Lee Hein, Capitol Update 20110909

Iowa House of Representatives
State Representative
Lee Hein
Address: State Capitol, Des Moines, IA 50319
Phone: (515) 281-3221
E-Mail: lee.hein@legis.state.ia.us
Website: http://www.iowahouserepublicans.com
follow on Twitter @iahouserepubs

Employers Receive Good News Regarding Unemployment Insurance Tax
Iowa’s employers were greeted with some good news last week when Iowa Workforce Development announced that the rate tables that determine the amount an employer pays in unemployment insurance taxes are going to be adjusted down. Workforce Development said the move from tax Table 3 to Table 4 will mean a tax savings of $96 million for employers and the average unemployment insurance tax rate for employers in Iowa is estimated to fall from 2.8% to 2.4%.

Iowa’s Unemployment Insurance tax system is different than that of some other states. All of the money that accrues into the Unemployment Trust Fund comes solely from unemployment insurance taxes that employers pay based on a sliding scale and an experience rated system. This system requires that employers with a high cost of unemployment claims pay a higher rate than employers who have low unemployment claims. A formula and a rate table are used to determine the sliding scale at any given time. This method ensures that Iowa’s unemployment insurance fund remains solvent.

There are a total of 8 different tables with 21 different ‘steps’ or Benefit Ratio Ranks within each table that are used depending on economic factors. The most favorable table (Table 8) has a range from a 0% rate for the first three steps up to 7.0% for the last one. The range in Table 4 encompasses a 0% rate for employers who have not had benefit charges over the last five years all the way up to 9% for employers with more benefit claims. In 2011, there were 30,261 employers (52.2% of employers in the state) that were taxed at a 0% rate. Based on employer data from 2011, 53% of employers will see no change (most of those being at the 0% rate already), while 32 percent of employers will see a savings of 0.1%-0.5%, 10 percent of employers will have a savings of 0.6%-1.0%, and 5 percent of employers will save between 1.1%-1.6%.

When the system was first introduced in the 1980s, the state was at Table 3, and fell to the lowest mark, Table 1, for the years 1984-1987. The last time the state was at Table 8 was from 1995-1999, and had lost ground ever since: 2000-2002: Table 7, 2003-2009: Table 6, 2010: Table 4, 2011: Table 3.

This move represents a real cost savings of millions of dollars to Iowa employers and, hopefully, is a sign of things to come for the economy of the state.

Education Reform Framework Announced
While the full details won’t come for another couple of weeks, Education Director Jason Glass laid out the framework for the Governor’s education reform efforts that will see legislative action next year. Following a tour around Iowa to visit with communities about changing the education system and a two-day Education Summit that saw leaders in education come together from around the nation, the beginning steps were unveiled to select legislators and the press this week.

The take away from the information is that this is a comprehensive package deal, not a plan where individual pieces can be chosen or tossed aside. The governor’s office is planning for an all or nothing approach. It’s a systemic change that they feel is needed to start moving Iowa down the correct path towards educational excellence.

And don’t expect immediate results, they warned. This is going to be a long process, with pieces of the legislation going into effect over the next five or so years and results taking even longer to show up.

The plan is going to involve several components that include high expectations and fair measures, great teachers and leaders, and a spirit of innovation.

Teachers: We need to make sure that teacher preparation programs are providing the right education for our teachers, that the state is giving support for continuing professional development and mentoring during a teacher’s career, and that we can effectively and fairly evaluate the job that teachers are doing. The plan will involve a new pay system for teachers that won’t necessarily be based on longevity alone and will provide for a career ladder that teachers can look forward to as they hope to advance their careers. There will be a master teacher and mentor teacher rung on that ladder that will allow advanced teachers to share knowledge and experience with other teachers, providing feedback, flexibility for further development, and mentoring.

Administrators: Similar to teacher prep and mentoring, we need to make sure that we have strong administrators in the school buildings who can effectively do the job they should be doing. We need to take a look at administrator preparation programs, administrator mentoring opportunities, and professional development. We need to give administrators the time they need to be the lead in their building and to work with staff on instruction, professional development, and evaluating. Too much of their time is being taken up with paperwork and not enough time is available for them to be in the classrooms helping their teaching team succeed.

Students: We need to re-evaluate the Iowa Core to make sure students are learning what they should be learning. We need a strong set of standards in place so that we aren’t selling our kids short on the knowledge they need to have when they leave the school system and go out into the work force. And we need a strong set of matching assessments to measure how effective the system is. There is talk of having all juniors take the ACT (of our neighboring states we have the lowest percentage taking the ACT exam), of having an exit exam for graduating seniors (whether passing will be a graduation requirement or not has not been determined yet), and perhaps the PISA examination for 15 year olds, the international examination that shows how we are doing compared to other nations.

Other: Choice will be a part of the plan as well in some form. Director Glass expressed that he is in favor of Charter Schools, but making sure they are effective and necessary and should be closed when they fail. He also is interested in changing reduction in force procedures, by putting in place a panel of teachers that helps make the decision of who is let go and who is kept on staff, based on performance and skill, instead of seniority only.

There are many details yet to come, including a price tag on these reforms and a solid timeline of action. The first week of October should see a reveal of more details of the plan. Whether price and timeline will be a part of that reveal are yet to be seen. It’s likely those details won’t be available until we get closer to the beginning of session.

Iowa Pheasant Population Continues to fall
Hunters planning on seeing increased pheasant population numbers this fall are likely to be disappointed. The Department of Natural Resources recently completed the statewide survey and it showed the Iowa pheasant population has fallen to a new all-time low, with a statewide average of 7 birds counted for each 30 mile route driven. The statewide average in 2010 was 11 birds per route.

The survey showed a small gain in pheasant numbers in southern Iowa and fewer birds across northern Iowa. This past winter was the fifth in a row with above normal snowfall followed by a wet nesting season. Todd Bogenschutz, a wildlife biologist with the DNR summed it up best “Plain and simple, we have lost hens and nests consecutively each of the last five years because of unprecedented weather patterns for Iowa.”

The drop in the pheasant numbers is also being felt in neighboring states. Nebraska counted 20 percent fewer birds than last year; Minnesota was down 64 percent and South Dakota is down 46 percent.

The 2011 pheasant hunting season runs from October 29 through January 10, 2012.

NEWS FROM DISTRICT 31
I attended the dedication of the artifact from the World Trade Towers here in Monticello on Sunday. It is a nice tribute to those who lost their lives that day and to those who have gave their lives since 9-11. If you are in Monticello, drive by it and have a look. It is east of the new Police building.

September is here and I am looking forward to the harvest season. The combines will be moving up and down the roads soon. As a reminder to everyone, be safe. When approaching and passing the slow moving farm equipment, a few extra moments will not be missed. The accident caused by being in a hurry could last a life time.

We have one more parade. That will be in Anamosa at Pumpkinfest and I look forward to seeing everyone there. The 2012 session starts in January. That is just around the corner, so if you have any concerns or issues that need’s addressing, please contact me. My email address is lee.hein@legis.state.ia.us or my phone is 319- 480-1997

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