Taking some of the sting out of school travel costs, extending the school sales tax, police data standardization: Iowa Capitol Digest, Feb. 12

The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest:

SCHOOL AID: A House Appropriations subcommittee approved an amendment to legislation that would make $11.2 million available to school districts for transportation costs and $2.8 million to lessen inequity in per-pupil funding.

Rep. Walt Roger, R-Cedar Falls, said the $11.2 million will shave transportation costs, which run as high as $970 per pupil per year at North Winneshiek, to no more than $432 per student in all districts. Districts that spend less than $432 per student will get no transportation funding relief from the proposal.

The $2.8 million will reduce the inequity in per pupil funding from $175 to $170 per pupil.

The Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the bill Wednesday.

MEDICAID OVERSIGHT: Gov. Kim Reynolds soft-pedaled an effort by the Iowa Department of Human Services to roll back legislative oversight requirements of the state’s privatized Medicaid program during a regular Monday meeting with Statehouse reporters.

DHS officials requested House Study Bill 632, which would reduce how often the agency must report performance data on the health care program for the poor and disabled, remove some consumer protection metrics, and eliminate a requirement that the agency report its expected savings under the system managed by private contractors.

Reynolds said DHS Director Jerry Foxhoven has worked to address problems, conduct outreach, improve efficiencies to assist case workers and ensure transparency while streamlining the process.

“If working with the Legislature, they feel that right now maybe this isn’t the time to roll back some of those, I’m sure he’ll be OK with it but he’s going to continue to do the job we brought him into to do,” she said.

SANCTUARY CITIES: Reynolds called it “imperative” that Congress act on immigration legislation that provides “stability and certainty” for immigrants.

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Beyond that, the governor said, “if an individual has come here illegally and made a choice to break law, they should be held accountable.”

She didn’t specifically endorse SF 481, which was approved by the Iowa Senate last year and is under consideration by the House.

“We need to honor the laws on the books and all law enforcement should work together,” she said.

Despite her reluctance to call for the Legislature to pass the measure, Reynolds’ campaign has used the topic for a fundraising appeal. In it, she warned that Iowa City and Des Moines “have passed resolutions and ordinances to move themselves closer to being sanctuary cities.”

Those cities reject that argument and say police are appropriately cooperating with federal authorities.

Iowa police chiefs told a House subcommittee the immigration proposal would make their communities less safe.

FETAL HEARTBEAT: The Senate Judicial Committee endorsed legislation Monday to make it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion in Iowa once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The proposal was approved on an 8-5 party-line vote.

An overflow crowd of supporters and opponents broke into extended applause after the committee vote. Supporters say Senate Study Bill 3143 would bar a physician from performing an abortion when tests determine a heartbeat is present unless a medical emergency exists that warrants the procedure. Violation would subject a doctor to a Class D felony charge carrying a five-year prison term. There would be no penalty for the woman.

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Opponents called the bill unconstitutional, dangerous and a “direct attack” on women’s health care in Iowa.

Also Monday, the Senate Judicial Committee voted 9-4 to advance a measure that seeks to require profiling-prevention training for law enforcement officers and establish standardized data collection on officer stops and compliance.

The proposal also would create a community policing advisory board to develop a uniform reporting form by April 2019 and begin evaluating the compiled data on stops and complaints with annual reporting by 2020.

In other action, the committee voted 7-6 to approve legislation requiring that at least five justices of the Iowa Supreme Court would have to concur to hold a state law unconstitutional. Backers said it would rein in judicial overreach but Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, joined five Democrats who said the issue would be better addressed via constitutional amendment.

SAVE EXTENSION: A House Education subcommittee unanimously approved a proposal to extend the one-cent sales tax for school infrastructure until 2049.

The bill removes the 2029 sunset for the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) to provide schools with funds for safe, modern schools and technology.

The money will be distributed on a per-pupil basis except for increasing the allocation for property tax equity relief from $984 per pupil in fiscal 2019 to $1,087 in 2029 and $1,521 in 2050.

The proposal also would require schools boards planning to issue bonds against the SAVE revenue to have a public hearing and allow 14 days for residents to call for a referendum. It also would place limits on the use of SAVE funds for athletic facilities.

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END FORCED ARBITRATION: Employees should not be subject to secret, forced arbitration in cases of workplace sexual harassment, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said. He has joined a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in 56 states and territories urging Congress to ensure sexual harassment victims have a right to their day in court.

Too often, the attorneys general contend, employees are required to sign employment contracts containing arbitration agreements mandating that sexual harassment claims be resolved through private arbitration instead of the judicial process.

The secrecy surrounding these proceedings can protect serial violators and provide inadequate relief to victims, Miller said.

GOP BUDGET CRISIS: Two Democratic legislative leaders told members of liberal groups Monday that Iowa faces a Republican-made budget crisis because of mismanagement and “record giveaways” for tax credits and exemptions.

“What we have is a really a disorganized group of Republicans trying to figure out this mess,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said at a Moral Monday forum that brings together members of 25 progressive groups at the Capitol each Monday during the legislative session.

“When you have people running government who don’t like government, this is what you get,” he said, referring to the GOP as “the wrecking crew.”

Iowa is expected to see an increase in revenue, but majority Republicans are discussing cuts to the current year budget.

“At a point that the state has more revenue available than the year before, we should be able to maintain and be discussing where the new revenue can be allocated,” Hall said.

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Senate Republicans initially proposed $52 million in cuts, but last week lowered that to $34 million. House Republicans proposed a $42.8 million cut and the governor’s office called for $38.4 million in adjustments.

TRUST FUND RALLY: Hundreds of Iowans flooded the Capitol rotunda to rally and lobby their legislators in support of funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

Business leaders, conservationists, public officials, farmers, hunters and cyclists voiced their enthusiasm for establishing a sustainable source of funding for natural resources and outdoor recreation.

The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund was created by a statewide vote in 2010 but has yet to be funded by a sales tax increase of three-eighths of 1 percent that won voter approval.

VOLUNTEER CHALLENGE: Gov. Reynolds kicked off the fourth annual Give Back Iowa Challenge to employers to engage Iowans in employer-supported volunteering.

“Volunteerism is an integral part of what it means to be an Iowan,” said Reynolds, who noted that Iowa among the top 10 states for volunteering.

Reynolds said her office will make meals for a Ronald McDonald House during the challenge April 1 to May 31.
During the challenge, employers encourage their workers to volunteer and log their hours. Employers with the highest average number of volunteer hours per employee during the challenge period will be recognized and receive a visit at their workplace from the governor or Acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg.

Last year, 56 companies participated in the Give Back Iowa Challenge. The companies represented more than 56,000 employees and almost 60,000 hours of volunteer time. Those hours equaled about a $1.3 million investment in Iowa communities.

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Reynolds was joined at the announcement by Volunteer Iowa Commissioner Angela Ten Clay and Emily Abbas of Bankers Trust in Des Moines, a 2017 winner.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m telling you, Iowans are opening up their paychecks and they’re seeing more money in their paychecks and their pockets and it’s exciting.” — Gov. Kim Reynolds talking about the impact of federal tax changes.

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