Government

Iowa election law proposals advance

Fate of traffic camera legislation in limbo

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

DES MOINES — Iowa’s elections would undergo several changes under a proposal being volleyed back and forth between lawmakers.

Multiple proposals addressing state election laws have been combined into one sweeping piece of legislation.

That bill contains some elements that have been proposed throughout this legislative session, and leaves out some other proposals.

What is not in the bill:

• A requirement that absentee ballots arrive to local election officials by Election Day.

• A ban on public universities as early voting locations.

What is in the bill:

• Absentee ballots would be required to have a postal service bar code so election officials could tell if the ballot was submitted on time.

• Local election officials would be required to verify signatures on absentee ballots, with exceptions for elder and disabled voters living in nursing homes and other assisted living facilities.

• The polls would close at 8 p.m. on Election Day for statewide races; an hour earlier than now.

• Graduating college students would be asked whether they plan to stay in Iowa after graduation. If they say they plan to leave, they would be removed from the state registration rolls.

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• Any active voter who does not vote in one presidential election would be moved to inactive status, is one step toward being removed from the voter registration rolls.

• The Iowa Secretary of State could observe local election officials during an election.

The myriad proposals have wound up in House File 692, which passed Wednesday out of a Senate committee. That made it eligible for consideration beyond a deadline this week. But disagreements over parts of the bill remain between the chambers.

“We’re going to definitely pass, I believe, something,” said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who chairs the House State Government Committee.

Traffic cameras

But it will take some funnel week finessing to keep alive a House plan to regulate traffic cameras and scoop 60 percent of the cities’ traffic camera revenue after expenses for a state public safety fund.

The House Public Safety Committee has approved House File 674, which would cost the 10 cities with traffic cameras — including Cedar Rapids — a total of $6.5 million a year, according to the Legislative Services Agency.

However, the bill is stuck in the Budget Committee because it did not get a constitutional majority when the Public Safety Committee voted to approve it. The Budget Committee will have a special meeting Thursday to try to keep the bill alive, said Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota.

Klein said he has no plans to take up a Senate-approved proposal to ban traffic cameras. That bill, Senate File 343, passed the Senate, 30-19.

Land sales

On a party-line vote, the House Agriculture Committee passed a proposal that bill manager Rep. Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City said would “create a level playing field for Iowa agriculture, Iowa farmers.”

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Senate File 548, which is eligible for consideration by the full House, would limit the use of a state revolving fund to acquire land for water quality projects.

It doesn’t put a moratorium on public land purchases but would prohibit groups such as the nonprofit Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation from borrowing and repaying money from the fund to buy land to be turned over to local governments, county conservation boards or the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, said the foundation has put 160,000 acres into conservation in the past 12 years, but only a little more than 11,000 acres using the state revolving fund.

Sexton, though, said a criteria page for proposed water improvement projects is not used.

“How do we measure the water quality that we’re supposed to be achieving? There’s no mechanism to allow that to happen,” he said.

Opposed by cities, counties and organizations promoting conservation, hunting, fishing and wildlife habitat, the bill was backed only by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.

It previously passed the Senate, 32-17.

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