Capitol Update Week Six

House Passes Bold Education Reform

The House this week passed an “Education Reform” bill that has been a priority of the Governor prior to its introduction and has seen a month of public meetings totaling well over a dozen hours.

The centerpiece of the bill is the “Teacher Leadership Pathways” program, a system designed to raise the stature of the teaching profession and provide a more attractive career option for graduates.  The bill infused $145 million into the career pathways over a three-year span to help districts promote their best teachers to leadership positions, thus breaking down the “silo” effect in many school buildings where best teaching practices are confined to just a few classrooms.  The leader teachers will be out providing continual professional development to teachers in the building, providing a support network that will improve the teaching force and raise student achievement through best teaching practices.

New teacher promotion programs will attract top talent to the field, with a base pay that was increased to $32,000, a grant program for the top students in their preparation programs, enhanced early teaching support, and residency-like first year programs to set teachers off on the right foot.  Not only will the best and brightest have more reason to come to Iowa, but the bill will provide the opportunity for schools to hire many more teachers to the their buildings.

This new language doesn’t come without accountability.  Teachers and administrators will undergo annual evaluations, with student outcomes figured into the discussion.  The evaluations will focus on teacher development, ensuring a stronger teaching force.  A proposal for accountability for school buildings was also included, giving communities a better look at their local schools performance.

The debate also looked to include those outside of the traditional public school classroom by providing opportunities for home school parents to teach their children without burdensome regulations and impassive state control.  Private schools can now focus on bettering their practices by raising their standards even higher through accrediting agencies that demand results and share the school’s mission without having to undergo state accreditation that often is less rigorous, less aligned to the school’s mission, and a more costly endeavor.

Finally, the House voted unanimously to give the schools the funds they need to ensure our students are learning what they need to learn to compete in today’s world.  The House approved 2% Supplemental State Aid (Allowable Growth) for the next two years, giving schools over $110 million new state dollars.  Additionally, a new proposal relieves property tax payers of the yearly automatic increases in property tax payers due to school funding, saving tax payers over $8 million each of the next two years.

The bill will now travel to the Senate for committee consideration.

House Committee Passes Bill to Aid Small Businesses

The House Economic Growth committee passed a bill this week that seeks to provide financial and technical assistance to targeted small businesses. The Committee passed House Study Bill 63 unanimously.

The bill repeals an existing Targeted Small Business Loan Guarantee Program which was proposed by the Economic Development Authority due to a number of factors. Among these include a low rate of projects funded compared to the number of applicants, high default rates, and costs and overhead that were out of proportion to the results.

The bill replaces that program with a more effective, less costly, and more administratively efficient alternative. The bill provides a funding source and a requirement that the Economic Development Authority enter into an agreement with a microloan service provider for the provision of services to targeted small businesses. The contract entered into must require that the service provider offers financial and technical assistance to targeted small businesses at a discounted rate using the funds provided to offset the cost. In practice, this will take the form of subsidization of loans, in essence buying down the rates. The bill is eligible for full House consideration.

New Iowa Business Specialty Court To Begin This Spring

The Iowa Supreme Court has approved a three year pilot project for an Iowa Business Specialty Court.  This court will deal specifically with commercial cases involving claims of $200,000 or more to hopefully help complex litigation move faster through the justice system and reduce the cost for all parties.

The Iowa Business Specialty Court was suggested by 70 members of the Iowa Civil Justice Reform Task Force.   Many times civil cases are delayed because they are not considered as important as criminal cases. However, these civil cases need attention from the courts as well and the task force determined that a Specialty Court could be the best way to solve this issue.

In 2012, there were almost 36,000 civil cases filed throughout Iowa. Not all of these cases are eligible for the Specialty Court, but by removing those that do qualify, other smaller cases can be heard sooner. A case that has a claim totaling $200,000 or more and involves areas including, but not limited to: technology licensing agreements, intellectual property rights, patent rights, breach of contract, fraud, commercial class action, trade secrets, antitrust and business tort claims can be heard in the newly created Specialty Court.

There will be three judges selected to serve on this court who will be selected based on their background, education, judicial and trial practice and experience in complex commercial cases.  Those whose cases fit the criteria will have the option of transferring to the Iowa Business Specialty Court, no one is forced to.

Governor Branstad Rolls out His Version of Property Tax Reform

Governor Branstad’s property tax reform bill, House Study Bill 15,0 was assigned this week in the House Ways and Means Committee.  Some items of interest in the bill and the Governors arguments for this plan are outlined below:

Rollback

  • Contains a 20% rollback of taxable value on commercial and industrial property –(5% per year over 4 years)
  • Would hold TIF districts harmless
  • Provides close to $400 million in property tax relief once fully implemented

Assessment Limitation

  • Assessment growth limitation moves from 4% to 2% on ag and residential immediately, while the ag & residential tie remains in effect.
  • After the 20% commercial rollback is fully implemented, all four classes of property (Ag, Residential, Industrial, and Commercial) are tied together with a 2% assessment growth limitation.

Backfill

  • A standing unlimited appropriation is created to backfill loss to local governments.
  • The backfill appropriation would be exempt from future “across the board” cuts

Certainty for businesses:

  • Provides permanent tax relief
  • Business can plan ahead

Certainty for local governments:

  • Local governments get to keep all the growth as a result of this tax cut
  • Standing unlimited appropriation is stronger language on the backfill.

Recap of Week Six

On Monday, a team of Lake District Trustee’s, volunteers, and engineers for Lake Delhi came to Des Moines to keep moving things forward for a full recovery.

They met with the Leadership team at the DNR and immediately following, I had the pleasure to meet with them to discuss how the legislature can continue to help keep the momentum moving forward for the restoration of this treasured public lake.

The Lake Delhi volunteer leaders and community members continue to impress upon me the commitment they have made to bring this Iowa recreational facility back as quickly as possible.  Not only have they dedicated thousands of hours of volunteer time, taxed themselves to the highest level allowed by law to more than match the state’s investment in this project, but they continue to work through significant barriers in record breaking time. I’m proud to represent this district, and look forward to the day that we all can enjoy this public lake again.

On Tuesday Darrick Hall (Anamosa), Jon Zirklebach (Monticello), and Dan Rickels (Anamosa) of the Jones County Farm Bureau were at the Capitol. I met with them to discuss issues and showed them around the House chamber.  I also got to meet with the Archbishop of Dubuque Jerome Hanus during breakfast on Wednesday. Bob Ballou from Monticello, who is chairman of the Watershed Improvement Review Board, spoke to the environmental protection committee this week. He discussed the responsibilities and goals of the Board, as well as issues they face in restoring Iowa’s lakes and streams.

We had a late night Tuesday night debating the education reform bill. We were debating until midnight and still had to come back Wednesday morning before we were done debating and passed the bill. The bill will now go to the Senate for their consideration.

This weekend I will meet with the Jones County 9.12 group at the Lawrence Center in Anamosa. 9.12 is a group that focuses on the Constitution and liberty of the American people. Next Saturday I will be in Manchester for a Delaware County Farm Bureau forum. It starts at 10:00 am at the Farm Bureau office in Manchester and is open to the public. All are welcome to attend.

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.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

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