A roundup of Capitol and state government news items.:
‘Operation Dry Water’ targets boaters under the influence
State, federal and local law enforcement agencies say they will be focusing on the “boating-while-intoxicated” law as part of the national Operation Dry Water campaign to draw public attention to the hazards of boating under the influence.
State Department of Natural Resources conservation officers will be “heavily patrolling” Iowa waterways over the Fourth of July holiday and during the Operation Dry Water campaign Friday through Sunday in hopes of decreasing the number of mishaps on Iowa waterways, according to DNR officials.
“The effects of alcohol can be intensified when combined with wind and wave action and an extended time spent in the sun,” said Susan Stocker, DNR boating law administrator and education coordinator. “Operators may not think they are under the influence, but their judgment, reaction time, balance and vision indicate that they are.”
She said alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths. In Iowa, it is illegal to operate a vessel with a blood alcohol content level of 0.08 or higher — the same as it is to operate a motor vehicle on Iowa highways.
According to DNR records, the number of boating while intoxicated arrests were 38 last year, 39 in 2017, 46 in 2016, 54 in 2015 and 41 in 2014. Arrests at Saylorville Lake have topped the DNR list the past four years.
Support for fallen police/fire personnel
State and local officials gathered near the Capitol on Tuesday to draw attention to a new law that makes state support available to help with ongoing insurance costs for the families of Iowa peace officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty.
The law that took effect Monday created a state program called the Iowa Public Safety Survivor Benefits Fund. The new fund will provide grants to organizations that provide assistance to help pay the costs of ongoing accident or health care insurance coverage for the surviving family members of Iowa peace officers and firefighters killed on the job.
The program will receive $100,000 each year through the proceeds that the Iowa Lottery raises for state causes. Lottery officials plan to make the first quarterly transfer in late October for the 2020 fiscal year.
“This will help with a significant real-world concern for the families in these tragic circumstances,” said Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens.
Until 2018, if an Iowa peace officer or firefighter died in the line of duty, the state, county or city government for which the person had worked was not authorized to continue accident or health insurance coverage for that person’s surviving family members.
In 2018, state law was changed to allow that continuing coverage option for surviving family members and for the state, county or city involved to pay the full cost or a portion of the insurance cost. If the full amount of the coverage is not paid, the family members can opt to pay the remaining cost themselves, but some families and small communities have had difficulty paying the insurance costs.
Under the new law, DPS officials will award grants each year through the fund -— with half the money going to nonprofit organizations that help with the ongoing insurance costs for surviving families of peace officers killed in the line of duty, and half going to nonprofit organizations that help with costs for the surviving family members of firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Initial details about the Survivor Fund are available on the DPS website at dps.state.ia.us under the “Commissioner’s Office” link.
Group touts tax equality/water quality
Researchers at a nonprofit Iowa City-based research organization Tuesday issued a report recommending that elected officials consider ways to make Iowa’s tax system more progressive if they decide to raise the sales tax to fund water quality needs.
Iowans in 2010 voted statewide to direct three-eighths of the next state sales tax increase approved by the Legislature and governor to be designated for the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.
Officials with the Iowa Policy Project said any future sales tax hike likely would be a full penny to the current 5-cent statewide level. They believe any regressive effects of that increase should be used to boost the state Earned Income Tax Credit and a long-standing renters’ benefit to make funding equity an equal priority with clean-water solutions.
“Both are important priorities for the future of Iowa and, if we do it right, it could be a win-win for environmental quality and improved funding equity,” said IPP member David Osterberg, a former legislator who was lead author of a new report — available at iowapolicyproject.org.
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“This report addresses two elephants in the room. First, the sales tax proposal itself is a funding solution that would be paid disproportionately by lower-income Iowans, compounding an already unfair tax system, so many have understood the increase would have to be offset to protect those least able to bear new costs,” Osterberg said. “Second, it is highly unlikely a legislature would approve only a three-eighths-cent sales tax increase.”
Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau