Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
This Week in the Senate
By State Sen. Mark Lofgren
Feb. 23, 2023 9:45 am
The first six weeks of the legislative session have flown by. It has really helped that the weather has been so nice, allowing all legislators the benefit of safe travel to and from the Capitol. The current snowstorm aside, it has been an unusually mild winter in Iowa so far, and I am most thankful for that!
UNI Day at the Capitol
Tuesday was University of Northern Iowa Day at the Capitol. With it also being Valentine's Day, normally a day to display the pink and red, the Capitol was swarming with Panther Purple. With strong representation from the various colleges; students, staff and alumni were eager to share with legislators and visitors the various projects and learning that are making a difference for Iowans. Brandon Crawford shared with me some of the ways he has been able to assist in the research process that is underway at the Institute for Decision Making on the UNI campus and in outreach across the state.
Improving Efficiency and Legitimacy in Iowa's Public Assistance Programs
Senate Study Bill 1105 started its way through the legislative process this week. This bill is designed to address the issue of errors and fraud in Iowa’s public assistance programs. According to the Iowa City Press Citizen, the total amount of unemployment insurance overpayments for 2022 was up 6,086% since 2017, costing over $129 million in unwarranted spending. Fraud payments were also up 242% last year totaling $13.8 million. This unwarranted spending takes away benefits from those who are legitimately in need. SSB 1105 works to prevent this problem by adapting a more efficient process for identifying eligibility for welfare. Efficient programs and organizations to check employment, assets, residency, and citizenship already exist. The State of Iowa simply needs to use them. SSB 1105 helps ensure these programs are available for Iowans in legitimate need and protects the taxpayer from fraud and government inefficiency.
Ensuring Government Does Not Become Too Large
During her Condition of the State address, Gov. Reynolds shared her priority for making government “efficient, effective, and small again,” putting forward a plan for realignment of departments this year. Last year, the departments of Human Services and Public Health were merged into the new Iowa Department of Health and Human Services. This action did not cost any employees their job nor did it downgrade any service. What it did was streamline the organization and allowed for a tight-knit group to work more closely together. The current plan is to continue with this success by streamlining Iowa’s 37 cabinet agencies to 16. Senate Study Bill 1123 has been put forth to accomplish this goal. Several subcommittees have already met to ensure affected parties can speak and senators can receive public input. I have also sought input from some of the affected department directors on how they foresee this proposal playing out. So far, I have heard positive comments about the governor's proposal. It has been nearly 40 years since Iowa has taken a comprehensive view of its government structure and doing so now seems appropriate. The goal of this bill will be to reduce unnecessary friction among agencies, improve efficiency and collaboration, and prevent government from enlarging.
This week the Senate Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee was fortunate to hear from representatives from The University of Northern Iowa. Randy Pilkington and Dan Beenken shared with the committee their various projects and initiatives that are at work in all 99 counties across the state. It was great to learn the ways that UNI is making a difference for small and family businesses in Iowa and how innovation continues to be at the forefront of decision making as they work alongside Iowa Economic Development and our other state universities to promote Iowa Manufacturing 4.0. They also shared how they are partnering with Iowa Workforce Development to promote small business startup in Iowa through IASourcelink. If you or someone you know is looking to start their own business, this is a great place to go for resources on "How to," "Best Practices" and "Tools" to get you started.
Rural Emergency Health Services a Priority
We also had some floor debate this week. One notable bill, Senate File 75, creates a new license for hospitals, called rural emergency hospitals (REH). A rural emergency hospital means a facility that provides rural emergency health services 24/7 and does not provide any inpatient acute care. This designation would help stabilize rural hospitals that may be struggling and help bring in more money through Medicare. This bill also included state licensure of ambulatory surgical centers to provide better transparency and enforcement of these health facilities. Health care access is a major concern in rural Iowa, and one we hear often about from constituents. Senate File 75, which passed the Senate 48-0, helps keep hospitals open in our rural communities and helps to ensure Iowans have access to important health care services.
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