Working Iowans forgotten again at the Capitol

Workers' Compensation HF 518 makes far reaching changes in Iowa's current workers' compensation law. The bill cuts benefits available to injured Iowa workers, reduces the employers' liability to provide benefits to workers injured on the job, and tilts the claims procedures in favor of employers avoiding payment of benefits. Some significant changes to the current law include: allows employers to take into account pre-existing conditions and past injuries in determining benefits; eliminates motivation for employers to pay compensation benefits to injured employees on time; limits the amount of time that a person can receive benefits; a very significant change would be a shoulder injury is moved from being considered a whole body injury to a scheduled injury. A scheduled injury receives fewer benefits than a whole body injury. HF 518 unfortunately passed the House. It is disappointing to see another piece of legislation that does nothing to help working Iowans but benefits corporations. When will we do what is right for Iowans? It is time to speak out! Please reach out and make sure your voice is heard.

Asbestos Liability House File 486 passed the Iowa House on March 13, though Democrats warned it promised to make it more difficult for sick and dying patients and their families to recover damages from their exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma is an often fatal form of cancer that is closely linked to asbestos exposure. Some lawmakers described their own families' horrible struggle with the disease on the House floor during debate. More than 2,000 Iowans have died of the asbestos-related problems since 1999.

The bill sets some new filing requirements for plaintiffs. Republicans argued the proposed law would discourage "nuisance" lawsuits filed by people who had been exposed to asbestos but were not sick. Democrats argued the changes made by House File 476 were onerous, not needed, and only increased barriers for those suffering Iowans from a terrible illness. The Iowa Senate passed similar legislation the previous week, and the bill is now headed for Governor Branstad's desk.

Blocking Local Pre-emption On March 9, the House approved HF 295 that bans cities and counties from enacting measures that don't match state law. Such measures include minimum wage rates that exceed the state rate, which is currently $7.25. Johnson, Linn, Wapello and Polk Counties have already raised minimum wage after state lawmakers did not raise the minimum wage since 2007.  Republicans insisted that local municipalities were exceeding their authority to raise the minimum wage above that of the state. An amendment to grandfather in the counties with higher minimum wage was defeated. The bill also imposes restrictions on municipalities from enacting more generous paid family leave policies, instituting a soda tax and banning use of plastic bags.  Democrats opposed HF 295. They proposed an amendment would have raised the state's minimum wage to help working families. This bill failed to pass.

Another $131 million needs to come out of FY2017 budget This month, the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) lowered their estimate for the current fiscal year for a second time this year. After the REC meeting in January indicated there would be budget gaps, the Republican-controlled House and Senate voted on $114 million in deappropriations; this will have a negative effect on budgets of community colleges, Regents institutions, the Department of Corrections and Department of Public Safety, and gutted the Iowa Cultural Trust Fund, among many other agencies. Now, the REC has lowered the growth by an additional $131 million. The Governor and Republicans quickly said that they will look at taking the additional money needed from the reserve funds, something that was considered off-the-table in the first round. There is a total of $738 million in Iowa's reserve funds.

The shortfall in the budget is the result of runaway tax credits given to corporations, some of them from out of state.

Legislators have refused to raise the minimum wage for years. A higher minimum wage would benefit struggling Iowans and reduce the amount of money that Iowa spends on the Earned Income Tax Credits. We need to stand up for working Iowans and give them a better opportunity to provide for their families.

Contact Rep. Wes Breckenridge
at 641-521-6714