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The national political circus has largely moved on from Iowa. But at the Statehouse, lawmakers have been steadily moving through the legislative session. We'll explore potential outcomes as we sit down with Governor Kim Reynolds on this edition of Iowa Press.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

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For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating nearly 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, February 21 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen. 

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Yepsen: With the 2020 Iowa legislative session well into its second month here in Des Moines, issues and bills are either gelling together or falling apart. Governor Kim Reynolds is no stranger to the machinations of the Iowa legislature. She launched her legislative priorities in January's Condition of the State Address and is spending time crisscrossing Iowa campaigning for her Invest in Iowa Act. And Governor Reynolds joins us once again here at the Iowa Press table. Governor, welcome back. It's good to have you with us.

Reynolds: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

Yepsen: Also joining the conversation are James Lynch, Political Reporter for the Gazette and Kay Henderson is News Director for Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Governor, this Invest in Iowa initiative requires legislators to vote to raise the sales tax. How are you going to convince your fellow republicans to do that?

Governor Reynolds: Well, hopefully I'm going to work on it but I think Iowans are going to ultimately be the ones to convince them to do it. We launched it with a press conference, we're traveling the state holding town halls and we are receiving just phenomenal support and excitement about the Invest in Iowa Act. It's an overall tax reduction and I want to make sure that that's clear. I had no interest in raising taxes. So I said from the get go, if we're going to take a look at finally funding the trust, then it has to be an overall net tax reduction and the bill does that. And so what has been beneficial I think about holding the town halls is to really walk through all of the big things and priorities that we're able to address in the Invest in Iowa Act whether it's continuing to address our uncompetitive income tax rates, whether it's fully funding our mental health systems and reducing the burden on property taxpayers, and really putting significant long-term and growing revenue into water quality, conservation and outdoor recreation. And so it's exciting to talk about all those things and we're receiving really good feedback.

Henderson: Often times governors propose tweaks once they have had a proposal out in the ether for a while and they get feedback not only from Iowans but from legislators. What sort of tweaks are you proposing to make it more attractive to legislators to pass?

Governor Reynolds: Well, I also said this is a place to start, this is a place to start the conversation. And so probably the one thing I've heard some about, some things about, has been just the funding on mental health. So we take it from 4728, that is close which the current levee is right now, down to 1250.

Henderson: And that is property tax.

Governor Reynolds: And that is property tax. And so that is where we get the reduction, the burden on property taxpayers and then it shifts the funding to the state general fund. So I know ultimately a lot of individuals would like to get the entire funding of mental health off of the property tax system. This is a service. We are one of the few states that actually funds mental health through the property tax system. And so I think it's appropriate that we do that. So that is something we can continue to take a look at and we're open. But right now I haven't had a lot of suggestions. They bring up the reallocation of the formula, but when I walk through this is the first time anybody has even been willing to bring it up, this is new money, we had to bring both parties together and figure out what was palatable to really start to move it forward and this is where we end up. And when we talk about each one of the seven buckets getting additional funding, they're shaking their head and recognizing that it does make a difference going forward.

Lynch: Let's talk about that formula. The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico isn't going away and one of the concerns of environmental groups is that you're not putting enough of this money, new money, into water quality efforts. You're using existing funds that have been appropriated. Are you putting enough money into water quality that we're actually going to make progress? Iowa State researchers say this is a 45 year process. Are we making progress? Is it enough money?

Governor Reynolds: Well, no money, you know, this is a lot more than not doing anything. And one of the first bills I signed in 2018 was House File 512 and that put a long-term dedicated and growing revenue source into water quality efforts. But I think it still was about $282 million over 12 years and then we're able to leverage private sector funding with that. So this has approximately $93 million of new funding that can go into water quality, conservation and outdoor recreation. And as I looked at the breakdown, almost every aspect of whatever bucket you're in has some form of water quality in it, some water quality piece that is a part of it. And so it's $172 million that go to water quality, conservation, outdoor recreation, of that $93 million is new funding. That is a significant increase. And in addition to that it extends REAP for 30 years, which is another avenue for water quality and local projects to take advantage of, outdoor recreation, parks. It extends that for another 30 years and increases the amount of funding that goes into that from what has traditionally been funded with REAP. So I think it's a step in the right direction. And Secretary Naig, he talked about this puts the Nutrient Reduction Strategy on a whole new trajectory and what we're trying to do with water quality.

Lynch: Most of that, though, is voluntary. Do we need some benchmarks so that there's a public accounting of the progress we're making?

Governor Reynolds: Yeah, well there is some in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. This actually came up at the town hall yesterday. We had a great conversation with that. I invited both of the individuals that asked that question to sit down and take a look at what the accountable measureables are already in place in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy and what are some other things that we need to add. But, you know, we're not doing our job in telling the story if we don't acknowledge the amount of private sector money that is going into conservation practices whether it's cover crops or edge of field or grassy waterways or bioreactors. This gives us an opportunity to identify programs that are working and look for ways that we can scale those across the state, scale those in Iowa.

Henderson: Lots of other issues we want to get to, but I do want to make sure that I understand what you said a few moments ago. In this Jenga tower that is the Invest in Iowa initiative, if you pull out the part about property taxes supporting mental health, you would maybe have the state more aggressively take over the entire mental health?

Governor Reynolds: Well, and I said that's part of the discussion. I said I don't want to go in and just say this is, I'm drawing a red line in the sand and here's where we're going and it's my way or the highway. That's just not how I operate. I said this is a great place to start the conversation. It's big, it's bold, we do bold things in Iowa, it addresses a lot of concerns that I hear about as I travel the state. So let's talk about that and see what it looks like. How do we work together with our mental health regions, our county and the state? And I think everybody has a little bit of skin the game right now with the proposal that we have put forward. And that doesn't mean even if this is where we land for right now that we don't continue to take a look at that moving forward. When we did the comprehensive reform with the adult mental health system and then put the children's mental health system in place, we're learning as we start to implement some of the, like the access centers and some of the initiatives in that. So we'll get better as we start to implement some of those and start to understand what that funding mechanism needs to be and where it's appropriate for it to be.

Henderson: Moving onto other issues, this past week James and I were told by legislators that they are waiting for you to make a public statement about the acceptable level of THC that would be allowed in the licensed medical marijuana products that are available for sale in Iowa. What level is acceptable to you?

Governor Reynolds: Well, I'm comfortable with where the board ended up. So they just met and I think that might be similar to what the House bill just passed through committee. It is the 4.5%. But they felt that, by their compromise to some of the higher levels was if they felt that the 4.5% wasn't working that they could go back to the doctor and say that there was an opportunity to increase it, or if an individual was terminally ill that released that cap or gave them the opportunity to do some more with that. So I feel like that was a compromise that was made by the cannabidiol board. They're listening to individuals who are impacted and all of the stakeholders involved in it and that was what they came back with. And so I feel that that's probably, I think that's appropriate and a good place to, I'm comfortable with that and I think we continue to make progress and we can continue to evaluate it moving forward. So it doesn't mean that in the future this is where it has to end. But I think that's pretty significant progress.

Lynch: School funding always is an issue, especially early in the session, and you have proposed a 2.5% increase in aid to K-12 schools. The Senate is holding out for 2.1%. Do you split the difference here? Or are you stuck on 2.5%?

Governor Reynolds: No, and I said even when I put the 2.5% out there and then some additional funding for transportation equity, and this is what we did last year, it was a little over $103 million of new money into our pre-K through 12 education. And so I'm really, that's where I'd like to be. I don't care how they get there. They have added some equity per pupil, equity funding as well as transportation. So as long as we end up around the $100 million of new money then I'm good with that. And I think we're close to that. In addition to that, we're also investing in other areas whether it's STEM or iJAG or work-based learning. I think that also needs to be taken into consideration when we look at K-12 education funding. But right now I think if we get close to that $100 million range I'm good.

Lynch: Is there a political calculation here that $100 million sounds a lot better on the campaign trail than $97 million?

Governor Reynolds: Listen, we have made historic investments in K-12 education and actually followed through with what we promise. When the other party had the trifecta they did the 10% across-the-board cut in education and in several years following that rarely followed through with what they promised for K-12 education, where every year we have put significant new money into K-12 education, $13 billion since 2017 overall. That's not just new money. It's over almost half of what our state budget is. And so we're investing in our greatest asset and that is our young people and I feel, I'm really proud of what we have been able to do.

Yepsen: Governor, I want to switch gears. Flood season is approaching.

Governor Reynolds: Yes.

Yepsen: The National Weather Service is warning of imminent floods on the Mississippi River. They're talking about the situation on the Missouri River as grim. Are we prepared? Is Iowa prepared?

Governor Reynolds: Well, we're prepared as we can be. So we really, Director Flinn with Homeland Security, Emergency Management has been reaching out to all of our emergency managers across the state to make sure that the communication and the plan is in place, who is responsible for an evac if we have to initiate that. So we're really working to get in front of the response mechanism, working with the weather stations to make sure that we're getting notified in a timely manner. That was problematic this last go around. We've been working with the Corp on the western side of the state. Almost the entire levee system is closed, which is really, really important. The last couple of areas that they're working on they anticipate that being done I think by March so we're hoping that we can continue to move on that and get that done. Right now it looks like they'll have it closed to about a 50 year flood, which is better than we thought we would be. That is an update even from when I talked to you the other day, Kay, which is really important for our farmers because that will go a long way in helping keep the cost down for insurance., the cost of insurance for our farmers. So, I don't say this very often, but the Corp has worked with us pretty good in really implementing, we still have a long ways to go, that's probably one of our toughest areas, challenges moving forward, but we do have the system almost closed. We have identified some pinch points. Mississippi is probably five feet above level and so we're also really monitoring that and preparing the communities for that as well.

Yepsen: You got an additional $20 million for flood work, but yet people over there in Western Iowa, particularly in Council Bluffs, say it's not enough money yet to buy out houses. Is there more on the way that you can promise people?

Governor Reynolds: Yeah, not from us, so we have to be strategic and have a plan in place as we have federal dollars coming into the state for flooding, whether that is HUD or whether that's FEMA or whether that's money from the Corp and then state dollars. So we need to be very strategic so we're not supplanting what should be federal dollars. And so the buyout for the homes, we actually have already received, or will be receiving, $97 million from HUD, which is significantly more funding than we received in 2008. In addition to that, we got about $100 million that is coming in from the U.S. EDA Grant, which really we've taken $1.6 million of that to do planning, to work with these communities to make sure that we're being strategic in how we're using state dollars and federal dollars. And it's really, it makes a difference on how you coordinate on what you, how you use them. And so actually the buyout for the homes should come from the HUD funding and we should be using state dollars to talk about putting new houses in and really building these communities back. We have sent a waiver in I think or we've asked for the Council Bluffs area to be included in the $97 million that we received. I've talked Secretary Carson, Secretary of HUD, Ben Carson, and they did provide flexibility for us to potentially get some of that funding. So, and the other thing just real quick before we switch topics again, is this is a legislature that is committed to helping Iowans that have been impacted by the floods. So they did funding last year, we got $20 million out the door this year, if we need more down the road and it makes sense then I have, this is a legislature that will put the additional funding in. But we just don't need it to be sitting there doing nothing and not using it strategically. That's really key.

Henderson: Another issue --

Yepsen: We have a flood of questions for you. I couldn't resist.

Henderson: The bottle bill. Iowans pay a nickel deposit when they buy a lot of beverages and many of them redeem it when they take the empties back to the store. Legislators have begun, again, talking about making changes. Redemption centers are closing. There are far fewer of them this year than compared to last year. Would you support raising the amount of money that goes to redemption centers?

Governor Reynolds: Well, there has been a bill in front of this legislature since 2008 and 2009 I think when I walked into the Iowa State Senate and we have not been able to get anything done. So I don't want to speculate on what that looks like. I think they need to continue to look at it and figure out what the answer is. But we just have a lot of, have a hard time, I don't know, getting that through the legislature. So there's different ways that we can approach that so I want to make sure we're taking a look at all of those. And, Kay, actually that is what the legislative process is for and so it will continue to do its work to figure out what that looks like.

Lynch: Governor, one of your priorities has been restoring felon voting rights and the House state government Thursday approved legislation that would restore felon voting rights without a constitutional amendment. Are you comfortable with that approach?

Governor Reynolds: I'm focused on, you're talking about the House bill, correct/

Lynch: Right.

Governor Reynolds: Yeah, so we'll see where that goes. I am just, I'm focused on getting the amendment through and making sure that we remove the permanent ban on individual, on felons. So I'm really focused on getting that done. We've had some really good conversations and that is where we're actually working with the Senate, a bill also passed out of the Senate subcommittee to address some concerns that I knew both the House and the Senate had on exemptions and how we would address some of their concerns. And so that passed out of the Senate and that's probably where we're focused right now.

Lynch: A federal court ruled this week that Florida, which went the constitutional amendment route on restoring felon voting rights, can't ban felons from registering to vote even if they haven't paid their fines and made restitution. Does that complicate things? Or does that clarify it for Iowa?

Governor Reynolds: Well, I want a clean amendment and so I'm really focused on keeping it in tact the way that it passed the House and then we'll work through statute to address some of the concerns that legislators have raised to me and I think publicly. The bill that passed the subcommittee, or the committee in the Senate, passed with great bipartisan support and so that is something that I could support and get behind to continue to advance the constitutional amendment that I'm working on.

Henderson: Your predecessor and your governing partner, Governor Terry Branstad, closed mental health facilities in Mount Pleasant and in Clarinda saying they were antiquated. Your administration is now dealing with a federal investigation of Glenwood Resource Center, which cares for people with disabilities, profound disabilities. Is it time to close that facility?

Governor Reynolds: Well, first of all, we're focusing on getting it turned around and addressing some of the concerns that we've heard. And I want to take this opportunity to thank Director Garcia and her team and the individuals at Glenwood and Woodward that are stepping in and doing everything that they can to make sure most importantly that the residents are receiving the care that they are receiving. And we're making a lot of significant changes. And so that is our focus right now. We're going to address some of the concerns, continue to make changes there, make sure that the residents are getting the care that they need. Kelly is recommending a lot of structural changes, even in who is responsible for the facilities and what does that look like. I think that's really important too. So right now we're going to focus on that and making sure that the residents are getting the care that they need. And that's probably maybe a conversation for down the road but that's not where my focus is right now.

Yepsen: Governor, the state Ombudsman studied the state's handling of the death of Natalie Finn and recommended that the state hire more intake workers. You've done some of that. But what is your reaction to the Ombudsman's report about what the state needs to be doing to prevent that from happening?

Governor Reynolds: Yeah, well first of all, no child should be subjected to what Natalie and her siblings were subjected to and the system let them down. And so immediately they brought in an independent consultant to do a thorough review and to make recommendations. That was in 2017. Several of those recommendations have been implemented. I appreciate the Ombudsman coming in and working with the Department of Human Services and doing a very serious review. I also appreciate them taking into account the things that have been changed since 2017. I know I have reviewed with Director Garcia the recommendations that they put forth, the 14 recommendations, and would agree with most of them except for I think maybe one and feel that the legislature maybe needs to weigh in on that, but for the most part agree and are implementing a lot of the recommendations. So since taking office we have added 89 new positions, new intake positions. So that is a step in the right direction. We're still not where we need to be. I know that. We need to look at how we can continue to probably bring more people in. We're experiencing a little bit of the same thing every other industry is experiencing and that is just a workforce shortage. So we're struggling through that. But we do agree that they need to increase. But the other thing that we need to do which is as important I believe is take advantage of technology and really give our, these workers are working hard, they're doing the best job possible, we need to make sure we're giving them the tools to do their job. And we significantly changed the intake process, populating a lot of the information, linking to historical information so even if it has been rejected, so if it had been rejected a couple of times that now pulls that into the intake process and that allows us to say, there's a pattern here, something is going on. So that is a part of the conversation as we move forward with that.

Yepsen: James.

Lynch: Proposal to regulate mobile home park owners died this week in the legislature and some legislators say they'll look for opportunities to tack protections onto other legislation. Are there some things that you're looking for that you would accept in terms of protecting mobile home park residents from predatory owners?

Governor Reynolds: Well, I thought actually they had done a good job of working on this over the interim. It was my understanding they have held several stakeholder meetings to try to come to some consensus, something needs to be done. You can't have them come in and increase the rates at the rate that they did. And so we'll continue to let the legislators work on it and see what comes of that. I guess I was a little bit surprised that it didn't make it through. So I'm sure they'll continue to work on it and see where, I don't know where the big concerns were at, I haven't had a chance to really delve into it except for that I know that it had a lot of bipartisan support looking at the issue and trying to come to some consensus to address it.

Henderson: This past summer you told us you're comfortable with counties passing local ordinances for wind turbine placement. The state, for several decades, has regulated the livestock confinement industry and not let counties have local ordinances. Why one and not the other?

Governor Reynolds: Well, right now it seems to be working so you have some areas that agree with it, you've got farmers that see it as supplemental income and are very open and welcome to having that be a part of their ag operation. You have counties that think it's a great idea because it's helping with some of their budgetary concerns. And you have counties that say it's too much. And so right now I think it's working and so I'm not interested in changing that right now because you have seen a couple of different counties take a pause on it. So to me it says that the process is working and for counties that don't want it they have an opportunity to do that and those that do are going to continue to move ahead.

Lynch: We've talked about the children's welfare, let's talk about nursing homes. The federal government has been critical of Iowa's nursing home inspection process. What is the plan to beef up the inspections and the frequency of inspections at nursing homes?

Governor Reynolds: Well, I think Larry is continuing to review the process at the Department of Inspection and Appeals. And, again, I think he is trying to work with the federal government, trying to look at what makes sense as far as when you get into the homes, what the survey process looks like, cross training, again it could be potentially a people person as well. But they're doing exactly what they need to be doing and that is to continue to evaluate the process, make recommendations on what makes sense --

Lynch: How long do you evaluate the process before you put a plan in place?

Governor Reynolds: Well, you never stop. They are changing and they have been making changes and sometimes you don't correct those overnight. So they have, working with CMS and Region 7, they changed some of the processes and they have been able to incorporate that. So I don't think you ever stop re-evaluating and reassessing and making, even if it's little changes along the way it impacts the overall process. So we're going to continue to work on it and make sure that we're keeping some of our elderly and vulnerable Iowans safe.

Yepsen: Governor, we've got only one minute left. I wanted to ask you about the state's privatization of Medicaid. We're into the fourth year of that and yet the state are withholding money from Iowa Total Care because they're not reimbursing people fast enough. Are you approaching a point where you're saying this experiment with privatization has not worked?

Governor Reynolds: No. I mean, it's still relatively new. I think we've turned a corner by putting the necessary funding into the program, by making sure that we're holding the MCO's accountable. I actually had the opportunity to talk to the CEO of Iowa Total Care. They just felt horrible. But the process worked, again, and so they have a certain amount of time to get it corrected, to make sure that it's corrected going forward. I've said from the very beginning I'm not going to have the individuals who are providing these services to Iowans not be paid in a timely manner and I wanted them to know that we have processes in place to make them accountable if not and we've done that, it's working, they'll have it fixed and we're going to continue to monitor the system. We just can't go back to fee for service. It's just not, it's not feasible.

Yepsen: Governor, I'm accountable for the time and we're out of it.

Governor Reynolds: I could tell when you were leaning in that I needed to talk faster.

Yepsen: Thank you for being with us, appreciate it.

Governor Reynolds: Thank you.

Yepsen: Iowa Press will be on hiatus over the next two weeks as we step aside for Iowa PBS coverage of the Girls High School Basketball Championships and special Festival programming. So we're return to our regular Iowa Press schedule on March 13th. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

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