Iowa Senate sends county mental health transition money to governor

Legislation would provide $11.6M in supplemental money to 26 counties

Legislation is en route to Gov. Terry Branstad’s desk that would provide $11.6 million in supplemental money to help 26 counties avoid shortfalls in mental health services as the state switches to a regionally based service delivery system.

The Iowa Senate voted 45-4 Wednesday to approve the money for counties struggling to meet mental-health cost obligations, but several senators pledged to press for more state funding in fiscal 2014 and beyond to avoid waiting lists and service cuts as Iowa’s mental-health system is redesigned to a regional approach.

“It’s time to quit low-balling the mental health system,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, floor manager for House File 160, who hoped the split-control Legislature would approve another $30 million next fiscal year for the regional transition – although Branstad did not include any new money for that purpose in the spending plan he proposed in January.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, one of four “no” votes Wednesday, expressed concern that Polk County was “shorted” in the statewide distribution of the $11.6 million in transition money which probably will result in service reductions as payments are delayed to providers.

“As far as I’m concerned, Polk County got thrown under the bus,” said Zaun. Also voting against the measure were Sens. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, and Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines.

Earlier this year, members of the Mental Health and Disability Services Redesign Fiscal Viability Study Committee recommended that up to $20 million in state transition money be approved for counties to cover Medicaid and mental health costs through June 30.

Officials from the state Department of Human Services laid out three scenarios to help counties cover for non-Medicaid mental health services that ranged from $1.5 million to $11.6 million in state aid. That was based on a DHS analysis of 32 county requests for transition funds that found those counties owed about $22.1 million in undisputed state bills as of Oct. 31. The remaining counties owed about $26 million, but they did not request state transition funds to balance their ledgers.

Scott and Linn counties would pull down nearly 40 percent of the money earmarked in H.F. 160. Scott County would get $2.4 million and Linn County would receive $2.2 million in transition funds this fiscal year to meet mental health obligations.

On a separate issue Wednesday, senators voted 49-0 to extend the length of a valid Iowa driver’s license from five years to eight years with no changes in the fee schedule. The changes in Senate File 348 would apply to drivers between the ages of 17 years and 11 months up to 72 years -- but not beyond a person’s 74th birthday.

Also Wednesday, senators voted 49-0 to expand the definition of the term “sex act” in state law. Senate File 298 amends the definition of “sex act” in the Iowa Code to include “ejaculation onto the person of another.”

Sponsors said the measure was drafted in response to a situation involving a central Iowa chiropractor who was convicted of misdemeanor assault in January 2011. Prosecutors indicated they wanted to file a more serious sexual-assault charge, but the specific facts would not support such a charge under current law.

During Wednesday’s floor action, senators approved an amendment to add a new criminal code section to create an offense for causing the touching of a person’s genitals to any part of the body of a child. The new offense would be a Class C felony carrying a penalty of up to 10 years in prison upon conviction.

In other action, senators voted 49-0 to require that school personnel receive training in suicide prevention and trauma-informed care.

Senate File 337 mandates that the state Board of Educational Examiners to adopt rules requiring individuals applying for renewal of a license, certificate, authorization, or statement of recognition issued by the board who provide a service to students to undergo training on suicide prevention and trauma-informed care prior to each renewal. The requirement applies each time an individual seeks renewal.

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