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Senate sends House mental-health redesign plan

Rod Boshart, CR Gazette –

DES MOINES – Iowa’s county-based mental-health system would be redesigned into a statewide effort where services would be administered regionally and delivered locally under legislation approved by the Iowa Senate on Monday.

Senators voted 32-18 to pass the proposed overhaul, however, Senate File 2315 did not repeal a July 1, 2013, “sunset” approved last session that would end the county levy that generates about $125 million annually for mental-health services. Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, the bill’s floor manager, said the financing remains controversial and will have to be resolved when state budget issues and commercial property tax reform/relief proposals are hammered out by the split-control Legislature prior to final adjournment.

“That’s not going to get resolved any time soon,” said Hatch.

Majority Democrats in the Senate want to maintain current county mental health levy, while Republicans who hold a 60-40 edge in the House want the state to assume about $25 million annually of the mental-health costs until eventually the financial burden is totally shifted to the state over five years.

Currently, the proposed redesign to provide a statewide standard of care would cost about $42 million to finance. Gov. Terry Branstad included about $30 million for the first year in his state budget plan.

“If we don’t provide a stable way of funding for them, if we don’t provide a process where every Iowan has access to any and all services that are needed to get healthier, people will die. That’s the importance of this bill,” Hatch said during a Senate floor debate that drew sparce comments.

The proposed redesign calls for creating 10 to 17 regions serving targeted populations between 200,000 to 700,000 people. The regions would be made up of contiguous counties that use a single “checking account” where federal, state and county funds would be deposited and spent. The goal is to bring consistency and equity to a service-delivery system that’s now carved up 99 different ways.

A total of 25 Democrats and seven Republicans voted for the mental-health redesign measure, while 17 Republicans and one Democrat voted no.

Senators also voted 30-20 Monday to establish a fund of up to $250,000 administered by the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to provide money to qualifying counties that are required to rescue animals when a commercial dog breeder ends operations. Four Republicans joined 26 Democrats in sending the measure to the House.

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said Senate File 2301 will serve as a taxpayer relief fund in emergency animal rescue situations such as a recent Sac County incident where animals were rescued from “deplorable conditions” – a case that resulted in dogs being surrendered to various shelters across the state in February and the owner being charged with 93 counts of animal neglect.

Also Monday, senators voted 37-13 to approve a bill that requires each contract for the construction of a public improvement made by a governmental unit to contain a provision requiring that the iron, steel, and manufactured goods used or supplied in the performance of the contract or any subcontract be manufactured in the United States. Senate File 2287, which was opposed by 13 GOP senators, provided a penalty that would make an intentional violator ineligible to receive any government contract or subcontract.

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