Final Capitol Update for 2017 Session

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Early Saturday morning on April, 22th the 2017 session of the Iowa General Assembly came to a close.  The last week included passing 9 of the 11 Appropriations bills.  These bills set priorities on where the state spends it revenue.  Two other bills that were passed in the closing days of the session are Senate File 504 and House File 524.

SF 504 deals with Regional Mental Health funding.  This bill relates to the county funding by modifying the mental health property tax levy.  Iowa has 14 mental health service regions, all of which are required to offer a basic level services.

Since 2013, Iowa law has limited how much each county is able to levy.  The amounts can vary greatly amongst the counties within the region.  When the law went into effect, counties were limited to the lesser of their levy rate in 1990 or up to$47.28.  This bill equalizes the levy rates amongst the counties within the regions.

In the East Central Region which includes Delaware, Jones, Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Dubuque, Iowa, Johnson, and Linn counties.  The levy rates in these counties currently ranged from a high of $47.28 to a low of $21.76.  This bill will even the levy out to an estimated rate of $36.51.  This will lower both of Jones ($43.15) and Delaware ($47.28) levies with no change in services.

Another bill debated in the last week was HF 524 which addresses Medical Cannabis.  Three years ago, we passed a very limited bill that allowed children with epilepsy to have and use cannabis oil with a THC of 3% or less.  That legislation had a sunset of 3 years.  There were some flaws in the bill, mostly being able to access the oil.

HF 524 expanded the disease list for Iowans who wish to have cannabidiol oil (CBD).   The oil is still limited to 3% THC.  The bill creates a process for regulating and licensing of CBD manufactures and dispensaries.  It allows for reciprocity with other states that are also manufacturing CBD.  Currently Minnesota has legislation that allows for manufacturing but there isn’t enough volume to be cost effective.  Allowing us to team up with them makes sense to me.

It also sets up a Medical Cannabidiol Advisory Board under the Department of Public Health.  The board will consist of Iowa doctors who are specialists in different areas of medicine, and a member from law enforcement community.  They will review medical evidence and studies to determine what conditions should be added or removed from the debilitating medical conditions list.

If the Board determines a condition should be added to the list of conditions, they shall recommend the condition, and the level of CBD including form, quantity and dosages. If the recommended dosage is less than 3%THC, there is no legislative approval required and the condition can be allowed.

The session has adjourned for the year.  I am looking forward to get back to the farm and spending more time with my wife Jacky.  I hope everyone has a great summer and if our paths across, I would love to visit.

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Capitol Update: Week 14

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Agriculture Budget on the Move

I sit on the Ag & DNR Budget Subcommittee.  We have been working towards a fiscally responsible budget.  The priorities of this subcommittee were to:

  • Increase the state effort and appropriations for soil conservation and water quality improvement efforts,
  • maintain and if possible increase programming and funding for animal health safeguards and catastrophic animal disease preparedness, and
  • prioritize the ability of state parks to stay open and perform essential maintenance and grounds-keeping functions that make visits to the parks a good experience.

This bill proposes to address the worrisome foreign animal disease by both: (a) Sustaining ongoing general fund appropriation to the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (VDL) in  Ames at the $4-million level, and (b) providing $100,000 in general fund appropriation to act as seed money to start a partnership between Iowa livestock commodity groups; our outstanding veterinary assets, both state veterinarians in IDALS, VDL, and the national livestock disease laboratory at Ames.

Regrettably, one of the consequences of the interaction of the priorities for this Budget Subcommittee and the budget target for it, is that we had to make tough choices.  This budget bill proposes to terminate funds to the Leopold Center and redirects them to the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.  These moneys are from the Groundwater Protection fund (at least 1.5-million) and are derived from fertilizer and herbicide excise taxes.

From time to time programs need to be reviewed.  Some run their course and have served their purpose.  I believe the Leopold Center falls in this category.  It has done some great things in the past.  The Nutrient Reductions Strategy will pick up the ball and hopefully with the extra funding, move the ball forward.

24/7 Sobriety Program

Drunk drivers on Iowa’s roads present an incredible danger to the Iowans.

Modeled after successful programs in other states, Senate File 444 implements the 24/7 Sobriety program as a way to combat drunk driving.  By voluntarily opting in, participating counties will be able to require repeat offenders and first-time offenders (under certain conditions) to submit to twice daily drug and alcohol tests.

Requiring twice daily in-person drug and alcohol tests will hold offenders accountable and encourage them down the path of sobriety to end an addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Drunk and drugged driving re-occurrences were dramatically reduced after South Dakota implemented a similar program.  This saved lives and the state money in reduced court and jail costs.

Capitol Update: Week 13

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Medical Marijuana Discussions Ongoing

As this year’s legislative session gets closer to the end, we are still working on major issues. One of these issues is medical marijuana and determining if this product would be right for Iowa. In an effort to learn more, I alongside other legislators have had two unique opportunities in the past week to meet with medical experts, scientists and those in the medical marijuana industry to understand the risks and benefits of changing Iowa’s law.

On Monday, I participated in a tour and discussion at Kemin Industries in Des Moines.  Kemin is an Iowa company, but their impact is felt across the world through ingredient manufacturing and research. Kemin is not involved with medical marijuana.  They make extractions from different plants, including potatoes and marigolds that have benefited animals, and humans. I toured the facility to see how extraction is done.  Kemin uses many processes that would also be used by a company who might extract Cannabis Oil out of a marijuana plant.  Learning about the extraction process helped legislators to better understand how a marijuana production facility might work, if it were ever legal in Iowa.  Doing the proper research into an issue helps me to decide whether or not it is something I want to support.  This trip was part of that process.

While at Kemin, members also had the opportunity to speak with medical marijuana growers, producers and sellers from states that allow marijuana production.  These individuals clearly want Iowa to legalize medical marijuana, but it was helpful to have their insight into arguments both for and against legalization. Talking with these business owners helped clarify how medical marijuana could be grown, processed and sold in our state and what risks are associated with such actions.

On Tuesday, a representative from a medical marijuana company in Minnesota took the time to speak with legislators about their program. Minnesota has faced some problems while implementing the program and talking with people involved with the program has helped clarify options Iowa might consider in the future.

The current law allows a person with intractable epilepsy to get a card that that permits them and their caregivers the right to possess cannabis oil in a medical form.  This law will sunset on June 30th, 2017.  To allow these people to continue to possess the product we will need to lift the sunset.  These families cannot get the medication in Iowa.  This issue is part of the reason that we are having discussions about medical marijuana.

As of now, there is no medical marijuana plan for Iowa, but conversations are ongoing. The most important thing on an issue like this is to ensure legislators are educated on both sides of the issue so they can make informed decisions that work for everyone in the state.

Texting and Driving

SF 234 was approved by the Senate and was subsequently approved by the House Transportation Committee.

This bill simply upgrades texting and driving from a secondary offense to a primary offense.  SF 234 allows for drivers to use their phones in hands-free mode and regular mode as well as using their phone as a GPS. It allows for peace officers to pull someone over for a suspected violation of texting while driving. However, it does not make texting and driving a moving violation. The fine for this remains $30.

This bill changes the definition of “electronic message” to include images visible on the screen of a hand-held electronic communication device including a text-based message, an instant message, a portion of electronic mail, an internet site, a social media application, or a game. This update now includes applications such as Facebook.

News from District 96

SF493 passed the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.  This bill allows Lake Delhi, as a 357E entity, to issue bonds as cities are allowed to.  This bill is an important part of reviving the Delhi community.  The bill is now eligible for floor debate.

Capitol Update: Week 12

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Important Legislation Passed in the House

Protecting victims of domestic abuse and stalking

The House passed legislation this week that protects victims of domestic abuse.  House File 263 ensures that habitual domestic abusers serve a minimum amount of time in prison.  This will provide survivors and victims of abuse with more time to remove themselves from a bad situation while abusers serve their sentence.

Exceptions to fail first insurance policies

House File 233 will give patients and medical providers more control over their healthcare.  The bill provides a number of exceptions so that patients can get the medicine they need without having to go through treatments that aren’t effective as a way for insurance companies to save money.  This will ensure that sick Iowans get the medications that their doctors recommend without having to go through a number of ineffective treatments first.

Protecting private property rights

We took a strong stand for private property rights with the passage of House File 603 this week.  For many years, the House attempted to advance legislation that protect the rights of private property owners, only to see those efforts die in the Senate.

Encouraging growth in Iowa’s craft breweries and distilleries

Over the last decade, the popularity of microbreweries and distilleries, and the products they make, has grown among many Iowans.  This bill will help continue the growth of the craft beer and spirits industries, creating new jobs and bringing more tourism to Iowa.  This legislation brings much-needed parity between the different sectors of Iowa’s alcohol industry.

Budget Update

The Governor’s revised FY 18 budget spends $173 million less than his original budget proposal released in January.  But still increases FY 18 spending $24 million over the FY 17.

While there were complaints about the “low” education funding number passed earlier this session, it’s clear that K-12 education will be receiving the largest funding increase in all areas of government.  Many other areas will see budget reductions.

We expect to release budget targets as soon as possible and then begin the process of approving the FY 18 budget.

We expect to have a plan that pays back any money borrowed from the Cash Reserve Fund.  Those repayments will be made in both FY 18 and FY 19 budgets.

Thankfully, we rejected over $1 billion in additional spending plans offered by the House minority over the last two years.  Without that 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.

Promoting Careers of the Future

Senate File 274 is a first step in addressing a skills gap for businesses across the state by incentivizing and encouraging school districts to provide quality computer science courses in grades K through 12.

It creates standardization across the state for expectations, high-quality components of courses, and training for teachers.  It provides new opportunities for licensure and pathways into teaching computer science for tech professionals outside the field.  A workgroup is also established to recommend additional ways to provide opportunities to Iowa’s children to work towards jobs in a high-paying, in-demand career.

News from District 96

This week was the second funnel.  All policy bills that originated in the Senate must make it through a house committee. This further reduces the number of bills that are available for discussion.  Next week the focus will turn towards the budget and moving towards the end of session.

On Tuesday we passed a bill out of Agriculture from the Senate that protected Fairs from being sued if someone becomes sick from an animal.  The Fair must post a sign stating the risk of illness in order to receive this protection.

The Governor signed the Ag Nuisance Lawsuit Bill this week.  I was glad to see this positive piece of legislation make it through the process this year.  I also had the opportunity to visit with the Young Pork Producers and discuss issues that were important to them.

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.