April 17, 2021

Work continues at the statehouse

Elections bill

The House and Senate passed SF 413 (aka HF 590) after lengthy floor debates in both chambers. The rule changes in this bill will make it more challenging for the elderly, disabled and absentee voter to cast a ballot; the bill shortens the time to request an absentee ballot application as well as the window for early voting in person and restricts who may deliver a completed ballot to the auditor’s office. Another new rule moves a voter to an “inactive” status if they miss one general election, even though thousands of Iowans vote only in Presidential years. That means if a person voted in the 2020 Presidential election and didn’t vote again until the 2024 election, s/he would have been moved to inactive status. There is a question if the person would have to fill out a new voter registration form before they could vote after being moved to inactive status. I am checking on clarification on this portion.

In 2020, 1.7 million Iowans cast their ballots in person, by mail or in ballot drop boxes in a voting process that was legal, fair and ran smoothly. It allowed safer options to vote during a pandemic. This success could be tough to replicate with some of the provisions in this bill. Under SF 413, auditors’ abilities to assist voters are curtailed under threat of severe punishment. I’m most upset about the restrictions on who may pick up and deliver ballots of voters who cannot get out to the polls; many folks in our district have long asked the same friends and neighbors to assist them to vote, and in most cases, they will not be allowed anymore. It’s a concerning bill that takes away local control and may lead to fewer people voting in our state.

Mental health bed update

Last session, the Governor signed sweeping mental health legislation that had overwhelmingly passed in a bipartisan fashion in both houses. It’s imperative that Iowa becomes better at delivering the mental health care that those suffering deserve. The speed with which patients are able to access that care is still far too slow. We are learning from law enforcement that many inmates in their jails, often arrested for minor offenses, are languishing for months before they can have a mental health evaluation. This is not helpful for the patient and it costs scarce city and county resources to keep them incarcerated. I invited Jasper County Sheriff Halferty to relay the seriousness of the situation in a Zoom call with me and fellow legislators Rep. Shannon Lundgren and Rep. Ann Meyer. This bipartisan group is working on solutions to increase efficiency of the psychiatric bed tracking system and the continued set up of the 6 mental health access centers across the state. These access centers were mandated by the mental health bill passed last year. I want to thank those Representatives, staff and Sheriff Halferty for their work on this issue to get help to those in need.

Habitat for Humanity

This week I met with Lisa Houser, Iowa Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity, at the Capitol. The organization partners with hardworking Iowa families to help provide access to affordable housing and provide tools that can lead to homeownership. Habitat for Humanity is supportive of SF 373, the Governor’s Homeownership Development Tax Credit. The bill would enable an Iowa taxpayer to receive a 50 percent tax credit after making an eligible contribution to an approved non-profit developer. A minimum of 20 percent of funding is restricted to eligible rural developers. This is important since rural Iowa faces a severe shortage of housing for Iowans with modest incomes. The $7 million in tax credits is predicted to result in an overall $21.5 million economic impact.