Government

Iowa Democrats call for medical cannabis study

One lawmaker worries Illinois legalization could put Iowa dispensaries at risk

A marijuana starter plant is for sale at a medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, in this November 20, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY HEALTH BUSINESS)
A marijuana starter plant is for sale at a medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, in this November 20, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY HEALTH BUSINESS)

A roundup of Capitol and state government news items of interest from Monday:

Interim medical cannabis study sought

Two Democrats who ran an unsuccessful attempt to override Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ veto of an expansion of Iowa’s medical cannabis program called Monday for an interim study to be convened to hear from pain sufferers who need relief.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, and Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, urged Republicans, who control the Iowa Legislature, to authorize a legislative interim study when the Legislative Council meets July 11.

“The goal now must be seeing the necessary medical cannabis reforms signed into law shortly after the January start of the 2020 session,” Forbes said.

Bolkcom said House File 732, which passed the House 96-3 and the Senate 40-7, made modest improvements in the 5-year-old medical cannabis program, but Reynolds said she nixed the bill because it went too far beyond the recommendations of an advisory panel of medical experts.

Democrats said patients’ voices are not being heard in this debate, and Bolkcom worried that an Illinois law set to start Jan. 1 that legalizes recreational marijuana and expands that state’s medical cannabis offerings will put Iowa’s five medical cannabis dispensaries at risk.

However, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, doubted Iowa’s dispensaries would be hurt by Illinois’ law change, and said he did not see the need for an interim legislative study as proposed by Bolkcom and Forbes.

“I personally strongly support the expansion of medical cannabis, but the best process forward is the Legislature and the governor working with the advisory board over the next few months to see what exactly the best bill is that everybody can get on board with,” Kaufmann said.

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While recreational marijuana is a separate issue, Bolkcom said, he noted the Iowa governor has come out in opposition to Illinois’ decision while at the same time signing into law at least four bills (including one at a Decorah brewery) that expand Iowans’ access to alcoholic beverages — which he said can be bought at more than 14,500 state-licensed facilities.

FEMA deadline extended

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday her office received word that Iowans affected by flooding and severe weather now have until July 16 to apply for federal recovery assistance.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted Iowa’s request for an extension of the registration deadline for the federal Individual Assistance Program.

The extension will give those affected by flooding and severe weather from March 12 to June 15 additional time to register.

Homeowners and renters in nine counties now have until July 16 to apply for Individual Assistance. The counties are: Fremont, Harrison, Louisa, Mills, Monona, Pottawattamie, Scott, Shelby and Woodbury. The deadline had been July 1.

The deadline for residents and businesses to apply for Small Business Administration loans also has been extended to July 16.

To register for FEMA assistance, visit disasterassistance.gov or call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362.

Information on how to apply for low-interest SBA loans for businesses and residents is available online at SBA.gov/disaster or by calling 800-659-2955.

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For more information visit floods2019.iowa.gov.

Iowa economic indicators dip

The Iowa Leading Indicators Index slipped two-tenths of 1 percent in May to a score of 107.1 — marking the second consecutive month of negative change after a flat March.

Seven of the eight index components followed by the Iowa Department of Revenue were negative in May, with gains in diesel fuel consumption being the only positive contributor.

The negative contributors — from largest to smallest — were the agricultural futures profits index, the new orders index, residential building permits, the national yield spread, average manufacturing hours, the Iowa stock market index and average weekly unemployment claims (inverted).

The annualized six-month index change moderated somewhat to minus 1.7 percent in May from a revised negative 1.9 percent in April, but remained close to the minus 2.0 percent threshold that signals a downturn, state officials noted.

With a slight increase in May, Iowa’s non-farm employment index has experienced 19 consecutive months of positive growth, although the last four months have averaged the slowest growth since 2017.

The monthly Iowa Leading Indicators Index report can be found at the https://tax.iowa.gov/sites/files/idr/ILII%20May%202019.pdf.

Iowa's new banking superintendent

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Monday that Jeff Plagge will serve as superintendent of the Iowa Division of Banking when Ron Hansen steps down Sept. 16 after serving as superintendent since November 2015.

Plagge is president and chief executive officer of Northwest Financial Corp.

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“Jeff is a proven leader with deep insights into the banking industry, especially when it comes to balancing consumer protection with regulatory oversight,” Reynolds said in a statement.

His appointment is subject to confirmation by the Iowa Senate.

Plagge has served as the chairman of the Iowa Bankers Association and the American Bankers Association, as a board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, as the chairman of the Community Depository Institution Advisory Council for the Chicago Federal Reserve and as a member of the same Council for the Board of Governors.

Iowa's jobless, injury benefits increase

Iowa Workforce Development has announced an increase to maximum weekly benefits paid to unemployed Iowans and to workers injured on the job.

The new benefit payment schedules apply to people who file new unemployment insurance claims on or after July 7 and to workers injured on or after July 1.

An increase in wages covered by unemployment insurance triggered the rise in benefits. The average annual wage for insured Iowa workers increased to $47,290.57 in 2018, up from $45,877.31 in 2017.

Under Iowa law, the number of people covered by unemployment insurance and their gross wages are primary elements of a formula Iowa Workforce Development uses each year to compute maximum and minimum benefit amounts paid to jobless workers. Iowa Workforce Development officials noted that about half of those eligible for unemployment insurance benefits have enough earnings to qualify for the maximum benefit.

The 2019 taxable wage base will be $31,600.

Beginning July 1, the workers’ compensation maximum weekly benefit for temporary total disability, healing period, permanent total disability and death will rise to $1,819.

For permanent partial disability, the weekly maximum will be $1,673.

Information about the weekly benefits will be available in the 2019 Unemployment Insurance Claimant Handbook at iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov beginning on Wednesday.

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