wanting to install traffic cameras must undergo an application and permitting process with the Dept. of Transportation (DOT). An application is needed for each location that a local authority desires to install a traffic camera. All existing cameras must be vetted and permitted. It must be demonstrated that the camera is appropriate and necessary for traffic safety and is the least restrictive means to address the traffic hazards at the proposed location. Signs must be posted on the roadway before the driver encounters the camera. Speed cameras may not capture the driver’s face. Speed cameras may only enforce the law if the driver is speeding more than 10 mph.

A fine may only be issued after a law enforcement officer reviews the photo or video from the speed camera. The fines are civil infractions and cannot be considered for driver’s license sanctions and cannot increase insurance rates. Fines shall be issued to the owner of the vehicle. The owner is allowed to provide evidence that they were not driving the vehicle at the time of the violation and if the evidence is sufficient the fine may be changed and issued to the driver at the time instead. Local authorities may only use the fine revenue to fund speed camera operations, transportation infrastructure improvements and/or police and fire department operations.

Transportation to Mental Health Centers:  Payments will be made for transporting a patient in a mental health crisis to a mental health access center just as the same as they would be to an emergency room of a hospital. This is to get timelier care for patients and reduce dependency on emergency rooms.

Alternative Teacher Licensure:  This bill allows college graduates that meet certain conditions to qualify for a teacher intern license. If recommended by the school that employed them and the college program they completed, they can then qualify for an initial teaching license. The bill also allows college graduates who successfully complete an alternative teacher certification program that meets certain conditions and is approved by the State Board of Education to be issued an initial teaching license. This bill provides a pathway for teaching for a person who wants to go into teaching as a “second career” or they have already had background and experience in an area other than education and are currently in the workforce but would like to use their previous background to teach students.

Grooming:  This bill adds grooming as a sexual abuse crime. Grooming is an attempt to knowingly seduce, lure, or entice, a child or person believed to be a child to commit any unlawful sex act or otherwise engage in unlawful sexual conduct. The bill covers all forms of potential contact including computer, internet service, electronic devices, or written communications. This crime is a class D felony.

Firearms Hold Agreements:  If a firearms owner requests, a federal firearms license holder (gun shop dealer) can take possession of his lawfully possessed firearm and hold it for an agreed period of time and return it according to the terms of the agreement. This bill provides liability protection for that firearms license holder in case of any accident with the owner’s firearm while it is in his possession.

State Park Accessibility:  This bill requires the Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) to research and develop recommendations to increase the accessibility for disabled individuals in Iowa’s state parks and public recreation. The bill also requires the DNR to promote state park and public recreation opportunities for disabled individuals on the DNR website and brochures.

Pharmacy Benefit Managers Regulation:  This bill would change some regulations governing pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) operating in Iowa. PBMs are the middleman between the insurance companies/retail pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies. Their unfair business practices have been a well-known culprit in the closure of rural independent pharmacies.

The bill requires PBMs to deal fairly and in good faith with pharmacies. It would prohibit retaliation by a PBM against a pharmacy for an exercise of any right or remedy a pharmacy rightfully has or for a pharmacy’s cooperation with the Insurance Commissioner. Retaliatory acts PBMs have committed that would now be prohibited include terminating or refusing to renew a contract with a pharmacy, increased auditing, and failure to promptly pay the pharmacy any money owed. Several other regulatory changes apply.

There is a stronger bill I am advocating for in the Senate to help reign in PBMs but although a number of us advocated for it, it was not brought to the floor.

Behavioral Health Service System:  This bill creates a new statewide Behavioral Health Service System (BHSS) under the Iowa Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS). It implements prevention, education, early intervention, treatment, recovery supports, and crisis services related to mental health and addictive disorders, including but not limited to alcohol use, substance use, tobacco use, and problem gambling.

The 13 Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) regions and 19 substance use provider networks will be combined into a singular system. Disability services under MHDS will shift to the HHS Division on Aging and Disability.

The BHSS is created to support equitable, statewide access for Iowans needing mental health and addictive disorder services and to offer specialized services focused on at-risk populations. BHSS is required to provide the following “core” services:  1) Prevention intervention services and education programs, 2) Evidence-based and evidence-informed early intervention and treatment services, 3) Comprehensive recovery support services focused on community-based services, and 4) Crisis services with a focus on reducing the escalation of crisis situations.

Next week I’ll give you Part 2.

Author: Sandy Salmon

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