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Largest budget bill of the year clears Iowa legislature

DES MOINES — Republican lawmakers are making final decisions on a host of state spending plans and the single largest budget bill is on its way to the governor. The House and Senate have approved a $2 billion budget for the state’s Public Health and Human Services Departments.

Representative Joel Fry of Osceola, a Republican, guided the plan through the House. “Typically this is one of the last budgets out of the House, so let me just say that must mean the end of session is drawing near,” Fry said, to some applause from his colleagues.

The bill provides a Medicaid reimbursement increase for health care providers and money to hire more social workers to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect. It also includes an additional $50 million in state funding for Iowa nursing homes.

“444 nursing homes in the state of Iowa will get an increase in funding,” Fry said. “Folks, they have done tremendous work over the course of this last year in caring for some of our most vulnerable in the state.”

Democrats say the bill makes great strides, including additional money for psychiatric care for kids, but many Democrats argued the state has a big enough budget surplus to do more. However, Senator Amanda Ragan of Mason City, a Democrat, said the good parts outweighed its shortcomings.

“While there are things I would like to see in it that aren’t there, I plan on supporting this budget,” Ragan said.

Ragan and 14 other Democrats in the Senate voted “yes” on the plan along with all the Republicans present in the Senate. The vote tally in the House was more mixed, with three Republicans joining 33 Democrats in opposing the plan. The bill does not include a Senate Republican proposal creating a new system to more frequently check eligibility for food stamps and Medicaid coverage.

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