Proposed legislation limiting insurance companies’ liability for workers’ compensation claims could be devastating to working families in Iowa, according to a state lawmaker.
Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, told more than 200 people Saturday at the Diamond Jo Casino that the bill is an example of the “bad stuff” going on in Des Moines.
“This has got to be one of the cruelest pieces of legislation I’ve seen in the Iowa House,” she said. “It’s wrong and it’s not who we are as Iowans.”
It was one of several passionate exchanges that took place during the second crackerbarrel of the 2017 legislative session.
Lawmakers also fielded questions on a controversial, whirlwind campaign to gut collective bargaining rights of public employees and action — or lack thereof — on fighting a growing opioid epidemic.
“None of you are taking the action that you need to (on opioids),” Carolyn Scherf told the lawmakers. “People are dying. I’m going to too many funerals. What are you going to do about it?”
The 90-minute session was hosted by the United Labor Participation Committee. Finkenauer was joined by fellow Reps. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, and Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, as well as state Sens. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, and Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque.
Opponents of a pair of workers’ compensation bills, which passed out of respective committees in the Iowa House and Senate on Thursday, lament proposed cuts to compensation for people 67 and older, minimized late fees for employers, reduced coverage for shoulder injuries and decreased coverage for injuries tied to a pre-existing condition.
Finkenauer used the example of her father, who would be unable to work with a shoulder injury. However, under the proposed legislation, he’d make just a fraction of what he should through workers’ compensation for what should be considered a debilitating injury.
“At this point, he’s getting 20 percent of what he should be making and my family keeps sitting around the kitchen table wondering how they’re going to buy groceries,” Finkenauer said. “And these are families that want to work, that are hard-working Iowans that we’re all of a sudden going to punish because the insurance companies don’t like this (law) and what they have to pay out.”
Lundgren said she voted to move the bill out of committee so lawmakers could continue the discussion.
“I don’t expect that it’s going to look like it does today,” she said, noting feedback she’s heard from employers and workers. “But we needed to be able to have that discussion because it was on the sights of our small business owners in our state. … I’m talking small businesses like mine, nonprofit organizations as well, that are being hit very hard in the workers’ comp sector.”
Bowman said the bills have moved very quickly. They were introduced Tuesday, cleared subcommittees Wednesday and were passed by full committees Thursday.
“That’s kind of been the M.O. of recent,” Bowman said. “I would expect this bill to move forward. I hope that they’ll accept friendly amendments.”
Legislators also touched on a new law limiting what factors public sector unions can negotiate in their employment contracts. Both Lundgren and McKean broke Republican ranks in opposing the bill.
McKean, whose district includes Anamosa State Pententiary, said he was upset that jail workers weren’t included in a public safety exemption. He noted the bill as an example of a the “pendulum” swinging too far in “one direction.”
“One of the things that I’ve found to be unfortunate is that instead of taking a slower, incremental approach, we’ve tended to go too far, too quickly,” McKean said.
Derrick Clark, a local mental health professional, lamented a lack of action on bills that would support things like medication-assisted treatment for those suffering from opioid addiction.
“This is medication that works,” he said. “That is proven.”
Once bills are killed and opportunities unfulfilled, it’s tough to go back, he said.
“There are some things that are about life and death,” said Clark, who after the meeting said he was speaking as a member of Dubuque Democratic Socialists. “And we cannot say we need to be cautious and we need to take a look at it. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone, like people’s lives are.”
Jochum said interim study bills were approved to look into both the rising opioid epidemic and an increase in gun violence. However, while Democrats were ready to come to the table prior to the legislative session, Republican leaders made no appointments.
“That didn’t happen,” she said. “We are now behind the eight-ball.”
Jochum also blasted Republican efforts to implement new voter ID laws. Other states that have made having a valid identification necessary to register to vote have seen voter turnout drop.
Accusations of rampant voter fraud are unfounded, she said.
“It’s not happening. It is not happening,” Jochum said. “And why we would want to put more obstacles in front of that fundamental, Constitutional right ... somebody tell me why we should do this?”
McKean said there does need to be a “little more scrutiny” at assuring the validity of absentee ballots. They represent an increasing number of ballots cast in elections, he said.