The Capital Report by Rep. Curt Hanson
Session report for week four.
Thursday, I hosted a public meeting in Fairfield asking for input regarding environmental issues.
It was a great opportunity to discuss issues vital to our future.
Friday I attended an Optimae meeting regarding mental health reform.
There are no easy answers and reform must continue or taxpayers and patients alike will suffer.
I later attended a meeting hosted by the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores operators from southeast Iowa. They are very concerned that cheaper gasoline and tobacco prices in Missouri are detrimental to their businesses. Many of our smaller communities depend on convenience stores, and to price them out of the market would be a great disservice to people in our area.
Monday morning the Education Committee toured an elementary school in Des Moines. This school is showing remarkable progress in reading and math scores despite a 100 percent level of poverty. This jump in reading and math scores is largely a result of early intervention with students who are not showing normal progress. The extra time spent with individual students comes at a price of about $500 more per student per year. I was pleased to meet Jerry Nelson of the Fairfield school board at a joint school board and teacher association reception.
The College Student Aid Commission reported to the Education Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday morning. Support given to Iowa students in need of financial assistance has decreased 26 percent in the past 10 years. Those parents sending kids off to college realize how expensive college tuition has become. Iowa now ranks 35th in the nation for investment in need-based aid to college students.
Davis, Jefferson and Van Buren counties all have students benefiting from state-funded financial assistance. It was reported that the average Iowa college student graduates with a debt of $28,753. This is calculated by taking the total amount borrowed and dividing it by the total number of college students, but I don’t think this is an accurate way to compute a student’s college debt. If you divide the total amount of money borrowed by only those who borrow, the number quickly climbs to an estimated $75,000-$80,000.
We concluded the afternoon with a Natural Resources Committee report on the condition of our trees and forests. Many do not realize how important the forestry industry is to the economy of Iowa. In addition to the financial impact of the logging industry in Iowa, there is a tremendous health advantage we are only now discovering – an increase in trees decreases the probability of childhood asthma and the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder in children can be lessened. Franklin Roosevelt once said that trees are the lungs of the land.
It was also reported that devastation of our state forests continues. We’re faced with a variety of perils, including Emerald Ash Boer, a Gypsy Moth infestation, and Oak Leaf Wilt, which Fairfield’s Chautauqua Park now suffers from. We must plant a variety of new trees to replace those expected to die due to diseases.
Tuesday evening a House education subcommittee discussing the governor’s proposed educational reform bill passed the bill out of subcommittee to be discussed by the entire committee.
In my opinion, this bill takes power away from the local school boards, and puts it in the hands of the State Department of Education – a move I feel most parents and citizens would resist. I fail to understand how taking the best teachers out of the classroom to teach other teachers will work in our rural schools.
I also have grave concerns about the lack of research to support the proposed changes. We must improve our education by building on solid research.
In the Education Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday morning, we heard community colleges make their annual presentation.
The return of a student’s investment is $3,000 per quarter of attendance. The career opportunities offered at Indian Hills Community College ranks number two in Iowa, and graduates have among the highest job placement and starting salaries in the state. It is important that people avail themselves of the opportunities at their doorstep.
During a noon debate session, the House passed an important bill that saves taxpayers $60 million over the next two years, and makes it easier for Iowans for file their state income tax returns. Called “coupling” with the federal tax code, the bill allows Iowa businesses to expense the first $500,000 of new equipment costs. This bill now goes to the governor to be signed into law.
The Agriculture Committee learned of the Beginning Farmer Loan Program. For more than 30 years this program has been helping young farmers in several ways, and has benefited many young farmers in our area in recent years.
After lunch, I met with local school superintendents Lisa Beames, Dennis Phelps and Art Sathoff. All spoke of the need for the passage of an allowable growth bill and the need for school reform that improves rural schools without placing unfunded and unrealistic mandates on schools.
Thursday afternoon I was pleased to see Chis Estle from Jefferson County Public Health and Cheryll Jones from Davis County. They visited the Capitol as we recognized Public Health Day on the Hill. At a meeting of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, we learned of the budget needs of the Department for the Blind and the Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Money spent on rehabilitation is returned on a 1-to-3 ratio.
We finished the day with a presentation to the Natural Resources Committee by The Iowa Bowhunters Association, represented by Randy Taylor, Dennis Bradley and Larry Sylvester, who spoke about the possible spread of Deer Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) from the deer breeding farms and the deer hunting farms into the wild herd.
Should we fail to contain CWD we can expect a 50-60 percent drop in the deer population. It is likely the remaining deer would suffer from early effects of CWD. If we experience a sharp decline in deer hunting, we should also expect a sharp decline in the revenue associated with deer hunting.
At 7:30 a. m. Saturday, a Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Forum will be held at the Best Western Fairfield Inn I hope to see many of you there.