Government

Iowa GOP lawmakers disagree on prospects for water quality legislation

Sen. Ken Rozenboom (R-Oskaloosa) talks with Tom Simon of GreenPortal at the Iowa Ideas conference at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. Over 200 speakers and 600 attendees gathered to discuss the ideas affecting Iowans across various disciplines. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Sen. Ken Rozenboom (R-Oskaloosa) talks with Tom Simon of GreenPortal at the Iowa Ideas conference at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. Over 200 speakers and 600 attendees gathered to discuss the ideas affecting Iowans across various disciplines. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Nine months after legislators worked through the night in an unsuccessful attempt to reach a compromise on water quality legislation before adjourning their 2017 session, it appears prospects for passage have not improved.

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, who floor managed Senate File 512 during the 2017 session, said Monday he remains “guardedly optimistic” House Republicans will approved the bill and send it to Gov. Kim Reynolds, who wants water quality to be the first bill she signs as governor. After all, he said, SF 512 was based on a bill the House passed in 2016.

Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, called that an “overly simplistic argument.”

“That’s been one of the mantras the supporters of SF 512 have used to convince House Republicans to accept it — ‘Hey you passed this before so you should pass it again,’” Baltimore said. In no time did House Republicans think that bill was comprehensive and would adequately address water quality, he said. It was an attempt to get the Senate Democratic majority to address the issue.

Pressed on the prospects for a water quality compromise during taping of Iowa Public Radio’s River to River, Baltimore predicted there was a “snowball’s chance in hell.”

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, was more optimistic, saying she thinks there are “lots of opportunity to pass water quality bills in the House.” It’s yet to be determined whether the House will support SF 512, she said.

Reynolds, however, was enthusiastic Monday about progress being made on the water quality front. She used her weekly news conference to highlight the “collaborative, watershed-based approach being used successfully across the state.” That has allowed the state to bring in outside funding from both the public and private sectors, including a $10 million grant from the USDA 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.”

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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 included funding adequate to address a $4 billion to $6 billion problem. She recommended the Legislature approve a sales tax increase to fund the conservation trust voters approved in 2010.

That would have to be part of tax reform, Rozenboom said, because neither party has been willing to propose legislation raising taxes.

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

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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