A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Monday, March 26, 2018:
NO INTERSTATE TOLLS: Gov. Kim Reynolds shot down the notion Monday of collecting tolls on Interstate 80 as a way to pay for upgrades to the major highway spanning Iowa from east to west.
“I have no interest in tolls. I don’t think Iowans are interested in tolls,” Reynolds told reporters at her weekly news conference.
The governor was asked to respond to a 2017 planning study by the state Department of Transportation that looked at toll financing as a “feasible option” to help cover the $3.8 billion cost of rebuilding the highway span from Davenport to Council Bluffs and widening it from four lanes to six. Iowa does not charge highway tolls, and any change in that policy would require approval from the federal government and the Iowa Legislature.
SEVERE WEATHER AWARENESS: Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation Monday designating this week as severe weather awareness week in Iowa. To mark preparedness efforts, an annual statewide tornado drill will take place at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Schools, businesses, individuals and state and local governments are encouraged to participate. Violent and unpredictably harsh weather “goes with the territory of living in Iowa, but it’s our responsibility to be prepared,” said Reynolds, who was joined at her weekly news conference by officials from state and local emergency management and the National Weather Service in urging preparedness efforts by Iowans at the start of the spring severe weather season. Mark Schouten, director of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said Iowans should make sure they have an emergency plan, make an emergency supply kit, and be aware of the weather. Fact sheets about severe weather preparedness are available on the Ready Iowa website, beready.iowa.gov.
IOWA ICON: Bob Dorr, who began his radio broadcasting career in 1972 while a student at the University of Northern Iowa, was honored by the Iowa Senate and House on Monday with resolutions naming him an “Iowa icon” and saluting his “uncommon impact” on the cultural landscape of Iowa. The resolutions thanked him for his “generous and prodigious” contribution in the form of musical composition, live music performance and broadcasting.
Dorr twice has been inducted into the Iowa Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame — once for his radio career at Iowa Public Radio’s KUNI and once for his role as leader of the Blue Band for 36 years. PRAYER SERVICE: About 40 people gathered in the rotunda for music and prayer as part of observing Holy Week, which, for Christians, is the time from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. The message, delivered both in the form of a sermon and a musical performance, focused on reconciliation and appreciating the season.
TRADE WAR WORRIES: Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday she is closely monitoring the uncertain international trade situation as ripples continue to emanate from President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on foreign nations in an attempt to address what he perceives to be imbalances. The Iowa governor said she is concerned Iowa’s agriculture economy will be an early casualty in a trade war, noting that the retaliatory effect already is being felt with the price of hogs. Reynolds said Trump has raised some legitimate trade concerns, but she told reporters at her weekly news conference “what we have to be mindful of is nobody wins in a trade war, absolutely nobody.” The governor said she is in close communications with Iowa’s state government liaison in Washington, as well as members of Iowa’s congressional delegation and officials within the Trump administration in urging them to move forward “carefully and trying to minimize” the adverse impact of tariff and NAFTA changes.
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DEMANDING FACEBOOK ANSWERS: Attorney General Tom Miller joined a bipartisan coalition of 37 state and territory attorneys general Monday in sending a letter demanding answers from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the company’s business practices and privacy protections.
News reports indicate the data of at least 50 million Facebook profiles may have been misused by third-party software developers. Facebook’s policies allowed developers to access the personal data of “friends” of people who used certain applications — without the knowledge or consent of these users.
Among the questions the attorneys general ask are: Were the terms of service clear and understandable? How did Facebook monitor what developers did with the data collected? What type of controls did Facebook have over the data given to developers? How many users in the states of the signatory attorneys general were affected? During this time frame, what other third party “research” applications also were able to access the data of unsuspecting Facebook users?
View the letter at www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov/newsroom.
BOUNCING BILLS: The Iowa Senate voted Monday to make minor changes to separate bills dealing with school safety protections and drunken driving offenses and returned both to the Iowa House for further consideration. One measure, Senate File 2364, requires schools to develop — and practice — emergency plans. The bill requires public and non-public schools to develop confidential school safety plans for each classroom building no later than June 30, 2019. The plans must include responses to active-shooter situations as well as natural disasters. It would require all school personnel to conduct at least one emergency drill in each building and gives school districts discretion over how to implement the requirements. Senators also amended House File 2338, which would expand the issuance of temporary restricted licenses with an approved ignition interlock device for people charged with an operating while intoxicated offense with a blood alcohol content between 0.08 and 0.1 percent. The ignition interlock device requires a driver to blow into a mouthpiece, and it prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Both amended bills passed by a 47-0 Senate vote.
WINTER HEATING MORATORIUM ENDS: Iowa’s annual winter home heating moratorium ends April 1. The Iowa Utilities Board reminds energy assistance customers protected from service disconnection and struggling to pay their utility bills to contact their local utility company immediately to discuss payment options and avoid disconnection beginning April 2. Under Iowa’s winter moratorium law, qualified customers for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program or Weatherization Assistance Program are protected from the shut-off of natural gas or electric service from Nov. 1 to April 1. Iowa customers seeking LIHEAP financial assistance for utility bills should contact their local Community Action Agency before April 30 to discuss eligibility guidelines. The LIHEAP program pays only a portion of utility bills to qualified low-income customers. All utility customers, including those not qualifying for energy assistance, may be eligible to enter into a reasonable payment agreement with their utilities to pay accumulated debt over time and to maintain utility service. Iowa Utilities Board customer service staff is available to assist customers with questions about utility service disconnection or other issues that are not resolved directly with their utility company and can be contacted at 1-877-565-4450, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about low-income energy assistance, visit the board’s website LIHEAP informational page.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: The bottom line is what I expect. I expect the employees of the state of Iowa to feel comfortable and confident that if they come to me in confidence … saying they are experiencing sexual harassment that they will be heard and action will be taken.” — Gov. Kim Reynolds speaking about her firing of a member of her administration after hearing complaints of sexual harassment.