The Capitol Report by Rep. Curt Hanson
Legistlative update from the week March 11-15.
Friday was a very busy day ending with an important meeting with Deb Cardin, the administrator and CEO of Jefferson County Health Center. The discussion centered on the financial impact to the hospital should Iowa decide not to become a part of the Medicaid expansion that many states have already embraced. The estimated loss to the Jefferson County Health Center is $388,000.
An impact of this size could have serious implications on a health center of Fairfield’s size. I later learned the impact on the Davis County Health facility is estimated to be about $256,000. Keeping quality health care available in Bloomfield, Fairfield, and Keosauqua is important to many of us.
Monday I attended an interesting meeting presented by Dr. Nathan Kurtz, a Fort Madison native, now working with NASA in his research. He presented a program on the melting of Arctic ice and what that means to Iowans. He explained that the arctic regions are the air-conditioners of the world.
The arctic ice is melting much faster than earlier estimates predicted, and some think the arctic may be ice-free as early as 2020. As a result of this warming, he predicts that weather patterns will be much more severe than we have experienced in the past. We may expect more floods, more droughts, more snowstorms, and longer periods of extreme temperatures. His advice was that in the short-term, we should be looking at our infrastructure and engineering in preparation for those expected severe events. In the long term, we should consider ways to reduce the amount of pollutants released into the atmosphere.
The afternoon pace quickened.
After a lengthy meeting with our caucus staff and members, we returned to the chamber and passed a number of bills.
One of the bills I did not support dealt with dam construction. In view of expected severe weather events, I think it advisable to look at record floods rather than recent history when building dams. Several bills made corrections needed by changes in technology or errors in the old laws.
On Tuesday I met with the Iowa Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus for lunch. This is a group of legislators who wish to promote outdoor activities, including hunting and fishing. Each year in Iowa, nearly $780 million and 12,000 jobs are related to these activities.
It was pointed out at this meeting that the use of Iowa lakes is directly related to water quality.
While viewing the Rural Electric Cooperatives exhibits in the Rotunda, I was pleased to see a long-time acquaintance, Gary Stevens, of Fairfield. Gary, an employee of Access Energy, was greeting people at the Access Energy display.
Later, I was able to meet with Mark Aeilts of Bloomfield. Mark is the manager of the Southern Iowa Electric Cooperative, which serves many in the area.
Electric cooperatives are very concerned about the lack of standards on stray voltage. Without standards, cooperatives feel vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits. We also discussed the grants and loans available from our electrical cooperatives. These funds can be a source of economic development in our area.
Once again, we debated another group of largely noncontroversial bills into the early evening hours. One of the bills debated dealt with the educational setting of a minor child in a child custody proceeding. One Representative pointed out that if passed, it should create a great deal of work for lawyers. I’m not sure another layer of legal complexity in divorce cases is in the best interests of the children. The bill passed and will be sent to the Senate.
We also passed bills dealing with the investigation of Medicaid fraud and providing additional penalties should fraud be discovered.
We also passed a bill which should help Medicaid recipients remain in their homes as long as possible; thereby, avoiding the high cost of nursing home care as long as possible.
On Wednesday morning, Rep. Dave Heaton from Mount Pleasant, was awarded the Herbert Hoover Uncommon Public Service Award with House Resolution 32. Congratulations to Rep. Heaton!
I later attended a meeting dealing with the improvement of water quality. We hope the success of several Northeastern Iowa watershed projects can be used as a model for other areas of Iowa. The Iowa State Extension Service had an important role in the success of these projects. These are voluntary community-based programs providing incentives for land owners in the watershed.
The objectives of the projects are (1) improving soil quality, (2) phosphorus reduction, and (3) nitrogen reduction; thereby, improving water quality in the creeks, rivers and ponds and eventually the oceans.
The afternoon and late-evening debate centered on several budgets. Upon passage, these budget bills will be sent to the Senate for consideration. If the Senate accepts the House bills, they will be sent to the Governor for his signature. In all likelihood, the Senate will amend these bills and send them back to us for further consideration.
The transportation budget was the first to be considered. This budget is funded by road use funds (largely gas tax) and is not general fund (income tax) dollars. Of the more than $1 billion to be spent in this budget, 47.5 percent will fund primary highways; 24.5 percent funds county secondary roads; 20 percent funds city streets; and 8 percent funds farm-to-market roads.
Although this is a great deal of money, we are still under-funding our highways and roads. This is most evident when we look at gravel roads and bridges. We also debated the administration and regulation budget, a budget that funds 14 departments, agencies, and offices. This budget is for $55.1 million. This is an increase of $2.3 million over last year, and is below the Governor’s recommendation.
The education budget was also passed. The largest part of this budget funds our regent’s institutions and community colleges. This budget does not directly fund local public schools. I worked unsuccessfully to create a need-based financial assistance program for our universities to help in the tuition payments of those in financial need. The budget passed is well within our means and is $19.4 million below the Governor’s request!
Among several meetings on Thursday, I attended a Natural Resource Committee presentation on turkey, pheasant and waterfowl hunting. Many people are aware of the DNR’s success in the repopulation of deer and turkey in Iowa. The hunting of both of these species provides recreation and revenue for Iowans.
As people begin to look at the end of the legislative session, I think it is time to put politics aside and work together to pass a balanced state budget that strengthens Iowa’s middle class and builds a highly skilled workforce.
As we approach the Easter holiday, I think many of us will gather with our families and give thanks. It is important that we remember that we don’t walk the road of life alone.