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Week in Iowa, Jan. 30, 2023: Recap of news from across the state
Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Feb. 5, 2023 6:00 am
Public school funding moving through Legislature: Iowa's public K-12 schools would see a funding boost of $106.8 million under a bill moving through the Iowa House and Senate. The Senate passed the bill Thursday, and it is eligible for a floor vote in the House.
That amounts to a 3 percent increase over last year, the largest percent increase given to Iowa schools since 2015. But with inflation at record highs over the last year, public school advocates and Democrats said the funding was not enough to stave off budget cuts and loss of programming. Democrats called for a boost of around 6 percent.
Rita Hart elected chair of Iowa Democratic Party: Rita Hart will lead the Iowa Democratic Party after being elected to the role last weekend. Hart, a former state senator, ran for lieutenant governor and U.S. Congress. She said she would focus on winning elections and building a stronger campaign apparatus.
Property tax fix means less for cities: Lawmakers’ attempts to fix a mistake in property tax calculation could mean lower bills for Iowans but leave cities and counties scrambling to find money for public services as they work to finalize their budgets for next year. The Iowa Senate this past week passed a bill changing the “rollback rate” that establishes how residential properties are taxed in an attempt to address the error.
LGBTQ students speak against proposed laws: LGBTQ students pleaded with lawmakers last week not to pass a pair of bills dealing with gender identity instruction and notifying parents of a student's gender identity in schools. Students and activists said the bills would increase bullying of transgender students and could put them in dangerous situations with non-supportive parents. Supporters said the bills would keep school instruction age-appropriate and keep parents informed of their children's gender identity.
Educators also warned the bill could force them to violate both state and federal law, including Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination and harassment in schools. Guidance from the Iowa Department of Education states the preference for use of pronouns should be the choice of the student.
Chuck Grassley back in business: Republican Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley was back in the Senate last week after undergoing surgery in January to repair a fracture in his hip. Grassley appeared in a wheelchair at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. He told reporters Wednesday he "did a stupid thing" while in the kitchen of his Washington, D.C., townhouse that led to the injury.
Bill to limit trucking lawsuits advances: Iowa House lawmakers narrowly advanced a bill to the floor last week that would cap non-economic damages in lawsuits involving trucking companies and other commercial vehicles. The bill faces some opposition from the Republican majority, but House Speaker Pat Grassley says they have the votes to pass it this year.
They said …
“When my mom told me about this bill, I felt angry. I deserve to be valued and protected. But this bill does the opposite of that.” — Berry Stevens, a nonbinary middle school student on the effects of a bill banning instruction on gender identity.
"We have, and will remain to be, consistent with our funding. It's predictable, and it is affordable for Iowa." — Republican Rep. Craig Johnson, vice chair of the House Education Committee.
Odds and ends
Pipeline trespass charge to get trial: A judge ruled a trespassing charge should go to trial over a surveyor from Summit Carbon Solutions who attempted to evaluate a northwest Iowa property in August. Summit argued Iowa law gives the company a right to survey property after notifying the landowner, but the Dickinson County attorney said the company should have obtained an injunction.
Assisted living communities close: Six Iowa assisted living facilities and nursing homes have been forced to close after the owner told state officials they no longer are able to meet the needs of the residents.
COVID cases fall: Iowa's COVID-19 cases fell for the fourth straight week. The state reported 1,495 cases in the week ending Wednesday, compared to 1,566 the previous week. There were 135 people hospitalized with the virus, compared to 154 the previous week.
Veterans fund replenished temporarily: Gov. Kim Reynolds last week approved more than $440,000 in federal pandemic relief to a state fund that gives emergency financial assistance to veterans. The fund ran out of money for the first time in a decade in October, and lawmakers are working on a more permanent fix.