Iowa senators take harassment prevention training, texting while driving commercial vehicle regulation considered: Iowa Capitol Digest, Jan. 23

A group of Iowa State Senators prepare for a closed-door harassment prevention training session with private consultant Justine Morton on Tuesday afternoon at the Iowa Capitol building. (Rod Boshart, The Gazette)
A group of Iowa State Senators prepare for a closed-door harassment prevention training session with private consultant Justine Morton on Tuesday afternoon at the Iowa Capitol building. (Rod Boshart, The Gazette)
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A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Jan. 23, 2018:

HARASSMENT PREVENTION TRAINING: Iowa senators spent a portion of Tuesday afternoon undergoing harassment training offered by private consultant Justine Morton. The session, which also will be offered Wednesday, follows a set of recommendations from former Senate President Mary Kramer designed to help create and maintain a safe, respectful and professional workplace at the Statehouse.

Workplace rules became an issue at the Capitol in the wake of a $1.75 million judgment paid last year to settle a lawsuit brought by Kirsten Anderson, a former Senate Republican caucus staff communications director who asserted she was fired in 2013 hours after complaining of sexual harassment on the job. Kramer said she was dismayed by Anderson’s allegations and concluded there was a need for “culture reform” in the Iowa Senate.

Earlier this session, Republicans who run the Iowa Legislature hired Kate Murphy of Ankeny as director of human resources to help make corrective changes. Her first day of work was Monday.

SHUTDOWN NO MORE: More than 900 full-time employees of the Iowa National Guard were back on the job Tuesday thanks to President Donald Trump’s signature on bipartisan legislation ending the three-day federal government shutdown. Iowa Guard officials say they recalled the federal employees who were temporarily furloughed beginning last Saturday. They also said they are working to reschedule all January drills and training assemblies that were impacted by the government shutdown. On Monday, guard official said drill was canceled for about 400 Iowa National Guard personnel scheduled for training last weekend, but an additional 700 personnel were allowed to complete weekend training due to interpretation of federal law.

TEXTING IN COMMERCIAL VEHICLES: A House Transportation subcommittee voted 3-0 Tuesday to adopt federal regulations to better track violations of texting with a hand-held mobile telephone while driving a commercial motor vehicle in Iowa. The bill, House Study Bill 535, now goes to the full committee for consideration.

Iowa Department of Transportation Director Mark Lowe said federal officials have put Iowa on notice that Iowa’s law regarding texting while operating a motor vehicle are not in compliance with federal standards. He said $35 million in federal highway funding if corrective action is not taken.

A texting offense is considered a serious violation that in combination with other offenses may result in disqualification of a driver’s CDL but that can’t be tracked on a driver’s record under Iowa’s current statutory language. Lowe said the issue is more of a record-keeping issue than an enforcement issue but needs to be addressed to bring Iowa into compliance. Currently, a driver of a commercial motor vehicle can use a mobile telephone to make or take a call as long as it is in the hands-free mode, can be dialed or answered by pressing a single button, and can be reached without moving from a seated position while properly belted.

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SCHOOL START DATE: School administrators in Iowa would have a little more flexibility in starting classes before Aug. 23 under a bill that cleared a Senate Education subcommittee 3-0 Tuesday.

Senate File 2064 would make the earliest date for school classes to start Aug. 23 or the Monday following the closing day of the Iowa State Fair, whichever occurs earlier. For 2018, that would mean classes could begin Aug. 20, which is the Monday after the state fair ends its Aug. 9-19 run.

Sen. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine, said he proposed the change at the request of his local school officials who hoped the earlier start would allow them to finish fall classes before their winter break. However, officials from the tourism industry and county fairs opposed the change saying it would create economic hardships and undo a 2015 compromise that was pushed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad. Representatives of education organizations said S.F. 2064 would give them more flexibility in setting their school calendars. After signing the bill saying Iowa’s K-12 public schools could start classes no sooner than Aug. 23, Branstad hailed the law as a compromise between schools that wanted complete control over their start dates and tourism businesses that wanted a start date closer to or even after Labor Day.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If they were a business, which we claim they are, they’d be bankrupt. So maybe it’s time to tie a can around the ICN and let it sink to the bottom of the lake where it belongs.” — Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, who has offered bills in the past to sell the state-owned Iowa Communications Network, commenting a recent state audit that identified $379,500 of financial improprieties by the ICN’s former executive director.

—Compiled by the Des Moines Bureau

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