A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Monday:
SCHOOL AID: A House Appropriations subcommittee approved an amendment to SF 455 that will make $11.2 million available to school districts for transportation costs and $2.8 million to lessen the inequity in per pupil funding.
Rep. Walt Roger, R-Cedar Falls, said the $11.2 million will buy down transportation costs, which run as high as $970 per pupil per year at North Winneshiek, to no more than $432 per student in all districts. Districts that spend less than $432 per student will get no transportation funding relief from the bill.
The $2.8 million will buy down the inequity in per pupil funding from $175 to $170 per pupil.
The Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the bill Wednesday.
VOLUNTEER CHALLENGE: Gov. Kim Reynolds kicked off the fourth annual Give Back Iowa Challenge to employers to engage Iowans in employer-supported volunteering.
“Volunteerism is an integral part of what it means to be an Iowan,” said, Reynolds, adding that Iowa is in the top 10 states for volunteering. Through service, Iowans are making the lives of others better and meeting community challenges, while also transforming their own lives.”
Her office, Reynolds said, will make meals for a Ronald McDonald House during the challenge from April 1 to May 31.
During the challenge, employers encourage their employees to volunteer and log their hours. Employers with the highest average number of volunteer hours per employee during the challenge period will be recognized and receive a visit at their workplace from the governor or Acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg.
The Give Back Iowa Challenge had 56 companies participate in 2017. The companies represented more than 56,000 employees and nearly 60,000 hours of volunteer time. Those hours equaled about a $1.3 million investment in Iowa communities.
She was joined by Volunteer Iowa Commissioner Angela Ten Clay and Emily Abbas with Bankers Trust in Des Moines, a 2017 winner.
GOP BUDGET CRISIS: Two Democratic legislative leaders told members of liberal groups that Iowa faces a Republican-made budget crisis because of mismanagement and “record giveaways” for tax credits and exemptions.
“What we have is a really a disorganized group of Republicans trying to figure out this mess,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said at a Moral Monday forum that brings together members of 25 progressive groups at the Capitol each Monday during the legislative session.
“When you have people running government who don’t like government, this is what you get,” he said, referring to the GOP as “the wrecking crew.”
“You have to wonder what their motivation is,” Bolkcom added.
Even though the state is expected to see an increase in revenue, majority Republicans are discussing cuts to the current year budget.
“At a point that the state has more revenue available than the year before, we should be able to maintain and be discussing where the new revenue can be allocated,” Hall said.
Senate Republicans initially proposed $52 million in cuts, but last week lowered that to $34 million. House Republicans proposed a $42.8 million cut and the governor’s office called for $38.4 million in adjustments.
MEDICAID OVERSIGHT: Gov. Kim Reynolds soft-pedaled an effort by the Iowa Department of Human Services to roll back legislative oversight requirements of the state’s privatized Medicaid program during her regular Monday meeting with Statehouse new reporters.
DHS officials requested House Study Bill 632, which would reduce how often the agency must report performance data on the health care program for the poor and disabled; remove some consumer protection metrics; and eliminate a requirement that the agency report its expected savings under the system managed by private contractors. Reynolds said DHS Director Jerry Foxhoven has worked to address problems, conduct outreach, improve efficiencies to assist case workers and ensure transparency while streamlining the process.
“If working with the Legislature, they feel that right now maybe this isn’t the time to roll back some of those, I’m sure he’ll be OK with it but he’s going to continue to do the job we brought him into to do,” she said. The governor pledged her administration would work to “find the balance” in administering Medicaid in a way that is sustainable, provides needed services and meets the expectations of Iowans.
SANCTUARY CITIES: Gov. Kim Reynolds called it “imperative” that Congress act on immigration legislation that provides “stability and certainty” for immigrants.
Beyond that, Reynolds said, “if an individual has come here illegally and made a choice to break law, they should be held accountable.”
She didn’t specifically endorse SF 481, which was approved by the Iowa Senate last year and is under consideration by the House.
“I believe we need to honor the laws on the books and all law enforcement should work together,” she said. One of her highest responsibilities is public safety, Reynolds added.
Despite her reluctance to call for the Legislature to pass SF 481, Reynolds’ campaign has used the topic for a fundraising appeal. In it, she warned that Iowa City and Des Moines “have passed resolutions and ordinances to move themselves closer to being sanctuary cities.” Those cities reject that argument and say police are appropriately cooperating with federal authorities.
Iowa police chiefs told a House subcommittee SF 481 would make their communities less safe.
SAVE EXTENSION: A House Education subcommittee unanimously approved HSB 647 to extend the 1-cent sales tax for school infrastructure until 2049.
The bill removes the 2029 sunset for the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) to provide schools with funds for safe, modern schools and technology.
The funds will be distributed on a per pupil basis except for increasing the allocation for property tax equity relief from $984 per pupil in fiscal 2019 to $1,087 in 2029 and $1,521 in 2050.
The bill also would require schools boards planning to issue bonds against the SAVE revenue to have a public hearing and allow 14 days for residents to call for a referendum. It also place limits on the use of SAVE funds for athletic facilities.
END FORCED ARBITRATION: Employees should not be subject to secret, forced arbitration in cases of workplace sexual harassment, according to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. He has joined a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in 56 states and territories urging Congress to ensure sexual harassment victims have a right to their day in court.
Too often, the attorneys general contend, employees are required to sign employment contracts containing arbitration agreements mandating that sexual harassment claims be resolved through private arbitration instead of the judicial process. The secrecy surrounding these proceedings can protect serial violators and provide inadequate relief to victims, Miller said.
FETAL HEARTBEAT: Legislation that would make it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion in Iowa once a fetal heartbeat is detected was approved Monday on an 8-5 party-line vote by the Senate Judicial Committee.
An overflow crowd of supporters and opponents broke into extended applause after the committee acted. Supporters say Senate Study Bill 3143 said the measure is designed to protect the unborn by barring a physician from performing an abortion when tests determine a heartbeat is present unless a medical emergency exists that warrants the procedure. Violation of the bill’s provisions would subject a doctor to a Class D felony charge carrying a five-year prison term but there would be no penalty for the woman.
Opponents called the bill unconstitutional, dangerous and a “direct attack” on women’s health care in Iowa.
Also Monday, the committee voted 9-4 to advance a bill, Senate Study Bill 1177, which seeks to require profiling-prevention training for law enforcement officers and establish standardized data collection on officer stops and compliance, as well as creating a community policing advisory board to develop a uniform reporting form by April 2019 and begin evaluating the compiled data on stops and complaints with annual reporting by 2020.
In other action, the committee voted 7-6 to approve Senate File 2153, legislation requiring that at least five justices of the Iowa Supreme Court would have to concur to hold a state law unconstitutional. Backers said it would rein in judicial overreach but Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, joined five Democrats who said the issue would be better addressed via a constitutional amendment rather than a statutory change.
TRUST FUND RALLY: Hundreds of Iowans flooded the Capitol rotunda to rally and lobby their legislators in support of funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Business leaders, conservationists, public officials, farmers, hunters and cyclists were on hand to voice their backing for establishing a sustainable source of funding for natural resources and outdoor recreation. The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund was created by a statewide vote in 2010, but has yet to be funded by a sales tax increase of three-eighths of 1 percent that won voter approval.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m telling you, Iowans are opening up their paychecks and they’re seeing more money in their paychecks and their pockets and it’s exciting.” — Gov. Kim Reynolds talking about the impact of federal tax changes.
— Times Bureau