Capitol Review 5/22/15

Visitors this Week

I met with 5th grade students from Lincoln Elementary in Cedar Falls at the Capitol this week. I gave them a special tour of the House and answered their questions during the visit.


Is There an End in Sight?

Below is a chart of all our primary budget bills and their status.  As you can see, only two have been passed.  The rest, excluding the Standings bill, are in what’s called a conference committee. This is where members of both houses, assigned by Speaker of the House and the Majority leader in the Senate, come to a compromised conclusion of the specific bill and then move it to both Houses.  There is one problem. The leaders of both chambers have not come to a compromise on two big budget numbers; the overall general fund appropriated limit, and the supplemental state aid to education. 

All session long, I have been reiterating how I will not vote for a general fund budget (essentially our ongoing operating costs to run the state) that spends more than our revenue taken in.  This is a republican principle that we have held firm to since I was elected in 2010.  In 2013 we did do something different with education funding where we increased Supplemental State Aid by 2% and also used 2% of one-time funding monies to help fund critical needs in education.  This was only one time money and was not added to the overall base of education funding.  We have very little ending balance money to do this with for next year.  Revenue projections nationally and in the state are grim and we must sustain a decent ending balance to prepare for a lower than expected state income.  Negotiations are ongoing with the leaders as to the potential remedies of the budget impasse.

Budget Statuses – May 20, 2015


State Board Delays Decision on Science Standards

The State Board of Education met last week to discuss a number of issues.  One of the more controversial items on the agenda was a look at Iowa’s Science Standards.  In April the team tasked with reviewing those standards issued a set of recommendations for revamping them after a 6-month review.  The Board’s action was to hold off on making a final decision until after the review team provides a formalized report detailing its recommendations, which is due later this spring.

The 19-member committee issued a recommendation last month to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, with modifications, as Iowa’s new Science standards.  This recommendation followed months of meetings, a road trip convening a series of 4 public meetings around the state in February to gather public feedback, and combing through roughly 2,600 public comments received through an online survey.

The State Board has authority through statute to set Iowa’s academic standards. Last year the House passed HF 2439 which would have prevented the Department and State Board from making any changes to Iowa’s academic standards until it presented those proposed changes either in an annual report to the legislature or to the House and Senate Education Committees.  It failed in the Senate after having passed the House 96-0.

To read the Next Generation Science Standards, visit
To read Iowa’s academic standards, visit
For more information about the Science Standards Review Team, visit the Iowa Department of Education’s website:

House Committee Passes FY17 School Funding

The House Appropriations Committee this week passed a school funding bill for Fiscal Year 2017, for the 2016/17 school year.  Current law requires the legislature set, and the Governor sign, a school funding increase for FY17 by early February.  The deadline was missed as the House and Senate are still at an impasse on FY16 school funding.

The bill passed by the House committee sets Supplemental State Aid (SSA) at 2%.  This is an increase of $125.2 million.  Added to the 1.25% proposal for FY16, which is currently in conference committee, this is a total proposed increase of $225 million over 2 years.  Included in this figure is $100 million ($50 over 2 years) for the new Teacher Leadership Compensation (TLC) system.

The difficulty with setting SSA at this point is the uncertainty about FY17 revenues.  At this point the legislature won’t see any revenue estimates for FY17 until October, meaning this commitment of $125 million is a move of good faith that Iowa will see revenues that can support such an increase and that Republicans fully intend to stand by this commitment.

Capitol Review 5/15/15

Visitors This Week


I met with 5th grade students from Cedar Heights Elementary at the Capitol this week. The students received a special tour of the House from their legislators during their visit.

House Moves Health and Human Services Budget

On Wednesday, the House passed the FY 2016 HHS budget.  For FY 2016, the House bill spends $1.8543 billion on the Department on Aging, Department of Public Health, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Human Services. 

Over two-thirds of the funds allocated in this budget are dedicated to Medicaid.  Once again, the state is funding a higher share of Medicaid than last year.  The change in the Medicaid match rate means Iowa has had to increase its funding to the program by $276 million since FY 2011.  This change over the past few years has limited our ability to address a variety of issues within Medicaid, including rate structures.  However, the House budget was able to provide additional funding for nursing homes. 

The bill maintains funding for the Autism Support Program at $3 million in fiscal year 2016. This program began two years ago.  The purpose of the program is to provide specialized treatment to children with autism. The bill creates financial grants for those higher education students who are enrolled in Iowa-based programs that will lead to certification as a behavior analyst or assistant behavior analyst.   This will help bring qualified providers into the state.

The bill includes an agreement that was made to allow services to continue at the MHIs at Clarinda and Mount Pleasant through the end of calendar year 2015.  During this time, DHS and the local communities will work to identify and develop new service programs that would be operated in those facilities starting in 2016. 

Continued Fight Against Synthetic Drugs

The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) is again warning of the dangers of synthetic drugs. New synthetics are being produced at a rapid rate and are leading to more calls to the poison control centers around the Country.

House Republicans have been leading the fight against synthetic drugs for the past five years. I’m puzzled as to why the Senate continues to politicize this public safety issue. House File 567 was sent to the Senate to address dangerous synthetic drugs. Instead of sending good policy to the Governor, the Senate amended the bill with other issues and refused to fix the major problem in Iowa’s laws regarding synthetic drugs. 

According to the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy and the AAPCC, through the first four months of 2015, poison control centers received 1,900 calls from people seeking help for reactions to synthetic drugs. This problem will continue to grow until states successfully crack down on the production and distribution of these drugs. ODCP reports that synthetic drugs are underreported because there is no requirement in Iowa. However, the Iowa Poison Control Center has received 10 calls in April regarding synthetic drug exposure. Those numbers can be expected to continually rise until action is taken.

New synthetic drugs continue to pop up around the country. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a synthetic cathinone called “flakka” is becoming very popular. It can cause “excited delirium” that includes hallucinations, paranoia, and violent action. On their website NIDA explains “The drug has been liked to deaths by suicide as well as heart attack. It can also dangerously raise body temperature and lead to kidney damage or failure.” You can learn more about this drug and others on their website.

I will continue working for the safety of Iowans through responsible legislation that allows prosecutors more options for charging producers and distributors of synthetic drugs.

Capitol Review 5/1/14

Visitors This Week

I met with 6th grade Talented and Gifted students from Hudson at the Capitol this week. The group visited the Statehouse to meet legislators and tour the historic Capitol building. 

talented and gifted

I also met with 5th grade students from Orchard Hill Elementary in Cedar Falls at the Capitol this week. We discussed my duties as a Representative and went on a special tour of the House of Representatives. 



National Data Shows Economy Slowing Down

House Republicans continued their progress on passing a budget that lives within ongoing state revenue at a time when national indicators point to an economic slowdown. 

By the end of the week, the House will have debated the five budget bills.  All of the budget bills moved by the House will be funded within the on-going revenue estimate for FY 2016 of $7.1755 billion.  The need to keep on-going state spending within this amount was evident again on Wednesday when the U.S. Commerce Department released figures on the first quarter’s gross domestic product.

First quarter GDP for calendar year 2015 slowed to 0.2 percent growth.  The Washington Post stated that the national economy “ground nearly to a halt.”  The actual growth rate was well shy of the 1.0 percent growth predicted for the quarter and the 2.4 percent growth rate experienced in 2014.

The causes for the sudden slowdown are varied.  Exports took a significant drop in the first quarter, with the export of goods and services going down 7.2 percent.  Part of the blame for this is the stronger dollar, which has made goods for export more expensive in foreign markets. 

Another issue was the 2015 winter and its severe impact on certain areas of the country.  While Iowa’s winter was bearable, the northeastern US was repeatedly hit with massive snowstorms.  The weather impacted consumer spending, as New Englanders stayed warm in their homes instead of shopping at local retailers. 

Construction and manufacturing related to homes were stagnant during the quarter and the number of new hires grew. That growth was almost half of what was experienced in the last quarter of 2014.  The fact that Americans continue the trend of reducing their debt load and saving more also impacted GDP growth. 

The sluggishness of the economy is sending cautionary signals to economists and policymakers across the country.  Here in Iowa, the recent discovery of avian influenza in major turkey and chicken flocks has the potential to have a major impact on the agricultural economy.  State revenue growth for Fiscal Year 2015 continues to remain below the figure projected by the Revenue Estimating Conference.

House Republicans’ efforts to pass a budget that spends less than the state will take in shows a commitment to common-sense budgeting practice that Iowans across the state are putting to use in their own homes. 

Avian Influenza Expands to Five More Sites in Iowa
CDC considers the risk to people to be low

On Monday, April 27, 2015, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) issued a press release that authorities are responding to five probable cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in commercial poultry farms in Osceola, O’Brien and Sioux Counties in Northwest Iowa.  These five new cases join three confirmed cases of the disease in Iowa.  State officials have quarantined the premises and if the initial tests are confirmed, all birds on the property will be humanely euthanized to prevent the spread of the disease.  Also on Monday, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Northey appeared before the House Appropriation Committee to describe this outbreak and what additional state financial resources are being used by the state/IDALS in this investigation and eradication and clean-up effort.  Also discussed were additional funds that might be needed in this effort. 

The Secretary and the press release noted that Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Iowa Department of Public Health considers the risk to people from these HPAI H5 infections in wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial poultry, to be low.  No human infections with the virus have ever been detected and there is no food safety risk for consumers.

The United States has the strongest Avian Influenza (AI) surveillance program in the world.  As part of the existing USDA avian influenza response plans, Federal and State partners as well as industry are responding quickly and decisively to these outbreaks by following these five basic steps: 1) Quarantine – restricting movement of poultry and poultry-moving equipment into and out of the control area; 2) Eradicate – humanely euthanizing the affected flock(s); 3) Monitor region – testing wild and domestic birds in a broad area around the quarantine area; 4)  Disinfect – kills the virus in the affected flock locations; and 5) Test – confirm that poultry farms in the area are free of the virus.

While prior press releases and articles have reported that these virus strains can travel in wild birds without those birds appearing sick, a Minnesota news story published on Monday from the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) reported that in Minnesota there is no evidence of the disease in wild birds sampled in that area.  That report can be found at the following link. 

IDALS is cooperating in partnership with the Iowa Department of Public Health and are working directly with poultry workers at the affected facility to ensure proper precautions are being taken.  People should avoid contact with sick/dead poultry or wildlife.  If contact occurs, wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.  The IDALS press release advised that all bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard flock owners, should continue to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state/federal officials, either through their state veterinarian at 515-281-5321 or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593.  Information will also be posted to the IDALS’ website at

Capitol Review 4/24/15

The Politics of School Funding

I often get asked to speak at schools about the governmental process and politics. I usually start out with this analogy; I ask a random student if they have any money. Usually someone has a couple of bucks. I then ask them to trust me with their few dollars to go to the closest convenience store and bring them back something “good” to eat. I then ask them, what are the important variables in our transaction we have just set up? Think about it?

Those variables are money and goodness. That is what government and politics is all about.  How much money are we talking about, and what is good?

Let’s apply this to the “politics of school funding.”

How much money are we talking about? Much debate has been discussed on this issue contesting the numbers of each argument. It’s ironic that even with raw numbers; the outcomes can be disputed in politics. Let’s just make this simple and say the Republicans take a more conservative approach with your money and do not want to spend the savings account. The Democrats take a more liberal approach and do want to spend the savings. Can we at least agree to that?

This premise then leads us to the second variable; what is good? You have to decide what is good in this day and age, a conservative approach to money or a liberal one. One undeniable fact is this; Iowa is spending 55% of its entire budget on education. Regardless of which party controls the outcome, that number will not change much. So, I think what we can agree on is that with Iowa spending a majority of its money on education, we all want to spend it in a good way and we all care deeply about the kids we are educating.

This brings me to my last point I want to make. I was disturbed the past few weeks to see Iowa students, as young as 5 and 6, being paraded throughout the Capitol outfitted in “I’m Worth Less” t-shirts, carrying controversial signs and being used as props. I saw one local TV reporter put a camera in the face of a 6 year old and ask her why she was holding a 4% sign. She repeated an obvious rehearsed line about supplemental state aid funding. One of my colleagues was asked by a child, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” When my colleague said “Republican,” he was scolded by the child. I saw “WANTED” posters directed toward fellow Republicans on Facebook and in other conspicuous places. I would hope that most parents would agree that it’s wrong to use students as political pawns in this debate.

I hope in the next week, we can come to a conclusion about the budget and funding issue so both Republicans and Democrats can move on to concentrating on what is “good.”


PO Box 1142
Cedar Falls, IA 50613



PaidFor web   Copyright © 2014 Walt Rogers for Iowa.  All rights reserved.