Capitol Update: Week 5

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Sports Betting Discussion Ongoing

One of the biggest issues that the Legislature is considering this session is whether the state should legalize sports betting.  This conversation became a possibility last year after the United States Supreme Court struck down a federal law that prohibited gambling on professional and college sports.

There are many factors to consider in this debate so it is important that we take our time and give all interested parties a chance to weigh in.  This is a new topic for the Legislature to consider and the House Majority wants to hear from their constituents and communities.

To thoroughly vet this topic, the House is using a transparent process and listening to all Iowans interested in the discussion.

Last week, the House State Government Committee held a two-hour subcommittee meeting on sports betting and heard arguments from Iowa’s casinos, the religious community, the Iowa Lottery, the horse racing industry, and concerned Iowa citizens, among many others.

Subcommittee members are now taking information they heard at the meeting to develop and propose legislation for the House to consider.

What have we learned so far?

Sports betting is going on regardless of whether or not it is legal.  Nationwide, it is estimated that legal and illegal gambling on sports is a $150 billion industry.  It is up to the Legislature to decide if and how they want to regulate this type of activity, bring it out of the shadows, and help those who may suffer from addiction get treatment.

Sports betting will not create a tax windfall for the state.  In the states that have already legalized this type of gaming, actual tax receipts have fallen far behind estimates.  Banking on this revenue to fund something substantial or long-term is premature.

The House Majority will continue listening to Iowans as we move forward on the issue of sports betting.

Snow Days Hitting Schools Hard – Shat are the options?

After a mild beginning to the winter season, January hit the state hard with successive snow storms that blanketed the state in snow and cold.  And with it came schools closings statewide.  At a forum last week I was asked about the state waving days missed this school year.  In the past few years, we have passed legislation that gives the school districts some options to address this issue.

The Department of Education doesn’t keep track of days called off school for weather, so hard numbers don’t exist.  In District 96 our schools have had to cancel 10-12 days to date depending on the district.

School calendars are set locally by the school board with a few parameters from the state.  Specifically those parameters are starting after August 23rd and counting the school year in either hours (1080) or days (180).

The Department of Education did put out a refresher on what options schools have now that they’re faced with longer school years because of weather-related closures.

Some of the more common ones are:

  • Can the Governor pardon or the Department waive snow days?  No, neither the Governor nor the Department have that authority.  The number of days or hours is set in state law and can’t be side-stepped.
  • Can schools use “e-learning” wherein a student accesses lessons or other school work from home through digital means?  No, this wouldn’t count as instruction.  Instruction must take place under the guidance and instruction of instructional staff at school.  E-learning can also present equity of access concerns for students without proper equipment or connections, those with disabilities, or younger students who can’t self-guide.

How can districts make up those days without going to far into the beginning of summer?  There are a few options, each depending on how the district’s calendar is currently setup and other local factors:

  • They can add time to end of the remaining school days to make up any hours missed if they are using an hours-based calendar
  • They can add weekend days, regardless of calendar type
  • They can shorten or eliminate previously planned breaks, regardless of calendar type

Keeping in mind, districts must have a public hearing to change calendar, just as they do to set the calendar before the year.

Snow and cold in Iowa are not new concepts and many districts plan their calendars accordingly.  They often build in extra days or hours to ensure that should closures occur, they can still meet the minimum requirements in law.  For those that are extended, there are other options that can be taken to ensure all students are given equal opportunity for obtaining a good education in our schools.

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Capitol Update: Week 4

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Judicial Nominating Reforms

A top priority this session is bringing more fairness and accountability to Iowa’s judicial selection process.  Under the current process, nominating commissions interview candidates for open judge positions and recommend three individuals for the Governor to choose from.  These commissions are made up of people appointed by the Governor and lawyers who are elected by other lawyers.

Under the proposed reforms, the Governor will continue to select half of the members on the nominating commissions.  Legislative leaders from both parties will select the other half.  Additionally, judges will no longer serve on nominating commissions, thus eliminating any sort of perceived undue influence based on their powerful positions.

By including more elected leaders everyday Iowans will have a larger voice in the process thereby creating more accountability in the system.  These reforms will ensure a merit-based judicial selection process and that the best people become judges.

Education Funding Discussion Upcoming

The House will debate education funding in the upcoming days; therefore, I wanted to look back at the progress we have made so far on behalf of our students and our schools.

Since the 2011-12 school year, investment in K-12 education has increased by $765 million, or about 30%.  Over that same time, the rate of inflation is 10.96% according to the Midwest Consumer Price Index.  Funding for schools has increased at nearly triple the rate of inflation!

This has resulted in:

  • More teachers: 3,100 new full-time teachers hired to staff Iowa classrooms
  • Smaller class sizes: A lower student-teacher ratio every year, even while enrollment has increased
  • Competitive teacher pay: Average teacher pay has increased to almost $59,000 statewide which is among the highest in the country when adjusted for cost-of-living

Building on our past commitment, this week House and Senate leaders announced an agreement on a K-12 funding package for the 2019-20 school year.

The agreement includes an additional $89.3 million in new funding for Iowa’s K-12 schools.

  • $7.8 million to reduce transportation costs for rural schools. This will ensure more dollars make their way into the classroom.
  • $2.9 million to reduce the cost per pupil gap by $5 per student. This continues to reduce a long-time inequity that has existed in the school funding formula since the 1970s.

Once this package is passed, state investment in K-12 education will top $3.3 billion per year.  The House majority will continue to look at additional opportunities for education such as extending the school infrastructure tax (SAVE), improving school safety efforts, and greater flexibility for school boards and administrators.

Capitol Update: Week 3

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Contested House Race Resolved

This week we debated whether to count 29 ballots in the election race for House District 55.  It came down to what the law says.  In order for the ballots to be counted, an absentee ballot must have a traditional postmark or an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb).  The ballots received by the Winneshiek County Auditor’s office contained neither.  The IMb is generated within the Auditor’s office and is placed on the absentee ballot prior to it mailed to the voter.  There is a charge by the postal service to have the IMb added to the ballot.  Only 7 of 99 counties adopted the IMb tracing program and were able to count late-arriving absentee ballots that did not contain a postmark.

  • Winneshiek County did not opt in nor did they purchase the service
  • Jones County was one of the 7 counties that did pay to add the IMb.  Had these ballots been cast in Jones County and mailed before the election, they would have been counted. I commend our Auditor Janine Sulzner for taking the extra steps to insure the integrity of the elections.

In 2016, the Intelligent Mail barcode language was added to House File 2273 in amendment S-5128, and was proposed by Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls).  In his floor remarks, Sen. Danielson referred specifically to the IMb Tracing program offered by the United State Postal Service:

“If an individual auditor would like to purchase this service from the postal office, barcodes will be provided and put on the return envelope for every absentee ballot”

I remember the discussion distinctly because I floor managed the bill through the legislative process in the House.  The rules cannot be changed after the fact because one party did not like the legal and certified result.  Based upon information received from the Secretary of State’s Office, there were 1,027 late-arriving ballots that were rejected across the state because they lacked a postmark or IMb.  If these 29 late-arriving ballots were to be counted, we would be treating them differently than other late-arriving ballots.

If legislative action is needed to update Iowa Code regarding late-arriving absentee ballots, which is possible, but cannot retroactively change this situation.  I do believe we need to review process and make changes so that this doesn’t occur in the future.

 

 

Capitol Update: Week 2

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Governor Reynolds Budget Priorities

Last week, Governor Reynolds released her budget plan for the 2020 Fiscal Year, which runs from July 1st, 2019 to June 30th 2020.  Her budget proposal funds a number of priorities share by the House Majority.  Budget subcommittees have already begun reviewing these recommendations are looking forward to working with Governor Reynolds to fund the priority needs of Iowans.  I appreciate that Governor Reynolds has proposed a responsible budget plan that spends less than the state is expected to collect in revenue.

Highlights of the Governor’s budget include:

Education and Workforce

  • $93.4 million increase for K-12 schools
  • $4.7 million increase for community colleges
  • $18 million increase for Regent universities
  • $1.1 million increase for Iowa Tuition Grant Program
  • $17.2 million to the College Student Aid Commission to fund the Last-Dollar Scholarship program as part of Future Ready Iowa

Health Care

  • $6 million to increase the number of regional Access Centers and for additional mobile treatment teams around the state to further implement last year’s mental health reforms
  • $3 million for training teachers to help detect students’ mental health issues

Rural Iowa Intiative

  • $10 million to expand access to broadband throughout Iowa

News from District 96

I was honored to have Justin Grawe, a senior from West Delaware and a talented musician sing the National Anthem during the Wednesday morning opening ceremonies. Justin has received many honors including two years at All-State Choir, participating in various honor choirs, and top ratings in contests.

This week I also had the opportunity to discuss agriculture issues with constituents from both the Soybean Association and Pork Producers.  I appreciate their commitment and willingness to come to Des Moines to share their thoughts.

Capitol Update: Week 1

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Ways and Means Chairman

It was an honor to be chosen by Speaker Upmeyer to lead the Ways and Means Committee.  This committee handles all of the Iowa House’s tax discussions and policy.  As a lifelong farmer, I understand the importance of certainty and simplification of the tax code.  I will continue to protect hard-working taxpayers while working to leave more money in the pockets of Iowa families and small business owners.  I am looking forward to the opportunity to lead this important committee.

While I am excited to become Ways and Means Committee Chairman, it does require that I leave my position as Agriculture Committee Chairman.  I enjoyed serving in that role and am proud of our many accomplishments.  Over the last three years we worked diligently and passed a long-term stream of funding for water quality.  We also protected Iowa farmers from special interest groups and from unnecessary government regulation.

Get your REAL ID Sooner than Later

Beginning October 2020, the federal government will require you to show a valid REAL ID driver’s license or identification card for:

  • Flying commercial airlines
  • Entering federal facilities (Post Office not included)

A REAL ID is marked with a gold star in the upper right hand corner.  This ID cannot be obtained online.  You must go to an Iowa driver’s service center, such as the Jones or Delaware County Courthouses, and present certain documents validating your identity.  Some of these can include birth certificate, social security card, marriage certificate (for name changes), or passport.  Your address must also be verified as well. This can be done with a bill or letter addressed to you.  A full explanation of the process can be found at: https://iowadot.gov/mvd/realid/real-id-home and is a good resource to use before you head out to get the REAL ID.

Because the state driver’s license stations are busy and as we approach October 2020, the traffic into the driver’s license stations will grow with longer wait times. I am encouraging you to start going to the DOT service centers, the Jones or Delaware County Treasurer’s office now and not wait until the fall of 2020. Tuesdays and Saturdays are the busiest at the Iowa DOT Service Centers and are not open to the public on Mondays.

News from District 96

The first week of this legislative session was similar to most.  The House and Senate heard from Governor Kim Reynolds, Chief Justice Mark Cady, and Major General Timothy Orr.  The Governor’s State of the State Address was a historical one as Governor Reynolds is the first duly elected female Governor of Iowa.  She discussed the importance of education funding and criminal justice reform during her speech.

If you would like to discuss an issue feel free to come to one of my forums or send me an email.  It is an honor to serve as your State Representative for another term in the Iowa House.

Capitol Update: Week 17

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Senate File 359

This week we ran Senate File 359 known as the Heartbeat bill.  It is a passionate issue and constituents on both sides have been contacting me.  I believe life starts at conception.  I also believe it is very a moral, religious, and most of all, should be a family decision.  I firmly believe government should be neutral in this very personal issue, and that the family should be able to make the decision.

I did not support this bill and would like to share with you how I reached my position on this issue.  Our family recently had to make that very tough decision that affects the life of the mother.  My daughter informed us back in January that we were to be grandparents for a second time.

The week before Easter, she had an ultrasound which detected issues with the baby.  There still was a heartbeat.  After additional ultrasounds and a CVS test, the doctor informed her that the baby had a chromosome abnormality.  The missing chromosome in a baby’s DNA usually causes a miscarriage at some time during the pregnancy; some go to term but are stillborn.  Only one percent survives, but these are babies that did not have the same health issues that the ultrasounds were showing. She was told that she would miscarry at some point in the pregnancy but they could not tell her when.

When you get a diagnosis like that, everyone does some soul searching.  I believe it becomes a family issue and a family decision.  I have been a part of those discussions.  Believe me, my family shed a lot of tears and the decision was not taken lightly.  Our daughter and her husband made the decision to terminate pregnancy with the support of our family.

Medical technology has come a long way.  It gives us information to support both sides of this issue.  I have supported the 20 week legislation, waiting periods for abortions, and defunding Planned Parenthood.  They were the right decisions to protect life.  But in our situation, government was not a part of the equation and it allowed us to make a family decision that I believe protected life in our family.  I pray every day that God will bring more life to our family and I believe he will in the future.

SF 359 in its original form did not allow for families the option to make this decision.  I could not support the legislation that did not give families that option and cause a woman to carry the baby to term knowing the outcome.   An amendment did make some exceptions but I chose to keep the current law that would allow the families to make decision.

Life is precious and we need to do everything we can to encourage it but I believe we need to have some options also.

Capitol Update: Week 16

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Increased Salaries and Lower Underemployment Reported in 2017

The median annual salary increased $4,000 to $64,000 per year and the median hourly wage increased $1 to $17 per hour based on the 2017 Statewide Laborshed Study published by Iowa Workforce Development.

In addition, the statewide estimated total underemployment rate dropped from 5.1 percent in 2016 to 4.5 percent in 2017. Total underemployment measures three categories: inadequate hours, mismatched skills and low income.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said an increase in wages and a decrease in underemployment are signs of Iowa’s strong economy.  “Jobs that pay higher wages require more skills, education and training,” said Reynolds. “As Iowans continue to train for the jobs of today and tomorrow, salaries will also rise. That’s why Future Ready Iowa is so critical to our state’s future.”

Governor Signs Children’s Mental Health Executive Order

This week, Governor Kim Reynolds signed her second executive order to create a Children’s System State Board. This Children’s Board will serve as the single point of responsibility in the development and implementation of a Children’s Mental Health System in Iowa. The Executive Order can be found here.

The Children’s Board will be co-chaired by the Directors of the Iowa Department of Human Services and the Iowa Department of Education. The Executive Order requires the Children’s Board to submit a strategic plan to the Governor by November 15, 2018.

The strategic plan is required to:

  • Analyze and identify target populations to be served in the system
  • Analyze and design a long-term sustainable funding structure for the Children’s Mental Health System
  • Establish governance expectations for the Children’s System
  • Analyze and identify any legislative, regulatory, and policy ideas that are designed to improve children’s mental health in the state

This Executive Order builds on the comprehensive mental health legislation that was passed this session to expand the state’s existing adult mental health system. The Iowa House Majority continues to support the leadership the Governor is showing in this important area, and are committed to working with the Children’s Board to improve the mental health system. No parent should feel hopeless searching for treatment for their child with mental illness, and this Executive Order is an important first step in ensuring that parents have somewhere to turn.

House Working to Wrap Up Legislative Session

Extra innings are fun in baseball, but not so much when it comes to the Legislative session.  However, we are still down here working hard for Iowans to come to an agreement on tax reform and appropriations.  We have run three budget bills out of eight and hopefully by next week we will run the other five and wrap up session.