A roundup of legislative and Statehouse items of interest for Thursday, Feb. 4:

BIODEISEL MANDATE: Senate File 464 that would prohibit the retail sale of diesel fuel unless it contained at least 5 percent biodiesel won the support of a House Ways and Means subcommittee Thursday. Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said he wanted the bill to be thoroughly discussed by the full committee. Rep. Erik Helland, R-Grimes, objected to the mandate and suggested incentives, similar to those used to promote ethanol. It was approved 31-19 in the Senate.

FAMILY PLANNING: The Senate Human Resources Committee voted 9-2 Thursday to expand free birth control and family planning services for low-income women between the ages of 45 and 54. Senate Study Bill 3086 directs the state Department of Human Services to renew a federal waiver program in 2011 with modifications that allow for coverage for women through age 54 with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level and who are uninsured or their coverage does not include family planning benefits. The pregnancy prevention services also would be available to men who meet the same guidelines. The expansion would be contingent on a state appropriation of $332,000 in fiscal 2011.

NEW CAR FRANCHISE PROTECTIONS: Car dealerships in Iowa would have more protections from changes in franchise policies if situations similar to the bankruptcies that hit Chrysler and General Motors would occur in the future. Senate Study Bill 3113, which cleared the Senate Transportation Committee on an 11-0 vote, says a franchise agreement cannot prevent a dealer from carrying multiple car brands and manufacturers could no longer require a dealer to turn over customer lists. That provision was amended to include recall lists given the current Toyota recall situation. The legislation also indicates that any side agreements between dealers and manufacturers are covered under Iowa’s motor vehicle franchise code. “This is more than a fairness issue,” said Sen. Swati Dandekar, D-Marion, who noted local dealerships and jobs were negatively impacted by ripples from the car makers’ bankruptcies.

TALKING TAXES: A Senate Ways and Means subcommittee was told Thursday it would cost the state $34.5 million yet this fiscal year to “couple” the state income tax code with federal changes enacted for the 2009 tax year. Various provisions deal with unemployment benefits paid to jobless workers, equipment depreciation for businesses, qualifying disaster costs, new car purchases, and education-related tax breaks. The measure did not include a separation $8.8 million proposal included in Gov. Chet Culver’s budget plan to make disaster-related tax breaks retroactive to the 2008 tax year. Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said Iowa likely would have to adopt a slower business depreciation schedule than the federal approach that would result in the same tax break but spread over more years. It remains to be seen how much the state can afford for tax “coupling” given the current budget constraints.

PENALTY WAIVER: A bill to waive penalties and interest against taxpayers who filed tax returns under the assumption Iowa would conform to or couple with certain federal income tax provisions advanced to the House Rebuild Iowa Committee. Because the state did not couple with the federal code, many Iowans who suffered damaged from natural disasters in 2008 now owe interest and penalties. The bill, and a similar measure in the Senate, would allow the director of the Department of Revenue to waive those costs.

IOWA ‘FLAT OUT FLUNKS:’ Iowa has received an ‘F’ from Virginia-based Citizens in Charge for its lack of an initiative and referendum process. Iowa “flat-out flunks the test,” according to the group, which said it hopes to work with Iowans “to enhance their First Amendment rights by providing initiative and referendum.”

Iowa can improve its grade by allowing citizens to propose state constitutional amendments, statutes and referenda and refer them to the ballot. Rather than an initiative and referendum process, every 10 years Iowans may vote to hold a constitutional convention to address issues.

The report may be found at www.CitizensInCharge.org/states/Iowa.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “You’re not as willing to waste your brain cells at 21 as you are at 18,” Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, said in supporting a requirement that amateur participants in mixed martial arts or ultimate fighting matches be at least 21 years of age.


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