To the People of House District 95
Our second week of session was a shortened one with all state employees celebrating Martin Luther King Day, and legislators caucusing back in their districts on Monday night. Once we got back to the Capitol Tuesday morning, it was another busy week of subcommittees, committees, and further conversation regarding major proposals introduced by our own caucus and the Governor.
Governor Announces Changes to AEA Reform Bill
Over the last week, I heard feedback from many AEA employees, teachers, administrators, and superintendents on the Governor’s bill that proposes reforming Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to improve special education services and supports for students with disabilities to close concerning achievement gaps. Following that feedback, Myself, along with many of my other house colleagues, had a lengthy meeting with the Governor and the Director of the Iowa Department of Education Wednesday afternoon where we shared that feedback. As a result, the Governor is proposing a major amendment to her original bill.
The proposed amendment would automatically shift control of state and federal special education funding from the AEAs to Iowa’s public school districts. It will also allow schools to retain their share of AEA funding for general education services. The AEAs will continue to provide all special education services they do now, including Child Find and Early ACCESS for children from birth to three years of age. AEAs will also provide general education services and media services if requested by schools and approved by the Department of Education. Special education oversight will shift to the Department of Education to ensure accountability, transparency, and improved outcomes for Iowa students with disabilities.
“Student success is my central focus, and the goal of my bill is to ensure Iowa’s students with disabilities receive the world class education they deserve. Since introducing it, I’ve been able to discuss the details with parents and education stakeholders and meet with legislators about what they’re hearing from schools and families in their districts,” said Governor Reynolds in a press release announcing the amendment. “Schools and parents know their students best, and this bill ensures they are in the driver’s seat in deciding how best to support their students. This model will give schools control over their money and create more transparency in the system, while also ensuring AEAs can provide the education support some schools rely on. I appreciate the House and Senate education committees’ willingness to work together on the bill and I look forward to subcommittee hearings as soon as possible.”
We all share the goal of ensuring this bill improves outcomes for Iowa students with disabilities and empowers school districts to decide how best to suit the needs of their schools. I will continue to seek feedback from stakeholders and do my due diligence as this bill works its way through the legislative process. Just as stated while I was running for this seat, as long as I am in Des Moines, SE Iowa will have a seat at the table when it comes to these important conversations.
Combating Terrorist Sympathizers in Iowa
Yesterday morning, as pro Hamas protestors filled the Capitol, Representative Austin Harris (R – Moulton) and I introduced legislation that would ensure students who have endorsed or promoted terrorism, or the actions of a foreign terrorist organization, be barred from receiving state aid to help pay for their higher education. The bill also orders that student organizations at any public institution of higher education in Iowa who have endorsed or promoted terrorism, or the actions of a foreign terrorist organization, be decertified. To ask Iowans to give their hard-earned money to people who support our enemies and want death to America, and our allies, is an egregious request. We’ve made promises to our constituents to be responsible with their tax dollars, and this bill will deliver on that promise by sending a clear message to anyone in Iowa who supports our enemies.
House Commerce Committee Hears Energy Rate Presentation
This week, the House Commerce Committee heard a presentation from London Economics International on Iowa utilities ratemaking procedures. This report was required by House File 617 from last session, the first review of Iowa investor-owned utility ratemaking in over 20 years in Iowa. The report can be found here: https://wcc.efs.iowa.gov/cs/idcplg?IdcService=GET_FILE&allowInterrupt=1&RevisionSelectionMethod=latest&dDocName=2136134&noSaveAs=1.
The report makes the following high-level policy recommendations after receiving public stakeholder feedback throughout the summer and fall and reviewing comparable states policies:
• Consider a maximum stay out provision for general rate cases;
• Enact a statute that requires rate-regulated electric utilities to file an integrated resource plan, and gas and water utilizes to file long-term supply plans;
• Align necessity and advantages of advance ratemaking with the resource plan;
• Review tracker and rider mechanisms for utility operations;
• Initiate study on evaluating the current spending cap and alternative energy efficiency and demand response opt-out options; and
• Examine the implementation of a performance-based regulation framework and various components, which include multi-year rate plans, performance mechanisms (such as scorecards and performance incentive mechanisms), and earnings sharing mechanisms.
The House Commerce Committee will be reviewing this report and considering legislation this session based on the recommendations.
Education Committee Hears from the Iowa Reading Research Center
On Tuesday, the House Education Committee heard from the Iowa Reading Research Center (IRRC). The Reading Research Center is housed at the University of Iowa College of Education and its purpose is to improve the literacy proficiency of pre-kindergarten through twelfth-grade students. The IRRC’s work is done in four main categories:
• Research—Conducting research in practical settings to evaluate the effectiveness of literacy practices and the usefulness of assessments for guiding literacy instruction.
• Professional Learning—Facilitating professional learning for educators on literacy instructional strategies and related topics online through eLearning and in-person at workshops and conferences.
• Technical Assistance—Collaborating with local education agencies to provide technical assistance involving planning and implementation to address a specific literary issue.
• Family Resources—Offering family resources to help family members and caregivers take an active role in their children’s literacy skill development; assisting families affected by a reading disability through assistive technology consultation and eLearning.
The Reading Research Center began in 2013 and celebrated its 10 year anniversary in 2023. In the past 10 years 37,565 students participated in IRRC research, 10,406 educators completed an IRRC eLearning module, 5,265 teacher preparation students received dyslexia training certification from the IRCC, 148 families received assistive technology consultation appointments from the IRRC., and 99 counties were impacted directly by IRRC services, professional learning, and research.
In 2021, the Dyslexia Specialist Endorsement launched. The endorsement builds educator’s knowledge of the literacy development of students with characteristics of dyslexia. The program focuses on the scientific principles of dyslexia, typical and atypical development of reading, interventions for students with dyslexia, and more. This type of training continues to be a priority in the House.
House HHS Committee Hears Presentation on Mental Health
This week, the House Health and Human Services Committee heard a presentation from the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services on recent updates in mental health in the state. The presentations can be found here and here.
In the presentation, DHHS announced that there will be legislation this session to establish a new Behavioral Health Services System. The Committee looks forward to reviewing the legislation when it comes out and seeing how the state can move the system forward to provide services equally to all corners of the state.
The Legislature continues to prioritize expanding access to mental health. Below is a list of bills that passed just last year and were signed by the Governor:
• Mental Health Rate Increase – The HHS budget (SF561) provides $13 million in increased state funding towards mental health and substance abuse Medicaid rates. In total with federal funding, this is over $35 million increase to ensure that the state can recruit and retain mental health providers to care for Iowans in need. These increases came based on a Medicaid rate review that compared Iowa’s mental health rates to surrounding states and to Medicare.
• Medical Malpractice – House File 161 limits the total amount of noneconomic damages for a medical malpractice claim at $2 million for causes of action involving a hospital, and at $1 million for all other causes of action.
• Rural Emergency Hospitals – Senate File 75 establishes licensure in Iowa for Rural Emergency Hospitals. Federal law created this designation in 2020, and has allowed this new hospital designation to begin January 1, 2023. This bill also requires ambulatory surgical centers to be licensed in Iowa.
• Mental Health Non-Competes – House File 93 prohibits noncompete agreements with mental health providers, allowing the provider to stay with their patient.
• Psychologist Prescribing – House File 183 removes the requirement that a psychologist complete certain requirements within 5 years of being issued a conditional prescription certificate. This bill also changes that the physician supervising does not need to be board-certified in specific specialties.
• Psychiatrist Public Fellowship – House File 274 revises the state-funded psychiatry residency program that was established last session, to include two fellowship positions. The program will annually graduate 9 psychiatry residents and 2 psychiatry fellows.
• Physician Assistants – House File 424 repeals requirements that physician assistants practice under the supervision of a physician, and instead requires collaboration, including psychiatric PAs.
• Commitment Hearings – House File 466 allows health care providers who have examined a patient involved in a substance abuse or mental health commitment to testify by video. Current law only allows for telephone testimony.
• Mental Health and Disability Services – House File 471 comes from the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services to specialize the Independence Mental Health Institute to behaviorally complex youth and the Cherokee MHI to acute and forensic adults, makes changes to the Regional MHDS Governing Board makeup, and adds competency-based restoration to the core service domains of the MHDS Regions.
Judiciary Committee Begins Passing Bills Out of Committee
The House Judiciary Committee has started the session working on a wide variety of bills. These bills reflect requests from the Attorney General, the Bar Association, Public Defenders Office, County Attorney’s Association, Representatives, and others throughout the state. Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee will considered three bills:
• House Study Bill 505: Parenting Time – This bill changes the phrase “visitation” to “parenting time” to better reflect the true nature of the time a parent spends with their child. The phrase “parenting time” is already commonly used in the courts and other areas and this change reflects that common use as well.
• House Study Bill 512: Assault in Violation of a Protective Order – HSB 512 adds additional protection for a victim who has a protective order. If a person has a protective order against another and the order is violated and results in an assault, the charge is a class “D” felony. This is in addition to any contempt of court, or additional charges associated with the assault. A class “D” felony is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine between $1,025 and $10,245. I also happen to be the floor manager of this particular bill.
• House Study Bill 526: Remote Court Proceedings – The pandemic changed how Courts conduct hearings. More remote proceedings and less in person were approved. Once the pandemic ended, so did a lot of remote proceedings. HSB 526 comes from the Judicial Branch and authorizes some court proceedings to be held through remote means.
Election Security & Integrity Remain a Top Priority
As the 90th General Assembly resumes, it is important to look at where Iowa stands on election integrity. House Republicans have already enacted several key election integrity laws. Important measures to build upon Iowa’s already safe elections to limit and secure ballot drop boxes, enforce routine voter registration maintenance, require signature verification for absentee ballots, and to prevent absentee ballot harvesting.
Following the city and school elections in November the Secretary of State’s office conducted their post-election audit in all 99 counties. Following elections, the Secretary of State randomly audits one precinct in each county to ensure that the results match the ballots and the paper receipt from the tabulators. Once again, the post-election audits had 100% match rates in each county.
As Secretary Pate said after the conclusion of the post-election audits “It is vital that we ensure election integrity in every corner of the state. This does not come without hard work from county election officials, poll workers, and my staff, who each make up a critical layer of election security.” Iowa has continued to lead the way in the requirement of paper ballots to conduct elections. In a 2022 Bloomberg study on every state’s election susceptibility, Iowa received high scores for its ballot security. Of the major benchmarks for ballot security, Iowa has had many of them for years. The election policies Iowa has in place that earned its high ranking in the Bloomberg study include widely supported measures such as voter ID requirements. Others that have recently been enacted that have strengthened Iowa’s score were things like voter roll maintenance which removes deceased voters and voters who have moved out of state and/or districts from legal voter lists. Additionally, having a mail ballot deadline and regular election audits earned Iowa additional marks in the study.
Ensuring election integrity is an ongoing responsibility of the legislature and House Republicans will continue to lead the way in protecting the election process while enabling Iowans the fundamental right to vote.
Social Media Use Leads to Poor Mental Health Among Teens and Negatively Impacts Learning
According to a survey released by Gallup in October, the average U.S. teen uses social media 4.8 hours per day. Girls use social media roughly one hour more than boys per day. Teens favorite platforms are YouTube and TikTok with Instagram a distant third in popularity.
According to Gallup, “Amid declining teen mental health, many scholars such as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt have carefully investigated the role of social media, given the explosion in time spent using such applications. Studies have pointed out how technology companies manipulate users into spending more time on the apps through their designs.”
Jonathan Rothwell, principal economist at Gallup who authored the research released last fall, lists the five things parents and teachers should know about the impact of social media on youth mental health.
• There’s a direct link between parent involvement and teens’ social media use and mental health.
• Video-centered social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube may pose a bigger threat to teens’ mental health than other social media apps.
• Even with involved parents, teen body image issues persist.
• Reducing the quantity of time spent on social media versus the quality of time may be more beneficial.
• Parents and educators have the opportunity to foster a healthier relationship between teens and their social media use.
Mental health isn’t the only concern. The proliferation of cell phone use during school also impacts learning. A 2016 study by researchers Louis-Phillipe Beland and Richard Murphy studied the effect of banning cell phones during the school day on students in several large English cities. The research showed that test scores improved significantly after the bans. Beland and Murphy argued that the lack of constant distraction allowed students to focus on their work.
Last fall schools in the United Kingdom banned the use of cell phones in school throughout the country. But the U.K. isn’t the only country that does this. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) reported last summer that education systems in about 200 countries have similar rules limiting cell phones use in school.
Derek Thompson wrote an article titled “It Sure Looks Like Phones Are Making Students Dumber” in the Dec. 19, 2023 edition of The Atlantic. In the article, Thompson cites the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) calling it “the world’s most famous measure of student ability.”
Thompson cites data which show that internationally science scores peaked in 2009, reading scores peaked in 2012 and math scores were at their lowest in the history of the test which began in 2003.
Thompson concludes, “The way I see it, for the past decade, the internet-connected world has been running a global experiment on our minds – and, in particular, on the minds of young people. Teens are easily distracted and exquisitely sensitive to peer judgement. Results from a decade of observational research have now repeatedly shown a negative relationship between device use and life satisfaction, happiness, school attention, information retention, in-class note-taking, task-switching, and student achievement. These cognitive and emotional costs are highest for those with the most “device dependence.”
In January, Daniel Buck of the Fordham Institute wrote, “The evidence in support of stricter policies is mounting. Several studies have confirmed that limiting phone usage during class increases performance on both standardized test scores and end-of-course exams. The gains were equivalent to an additional hour of instructional time per week. Restricting phone use outside class time also shows benefits. For example, when schools place limitations on them during recess, researchers found that students exercise far more, burning off energy, fostering physical health, and promoting later attention in class.”
Governor Reynolds has proposed internet safety measures for minors for the Legislature to consider and House Republicans will be releasing similar proposals this session.
2024 Forum Schedule
I will continue to share the most updated list of our eight forums Senator Lofgren and I plan to attend / host throughout the legislative session. I’d encourage you attend and ask any questions you might have!
Des Moines County:
• Greater Burlington Partnership Friday Forum: Friday, January 19th from 8 – 9AM.
• Greater Burlington Partnership Friday Forum: Friday, March 8th from 8 – 9AM.
(In person attendance for these forums are limited to chamber members only but a link to the live video of these forums and recordings of past Friday Forums can be found here. Questions can also be submitted through the chat live.)
• Saturday, February 3rd from 11AM – 12PM at Wapello City Hall in the City Council Chambers.
• Saturday, March 2nd from 11AM – 12PM at Wapello City Hall in the City Council Chambers.
• Mount Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast: Friday, February 16th from 8 – 9AM at Mount Pleasant City Hall.
• Mount Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast: Saturday, March 16th from 8 – 9AM – location is TBD.
• Muscatine Community College Legislative Forum: Saturday, February 3rd from 9 – 10AM at Muscatine Community College in the lounge in the Student Services Building.
• Wilton Legislative Forum: Saturday, March 2nd from 9 – 10AM at Wilton City Hall in the Community Room.
Staying in Touch
As always, you also can shoot me an email with any questions or concerns at email@example.com or you can call the Capitol Switchboard and leave me a message at (515) 281-7340.
Rep. Taylor Collins