A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Monday:
WIND STRONG: Iowa, which produces 36 percent of its electricity from wind energy, could see an increase of thousands of jobs and $9 billion in investment in wind energy by 2020, according to a report highlighted Monday by Gov. Terry Branstad.
“Perhaps the most important impact wind has had on our state are the high-quality, good-paying jobs that are helping grow family incomes in Iowa,” Branstad said. “But wind has also helped us reduce our dependence on foreign oil — something that Iowa was almost exclusively reliant upon in the 1980s when I was first governor.”
The industry today supports about 8,000 direct and indirect jobs and is at $11.8 billion in project investment. It’s projected the number of jobs could grow to 17,300 by 2020.when jobs in the communities surrounding wind farms and factories are included, according to Navigant Consulting.
Iowa is projected to contain the third most wind-related jobs in 2020, trailing only Texas and Colorado by 2020.
Only Texas is expected to experience more economic activity from wind than the $9 billion investment projected in Iowa, Navigant said. That includes investments in new wind projects, turbine operations and maintenance, land lease payments, and sales, income, and property tax payments.
The Navigant analysis can be found at http://www.awea.org/windbenefits.
ALL TALK, NO TEXT: The Iowa House Transportation Committee is likely to take up Senate File 234, a bill to limit drivers’ use of hand-held communications devices to make phone calls and use global positioning system software to get travel directions. Texting, emailing and reading would be prohibited under the bill that was approved Monday by a Transportation subcommittee.
The Senate approved the bill, 43-6, last week despite some senators wanting to go further and ban the use of all hand-held communications devices.
The same sentiment is present in the House, said Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, a member of the subcommittee. He doubts there will be an attempt to amend the bill because of the opposition to an outright ban on cellphone use by drivers.
The bill also makes texting while driving a primary offense, meaning law enforcement is prohibited from stopping or detaining a person solely for a violation which relates to texting while driving. The new primary offense would carry a $30 fine.
The bill could see committee action today.
MINIMUM WAGE: Gov. Terry Branstad is continuing to call for a “modest” increase in Iowa’s state minimum wage, despite disinterest by the Legislature’s majority Republicans.
Although he agrees with legislative action to pre-empt local governments’ authority to set minimum wages higher than the state’s $7.25 minimum, Branstad called for “a modest increase over time in the minimum wage as some of our neighboring states have done.”
Asked last Thursday about the governor’s interest in an increase, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said she and the governor have not discussed the topic.
“Oh, yeah, we’ve had discussions about this,” Branstad said Monday, “and I’ve expressed my support for a modest increase over time. We’ve had those discussions with the legislative leaders.”
Upmeyer’s office on Monday clarified that Branstad has expressed that sentiment to leaders but said there has been no discussion. Upmeyer said the House GOP caucus “hasn’t expressed an interest” in a minimum-wage increase this year.
The sentiment is the same in the Senate, where Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said he would “anticipate no separate minimum wage bill.”
The last time Iowa’s minimum wage was increased was with bipartisan support in 2007.
STORMY WEATHER: It’s Severe Weather Awareness Week, and the state’s annual tornado drill will take place between 10 and 11 a.m. Wednesday. Gov. Terry Branstad and the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, National Weather Service and local emergency management agencies encourage schools, businesses, state and local governments and individuals to participate in the drill.
For more information, visit beready.iowa.gov and follow Homeland Security and the NWS on Twitter at #IASWAW.
IPERS CHANGES: Gov. Terry Branstad applauded a decision by the IPERS investment board to lower a key investment target as “thoughtful and prudent,” even though it will increase the system’s unfunded liabilities by about $1.3 billion and could require larger contributions by state and local governments and workers.
The governor told his weekly news conference Monday that too many states have overestimated the revenue in their pension funds, and the result is “they’re in big trouble.”
The Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System, which has more than 350,000 members, cut its assumed annual rate of return on investments from 7.5 percent to 7 percent on Friday, reflecting concerns that returns will cover less of the cost of retirees’ pensions than in the past.
Using the new assumptions with the 2016 data, IPERS’ funded ratio has dropped from 84 percent to 80 percent, according to the plan’s administrators. IPERS has about $28 billion in assets and has unfunded liabilities of nearly $5.6 billion.
Branstad noted that the return on investment for the IPERS fund has slowed, so it’s important that Iowa officials track long-term benefits and review the system to protect more than 114,000 retirees who rely on IPERS and ensure changes aren’t going to impact them or the commitment that have been made to them.
He said the Legislature should follow reforms enacted in 2010 relating to benefits and contributions or consider changes that may be the subject of a state task force review.
HOLIDAY FIREWORKS: A bill allowing the sale and use of fireworks at the Fourth of July and over the Christmas-New Year’s Day holidays was sent to the full House Ways and Means Committee on Monday.
Senate File 489 would allow licensed retailers or community groups in permanent structures to sell consumer-grade fireworks to adults between June 1 and July 8 and between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3.
A similar provision would apply to conforming temporary structures, such as tents, from June 13 through July 8 each year. It also places time restrictions for the display of fireworks.
In a meeting that lasted less than five minutes, a three-member subcommittee heard from a veterans group that wants to shorten the time frame for fireworks sales and use, so as to protect the thousands of PTSD-affected Iowa veterans.
“We’re resigned to the fact it will pass,” said Robert Beeston of the Veterans National Recovery Center, but the group would like the time fireworks are permitted to be limited to only the Fourth of July holiday. “We oppose New Year’s (fireworks) but recognize tradition around Fourth of July.”
Jim Henter of the Iowa Retail Federation called for a longer time frame to make it more appealing for retailers to invest in selling fireworks in their stores rather than selling from tents and other temporary structures.
Subcommittee member Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood, thought Iowans should have to be older than 18 — “out of high school,” she said — to buy fireworks.
OBAMACARE AFTERMATH: Gov. Terry Branstad expressed disappointment Monday that Congress and President Donald Trump were unable to move forward last week with plans to repeal and replace the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
“I’ve said from the beginning that Obamacare is unaffordable and unsustainable. I think that’s becoming more and more obvious in state after state,” the governor told his weekly news conference.
He said he hopes Iowa will continue to receive federal waivers and flexibility in dealing with health insurance-related matters and that the president and congressional leaders will revisit the topic in the future with better results.
TOUGH STATE BUDGETING: Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he and the GOP-led Legislature face some tough choices in formulating a new fiscal 2018 spending plan.
The governor declined to share what revisions he will offer by Wednesday to the two-year budget plan he sent to legislators in January. But he told reporters at his weekly news conference the outlook for the budget taking effect on July 1 “is not an easy situation,” given the state will have to use $131 million from the cash reserve and repay the full amount over the next two fiscal years.
“That means that the 2018 fiscal year budget is going to be a very difficult and tight budget,” he said.
Branstad said the fiscal 2019 spending plan should have more flexibility since he anticipated a significant ending balance in the two-year budget he proposed in January.
SCHOOL HOME RULE: Republicans on a Senate Education subcommittee on Monday approved House-passed legislation that would give school boards limited home rule authority allowing them to “liberally construe” Iowa Code and administrative rules in overseeing school operations.
Sen. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine, said several other states have adopted similar flexibility that was supported by representatives of Iowa school boards and administrators during Monday’s subcommittee meeting.
However, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said House File 533 would open the state to legal challenges unless the Legislature agreed to seek voter approval to grant constitutional home rule similar to what cities and counties in Iowa currently have.
Local governments have the authority to raise revenue to fund their initiatives, while K-12 schools rely on a “massive involvement of state funds,” he said.
For 149 years, Iowa school boards have operated under Dillon’s Rule. Under the rule, school boards are allowed to use only those powers and abilities that are specifically allowed by law. Uses of funds and applications of programs are subject to strict interpretations based on Iowa Code and administrative rules, and school districts are bound by the narrowest interpretation of the law, according to the Legislative Services Agency.
Brad Hudson of the Iowa State Education Association, which opposed the bill, called it “Dillon’s Rule on steroids.” The bill now goes to the full Senate Education Committee for consideration.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I say fireworks are more fun when they’re illegal.” — Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, on the bill that would legalize the sale and use of fireworks in Iowa on a limited basis.
— Times Bureau