Capitol Update: Week 4

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House Majority Introduces Education Priorities

The House Majority this week unveiled our school funding plan for the next school year.  The plan contains increased funding, an extension of infrastructure dollars, property tax relief for districts, transportation funding for districts with high costs, and a host of new flexibility provisions for existing dollars.

The plan started with committee work on State Supplemental Aid (SSA) to schools, a move that sets the increase for school district general fund budgets and other specific funds used for students and programs.  Additional details on the rest of the plan will be released over the coming weeks as the Education Committee works through the various policy proposals.

Increased School Funding

Following 7 years of increased funding for schools, the House Majority once again put education first by establishing FY 2019 school aid increases as the first budget item.  After over $730 million in increases over the past years, the proposed increase for FY19 adds another $32 million to the list.  This is the result of a 1% increase in the per pupil amount that the state spends, overwise known as SSA.  In this number is the continuation of the state providing property tax relief by picking up the increase in property taxes that results from increasing the per pupil amount.

Education as a Priority

While an increase in funding was a priority for the House Majority, it’s important to keep in mind the context under which the new school funding was issued.  A decrease in state revenue meant that cuts in state spending needs to be addressed with reductions in some areas.  K-12 funding was not cut in any way during these discussions and actions, when many other areas of state spending will see reductions.

It’s quite simple.  The House Majority values public education in this state and have since 2011.  State funding for schools has increased every year under our leadership; we helped lead the charge on a transformative education reform package that put teacher leaders in every building in the state to elevate the teacher profession, backing it up with over $150 million in annual funding; beginning teacher pay was increased; the number of teachers state-wide and the average teacher salary have increased every year; and Iowa’s ranking among the states for per-pupil spending is steadily increasing.

News from District 96

Senator Chuck Grassley was in the Capitol this week.  We visited about trucking regulations and complications involving the new electronic logs and how it applies to the livestock industry.  The logs have limited driver flexibility when it comes to loading and time on the road.  This creates concerns for moving livestock and biosecurity issues as well.  Senator Grassley was aware of the problem and said he is working on a solution.

It was a historical occasion this week as Governor Kim Reynolds signed SF512, an act relating to water quality, as the first piece of legislation of the session.  This made SF512, the first piece of legislation signed by the first female Governor of Iowa.  I was proud to have helped move this legislation through the process during both this session and last session.

This week I also met with Superintendent Lisa Beames from Anamosa and Superintendent Doug Tuetken from Maquoketa Valley and Midland.  We discussed Supplemental State Aid and transportation issues for their school districts.

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Capitol Update: Week 3

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Water Quality Funding Bill Passed in House

After three years of working on water quality legislation, the Iowa House passed a bipartisan bill that establishes a dedicated, long-term source of funding for water quality projects across the state.

The bill provides $282 million in new funding over the next 12 years to make improvements in water treatment infrastructure and continue implementation of the research-based Nutrient Reduction Strategy.  This bill focuses efforts on both urban and rural improvements.

Last year, more than $400 million was invested into water quality efforts across the state.  The passage of Senate File 512 will increase funding even more and bring about historic levels of investment.

This bill makes improvements that will ensure Iowans have access to clean drinking water and that natural resources are preserved for future generations.

However, this is not the end of the discussion.  I am committed to continue working on water quality issues and will look for opportunities to keep Iowa’s lakes, rivers, and streams clean.

House Judiciary Committee Addresses Credit Card Skimming

On Tuesday, a House Judiciary Subcommittee held a meeting on house study bill 507. This bill would make it easier to prosecute individuals who use skimming devices to steal credit card information. Under current law, skimming devices are illegal and a person caught using one can be charged with a class D felony and face up to five years in prison and a fine.

Credit card skimming is another way to steal credit card information. Criminals will place an electronic device on a card reading machine (often times at gas stations or ATMs), when a person scans their card to make a purchase, the skimming device records the credit card information and that information can be used to make fraudulent charges. These skimmers are easily put on and can be difficult to detect.

HSB 507 takes several steps to ensure those who use skimming devices face appropriate consequences. Changes in definitions close loopholes and keep Iowa code up to date with quickly changing technology.  In addition to other changes, the bill would make it a class “D” felony to possess a skimming device with the intent to obtain unauthorized credit card information.

While there is no guaranteed way to avoid being a victim of one of these skimming devices, following a few simple steps can help protect your credit card information:

  • Pay inside- skimming devices are quick and easy to install, but not every criminal is willing to put them in a store. A point of sale terminal next to a clerk could be a safer alternative.
  • Inspect the card reader- Are the card reader and pin pad similar in style and color, or do they look different? If the card reader and pin pad are different it could be a warning sign a skimming devices has been added to the card reader.
  • Monitor your accounts on a regular basis. Even if your account information is stolen, careful monitoring of your account can alert you to fraudulent charges early so you can report them to your bank or credit card company.

HSB 507 passed out of subcommittee with full support.  We will be debating this in the Judiciary committee early next week.  I plan on supporting this important legislation.

Capitol Update: Week 2

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State Government Committee Touts Strength of IPERS

Donna Muller, the Chief Executive Officer of IPERS, and Karl Koch, the Chief Investment Officer of IPERS presented to the State Government Committee on Tuesday the 16th. There are over 355,600 members of IPERS. Regular members make up 95% of IPERS. Special Service members make up the remaining 5%.

The ratio of actuarial assets dropped from 83.9% to 81.4%. The unfunded actuarial liability increased by $1.4 billion, largely based upon the change in actuarial assumptions that were reduced from 7.5% to 7.0%. This decision has received praise from both financial professional and government officials. However, this past fiscal year the fund earned 11.70%, which far exceeded the original investment return assumption.  The ten-year rate of return ranks in the top 20th percentile.

Over the next five years IPERS would like to add a number of internal investment managers. They believe that this will save the organization millions of dollars and allow them to have a better insight into what the external mangers are doing. However, this will take a significant start-up cost because IPERS does not currently have the trading, accounting, and control infrastructure. This would allow the Investment Board more authority and autonomy to hire and fire investment managers, set compensation levels, and oversee procurement investment tools.

The current investment assets are worth $32.7 billion dollars. The investment assets have increased by nearly $2.5 billion dollars over the past year and half. Representative Ken Rizer, the Chairman of the State Government Committee, stated at the end of the meeting that the committee does not have any interest in making any major reform to IPERS this year.  I am a member of the State Government Committee.  I sat in on the presentation and agree currently there aren’t any reason for changes in this program.

Future Ready Iowa

With Iowa’s unemployment rate at a 17 year low, most Iowans that want a job have found one.  However, what we have heard is that while unemployment is low, many Iowans lack the training or experience needed for high-paying careers that employers are trying to fill.

We will be looking for opportunities this session to connect our K-12 schools with community colleges and local businesses to create a workforce pipeline across the entire state.

Governor Reynolds has said that building a skilled and prepared workforce is her top priority this session and has proposed the Future Ready Iowa Act.  She has set a goal for 70% of Iowa’s workforce to earn some sort of postsecondary degree or certification by 2025.

The Future Ready Iowa Act will help reach this goal and the House Majority will be working closely with Governor Reynolds to ensure that future generations of Iowans are prepared for the careers and emerging industries of tomorrow.

Secretary Northey Addresses House Agriculture Committee

On Wednesday, Secretary Bill Northey, visited with the Ag committee about a variety of issues.  The first point he touched on was his nomination process for Undersecretary of Farm Production and Conservation.  Senator Ted Cruz’s has continued his hold on a confirmation vote for Secretary Northey.  While he is waiting for confirmation, Secretary Northey is still performing his duties as Secretary.

Water quality, cover crops and animal disease were topics of discussion.  Northey has been a great advocate for Agriculture and Iowa.  I wish him well in his future and look forward to him being another voice for Iowa in Washington DC.

 

Capitol Update: Week 1

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Governor Reynolds gives first “Condition of the State” Address

At the beginning of every legislative session the Governor gives the, “Condition of the State Address.”  It was a historic occasion as Iowa’s first female Governor, Kim Reynolds, gave the speech to a joint meeting of both the Iowa House and Iowa Senate.  She spoke on the several accomplishments of our state as well as issues we need to work on going forward.  The Governor made it clear that she wants a water quality bill on her desk as soon as possible.  This is an issue that we worked on last session and are trying to move it through the final stages of the process.

Tax reform was recognized in the speech. The Federal Tax legislation that was passed before Christmas will require us to review and make possible changes in Iowa’s Tax Code.  Rural Iowa was also a focus and the Governor announced a new initiative to expand broadband internet across rural Iowa.  This is important for farmers and small towns to continue to do business just like the rest of the country.

During the speech the Governor acknowledged that mistakes have been made in the rollout of managed care but made a commitment to make it right.  She has brought in new leadership to manage the program, with experience and expertise in managed care. Governor Reynolds discussed her plan for education funding this year.  Iowa is recognized as a leader in K-12 education funding, investing an additional $735 million since 2011.  These investments have brought total annual spending on K-12 to nearly $3.2 billion, accounting for 45% of the state’s entire budget.  Iowa is fourth in the nation in K-12 funding increases.

The “Future Ready Iowa Act” initiative was a high point in the speech.  West Delaware School District and Henderson Products in Manchester were recognized for their innovative partnership.  It centered on Henderson’s need for welders and resulted in thirty graduates of West Delaware being hired.  I was honored to have them as guests for the speech.  After the speech I was able to spend time showing them the Capitol.

Final Capitol Update for 2017 Session

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Early Saturday morning on April, 22th the 2017 session of the Iowa General Assembly came to a close.  The last week included passing 9 of the 11 Appropriations bills.  These bills set priorities on where the state spends it revenue.  Two other bills that were passed in the closing days of the session are Senate File 504 and House File 524.

SF 504 deals with Regional Mental Health funding.  This bill relates to the county funding by modifying the mental health property tax levy.  Iowa has 14 mental health service regions, all of which are required to offer a basic level services.

Since 2013, Iowa law has limited how much each county is able to levy.  The amounts can vary greatly amongst the counties within the region.  When the law went into effect, counties were limited to the lesser of their levy rate in 1990 or up to$47.28.  This bill equalizes the levy rates amongst the counties within the regions.

In the East Central Region which includes Delaware, Jones, Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Dubuque, Iowa, Johnson, and Linn counties.  The levy rates in these counties currently ranged from a high of $47.28 to a low of $21.76.  This bill will even the levy out to an estimated rate of $36.51.  This will lower both of Jones ($43.15) and Delaware ($47.28) levies with no change in services.

Another bill debated in the last week was HF 524 which addresses Medical Cannabis.  Three years ago, we passed a very limited bill that allowed children with epilepsy to have and use cannabis oil with a THC of 3% or less.  That legislation had a sunset of 3 years.  There were some flaws in the bill, mostly being able to access the oil.

HF 524 expanded the disease list for Iowans who wish to have cannabidiol oil (CBD).   The oil is still limited to 3% THC.  The bill creates a process for regulating and licensing of CBD manufactures and dispensaries.  It allows for reciprocity with other states that are also manufacturing CBD.  Currently Minnesota has legislation that allows for manufacturing but there isn’t enough volume to be cost effective.  Allowing us to team up with them makes sense to me.

It also sets up a Medical Cannabidiol Advisory Board under the Department of Public Health.  The board will consist of Iowa doctors who are specialists in different areas of medicine, and a member from law enforcement community.  They will review medical evidence and studies to determine what conditions should be added or removed from the debilitating medical conditions list.

If the Board determines a condition should be added to the list of conditions, they shall recommend the condition, and the level of CBD including form, quantity and dosages. If the recommended dosage is less than 3%THC, there is no legislative approval required and the condition can be allowed.

The session has adjourned for the year.  I am looking forward to get back to the farm and spending more time with my wife Jacky.  I hope everyone has a great summer and if our paths across, I would love to visit.

Capitol Update: Week 14

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Agriculture Budget on the Move

I sit on the Ag & DNR Budget Subcommittee.  We have been working towards a fiscally responsible budget.  The priorities of this subcommittee were to:

  • Increase the state effort and appropriations for soil conservation and water quality improvement efforts,
  • maintain and if possible increase programming and funding for animal health safeguards and catastrophic animal disease preparedness, and
  • prioritize the ability of state parks to stay open and perform essential maintenance and grounds-keeping functions that make visits to the parks a good experience.

This bill proposes to address the worrisome foreign animal disease by both: (a) Sustaining ongoing general fund appropriation to the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (VDL) in  Ames at the $4-million level, and (b) providing $100,000 in general fund appropriation to act as seed money to start a partnership between Iowa livestock commodity groups; our outstanding veterinary assets, both state veterinarians in IDALS, VDL, and the national livestock disease laboratory at Ames.

Regrettably, one of the consequences of the interaction of the priorities for this Budget Subcommittee and the budget target for it, is that we had to make tough choices.  This budget bill proposes to terminate funds to the Leopold Center and redirects them to the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.  These moneys are from the Groundwater Protection fund (at least 1.5-million) and are derived from fertilizer and herbicide excise taxes.

From time to time programs need to be reviewed.  Some run their course and have served their purpose.  I believe the Leopold Center falls in this category.  It has done some great things in the past.  The Nutrient Reductions Strategy will pick up the ball and hopefully with the extra funding, move the ball forward.

24/7 Sobriety Program

Drunk drivers on Iowa’s roads present an incredible danger to the Iowans.

Modeled after successful programs in other states, Senate File 444 implements the 24/7 Sobriety program as a way to combat drunk driving.  By voluntarily opting in, participating counties will be able to require repeat offenders and first-time offenders (under certain conditions) to submit to twice daily drug and alcohol tests.

Requiring twice daily in-person drug and alcohol tests will hold offenders accountable and encourage them down the path of sobriety to end an addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Drunk and drugged driving re-occurrences were dramatically reduced after South Dakota implemented a similar program.  This saved lives and the state money in reduced court and jail costs.

Capitol Update: Week 13

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Medical Marijuana Discussions Ongoing

As this year’s legislative session gets closer to the end, we are still working on major issues. One of these issues is medical marijuana and determining if this product would be right for Iowa. In an effort to learn more, I alongside other legislators have had two unique opportunities in the past week to meet with medical experts, scientists and those in the medical marijuana industry to understand the risks and benefits of changing Iowa’s law.

On Monday, I participated in a tour and discussion at Kemin Industries in Des Moines.  Kemin is an Iowa company, but their impact is felt across the world through ingredient manufacturing and research. Kemin is not involved with medical marijuana.  They make extractions from different plants, including potatoes and marigolds that have benefited animals, and humans. I toured the facility to see how extraction is done.  Kemin uses many processes that would also be used by a company who might extract Cannabis Oil out of a marijuana plant.  Learning about the extraction process helped legislators to better understand how a marijuana production facility might work, if it were ever legal in Iowa.  Doing the proper research into an issue helps me to decide whether or not it is something I want to support.  This trip was part of that process.

While at Kemin, members also had the opportunity to speak with medical marijuana growers, producers and sellers from states that allow marijuana production.  These individuals clearly want Iowa to legalize medical marijuana, but it was helpful to have their insight into arguments both for and against legalization. Talking with these business owners helped clarify how medical marijuana could be grown, processed and sold in our state and what risks are associated with such actions.

On Tuesday, a representative from a medical marijuana company in Minnesota took the time to speak with legislators about their program. Minnesota has faced some problems while implementing the program and talking with people involved with the program has helped clarify options Iowa might consider in the future.

The current law allows a person with intractable epilepsy to get a card that that permits them and their caregivers the right to possess cannabis oil in a medical form.  This law will sunset on June 30th, 2017.  To allow these people to continue to possess the product we will need to lift the sunset.  These families cannot get the medication in Iowa.  This issue is part of the reason that we are having discussions about medical marijuana.

As of now, there is no medical marijuana plan for Iowa, but conversations are ongoing. The most important thing on an issue like this is to ensure legislators are educated on both sides of the issue so they can make informed decisions that work for everyone in the state.

Texting and Driving

SF 234 was approved by the Senate and was subsequently approved by the House Transportation Committee.

This bill simply upgrades texting and driving from a secondary offense to a primary offense.  SF 234 allows for drivers to use their phones in hands-free mode and regular mode as well as using their phone as a GPS. It allows for peace officers to pull someone over for a suspected violation of texting while driving. However, it does not make texting and driving a moving violation. The fine for this remains $30.

This bill changes the definition of “electronic message” to include images visible on the screen of a hand-held electronic communication device including a text-based message, an instant message, a portion of electronic mail, an internet site, a social media application, or a game. This update now includes applications such as Facebook.

News from District 96

SF493 passed the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.  This bill allows Lake Delhi, as a 357E entity, to issue bonds as cities are allowed to.  This bill is an important part of reviving the Delhi community.  The bill is now eligible for floor debate.