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Capitol Review 3/27/15

The Pro-Life Battle Needs Your Help

deskIf you walk by my desk at the Capitol, you will see two 12 week old baby models.  I have brought the babies out during many discussions here at the capitol.  I feel the issue of abortion is not being discussed as it should in our culture and in our churches.

When was the last time people in your church were inspired to do something about decreasing abortions in our state?   When was the last time you remember a sermon taught on the subject?  Do our pastors care more about not offending people than teaching on this issue? When was the last time you spoke with a friend or family member about abortion?

Pro-life legislators need your help to reduce and end abortions in the state.  We have had no response to a bill we passed last week in the Iowa House.  The House passed HF 573, a bill requiring an ultrasound with every abortion in the state of Iowa.  Several states have legislation much like HF 573, so this is not unusual and has stood up to judicial review.  What is interesting about the bill is, from what I am told of the abortion procedure, it doesn’t change anything in standard abortion procedure, except requiring the doctor let the patient see the ultrasound and hear the heartbeat.  That’s all; the woman’s rights are not violated in any way.  The bill simply gives more information to a patient having an abortion.  This is such a noninvasive, simple way to change hearts and minds.

I wrote this bill because I believe the ultrasound is the best strategy the pro-life community has in reducing abortions in our state.

I would contend that pro-life strategies up to this point have been ineffective.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some in the pro-life community fighting every day and I commend them.  I've worked with teens and college age kids for 20 years and I have found there is no entity telling them abortion is wrong, other than a billboard or a lone farmer’s homemade sign.  If churches even breach the subject, it's under the guise of helping a crisis pregnancy center.  No preacher, no teacher, no adults ever talk about it, except maybe in an election year when it comes up as an ancillary political issue.

When Christians decide to engage they can be a powerful force.  Here at the Capitol I receive more emails about fantasy sports wagering then I do about abortion issues.  I see groups here lobbying for causes like unions and eminent domain issues, or education funding, and breast cancer awareness.  All of them are well organized with convincing t-shirts, talking points, sound systems, organizers and strategies.  I’ve seen no one fighting for the unborn.

The one place I see ultrasound and life issues discussed most is when young people start to have babies.  With today's technology advancements, many women, not only get a regular ultrasound, but also a 3D image ultrasound or video.  For instance, the heartbeat can be seen and heard as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.   After receiving the ultrasound images or videos, women tell their friends and share it via social media and the truth of their pregnancy spreads.

The science of the ultrasound is changing the course of the pro-life movement!  That is why abortion proponents and providers hate this bill so much.  They know that this technology is the single best tool to stop abortions.  When a young mother sees the baby and hears the heartbeat, lives are saved.

If you have never seen or been part of an ultrasound, it is really quite amazing.  I’ve been at the birth of my three kids and I have been a part of the ultrasound viewing of several of my grandchildren.  Viewing the ultrasound is almost as emotional and exciting as a birth!  It’s truly a gift God has given us and the pro-life community to help proclaim life!

The time to engage is now.  Naysayers and even some pro-life supporters, here at the Capitol, have already given up on the bill.  They say the democrat-controlled Iowa Senate will never pass the bill.  Well, I still believe it can be done and I don’t plan on giving up!

So, would you like to join me in the fight to save lives in Iowa?  Here are some things you can do:

  • Ask your pastor to speak out about abortion with a truthful yet caring message.  Don’t let them give up on the issue.  Abortion is the civil rights issue of our century.  The controversy will not go away until we, as a country, decide where life begins.
  • Write your legislator, specifically your Iowa Senator; ask them to pass HF 573. https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/senate
  • Two key senators are blocking the bill in the Iowa Senate, write them several times.
    • Mike Gronstal  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
    • Liz Mathis  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Organize a group of like-minded friends and come to Capitol with t-shirts, signs, and talking points.  You then can ask to talk to legislators, but be courteous.
  • Pray for women in these tough situations.
  • Give dollars to crisis pregnancy and non-profits who help the under resourced of our culture.
  • Talk about the issue more.
  • Show your ultrasound pictures if you have any.
  • If you are pregnant, find out your baby’s gender and name the baby while still in the womb.  This could become a trend that would draw attention to unborn babies.
  • Vote pro-life, and/or demand your legislator honestly consider when a life begins.
  • Ask your favorite issue oriented lobbyist group to organize a rally at the Capitol.

Let’s re-engage in the pro-life effort!

UBER

The Iowa House of Representatives passed a bill this week allowing Uber and other electronic ride-sharing services to operate legally throughout the state.  The vote was 95-5.  The bill would establish uniform insurance requirements for ride-sharing companies throughout the state, set up requirements for drivers and provide consumer protections.  Ride-sharing services operate through a cellphone app where users can request a ride from a driver registered through a company, such as Uber or another ride-sharing service.  The app then alerts an available driver, who can accept the request.  The passenger pays for the ride with a valid credit card through the app, with no cash exchanged.

The House bill would also require a company to have insurance for its drivers between the time the driver turns on the application until they turn it off.  During the “app-on” stage, when a driver has the application on but has no passenger in the vehicle, the company must provide insurance for the driver.  While the passenger is in the vehicle, the bill would raise the minimum insurance requirements. 

The House bill, like other cities and states, is favoring the term “transportation network companies” (or “TNCs”) to classify Uber and its competitors like Lyft and Sidecar apart from cab, limousine or chauffer services.  A TNC is defined as a service that does not own vehicles or employ drivers but relies on software to connect passengers with drivers.  The bill now goes to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where it needs to win at least committee approval before the close of next week to remain eligible to become law.  

Firework Sales in Iowa

This week the House Ways and Means Committee passed House Study Bill 161 out of committee with a vote of 15-10. The bill provides for the legal sale and use of novelties and consumer fireworks within Iowa.

Currently, it is a simple misdemeanor to sell or use fireworks in the state of Iowa. However, there is currently a process by which a permit can be granted by a County Board or the DNR for a professional fireworks display. The current definition of fireworks (requiring such a permit) includes everything from traditional fireworks to firecrackers and roman candles.

This bill maintains the current permitting process for display fireworks but provides a new process for consumer fireworks.  In the bill, two classes of consumer fireworks are defined. Retailers who devote 50 percent or more of their retail space to first-class consumer fireworks sales will pay a fee of $400. Retailers who devote less than 50 percent pay a fee of $200. Community groups who sell first-class consumer fireworks are required to pay an annual fee of $200. The bill requires retailers or community groups who only sell second-class consumer fireworks to pay an annual fee of $25.

The bill provides that consumer fireworks can be sold at permanent buildings year-round and in temporary structures from June 13 to July 11 annually. It also provides that consumer fireworks can only be sold to individuals that are 18 years or older and can be used only between 9am and 10pm—except on Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, New Year’s Eve, and weekend days near these holidays. On these specific days, consumer fireworks are allowed between 9am and 12:30am the following day.

House Study Bill 161 allows a county board of supervisors to adopt a resolution to suspend the use of display fireworks (but not consumer fireworks) based on public safety. Additionally, a city council may by resolution suspend the use of consumer fireworks, display fireworks, or novelties based on public safety.

The effective date of the bill is June 1, 2015. House Study Bill 161 now moves to the house floor for further consideration.

Capitol Review 3/13/15

Key House Bills

HF 124 - 529 College Savings
This bill treats Iowa Educational Savings Plans, or 529 plans, like IRAs allowing tax deductible contributions into plans until April 30.  HF 124 passed the House earlier this session and is awaiting action in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.  Senator Quirmbach controls the bill and has done nothing with it since it was assigned to him on Feb. 10.

HSB 204 - Collective Bargaining/Arbitration Reform
The playing field is wildly tipped in favor of public-sector unions and against the taxpayers.  HSB 204 begins to level that playing field for school boards and administrators in negotiating contracts with teachers unions.  The bill makes three small, yet very significant changes to the binding arbitration section of the Iowa Public Employment Relations Act:

  • Private Sector Comparison:  Requires an arbitrator to consider a private sector worker’s comparison of wages, hours, and conditions of employment when rendering an arbitration decision.  Under current law an arbitrator can only look at a comparison of other public sector worker’s wages and benefits.
  • Ability to Pay and Tax:  Prohibits an arbitrator to consider the ability of the public employer to levy taxes, and the ability of the public employer to finance economic adjustments.  Currently arbitrators are required to consider the fact that the public employer can raise taxes to pay for increased wages or benefits.
  • Selection of a Midpoint:  Allows an arbitrator to pick between the two parties final impasse item offers, rather than one or the other which is required by current law.

HF 161 - Occupancy Restrictions
This bill prevents a city form regulating who can live together in rented property based on their relationship to each other. Some cities have prohibited more than 3 unrelated people from living in a rented property, even if there is enough space. HF 161 does not alter any other housing regulations and still allows cities to regulate residency restrictions on other standards, but not on the relationship of the people living in the rented property. This bill passed from the house by a vote of 72-26.

HF 527 - 2nd Amendment Protections
Under HF 527 Iowans will still renew their carry permit every 5 years, but will only be required to retrain every 10 years.  Additionally the bill allows parents to train their children under the age of 14 how to safety operate a pistol or revolver.  The bill legalizes suppressors and creates a process for a chief law enforcement officer to approve the paperwork necessary for the purchase of a suppressor.  Finally the bill creates permit privacy for gun owners.  Permits to carry and permits to purchase would no longer be public information.  This information remains available to law enforcement.  The bill was sent to the Senate on March 10.

HF 573 - Ultrasounds
HF 573 requires that prior to performing an abortion, a physician must certify in the woman’s medical record that the woman has undergone an ultrasound imaging of the fetus; that the woman is given the opportunity to view the ultrasound image of the fetus; and that the woman is given the option of hearing a description of the ultrasound image and hearing the heartbeat of the fetus.  This bill passed from the house on March 12.

Supreme Court Hears ACA Arguments

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a case that may decide much of the Affordable Care Act’s fate.  The case concerns the wording Congress used when it passed the ACA with a provision that was silent on whether insurance exchanges established by the federal government are eligible to receive subsidies to help consumers buy health insurance.  The ACA is clear, however, that state-based exchanges are eligible for subsidies. 

Many Americans receive their health insurance through their employer, and the ACA attempted to expand that practice by encouraging larger employers to offer comprehensive health insurance to their employees.   The law created the “employer mandate,” which levies a $2,000 tax penalty for every employee that is not offered employer-based health insurance and receives a subsidy on the insurance exchange to purchase a plan on their own.  In addition, the law created the “individual mandate” which requires virtually every American to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

The ACA is clear that customers buying insurance within a state-based insurance exchange--one created and operated by an individual state--can receive tax credits to help buy their policies.  But the law says nothing about whether customers buying insurance within a federal-based insurance exchange can receive tax credits.  Iowa and 35 other states have federal exchanges.  The IRS issued a rule in 2012 that extended the credits to federal exchanges, and they’ve been offered and used ever since the exchanges became operational in 2013. 

The U.S. Supreme Court heard a contentious set of arguments last week, challenging and defending the credits’ issuance in federal exchanges.  If the suit succeeds, customers in Iowa and the 35 other states with federal exchanges will lose their subsidies.  In addition, the “employer mandate” and the “individual mandate” will effectively become unenforceable within those states because the credits are unavailable.  As of last year, Iowa had about 25,000 individuals enrolled in plans on its federally facilitated exchange.  About 20,000 of those individuals receive subsidies to help pay for their coverage.  Around 7.7 million Americans receive subsidies in either a state or federal exchange. 

Bill Aimed at Helping Soldiers Finish Undergrad Sent to Governor

Senate File 130 was sent to the governor this week. The bill passed both chambers unanimously and makes a change to the National Guard Education Assistance Program aimed at helping more soldiers complete their undergraduate degrees.

The National Guard Education Assistance Program (NGEAP) is a state funded tuition assistance program that pays schools "up front" for the cost of tuition for a soldier. In order to qualify for NGEAP benefits a soldier must be an Iowa resident and an active member of the Iowa Army or Air National Guard with a satisfactory performance of duty. Additionally the individual must have completed Initial Entry Training. Applicants must not already have a baccalaureate degree and must attend a North Central Association accredited community college, university, or private college or university in Iowa.

If all requirements are met, NGEAP will pay at least 50 percent of the tuition rate at state Board of Regents schools or 50 percent or the tuition rate at the institution the soldier chooses, whichever is lower. NGEAP funding is not available for summer courses.

Current law limits participation in NGEAP to a certain number of semesters (depending on full-time or part-time status). Senate File 130 changes that limitation by providing that an eligible member of the National Guard can receive this assistance for up to 120 credit hours of undergraduate coursework as opposed to the prior limitation based on semesters. The hope is that more soldiers will finish their baccalaureate degrees with the help of NGEAP despite it taking longer than the traditional four years.

Interested soldiers can apply online at https://ihaveaplaniowa.gov/default.aspx. Applications must be submitted by July 1 for the fall term and December 1 for the spring term. 

Taking Catfish by Bow and Arrow

On Tuesday, the House passed House File 288 which allows Iowans to take catfish by bow and arrow in state parks and preserves.  Currently, this practice is prohibited.  Iowans are allowed to take rough fish, like carp, by bow and arrow.  A violation of this bill is punishable by a $50 fine.  The Natural Resources Commission will permit the taking of catfish in the rules process.

Visitors to the Capitol this Week

alanI met with Alan Karkosh from Hudson at the Capitol this week. Alan visited the Statehouse to meet with legislators to discuss issues concerning farmers.

 

 

 

 

adoption billI also met with several advocates supporting an adoption bill running through the legislature. The group consisted of people from Cedar Falls, Des Moines, Bellevue, and Carroll who came together to discuss this bill with legislators. 

 

 

 

lutheran daySeveral members of Nazareth Lutheran Church in Cedar Falls visited the Capitol this week. The group visited the Statehouse to attend Lutheran Day on the Hill. 

 

 

 

 

politics classI met with Chris Larimar and his Iowa Politics class from UNI.  The students enjoyed meeting with the Governor, Senators, and Representatives throughout the day.  

Capitol Review 3/6/15

Funnel Week

This week in the legislature is known as funnel week.  All bills to be considered on the House Floor must pass Committee by March 6th or they are known as being “dead” for the session, or can no longer be considered.  The exception to this rule is any bill on Appropriation or Ways & Means Committee. 

Update on bills:

HF 58 Ultrasounds

HF 58 requires that prior to performing an abortion, a physician must certify in the woman’s medical record that the woman has undergone an ultrasound imaging of the fetus; that the woman is given the opportunity to view the ultrasound image of the fetus; and that the woman is given the option of  hearing a description of the ultrasound image and hearing the heartbeat of the fetus.

I wrote this bill and believe it has a good chance of passage this year.  The House Human Resources Committee is scheduled to pass this bill out of Human Resources Committee on Thursday, before the funnel deadline. 

HSB 203 Education Savings Accounts

The bill would provide Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for nonpublic school parents, starting with kindergarten and adding a grade year by year.

ESAs would allow parents who choose not to enroll their children in a public school to receive a deposit of public funds into a savings account set up by the state. This money could be used by parents for private school tuition and some other education expenses including tutoring and other educational therapies. The amount put into the savings account by the state would be the per-pupil state foundation aid - this year, about $5,600.

I do support ESA’s but this bill did not pass the Education Committee. 

HSB 204 Collective Bargaining/Arbitration Reform

HSB 204 begins to level that playing field for school boards and administrators in negotiating contracts with teachers unions.  The bill makes three small, yet very significant changes to the binding arbitration section of the Iowa Public Employment Relations Act:

  1. Private Sector Comparison:  Requires an arbitrator to consider a private sector worker’s comparison of wages, hours, and conditions of employment when rendering an arbitration decision.  Under current law an arbitrator can only look at a comparison of other public sector worker’s wages and benefits.
  2. Ability to Pay and Tax:  Prohibits an arbitrator to consider the ability of the public employer to levy taxes, and the ability of the public employer to finance economic adjustments.  Currently arbitrators are required to consider the fact that the public employer can raise taxes to pay for increased wages or benefits.
  3. Selection of a Midpoint:  Allows an arbitrator to pick between the two parties final impasse item offers, rather than one or the other which is required by current law.

This bill has passed out of Labor Committee.

HSB 201 2nd Amendment Protections

Under HSB 201 Iowans will still renew their concealed carry permit every 5 years, but will only be required to retrain every 10 years.  Additionally the bill allows parents to train their children under the age of 14 how to safely operate a pistol or revolver.  The bill legalizes suppressors and creates a process for a chief law enforcement officer to approve the paperwork necessary for the purchase of a suppressor.  Finally the bill creates permit privacy for gun owners.  Permits to carry and permits to purchase would no longer be public information.  This information remains available to law enforcement.

This bill has passed out of Judicial Committee.

Phi Theta Kappa

I met with several members involved with the Hawkeye Community College Group, Phi Theta Kappa, at the Capitol this week. Julie Hendrickson from Waverly and Michele Feltes and Kathy Flynn from Hawkeye are with the Phi Theta Kappa group, which advocates for the C4 initiative. This initiative encourages students to finish college in four years.

Weaver

I met with the Weaver family at the Capitol this week. Kate, Anna, Elijah, Emilie, Claire, and Isabel visited the Statehouse with husband and father, Pastor Eric Weaver who led the House in prayer.

Capitol Review 2/27/15

rogers floor

Walt spoke on the floor this week about his alternative to the gas tax.

Education Funding and Collective Bargaining Reforms

To control the rising costs of education, we must address our collective bargaining issues.  Iowa’s collective bargaining law has no requirement for arbitrators to consider the impact a proposed pay increase will have on the state budget and the taxpayers.  Arbitrators only have to look at the state’s authority to raise or levy taxes to pay for the proposed pay increase.  They have no responsibility to look at the current tax rates in relation to the state’s ability to fund a proposed increase.  The playing field is wildly tipped in favor of public-sector unions and against the taxpayers.

Key collective bargaining reforms that would help control rising costs for school districts are:

  • Allowing an arbitrator to choose between two impasse points, not just an either/or scenario.  The reason to avoid arbitration is that, given what an arbitrator is currently allowed to consider, management is likely to lose.  The playing field is tilted in favor of labor and against the folks funding the eventual agreement – the taxpayers.  Giving the arbitrator power to consider points between two parties allows for a level playing field at the arbitration level of contract negotiations.
  • An arbitrator, during binding arbitration, should be allowed to compare public wages and benefits to those in the private sector.  Currently, an arbitrator compares wages to other public sector employees.  Those public sector employees are often represented by the same unions and thus the comparison amounts to comparing a union to itself.  By including a comparison to the private sector wages and benefits, an arbitrator could look at the entire spectrum of facts and maintain parity between the public and private sectors.

Attracting Veterans for Careers in Waste Water Treatment

On Thursday, February 19, 2015, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a press release announcing that the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) approved a rule giving credit to qualified veterans towards becoming certified drinking water or wastewater treatment operators in Iowa.

The Iowa DNR has been a leader in crediting military experience and training towards certifying veterans. They have worked with federal and state veterans, labor and education departments to become the first in the nation to fulfill a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s initiative to attract and hire veterans for careers in water and wastewater occupations.   The new rule clarifies the accrediting process and meets the requirements of the 2014 Home Base Iowa Act for certifying veterans for professional and occupational licenses.  

Americans Get an “F” on their Tax Knowledge

The average American is completely confused by the U.S. tax code. It is no surprise considering the complicated brackets, rates, credits, deductions, carry forwards, and so on. The average adult scored just a 51 percent on a 10-question test given to 1000 adults by the personal finance website NerdWallet. That is a failing grade by anyone’s standards.

The questions touched on several basic items including 529 plans, healthcare, retirement, and filing status. The one thing test takers did seem to grasp was what withholdings from paychecks were. Tax experts partially blame software, like Turbo Tax, for the lack of knowledge. Software like that seems to have all the answers for questions most taxpayers do not even know to ask.

Maybe uneducated taxpayers are not completely to blame. Maybe the code has gotten so complicated that it would take a law degree just to have a basic understanding of the American tax system. Iowa’s tax code is not any better than the federal system. It has nine brackets and countless deductions and credits based on federal calculations. If an Iowa tax form test was given to 1000 average Iowans, one has to seriously doubt we would fare any better than 51 percent accuracy. If Iowans had an alternative system, like a flat tax, or a sales tax focus, which would cut out all the confusing marginal rates and get rid of most credits and deductions, maybe we could bring our grade in tax class up?

To take the tax quiz visit: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/taxes/nerdwallet-tax-basics-quiz/.

Front License Plates – Necessary or Nuisance?

House Files 110 and 111 both remove front license plate requirements for special types of vehicles, but the bills have sparked some interest as to why front license plates are necessary for every car – what purpose do they serve?

The Department of Public Safety has maintained that these front plates are for safety purposes; law enforcement uses these front plates on a daily basis.  Additionally, as technology evolves, there are some law enforcement programs that are now able to scan these front license plates before even addressing the driver.  While these programs are not used in Iowa, yet, it is a possibility and just another tool law enforcement will be able to utilize to ensure safety. 

On the other side, people argue that these front license plates are just for revenue-generating purposes; they are only essential for automated traffic enforcement purposes to catch the front license plates on cameras and then send a ticket, as well as for toll booth purposes.  Others would advocate for one plate stating the State would only have to produce half the amount of license plates, resulting in a savings to the State, although the numbers are still being figured for such an argument.  Further, there are several specific car owner groups, such as corvettes and other older collectible vehicles, who argue these plates ruin the aesthetic appeal of their cars – especially since they argue there is no other value to these license plates.  

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