Government

Stun guns still dangerous weapons, but users won't need permits; Whistleblower protection; a new task force on dyslexia: Iowa Capitol Digest, March 29

State Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, holds her daughter, Alma, in House chambers on March 27, 2018, at the Statehouse in Des Moines. Alma was born Jan. 24 during the legislative session and has been with her mother at the Captiol since. Jones said on Thursday that Alma would be staying at home in day care after Easter while Jones finishes the legislative session. (Photo by Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)
State Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, holds her daughter, Alma, in House chambers on March 27, 2018, at the Statehouse in Des Moines. Alma was born Jan. 24 during the legislative session and has been with her mother at the Captiol since. Jones said on Thursday that Alma would be staying at home in day care after Easter while Jones finishes the legislative session. (Photo by Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Thursday, March 29, 2018:

WAAAAAW: The retirement of Alma Jones from the Iowa House was formally announced Thursday.

Her mother, Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, thanked her colleagues for their patience in accommodating her 2-month-old daughter for the past six weeks. Alma, born Jan. 24, has accompanied her mother into committee hearings, on the floor during debate and into closed-door caucus meetings with her fellow Republicans since Alma was 2 weeks old.

She is now headed to day care at home until her mom is finished with the legislative session.

“Thank you all for accommodating this mom, so that I could do this and I could still make sure that my constituents had a voice here at the Capitol,” Jones said.

“It really does take a village,” Jones said as she handed a fussing Alma to Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, and joked that Alma had allowed lawmakers to see the Marine Corps veteran’s “softer side.”

Jones apologized to a pair of lawmakers who had to have their suits dry-cleaned because of Alma.

She joked that someday Alma will have an incredible vocabulary “full of words like germane and deappropriation.”

“She’ll probably play house with her peers, but her house will consist of a speaker, committee meetings and intense discussions on appropriations and tax policy,” Jones said.

Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor, said it’s rare he can speak for the 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats in the House but he felt confident in telling the Joneses “the pleasure was all ours.”

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NEW LAWS: Gov. Kim Reynolds signed another five bills into law Thursday, including legislation to expand Iowa’s Safe Haven Act of 2001 that allows parents or someone authorized by a parent to turn over a newborn up to 2 weeks old to any hospital or health care facility without fear of prosecution.

Senate File 360 expands the number of days for a parent to give up a newborn from 14 to 30 and allows a parent seeking to give up a baby for adoption to call 911 and give the infant to police or emergency responders with the same promise of immunity. The 911 recording and police report would be confidential.

Iowa Department of Human Services officials have used the state’s safe haven procedures 30 times since the law went into effect.

Also Thursday, the governor signed legislation that will expand access to telemedicine, especially in rural areas facing challenges attracting and retaining health care professionals.

House File 2305 will require a health insurer to provide the same coverage for covered services — including mental health services — whether they are provided in person or by telehealth.

Increasing coverage of telehealth, sometimes referred to as telemedicine, would increase access to health care, especially in specialty areas — such as psychiatry — backers said, and numerous services would become available to Iowans regardless of their address if insurers provide the same reimbursement whether care is delivered face-to-face or via video conferencing.

Reynolds also signed Senate File 2289, an act relating to the joint exercise of government powers by federally recognized Indian tribes; Senate File 2228, an act providing for the licensure of genetic counselors, making penalties applicable, and including effective date and implementation provisions; and House File 2285, an act relating to supplemental reimbursement for eligible ground emergency medical transportation providers through the Medicaid program.

STUN GUNS: The Iowa House approved Senate File 2361 97-0 to keep Tasers or stun guns classified as a dangerous weapon but removed the requirement that a person would need a permit to carry or possession the guns.

The bill also requires a person to be 18 years of age to legally purchase a Taser or stun gun. It was approved 49-0 by the Senate.

DYSLEXIA TASK FORCE: Legislation directing the Iowa Department of Education to establish a dyslexia task force was approved by the House 97-0 Thursday and sent to the governor.

Senate File 2360 directs the task force to submit a report regarding its findings and recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly by Nov. 24, 2019.

The task force will include representatives from the Iowa Reading Research Center, Iowa Association of School Boards, a college educator with expertise in dyslexia, a teacher, a reading specialist, a school principal, someone with dyslexia and a psychologist or speech pathologist.

The Senate approved the bill 49-0.

WHISTLEBLOWERS: The Iowa House approved legislation intended to provide whistleblower protection for state employees who report wrongdoing by their bosses to the state auditor.

Government Oversight Committee Chairman Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said committee members became aware of the need for House File 2477 while looking into allegations of improper expenditures by the Iowa Communications Network. The bill was approved 97-0.

WISDOM, GUIDANCE, PITCHING: Even over the Easter Weekend, the legislative sessions will be on the minds of Iowa House leaders.

“I always ask for wisdom and guidance because then some of these things fall into place,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said when asked what she will pray for at Easter Sunday service. “Wisdom and guidance are always good.”

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“The Cardinals’ starting rotation,” House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, quipped, perhaps aware his St. Louis team was trailing the New York Mets in their Major League Baseball season-opener Thursday afternoon.

On a serious note, Hagenow said he will be thinking about his legislative colleagues and their families.

“This is the time of year that this gets tough,” he said. He will pray “they can come back and be energized and ready get this job done.”

GAS PRICES RISE: The average price of retail unleaded gasoline in Iowa rose 5 cents this week, closing at $2.55 per gallon, according to survey information compiled by the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Iowa’s price is 28 cents a gallon more than one year ago.

Nationally, retail gasoline prices rose 7 cents, ending the week at $2.64 per gallon.

Retail diesel fuel prices in Iowa rose a penny from last week, with a statewide average of $2.92 a gallon. One year ago, diesel prices averaged $2.44 per gallon in Iowa.

The current Iowa diesel price is 3 cents less than the national average of $2.95 a gallon.

Home heating propane prices dropped 3 cents for a statewide average of $1.37 per gallon. Home heating oil rose 9 cents from last week’s figures, ending with a statewide average of $2.46 a gallon.

Natural gas prices fell 6 cents and ended the week at $2.60/mmBtu.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I mean when it comes to counting, I think numbers are numbers, and you count them. I don’t know what else you do with that.” — House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, when asked whether the Legislature needed to make changes in laws governing how candidates qualify to be on the primary election ballot.

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