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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 20, 2018

House set to debate water quality

But lawmakers’ views in conflict as to its chances
By James Q. Lynch, The Gazette | Jan 23, 2018

DES MOINES — Nine months after legislators worked through the night in an unsuccessful attempt to reach a compromise on a paying for water quality improvements before adjourning the 2017 session, the Iowa House will make take up the legislation today.

Late Monday, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer’s office announced Senate File 512 will be brought up for debate first thing in the morning. That announcement followed a day of back-and-forth among Republican leaders on prospects for water quality legislation this year — some much more bleak than others — and an enthusiastic progress report from Gov. Kim Reynolds on improvement efforts.

The anticipated floor debate comes after Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, who floor-managed SF 512 last year, said Monday he was “guardedly optimistic” that House Republicans would approve the bill.

However, Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, who floor-managed HF 612, and attempted to substitute it for the Senate bill on the last night of the 2017 session, did not share his confidence.

Asked on Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” Monday about the prospects for water-quality legislation this year, Baltimore predicted there was only a “snowball’s chance in hell.”

The first test of that will be today when the House votes on SF 512.

It could agree to the Senate bill without changes and send it to the governor, who has said she wants the first bill she signs as governor to be water-quality legislation.

Or the House could insist on HF 612 and send both bills to a conference committee to work out a compromise. Among other difference in the bills, the Senate measure would make more money available quicker for water projects but the House version envisions selling bonds.

Since late last year, several lawmakers have been arguing for passage of SF 512 as a starting point. Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, for example, has said that passage of a water quality bill this year will not be the end of it.

Baltimore, however, said there’s no chance the Legislature would pass a second bill because of pressure from interest groups.

“If the Senate bill is passed, it’s the end of the discussion because the Farm Bureau has no interest in continuing the discussion,” he said.



Addressing water quality Monday during her weekly news conference, Reynolds highlighted the “collaborative, watershed-based approach being used successfully across the state.”

That has allowed the state to bring in funding from the public and private sectors, including a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Regional Conservation Partnership Program in 2016.

“We’ve built a wide range of partnerships comprised of diverse stakeholders who share a common goal of improving water quality and creating new economic opportunities,” said Reynolds, who has supported SF 512 in the past. “These partnerships are a great way to grow vital funding resources and support our coordinated efforts between the public and private sectors to scale proven practices.”

At that news conference, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey called for a watershed-by-watershed approach to improving water quality, which was at the core of HF 612. However, Northey called SF 512 “more doable.”

Kerri Johannsen of the Iowa Environmental Council said the watershed approach in the House bill would “bring together urban and rural in a really Iowan way of approaching this.” However, neither the House nor Senate proposals include funding adequate to address a $4 to $6 billion problem.

She recommended the Legislature approve a sales tax increase to fund the conservation trust fund that voters approved in 2010.

But that would have to be part of tax reform the Legislature also plans to tackle this year, Rozenboom said, because neither party has been willing to propose legislation raising taxes.

“I don’t expect them to this year,” he said.

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