DES MOINES — Iowans under the age of 21 years would not be able to legally buy, possess or consume cigarette or tobacco products effective Jan. 1, 2017, under a bill introduced by a state senator.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said Iowa has been a leader in addressing clean air and health concerns related to tobacco use and second hand smoke and raising the current legal age of 18 would follow suit with other states and cities that have taken steps to curb young people’s access to cigarette and tobacco products.

“I think this is a growing movement,” said Quirmbach, who was hopeful Senate File 2016 would advance to the governor’s desk this legislative session. “I think this is another step in the right direction,” he said. The bill provides that — beginning next Jan. 1 — the legal age relative to tobacco, tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, vapor products and cigarettes is 21 years of age.

Under the bill, retailers or Iowans would be barred from selling, giving or otherwise supplying those products to anyone under age 21, nor could Iowans under that age smoke, use, possess, purchase or attempt to purchase the tobacco-related products. S.F. 2016 would not apply to anyone who is 18 years old before the new law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY CRITICIZES HOUSE OVERSIGHT: The Iowa Democratic Party issued a statement critical of the House Oversight Committee’s plan to investigate an annual conference for LGBTQ youth.

Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, has directed two committee members — one Republican and one Democrat — to investigate the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth, is hosted annually by the nonprofit advocacy group Iowa Safe Schools and is designed to inform high-school students about issues related to gay and transgender youth.

Some Republicans have raised concerns that the material at the 2015 was too graphic for students. Democrats called the legislative investigation a “smear campaign” and criticized Kaufmann for appointing Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Chariton, to investigate the conference, noting Heartsill during the 2015 legislative session admitted he did not know what the acronym LGBTQ stands for: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning or queer.

“Iowa Republicans should get back to focusing on the important issues facing Iowa families rather than launch pointless witch-hunts based on fear and intolerance,” Iowa Democratic Party press secretary Josh Levitt said in a statement.

MEDICAID OVERSIGHT: State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Deanna Clingan-Fischer told state lawmakers Tuesday her office already is struggling to keep up with the volume of calls from Iowa Medicaid recipients who have questions about the change-over to managed care slated for March 1.

She said her office fielded nearly 300 calls during the first week of January and in many cases her staff does not have access to the information needed to answer questions about new managed care plans so many calls are referred to the Iowa Medicaid Enterprise or the state Department of Human Services.

A multi-agency workgroup issued a report earlier this month indicating Iowa would need to hire 134 additional workers and spend as much as $17 million more a year to properly expand ombudsman oversight of the switch to privatize Iowa’s Medicaid management. Legislators said that appeared to be “the Cadillac” plan but they said more oversight will be needed and several questioned whether the private companies that are taking over management of the Medicaid system shouldn’t share in some of the expanded oversight costs.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING: State public safety officials and victim advocacy groups told a Senate panel Tuesday that Iowans should not think human trafficking cases are not taking place within the state’s borders.

“It does happen here,” said Public Safety Commissioner Roxann Ryan, who told Senate Judiciary Committee members there is a strong connection between human trafficking and drug trafficking. “It’s one of those crimes that is quite hidden” because traffickers make a lot of money dealing in prostitution and other illegal activities. The average age of human trafficking victims in Iowa is between 11 and 14 years, officials said.

Retired state Sen. Maggie Tinsman said her Breaking Traffic agency in the Quad Cities say traffickers prey on runaway who are coerced through fear, physical abuse and “horrible” sexual abuse. Advocates said the first hurdle in addressing the human trafficking problem is to get people to acknowledge that the crime exists.

BAN THE BOX: A Senate subcommittee Tuesday began work on a legislative proposal aimed at “banning the box” by seeking to remove from job applications the common question of whether an applicant has ever been convicted of a crime.

Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, said Senate File 84 is designed to give people a second chance who have made a mistake that they paid for but should not be barred from getting a future job because of it.

Backers said 19 states and at least 100 cities and counties nationwide have removed the question from initial job applications.

Representatives of business groups opposed the legislation because they feared it would open employers to possible litigation or hit smaller business that don’t have human relations departments or agencies to handle their hiring.

They said businesses that wanted to remove the question from employment applications could do so without government involvement.

— From The Globe Gazette Des Moines Bureau

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