Washington Evening Journal
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Mark Lofgren Senate Update
By State Sen. Mark Lofgren
Mar. 30, 2023 12:37 pm
Week Eleven of the 2023 Session focused again on floor debate. Next week, Week 12, will include another major legislative deadline.
Hands Free Bill Passes the Senate with Strong Support
One bill debated this week was Senate File 547, known as the “hands free” bill. This is a piece of legislation that I have personally worked on for several years. Being a runner and having many friends who are avid bicyclists, this bill is important to me and to many whom I consider friends. The bill is designed to keep Iowa roads safer from the dangers of cell phone usage while driving. Current Iowa law prohibits sending and viewing of text messages while driving. SF 547 would update the law, making it illegal to use electronic devices while driving unless it is used in a voice-activated/hands free mode. I was proud to have the bill pass the Senate on Wednesday with strong bipartisan support. Hands-free legislation is supported by law enforcement and has been shown to reduce traffic deaths and injuries in states with similar legislation. Strong, bipartisan support confirms the importance of this common sense legislation. I look forward to its vote in the Iowa House soon. The Yeas Have It!
Providing Access to Fresh Milk
Senate File 315 also passed the Senate this week with bipartisan support. This bill allows for the sale of fresh, or unpasteurized, milk and dairy products for small producers with 10 dairy animals or less directly to consumers. The bill would allow for legal selling of fresh milk but also establishes regulations to ensure consumer safety. Requirements will be in place for proper labeling of fresh milk and for proper veterinary care for the dairy animals. Fresh milk may only be distributed directly to consumers through individual orders and cannot be distributed in restaurants or grocery stores. The demand for this kind of dairy market is growing, and this bill allows for small producers to safely produce in this expanding market.
Protecting Iowa's Welfare System from Error, Fraud and Abuse
This week the Senate made progress toward rooting out error, fraud, and abuse in Iowa’s welfare system. This issue has been a priority in the Iowa Senate for the past five years. On Wednesday, the Senate took a strong step forward with the passage of SF 494. The bill establishes updated and effective income and identity verification parameters for public assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, FIP, and CHIP by using private sector technology to identify possible errors and fraud. Eligibility will be examined through employment information, income records, incarceration, and other information from federal and state sources. The purpose of welfare programs is to help those in need, and to properly do it, a system needs to be in place to prevent erroneous payments taking resources away from those in need.
This bill also refines asset limits to ensure wealthy people without typical income are not abusing the welfare system by collecting benefits. Iowans have routinely shown their support for common-sense safeguards on public assistance programs. SF 494 puts those policies into effect by implementing electronic verification used in the private sector every day and saving the taxpayers millions of dollars per year.
Reforming Iowa's Certificate of Need Legislation
Improving and ensuring access to important health care services has been a priority this year. On Wednesday, the Senate passed Senate File 506 to reform Iowa’s Certificate of Need law. Certificate of Need (CON) was a federal policy designed to assess the needs of health care facilities in a community and help improve access to care, while controlling costs by avoiding duplication. In Iowa this expanded to not only include the physical location of a facility, but also the equipment and services provided at that location. While CON laws may have been beneficial at some point in time, we now find them to be hindering competition and innovation in the areas most in need.
Senate File 506 reforms Iowa’s CON law so it no longer applies to community mental health facilities, birth centers, and rehabilitation facilities. Institutional health facilities, like hospitals, nursing facilities, residential facilities, and ambulatory surgical centers, would still be under CON with targeted regulations. Under this bill, institutional health facilities would not need to apply for CON to replace equipment, buy new equipment, or change services.
Fifteen other states have repealed or amended their laws since the federal policy was repealed in 1986, including California, Texas, Utah, Idaho, Kansas, and South Dakota, because they have not been effective in controlling costs or improving access to services, the original intent of CON legislation. According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Iowans would likely see lower health care spending per capita, lower physician spending per capita, and potentially see an increase in facilities, especially in rural areas.
Health care access, cost, and the need for quality services are topics we hear about from our constituents often, and we want to ensure Iowans have access to the care they need, when they need it. This bill is one way we can help Iowans and our rural communities by easing government regulations that are not producing the outcomes they were intended to create.
Parental Bill of Rights Moves Forward
Since online learning became the norm during the pandemic in March of 2020, parents have become more aware of and involved in the content taught to their students and the materials available to them at their school. Ensuring parents are part of their children’s education has become a nationwide conversation and that holds true here in Iowa.
Parents and community members have routinely contacted us to describe the explicit materials available to their young students. They naturally are unnerved by that content and believe the delicate topics of gender and sexuality are best taught in the home. Sexual development and sexually explicit content are properly determined to be issues explained in the context of the moral and religious beliefs of Iowa families. SF 496 was a bill introduced by Gov. Reynolds to address and enhance parental involvement in their children’s education.
This bill, passed by the Senate on Wednesday, does not "ban" books, does not implement speech codes, nor does it censor materials. SF 496 simply implements common sense and protects the innocence of elementary students. It is completely reasonable for sexually explicit content to be unavailable to elementary students in their school. It is completely reasonable to ensure parents are informed of their children’s activities in school, especially on an issue as sensitive as gender identity. It is also completely reasonable to prohibit discussions of gender identity and sexual activity to kindergartners and elementary students.
Instead of hiding information from parents, in SF 496 Senate Republicans have introduced the concept of parental rights into Iowa law. The principle has appeared in state judicial rulings for nearly a century, and it is now one step closer to being in Iowa law. To sum it up, parental rights means that parents bear the ultimate and fundamental responsibility for the upbringing of their child. Students are not mere wards of the state and parents must have the ability to guide their education, moral and religious upbringing, and the preparation for their future.
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