Capitol Update: Week 11

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Protecting Responsible Livestock Producers

One of the major pieces of legislation we passed this session out of Ag Committee was a bill protecting responsible livestock producers.  This bill is important to many livestock producers.  Some have been sued multiple times for nuisance suits.  While there are a few bad actors out there this bill does not protect them. Unfortunately, many of the good farmers have been targeted by these suits.  This bill protects the farmers who follow best practices for livestock production.

SF 447 was debated in the House this week and passed.  The bill is now on its’ way to be signed by the Governor. SF 447 adds a new subsection to Chapter 657.11A that to promotes responsible animal feeding operations encouraging them to adopt existing prudent and generally utilized management practices, and deems livestock nuisances as permanent and specifies court awarded damages to:

(a) actual economic compensatory damages for loss of market value of property,

(b) objective and documented medical compensation where the livestock operation was the proximate cause of a health infirmity and the cost to treat such health conditions; and

(c) for compensatory special damages for intangible injuries such as annoyance, loss of comfortable use and enjoyment of real property that is no more than 150% of the sum of compensation for lost market value and health considerations.

News from District 96

This week we passed a lot of non-controversial bills through the House.

This week I was joined by Bruce Neimann and Randy Francois of the Farm Bureau.  They both shared their thoughts on issues important to the Agricultural Industry.

Capitol Update: Week 10

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Budget Outlook Updated

The Revenue Estimating Conference met this week to make their latest revenue projections for both the current and following fiscal years.  The REC has continued to cite low commodity prices and a sluggish agricultural economy as a driving factor for the lower than anticipate revenue figures.  Inaccurate revenue projections are not limited to Iowa.  At least 30 states, whose economies largely rely on agriculture and energy, have had to make budget reductions in the middle of their fiscal year.

FY 2017

The REC lowered the FY17 revenue projection by $131 million.  This is in addition to the $117 million in reductions that were done at the beginning of session. With only a few months left in the fiscal year, additional budget reduction opportunities remain limited. Gov. Branstad has proposed using the Cash Reserve account to make up the budget shortfall.  If this happens, the House Majority will not adjourn session without a plan to refill the cash reserve account.

FY 2018

The REC lowered the FY 18 revenue projection by $191 million.  This leaves about $6 million available in new revenue for the fiscal year.  An additional $40 million has already been approved for schools.

Moving Forward

The House plan to effectively manage the state budget is threefold:

  1. Taxpayers and the Legislature need more accurate revenue estimates from the Revenue Estimating Conference.
  2. A hard look needs to be taken at the “what” and “where” taxpayer money is used to make sure Iowans are getting the best value and their priorities are being met.
  3. Every tax credit is on the table to ensure Iowa’s taxpayers are getting a good deal.

Democrats are criticizing the budget management of Republicans but conveniently leave out the fact that they supported plans that increase state spending by more than $1 BILLION over the last two years.  Without the Republican majority’s strong stand, key areas like local school budgets would be facing deep cuts.  Iowans can count on us to stand strong against reckless government spending ideas.

Common Sense Solutions move forward in the House this week

School Funding Flexibility:

House Files 564 and 565 provide schools with more flexibility, allowing locally elected officials to utilize unused funds that are typically reserved for specific purposes.  These bills recognize that no two school districts are exactly alike and will allow each school district to better meet the specific needs of our students and teachers.

Protecting Young Iowans from Synthetic Drugs:

House File 296 will protect Iowa’s kids by keeping deadly synthetic drugs off the streets, while also making it easier to prosecute sellers of those drugs.

Supporting Families with Autistic Children:

House File 215 addresses the unique challenges parents of children with autism face by extending insurance coverage for autism treatments to Iowa families.  Coverage for autism can be very expensive but is very beneficial for future growth.  This legislation ensures access to programs with proven, positive outcomes in the child’s development.

Privacy Protections for the 21st Century:  House Joint Resolution 1 extends Fourth Amendment privacy protections to Iowans’ electronic communications and data, ensuring Constitutional rights keep up with today’s technology.

Reining in an Out of Control Federal Government:

House Joint Resolution 12 calls for a Convention of the States to address the Federal Government’s power and jurisdiction.

Reforming Iowa’s tax credit programs

All session long, the House Minority has blamed tax credits and exemptions for inaccurate revenue projections.

Many of these tax credits passed in a bipartisan way over the years.  Reforming Iowa’s tax credit programs should be a bipartisan endeavor but it appears that simply want to talk about it rather than act unfortunately.

This week the Appropriations Committee introduced House Study Bill 187 to reform the state’s various tax credit programs and track their fiscal impact. The bill sets a cap on the total amount of tax credits that can be redeemed each year and eliminates refundability of tax credits where businesses or individuals can receive a refund even if they have no tax liability.

There should be no sacred cows as we reevaluate these tax credits to make sure taxpayers are getting a good deal. Every tax credit needs to be on the table.

 

Capitol Update: Week 9

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Second Amendment Bill Passes Iowa House

On Tuesday, House successfully passed an extensive, bi-partisan bill preserving Second Amendment rights for Iowans. Through HF 517, the firearms permitting process is made simpler and safer, parents are guaranteed the opportunity to teach their children how to safely handle firearms, the privacy of Iowans who have a firearms permit is protected, and Iowans are given the right to defend themselves. The bill also includes several other changes to the Iowa Code.

Permit to Carry Weapons and Firearm Safety Training

Permits to carry and permits to acquire will both be issued for five years.  In order to get an initial permit to carry, a person must complete a firearms safety class that can be done online or in person. Additional classes are not required when a permit is renewed. While the permits are issued for five years, the office that issues a permit to carry or acquire may conduct annual criminal history checks.

Possession of Pistols and Revolvers by Persons Under the Age of 14

Current law does not allow a parent to teach their child how to safely handle a pistol or revolver if they are under 14. There are no restrictions on shotguns or rifles and this imbalance has created problems for law abiding Iowans.  The bill allows a parent to supervise a child, under the age of 21, while they lawfully use a pistol or revolver. The parent must remain in close proximity and have visual and verbal contact with the child using the pistol or revolver. The parent will be strictly liable to an injured party for all damages resulting from the possession of the handgun.

Permit Confidentiality

Iowans who have a permit to carry or acquire firearms risk having their private information released to the public. HF 517 requires DPS and the county sheriff to keep this personally identifiable information private.

Stand Your Ground-Justifiable Use of Reasonable Force

Under HF 517, Iowans will finally be allowed to stand their ground and protect themselves and others from violent attacks. A person will be permitted to use reasonable force, up to and including deadly force, to protect themselves or others if there is reasonable belief that force is necessary.

Traffic Law Changes Regarding Right Turns on Right

This past Tuesday, the house passed HF 372. This bill pertains to right turns on red lights and updates the current code. Currently, if there are two designated right turn lanes, only the innermost lane can turn right on a red onto a one-way street.   This bill now allows for both designated right-turn lanes to turn right on a red light onto a one-way as long as it can be done so safely. It also allows for a left turn on a red light onto a one-way as well as striking out the provision that the turn must be made into the innermost lane.

News from District 96

I had the opportunity to visit with the Manchester Good to Great Committee.  This group helped to finance the water park in Manchester and have done other positive things for the community.  They shared their thoughts and concerns on this legislative process.

I attended Secretary of Agriculture Northey’s Ag Leaders Dinner.  Senator Mike Johanns from Nebraska was the featured speaker and he discussed his experiences as a Secretary of Ag.  He was originally from Mitchell County in Iowa and enjoyed the chance to be back in the state.

We spent a large portion of the week with debate on Voter ID.  I have supported Voter ID efforts in the House since my first election back in 2010.

 

Capitol Update: Week 8

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House Moves Forward on Flexibility for School Districts

As tight budgets abound at both the state and local level, the conversation naturally moves to using existing dollars more effectively.  School districts have often asked for additional flexibility in their “silos” of funding and the legislature has abided in the past by making small changes here and there.

But the atmosphere this year has been ripe for making larger changes to give more power back to the local school districts.  Here are the bills moving currently that provide those needed changes:

House File 26 – Home Rule

This bill grants similar authority to school districts that cities and counties in Iowa have had since 1968 and 1978, respectively.   In broad terms, it’s ultimate local control.  School districts would be able to exercise flexibility in areas in which state law or rules don’t limit operation.  They would still be required to follow law that prescribe their actions as well as avoid actions prohibited by law, including creating additional taxing authority.

House Study Bill 178 – Flexibility for School District Funds

Schools receive funding for specific purposes when new programs are creating, requiring them to address the issue with narrow guidelines put on those funds.  Often those guidelines prove to be too narrow and need some loosening up.  This bill makes changes to a number of funds, including Professional Development funding, At-risk and Dropout funding, Preschool funding, PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) funding, and Talented and Gifted (TAG) funding, by adding additional allowable expenses that are meant to help the funding further the goals of the program.  It also includes language meant to provide additional flexibility from the sometimes heavy hand of the Department of Education in creating additional parameters around various programs and funding through rules and guidance to school districts.

House File 446 – School District Flexibility Fund

As mentioned above, often school district funds have narrow parameters that prohibit them from being utilized fully.  As a result, school districts accumulate unused funds that grow year after year.  There are currently over 74 identified sources of funding that school districts statewide have leftover funds in to the tune of over $146 million in FY 2015 (a $17.5 million increase over FY 2014).  Much of this funding cannot be touched or used.

The idea behind HF 446 is to create a new “Flexibility Fund” that would collect some of this funding and create additional spending authority for districts to use those funds in a broader fashion, but still in the direction of the original source of the funding.  The fund should hopefully help districts access some of this untouchable funding, bring those carry-over down, and use the money in ways that help students with further access, more high-quality programming, and a stronger education program.

In addition to House action this week, the Senate is also moving forward on bills that fall in the periphery of the flexibility category.  Long on the minds of many school districts and legislators are issues of “inequity” for specific funding requirement, namely transportation funding and spending authority on a per pupil basis.  SSB 1124 will takes steps to alleviate these inequities and the House will review that when and if it comes over from the Senate.

All of these bills, still early in the process, are works in progress.  But movement has begun and they are priorities of House Republicans to the extent that additional flexibility and authority be provided to school districts to more effectively manage local operations in providing the best education possible for Iowa’s children.

Ag Committee Bills on the Move

House Study Bill 135 continues the work of previous legislatures on Iowa’s Water Quality.  It contains both ideas from previous years as well as this year.  The bill does not provide a silver bullet to water quality; however, it is a comprehensive funding approach that allows for collaborate water quality efforts.  It allows cities, counties, industries and farmers to work together to develop and implement water quality projects that are beneficial for all parties involved.   It is definitely not a one size fits all approach but allows various entities in the state to work towards improving water quality.

House Study Bill 134 is a bill that promotes responsible animal feeding operations.  Presently, many livestock producers are being sued for damages by home and landowners.  Quite a few of these times the lawsuit is unjustified or it is an attempt by bad actors to collect legal fees.  Farmers can be sued as many times as someone would like to sue them.  HSB134 protects farmers who are using best management practices for their livestock operation.  These farmers will be limited to pay a certain amount of damages if the court rules against them.  However, if the court rules in favor of the farmer the plaintiff may be required to pay court costs and other damages brought by the suit.

News from District 96

The legislature was busy with committee work. Friday March 3rd marked the end of the first funnel.  This is the cutoff for any policy bill that has not moved through a committee.  If bill has not cleared a committee, it is dead for the rest of session. Bills that are referred to the Appropriations and Ways & Means are funnel proof. These two committees deal with funding and taxes.

I still had the chance to visit with some people from the district even though it was a busy week.  Ellen Krogmann and Faith Hunt came to visit about youth mentoring that is going on in Delaware County.  Rep. McKean and I enjoyed talking to the Jones County 4-H group who came to the Capitol for a tour.  On Wednesday Klark Telleen stopped in to talk about issues important to the Jones County Farm Bureau.

Capitol Update: Week 7

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Voter ID and Absentee Ballot Changes Proposed

Election laws differ from state to state, and are classified into two groups: strict and non-strict. Iowa’s current laws are considered non strict; meaning that some voters without acceptable identification have an option to cast a ballot that will be counted without further action on the part of the voter.

The legislation requires scannable ID of all voters at polling site:  use existing Iowa Driver’s License/passports/military or veteran IDs for all who have them, and a new and free ID to all active voters who don’t have DOT-issued IDs will be provided.

Currently the law requires that absentee ballots can be requested at almost any time.  This causes confusion, and often times those forms are misplaced before the ballot is ready to be sent.   The bill creates an “earliest date to request” for an absentee ballot at 120 days before the election.  The requests would not be filled until the ballots are ready, about 45 days before a general election.

The bill moves the latest date to request an absentee ballot by mail to 10 days before election. This moves the mailed-in request time frame to accommodate current postal office delivery standards. Presently, the deadline is the Friday before the election, making it impossible to get the ballot to and from the voter before the polls close on Election Day.

HSB 93 cancels voter registration of people who swear on jury questionnaire they are not U.S. citizens. Currently, if it is proven that someone who is registered to vote in Iowa is not a citizen of the state or the country, nothing happens to their voter registration status.

News from District 96

The Legislative process is speeding up this week.  There have been subcommittee meetings going on all over the Capitol building.  Legislators are busy reviewing bills for next week’s funnel.

This week I had the opportunity to visit with the Pork Producers as well as President Leath from Iowa State University.  I also had breakfast with both the Co-op Association and the Iowa Truss Manufacturer’s Association.

I spoke with Gary Schwab from the Jones County E911 group.  He and I discussed issues that are important to emergency services.  I appreciate the work of our law enforcement community.

I was excited to be joined in the Capitol on Thursday by multiple student and youth groups who oppose drug abuse.  The Jones County Safe & Healthy Youth Coalition, Maquoketa Valley TEL (Teens Eliminating Lies), and West Delaware TADA (Teens Against Drug Abuse) shared their opposition to drug and alcohol abuse in young people.  I am thankful of their willingness to address these tough issues.

Capitol Update: Week 6

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Amending House File 291

We spent this week discussing House File 291.  This is the collective bargaining legislation. We have listened to Iowans during the subcommittee and committee process, at the public hearing, at forums across the state, and through emails and phone calls.  During this process, a number of items were brought to our attention that needed to be addressed.  The amendment was a culmination of those discussions and addresses many of the concerns Iowans have expressed over the course of this debate.

It reinstates proper cause for suspensions and discharges. This means there will be still need to be documentation and a reasonable justification to terminate the employee.  There is also case law and court rulings that protect the employees from wrongful termination.

It removes some items from the list of prohibited negotiations.  They are release time, grievance procedures, Seniority and any benefits related to seniority.  It moves them to the permissive topics.   This means these topics can be discussed if both parties agree to discuss them.

The next part of the amendment reinstates the right to appeal a civil service commission’s decision to district court. It requires the court to give deference to the commission’s ruling. In the original bill we believed that the right to an appeal was a part of the process.  This makes the wording more clear.

We fixed a drafting error that could have affected firefighter and police pensions. We reduced the threshold to qualify as public safety employment to 30% (was previously 50%).   In small sheriff’s departments where deputies, jailers and dispatchers negotiate as one unit, if the makeup of deputies is more than 30% the unit can negotiate under the public safety part of the code. We added motor vehicle enforcement officers to the list of public safety employees.

Lastly I want you to understand how I reached my decision to support this legislation.  It actually started many years ago as a school board member in Monticello.  I was a part of the negotiation process each year.  I remember one evening when we were reducing a couple positions because of the poor financial state of the district.  The money was not there.

I sat that evening listening to a union steward from Des Moines tell us we had lots of money.  All we need was to raise taxes on the taxpayers of the district.  From that point on, I knew the law needed to be changed.

I supported a similar bill back in 2011 and 2015.  I believe this legislation will give more control back to the school boards, counties, and the cities. That is a good thing.   I appreciate all the email, phone calls and people who contacted me both for and against this bill.

Capitol Update: Week 5

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Discussion and Clarification on Chapter 20

A lot has been said about the bill to restructure collective bargaining.  This bill doesn’t affect private sector workers.  The Federal Government has always held jurisdiction over private sector labor relations and reforms to Chapter 20 does not change this fact.  The bill doesn’t take away or modify Iowa’s public pensions nor does it take away health insurance.  In Iowa, public pensions have always been excluded from the scope of collective bargaining.  HSB 84 explicitly states the employer must offer health insurance.  Public safety employees are exempt from the changes made.

Employees have protections against discrimination, harassment, retaliation or any other unlawful practices.  It is already illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on based on protected characteristics such as basis of race, color, religion, age, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, creed, sexual orientation, sexual identity or disability.  Iowa employers with four or more employees must comply with these laws.  This bill does nothing to undo those protections.

The scope of negotiations outlined in Chapter 20 only refers to the ability of a union to bargain those items with an employer. The changes in the bill have no effect on an individual employee’s rights to discuss or negotiate on their own accord with their employer about any topics they feel are imperative to their employment.

A pragmatic long-term change reflecting today’s economic realities is needed regarding Iowa’s collective bargaining law.

Constructive cooperation, not obstruction and fear-mongering, is needed regarding collective bargaining.  Collective bargaining advocates are arguing the law has worked well for 40 years and changes are not necessary.  Yet that did not stop those same advocates from serious attempts to significantly expand collective bargaining in 2007 and 2008.

The bottom line is that school boards, mayors, city councilors, county supervisors along with state government leaders will have more flexibility to do the jobs taxpayers elected them to do which is to manage state resources and quickly and effectively respond to their concerns.

News from District 96

This week’s focus revolved around Chapter 20.  However, we also found time to address other issues as well.  This week the Ag Committee welcomed Director Gipp of the DNR, Secretary Northey from IDALS, and Dr. John Lawrence from Iowa State.  They discussed ongoing water quality efforts in the state.  The information they provided will assist us in conversations going forward about Iowa’s rivers and streams.