End of Session June 5th, 2015

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End of Session Thoughts

As I spoke in my newsletter last week, there was talk of an agreement on the big number (total amount of spending).  If that number held, we would be putting the finishing touches on the 2015 session this week.  It did and late Friday afternoon the session came to a close.

During budget negotiations, Senate Democrats pushed a spending level of $7.3509 billion.  This is 102.3% of on-going revenue and obviously well above the on-going revenue number of $7.175 billion.  As we have done since the 2011 session, House majority held firm to our budget principles resulting in an agreement that has the state living within its means.  Under this plan, the ending balance in FY 16 is projected to be $262.8 million.

As has been the case every legislative session since 2011, the holdup to adjournment was the spending appetite of Senate majority.  Every year they push to spend more than the state collects and every year House majority hold the line while providing workable solutions to spend within our means.

The House Republican budget plan spends 99.9% ($7.175 billion) of on-going revenue ($7.184 billion) ensuring that government does not spend more than it has and lives within its means.  This is a 2.48% ($173.8 million) increase over FY 15.  The Senate Democrat plan was to spend 102.3% ($7.3509 billion) of on-going revenue.  That is a 5.10% ($356.6 million) increase over FY 15.  House Democrats, partisan to the end, advocated spending the $7.490 level allowed by our outdated expenditure limitation law.

Why do we in the House maintain our budget principles?  Because the money is earned by hardworking Iowans, we have a responsibility to protect the taxpayers, who go to work, play by the rules and pay their taxes.  Those Iowans expect to be treated with respect.  That is why House Republicans will stand up and protect their money every day.  Every dollar the Legislature spends that it doesn’t have, puts the financial security of those taxpayers and families in jeopardy.  Responsible budgeting ensures Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens have resources they can depend on next year and the year after.

Iowans are sending $7.184 billion to state government coffers.  That is a tremendous amount of money. Spending more than they are sending to the state sets hardworking taxpayers up for either future budget cuts or a tax increase.

So for the fifth straight year, the Legislature has set a budget that spends less than we take in.  With the uncertain economy, I believe it is a budget that meets the needs for Iowa and its residents.

With the summer upon us, I will be busy at the farm, participating in parades and attending events throughout the district.  If you see me, give me a wave or say hello.  I always enjoy hearing what is important to you and the district.  Have a fun and safe summer.

As always, please feel free to contact me by email at lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at 319-480-1997 if you have concerns about any issue.

Rep. Lee Hein

Capitol Update May 29, 2015

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Still Working to End the Session

As of this week, there is still no final decision on the state budget.  As negotiations continue in Des Moines, I thought I’d provide an update for you on what the major holdup are and why.

Every year, the governor lays out his proposed budget to the legislature and Iowans in January when the session begins.  This kicks off the budget process where the House and Senate work to craft a budget taking into consideration the needs of Iowans, the wants of government Departments and the suggestions of various groups and organizations.

Since the Republicans took control of the House, we have operated on a few distinct budget principles, which I’m sure you’ve heard me repeat over and over by now.  As we began crafting our House budget back in January, we used these principles as a guide.

  1. We will spend less than the state collects;
  2. We will not use one-time money to fund on-going needs;
  3. We will not balance the budget by intentionally underfunding programs; and
  4. We will return unused tax dollars to Iowa’s taxpayers.

In March, the Revenue Estimating Conference determined Iowans are sending $7.175 billion to state government coffers.  That is a tremendous amount of money. Spending more than they are sending to the state sets hardworking taxpayers up for either future budget cuts or a tax increase.  Instead of that, the Legislature should simply live within its means.  To that end, House Republicans developed a budget that spends 99.9% ($7.168 billion) of on-going revenue ($7.175 billion) ensuring that government does not spend more than it has and lives within its means.  This is a 2.48% (173.8 million) increase over FY15.  The Senate Democrat plan spends 102.5% (7.341 billion) of on-going revenue.  That is a 4.73% ($347 million) increase over FY 15.

Once both chambers had passed their budgets a few weeks ago, negotiations on the final budget began – starting roughly $200 million apart.  The main sticking point is Democrats want to spend more than Republicans.  Despite this major difference, there are regular meetings in Des Moines to find compromise and work together on a budget that is responsible and sustainable.  I’ve heard from several of you that you’re aggravated at the apparent lack of action at the Capitol.  I understand that, but this is a process and while it can be frustrating at times, it should also be very deliberate and careful when it comes to spending your money.

Going forward, I assure you I will not waiver from the principles that have served our state well.  Just like Iowa families balance the checkbook at home, they also expect the same from their government.  Every dollar the state spends that we don’t have jeopardizes the financial security of Iowa taxpayers and families.  I know you expect us to pass a responsible budget and that is a commitment I will deliver on.

As I am putting the finishing touches on this newsletter, I am hearing that there has been an agreement on the big number (overall total spending).  If this agreement holds through the week, it could mean the end is near.  It will be a big week with lots of discussion and debate. If everything goes as planned, the next newsletter could be my end of session report.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.state.ia.us or by phone at (319) 480-1997.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

Capitol Update for May 14th, 2015

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House Moves Health and Human Services Budget

On Wednesday, the House moved the FY 2016 HHS budget.  For FY 2016, the House bill spends $1.8543 billion on the Department on Aging, Department of Public Health, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Human Services.

Over two-thirds of the funds allocated in this budget are dedicated to Medicaid.  Once again, the state is funding a higher share of Medicaid than last year.  The change in the Medicaid match rate means Iowa has had to increase its funding to the program by $276 million since FY 2011.  This change over the past few years has limited our ability to address a variety of issues within Medicaid, including rate structures.  However, the House budget was able to provide additional funding for nursing homes.

The bill maintains funding for the Autism Support Program at $3 million in fiscal year 2016. This program began two years ago.  The purpose of the program is to provide specialized treatment to children with autism. The bill creates financial grants for those higher education students who are enrolled in Iowa-based programs that will lead to certification as a behavior analyst or assistant behavior analyst.   This will help bring qualified providers into the state.

The bill includes an agreement that was made to allow services to continue at the MHI’s at Clarinda and Mount Pleasant through the end of calendar year 2015.  During this time, DHS and the local communities will work to identify and develop new service programs that would be operated in those facilities starting in 2016.

Elimination of Community College Levy Referendum Heads to Governor

This week the House passed Senate File 486 by a vote of 95-3. The bill, under certain qualifications, eliminates the referendum for the facilities property tax levy and the equipment replacement and program sharing property tax levy for community colleges. The bill also provides for a reverse referendum if the voters of a merged area wish to put the issue back on the ballot.

Senate File 486 will save community colleges statewide an average of $100,000 annually in election and promotion costs. The levies generate approximately $9.2 million in FY15 and $11.6 million in FY16.

Current Iowa law provides that in addition to a merged area’s property tax levy, the voters in a merged area may vote a facilities property tax levy not exceeding 20 and one-fourths cents per $1,000 of assessed value for up to 10 years. This money can be used to purchase grounds, construct buildings, and pay debts contracted for the construction of buildings.

Current Iowa law also provides that in addition to a merged area’s property tax levy of $0.03 per $1,000 of assessed value for equipment replacement, the voters of a merged area may approve a tax (in excess) if the additional tax does not cause the total rate to exceed a rate of $0.09 per $1,000 of assessed value. This excess revenue has to be used for purposes of program sharing between community colleges or for the purchase of instructional and the approval lasts for 10 years.

Senate File 486 changes that process to allow eliminating the votes on these taxes if they have already been successful in two consecutive elections, and the tax has been imposed for at least 20 consecutive years. The bill then allows the board of directors of a merged area to pass a resolution to impose the tax at the same rate for a period not to exceed ten years.

Senate File 486 also provides for a mechanism that the voters of a merged area can utilize to get the issue back on the ballot. If the board of directors of a merged area receives a petition signed by at least 25 percent of the number of votes cast at the last preceding election on the levy issue, it must direct the commissioner of elections to put the question back on the ballot. If the tax is voted down, the board may not impose the levy for any fiscal year beginning after the expiration of the period of time for which the tax was last approved.

The bill will now be send to the Governor for his consideration.

IDALS Secretary Northey Announces Statewide Cost-Share Available for Water Quality Practices

On Tuesday, May 12, 2015, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) issued a press release in which Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced that funds are available to help farmers install nutrient reduction practices.  Practices eligible for this funding are cover crops, no-till or strip till, or using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fertilizer.  The cost share rate for first-time  users of cover crops is $25 per acre, no-till or strip till are eligible for $10 per acre and farmers using a nitrapyrin nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer can receive $3 per acre.  Any farmer not already utilizing these practices will receive priority consideration for this assistance.  Farmers that have used cover crops in the past may be eligible for $15 per acre for cover crops.

Farmers are eligible for cost share on up to 160 acres.  The funds will be made available in July, but farmers can immediately start submitting applications through their local Soil and Water Conservation District office.  Farmers are also encouraged to visit their local Soil and Water Conservation District office to inquire about additional opportunities for cost share funding through other programs offered at their local SWCDs.  Secretary Northey further added–“As farmers are busy planting, we wanted to get the announcement out as soon as possible so our staff and partners can prepare to sign-up interested farmers if there are rain delay or as field work is wrapped up.”  The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship received $4.4 million for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative in fiscal 2015 and this amount is also in both version of the FY 2016 IDALS, DNR, & EFF appropriation bill, Senate File 494.  These funds will allow IDALS to continue to encourage the broad adoption of water quality practices through statewide cost share assistance as well as more intensive work in targeted watersheds.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.state.ia.us or by phone at (319) 480-1997.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

 

Capitol Update for the Week of May 7th, 2015

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House Passes First Time Homebuyer Incentives

This week the House passed House File 631 by a vote of 91-7. The bill establishes a new chapter in Iowa Code entitled the Iowa First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account Act and is an effort to try to incentivize young people to save and plan for the single biggest purchase of their life—their first home.

This week the House passed House File 631 by a vote of 91-7. The bill establishes a new chapter in Iowa Code entitled the Iowa First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account Act and is an effort to try to incentivize young people to save and plan for the single biggest purchase of their life—their first home.

Specifically, the bill provides for the establishment of a first-time homebuyer savings account. The account holder must be a resident of Iowa. An account can be established individually or jointly with a spouse so long as both individuals are first-time homebuyers. The bill requires that the account be an interest-bearing account.

Specifically, the bill provides for the establishment of a first-time homebuyer savings account. The account holder must be a resident of Iowa. An account can be established individually or jointly with a spouse so long as both individuals are first-time homebuyers. The bill requires that the account be an interest-bearing account.

House File 631 also spells out the use and administration by the account holder. It states that the account holder shall use the money for eligible costs related to the purchase of a residence within ten years following establishment of the account and shall not contribute to the account for longer than ten years. There is no limitation on the amount of contributions that may be made to or retained in the account. The burden of proving that a withdrawal from an account was made for eligible costs is upon the account holder. The bill also provides that a person who knowingly prepares false statements associated with an account is guilty of a serious misdemeanor.

House File 631 also spells out the use and administration by the account holder. It states that the account holder shall use the money for eligible costs related to the purchase of a residence within ten years following establishment of the account and shall not contribute to the account for longer than ten years. There is no limitation on the amount of contributions that may be made to or retained in the account. The burden of proving that a withdrawal from an account was made for eligible costs is upon the account holder. The bill also provides that a person who knowingly prepares false statements associated with an account is guilty of a serious misdemeanor.

Additionally, the bill provides for an Iowa income tax deduction of up to $3,000/year per individual ($6,000 for married couples) for contributions to that individual’s first-time homebuyer savings account. Amounts exceeding that limit can be carried forward for deductions in subsequent tax years (but still keeping the annual deduction limitations). No deductions can be taken after the ten year life span of an account has expired. (Maximum deduction for an account is $30,000/$60,000). As another tax incentive, House File 631 also provides that the income from interest and earnings on a first-time homebuyer savings account is exempt from income tax.

Additionally, the bill provides for an Iowa income tax deduction of up to $3,000/year per individual ($6,000 for married couples) for contributions to that individual’s first-time homebuyer savings account. Amounts exceeding that limit can be carried forward for deductions in subsequent tax years (but still keeping the annual deduction limitations). No deductions can be taken after the ten year life span of an account has expired. (Maximum deduction for an account is $30,000/$60,000). As another tax incentive, House File 631 also provides that the income from interest and earnings on a first-time homebuyer savings account is exempt from income tax.

Finally, the bill spells out some penalties. For instance, if a withdrawal is made for a purpose other than an eligible cost, an account holder will have to add all of the tax deductions they previously took back into their taxable income. Additionally, if a withdrawal for a purpose other than an eligible cost is made on a day other than the last business day of the calendar year—such a withdrawal shall also be assessed a penalty of ten percent of the amount of the withdrawal.

Finally, the bill spells out some penalties. For instance, if a withdrawal is made for a purpose other than an eligible cost, an account holder will have to add all of the tax deductions they previously took back into their taxable income. Additionally, if a withdrawal for a purpose other than an eligible cost is made on a day other than the last business day of the calendar year—such a withdrawal shall also be assessed a penalty of ten percent of the amount of the withdrawal.

House Republicans continue to look for ways to encourage young people put down roots in Iowa. Buying a home is a huge purchase—one that takes careful planning and considerable saving. With the tax incentives in House File 631, House Republicans hope that more young people will make Iowa their permanent home. The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

Report:  Iowa Economy Close to Contracting

The Iowa Department of Revenue released a report last week showing that some of Iowa’s most important indicators point to an economic dip that could indicate a coming contraction.  Agriculture is emanating particularly worrisome signs even as the report collected data through March of 2015, many weeks before the state’s bird flu epidemic hit.

The Iowa Leading Indicators Index (ILII) is a compilation of eight economic measurements.  Four of them–diesel fuel consumption, average weekly unemployment claims, the U.S. Treasury bond yield spread and the number of residential building permits–positively impacted the index.  But the agriculture future profits index, the new orders index, average weekly manufacturing hours and the Iowa stock market index all contributed negatively.

The agricultural profits index contributed most to the decline, as the 12-month moving average of corn, soybean, hog and cattle profits shrunk for all four commodities.  Prices for corn, hogs and soybeans are down from March of last year.  And while cattle prices are up, the breakeven point for them has increased.  The new orders index was the second-largest contributor to the index’s decline, as its 12-month moving average of orders received for manufacturing continues to slide from last year.

The department’s report summarizes previous changes in the ILII with six-month intervals, and the latest percentage decrease of 1.5 percent between September 2014 and March 2015 is the worst six-month performance over the past three years.  The last positive percentage change over a six-month interval came between May and November of 2012, but every interval between then has been negative.

The index is considered to have reliably signaled an economic contraction when it declines by at least a two percent annualized rate over a six-month period and a majority of the eight indicators decline over that same period.  This latest report comes very close to signaling a contraction.  With the last six-month index having a majority of indicators declining and the overall index declining by 1.5 percent, the index was only .5 percent short of signaling an economic contraction.

The full report from the Department of Revenue can be found here.

 
   Recap for the Week

With the official session ending on last Friday, May 1st.  We moved into the overtime part of the session.  That means the clerks have gone home.  We had a short week but accomplished much in the 2 two days we were in Des Moines.

We got all but two of the budget bills moved into conference committees.  The two left to do are Health and Human Services and the Standings budgets.  They are normally the last two to be completed and the Senate started them this year.

I look for them to be debated on the House floor early next week.  Once we complete the debate of these two budgets I look for them to be sent to conference committees also. Then the negotiations begin and rumors will be the talk of the Capitol.

The first rumor was that we could finish the session as early as next weekend.  I have my doubts on that but would like to be proved wrong also.  There is a lot to be done but things are started to roll towards adjournment.

As we move to completing the budgets we are still committed to these principles to produce a balanced and sustainable state budget:

  1. We will spend less than the state collects;
  2. We will not use one-time money to fund on-going needs;
  3. We will not balance the budget by intentionally under funding programs.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.state.ia.us or by phone at (319) 480-1997.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capitol Update Week 16

House Moves Forward with Budget that Spends No More than State Takes In As National Data Shows Economy Slowing Down

House Republicans continued their progress on passing a budget that lives within ongoing state revenue at a time when national indicators point to an economic slowdown.

By the end of the week, the House will have debated the five budget bills it is responsible to start: Federal Block Grants, Transportation, Infrastructure (RIIF), Administration & Regulation, and Education. Additionally, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to have considered four of the budget bills started by the Senate: Agriculture & Natural Resources, Economic Development, Judicial Branch, & Justice Systems. This will leave two bills yet to begin the process – Health and Human Services and Standings. Both of these bills are to start in the Senate.

All of the budget bills moved by the House will be funded within the on-going revenue estimate for FY 2016 of $7.1755 billion. The need to keep on-going state spending within this amount was evident again on Wednesday when the U.S. Commerce Department released figures on the first quarter’s gross domestic product.

First quarter GDP for calendar year 2015 slowed to 0.2 percent growth. The Washington Post stated that the national economy “ground nearly to a halt.” The actual growth rate was well shy of the 1.0 percent growth predicted for the quarter and the 2.4 percent growth rate experienced in 2014.

The causes for the sudden slowdown are varied. Exports took a significant drop in the first quarter, with the export of goods and services going down 7.2 percent. Part of the blame for this is the stronger dollar, which has made goods for export more expensive in foreign markets. Another issue was the 2015 winter and its severe impact on certain areas of the country. While Iowa’s winter was bearable, the northeastern US was repeatedly hit with massive snowstorms which impacted consumer spending.

Construction and manufacturing related to homes were stagnant during the quarter and the number of new hires grew, that growth was almost half of what was experienced in the last quarter of 2014. The fact that Americans continue the trend of reducing their debt load and saving more also impacted GDP growth.

The sluggishness of the economy is sending cautionary signals to economists and policymakers across the country. Here in Iowa, the recent discovery of avian influenza in major turkey and chicken flocks has the potential to have a major impact on the ag economy. And state revenue growth for Fiscal Year 2015 still remains below the figure projected by the Revenue Estimating Conference.

House Republicans’ efforts to pass a budget that spends less than the state will take in shows a commitment to common-sense budgeting practice that Iowans across the state are putting to use in their own homes.

Avian Influenza Expands to Five More Sites in Iowa

On Monday, April 27, 2015, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) issued a press release that authorities are responding to probable cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in commercial poultry farms in Osceola, O’Brien and Sioux Counties in Northwest Iowa.  State officials have quarantined the premises and if the initial tests are confirmed, all birds on the property will be humanely euthanized to prevent the spread of the disease.  Also on Monday, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Northey appeared before the House Appropriations Committee to describe this outbreak and what additional state financial resources are being used by the state/IDALS in this investigation and eradication and clean-up effort.  Also discussed was what additional funds might be needed in this effort.  Monday’s press release describe generally the location and type of poultry farm involved and what the status is for the specific farm.

As of Thursday, there are 17 different farms showing positive for the H5 avian flu with more being found daily. The farms have been located in Northwest and North Central Iowa.

IDALS noted that Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Iowa Department of Public Health considers the risk to people from these HPAI H5 infections in wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial poultry, to be low.  No human infections with the virus have ever been detected there is no food safety risk for consumers.

The United States has the strongest Avian Influenza (AI) surveillance program in the world.  As part of the existing USDA avian influenza response plans, Federal and State partners as well as industry are responding quickly and decisively to these outbreaks by following these five basic steps: 1) Quarantine – restricting movement of poultry and poultry-moving equipment into and out of the control area; 2) Eradicate – humanely euthanizing the affected flock(s); 3) Monitor region – testing wild and domestic birds in a broad area around the quarantine area; 4)  Disinfect – kills the virus in the affected flock locations; and 5) Test – confirm that poultry farms in the area are free of the virus.

IDALS is cooperating in partnership with the Iowa Department of Public Health are working directly with poultry workers at the affected facility to ensure proper precautions are being taken.  People should avoid contact with sick/dead poultry or wildlife.  If contact occurs, wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.  The IDALS press release advised that all bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard flock owners, should continue to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state/federal officials, either through their state veterinarian at 515-281-5321 or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593.  Information will also be posted to the IDALS’ website at http://www.iowaagriculture.gov/avianinfluenza.asp.

Week Recap

I ran a subcommittee on Thursday for a bill dealing with tax credits for farmers. House Study Bill 251 assists crop farmers in reducing soil erosion and sediment loss, managing nutrients, and reducing contaminant loads contributing to surface water. The bill provides for a tax credit agreement between the farmer and the Department of Agriculture.

The agreement requires the crop farmer to establish and maintain an environmental practice on the farm land for a set period of time. The environmental practice is agreed upon by the Dept. of Ag and the farmer. The bill limits total tax credits to three million dollars per year. Guidelines are also laid for inspection of the land to ensure the farmer is continuing environmental efforts while receiving the tax credits.

While the bill still needs some technical corrections, the bill passed out of subcommittee unanimously with the intent to make those changes in committee. This is another tool in the toolbox to help the nutrient reduction strategy plan to meet its goals of cleaner water.

Friday this week marks the 110th day of session and is the last scheduled day. If you’ve seen the news, you know that we will still be here past Friday for the foreseeable future. After Friday, we will lose clerks and other support staff and we will no longer receive per diem for our time in Des Moines. Both Chambers have started to pass budget bills so things are starting to move. If there isn’t agreement on budget bills, it goes to conference committee to work out the differences. After all budgets are passed, the legislature can adjourn for the year.

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Tom and Jan Oakleaf, of Manchester, and I in the House Chamber

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Diane McElmeel, Katie Easterly, Nancy Fahey, Stephanie Bildstein from Anamosa and I in the House Chamber. The group visited the Statehouse to attend ID Action Day on the Hill.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

Capitol Update Week 15

House Republicans Release Budget Targets

House Republicans released their FY 2016 General Fund budget targets on Wednesday. And for the fifth year in a row, House Republicans have proposed a budget that spends less than the state will take in.

For Fiscal Year 2016, the state would spend $7,168,144,634 out of the General Fund. This amount to a 2.48 percent increase in state spending and spends 99.9 percent of the Revenue Estimating Conference’s latest estimate for ongoing revenue in FY 2016.

The General Fund would be spent as follows:

Administration & Regulation – $49,800,000 (decrease of $1,995,769)

Agriculture & Natural Resources – $42,000,000 (decrease of $1,111,995)

Economic Development – $41,400,000 (decrease of $1,181,886)

Education – $977,578,044 (decrease of $8,558,321)

Health & Human Services (decrease of $14,859,686)

Justice Systems (decrease of $3,380,575)

Standings (increase of $204,905,562)

As has been stated since the start of the session, K-12 education is getting the first bite of the apple, with funding for year two of the Education Reform legislation from 2013 and a 1.25 percent increase in supplemental state aid to schools. Also, the increase in funding for continued implementation of the commercial property tax reform legislation is included as well. The budget will also address mandatory increases in Medicaid due to further declines in federal funding participation.

House Republicans believe that it is important to lead by example when holding the line on spending. They are doing this by reducing the Legislature’s own budget by over $1 million below the FY 2015 level. Additionally, funding for organizational dues has been removed from all budgets. The Executive Council will be given a set amount of funds to pay for organizational dues that it has given approval to.   As the current round of early retirement benefits comes to a close on June 30, the funds spent in this program are being repurposed to other areas.

Bi-Partisan Vote Moves Broadband Measure to Senate

The Iowa House voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill designed to expand high-speed Internet access in areas of the state with slow internet speeds. The bill passed on Tuesday with broad bipartisan support, 90 to 5.

Internet service providers that choose to build high-speed internet infrastructure within areas that have slow service will receive a ten-year property tax exemption on their new investments. The bill, known as the “Connect Every Acre” initiative, also establishes a grant program that can provide financial assistance to providers building high-speed infrastructure. Both the property tax exemption and the grant program require the providers to build infrastructure that can facilitate 25 megabits of download speed and the three megabits of upload speed.

Governor Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Reynolds applauded the bill’s passage Tuesday in a statement, comparing the importance of extensive high-speed Internet connectivity with the states road and interstate system.

“It’s clear from today’s vote that the Iowa House of Representatives shares our view that high-speed broadband will connect agriculture and equipment through rural fiber, schools to online resources and businesses to the global marketplace,” said Reynolds. “We appreciate today’s vote of confidence from the Iowa House for this innovative proposal.”

The measure now goes to the Iowa Senate, where a similar bill has been pending since the legislative session began in January. Along with the property tax exemption and the grant program, the House bill contains the following:

-Identifies the State of Iowa CIO to coordinate statewide broadband availability and access between the public and private sector.

-Creates the Iowa Farms, Schools and Communities Broadband Grant Program to award grants to communication service providers to invest broadband access to farms, schools and communities.

-Provides a 100% property tax exemption for broadband infrastructure built within a “targeted service area” with relatively low Internet speeds.

-Streamlines the permitting process by requiring permitting authorities for non-wireless broadband related permits to be done within sixty business days.

Weekly Update

I got to meet Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Tuesday. He was in Des Moines to talk with legislators as he considers a presidential run. For an hour, he discussed his upbringing, the economy, and foreign policy with members of the House.

I had the opportunity to act as the House Majority Leader for a morning this week. The Majority Leader directs the House in its daily business. She was in a meeting when we gaveled in on Tuesday. Since I am an Assistant Majority Leader, I stepped in to fill her place. The Speaker recognized me when each new piece of business came up. I held the Majority Leader’s spot until we recessed for the morning.

Fourth grade students from Lambert Elementary in Manchester were at the Capitol this week. They received a tour of the building and got to go into the House and Senate chambers. I talked to them about the law making process and answered questions about the House.

I managed a bill on the floor of the House this week dealing with air quality. Here is some history on the issue. The Air Quality Bureau within the DNR is funded by fees paid by companies who emit pollutants into the air. The amount of pollution has decreased due to increased federal regulations and pollution control technologies, which is good news. However, the Department’s budget has continued to increase. At the close of last year’s legislative session, the legislature requested the DNR convene a stakeholder group to come up with funding recommendations for air quality. The recommendation includes implementing a new fee program.

HF 640 is a combination of stakeholder recommendations and budget practicalities. Key provisions in the bill include establishing a Title V operation permit. Currently, only emission fees are collected for Title V. The language allows the commission to set and collect the operating fee, capping it at $1.25 million. The bill sets parameters for the funds allowing them to stay within the DNR and carry forward. The bill requires a stakeholder meeting to be held for Title V fee payers with the DNR annually.

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Sen. Zumbach and I with the fourth grade Lambert Students

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

Capitol Update Week 14

Senate Democrats Release Targets, Propose to Spend More than Projected Revenue

Senate Democrats released their proposed budget targets on Tuesday. And true to form, they did not shy away from spending more money than the state is expected to take in during FY 2016.

The targets put forward would spend $7.357 billion in FY 2016. This would be an increase of $362.8 million or 5.18 percent over the spending levels in FY 2015. When compared to the ongoing revenue projection by the Revenue Estimating Conference, the Senate budget targets are spending 102.5 percent of ongoing revenue.

Below are the individual target levels proposed by the Senate:

Senate FY 16 Target    Change from FY 2015

Administration & Regulation             $ 51,892,994                    $ 97,225 increase

Agriculture & Natural Resources       $ 43,111,995                       no change

Economic Development            $ 44,275,763                    $ 1,693,877 increase

Education                                 $1,025,960,305                $ 39,823,940 increase

Health & Human Services         $1,904,413,758                $ 45,810,739 increase

Justice Systems                       $   742,213,713                $ 10,750,793 increase

Standings                                 $3,545,281,310                $264,645,960 increase

TOTAL                                      $7,357,149,838                 $362,822,534 increase

As part of the Senate Democrats target, they announced that they would be proposing another round of early retirement incentives. The latest round of incentives, known as the State Employee Retirement Incentive Program, expires on June 30.

While all the details are not known yet, it does appear that the Senate Democrats’ budget proposal does not comply with any of the House Republican budgeting principles:

  • We will spend less than the state collects;
  • We will not use one-time money to fund on-going needs;
  • We will not balance the budget by intentionally underfunding programs; and
  • We will return unused tax dollars to Iowa’s taxpayers.

Civil Asset Forfeiture – Are Changes Needed?

Should law enforcement be allowed to seize property if the owner has not been charged or convicted of a crime? That question has made headlines around Iowa in the past several weeks. Iowa’s civil asset forfeiture laws have come under heavy scrutiny after several publicized cases. This Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing to gain a better understanding of these laws. The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency explained the law while representatives from the Heritage Foundation, the County Attorney’s and several members of law enforcement discussed how the law is implemented in Iowa and if the law is effective in Iowa. The committee did not make any recommendations regarding the law, at this time.

The concept of asset forfeiture is nothing new. It’s been around since before our country was founded. However, it has taken various forms and sometimes been abandoned for long periods of time. In the 1990’s Iowa’ s civil asset forfeiture law came under heavy criticism and then Attorney General Bonnie Campbell who worked to craft the law Iowa currently uses. The law was modeled after the Commission Forfeiture Reform Act from the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.

Iowa’s civil asset forfeiture law can be found in code 809A. These laws allow the state to confiscate property if it can be shown the property was more than likely than not used to commit a crime or furnished in exchange for the crime. This should not be confused with criminal asset forfeiture. The rights of the individual and standards of proof required to seize the property are different. Civil forfeiture has lower standards for the seizure of property and a person who has property seized under this law, has no right to an attorney. These laws are complicated and anyone facing a civil asset forfeiture is highly encouraged to contact an attorney for assistance.

Some have argued the current law does not provide enough protection for potentially innocent individuals. A person does not have to be charged with a crime for property to be taken through civil asset forfeiture, although in many cases charges are brought forward. A person who has not been charged with a crime, but who lost property to civil asset forfeiture will have to hire their own attorney to fight for the return of their property. Others have questioned how the money and property seized is used. Counties in Iowa benefit from the seizures and questions have risen regarding the spending of this money and if this encourages seizures.

While some may oppose this law, many in law enforcement believe civil asset forfeiture does serve an important purpose. Under Iowa law, property that can be tied to criminal conduct can be seized. Many believe this law strikes at drug dealers, human traffickers, and others who deal with substantial amounts of money for criminal purposes. Often times, a third party, with little or no information of the crime, is used to transport large amounts of money across state lines in order to avoid criminal charges. Civil asset forfeiture gives law enforcement anther tool to go after these criminals.

At this time, the legislature is continuing to evaluate the current civil asset forfeiture laws to determine what, if anything should be done to address the law. Any action will be thoroughly investigated to ensure changes protect both individual rights and assist law enforcement.

Weekly Recap

On Tuesday, the legislature met in a joint session for the Pioneer Lawmakers Association of Iowa program. The Pioneer Lawmakers Association recognizes the group of legislators who were sworn in 20 years ago. Jerry Welter, a former Representative from Jones County was at the Statehouse to attend the ceremony. He served from 1993 through 2001 and is a member of the Pioneer Lawmakers.

Also on Tuesday, the House and Senate held a joint memorial service to honor former legislators who passed away. A memorial service is held once every general assembly and honors members that have passed away in the last two years. This year’s memorial service recognized the memory of 19 lawmakers who are no longer with us.

Friday marks the end of week 14 of session. There is only two weeks left of the scheduled session where clerks, staff, and legislators are paid. It looks like we will be here past that deadline as we have the last few years. The House is working on budget bills in an attempt to start wrapping things up. The transportation budget is ready to be debated next week. The others will follow after that.

hein paustian

Rep. Ross Paustian and I with members of Iowa Pork Producers from Eastern Iowa

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein