Iowa Senate sends radon, crossbow bills to governor

Scaled-down bill focuses on awareness of dangers of radon

The Iowa Senate on Tuesday accepted a scaled-down effort to raise awareness among schools officials of the potential harmful health threats posed by the presence of radon gas in their buildings.

Senators voted 39-10 to send Senate File 366 to Gov. Terry Branstad for his consideration. A total of 13 Republicans joined 26 Democrats in supporting the measure, while 10 GOP senators opposed it.

Debate on the measure spanned two sessions, with the original Senate-passed version requiring public and private schools to test for radon gas and take efforts to mitigate problems that testing would uncover.

House members last month removed the mandate for testing or mitigating by schools for of high levels of cancer-causing radon, but passed a modified approach that encouraged schools to report by Dec. 1 to the Department of Education their plans to test and mitigate. The department must also provide schools with options and possible program funding to test and mitigate and provide the Legislature with the information.

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, the bill’s floor manager, told his colleagues the House had “gutted the bill we sent over,” but urged them to view the amended bill as a step forward in the sense that lawmakers will at least be getting Iowa school districts “on record in a formal way in writing” that could become the foundation for more work in future years.

“We took a bill that was proactive and had a plan to test, it had a plan to mitigate, it had a source of funding to receive the funding to do the mitigation and we boiled it down to a report today,” added McCoy, who noted that Iowa leads the nation in radon – a known preventable cause of lung cancer. “Hopefully, next year we’ll be able to do the right thing.”

According to a fiscal note prepared last year by the Legislative Services Agency, between 10 percent and 15 percent of Iowa school districts currently test their buildings for radon. Based on 2012-13 data from the Iowa Department of Education, there were 1,372 public school buildings and 198 nonpublic school buildings in Iowa.

Professional radon testing was estimated to cost up to $1,500 with mitigation pegged at between $5,000 to $15,000, placing the price tag at $1.9 million for public schools and $300,000 for nonpublic schools. Lawmakers had proposed allowing schools to use local option sale tax or physical plant and equipment levy dollars to pay for the cost.

Also Tuesday, senators voted 49-0 to send Branstad a measure permitting the use of crossbows to hunt deer during a late-fall season that currently is reserved for hunting using a muzzle-loading rifle or muzzle-loading pistol.House File 499 also was a carry-over bill from the 2013 session. It was passed by the Iowa House, 95-0, on March 27, 2013.