Sen. Jason Schultz

Sen. Jason Schultz

Sen. Jason Schultz

The Schultz Perspective

4/12/2019

We’ve moved through week 13 in the Iowa Legislature. After last week’s second funnel deadline, policy committees are done with their work and we are to final floor debates and budget talks.

While we have no agreement yet with the House or the governor on what the budget will look like for the next fiscal year, we continue to move forward with our budget bills. Although the Senate proposal spends the least of the three plans, I believe all of them will lead to a budget that is responsible and sustainable. My budget priorities this session include shifting funding to support our state troopers, community colleges, Medicaid rebasing for nursing homes, as well as continuing to find ways we can provide tax relief for Iowa taxpayers. Our budget accomplishes these goals while providing the state with some cushion in the event of slower economic growth than predicted.

Flood relief continues to be a major topic of conversation in the Iowa Legislature. Many parts of southwest Iowa remain under water and a full accounting of the damage may be weeks or months away. Senate Republicans are in regular contact with the governor to identify potential legislation to expedite recovery efforts and a plan is expected soon. However, the single most important aspect of flood relief is for Democrats in the U.S. Senate to stop opposing flood relief and approve the nearly $1.6 billion in aid requested by Governor Reynolds and approved by the president. These flood relief efforts will be focused not on growing government but getting aid directly to those people in need.

Now that the deadlines have passed, we can consider what passed the Senate that didn’t get a hearing in the Iowa House. First on this list for me is welfare reform. I ran four bills on that subject, including eligibility verification with potentially millions of dollars of tax savings, Medicaid work requirements, and SNAP improvements. The Senate passed a bill banning traffic enforcement cameras, also known as “gotcha cams,” and the Senate also moved a bill to inject more public input in the process to choose our Iowa Supreme Court Justices.

The Senate passed an E-Verify bill that would mandate employers in Iowa utilize the long-standing federal program to make sure their employees are in the United States legally.  This year we passed a fetal homicide bill to match the penalties for intentionally or unintentionally killing a baby in the womb to someone who has been born. None of these items were taken up by the House.

This frustration is not with the entire Republican House caucus. Our local representatives, Rep. Windschitl and Rep. Holt, are solid conservative leaders. They are not holding up any of these bills I consider important for Iowa. My hope is for our representatives to be joined by more like-minded conservatives. I am grateful to western Iowa for giving me the opportunity to serve with a Senate caucus that is bold and decisive. If you have comments or questions, please email jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov or call the switchboard at 515-281-3371.

The Schultz Perspective

4/5/2019

Success! I am glad to report that SF 334, the Eligibility and Verification for Public Assistance bill from last week’s newsletter has passed the Senate. When I had last written, we were waiting for a fiscal note to estimate how much the bill would cost taxpayers if passed.

Part of my frustration was with the bureaucratic inertia at the Department of Human Services I was pushing against. It seems almost every time office holders try to make changes to how a department provides services, the department makes it more difficult than it should be. Last year, the DHS employee stated in the welfare reform subcommittee that the Department registered neutral on the bill, but then gave a long, emotional testimony against making any changes.

This year, my experience was more one of waiting and having to ask the precisely correct question to get the information I requested. Due to funnel deadlines, I once had to schedule a subcommittee without the information I requested, only to get the information after the meeting that justified moving the bill. We had to run a quick second meeting and easily moved the bill with the late information. The weekend delay last week was due to a lack of fiscal information requested seven days before we ran the bill. Frustrating!

After Senate Democrats deferred on the bill until we received the fiscal note, Senate leadership sent messages demanding the information by Monday. In order to compare the cost of the government setting up a real time system to meet the bill requirements, we also requested that DHS provide estimates from the private sector vendor for providing the same service. DHS replied that since the bill gave them the option to contract with vendors, they are making the decision now that they will not contract out the service, and therefore they refused to provide the estimates. We know from other states and other programs that these vendors can provide the service for a fraction of what DHS estimated – over $8 million to set up the system and $200,000 per year to operate it. What the DHS didn’t include would be the savings from not having hundreds of DHS employees working one case at a time. My low estimate on this savings is $24 million annually.

In the end, the Senate Republicans passed a bill that would make proving eligibility for public assistance easier to comply with for recipients. It could shrink the size of government by hundreds. It would save tax payers millions each year. Most importantly, SF 334 would make sure benefits would go to those who were eligible and not to those who figured out how to get benefits for which they did not qualify.

Thank you for giving me opportunity to work on welfare reform in the Iowa Senate. If you need to contact me, please email jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov.

The Schultz Perspective

4/1/2019

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” This quote came to mind as I ran SF 334 on the Senate floor. SF 334 is a bill I filed to study the issue of how Iowa verifies eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, and the Family Investment Program. The Department of Human Services, Senate Democrats, and the Iowa House were on my mind.

I learned that the Iowa Department of Human Services is verifying continued eligibility manually by calling other departments to check off a list that includes employment status, residency status, and enrollment in other assistance programs. I want our programs to be more reactive to changes in the lives of recipients so I filed this bill started to move to quarterly checks instead of every six months or a year.

During the legislative process on this bill, I learned about the National Accuracy Clearinghouse (NAC). The NAC is a pilot program started in five southern states to share SNAP data and hire a private vendor to search for duplicate applications in those states. The results were amazing. Alabama and Mississippi had an 81% reduction in dual participation. Louisiana saw a 71% decrease. The results are so impressive that in the 2018 Farm Bill the USDA included a requirement for states to participate in the NAC by 2021. The official report estimated $200,000,000 in savings nationwide if this success carries coast to coast.

This leads me to my frustration. I learned that our Department of Human Services doesn’t seem interested in joining NAC or working with private sector vendors. I have estimates that it would cost Iowa $115,000 the first year to hire a contractor to verify eligibility and $67,000 the next year. They can do this by scanning 10,000 public databases by computer instead of picking up the phone. The efficiencies are almost unbelievable. Imagine if we used this system for Medicaid and FIP also.

My frustration comes from Senate Democrats who are resisting the bill and have pushed its passage into this week. They do not want to vote to adopt new technology or efficiencies that would endanger the number of government employees who currently monitor eligibility. Finally, my frustration also lies with the decision in the Iowa House not to even look at the bill when we send it over to them Monday. Iowa taxpayers deserve to have us constantly on the lookout for opportunities for smaller, smarter government at every opportunity.

It is a rewarding, if trying, experience working to find solutions for Iowa’s challenges. If you need to visit, call 515-281-3371 for the Senate switchboard to leave a message for me. Or email jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov.

The Schultz Perspective

3/22/2019

Week Ten:

Week 10 in the Iowa Legislature passes with us moving Senate files over to the House, and looking at House Files in our committees.

Two issues with local impact have passed the Iowa Senate this week. SF 548 is a bill to stop private entities from using the State Revolving Loan Fund (SRLF) to buy land. The SRLF was formed to provide low interest loans for drinking water, waste water, and non-point source water quality projects. Acquiring land was not a purpose. Several years ago, a change was made to allow private entities such as the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation to access extremely low public loans in order to purchase land and hold it until they could transfer it to a public owner such as the state DNR or county conservation office.

This is good work being done, but doesn’t justify the use of tax dollars for purposes other than the original purposes. We end up with situations in which a private group can use a taxpayer’s dollars while bidding against that same taxpayer who has to use their own money and market rate interest. It isn’t good policy. The bill doesn’t nothing to prohibit private entities from buying that same land with their own money or private sector loan and then selling it to a public owner.

The other issue is related to private patient information. If you go to the hospital or even take a ride in an ambulance, providers must collect patient data and forward it to the Iowa Department of Public Health each quarter. This data includes names and social security numbers. The Department stores this data but admits it has not developed new protocols or uses for the data. In addition, researchers for the University of Iowa Hospital have been given access to this data, unfiltered, for various purposes. In just 2017, 6 million records were sent by hospitals and 2.5 million records were collected and sent by Emergency Medical Services. Over 600,000 Iowans are represented in this collection. This isn’t right.

I was contacted by local EMS providers who were concerned about billing issues in order to keep our local services afloat. I worked with the bill manager to include an amendment to protect our local service providers. Aggregate data with names and SSN’s scrubbed can be used by EMS for planning and evaluation. We ended up passing a very good bill.

I hope the break in winter weather has you celebrating the arrival of spring! If you would like to send an email, please us jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov or call the switchboard to 515-281-3371.

The Schultz Perspective

3/11/2019

I have always known how important our outdoor resources are to Iowans. Our campgrounds are full all season. Hunting and fishing drive tens of thousands into the Iowa countryside all year round. Mushroom hunting, geocaching, bird watching, and bicycling bring out tens of thousands more. That’s why I was not surprised at the amount of Iowans who reached out when two bills held subcommittees this week. What did surprise me was what I learned about the two bills after I looked into what had happened.

House File 542 was filed by a representative in southwest Iowa. He stated the purpose of the bill was to start a conversation about how land is acquired for public use and how taxpayers and farmers are impacted by it. There has been a concern for years about the state gathering ground and how they rent tillable acres back to farmers. There have been concerns that departments using tax dollars are buying ground that private citizens were bidding on. The message I received is that Iowans like how their county boards are operating and I haven’t heard of any problems over the years either. I’ve only taken complaints about issues at the state level.

We have had bills to address similar concerns come and go nearly each year. From what I can find here at the Capitol, this bill did not make it out of subcommittee and will die at the funnel deadline this week. I don’t think the representative had any ill intent and his views are matched by a lot of rural Iowans.

Senate Study Bill 1221 touched on a similar subject but has a much more focused purpose. It simply removes the ability of private organizations to access state revolving loan funds in order to buy land for the purpose of selling that land to a level of government. When you have access to revolving loan dollars, taxpayers are subsidizing the loan to allow interest rates as low as a quarter percent.

The issue seems to be the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation using subsidized loans to buy pieces of ground that local citizens are bidding on. They then sell the ground to the government later. The citizen has to use their own money and pay market rates for their loan. This gives a huge advantage to the outside organization. SSB 1221 doesn’t end the state revolving loan fund, only stops private entities from using the fund to gain an advantage.

The other function of SSB1221 is to end the current tax credit when a land owner donates their land to a conservation organization. No one should have any problem with a land owner donating their land to a cause they support. The sponsors of the bill ask if taxpayers should be subsidizing the donation with tax dollars to incentivize more donations. That’s a fair policy discussion.

That is all this bill does. The bill doesn’t end land acquisition or control County Conservation Boards at all. It is nothing like HF 541.

Like any bill, I look forward to reading your thoughts on the issue, and I am confident the bill will change as it moves out of the subcommittee this week. Thank you to Iowans for showing us how important this subject is to you.

I appreciate being able to report back to the district on issues that impact your daily lives. If you need to contact me, email jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov or call the switchboard at 515-281-3371.

The Schultz Perspective

3/08/2019

We have reached the half-way point of the 2019 session. The first administrative hurdle for bills hoping to stay alive for consideration is this week. If a policy bill is not out of the first chamber’s committee, it is no longer eligible for consideration. This helps us focus on bills that have the most widespread support.

The Senate released its budget targets last week. It happens along with the House releasing their full budget. The governor released her budget the first week of the session, giving us a look at her priorities.

Senate Republicans are offering a budget that spends no more than last year, but includes $257 million in new spending in important areas. We can do this due to a few one-time expenditures we had last year that we do not need to fund this year. Last year we had to repay the cash reserve account and this year the federal government is providing more money in the Medicaid program. This frees up the tax dollars we will use for other priorities.

Education will again get the lion’s share, at nearly $130 million for K through college. $14.5 million will be added to public safety, which includes state troopers. They are one of my personal priorities as their equipment and staffing has fallen to a dangerous level. $38.8 million will go to continued tax relief for economic stimulus and relief. $106 million will be added to health care funding

The total budget for Fiscal Year 2020 will be $7,619,300,000, the same amount we spent this year. I will be proud to support this proposal and will try to hold this position to the best of my ability. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work on this project. If you need to contact me, email jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov or call 515-281-3371.

The Schultz Perspective

2/11/2019

Floor action will begin soon in the Iowa Senate as we finish Week 4. One of the first bills to pass next week will satisfy an annual deadline involving school funding. Iowa law requires that the Iowa Legislature passes the next year’s supplemental state aid (SSA) number within 30 days after the governor releases her budget. SSA is the percent increase from this year’s spending.

The reason this requirement exists is due to Iowa law also requiring local school boards to certify a budget in March. We are required to give those school boards time to develop their budget, set wages, and make plans for future actions that are based on the amount of tax dollars available. Some years the legislature has failed to pass SSA until later in the session. This causes problems for school districts that often are forced to make personnel cuts or other serious action, only to find out later that those actions were unnecessary.

Iowa taxpayers invest over $7 billion in K-12 education each year. The largest portion of this funding comes from sales and income taxes collected and appropriated from the General Fund. The next largest amount comes from local property taxes. This coming week, both Senate and House will pass a SSA increase of 2.06% over the current year. This equates to over $81 million new tax dollars going to cover public education in K-12. When you count all funding sources, Iowa schools are receiving $14,600 per student.

The funding package also includes $7.8 million in transportation equity spending to bring the total in new money for K-12 education to $89.3 million. Senate Republicans started last year insisting on finding a way to help our rural schools with student bussing expenses, eventually leading to an equal amount of funding for each student, rural or urban, once they enter the school door. This is the equity I am seeking for western Iowa schools. Our intent is that this isn’t additional spending but a formula within the education package, tailoring our appropriation to the needs of each district.

To put this number in historical perspective, since Fiscal Year 2011 funding for kindergarten through 12th grade has increased $845 million. To be fair, schools see increases in expenses every year. Wages, supplies, equipment, and vehicles are all subject to inflation. So in making these decisions it is helpful to see what other states are doing. It turns out that we are ranked highly compared to other states in appropriation increases to K-12 spending.

This amounts to an incredible amount of money. There will always be a need to find ways to cut and find efficiencies. Also, this much of your money cannot be spent without expecting results. Recent national headlines show Iowa to be leading the way. We rank #1 in graduation rates. More importantly to me, Iowa ranks #1 in concurrent enrollment, in which students take college credit courses while still in high school. I believe this will become one of the most important characteristics of successful states in the future.

I appreciate being able to report back to the district on issues that impact your daily lives. If you need to contact me, email jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov or call the switchboard at 515-281-3371.

 

The Schultz Perspective

2/4/2019

An issue that has gained traction in recent years has now become part of the political discussion in Iowa. Restoration of voting rights for convicted felons has become a hot button issue among the many states. In her Condition of the State address, Governor Kim Reynolds broached the subject, placing this on the Legislature’s list of issues to consider.

Since the individual states have the responsibility to run their own elections, they have the ability to decide who votes. I’ve looked at how the 50 states handle this. The following information comes from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL):

In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while they are incarcerated.

In 14 states and the District of Columbia, felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated, and receive automatic restoration upon release.

In 22 states, felons lose their voting rights during incarceration, and for a period of time after, typically while on parole and/or probation. Voting rights are automatically restored after this time period. Former felons may also have to pay any outstanding fines, fees or restitution before their rights are restored as well.

In 12 states felons lose their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes, require a governor’s pardon in order for voting rights to be restored, or face an additional waiting period after completion of their sentence (including parole and probation) before voting rights can be restored.

I oppose changing Iowa’s policy of restoring rights on a case by case basis. As the idea moves forward, I’ll be working to make a few points. First, nothing should happen until the victim is restored as far as possible. If the damage is financial, every penny should be returned before restitution is complete. I do not like the phrase “repaid their debt to society”. Society did not have their car, money, or property stolen. The victim did. How do you make a victim of assault, rape, or murder whole? We should have that conversation before restoring felons’ rights.

Why should a criminal be turned back into a participating citizen before the victim can close the books on what they lost?

Secondly, I believe all rights are equally important. Having the right to vote as a citizen comes along with the right to own/carry a gun, to go where you like in public (think sex offenders and schools), or employment in some restricted occupations. It isn’t appropriate to restore one right and not the others. If you can’t have your right to keep and bear arms restored because of your history of violence, then why would we allow them to vote? Citizens’ rights are a package deal in a free Republic, not ala carte.

There is a pattern of putting the law abiding, tax paying citizens last. It seems felons, illegal aliens, drug users, and people who feel they are owed something always get the most attention. I’m working to give those who mind their own business and pay their own bills a level playing field. That’s how I will look at restoring voting rights to convicted felons. Do not expect to see this solved this session, as this is the first year the subject has been brought up. We will probably examine the issue through the committee system in both chambers and look at it again next year.

Thank you electing me to serve as your state senator in Des Moines. Comments or questions can be emailed to jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov or call 515-281-3371.

The Schultz Perspective

1/25/2019

The Iowa Senate is now operating at full speed. Those who moved bills out of subcommittee during week one had the opportunity to move their bills out of committee and make them ready for floor debate. I was proud to manage two of these bills.

The first bill I ran out of the Judiciary Committee this year was Senate Study Bill 1011. This bill addresses a long standing problem faced by law enforcement and county prosecutors. Currently, speed alone is not grounds to charge a serious crime in the event of a vehicular death. This means if a vehicle is moving 25 mph over the posted speed limit and kills someone, there is no opportunity to file vehicular manslaughter charges against the driver. Imagine losing a family member, neighbor or friend and watching the driver of the vehicle get a speeding ticket. SSB 1011 makes causing the death of a person while speeding 25 or more MPH over the speed limit vehicular homicide. This bill only addresses causing death, so current penalties for driving 25 mph or more over the limit would remain the same.

The next bill, SSB 1017 allows a person with a non-professional permit to carry weapons to continue to keep their weapon on their body while on a school parking lot or driveway while taking a person or item to school or picking up a person or item. Iowa now has nearly 300,000 concealed weapon permit holders. Many of these are parents of school age children who drive their kids to school, bring a forgotten instrument, lunch box, or  project to school. Currently, non-professional permit holders are forbidden from carrying on all school grounds. In fact, it is a felony to do so. I have found carriers fall into a few categories. Some do not realize it is illegal and keep their weapon on them. Some take the time to un-holster, unload the weapon and put it where you can legally transport it, and then go get their child. They then stop and re-holster their weapon. Some know it is illegal and drive onto the parking lot anyways. The worst is when a law abiding citizen leaves their personal protection weapon at home all day because they don’t want the risk or hassle.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and if you are knowingly doing this please do not brag or talk about it. Felonies are serious and you will lose the gun you are talking about. On the other hand it is not the purpose of state government to make a criminal out of an honest man or woman. Especially when there is no public policy reason to do so.

The few opponents I have spoken to claim that student safety will be impaired. Looking at crime and safety statistics shows that not to be the case. As a group, Iowa weapon permit holders are probably the most law abiding group of citizens. Studies show they at least match law enforcement, which are currently allowed to carry on duty. In fact there is another bill moved out of Judiciary to allow off duty police officers to carry on school grounds. I will be floor managing this bill in the full Senate soon.

I appreciate the opportunity to work in Des Moines for a better Iowa, and enjoy reading feedback on this column. If you would like to contact me, please emailjason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov or call 515-281-3371 and leave a message.

I currently serve as the chair of the Labor and Business Relations Committee, and serve on the Judiciary, State Government, and Ways and Means Committees.

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