Iowa notebook

2011-02-03T08:30:00Z Iowa notebookTimes bureau The Quad-City Times
February 03, 2011 8:30 am  • 

Gronstal stands firm: House passage of a resolution that calls for a referendum on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage didn’t change a thing for Sen. Majority Leader Mike Gronstal.

“I cannot cooperate in taking away the rights of a significant number of Iowans,” Gronstal, Council Bluffs Democrat, said Tuesday after the House voted 63-37 to approve the resolution for a referendum to recognize only marriages between one man and one woman. It would prohibit same-sex marriage as well as civil unions and domestic partnerships.

“That is fundamentally what the Constitution is there to prevent — to make it exceedingly difficult for the majority to choose to discriminate against a minority,” he said.

Danny Carroll, spokesman for the Family Leader, formerly known as the Iowa Family Policy Council, takes Gronstal at his word but hopes it’s not the final word on the resolution.

“The House has spoken, and spoken rather convincingly, with a bipartisan vote in favor of letting the people vote,” Carroll said. “That should mean something to the Iowa Senate.”

“At the end of day, it’s not right for one person to hold it up.”

House, Senate panels OK different education plans: Dueling proposals on how to fund Iowa’s education system both are moving forward in the legislative process, setting up a budget battle that likely won’t be solved anytime soon.

On one side is a pair of House bills that passed out of committee on a pair party-line 14-9 votes. The bills call for zero percent allowable growth in the school funding formula. On the other side is a pair of Senate bills that call for 2 percent allowable growth in the same funding formula. The Senate bills made it out of their subcommittees 2-1 and are on their way to the full Senate committee.

The practical difference between the two proposals is about $115 per student or just less than an estimated $70 million statewide. But which proposal ultimately makes it to the governor’s desk for his signature remains to be seen.

“If the two houses don’t agree on the formula, then we go to conference committee and see what comes out of there,” said State Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, who leads one of the Senate subcommittees running the 2 percent bill. “There are points we can negotiate, but the 2 percent is not a negotiation point.”

Bearing arms: An Iowa House member proposing to amend the Iowa constitution to guarantee the right to bear arms is having trouble finding bipartisan support. However, Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, plans to move the bill to the full Public Safety Committee. The proposal specifically enumerates categories that are dealt with broadly in the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, he said.

Tax receipts rising: State revenues currently are running 6.6 percent ahead of last fiscal year, a $210 million increase that speaks to fiscal 2010’s poor showing but also shows flashes that Iowa’s economy is bouncing back from recession, according to the latest monthly report from the Legislative Services Agency. LSA tax analyst Jeff Robinson said state tax receipts spiked by 25.3 percent in February but that was partly skewed by an unexpected decline in refund payments and a different calculation for state gaming receipts that are used to finance I-JOBS bonding costs. But removing those factors still left February with more than $80 million in real growth — aided by a $45 million increase in personal income tax receipts.

Tax windfall: Iowa taxpayers could see a $38 million windfall if state lawmakers decide this session to conform Iowa tax laws to federal changes for the 2010 tax year. Jim McNulty of the state Department of Revenue said state policy-makers normally “couple” Iowa tax laws with the Internal Revenue code but the past two years lawmakers did not conform to federal changes given the tight budget situation. State Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, urged his colleagues to consider coupling this session and doing it early so Iowans preparing their 2010 tax returns reap the benefit in areas of bonus depreciation for business equipment purchases, college costs, health-care reform provisions, and teachers who pay out of pocket for classroom supplies.

Budget concerns: Members of the Coalition for a Better Iowa have expressed concern that Gov. Terry Branstad’s fiscal 2012 budget rests too heavily on new tax breaks for businesses and reduces investments in educational opportunity and economic security for Iowa’s working families. Coalition member Mike Draper, a Des Moines businessman and leader of the Iowa Main Street Alliance said increased costs of preschool for his son would be far greater than a small tax benefit proposed by the governor.

Bicycles safety: Two Senate bicycle enthusiasts are taking another run at providing more safety for fellow cyclists on the road. State Sens. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, and Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, have filed a bill seeking to provide at least 3 feet of space between a passing motor vehicle and the operator of a bicycle.  “I suspect that the bill might not go too far this year but we want to continue to further the discussion,” Dotzler said.

Speaker backs chairman under investigation: House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said Tuesday he has full confidence in the chairman of the House Public Safety Committee who is the subject of an ethics complaint.

State Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, admitted to lying about having hemorrhoids and depression to obtain a medical marijuana prescription in California last year to prove oversight of such programs are too lax.

Paulsen, a Hiawatha Republican, said Baudler will remain as the leader of the House committee that deals with law enforcement issues pending the outcome of the House Ethics Committee’s review. The complaint was filed by a member of a group fighting to decriminalize marijuana possession who alleges Baudler conspired to break California law by knowingly providing false information to obtain a California medical marijuana card.

Iowa public defender makes case for more staff: At a time Republican Gov. Terry Branstad is looking to downsize state government, an appropriations subcommittee heard Wednesday there could be cost savings in expanding one agency.

Sam Langholz, Branstad’s director of the state Public Defender’s Office, told the Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee it disposes of cases for about 57 percent of the cost of those handled by court-appointed attorneys.

“It is perhaps counterintuitive, but the data shows historically the state public defenders are able to handle the cases most cost-effectively,” Langholz said after meeting with the subcommittee. “We’ve seen that over the past several years and, in fact, just this past year, we added 16 staff, and we’re seeing cost savings.”

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, would like to see the plans. Changes that would produce long-term savings are consistent with Branstad’s plans for a two-year budget and five-year budget projections.

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