A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Wednesday:
UNIVERSITY BUILDING: A bill to require Iowa’s public universities to change how they handle larger capital projects cleared the House Local Government Committee on a party-line vote.
Republicans backed House Study Bill 513 to amend the regents’ contract-bidding process by expanding advertising requirements, requiring an engineer or architect to prepare plans and cost estimates for contemplated construction and “identify a specific reason” for rejecting bids if it determines none are acceptable.
Currently, the regents use a design-build process on many capital projects.
Bill manager Rep. John Landon, R-Ankeny, said transparency is important when public funds are being spent. Using the design-build process without competitive bidding, the regents don’t know if they are getting a good price on a project, he said.
Democrats argued the current process, which has been used seven times in the history of the universities, is working and saving money for the regents, who are in line for a midyear budget cut of $5 million to $19 million under deappropriation plans by the governor and House and Senate Republicans.
SHOOTING CATFISH: Iowa could harvest catfish by bow and arrow under House File 414, which was approved Wednesday by two members of a House Natural Resources subcommittee.
It calls for the Natural Resource Commission to establish rules for taking catfish by bow and arrow. The bill also establishes a scheduled fine of $50 for violating the rules.
BOULTON BILLS: Sen. Nate Boulton, a Des Moines Democrat seeking his party’s 2018 gubernatorial nomination, on Wednesday offered two bills he said were designed to restore rights to working Iowans.
Senate File 2186 seeks to restore much of the collective bargaining law that was revamped last year by majority Republicans in the Legislature and former Gov. Terry Branstad.
The legislation, similar to a bill introduced by a group of House Democrats, would expand public employee rights so teachers could bargain issues such as class size and police, firefighters could negotiate on issues like safety equipment and all workers could negotiate health insurance.
Also, the bill would allow injured Iowa employees to choose their own doctors, Boulton said, noting that under current law, an injured Iowa worker receiving workers’ compensation must be treated by a doctor chosen by their employer.
“This is an obvious conflict of interest,” he told a Statehouse news conference.
The Republican Party of Iowa issued a statement calling Boulton’s event a “campaign press conference conducted under official cover” that “rolled out a policy proposal” that attempts to “roll back the progress” made by Republicans last session.
TELEHEALTH: A bill to expand access to health care through the use of telehealth was approved unanimously by the House Commerce Committee on Wednesday.
Floor manager Rep. Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, described it as a “relatively simple bill” that would require health insurers to provide the same reimbursement for covered services whether they are provided in person or by telehealth.
Rep. John Forbes, D-Des Moines, a pharmacist who said he’s seen the use of telemedicine growing, called it “a good bill, good for Iowa” that will expand access to physicians and other health care providers, especially for rural Iowans.
JUDICIAL CHANGE: A Senate Judiciary subcommittee got some pushback Wednesday on GOP legislation requiring that at least five justices of the Iowa Supreme Court would have to concur to hold a state law unconstitutional before it was overturned.
“I think this is a shocking piece of legislation. You talk about overreaching,” said Sen. Nate Boulton, a subcommittee member who opposed Senate File 2153 before it was approved on a 2-1 vote and forwarded to the full committee.
Chuck Hurley of the Family Leader spoke in favor of the bill that would counter the trend of setting law “by judicial fiat.”
But lobbyist Marty Ryan of the Justice Consortium said the bill flies in the face of separation of powers.
“We believe it is adjudicating from the chamber” to require the judicial supermajority, adding, “I find it ironic it will take four justices to strike this down.”
But Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said he supported the measure to require at least five justices to “overturn the will of the people.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “To stand here and say this $32 million worth of new money going into education is a cut — I took Accounting I several times, and I think even I learned that $32 million in new money is not a cut.” — Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, responding to Democratic criticism of Republicans’ school funding plan
— Times Bureau