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Capitol Review 3/18/17

Budget outlook updated

The Revenue Estimating Conference met this week to make their latest revenue projections for both the current and following fiscal years.

The REC has continued to cite low commodity prices and a sluggish agricultural economy as a driving factor for the lower than anticipated revenue figures.

Inaccurate revenue projections are not limited to Iowa.  At least 30 states, whose economies largely rely on agriculture and energy, have had to make budget reductions in the middle of their fiscal year.

FY 2017
The REC lowered the FY17 revenue projection by $131 million.  This is in addition to the $117 million in reductions that were done at the beginning of session.

With only a few months left in the fiscal year, additional budget reduction opportunities remain limited. Gov. Branstad has proposed using the Cash Reserve account to make up the budget shortfall.  If this happens, House Republicans will not adjourn session without a plan to refill the cash reserve account.

FY 2018
The REC lowered the FY 18 revenue projection by $191 million.  This leaves about $6 million available in new revenue for the fiscal year.  An additional $40 million has already been approved for schools.

Moving Forward

House Republicans’ plan to effectively manage the state budget is threefold:

  1. Taxpayers and the Legislature need more accurate revenue estimates from the Revenue Estimating Conference.
  2. A hard look needs to be taken at the “what” and “where” taxpayer money is used to make sure Iowans are getting the best value and their priorities are being met.
  3. Every tax credit is on the table to ensure Iowa’s taxpayers are getting a good deal.

Democrats are criticizing the budget management of Republicans but conveniently leave out the fact that they supported plans that increase state spending by more than $1 BILLION over the last two years.  Without the Republican majority’s strong stand, key areas like local school budgets would be facing deep cuts.  Iowans can count on House Republicans to stand strong against reckless government spending ideas. 

Waterloo Schools Show Largest Reading Improvements for Struggling Readers

A new briefing from the Department of Education this week provided numbers to support the Department’s conclusion that Iowa’s Early Literacy efforts, created in 2012’s Education Reform initiative, are proving successful.  From the report:  “Efforts that began in 2012 to systemically implement a statewide early warning system have already had a positive impact in the growth of literacy skills for students in kindergarten through third grade…Ultimately, these efforts have put Iowa on track to ensuring Iowa students are proficient readers by the end of third grade.”

Iowa’s law put in place an early warning system to identify struggling readers early through a screening system, provide intervention and monitoring to get students back on track, involve parents in the process through continuous communication, and ultimately provide a final effort through a summer reading program.  The law also may require the retention of third graders who aren’t proficient by the end of third grade, provided they don’t meet any good cause exemptions or attend the summer school program.

The legislature then backed the efforts with specific funding ($8 million annually) that supplements existing funding for early intervention and reading ($30 million annually), and coaching and support systems for teachers to help provide focused instruction on reading instruction. 

What the report this week detailed were some of the successes of the program.

  • In the 2015/16 school year, from Fall to Spring, the number of students who met or exceeded reading benchmarks grew from 63.4% of students to 67.6% (a 4.2% increase)
  • In terms of actual student numbers, 8,923 went from below to at or above benchmarks
  • Of 398 school districts and nonpublic schools using the early warning system, 242 saw an increase in the number of students at benchmark (60.8%)
  • The top 10 districts with the highest growth saw increases in the number of students moving from below to above benchmarks increase by 19.5% to 32.2%
  • 53 districts saw double digit percentage increases
  • Waterloo saw that largest increase for urban districts with a 14.6% increase

Worker’s Compensation Reform

Iowa’s workers compensation system was originally designed to provide benefits to injured workers without the need to hire an attorney.  The system should be simpler so an injured employee knows exactly what kind of benefits they can rely upon.  Costs need to be reduced for workers and employers.

Iowa's workers compensation system is easily exploited by people who want to game the system; such as greedy attorneys taking advantage of injured workers.  The system is meant to provide a safety net to workers injured or disabled at work, not provide generous payouts to those who want to exploit the generous nature of our system.

HF 518 Worker’s Compensation Reform bill is designed to help workers get on with their lives and back to work, not force them into the court room.  We want to safeguard the benefits to legitimate injured workers, and help to prevent future injuries.

Bold solutions move forward in the Iowa House this week

School Funding Flexibility
House Files 564 and 565 provide schools with more flexibility, allowing locally elected officials to utilize unused funds that are typically reserved for specific purposes.  These bills recognize that no two school districts are exactly alike and will allow each school district to better meet the specific needs of our students and teachers.  I am honored to spearhead and guide both of these pieces of legislation through the Iowa House. 

Protecting Young Iowans from Synthetic Drugs
House File 296 will protect Iowa’s kids by keeping deadly synthetic drugs off the streets, while also making it easier to prosecute sellers of those drugs.

Supporting Families with Autistic Children
House File 215 addresses the unique challenges parents of children with autism face by extending insurance coverage for autism treatments to Iowa families.  Coverage for autism can be very expensive but is very beneficial for future growth.  This legislation ensures access to programs with proven, positive outcomes in the child’s development.

Privacy Protections for the 21st Century
House Joint Resolution 1 extends Fourth Amendment privacy protections to Iowans’ electronic communications and data, ensuring Constitutional rights keep up with today’s technology.

Reining in an Out of Control Federal Government
House Joint Resolution 12 calls for a Convention of the States to address the Federal Government’s power and jurisdiction.

Capitol Review 3-10-17

Road Construction on U.S. 63 in Waterloo will begin March 13

The Iowa Department of Transportation has announced that the first phase of a two-year reconstruction project on U.S. 63 in Waterloo will begin Monday morning, weather permitting.  Due to this construction, there will be a detour around the work zone on U.S. 63 between Jefferson Street and Franklin Street in Waterloo.

This construction will have traffic impacts. Northbound and Southbound U.S. 63 traffic in the reconstruction project area will be restricted to one way. Local traffic will have access to the area but motorists are encouraged to use the detour or an alternate route due to expected delays that will be caused by traffic congestion.

  • Traffic heading southbound on the U.S. 63 will be detoured around the work zone using Airline Highway for 3 miles, then Airport Boulevard for 0.2 mile, then southbound U.S. 218, and then onto U.S. 63 at the interchange.
  • Traffic heading northbound will be detoured using northbound U.S. 218 at the U.S. 218/U.S. 63 interchange, then north on Airport Boulevard for 0.2 mile to Airline Highway, and then 3 miles east to U.S. 63. 

As this is a work zone, motorists should drive with caution and obey the posted speed limit as well as any other signs in the work area. Traffic fines for moving violations are at least double in work zones.

To see how this highway route or other routes affect your travel, the Iowa DOT offers the “My Routes” option on 511.ia.org where you can subscribe to get email/text alerts about traffic incidents, road closures, traffic delays, and other restrictions.

As this study points out, these issues are not easily resolved and it takes time to determine which areas need what. 

Education Committee

I’ve been very busy chairing the Education Committee! The first “funnel” came and went last week, a procedural process of the legislature whereby any bills that will continue to move forward this session must be voted out of committee by last Friday.  The process narrows the legislature’s focus on policy proposals for the remainder of the session. 

The passage through committee does not guarantee additional action.  Also, some bill numbers will change moving forward for procedural reasons.  Bills can also have amendments added to them while debated on the floor.  Below are the bills that survived the House and Senate Education Committees with abbreviated summaries:

HSB 94 – Postsecondary Institution Registration – Makes cleanup changes for post-secondary education registration and allows for provisional registration, and allows for denial, revocation, or suspension of registration for engaging in prohibited behavior 

HSB 178 – School District Fund Flexibility – Provides new allowable uses for specific funding received by school districts, including professional development, at-risk / dropout prevention, preschool, PPEL funding, talented and gifted funding, and student activity fund dollars.

HF 17 – Student Athlete Concussions Protocols – Requires CPR training for coaches, concussion protocols, including return-to-play, as well as concussion notification be in place for student athletes.

HF 26 – Statutory Home Rule for School Districts – Gives school districts in Iowa statutory Home Rule authority, providing stronger local control for school districts

HF 136 / SF 166 – Supplemental State Aid FY18, Regular Program and Categorical, and Law Changes – Sets Supplemental State Aid (SSA) at 1.11% for FY18 for school districts, a $73 per pupil increase and a $40 million increase in school aid.  Also makes changes to the process by which SSA is set every year. 

HF 217 – Board of Educational Examiners Discipline Reporting – Requires notification be sent to the licensing board if a licensed employee is disciplined by the district for being on school premises or at a school-sponsored activity while under the influence drugs or alcohol.

HF 349 – Petition for Merger or Consolidation Weighting – In the case of a school district merger or consolidation, if conflict occurs between the merger plan and the petition, the petition is given more legal weight.

HF 419 – Peace Officers as Driver Education Instructors – Allows peace officers to teach driver education in a classroom setting provided they meet minimum standards.

HF 446 – School District Flexibility Fund – Allows for the creation of a Flexibility Fund in each district, the purpose of which is to collect unexpended and unobligated funds from a few different sources of categorical funding and allow the district to use those funds to enhance local programs.

HF 474 – Uncollectible Student Debt – The College Student Aid Commission can discharge student loan debt owed to the commission if it finds the debt is uncollectable and costly to track.

HF 472 – Forgivable Loan Eligibility – Prevents qualifying for two separate loan programs that address teacher shortage areas, ensuring access to more applicants.

HF 473 – High School Equivalency Programs – Establishes the addition of multiple pathways to obtain a High School Equivalency Diploma beyond just taking an exam.

HF 507 – Computer Science Education – Encourages school districts to provide computer science courses in grades K-12, requires standards for such classes be developed, and creates opportunities for training in this area. 

HF 508 – Operational Sharing Incentives Extension – Extends Operational Sharing, the process by which school districts share various school personnel positions and receive incentive funding, indefinitely. 

HF 514 – College Student Aid Commission Board Composition – Increases the board size from 8 to 9, removes lender institution and a student loan borrower, as the commission no longer guarantees loans, and adds an additional member of the general public for balance.

HF 515 – School District Security Plans – Requires school districts to have a school security plan in place for all of the buildings in the district by June 30, 2018. A task force is to be convened to issue recommendations to school districts.

Senate Files (the Senate moved files similar to House files that are not included in this list)

SF 240 – Assessments – Requires the Department of Education to request and choose a statewide assessment for student achievement and growth measurements that measures Iowa’s academic standards.  A new assessment will not go into place for the 2017/18 school year.

SF 349 – Iowa Tuition Grant – Removes the individual student cap for maximum award on the Iowa Tuition Grant of $6000.

SF 150 – English Language Learners Weighting – Extends the number of years a student may be eligible for ELL funding from 5 to 7 years.

SSB 1114 – Children's Residential Facilities, Religion Exemption – Provides an exemption from certain standards for religious institutions that provide residential education programs for at-risk students.

SSB 1124 – School District Funding and Transportation Equity – Evens out the playing field for school districts on their authority for spending on a per pupil basis and provides additional funding to school districts with high costs for transporting students to the school.

SSB 1137 – Education Regulation Omnibus – Makes numerous regulatory changes in the areas of Department of Education control over local district operations, dental and vision screening requirements, online learning, community college courses for high school students, fees for open enrollment, and accreditation of nonpublic schools.

Second Amendment Bill Passes Iowa House

On Tuesday, we successfully passed an extensive, bi-partisan bill preserving Second Amendment rights for Iowans. Through HF 517, the firearms permitting process is made simpler and safer, parents are guaranteed the opportunity to teach their children how to safely handle firearms, the privacy of Iowans who have a firearms permit is protected, and Iowans are given the right to defend themselves. The bill also includes several other changes to the law that we have worked on for the past seven years.

Permit to Carry Weapons and Firearm Safety Training
Divisions three and four of the bill address the firearms permitting process. Nonprofessional permits to carry and permits to acquire will both be issued for five years.  In order to get an initial nonprofessional permit to carry, a person must complete a firearms safety class that can be done online or in person. Additional classes are not required when a permit is renewed. While the permits are issued for five years, the office that issues a permit to carry or acquire may conduct annual criminal history checks.

Under current law, permits to carry and acquire can look significantly different depending on where the permit is issued. HF 517 creates a uniform appearance for both a permit to carry and a permit to acquire. Having a uniform permit system will make it easier to verify the validity of a permit in any situation.

Possession of Pistols and Revolvers by Persons Under the Age of 14
Current law does not allow a parent to teach their child how to safely handle a pistol or revolver if they are under 14. There is no restrictions on shotguns or rifles and this imbalance has created problems for law abiding Iowans.  The bill allows a parent or guardian to supervise a child, under the age of 21, while they lawfully use a pistol or revolver. The guardian must remain in close proximity and have visual and verbal contact with the child using the pistol or revolver.   The guardian will be strictly liable to an injured party for all damages resulting from the possession of the handgun. Under current law, and this bill, anyone else who allows a person under 14 to possess a handgun is guilty of a class “D” felon.

Permit Confidentiality
Iowans who have a permit to carry or acquire firearms risk having their private information released to the public. HF 517 requires Department of Public Safety and the county sheriff to keep this personally identifiable information private. The information may only be released to law enforcement under certain circumstances. The Department of Public Safety or the County Sheriff can also confirm the validity of a permit.

Stand Your Ground-Justifiable Use of Reasonable Force
Under HF 517, Iowans will finally be allowed to stand their ground and protect themselves and others from violent attacks. A person will be permitted to use reasonable force, up to and including deadly force, to protect themselves or others if there is reasonable belief that force is necessary. By removing the duty to retreat Iowans no longer have to run and hide in dangerous situation and can instead stop an attack. The bill also presumes that a person is justified in using deadly force if they believe it is necessary to protect themselves or others in their home, place of business or vehicle.  A person who uses self-defense is not liable, either criminally or civilly, to the aggressor who was injured or killed. Additional language in the bill clarifies that a person who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs may not possess a dangerous weapon, however, they may still be justified in using a weapon in self-defense.

After seven years of hard work, we were successful in passing a comprehensive firearms bill that ensures Iowans freedoms are protected. The bill has been sent to the Senate where the Judiciary Committee will begin hearings on it sometime soon. For additional information on HF 517 and a complete bill analysis, please visit the House Republican’s website.

Want a dome tour?

Come and visit me at the Capitol and schedule a time with my clerk for a dome tour.  Email my clerk, Dani, at my email address to set up a time.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Capitol Review 3/5/17

Election Integrity and Modernization

Iowans should have confidence in their elections.  Measures like voter verification and election modernization give Iowans assurance that our system is fair, clean, and ensures eligible voters aren’t disenfranchised. 

House Republicans have been working with Secretary of State Paul Pate on changes to Iowa’s election process, including voter verification, that make it easier to vote, harder to cheat, and ensures no one is turned away.

This week, the State Government Committee passed the Election Integrity and Modernization bill and sent it to the House floor for consideration.

HSB 93 requires all voters to present government-issued identification at their polling location.  Acceptable forms of ID include:

  • An Iowa Driver’s License
  • An Iowa Non-operator ID
  • A United State Passport
  • A Veteran or Military ID
  • A Voter Identification issued by the Secretary of State

HSB 93 provides eligible voters with a free Voter Identification Card if they cannot afford another form of identification.

  • Voter verification measures are already law in 34 other states.

HSB 93 implements the use of E-poll Books to modernize and streamline the voting process at polling locations

HSB 93 eliminates straight-ticket voting from Iowa ballots

  • Iowa is one of only nine states that allow straight-ticket voting
  • Straight-ticket voting disenfranchises third party candidates that don’t have a box that voters can check
  • Straight-ticket voting also causes confusion for voters oftentimes

A recent Des Moines Register poll finds that 69% of Iowans believe that a government-issued ID should be presented in order to vote.

Education Committee Moves Forward on Flexibility for School Districts

As tight budgets abound at both the state and local level, the conversation naturally moves to using existing dollars more effectively.  School districts have often asked for additional flexibility in their “silos” of funding and the legislature has abided in the past by making small changes here and there. 

But the atmosphere this year has been ripe for making larger changes to give more power back to the local school districts.  Here are the bills moving currently that provide those needed changes:

House File 26 – Home Rule

This bill grants similar authority to school districts that cities and counties in Iowa have had since 1968 and 1978, respectively.   In broad terms, it’s ultimate local control.  School districts would be able to exercise flexibility in areas in which state law or rules don’t limit operation.  They would still be required to follow law that prescribe their actions as well as avoid actions prohibited by law, including creating additional taxing authority. 

House Study Bill 178 – Flexibility for School District Funds
Schools receive funding for specific purposes when new programs are created, requiring them to address the issue with narrow guidelines put on those funds.  Often those guidelines prove to be too narrow and need some loosening up.  This bill makes changes to a number of funds, including Professional Development funding, At-risk and Dropout funding, Preschool funding, PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) funding, and Talented and Gifted (TAG) funding, by adding additional allowable expenses that are meant to help the funding further the goals of the program.  It also includes language meant to provide additional flexibility from the sometimes heavy hand of the Department of Education in creating additional parameters around various programs and funding through rules and guidance to school districts.

House File 446 – School District Flexibility Fund
As mentioned above, often school district funds have narrow parameters that prohibit them from being utilized fully.  As a result, school districts accumulate unused funds that grow year after year.  There are currently over 74 identified sources of funding that school districts statewide have leftover funds in to the tune of over $146 million in FY 2015 (a $17.5 million increase over FY 2014).  Much of this funding cannot be touched or used.

The idea behind HF 446 is to create a new “Flexibility Fund” that would collect some of this funding and create additional spending authority for districts to use those funds in a broader fashion, but still in the direction of the original source of the funding.  The fund should hopefully help districts access some of this untouchable funding, bring carry-over down, and use the money in ways that help students with further access, more high-quality programming, and a stronger education program.

In addition to House action this week, the Senate is also moving forward on bills that fall in the periphery of the flexibility category.  Long on the minds of many school districts and legislators are issues of “inequity” for specific funding requirement, namely transportation funding and spending authority on a per pupil basis.  SSB 1124 will take steps to alleviate these inequities and the House will review that when and if it comes over from the Senate.   

All of these bills, still early in the process, are works in progress.  But movement has begun and they are priorities of House Republicans to the extent that additional flexibility and authority be provided to school districts to more effectively manage local operations in providing the best education possible for Iowa’s children.

Defending the Second Amendment

House Republicans are strong defenders of Iowans’ Second Amendment rights.  Over the last six years, the House has passed a number of bills that expand and protect the rights of Iowans to keep and bear arms.

This session provides a unique opportunity to protect and strengthen Second Amendment freedoms for Iowans.  This week the Judiciary Committee passed the omnibus firearm bill to expand Iowan’s personal liberties and crackdown on straw purchases.

Pictures from this Week

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UNI Class

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Hawkeye Community College

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