Capitol Update for April 5th, 2012

Update for Week 13

Debate over traffic cameras was interrupted on Tuesday when Representative Abdul-Samad opened a letter containing a white, powdery substance. The substance was determined to be non-hazardous after several hours of being on lockdown. The haz-mat crew came into the Chamber as part of the investigation, just two desks away from me. Although some were worried about the situation, most stayed calm and handled it well.

After the excitement ceased, debate on the legality of traffic cameras resumed. The final bill, which would outlaw traffic cameras, passed the House and was sent to the Senate for consideration. I did not support the bill for several reasons. I do believe they improve safety at many intersections, but there should be some restrictions.

I believe cameras should only be used at intersections where safety is an issue (high volume of accidents). Yellow lights need to be timed uniformly though out the state (for example, 10 seconds for a 25 mph area, 15 seconds for a 55 mph area to allow for enough reaction time to stop). Fines should be the same whether they are issued by an officer or the camera, and the tickets should be issued in a timely matter (2-3 weeks after the violation). Cities should own and monitor the equipment or at the very least the company who does should be required to be located in Iowa.                       

On Wednesday we debated the tax rebate bill for the future “All-Star Ballpark Heaven” at the current Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, which passed the House 53-43.  The Senate passed the bill Tuesday, so it should be on its way to the Governor to be signed.  I think this a good way for the state to potentially increase economic growth without committing funds from the state.  The investors need to complete the complex and have sales tax income before the state rebates the 5 cents back to the investors.  If the project is successful it will provide an economic boost for Dyersville and the surrounding communities throughout northeast Iowa.

Iowa’s Unemployment Rate Drops Again, Now at 5.3%

Iowa Workforce Development announced this week that Iowa’s unemployment rate had dropped to 5.3% in the month of February. The unemployment rate is continuing to decline in the state of Iowa and is accompanied by a gain in non-farm employment of 8,700 additional jobs.

Iowa continues to retain the 6th lowest unemployment rate in the nation. The national average stayed the same as it was the previous month: 8.3% for the month of February. The five states with better unemployment rates than Iowa are: New Hampshire (5.2%,), Vermont (4.9%), South Dakota (4.3%), Nebraska (4.0%), and North Dakota (3.1%).

Non-farm employment saw a net gain of 8,700 jobs from January to February as the numbers rose from 1,484,800 to 1,493,500. The sectors reflecting the biggest gains were ‘education and health services’ (+3,600), ‘leisure and hospitality’ (+2,100), and ‘construction (+1,300), while ‘other services’ was the only sector that saw a drop in numbers for the month (-500).

As has been the case for the past year, Lyon County remains the statistically best situated county in Iowa with an unemployment rate at a 3.0%. After it lies Johnson county (3.9 % unemployment), while Carroll and Story are right behind (4.0% unemployment rate). The counties that are statistically hurting the most are Allamakee (9.3% unemployment rate), Hamilton (9.0% unemployment rate), Jasper (8.9% unemployment rate), followed by both Lee and Clayton (8.7% unemployment rate).

Iowa Veterans Home to Study PTSD

The House recently passed Senate File 2245, a bill requiring the Iowa Veterans Home to initiate and coordinate a posttraumatic stress (PTSD) dual diagnosis treatment program study.

The study will include finding information on:  funding sources, program structure, program requirements, the need for such a program in Iowa, focus on the establishment of a dual diagnosis program for individuals seeking treatment for service-connected posttraumatic stress, and substance abuse. The bill requires that the committee deliver the report to the general assembly and the governor by January 15, 2013.

If the study proves a program is necessary, Commandant David Worley hopes to open a center on site in Marshalltown for purposes of this legislation.  Currently, the veterans home does care for veterans with PTSD, however there is not a specific program based on the needs for this medical condition.

Drop-out Prevention Funding Allowable Uses

Recently, the House passed a bill in a bipartisan manner requested by many school districts across the state dealing with drop-out prevention funding, known as modified allowable growth (MAG).  The vehicle was Senate File 451, which in its original form caused much concern over the property tax implications in the bill.  The House amendment passed 92-6 and will head to the Senate for approval.

The problem started with a reinterpretation of statute by the Department of Education which clamped down on historic uses for funding for dropout prevention dollars.  This left many districts with applications that were being denied, and limited options for addressing their drop-out problems.

The amendment approved by the House specifies appropriate uses of MAG funding, giving school districts increased flexibility to meet the needs of at-risk students.  And in an effort to prevent an increased burden on local property tax payers, a cap was put into place based on historical percentages used by the school districts.

Currently school districts can request to levy up to 5% of their regular program costs beyond their regular program costs for MAG.  The amendment caps school districts at two different levels, depending on their past practices over the past four fiscal years.

  1. If over the fiscal years FY10-13 the school district never levied above 2.5%, then the cap is 2.5%
  2. If over the fiscal years FY10-13 the school district did levy above 2.5%, then their cap going forward is the highest levy percentage during that period.

The bill also sets applicability dates to take into account the four fiscal years.  Allowable uses of the funding goes in effect July 1, 2012, to be used next school year by districts, giving them immediate flexibility they have been asking for.  And the fiscal portion goes into effect July 1, 2013, recognizing that school districts have already set their rate for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012.

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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