Government

Gas prices rise again, Iowans could have more freedom to import alcohol, two big 'Must Do' bills: Iowa Capitol Digest, March 22

A look towards the rotunda from a stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A look towards the rotunda from a stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Gazette Des Moines Bureau

TWO BIG ‘MUST DO’ BILLS: Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said agreeing on a major state income tax cut/reform plan and setting the state budget for fiscal 2019 are the top issues remaining for the 2018 session to complete.

The two issues are intertwined because majority Republicans and Gov. Kim Reynolds likely have to settle on a tax reform package before they can set the overall size of next fiscal year’s state budget plan.

Legislative leaders then will issue spending targets for the various House-Senate appropriations subcommittee to use in divvying up available resources.

“We have to come to agreement what that tax plan will look like at the same time that we’re setting our budget targets,” Whitver told reporters Thursday. “I’m hoping (the House) will have their tax plan out fairly soon and then we can start to negotiate on what that final bill will look like.”

He said talks continue with the Senate, House and governor on the tax and budget issues now that lawmakers have finalized the adjustments needed to erase a projected shortfall in the current budget year that ends June 30.

Whitver expects the Legislature can complete its work by the April 17 adjournment target when per-diem expense money runs out on the session’s 100th day.

IMPORTING ALCOHOL: Iowans would have more freedom to bring alcohol from other states and countries into Iowa under a bill that passed the Iowa House.

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Senate File 2347 was approved by an 85-8 vote with minor changes, so it must go back to the Senate before heading to the governor’s desk.

The bill would raise the limits to 9 liters of wine per month and 4.5 gallons of beer per month.

“I think this bill is a good one. Just the term bootlegging should make us smile and realize this part of the code needs to be updated,” said Rep. Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City.

ONLINE LEARNING: The state’s cap on students enrolled in online learning would be eliminated under a provision approved on a party-line vote in the Iowa House, with Republicans supporting Senate File 475.

Democrats warned the provision will threaten enrollment at small, rural schools and decried the low graduation rates at the state’s two online schools in the Clayton Ridge and CAM school districts.

Republicans said eliminating the enrollment cap provides more school choice options for parents and students. The bill now heads to the Senate.

GAS PRICES ON THE RISE: Prices at the pumps in service stations increased by 2 cents a gallon over the past week to a statewide average of $2.50 for regular unleaded gasoline, or 21 cents higher than a year ago, according to the weekly survey issued by the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

The national average if $2.57 a gallon, up 5 cents from last week.

The report noted the price of global crude oil rose by as much as $4.71 to $69.42 per barrel over the past week.

Retail diesel fuel prices in Iowa fell a penny from last week’s price, with a statewide average of $2.91 a gallon. One year ago diesel prices averaged $2.45 in Iowa.

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On the heating fuel side, propane prices dropped 2 cents for a statewide average of $1.40 per gallon.

Home heating oil prices held steady at last week’s figures, ending with a statewide average of $2.37 a gallon.

Natural gas prices fell 10 cents and ended the week at $2.66/mmBtu.

PRISON OFFICERS ASSAULTED: Officials with the state Department of Corrections say two correctional officers were assaulted by two inmates at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility at about 5 p.m. Wednesday.

According to a news release, an inmate attacked an officer, and when another officer attempted to pull away the inmate, all three fell to the ground. Another inmate approached and began kicking the officers. Additional officers were called and restrained the attackers.

The two staff members were treated and released at UnityPoint Health-Fort Dodge Hospital. The incident remains under investigation.

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