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Lawmakers recap 2021 session

Advances on mental health, tax cuts cited

The 2021 Iowa legislative session lasted three weeks past its scheduled end date, and a lot was accomplished, according to lawmakers serving Webster County.

“I think 2021 is going to go down as one of the most productive years in our generation,” said state Sen. Jesse Green, R-Harcourt.

Green and state Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, and state Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, talked about the accomplishments of the session during an Eggs and Issues forum Saturday at Iowa Central Community College.

They also talked about some of the priorities they will pursue when the Legislature convenes again in January 2022.

Eggs and Issues is sponsored by the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance and Iowa Central Community College.

Accomplishments of 2021

A new law which requires that visits with mental health providers conducted electronically be treated the same as in-person visits for insurance purposes was cited by Meyer as a major win for this year.

She described the measure as “parity for mental health telehealth.”

This law, she said, will create opportunities for Iowa residents to consult with mental health professionals in other communities and even other states.

“We have more access to mental health providers now,” she said.

Kraayenbrink agreed that the telehealth parity law is one of the items from the 2021 session that will have an immediate impact for residents.

Another of Meyer’s priorities that passed this year addresses what she calls the “childcare cliff effect.” The state offers help to qualifying parents who need assistance paying for childcare. But once those parents reach a designated income level, they lose all of their childcare assistance at once.

“They would get to a certain point in their income level and fall off the benefit cliff,” Meyer said.

The bill she wrote provides what Meyer calls a “graduated exit ramp” from the child care assistance program. Now, that assistance will be gradually reduced as the parents’ income goes up.

Eliminating the local property tax levy that paid for mental health care was a big achievement of the session, according to Kraayenbrink.

He said mental health care will now be paid for out of the state’s general fund. He added that the Legislature added another $10 million to the mental health budget on top of what was already being spent.

Kraayenbrink also touted the move to phase out the state’s inheritance tax. He said that will benefit family farmers and small business owners.

The senator also said that the Legislature eliminated conditions, commonly called triggers, in a move that clears the way for faster income tax cuts.

Kraayenbrink said the state government will end the current fiscal year on June 30 with $500 million in the bank.

Green cited what he called “constitutional carry” — a law which eliminates state permits for gun owners — as a major accomplishment of the session.

He also listed a bill he championed which will provide grants to help small meat lockers expand. The bill also calls for the creation of a new curriculum to be used at community colleges to professionally train the next generation of meat cutters.

Looking ahead

Green was involved in talks during the past session about reforming the bottle bill, which provides a 5-cent deposit to encourage the recycling of beverage containers. He said he plans to work on that again next year.

He said he plans to follow up on the meat locker bill with new legislation that will create apprenticeships in meat cutting for high schoolers.

Kraayenbrink said he plans to address what he considers to be the silencing of conservative voices on Regents university campuses.

“We have to come up with some way to hold the instructors and professors accountable,” he said.

Meyer said medical liability tort reform is a big issue she wants to address.

She favors a proposal that would put a $1 million cap on the amount that could be awarded for pain and suffering as a result of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

That plan, she said, would not put any limits on the amount that could be awarded for economic losses or punitive damages.

She said liability insurance premiums for medical providers are “out of control.” That, she said, is hurting efforts to recruit and retain doctors in the state.

“I think it’s a huge issue for our medical community,” Meyer said.

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