The Capitol Report by Rep. Curt Hanson
Legislative update from Week 14 of the Legislature from Rep. Curt Hanson, representing Jefferson County.
It was another busy weekend with constituent contacts and a trip to Ankeny to speak with teachers at a Saturday in-service conference.
Spring is in the air, and legislature is beginning to look at what is necessary to enable us to close down.
As many of you know, the Iowa Legislature normally adjourns in April or May of each year. Moving towards adjournment involves some time-tested self-imposed rules and restraints. Individual legislators may no longer write bills for consideration this year.
Bills that constituents feel should become Iowa law will be written over the summer and fall when the legislature in not in session. Those bills may then be filed for consideration when the legislature meets again next year.
Many of the bills under consideration at this late point in the session are budget bills necessary for the smooth operation of government and technical bills requested by departments to meet the demands of changing times and changes in federal laws.
Drake University’s Law School’s Agricultural Law Center recently released an analysis of the Iowa Supreme Court’s recent Salle v. Stewart decision regarding farm liability. The report states that a significant amount of misinformation has been generated about the court’s ruling. The landowner’s immunity from lawsuits by hunters, fishermen and other recreational activities that are enumerated has not changed. What has changed under this court ruling, is the liability of leading “guided tours” when known hazards are not identified. Landowners are advised to consult their attorneys and insurance agents for a full explanation of this ruling.
Tuesday morning the House debated a number of bills. The most important bill debated, in my opinion, was the economic development budget. This budget directly relates to jobs in Iowa. This budget is important to southeast Iowa residents because it not only includes money for what many think of as traditional economic development (jobs), but also for Iowa Workforce Development, entrepreneurship and Iowa Great Places funding.
Many amendments were offered in attempts to improve this jobs bill. The amendments were defeated along party lines.
The House approved the economic development budget and sent it back to the Senate where it is almost certain to be rejected. This is another bill I suspect will end up in a conference committee as the House proposes to spend $45 million, the governor proposes $72 million and the Senate bill calls for $78 million.
The education conference committee met during the lunch hour and discussed areas of agreement. It was pointed out that our schools are now suffering through the worst funding period since the allowable growth formula was developed more than 20 years ago.
In a new development, the governor’s office issued a press release that suggested no new money would be provided to schools unless the reform-package language he desires is included. This language creates greater restrictions and more accountability for public schools, and fewer restrictions and less accountability for those who choose to receive public money, but not attend public schools. The conference committee seems to be hung up on lesser points and unwilling, or unable, to negotiate the major differences. The next step, in my opinion, should be to appoint a new committee with broader powers.
Tuesday evening a public hearing on the future of health care for Iowans was held in the House chambers. People from many walks of life shared their stories and opinions about the importance of health care for Iowans. Most of the speakers arrived at a simple conclusion after reviewing the facts: The governor’s plan covers fewer Iowans and costs more than simply expanding Medicaid.
From the input of those who spoke and submitted online testimony, 87 percent supported Medicaid expansion and 13 percent supported Gov. Branstad’s plan.
It is an issue that must be decided before we adjourn for the year. If we don’t take action, 63,000 Iowans will lose the health care they have right now.
Wednesday morning a small group of us discussed a “Strong Soil and Safe Water” initiative for addressing nutrients and water quality being developed by the Iowa Soybean Association. There are many components to the data-driven reduction of nutrient runoff and environmental improvement. When programs help farmers become more efficient, thereby reducing their production costs and improve the watersheds, everyone benefits!
I was pleased to have lunch with Dave Thebodo from Fairfield. Dave was in Des Moines on business and stopped by to discuss his concerns and views with me.
We debated a number of bills after lunch. One of the bills, SF 115, which had already passed the Senate, passed the House, and will now be sent to the governor for his signature. The bill provides greater safety for our youngest drivers, as it limits the number of unrelated passengers that can be in the car when the young driver has either an intermediate license or a school license. The bill will also place this restriction on these drivers for the first six months of their license and limit them to one unrelated passenger. Various safety groups have advocated for limiting the number of unrelated passengers because studies have found that peer passengers often cause distractions for the driver.
Much of the afternoon was devoted to commercial property tax relief debate. Property tax reform has been a legislative issue for Iowans for more than 35 years. The Senate Democrats have one idea and the House Republicans have a different idea. Both ideas would lower the rates commercial property owners now pay.
The Senate plan, called the “Main Street Tax Cut,” would reduce taxes on commercial properties of $324,000 or less, while the House plan would not have a value limit. Some people think that without a limit, tens of millions of dollars in property tax relief would go to large, out-of-state corporations.
I think we must look at the entire picture and provide tax relief for Iowans that is responsible and sustainable, and doesn’t cause cities, counties and schools to increase taxes on homes and agricultural property.
With the passage of both the House property tax relief measure, and a contrasting Senate plan, a conference committee may now begin negotiations in the hope of ironing out differences between the two plans and bringing a compromise back for a vote.
As we near the end of this legislative session, I will hold the final “Coffee with Curt” town meetings this year at the Village Cup and Cakes in Keosauqua at 9 a.m. Saturday.
At noon Saturday, I will meet with people in the Davis County area at the Rancho Centinela in Bloomfield.
As we prepare to end the first session of this Assembly, we are already preparing for the second session which begins in January.
Please share your thoughts and concerns with me by either attending one of these forums, or contacting me by email at email@example.com or by phone at 641-919-2314.