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Capitol Comments by Rep. Curt Hanson

Mar 26, 2014

State Rep. Curt Hanson, represents Iowa House District 82, which includes most of Jefferson County and Davis and Van Buren counties, in the state Legislature.

Making it easier for parents to gain employable skills and support their families is a goal we all support.

This week (ending March 21), two bills started moving through the Legislature that will help middle class families to improve. Since Iowa has one of the highest rates of two-parent working families in the country, these ideas will help us grow Iowa’s middle class and build a highly-skilled workforce.

One proposal will make it easier for parents to work and go to school, and at the same time help them upgrade their workforce skills necessary to land a good-paying job. Right now, the state offers child care assistance for working parents who are also going to school, but the rigid requirements make it difficult for many families to qualify.

Another program would expand the child and dependent care tax credit. This will also help those working families by giving them a chance to be more financially secure.

Radon testing in schools was also a topic discussed in the Iowa House. Radon is now thought to be the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S and Iowa is known to have the highest concentration in the country.

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas which seeps out of the ground into our homes and schools. Since our schools and homes are now constructed to be much more energy efficient, radon gas is now trapped in many of our buildings.

Radon is estimated to kill as many Iowans as do traffic fatalities. While testing for radon gas is affordable and the construction of new buildings may easily include methods of avoiding the collection of radon, the remodeling of schools and homes to mitigate radon can be costly.

The bill we passed 99-1 will encourage (not mandate) schools to test for and develop a mitigation plan if dangerous levels of radon are detected.

The rural caucus listened to a presentation about rural economic development. Many counties in Iowa are experiencing a declining population, increased costs, and a large number of students eligible for free or reduced fees at our schools. Many communities wish to create a new vision that will identify and attract people in the 30-49 age range.

Helping communities engage these newcomers and the ideas they bring is the key to implementation of any revitalization program a community undertakes.

Too often a community spends a large portion of their resources in bringing industry to the community but later learns that only minimum wage jobs are generated.

People in the 30-49 year old group are more likely to expand and renew a community. To attract this age group and their families, we must welcome entrepreneurship and provide the pathways necessary to foster their new businesses.   One of the keys to this new rural development is fiber optics. Iowa now has more miles of fiber cable than paved roads. While this is a positive step, many more miles are needed.

We must foster the installation of additional fiber optic cables with high-speed internet capabilities, without sacrificing our rural telephone companies.

Iowa is a wonderful place to live and we have wonderful people however, we are not always the welcoming people we think we are.

Global Horizons, a company based in Atlantic has found that enabling Iowa communities to become more open and welcoming to newcomers is often a 3-5 year project. Frequently, past efforts have not achieved the rural economic growth we desire.

As we continue to consider education funding, I think all children should have the opportunity for an equal education. Rural children should not be disadvantaged because their parents live in a rural school district with associated high transportation costs. I will continue to fight this injustice.

Presently, I am receiving many emails asking the Iowa Legislature to follow Iowa law and set the funding for Iowa public schools.

A House motion to consider a bill that would provide an increase in school funding was again denied.

The House passed a number of non-controversial bills. Once again, it would seem that any bill that demands support from both parties is not being placed on the calendar for consideration.  We are soon to move into budget bills and while targets have been agreed upon, budget line items have not been agreed upon.

In the Agriculture and Natural Resources budget, providing funds that will aid Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a necessity. The need to improve our water quality is becoming a high priority to an ever growing group of people.

An investigation by the Des Moines Register found the Branstad administration paid $300,000 in taxpayer money to keep settlements with state employees silent. The Governor denied any knowledge of the situation and has now set up a workgroup that will meet in secret to review the situation.

Having personally experienced difficulty in gaining access to information at the state level, I am not surprised by this report.

The Iowa Department of Revenue is urging Iowans to use the Iowa Free File program to file their taxes this year. The program is not just for low income tax filers. Taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of up to $58,000 can use the software to prepare and file their tax returns. For more information go to www.iowa.gov/tax and click on eFile.

In a recent Employee Benefit Research Institute Report, as reported in the Des Moines Register, the number of workers who are confident they will retire comfortably rose this year to the highest level since the recent great recession.   A part of this confidence, in my opinion, is because of Social Security.  Years ago, before the crash of 1929 (before Social Security) the poverty rates among seniors exceeded 50 percent. In 2012 the senior poverty rate was 13 percent, a significant improvement. Sometimes we fail to recognize the progress we are experiencing.

Iowa’s high school graduation rate increased for the third consecutive year to 89.68 percent, according to the Iowa Department of Education.  Education is the key that opens the door of opportunity for many. Self-improvement and the learning of new marketable skills has never been this easy or accessible, due to available technology.

Contact Hanson anytime by email at curt.hanson@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at 641-919-2314.

Hanson serves on the House Agriculture and Education, Natural Resources committees, as well as the Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

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