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Iowa Capitol Digest for Thursday, February 25
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Iowa Capitol Digest for Thursday, February 25

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A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Thursday:

STAY IN SCHOOL: Iowa lawmakers are making another attempt to keep students in school until they graduate.

Although Iowa has the highest graduation rate in the nation, Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, and others introduced HSB 465 that would raise the compulsory age of education from 16 to 18. The bill also authorized the Department of Transportation to reinstate a driver’s license if it has been suspended because of truancy.

Similar bills have been introduced in previous years out of concern that students who don’t complete high school have limited career paths, diminished opportunities to earn more than poverty-level wages and are more likely to end up in prison, said Mascher, a retired teacher.

The state also has an interest in a trained and skilled workforce, Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said. “We just can’t afford to let kids fail.”

Lobbyists representing public schools, Christian schools, urban and rural schools and school boards were opposed because the bill does not include resources to address the needs of those students the bill targets.

Rep. Tom Moore, R-Griswold, called the concept “something to work on,” but the bill “obviously needs a lot of work.”

Iowa is one of 17 states with 16 as the compulsory age, Moore said. Half of the states require students to be in school until 18.

Mascher expressed disappointment that it was not advanced to the Education Committee so it could be amended.

ETHANOL BILL ADVANCES: Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee voted Thursday to advance Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed biofuels legislation, but Agriculture Committee Chairman Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, said the action was only taken to keep the issue alive.

Zumbach said SSB 1179 “is not ready to be debated” but is an issue that legislators want to fine tune.

“I believe there are a lot of players in this bill that need to come together that are not together today,” he said. “I’ve been working with all of these players — we want a bill so that we can sell more biofuels in this state. It is not in a shape or form that is ready for any of us today, and I want to make that vividly clear to all the players involved.”

During subcommittee discussions, farmers and backers called the bill a great boost for agriculture while lobbyists for convenience stores, truck stops and fuel marketers knocked it as an unneeded and harmful mandate.

Reynolds’ proposal would require all gasoline sold in Iowa to contain at least 10 percent ethanol, with an option for the governor to raise that to 15 percent in four years. The proposal also shifts existing tax credits for ethanol and other biofuels to only those with blends higher than the new baseline.

VIRTUAL TRADE MISSION: Gov. Kim Reynolds and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig participated in a virtual trade mission with Japan on Wednesday to continue conversations with Japanese companies following a successful in-person meeting in 2019 to reinforce strong relationships and expand trade and investment opportunities for Iowa.

“It is crucial for Iowa to have a strong presence in the global economy and these trade missions increase the potential to expand Iowa products internationally and to bring new business to our communities,” Reynolds said.

In 2020, Iowa exports exceeded $17.6 billion, with products and services reaching over 200 countries and territories around the world.

Specific to Japan, Iowa companies exported $1.4 billion. Japan is Iowa’s leading export market for pork and beef products. Iowa companies exported $634.5 million in meat products to Japan in 2020.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority, which coordinated the meeting, collaborated with the U.S. Meat Export Federation, which included representatives from the Iowa Beef Industry Council, the Iowa Pork Producers Association and Iowa State University.

For more on trade missions, visit iowaeda.com/international-trade/.

CADY HONORED: The National Center for State Courts has renamed the Family Justice Reform Initiative in honor of the late Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady, who died in November 2019, two months after he delivered the keynote address at the National Judicial Leadership Summit on the Protection of Children.

In making the announcement, Cady was recalled as “a champion of juvenile justice and family justice reform.” Cady was chairman of the Children and Families in the Courts Committee and president of the Conference of Chief Justices at the time of his death.

Cady’s September 2019 address served as a call to action to reform processes involving children and families. “We need to be able to say that we did everything we could in our time,” he said.

Led by the National Center for State Courts, the Cady Initiative is a national reform effort under the guidance of the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System are partners.

CHILD CARE INCENTIVES: An effort to expand child care capacity got a boost from the House Ways and Means Committee when it approved HF 362 to create workforce child care facility tax incentives to be administered by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Developers could qualify for the tax credits by building new or rehabilitating existing facilities for use as child care centers.

Unless the facility is to be used exclusively by employees of a business, the developer must document community support and local matching funds of at least $50,000 or in small cities, $25,000. At least 60 percent of the available tax credits must be used in small communities — those outside of the 11 most populous counties — and no project can receive more than $200,000 in tax incentives.

The tax credits could be claimed against the individual income tax, the corporate income tax, the franchise tax, the insurance companies’ tax, and the moneys and credits tax.

Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood, called HF 362 “one more good approach to helping solve the child care issue.”

Democrats on the committee did not think HF 362 did enough to address the need for child care affordability and access. “We appreciate a small step,” Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, said.

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