DES MOINES — The Iowa House on Tuesday approved a bill crafted in response to Linn County supervisors’ use of a lease-purchase agreement on a public health building, rather than a traditional competitive-bidding process.
House File 2253 would require cities, counties and state government, including the Board of Regents, to use a competitive bidding process to award contracts for public projects, including lease-purchase arrangements.
Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, pushed the bill after the Linn supervisors did not use competitive bids when they awarded a contract for construction of a $31.1 million public health and youth development services building. They instead invited seven contractors who’d previously worked with the county to submit proposals.
Highfill said his goal was transparency, and is intended to prevent officials from rewarding friends and campaign donors. The bill was approved 57-38 and now goes to the Senate.
If it becomes law, it won’t affect the Linn County project because supervisors have already awarded a contract.
Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, supported an amendment to the bill to exempt projects involving tax increment financing, low-rent housing and urban renewal projects that “are necessary for improving the quality of life in Iowa.”
But he opposed the bill, saying it removes a tool to get the best price on taxpayer-financed projects.
House Republicans voted 55-42 to eliminate the requirement that people seeking to be licensed to teach in Iowa public schools pass the Praxis II test, a content-specific exam used in 39 other states.
House File 2280 would allow school districts to offer their own test, but lawmakers said it is unlikely districts would do so.
Rep. Tom Moore, R-Griswold, a former teacher, said the change is needed because of a shortage of teachers. Although 96 percent of the people taking the Praxis II exam have passed it, Moore said about 500 people had failed it and, therefore, are not eligible to be licensed.
The teacher shortage is not limited to Iowa. National data show a 35 percent drop in enrollment in teacher prep programs between 2009 and 2014.
In Iowa, colleges are graduating about 400 fewer teachers, counselors and administrators per year than in 2013 when the education reform bill was enacted.
As part of that bill, Iowa teachers were required to pass an assessment, such as the Praxis II exam. It includes an assessment in pedagogy — how a teacher teaches what a student has to learn.
Two alternative assessments are allowed, but would be eliminated by the bill.
Democrats argued the teacher shortage is caused by underfunding schools. Licensure exams, they added, are required for many professions.
“If we pass this, we are saying that veterinarians who take care of our cats and dogs have to pass a licensure exam, but to provide teaching to our children, they do not,” House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said.
Moore countered that the Praxis was not required before 2013 and Iowa had high standards for teachers, but “we didn’t have a darned test to determine if you were qualified to be a teacher.”
The House also:
- Voted 65-30 to open the door for the arcade chain Dave & Buster’s to Iowa by approving Senate File 2333 that allows businesses to offer prizes worth up to $950 for games of skill.
Bill manager Moore called it an “economic development” bill for Iowa that could lead to 120 new jobs and $32 million in capital investment.
Nine of the 433 prizes Dave and Buster’s offers are worth more than $118, Moore said. There are 33 states that have no dollar limit on similar prizes.
Not everyone wanted to pay, however.
Rep. Dennis Cohoon, D-Burlington, was concerned about the impact on small bars and restaurants that can’t afford $950 prizes.
“It doesn’t make for a level playing field,” he said about the bill that would “carve out a niche for one entity.”
The bill has been approved 45-5 by the Senate. The House made a change in a square footage requirement in the bill, so it must go back to the Senate for concurrence
Nine of the 433 prizes Dave and Buster’s offers are valued at more than $118, Moore said. There are 33 states that have no dollar limit on similar prizes.
• Voted 97-0 to give school boards and administrators more flexibility in how they use funds they are unable to spend that are earmarked for class-size reduction, at-risk students and of dropout prevention, professional development and home school assistance. Representatives also amended House File 2441 to allow schools to use those funds to hire security personnel and mental health counselors.
• Voted 94-0 to approve House File 2342 that would require the Department of Natural Resources to preserve items, such as fish and game, seized when a person is accused of violations of wildlife laws, should the charges not result in a conviction.