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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Senate Republicans on Wednesday advanced two bills that are designed to address child care access and affordability, although Senate Democrats were not supportive of either proposal.
House File 2198 would allow 16-year-old child care workers to supervise school-age children without additional supervision. While the bill is designed to allow flexibility in child care staffing, opponents said it could be dangerous to allow younger workers to operate without sufficient supervision.
“I do not believe this is the answer to our workforce shortage,” Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said during a subcommittee hearing on the bill.
The bill previously passed the House on a party-line vote. It is now eligible for consideration by the full Senate human resources committee.
House File 2127 would allow a child care provider to charge families in the state’s child care assistance program for the difference between the state reimbursement rate and what a provider would typically charge for child care.
Sheila Hansen, of the progressive policy advocacy group Common Good Iowa, said many families in the state’s child care assistance program are among its lowest-income families.
The proposal previously passed the House with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing. It, too, is now eligible for consideration in the full Senate human resources committee.
GARBAGE SEARCH: A Senate-approved bill that would legalize law enforcement searches of a suspect’s garbage faced pushback Wednesday from Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.
Senate File 2296 stems from a Clear Lake case in which a defendant successfully appealed a conviction and sentence for drug possession charges because the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless search of his garbage containers set out for trash collection.
House Judiciary Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said the decision upended the status quo that has long held there is no expectation of privacy for garbage placed outside. Thousands of cases have been solved through the use of forensic evidence found in a defendant’s garbage, he said.
However, Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, told the committee the state Supreme Court is the final arbiter of private liberty interests in the Iowa Constitution. If lawmakers want to change that privacy standard, they should amend the Constitution rather than attempt to do it through legislation.
The decision in the Clear Lake case, written by a justice appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, was a correct interpretation of the separation of powers, Wolfe said. Just as Justice Christopher McDonald said it would be inappropriate to legislate from the bench, it would be wrong to attempt to overturn a Supreme Court decision through legislation, she said.
The committee, on a 12-7 vote, moved the bill ahead to the full House for debate.
PUBLIC ASSISTANCE: Legislation that potentially could save the state Department of Human Services millions of dollars will advance to the full House Appropriations Committee despite concerns it could lead to the cancellation of benefits for thousands of recipients of Medicaid, children’s health insurance and food assistance.
Many of the same concerns raised when House File 2438 was approved by the Human Resources Committee were repeated to an Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday.
The bill would update DHS’s information technology to “make sure the people who need (assistance) are getting it, our error rate is down and our fraud rate is down … while being responsible with taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Anne Meyer, R-Fort Dodge.
The bill requires that someone applying for public assistance complete a computerized identity authentication process. The questionnaire is to contain questions tailored to assist persons without a bank account or those who have poor access to financial and banking services or who do not have an established credit history.
Lobbyists warned that discrepancies could cause many recipients to lose benefits, if only temporarily.
In a fiscal note, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimated that implementing the technology upgrade would cost DHS $14.2 million in the first two years. The verification changes would decrease state costs $13.1 million annually.
The agency estimated the verification process could mean around 7,400 Iowans would lose Medicaid coverage, with smaller losses in other assistance programs.
The savings look good, but Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, said when people lose their benefits they tend to get sicker and spend more time in hospitals, which increases costs.
“There are people who game the system, … but this will create more problems than it solves,” Forbes said.
Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, who said he has not supported previous “public assistance integrity” legislation, said his interest “is that people who are eligible receive the benefits they are eligible for. When people are on our programs who aren’t eligible, it takes away from those who are eligible.”
PLANNING AND ZONING: A bill approved 13-5 by the House Local Government Committee would require cities to expand their planning and zoning commissions and boards of adjustment if they extend their zoning jurisdiction beyond the city limits.
SF 2285, unanimously approved by the Senate, would require cities to add two members if they expand their zoning jurisdictions into the unincorporated area up to 2 miles beyond the city limits.
One of those members must be a member of the county Board of Supervisors or its designee. Both people must be residents of the area outside the city where the zoning jurisdiction is being extended.
One of the appointees would have to own land actively used for agricultural purposes.
CONFIDENTIAL JUDICIAL RECORDS: The Iowa House approved House File 2485 Wednesday to give lawmakers and the public access to confidential information held by a judicial nominating commission about charges against judges and employees of the judicial branch.
It would be a “rarely used power,” but essential for the Legislature to exercise its constitutional responsibility of oversight over the judiciary, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said Wednesday.
Opening those otherwise confidential records to the public may have a “chilling effect” on the willingness of people to be open with judicial nominating commissions,” said Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton.
The Judiciary Committee has launched an investigation into a district court judge accused of making improper comments during the process of selecting nominees for the governor to appoint to the bench.
Although Wolfe said an amendment offered by Holt made the bill “slightly better,” she recommended a no vote.
It was approved, with 57 Republican votes for the bill and 38 Democrats and a Republican voting against it.
Gazette Des Moines Bureau