Capitol Update

3 26 153 26 15-1REC Drops Estimate

The Revenue Estimating Conference met on March 19 for its required meeting during the legislative session.  The three-member committee reduced the amount of new dollars the General Fund will have to spend in FY 2016.

For FY 2015, the General Fund estimate was lowered by $89.7 million to $6.7671 billion.  The REC made adjustments by lowering their projections for personal income tax collections by $40.3 million and corporate income tax collections by $20.5 million.  The REC also increased their forecast for tax refunds by $33.4 million.  These adjustments are the result of the passage of the IRC update bill, which was projected to reduce revenue by $99 million.  Removing the impact of the IRC update bill, the net impact would be a slight increase in FY 2015 revenue by $9.3 million.

For FY 2016, the REC lowered the General Fund revenue projections to $7.1755 billion.  The group raised their forecast for personal income tax revenue by $56.4 million, but that was nearly offset by a reduction in the corporate income tax projection of $49.6 million.  The REC also increased their projection for tax refunds by $36.4 million.

While IRC update bill had lowered FY 2015 revenue, it was expected to raise FY 16 revenue by $19.2 million to $7.2138 billion.  The REC estimate eliminates the boost from the bill and further lowers the FY 2016 number by an additional $19.1 million to the new level of $7.1755 billion.

The amount of new revenue available to be spent is the difference between the FY 2016 revenue forecast ($7.175 billion) and the FY 2015 budget ($6.9946 billion).  The revised estimate means the state has $180.9 million of new money to spend in FY 2016.  Prior to today’s meeting, we had been working under the assumption that the state would have $200 million of new money in FY 2016.

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All three members of the REC said there had been little change in the economic factors since their last meeting in December.  Economic growth in the US and Iowa remains solid, if at a modest pace.  Iowa’s collections from income tax withholding remain strong.  The average work week is now at 42 hours and wage growth is beginning to pick up in-state, even though is has yet to reach the level seen before the 2008 recession.

There is concern over Iowa’s ag economy.  The state saw a loss of manufacturing and ag machinery jobs in the last few months and the Rural Main Street Index fell below neutral levels.  The strong dollar is having an impact on export markets, which are a key part of Iowa’s ag economy.  Average corn prices are still 43 percent below their 2013 highs with significant supplies still in the bins.

Even with these caution signs, Iowa’s farm economy is not in trouble.   Income tax returns are showing farmers are holding their own or posting small profits from the last year.  Ag debt levels are at a manageable level, since many of the purchases made during the last few years were with cash.  Livestock producers continue to have solid prices.  Input costs should begin to decline if lower oil prices remain during calendar year 2015, and the over-supply of corn should be reduced in the next two to three years.

Update on School Start Date

The House passed the school start day bill stating schools can start on or after August 23rd by amending SF227. The bill passed the House in a bipartisan vote, 71-29. I think it’s a good compromise for an issue that has be debated since long before I was a part of the legislature.

Current law states schools cannot start before September 1st without a waiver. This bill is a compromise between school districts and the tourism industry. On Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill with a bipartisan vote of 28-22, but Senate Majority Leader Gronstal motioned to reconsider. That means the bill will stall in the Senate until it is reconsidered. If not dealt with by the end of session, it will be sent back to the House for the Speaker to sign and then to the Governor’s desk for his signature. This option unfortunately delays the decision until the end of the session and puts schools in limbo.  The bill has passed both Chambers and should be on the Governor’ desk.  This issue should have been solved this week and put it behind us but Senate leadership is only interested in playing politics.

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Matt and Beth McQuillen donated a 139-acre conservation easement along the Maquoketa River in Delaware County to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Mature upland woodlands are interspersed with limestone outcroppings. About 30 acres of former agricultural land has been planted with native prairie species and trees. This reconstructed prairie provides habitat for grassland birds, small mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians. The protection of this land helps prevent erosion, slow runoff and improves the water quality of the Maquoketa River, which was listed as an impaired waterway in 2012 under the Federal Clean Water Act. I want to thank the McQuillen’s for their generous donation.

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Pastor Darryl Larson and his wife Nancy were at the Statehouse on Tuesday. Pastor Darryl delivered the opening prayer to the House chamber. Afterward we visited and went on a tour of the Statehouse.

I will be at a forum in Monticello at noon on Friday in the City Council Chambers and another on Saturday in Dyersville at 10 am at Golfside Grill. You can contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

Capitol Update

House Passes Binding Arbitration Changes for School Districts and AEAs

After two days of debate, the House passed House File 549, which narrowly changes the binding arbitration process for school district and Area Education Agency (AEA) employees. The bill makes three small, yet very significant changes to what an arbitrator is allowed to consider when rendering a decision on union contracts.

For too long the scale of fairness has been tilted in favor of labor and against taxpayers during contract negotiations for school districts and AEAs. School boards and their negotiating teams have been forced to build 3-4% yearly raises into their budgets, regardless of district revenues, putting a financial strain on districts. House File 549 seeks to remedy this problem and even the playing field in labor negotiations for teachers. The three changes that the bill would make are solely focused on school districts and AEAs as a cost-containment measure.

First, an arbitrator no longer is required to pick one or the other of the two parties’ final offers on an item when there’s an impasse. Instead, the arbitrator is authorized to choose a point between the two offers. This ensures that a compromise position can be reached where both sides can come away from negotiations happy.

Second, an arbitrator is no longer able to consider the public employer’s authority to levy taxes to finance an increase in compensation packages. Unions point to government’s unlimited ability to raise taxes as the basis for pay increases beyond what current revenues can afford.

Third, an arbitrator is required to look at a comparison of public and private sector wages, hours, and conditions of employment for workers doing comparable work to get a true and fair comparison. Current law only requires an arbitrator to look at a comparison of other public sector workers.

During debate Democrats filed numerous amendments, all of which were not germane to the bill. Six of the amendments expanded the scope of negotiations to include class sizes, teacher prep time, overtime, classroom-expense reimbursements, continuing education costs, and the costs associated with renewing licenses. Another amendment set State Supplemental Aid at 4%, and another dealt with a school financing issue. Additionally, one Democrat offered an amendment which he then divided into 16 separate amendments, mostly reversing the changes in House File 549, and then adding numerous other factors that an arbitrator must consider when rendering a decision.

After several hours of debate and five Democrat caucuses, the bill finally passed on a party-line vote of 56-41. House File 549 now heads to the Iowa Senate where it faces an uncertain future.

Weekly Recap

Chad and Emily Becker visited the Capitol this week. We took a tour to the top of the dome while they were here. Chad is the son of Charlie Becker from Monticello and is attending med school here in Des Moines.

Chad and Emily Becker on the balcony at the top of the dome

Chad and Emily Becker on the balcony at the top of the dome

Charlie Becker bought a set of Iowa Code books at the Monticello School Foundation Dinner. Charlie is the director of Camp Courageous. I donated a set of books that contains the current version of the Iowa Code of Laws.  The tour was part of the package. I want to thank Charlie for his generous donation to the foundation. I hope he enjoys the books.

Wednesday was a special day for me. Marie Hein came to the Statehouse. She is a very unique lady and I am proud to call her my Aunt. Senator Zumbach is also her nephew. She is the only Iowan I know to have a nephew be both her State Representative and her State Senator. She was introduced on the House and Senate floor to legislators. It was her first time in the House and Senate chambers. It was great to have her here.

Sen. Zumbach and I with our Aunt Marie Hein

Sen. Zumbach and I with our Aunt Marie Hein

Next Friday, March 27th I will be attending a forum in Monticello at the City Council Chambers at noon.  Everyone is welcome to attend.

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 (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

Capitol Update

Absentee Ballots

Debate dominated our time at the Statehouse and several bills passed the House. The first bill we passed deals with absentee ballots. HF 506 was brought to us the County Auditors. They wanted clarification because of the large number of unmarked ballots by the post offices.  Current law states an absentee ballot clearly needs postmarked the day before the election and must be received by the Auditor’s office by noon on the Monday following the election. The postal service currently does not mark all ballots with a postmark. If a ballot does not meet those requirements it is not counted. HF 506 changes the law by requiring an absentee ballot to be turned into the Auditor by the time polls close on Election Day.

Many people’s ballots have not been counted because they were not postmarked- even if they were sent in on time. There was a directive to the post offices to follow the protocol of current law and put postmarks on ballots. However, this still wasn’t followed during the last general election in November.

HF 506 clears up the issue. As long as your ballot is turned in by Election Day, your vote will count. Just like people who go to the polls. The bill also places a page on the Secretary of State’s website where you can check to see if your ballot was received.

If you received an absentee ballot, you can always turn it over to election officials if you wish to physically vote at the polls. Your absentee ballot will then be shredded and not counted. If you have an absentee ballot and don’t bring it with you to the polls, you can cast a provisional ballot.

2nd Amendment Protections

HF 527 was debated and passed on Tuesday. It addresses various areas of firearms laws. The bill allows persons to renew their carry permit every 5 years, but only requires retraining class every 10 years. The bill clarifies what retraining classes are accepted. HF 527 strikes the minimum age to handle a firearm. The current age is 14. Additionally, the bill makes all carry and purchase permits private and only available to law enforcement officials in certain situations. The bill allows a peace officer to carry their weapon on school grounds if they are off duty. Current law only allows peace officers to carry their weapon on school grounds if they are on duty. HF 527 also creates a database to make it easier for both law enforcement and permit holders to verify permits.  This bi-ll helps advance Iowans 2nd Amendment rights. The bill passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support.

Taking Catfish by Bow and Arrow

Also on Tuesday, the House passed House File 288 which allows Iowans to take catfish by bow and arrow in state parks and preserves.  Currently, this practice is prohibited.  Iowans are allowed to take rough fish, like carp, by bow and arrow.  A violation of this bill is punishable by a $50 fine.  The Natural Resources Commission will permit the taking of catfish in the rules process.

These bills have passed the House chamber and are now going over to the Senate for their consideration. Next week will be more floor debate. As we receive bills from the Senate, committees will start working on those before the next funnel deadline.

On Wednesday Jody Martens from Bellevue, Chad and Renee Adams, and Dominic and Karren Hogan from Monticello were at the Capitol this week. The group visited on behalf of Farm Bureau to discuss issues with legislators. Jones County supervisor Jon Zirkelbach and Delaware County supervisor Jeff Madlom were also at the Statehouse Wednesday. They were here to talk to legislators about issues relating to county interests. On Thursday, I got to visit with Tirzah Wedewer from F&M Bank in Manchester. Tirzah joined fellow bankers in Des Moines to discuss banking issues with elected officials.

Rep. Brian Moore, Jody Martens from Bellevue, Chad and Renee Adams,  Dominic and Karren Hogan from Monticello and myself

Rep. Brian Moore, Jody Martens from Bellevue, Chad and Renee Adams,
Dominic and Karren Hogan from Monticello and myself

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 (515) 281-3221.

 Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

Capitol Update

Problems Continue to Grow at Fort Madison Prison

Last Thursday, the House Oversight committee called in Department of Administrative Services Director, Janet Phipps Burkhead, to answer questions on the continual delays and rising costs at the new Fort Madison Prison. Unfortunately, the committee was left with more concerns and questions than real answers. Representatives now believe there may be additional costs and longer delays before the prison can be opened.

Director Phipps was appointed in May of 2014, and in previous Oversight meetings the committee had been told by the Department of Corrections that the Director had been working with DOC to resolve problems. After over 9 months on the job, the Director was unable to answer many basic questions about the problems plaguing the unopened prison. Representatives were disappointed with the Directors’ knowledge of the major issues and are following up with questions and document requests, in order to better understand how so many problems happened on this project and what parties are responsible.

While she could not answer many important questions, Director Phipps did tell the committee there is an additional $20 million being requested by the General Contractor, Walsh Construction, for equitable adjustments. When asked for specifics, the Director was unable to give examples of the equitable adjustments and could only tell the committee the request is made when a company believes it has provided additional resources or labor not part of the original bid. The committee was unable to get additional information on these equitable adjustments from the Director. This $20 million in equitable adjustment requests had not previously been shared with Representatives during the Oversight investigation. The Director was unsure if the State would have to pay the additional money.

The largest issue preventing the prison from opening is the ineffective smoke evacuation system. Director Phipps told the committee it will take a fire specialist another four to six weeks to finish modeling the buildings and determine the best way to manage the smoke. Once those models are complete, a Fire Marshal will be asked to review the plans and if they are approved, then reconstruction of the smoke evacuation system will begin. The Director could not tell the committee how much the design, or construction is expected to cost or when it will be completed.

Representatives also asked the Director about problems with the geothermal system. While she had little information about original problems and the cost to fix the system, she did inform the committee that the geothermal system appears to be fixed and working. Unfortunately, this week, it was reported that there may be additional problems with the system. Prison officials had to shut down a sprinkler system in a building that houses a library, gymnasium and chapel due to cold temperatures. According to the Department of Corrections, there is cold air leaking between the ceiling and the roof of the building and the temperatures dropped below freezing in that area. Additionally, there is cold air leakage in the mechanical alleyways adjacent in two housing units, the DOC did not say if water was shut off in either of those buildings. Representatives are just learning about these additional issues and will be following up with questions.

Currently there is no estimated date to open the prison. Once the buildings receive occupancy permits, it will take approximately another three months to retrain Corrections Officers before prisoners can be transferred. Representatives are worried it could be another year before the new prison is occupied.

The bi-partisan House Oversight Committee will continue to push for answers from all parties involved with the construction of the prison. Within the next week, members are expecting more detailed answers and documents from DAS. Once those documents have been reviewed the committee will be calling in more individuals involved with the prison construction to understand how all the problems occurred and to find a solution to ensure problems of this magnitude never happen again.

Nominations for Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Awards Sought

On Tuesday, February 24, 2015, the Office of the Governor issued a press release in which Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey encouraged Iowans to nominate farmers for the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award. The award goes to farmers who have taken voluntary actions to improve or protect the environment and natural resources of our state. Nominations are due by June 15, 2015 and the nomination form can be found at http://www.iowaagriculture.gov/EnvironmentalLeader.asp. The award is a joint effort between the Governor, Lt. Governor, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources to recognize the efforts of Iowa’s farmers as environmental leaders committed to healthy soils and improved water quality.

Farmers that are nominated should have made environmental stewardship a priority on their farm and incorporated best management practices into their farming operation. As true stewards of the land, they recognize that improved water quality and soil sustainability reaps benefits that extend beyond their fields to citizens of Iowa and residents even further downstream. Nominations may be submitted on a year-round basis and are due by June 15th of the year to be considered for the award. Farm owners and operators are eligible for consideration.

An appointed committee of representatives from both conservation and agricultural groups will review the nominations and select the winners. The recipients will be recognized at the Iowa State Fair. Since creation of the award in 2012, 219 farm families have been recognized. Winners are presented a certificate as well as a yard sign donated by Monsanto. Hagie Manufacturing also sponsors a recognition luncheon for award recipients following the ceremony.

Agriculture Theft on the Rise

I wanted to tell you about an agriculture issue brought to my attention that deals with livestock and crop theft. In 2011, 428 people were convicted of livestock or crop theft. Compare that to the number of car theft convictions in the state, which is 407. There are more livestock thefts than car thefts in the state of Iowa.

Of the 428 convictions of crops or livestock, 407 were charged with aggravated misdemeanors, which carry a sentence of up to two years. The remaining convictions are serious misdemeanors and simple misdemeanors which carry a sentence of up to one year and 30 days, respectively. If you combine and figure the averages of the sentences, a person who is convicted of livestock or crop theft is incarcerated an average of 52 days.

When we started discussing this issue in Des Moines we introduced a bill setting a minimum 30 day sentence on all crop or livestock theft convictions. However, we learned most people convicted are already serving over 30 days of jail time. I’m not sure we will advance the bill since it is already being implemented. We are exploring other options such as setting a hefty fine to deter people from livestock theft. I want to make sure farmers get reimbursed for their stolen crops and livestock. The discussion will be ongoing.

I bring this up to make sure the agriculture community is aware this is happening. There have been a few times I’ve been off my head count myself. It makes you wonder. Unfortunately we are living in an era where stealing things from other people is way more common than we realize. Please keep an eye out for your neighbors and keep alert around the confinement buildings and grain bins. Also, investments in locks and security cameras might be something farmers should consider this season.

Dan Rickels and Darrick Hall from Jones County Farm Bureau and I in the House Chamber

Dan Rickels and Darrick Hall from Jones County Farm Bureau and I in the House Chamber

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 (515) 281-3221.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

Capitol Update

Economic Indicators, Revenue Give Mixed Signals on Regional Economy

In its latest release, the Department of Revenue’s Iowa Leading Indicators Index showed modest growth in December 2014. The Index rose to 109.4 for the month, a slight hike over November’s rating of 109.3. Six of the eight components making up the Index improved in December, including average weekly manufacturing hours, residential building permits, and the Iowa Stock Market Index. The Index had remained relatively stable for the last six months of 2014, with December’s figure being only one-tenth of percent below July’s number.

Pointing in the negative direction is Creighton University’s Iowa Business Conditions Index. This monthly indicator fell in January to 52.2, down from 53.4 figure reported for December. While any number above 50 is viewed as indicating economic growth, the Iowa index has fallen in six of the past nine months. Also raising concern are forecasts from USDA concerning farm income in 2015. USDA says that farm income will continue to fall from the 2012 highs, while input costs continue to creep up.

The conflicting economic forecasts and slow, but sustained revenue growth is not just isolated in Iowa. These conditions are also being experienced in a number of the neighboring states. In Missouri, lawmakers and Governor Jay Nixon are considering actions to take in light of slowing tax revenues. Nixon has stopped over $500 million of state spending in the current fiscal year and is proposing additional revenue streams to fund new spending for schools and health care.

In Wisconsin, legislators are faced with having to close a growing budget gap. Revenue in the Badger state is 2.7 percent below the previous year, and the tax collections are now projected to be $619 million below state appropriations. Governor Scott Walker is proposing a series of cost savings measures, including a $300 million cut to higher education.

To the west, Nebraska saw tax revenue fall in January. That state saw tax revenue fall 6 percent when compared to January 2014. For the fiscal year, Nebraska tax revenue was still growing by 1 percent.

The outlier of the group is Minnesota, as that state’s economy continues to exhibit solid growth. Revenue for November and December 2014 was 6.4 percent higher than what the state had projected at the start of November. For the first six months of the fiscal year, actual revenue had exceeded projections by 2.3 percent.

The economic forecast for all states in the region is complicated by factors that are benefiting other parts of the economy. The strength of the US dollar has made the price of imported products significantly cheaper. That strength creates headwinds for US exports, including agriculture products. The drop in exports has been a factor in falling commodity prices and layoffs at major regional manufacturers like Caterpillar and John Deere.

Zero-Based Budgeting Bill Passes House State Government

The House State Government committee voted earlier this week on HF 1; a bill requiring state agencies and departments, as well as the judicial branch to adopt a zero-based budgeting approach. The bill passed out on a party line vote 12-10.

Currently, state executive departments and agencies use estimates based on 75 percent of funding provided for the current fiscal year, and the form for budget submission is decided by the director. The judicial branch operates on the same procedure. With this bill, executive departments and the judicial branch will be required to use zero as their base approach when determining their budgets. Additionally, it requires the departments to prioritize requested expenditures, with support as to why every request is needed.

It is a useful tool to help the departments and agencies justify why they need the amounts they request, and also helps with the budgeting process by helping legislators identify the “low hanging fruit” should adjustments need to take place. It also prevents across the board cuts, and provides an open and transparent process throughout.

Opponents argue that this would place an undue hardship on departments and agencies, and it would take up a lot of time. Additionally, they argue this practice disrupts the legislative budgeting process, and the governor should have deference to decide what budgeting principles to use.

If signed, Iowa would join Georgia as the only two states following a true zero-based budget system; although both states are in good company as many other states use hybrids of several budgeting principles in their overall budget process.

NEWS FROM DISTRICT 96

On Monday, Anna Mary Rinikerand her daughter Elizabeth visited the Capitol. They both had the day off so they decided to come to Des Moines for the day and stop by the Statehouse. Elizabeth is a sixth grader at Anamosa High School. Elizabeth was very interested in the legislative process. We took a tour of the House Chamber, the Governor’s office, and went to the top of the dome.

Anna Mary Riniker (left), her daughter Elizabeth (center) and myself in the House Chamber.

Anna Mary Riniker (left), her daughter Elizabeth (center) and myself in the House Chamber.

Farm Bureau members from across the state came to Des Moines Wednesday to talk with legislators. I met with members from both Jones and Delaware Counties. We discussed the pending gas tax as well as other topics important to their members.

The gas tax bill passed out of Transportation committee on Wednesday. Since the bill deals with taxes and fees, it also had to go through Ways & Means committee. The bill passed out of Ways & Means on Thursday. It now moves to the House floor where we will likely debate it next week. The Senate has an identical bill. It passed out of their committees this week as well.

I wanted to give everyone an update on Lake Delhi. The Lake District Trustee Board met to review the recommendations made for awarding the Phase 2 project to General Constructors Inc. GCI was the lowest bidder and based out of the Quad Cities. According to the recommendation, General Constructors Inc. met all the technical and commercial requirements of the bid specifications. After discussion, the District Board of Trustees awarded the project to General Constructors Inc. whose low bid came in less than the original engineers’ estimate. Phase 2 will is scheduled to start in early March if the weather cooperates. The target date to start filling the Lake is October 23rd.

Friday morning I am speaking to government classes at Monticello High School and Kirkwood. I will be at the Jones County Economic Development Forum at the Lawrence Center in Anamosa on Friday the 20th at noon. I’ll be joining Lt. Governor Reynolds will be touring Orbis Corporation in Monticello on the 20th at 2:45.

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 (515) 281-3221.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

Capitol Update

January Figures Bring State Revenue Concerns

State revenues fell in January, raising concerns that the state may not meet last December’s projection for growth during the current fiscal year.

January’s General Fund revenue was $29.5 million (-5.0%) below what the state took in during January 2014. This put revenue growth for the first seven months at a positive $152.4 million, or growth of 4.1 percent. While still positive, state revenue had grown by 5.8 percent through December 2014. Compared to the Revenue Estimating Conference’s FY 2015 projection in December, actual revenue growth is behind the 6.8 percent increase projected. In terms of actual dollars, actual returns are $100.6 million behind the REC projection.

Individual income tax collections were 1.3 percent below those in January 2014. For the fiscal year, individual income tax returns have grown by 4.2 percent. That is below the REC forecast of 5.7 percent growth. As it has been for much of the fiscal year, withholding payments were again higher than last year’s figures. Revenue from estimate payments was down once again. Income tax payments accompanying returns were also down in January (-8.0%) when compared to January 2014.

Sales and Use Tax collections were also below the previous January’s level, with the difference being a negative 6.7 percent this month. For the fiscal year, sales and use collections are running at the 4.4 percent growth level projected by the Revenue Estimating Conference.

Corporate income tax collections for January came in at $32.6 million. This figure is 30.8 percent lower than the January 2014 figure of $47.1 million. For the year, corporate income tax receipts are 5.6 percent below the REC estimate. This figure amounts to a reduction of $17.5 million.

Continuing the month’s trend, tax refunds were also down when compared to what was returned to taxpayers in January 2014. Tax refunds totaled $9.5 million for the month, which was down $3.3 million from last year. For the year, refunds are down 5.1 percent. The Revenue Estimating Conference has projected a 5.4 percent reduction.

While state revenue remains positive for Fiscal Year 2015, the chance that collections could exceed the REC projections is starting to slip away.

Northey Encourages Century & Heritage Farm Owners to Apply

On Friday, January 30, 2015, the Iowa Department of agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) issued a press release in which Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey encouraged eligible farm owners to apply for the 2015 Century and Heritage Farm Program.  The program is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Farm Bureau and recognizes families that have owned their farm for 100 years in the case of Century Farms and 150 years for Heritage Farms.

Applications are available on the Department’s website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov by clicking on the Century Farm or Heritage Farm link under “Hot Topics.” Farm families seeking to qualify for the Century or Heritage Farms Program must submit an application to the Department no later than June 1, 2015.

The ceremony to recognize the 2015 Century and Heritage Farms is scheduled to be held at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday, August 20, 2015. The Century Farm program began in 1976 as part of the Nation’s Bicentennial Celebration and 18,328 farms from across the state have received this recognition.  The Heritage Farm program was started in 2006, on the 30th anniversary of the Century Farm program, and 736 farms have been recognized.

Last year 344 Century Farms and 86 Heritage Farms were recognized.

Public Input Sought on Iowa’s Science Education Standards

The Department of Education announced a series of forums to collect public input on Iowa’s academic standards for science. This follows a series of meetings, which began in early November, by a team of 19 Iowa leaders in education and business to review Iowa’s science standards, as well as rigorous science standards from other states, and to make a preliminary recommendation for improvement.

The review is in response to Governor Branstad’s Executive Order 83, signed in October of 2013, related to local control of education standards and assessments. The Executive Order states: “…the adoption of state standards should be done in an open, transparent way that includes opportunities for Iowans to review and offer input.”

The public can weigh in on the standards in a person or via an online survey. The survey is located here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/VW6SHDY?c=Iowa_Science_Survey and is available until February 27th.

Here are the dates and times of the public forums:

Wednesday, Feb. 11: Waukee (4:30 – 6:30 pm)

Waukee Community Schools District Office

560 Southeast University Ave.

Tuesday, Feb. 24: Ottumwa (4:30 – 6:30 pm)

Great Prairie Area Education Agency

2814 North Court Street

Wednesday, Feb. 25: Dubuque (4:30 – 6:30 pm)

Keystone Area Education Agency

2310 Chaney Road

Thursday, Feb. 26: Sioux City (4:30 – 6:30 pm)

Northwest Area Education Agency

1520 Morningside Ave.

The team will consider the public feedback before sending a final recommendation to the Education Department and to the State Board of Education next spring.

The review of science standards will be followed by reviews of the other parts of Iowa’s statewide standards, which cover social studies, mathematics, English language arts and 21st century skills. Each review will follow a similar format.

Review teams will be made up of Iowans with expertise in each subject area. For example, the science standards review team includes education and business leaders with expertise in physical science, life science, earth and space science, and engineering, technology and application.

Iowa lawmakers adopted statewide academic standards in 2008. The standards set consistent expectations for learning in schools across the state. The standards are a set of goals, not a curriculum, so decisions about how to help students reach the standards remain in the hands of local school administrators and teachers.

Last year the House unanimously passed a bill designed to create a similar process. House File 2439 would have provided greater transparency and opportunities for public input on the state’s education standards, among other things. It required the Department of Education and the State Board of Education to solicit public input and suggestions to revise or amend any standards. It also required at least three public meetings across the state with public input collected through the Department’s website with the goal to identify any opportunities to strengthen the standards with input from Iowans. The bill received no consideration in the Senate.

Further information is available on the Department’s website. https://www.educateiowa.gov/resources/boards-commissions-committees-councils-and-task-forces/iowa-core-science-standards-review-team.

NEWS FROM DISTRICT 96

The gas tax consumed a majority of our time this week. We’ve dissected the bill in caucus with our members. I attended the subcommittees for the bill in the House and Senate. Each chamber introduced the bill and it passed both subcommittees unanimously. Next, it will go to the full Transportation committee for their consideration.

Dave Lubben from Monticello was at the Capitol this week. Dave visited the Statehouse to participate in Grow Ag Iowa Day on the Hill where he met with legislators to discuss agriculture issues. Grow Ag Iowa was here to promote funding for the agriculture research and the diagnostic lab at Iowa State University. Dave and I are pictured below in the rostrum of the House chamber.

hein grow ia ag2015

Todd Hospodarsky visited the Capitol Wednesday. Todd teaches social studies at Monticello High School. He was here supporting social studies and civic education as a part of state standards.

On February 20th, I will be at the Jones County Economic Development Forum at the Lawrence Community Center in Anamosa. It starts at noon and is open to the public.

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) 281-3221.

 Sincerely,

 Rep. Lee Hein

Capitol Update

Governor Unveils Broadband Proposal

Governor Terry Branstad’s newest proposal to expand high-speed Internet access resembles last year’s proposal, but it also has important differences.   The new bill attempts to incentivize broadband expansion in areas of Iowa where Internet speeds are below 25 megabits per second of download speed and three megabits per second of upload speed.

Under the bill, an Internet provider could apply to the state’s chief information officer for a grant and a three-year property tax exemption for their new investments in underserved areas of Iowa.  It also would require local governments to either approve or deny applications for broadband infrastructure within 60 days of their submission.

Unlike last year’s proposal, this year’s “Connect Every Acre” proposal does not include a process for private companies to lease bandwidth from the Iowa Communications Network (ICN).   It also does not include provisions governing the siting of cellular towers, another contentious issue from last year.

The House Commerce Committee is considering the legislation and hearing from stakeholders.  Tuesday’s meeting featured representatives from Mediacom, Century Link and a small Iowa communications company.   A subcommittee of three Republicans– Representatives Peter Cownie, Tom Sands and Chuck Soderberg–and two Democrats will closely consider the bill this week as they gather further input from stakeholders and the public.

Military Homeownership Assistance Program Helps

423 Veterans in FY 2014

The Military Homeownership Assistance Program is now in its tenth year and is still going strong. The program provides down payment assistance to military service members and veterans purchasing homes in Iowa. The goal of the program has been to help these heroes make their permanent home in Iowa by providing a $5,000 grant to help with the down payment and closing costs associated with such a large and important purchase.

The program is a joint effort of the Iowa Finance Authority and the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs and is funded through an appropriation by the Legislature. Since the program’s inception in 2005, the program has funded more than $15.4 million in homeownership grants to 3,244 military service members, veterans, and their families. All funds are granted out on a first come first serve basis and are subject to the state appropriating money to the fund.

In fiscal year 2014, the Military Homeownership Assistance Program aided 423 service members and veterans in achieving homeownership. More information about the Military Homeownership Assistance Program and the application is available at IowaFinanceAuthority.gov.

Grant Improves Heart Attack Care

On Tuesday, the American Heart Association announced a $4.6 million grant that will launch a program called Mission: Lifeline Iowa.

The goal of this project is for all Iowans to receive the same quality of care, whether they are living in rural Iowa or a metro area. The mission of the program is to improve the system of care for people in rural Iowa that have serious heart attacks.

According to the American Heart Association website, more than 250,000 Americans experience a STEMI (ST Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction) heart attack each year. Many of these patients fail to receive the appropriate treatment for their condition within the recommended timeline. These types of heart attacks carry a substantial risk of death and therefore require a quick response from medical personnel.

The Mission: Lifeline grant will utilize heart monitors that will help providers determine where the damage is happening within the heart. The monitor sends information to the hospital, where heart specialists can analyze the data while the patient is transported to the hospital. The grant also provides funds to educate the public. It is better to call 911 during signs of a heart attack and not drive the person to the hospital yourself.

For more information, visit http://www.heart.org

NEWS FROM DISTRICT 96

Pastor Merlyn Farrand visited the Capitol this week. He is the pastor of New Life Assembly Church in Manchester. Other clergy from around the state joined Pastor Farrand as they spent the day meeting with legislators. The Pastor presented me with a Founders Bible. Each legislator received one. It is nice leather bound book with the legislator’s name engraved on the cover. I want to thank Pastor Farrand for the generous gift.

Pastor Farrand with his wife Linda, and I in the House                   Chamber

Pastor Farrand with his wife Linda, and I in the House Chamber

This week was also filled with committee meetings. Committees are finally starting to discuss and pump out bills to be debated on the floor.

A couple of bills considering the Gas Tax are being looked at. Leadership of all four caucuses in the House and Senate have held meetings with the Governor to find common ground.  The bill is currently being drafted and will move to committee in the coming weeks. There is a lot of discussion on the items to be included in the bill.  The bill will raise the user fee on all fuel by 10 cents. There is a biodiesel component that provides a kick back for B10 and over.  County bonding will be restricted to some degree under the bill. It will still be allowed, but in a limited form. Another significant program in the bill is Access Iowa. It prioritizes certain roadways and highways that need repaired.  There still is a lot of work to be done but things are on the move.

I am including a link to a chart that explains how and where the funds are generated and where they are spent by the DOT.  The link is:

http://www.iowadot.gov/pol_leg_services/images/fiscal_year_2015_transportation_funding.pdf

Wednesday the Iowa Motor Truck Association was in the Capitol to talk to legislators. They had 15 semis at the Capitol. Legislators were given rides around Des Moines. They explained where blind spots are and other issues such distracted drivers that truckers face every day.

Thursday morning General Orr of the Iowa National Guard gave his speech on the condition of the Guard.  We can be proud of our guard and the service they have provided when called to duty. My thanks go out to all those who serve in the Nation Guard.

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 (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein