Capitol Update Week Three

School Start Date Discussion Begins

The school start date has long been a controversial topic in Iowa, even prior to the current law’s enactment in 1985. Talk about what to do with the start date is usually part of every new legislature, but for the past 30 years no action has changed what current law requires. This past December, however, Governor Branstad issued a letter to the Director of the Department of Education, Brad Buck, that changed the conversation.

The current law, Iowa Code 279.10, subsection 1, requires that schools start no later than a day during the week in which September 1 falls. Subsection 4 then provides a waiver opportunity for schools that want to start sooner if they can prove that starting during the week of September 1 would “have a significant negative educational impact.” That language has been the crux of the problem.

The Department of Education has for years declared they have no guidance from the legislature to enforce that clause. As a result any requests from schools to start earlier than the statutory date have had their waivers automatically granted.

Branstad’s letter in December asked Director Buck to put an end to that practice. Schools can still receive waivers, but they should no longer be automatically granted.

Following the Governor’s request, the Department created and issued guidance on January 21st (located here) that puts the burden of proof on school districts. The guidance outlines what will and won’t constitute a “significant negative educational impact”.

The fight here doesn’t fall along partisan lines, as many issues before the legislature typically do, so the conversation is playing out a bit differently than others. Two bills are currently moving through the legislative process, one in each chamber. House File 13 held a subcommittee last week and passed unanimously. It now sits before the full committee. Senate Study Bill 1058 is scheduled for a subcommittee later this week. Both of those bills remove any start date from statute and leave the decision to local school boards.

The education community is fully behind this approach. It’s quite evident that schools favor an earlier start date. Only 2 of the 338 school districts started according to the statutory start date. In the previous 2 school years similar stories played out with 10 starting at the statutory date in 2013/14 and 8 starting there in 2012/13.

The tourism industry has been the primary driver behind any opposition to House File 13, stating that early starts reduce the opportunities for families to plan summer activities, for businesses that thrive on tourism to maintain a customer base and employed staff with kids returning to the classroom, and negatively impact the revenue the state brings through tourism activities.

I want to find a compromise we can all agree on. I would like the schools to start later than they currently do. I also think school districts, community colleges, and universities should start on the same date. Leaders in the House have expressed an interest to work on this issue in a manner that will hopefully satisfy both sides of the issue as much as possible.

Coupling Bill Passes House Ways and Means

House Study Bill 67 passed the House Ways and Means Committee this week by a vote of 25-0. The bill updates Iowa law to conform with certain tax provisions Congress finally enacted in December for tax year 2014.

The bill updates the provisions in the Iowa Code for the Iowa research activities credit to include revisions in the federal research credit (the basis for the Iowa credit). The federal research credit was extended for the 2014 tax year in the Tax Increase Prevention Act.

House Study Bill 67 also updates the Iowa income tax code to couple with the 2014 federal changes (with the exception of bonus depreciation). The more significant federal tax changes that this bill couples with include:

  • Deduction of up to $250 for out-of-pocket expenses for teachers
  • Tuition and fees deduction for higher education expenses
  • Election to deduct state sales/use tax in lieu of state income tax as an itemized deduction
  • Deduction for mortgage insurance premiums as deductible qualified residence interest
  • Nontaxable IRA transfers to eligible charities
  • Small businesses can now expense (instead of depreciate) the first $500,000 of equipment cost (known as Section 179 expensing)

The bill does not couple with the federal provision for 50 percent bonus depreciation for both individual and corporate income tax for assets acquired in 2014. This is the same stance that has been taken since 2008. The bill will now move to the floor for further consideration.

The bill does not couple with the federal provision for 50 percent bonus depreciation for both individual and corporate income tax for assets acquired in 2014. This is the same stance that has been taken since 2008. The bill will now move to the floor for further consideration.

NEWS FROM DISTRICT 96

We’ve had a busy third week here in the House. Ducks Unlimited members from around the state came to the Capitol to discuss issues with legislators. Bob Shimanek and Jack Dietiker of Monticello and Anamosa were here representing the group.

2015hein_moore du

High school students in the Monticello FFA chapter came to the Statehouse on Tuesday. They asked questions and were very interested in the legislative process. I gave them a tour of the Capitol building and showed the House chamber.

2015 hein monticello ffa

On Tuesday night, the House passed the supplemental state aid bill that increases funding for school districts by the Governor’s recommendation of 1.25 percent. It passed 56-43 and moves to the Senate for their consideration. A group of Young Cattlemen were also here Tuesday. All members in the group were in their 20s and 30s. They were here to discuss priorities of the Cattlemen’s Association. I also showed them around the Capitol.

hein_grassley cattlemen 2015

Wednesday night the Iowa Pork Producers hosted a reception legislators were invited to. I got to see both Delaware and Jones County folks at the event. It’s great to see the agriculture community get together talk about the issues and celebrate innovations.

I will be at the Delaware County Farm Bureau Forum on Friday, February 6th, at the Farm Bureau building, 115 E Delaware Street, in Manchester. The forum starts at 10 am. I hope to see you there.

Contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Lee Hein

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