- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Senate Democrats revived an effort Thursday to expand state oversight of Medicaid and boarding schools in Iowa, and House Republicans said they support some aspects of the proposals but would introduce their own versions.

The five-member Senate Government Oversight Committee voted to advance legislation that would add oversight to Iowa’s $4.2 billion Medicaid program as well as to private facilities that offer residential services to minors. The bills now head to the Democratic-majority Senate, which approved nearly identical legislation earlier this session when they were brought up by separate policy committees. Those bills did not survive a legislative deadline, and their placement on the oversight committee was a maneuver to revive them this year. The committee can introduce bills that are not subject to such deadlines.

Republican leaders say they’re supportive of oversight on both issues, but they’ve indicated they plan to introduce their own bills.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said lawmakers in her chamber are working on legislation that addresses oversight of Medicaid, the program that provides health care services to roughly 560,000 poor and disabled people. It is scheduled to switch to private management on April 1, and critics have expressed concern about the transition. State officials say they’ve addressed those concerns, but some advocacy groups and Senate Democrats say they’re still receiving complaints from Medicaid recipients and health providers.

Upmeyer said House lawmakers intend to introduce a bill soon and meet with Senate Democrats “looking for common ground, looking at the pieces they agree on and kind of having conversations where perhaps they don’t agree.”

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton and chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, has launched an investigation into Midwest Academy, a now-closed boarding school in southeast Iowa that prompted the legislation on boarding schools. Authorities are investigating sex abuse allegations at the facility, which was not licensed by the state but was still able to operate.

Kaufmann said he intends to introduce similar but separate legislation from what is advancing through the Senate. It would include penalties for private facilities that post false advertisement about their services and acknowledge schools that already follow some state regulation.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, pushed the original oversight bill on boarding schools. He acknowledged Kaufmann’s efforts and said he was hopeful the issue isn’t dead, but he said House Republicans “dropped the ball” by not advancing the original legislation.

Upmeyer said Quirmbach is entitled to his opinion and the topic will be addressed.

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