Capitol Update for March 8th, 2012

Recap of Week 9

This week the House passed HF 2292, the Fish Confinement Feeding Operations bill, which I managed. The bill adds fish to the definition of animals in the livestock environmental regulatory Code. Additionally, the bill allows fish farmers to choose to follow either livestock regulatory manure handling or wastewater treatment requirements.

Next Saturday, March 17th, there will be a forum with myself and Representative Steve Lukan in Manchester at the Coffee Den. Please come and share any comments or concerns you may have.

Public Hearing on Education Reform

On Tuesday the House held a public hearing on House File 2380, the Education Reform bill.  In just under two and half hours, the legislature heard from about 44 speakers and an opening statement by Governor Branstad about his proposed bill. 

The speakers were all over the board on issues, with many not taking a position on the full bill itself, but rather individual parts of the bill.  Aside from the Governor, speakers included teachers, principals, superintendents, lobbyists, parents, youth ministers, school board members, union representatives, and students.  There is much passion for the education of Iowa’s children.

Several speakers focused on the online learning components in the bill.  A parent of several children who have been enrolled in online learning programs spoke about the positive experience it afforded him and his family.  Others were cautious about a full day of online learning for any kids, specifically those in younger grades, expressing concern about socialization and achievement.

Additionally, a provision in the bill regarding third-grade literacy and the retention of third-graders who do not meet minimum proficiency received much attention.  Some felt that basing a child’s progression on a single test was unfair, while others argued that acquiring necessary reading skills was essential to achieving any success in later grades, claiming passing a student along when they were unprepared was not a fair move.  Unanimously it is agreed that a larger focus on literacy needs to be taken and the bill makes positive steps, but the retention part is up for debate.

With a bill of this scope, one that essentially combines a dozen or more policy pieces into a single bill, it’s understandable that consensus was discussed issue by issue.  Regardless of the position many speakers took, the overwhelming message received was that reform of some kind was applauded, appreciated, and necessary.

The next steps for the Education Reform bill will be House Floor action at some point.  Amendments are being drafted and discussed on both sides of the aisle as legislators prepare for the discussion before the full body soon.  The Senate is currently moving its own version of education reform in a much smaller bill that shares some similarities with the governor’s proposal and the bill before the House.  When and if they plan to act on their measure, however, is unclear at this point.

Providing Support for Grieving Families

Losing a child is devastating for a family.  Losing a child you never met is just as painful.  Each year there are between twenty-five and thirty thousand stillborn babies. Parents of these babies are heartbroken and some have looked to the state for recognition of the child they lost.  In these cases, most states offer a fetal death certificate, but often parents are looking for more.  This year, Iowa families approached House Republicans and asked for help moving legislation that would recognize these children.

House File 2368 tries to offer support for these parents in an unimaginably difficult time.  The bill allows for the issuance of a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth.  In Iowa, when a child is stillborn, the parents are given a fetal death certificate and that’s all they have to recognize their child. For many families, this is not enough; they want something that says their child was born, even if it was a stillbirth.  

 A Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth may be issued under HF 2368 if a parent requests it.  The Certificate will include the date of the stillbirth, where the stillbirth occurred, and any name (or no name) given to the child.  While this may not seem like a large issue to some, for others who have suffered this loss, the Certificate is very important.  32 states have passed similar legislation.  The M.I.S.S. Organization and Missingangelsbill.org have worked with families across the country to pass legislation to recognize stillborn babies.

House Republicans and Democrats worked together on this bill to ensure that it met the needs of these families and was practical for departments to implement.  The end result was a bill that received unanimous consent in both the Judiciary committee and on the House floor.  House File 2368 is now over in the Senate awaiting their support.

Iowa’s Economic Competitiveness Improves

Iowa’s position amongst states in regards to economic competitiveness improved according to a national study.  On Wednesday, the Beacon Hill Institute released its annual survey of state economic competitiveness and rated Iowa as the eighth most competitive state in the nation.  This is one step up from the state’s ninth place ranking in 2010.

The Beacon Hill Institute, based at Suffolk University in Boston, has conducted these surveys for eleven years. The survey grades each state on eight topics – government and fiscal policy, security, infrastructure, human resources, technology, business incubation, openness, and environmental policy.  The grades for these categories are determined by rankings of 44 separate indicators ranging from the number of active physicians per 100,000 residents to how a state’s budget deficit compares to its gross state product.

For Iowa, the state ranked near or at the top on the state’s minimum wage level, the percent of population enrolled in degree-granting institutions, the budget deficit, murder rate, and average rent for a two-bedroom apartment.  Iowa did not do so well when it came to air travel, the number of physicians per 100,000 Iowans, and the number of full-time public employees per 100 residents.  Iowa ranked 50th in the number of business “births” per 100,000 Iowans.

For 2011, the survey found that Massachusetts was the most competitive state in the Union.  This was a jump up from third best last year.  North Dakota was rated number two.  The remainder of top five included Colorado, Minnesota, and Utah.  While Iowa’s improvement to eighth is a good sign, the fact that two neighboring states – Minnesota and Nebraska – are rated higher show the need for more action to improve Iowa’s competitive status.

To look at the full report from the Beacon Hill institute, visit:  http://www.beaconhill.org/Compete11/Compete2011.pdf

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.state.ia.us or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Lee Hein

 

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