Newsletter: Rozenboom Report (4/17/2015)


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At this point of the legislative session the focus will shift from policy bills to appropriations bills. Budget targets for FY16 were established by Senate Democrats this past week, and House Republicans will probably unveil their budget targets this week. Our ongoing revenue for FY 2016 is $7.175 billion, and our ongoing spending for the current fiscal year is $6.994 billion, which means that we have $180 million new dollars for the FY16 budget.

The much discussed increase in Supplemental State Aid (SSA) is still unresolved. The 1.25% increase that House Republicans proposed, along with the $50 million for teacher leadership, would take at least $95 million of the new money. The stateís cost for Medicaid is projected to be up $209 million for FY16. Those two budget increases alone will require $304 million in new dollars, which means that the stateís ending fund balance will be reduced by another $124 million this next fiscal year, leaving the state with virtually no ending fund balance at the end of FY16. Raising the SSA by 4% would increase the burden on the state budget by another $100 million, which is simply not affordable. All legislators are dedicated to funding education properly; but we must recognize the realities of our budget restraints as we try to wrap up the legislative session.

Beyond the reality of how much money the state has to spend in FY16, another concern is how well the economy is doing. The Midwest economic outlook, as determined by economist Ernie Goss, says the Rural Mainstreet Index remained below growth neutral for March, falling to its lowest level in five years. Farm land prices fell for the 16th straight month, and agriculture equipment sales declined to a record low level. Any responsible budget considerations should also consider five year projections of both spending and revenue, and the current economic forecast suggests that legislators should be cautious during the budgeting process.

The Iowa Senate debated legislation Wednesday to permit the allowable form of medical cannabis to expand beyond cannabidiol. This would include any species of the genus cannabis plant, or any mixture or preparation of them, including whole plant extracts and resins. The bill passed in the Senate calls for the Department of Public Health (DPH) to promulgate administrative rules to establish the form and quantity of medical cannabis allowed to be dispensed. Smoking of medical cannabis would be prohibited.

The bill utilizes the same registration card application, approval and dispensing processes as those used by the DPH and DOT for medical cannabidiol. However, the DPH is directed to establish medical cannabis registration card fees - $100 for patients ($25 for low-income persons) and $25 for caretakers - to cover administrative costs. Law enforcement has the same access to the registration list for the purpose of verifying compliance. All information from patients would be kept confidential.

The debilitating medical conditions list is expanded beyond intractable epilepsy to include cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, AIDS or HIV, glaucoma, hepatitis C, Crohnís Disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Four medical cannabis manufacturers are to be selected and licensed by the DPH to possess, cultivate, supply and transport medical cannabis within the state. Twelve dispensaries would be licensed by the DPH across the state for the purpose of selling medical cannabis to patients and caregivers who possess a medical cannabis registration card. The locations of the dispensaries are to be based on the geographic need across the state. Licenses would be approved or re-issued by December 1 of each year. Dispensaries are to be licensed by April 1, 2016, and must agree to begin supplying medical cannabis to patients by July 1, 2016. Senate File 484 now awaits action in the House.

I did not support this legislation. Marijuana hasnít been through rigorous testing as we expect with other medications; there is currently no dosage knowledge. Also, it is likely that some ďlegalĒ marijuana may be diverted for illegal uses. In addition, the use of marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. The Obama administration has chosen to ignore those laws and look the other way, but a subsequent administration may choose to enforce those laws potentially putting Iowa at risk for significant liability problems.

Itís my hope we can wrap the session up in two or three weeks, but with the budget far from being agreed to, thatís unlikely. As always, please feel free to call me or e-mail me at ken.rozenboom@legis.iowa.gov if you have questions or comments.

Senator Ken Rozenboom

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