The following is a legislative update from Iowa Democrats:
Tax Credits, Free Tax Filing Assistance Available to Iowans
State and federal income taxes will be due soon. Iowa state income tax returns are due on April 30, which is a Tuesday while federal income taxes still need to be filed by April 15th, which is a Monday. The Department of Revenue offers several options for filing your taxes, including some free options for low and moderate income filers, elderly, and those with disabilities. The options to “File for Free” for tax year 2018, which must be filed by April 2019, can be found at https://tax.iowa.gov/tax-year-2017-file-free.
In addition, the Department of Human Services works with partners to provide tax preparation services to eligible individuals. The federal Internal Revenue Service provides a lookup for free tax preparation services available at http://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/. AARP also offers free tax preparation to anyone over age 50. Additional information on the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide can be found at https://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide/.
Iowans can track their refund online through the Department of Revenue. Taxpayers will need their Social Security Number, the tax year they wish to track, and the refund amount. Using this information, the status of a refund can be tracked at https://www.idr.iowa.gov/wheresmyrefund/.
Earned Income Tax Credit
Iowans that qualify are encouraged to apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit. The credit is available for working individuals and families that meet certain income restrictions. If you worked at any time in the last year you could be eligible for the credit. If you file for the federal EITC, you likely qualify for a state credit as well. The credit does not affect eligibility for public benefits such as Medicaid, FIP, Child Care Assistance, or subsidized housing. Additional information on the Iowa Earned Income Tax Credit can be found at https://dhs.iowa.gov/EITC.
Plan for School Infrastructure Improvements Moves Ahead
The Iowa House is working on a proposal this year to extend funding for school infrastructure improvements for another 20 years.
A top priority of school leaders across Iowa for several years, the plan under consideration would extend the one cent local sales tax for school infrastructure (SAVE) through 2051 instead of expiring in 2031. The plan has advanced through two committees in the Iowa House.
The bill increases property tax relief to school districts with low valuations and creates a new fund for property tax relief to all school districts. A separate Career Academy competitive grant fund is established to help build job training facilities.
More transparency is provided in the plan by allowing voters to reapprove the district’s revenue purpose statement. If SAVE funds are going to be obligated for 20 years, boards must hold a public hearing and give citizens an opportunity to petition for a direct vote of the people.
Details still need to be addressed on the Career Academy fund and the percentage set for the property tax relief.
The House bill has advanced to the House floor, and a similar bill is in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
GOP Lawmakers Try to End Health Education Funding
Several Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill to take away federal grant money used to fund essential sexual health education programs at several organizations across the state.
The bill, House File 257, directs the Department of Public Health to prioritize distributing this grant funding to certain applicants, and outright prohibits organizations that perform abortions from receiving these funds. However, federal law prohibits any state or federal tax dollars to be used to pay for abortions.
Instead, this funding goes towards health education programs that help young people prevent unintended pregnancies, avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and make healthier decisions. The organizations that are being excluded from this funding will no longer be able to reach the tens of thousands of young Iowans to help them stay informed and healthy. These education programs have been shown to reduce teen pregnancy, thereby reducing the number of abortions.
Currently, Iowa’s teen pregnancy rates are at historic lows because of these education programs. Also, the funds are instrumental in teaching youth about STDs and how to avoid them. This is especially important now, given that the rates of gonorrhea have increased in Iowa by 145% from four years ago. Cases of chlamydia and syphilis have spiked as well.
This bill comes at the same time that the Trump Administration announced a new rule that would direct any Title X federal family planning funds to religious and anti-abortion groups. Title X funding goes towards access to birth control, cervical cancer screenings, and treatment for STDs.
Currently, Planned Parenthood receives around $60 million from these funds every year, and operate about 40% of the clinics using this money. This could have severe consequences for Iowa, where there was a 73% decline in family planning services after the Republicans decided to decline $3 million in federal funding to create their own state family program, where women have far less access to healthcare services.
The key to preventing teen pregnancy and reducing the rate of STDs is age-appropriate and medically accurate information. Taking away this education funding can only result in higher instances of both.
HF 257 now goes to the full House Human Resource Committee for consideration.
Iowans Support Expanding Use of Medical Cannabis
According to a new Des Moines Register poll, more than 75% of Iowans want to improve the state’s medicinal marijuana program and nearly 50% support legalizing recreational marijuana.
According to the Department of Public Health, nearly 1,500 patients and caregivers have been issued registration cards and almost 400 applications have been approved but not issued. This session, lawmakers are working on legislation that would improve Iowa’s current medicinal marijuana program by eliminating the THC cap, expanding the list of medical conditions, and licensing additional dispensaries within the state.
Currently, MedPharm and Iowa Relief are the only cannabis manufacturers licensed to operate within the state. MedPharm began selling products last December at five licensed dispensaries, including tinctures, capsules, and creams, to legally registered patients. These dispensaries are located in Waterloo, Council Bluffs, Windsor Heights, and Sioux City. Iowa Relief is projected to begin selling their products by July 1, 2019.
Despite Iowa’s restrictive cannabis rules, four firms applied last year for a medical marijuana production permit. Based on the increase in manufacturing interest, both MedPharm and Iowa Relief continue to strongly advocate for the state to expand Iowa’s current list of medicinal ailments and raise the 3% THC cap so Iowans may have easier access to pain relief.
Legislation Advances to Benefit Beginning Farmers
Iowans looking to start a career in farming will get a leg up under legislation advanced by the House Agriculture Committee.
House Study Bill 173, which advanced out of committee unanimously, doubles the tax credits available to beginning farmers from $6 million to $12 million annually, modifies qualifications, and streamlines the process to better ensure that eligible Iowans get access to Iowa’s world class farmland.
The beginning farmer tax credit program is an incentive for Iowa landowners to rent land to beginning farmers by issuing tax credits to the landowner to offset their individual or corporate tax liability. The credit the landowner receives is based on the agreement with the beginning farmer; whether the beginning farmer is paying cash rent or they have a commodity share agreement. Demand for the program has exceeded the supply of available credits, leaving beginning farmers unable to take advantage of the program.
The bill now moves to the Ways and Means committee for further consideration.
House Expands Access to Eye Health
In an effort to expand access to health care, the Iowa House of Representatives voted to expand the medical procedures performed by optometrists. The legislation has been proposed in previous years, but had not made it to a final vote in the House of Representatives.
The bill allows optometrists to perform four more procedures than they were previously allowed to perform, including sub-conjunctival injections for medical treatment of the eye, intra-lesional injections for the treatment of chalazia, draining an eyelid abscess, and injections to counter an anaphylactic reaction.
Advocates for the legislation said the expansion was vital to addressing the growing concern of access to eye care for Iowans who may not have an ophthalmologist nearby. The procedures that are expanded in the legislation are allowed in 16 other states.
Even with the passing of the legislation, some were critical of the plan and believe that optometrists do not have the proper training to perform the new procedures and only ophthalmologists with a medical degree should be allowed to perform the procedures.
The legislation will now head to the Iowa Senate.
Chronic Wasting Disease Update
In effort to slow the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and other infectious diseases, the House Natural Resources Committee passed House File 530 last week. The bill designates the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as the agency in charge of containing the spread of infectious diseases in wild animals.
The bill allows the DNR, through the Natural Resources Commission, to establish zones, create special hunting seasons, prevent the artificial movement of wild animals, and require samples from harvested animals. The bill also establishes regulations on imported deer meat from states and providences with CWD, in an effort to stop the spreading of the disease from other states and providences. The bill now goes to the full House for a vote.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a neurologic disease that impacts deer, moose, and elk, was first reported in Iowa in 2013. The disease causes weight loss and ultimately death for infected animals. While the disease can spread animal to animal, it is not believed to be transferable to humans. Since 2013, the number of infected deer in Iowa has grown to 45. Deer have tested positive for CWD in four counties; Allamakee, Clayton, Wayne, and Dubuque.