Capitol Update Week 2

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News from District 96

With the start of every legislative session, I receive a lot of questions about how the process works and what it is like being a legislator. For this week’s newsletter, I thought I would share some of the most commonly asked questions and answers.

 

What is your weekly schedule?

I try to leave for Des Moines around 7:00 am on Mondays. I try to get in a few meetings before we gavel in at 1pm. Then we have rounds of committee blocks throughout the afternoon. During the evening, we try to catch up with constituents and prep for the day ahead.

 

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays bring a lot of constituent meetings, subcommittee meetings and committee meetings. I try to at the Capitol around 7:00am. We will leave in the evening to meet up with constituents, grab dinner or read up on legislation that will be discussed in the coming weeks. Most legislators head home Thursday afternoon.

 

Fridays usually give me time to catch up on all the things I missed back home.  Usually there are forums, and meetings to attend.  Saturday is spent at the farm helping with things that need to be done in preparation for the spring.

 

How long are you in session?

Members of the House are elected to two year terms. The first year is “limited” to 110 days, the second session to 100 days. This is not a hard cut off, but legislators do not receive per diem for any days in session beyond the 110/100 day allotment.

 

What do you get paid?

Members of the House and Senate receive a yearly salary of $25,000. Members are eligible for certain benefits (health care, IPERS). During session, members receive mileage (once a week, regardless of the number of trips made) and per diem expenses. Each member is provided with $300 per month for constituency expenses such as stationary, postage, mileage outside of session, certificates, etc.

 

What do you do when you are not in session/ do you get the summer and fall off? 

The government never stops getting in people’s way, the mail is still delivered and time does not stop with the fall of the gavel on the last day of session. I check my email most every day and try to respond in a timely fashion.  Summer is county fair and parade season and when fall approaches constituents and groups want to meet to discuss issues important to them and thoughts for the upcoming session.

 

Constituents are welcome to contact us at any time. We do not punch out with the fall of the gavel. It is important for us to be accessible and responsive to constituents. I try to stay engaged and in-tune with what constituents need.

 

Where do legislators stay while in Des Moines? 

A lot of legislators live close enough to Des Moines that they can drive in and home every night. That is not practical with my commute. Those of us living further away work with hotels, extended stays, snow birds, roommates, friends and family for accommodations during session.  I and three other legislators rent a home from a couple who spend the winter with their daughter in Florida.  With session lasting about four months, with long days, short nights, we have very little down time.

 

 

How are the Speaker and committee chairs chosen?

The Speaker is elected by members of their caucus, informally and formally by the members of the House. Committee Chairs are selected by the Speaker.

 

What committees do you sit on?

I am the chair of the Ways and Means Committee; this committee works with all matters relating to taxes and fees. In addition to this appointment I also sit on the Agriculture and Environmental Protection Committee

 

 

Do you have staff? 

Each legislator is permitted one part-time clerk for the 100 or 110 days of session. During the interim we are a staff of ourselves.

 

Capitol Update Week 1

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New House Leadership

This year the Iowa House elected new leadership following the resignation of former Speaker Linda Upmeyer. The Republican majority selected Representative Pat Grassley from New Hartford to be the Speaker of the House for the 2020 Legislative Session, and with new leadership comes new legislative priorities.

In his speech to the legislative body Speaker Grassley called upon the chamber to decrease childcare costs for families, improve access to providers, and create an off-ramp for Iowans who want to advance in their careers and phase out their need for government assistance. He stated that, “This is an issue that impacts each of our districts where both parties in this chamber can work together to find solutions.”

 

The Governor’s Condition of the State Address

On Tuesday, January 14 Governor Kim Reynolds laid out her legislative priorities for 2020 legislative session in her annual Condition of the State Address. Her speech outlined several legislative priorities such as; state licensing reform with the goal of decreasing red tape, expansion of the Employer Innovation Fund, and the need to reform the state constitution to allow for the restoration of voting rights for convicted felons who have served their time.

 

In her address the Governor rolled out a new initiative called the Invest Iowa Act which will strive to cut income taxes, create a sustainable funding source for our mental health system, reduce the burden on property taxpayers, and fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust. She stated that, “These changes will make our vision a reality. It’s an investment in our future. And it’s an investment in those who are our future.”

The Governor also made it a priority to discuss the need for increased funding for child care. Governor Reynolds outlined that for some it is an affordability issue, but it is simply a problem of reasonable access to child care providers.

 

News from District 96

The first week of this legislative session was similar to most.  The House and Senate heard from Governor Kim Reynolds, Acting Chief Justice Wiggins, and Major General Ben Corell. This year I along with 5 other legislators had the privilege of escorting the Governor from her office to the house chamber.

In my second session as the chair of the Ways and Means Committee we have hit the ground running with our first meeting being on the second day of the legislative session. This committee looks in to all matters relating to taxation and plays a vital role in the legislation that will be passed this session.

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.

Upcoming Forums:

January 31st Noon Jones Co Economic Forum

@ Lawrence Community Center in Anamosa

 

February 7th Delaware Co Farm Bureau Forum 10am

@Delaware County Farm Bureau Office

Capitol Update: Week 15

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House Majority Completes Focused Tax Agenda

The House tackled quite a Ways and Means agenda this year. From tax code updates to property tax transparency—it has been a busy session.

One of the early bills was Senate File 220. That bill provided section 179 expensing with a maximum deduction of $70,000 for corporations, financial institutions, and partnerships and limited liability companies taxed as corporations. The investment limitation in the bill is set at $280,000. With the passage of Senate File 220—these entities are allowed the same deductions and subject to the same limits as individuals.

Another piece of legislation handled this year was an omnibus bill. That bill did a myriad of things including:

  • Extending the Targeted Jobs Withholding Tax Credit pilot for two years until June 30, 2021.
  • Clarified the manufacturing exemption for manufacturers who engage in construction contracts.
  • Provides the department with the authority to audit or examine all taxes collected or administered by the department.

Finally—a property tax transparency bill was passed. The legislation created a process that starts with a local government receiving the new assessments. Based on these new values—all levies are adjusted up or down to represent a rate that would bring in the same amount of tax revenue as the prior year. This is the “effective rate.” The local government can then decide if this is the correct amount of tax to levy or if more or less is necessary.

Next the local government needs to publish notice and have a hearing on what the levies will be. The hearing will then take place and a resolution on the new levies will be passed. If the proposed levies bring in tax revenue that constitutes an increase of two percent or less—a resolution by a majority must pass. If the proposed levies bring in tax revenue that constitute an increase of more than two percent—a resolution by 2/3 majority must pass. After the resolution on the new levies has passed—the local government needs to publish notice of the budget they intend to pass and have a hearing on that budget. They can then pass a resolution for their budget as they do in current law. All information from the notices needs to be published on all local government websites and social media presences. Because of the new process—the date to certify budgets is moved from March 15 to March 31.

There were concerns brought forward by constituents and legislators that somehow this bill would affect IPERS.  The IPERS board, as a result of these concerns, released a statement regarding the property tax bill, SF634, “We have received many questions regarding recently passed property tax bill, Senate File 634. This bill does not alter the employers’ obligation to pay the employer portion of IPERS’ contributions as established annually under Iowa Code Section 97B.11. This bill does not affect a member’s or retiree’s pension.

Empower Rural Iowa Legislation Encourages Rural Broadband and Housing

House File 772 passed the Iowa House this week. The legislation was in response to meetings that took place last year in Iowa’s small towns and rural counties.

The bill is divided into two parts—broadband grants and workforce housing tax credits. Current law requires the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to administer a broadband grant program to make awards to communications service providers that reduce or eliminate targeted service areas by installing broadband infrastructure at specific minimum speeds. House File 772 repeals the specific download/upload speeds and instead references the federal telecommunications act for applicable speeds. The bill also provides that the competitive grants awarded by the OCIO should be awarded based on the following new considerations in addition to those in current law:

  • Need in the particular area (including whether it is rural).
  • Applicant’s total budget, including local or federal match, any funding obligations shared between public and private entities, and the percentage of funding provided directly from the applicant.
  • Relative download and upload speeds of proposed projects for all applicants.
  • Specific product attributes.

The bill specifically states that of all considerations for grant awards (both current and new), the most weight is to be given to the first three listed above. The bill extends the sunset of the OCIO broadband grant program from July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2025.

The second part of House File 772 relates to the workforce housing tax credit program administered by the Economic Development Authority already in current law. The bill increases the program cap from $20.0 million to $25.0 million per fiscal year. This money is directed to increase the incentive for small cities $5.0 million to $10 million.  Current law states that the authority may accept applications on a continuous basis. The bill changes the process to require the authority to review and score the applications on a competitive basis.  House File 772 provides that for fiscal year 2020, all money allocated to this program will be used to clear the waiting list for small cities.

News from House District 96

We are working hard to wrap up in Des Moines.  It has been a busy session for me serving my first year as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.  We had to work in bipartisan ways to move Iowa forward in the right direction.  There were also times when we had to make a strong stand for what we believed in.

The Ways and Means committee was able to support young farmers, provide transparency to local property tax payers, and make needed tweaks to last year’s tax reform.  I look forward to next session to continue this important work.

I look forward to visiting with people from across the district about their thoughts and concerns.   It has been an honor to be the voice for the constituents of Iowa House District 96 this session.

Capitol Update: Week 14

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Keeping Iowa Safe

Public Safety is frequently one of the top things that Iowans identify as something the Legislature needs to address.  The House Majority has taken this topic seriously, passing many bills this session that will keep students, motorists, and senior citizens safe across our state.

Whether it’s through policy or in the budget, I will continue to make public safety a priority and ensure that Iowans are protected.

Improving School Safety

One of the biggest priorities this session was extending the school infrastructure tax, known as SAVE. This provides schools with significant resources to make building improvements and ensure safe, modern classrooms. We included a provision in the bill that prioritizes upgrades like secure entrances, security cameras, and other safety enhancements, before using SAVE funds on athletic facilities.

We also passed legislation that protects students from known predators who move from school to school. House File 637 is an important school safety bill that requires administrators to report employee misconduct in a timely way.

Empowering Students on College Campuses

In recent years, the number of assaults and rapes on college campuses in Iowa is increasing. Additionally, a climate survey of students at the University of Iowa showed that more than 1 in 5 female undergraduates say they were raped during their time at UI. This is a serious problem that requires serious solutions.

Just this week the House passed a bipartisan bill that provides students with more tools to protect themselves on campus. The legislation prevents Iowa’s public universities and community colleges from implementing a policy that bans the carrying of a stun gun for personal protection. In a situation where seconds matter but law enforcement is minutes away, the use of this device could be the difference between life or death.

Safe Roads and Highways

Another bill passed this session, Senate File 113, holds repeat drunk drivers accountable and keeps them off the roads to make our highways safer. This bill clarifies that a person convicted with three or more OWIs can be charged as a habitual offender and face stiffer penalties. Drunk driving is not only irresponsible, but it puts those who wish to travel safely on our roads and highways at risk.

This year’s legislation builds on successful efforts from previous years to crack down on drunk and distracted driving and hold individuals accountable for their actions.

Protecting Seniors and Vulnerable Iowans

The House passed several pieces of legislation this session to protect seniors and other vulnerable Iowans in a number of ways. House File 731 updates Iowa’s mandatory reporter law to better protect dependent adults from abuse through more frequent and streamlined training. House File 323 ensures a person can be found guilty of dependent adult abuse even if they didn’t personally profit from the abuse. Finally, House File 569 ensures that an individual who intentionally shames, degrades, humiliates, or harms the personal dignity of a dependent adult is held accountable.

Capitol Update: Week 13

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House HHS Budget Includes Significant Funding for Mental Health

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee passed House File 766, the Health and Human Services Budget for FY2020. This budget appropriates a total of $1.94 billion from the state general fund to the Department on Aging, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Iowa Veterans Home. When combined with federal block grants, federal matching funds, and other revenue sources, the HHS budget tops $5 billion to fund human services in the state for the next fiscal year.

Importantly, this budget provides significant funding for mental health including an additional $1.2 million in state funding and total $3.1 million in funding next year to eliminate the waiting list for the children’s mental health home and community based services waiver. There are currently around 1,000 children on this waiting list, and this appropriation will allow these children and their families to receive much needed services close to home.

Additionally, this bill funds the single statewide 24-hour crisis hotline for all ages and funds our current and soon to be 22 Assertive Community Treatment teams statewide. This funding amounts to about $2.8 million that is currently being subsidized by the 14 Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) Regions. This budget provides a $5.2 million increase to Medicaid to pay for the additional mental health services passed last year, like Access Centers and Intensive Residential Service Homes, in the Mental Health Complex Needs Act (HF2456).

This budget also focuses on mental health workforce by funding 4 additional psychiatric residencies in rural communities and increases psychiatric training for physician assistants and nurse practitioners

These increases are in addition to the status quo appropriation of $96 million to Iowa Medicaid for children’s mental health services, $1.4 million towards children’s systems of care, $2 million towards the Medical Residency Training State Matching Grants Program which has funded 8 new psychiatric medical residency slots in central Iowa, and continues the appropriation to Des Moines University to partner with NAMI to prepare family physicians and other medical providers to help those suffering from mental illness. There are also additional funds appropriated through the federal community mental health block grant, Iowa Medicaid, and Public Health for substance abuse, 1st Five, home visitation, and other mental health prevention work for Iowa children, to name a few.

The House Majority has  made significant state investments into the state mental health system, and continue this important work with increases this year in the House HHS Budget as well as the Education Budget.

House Ways & Means Committee Passes Child Care Tax Credit Bill

This week the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously passed House File 227—a bill that doubles the income limitation for the Iowa child and dependent care tax credit. This is a credit that supports working Iowa families who spend large portions of their paychecks on childcare.

Currently, the federal tax code provides for a Child and Dependent Care Credit equal to 20 percent to 35 percent of qualified expenditures paid to care providers for a child under the age of 13 and for certain other dependents of the taxpayer. Qualified expenditures are limited to $3,000 per year for one qualified dependent or $6,000 for two or more qualified dependents. The federal tax credit does not have an upper income limit.

Iowa provides its own tax credit as a percentage of the amount of the federal credit. The Iowa tax credit is allowed on a sliding scale, based on the taxpayer’s net income. The Iowa tax credit amount ranges from 75 percent of the federal credit for net income of less than $10,000, to 30 percent for taxpayers with net income of $40,000 to $44,999. Currently, there is no Iowa child care tax credit available for net income of $45,000 or higher.

House File 227 doubles the Iowa income limit and makes the credit available to taxpayers with net incomes of less than $90,000. The legislation does not change the income based percent ranges—so all taxpayers with income over $40,000 will receive a credit of 30 percent of the federal credit.

The bill makes the change apply to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2019. The legislation would have a state fiscal impact of -$5.4 million in fiscal year 2020. It  is now ready for further consideration on the House floor.

Capitol Update: Week 12

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Property Taxes: Understanding the Plan to Reduce Growth in your Tax Bill

House Study Bill 165 has cleared a House subcommittee and is eligible to be considered in the House Ways and Means Committee. The legislation has been diligently worked on for the last several weeks and a strike-after amendment will be offered that takes into account the suggestions of many legislators, taxpayers, and interest groups.

The legislation seeks to limit the growth of city and county budgets to two percent per year. Increased valuations have been driving outsized growth in county and city budgets.  The two percent limitation represents a reasonable growth rate that taxpayers can understand the necessity of. This legislation removes the property tax surprise legislators have heard about from their constituents.  While Iowans are told their property tax rate hasn’t increased, they are hit with a unexpectedly large tax bill driven by the increased value of their home.

Under the bill, to figure out what a local budget can be (and therefore what needs to be levied) for the next year,  local governments will have to start with their prior year’s budget. To explain it simply—they would be able to levy up to two percent more than last year’s budget. When they receive their property valuations—the Department of Management will assist in calculating what the levy needs to be in order to collect the correct amount of property tax.

The legislation recognizes that there are some funds, levies, pots of money, whatever you want to call it—that need to be outside of this calculation of up to 102 percent. The legislation leaves all net new property out of the limitation.  If a city had a new development built one year—the legislation would not include that value in the calculation that first year. Additionally—any bonding, mental health, EMS, capital funds, or voted upon levies (symphonies, libraries, etc.) live outside of this limitation calculation. The things that are included in the limitation calculation are the emergency, trust and agency, transit, utility replacement transfers, anything under the city 8.10 levy or the county general or supplemental levies. These are things taxpayers would generally think of as “general fund” pots of money.

So now that we understand what a local government’s budget can be and we have a tax rate—what if the elected officials think it is not enough? If a local government feels strongly that they need to certify a budget higher than 102 percent of the prior year they can—and pretty easily. The council or board simply passes a resolution of their intent to do so. If the taxpayers do not have an issue with it—it is certified and that budget (despite being over the 102 percent) becomes the base for the next year’s calculation.

But what if the taxpayers do object? House Study Bill 165 provides a mechanism for taxpayers to call for a vote on whether the government should go over the 102 percent limitation. If the taxpayers get the requisite signatures, the local government can either abandon the proposal and go back to 102 percent—or wait for the results of the referendum.

The bill also contains some suggestive language on reserve funds. It is not mandatory or statutorily required, but the legislation asks that a local government’s undesignated reserves be kept at 25 percent of the prior year’s budget.  If a government has more than that, say for bond repayment and rating purposes, they need only designate those funds for that stated purpose to meet the goal of keeping reserves at a reasonable level.

House Study Bill 165’s goal is to provide transparency for taxpayers as well as local control. It provides opportunities for local governments to communicate with those that fund them. The legislation is ready for amendment and consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Capitol Update: Week 11

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Responding to Severe Flooding Across Iowa

Over the last few weeks, much of the state has experienced severe flooding which doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.  The western part of Iowa has been impacted significantly compared to the rest of the state with several towns being evacuated.

In response to the flooding, Governor Reynolds has been traveling the state to survey the damage and meet with local officials. I want to thank the Governor for her work and quick action to help in recovery efforts.

Governor Reynolds requested an expedited Presidential Disaster Declaration for $1.6 billion in aid which President Trump quickly approved for 56 counties, making them immediately eligible for federal disaster relief.

This is how the $1.6 billion in aid will be disbursed to assist in recovery efforts:

Agriculture $214,000,000
Public Assistance $77,417,455
Business (4,244 commercial parcels) $300,000,000
Homes with minor damage $417,000,000
Homes with Major Damage $64,000,000
USACE Levees (70 miles) $350,000,000
Non-Federal Levees (175 miles) $175,000,000
TOTAL $1,597,417,455

 

Learning from past disaster events, the Legislature passed legislation in 2011 that gave the Governor the authority to use the Economic Emergency Fund to quickly respond to disasters across the state.

Thanks to this forward-looking legislation, it is unlikely that the Legislature will need to take actions this session, but the House stands ready to assist with recovery efforts if necessary.  Individual legislators with flooding in their districts have been actively working with local officials and community leaders to assist in cleanup efforts and will continue to do so.