87th General Assembly – Final Report
This week we spent a majority of our time on budget bills and finishing up our time in the Legislature.
On Monday we passed Senate File 607, making a variety of changes to Iowa’s alcohol laws. It helps eliminate regulations on our state’s distilleries and breweries and allows them to grow their business and sell more of their product. These distilleries and breweries have become tourist destinations and this bill continues our objective of focusing on economic growth.
We also passed a bill creating the Iowa First Time Home Buyer Program. The bill encourages Iowans to buy a home by allowing first-time homebuyers to receive a state income tax deduction for contributions to a savings account up to $2,000 (or $4,000 for couples) of after-tax dollars annually and apply the savings in the account and any earned interest toward the purchase or construction of a first home in Iowa. Parents and grandparents can also make a contribution to an account for their children or grandchildren. The bill passed 49-1.
Along with our work on the budget, we took a step towards finding a better mental health funding system for our state.
Improving the mental health system in Iowa is a continual process. While there are no easy answers to solving the challenges we face, we took steps forward this week in making Iowa’s mental health system better. The Senate passed Senate File 504 to help fix our mental health funding system. Senate File 504 brings stakeholders together to develop solutions related to ongoing concerns connected to the coordination, delivery and access to continuity of mental health services. It also works to address the property tax inequity within our mental health regions by creating a balanced levy system where each county will be funding its appropriate share for services.
The bill is a big step toward developing a permanent fix in mental health funding to meet the needs of Iowans. Equalizing the funding between counties in a region reduces the growing friction that threatens to destroy the region system for delivery of mental health services.
The bill regarding medical marijuana also came to the floor for debate. We had a good discussion among our colleagues and the bill passed 45-5. This is a good bill that helps Iowa’s patients get the help and relief they deserve.
Iowa Senate passes bill addressing water quality
Water quality is an issue that has drawn the interest of many Iowans. This week, Senate Republicans moved legislation to address water quality in our state with the passage of Senate File 512. The bill creates a long-term, sustainable funding mechanism and improves policies address water quality throughout our state.
Senate Republicans understand our ag producers are excellent stewards of the land. They know it is imperative to keep the nutrients in the soil so they can grow high yield crops and do their part to help feed the world. Those stewardship practices go a long way in our water quality efforts.
SF 512 will help improve the quality of surface waters flowing in our state. It also supports efforts in watershed planning and the implementation of practices to help reduce nutrient loading while also providing for habitat and flood mitigation.
Under the bill that passed this week in the Senate, objectives would be reached by establishing a water quality infrastructure fund and a water quality financing program, and providing for cost-share programs for infrastructure on agricultural and urban land under the water quality initiative.
This bill is similar to legislation passed with bipartisan support in the Iowa House last year, but it failed to have a subcommittee hearing under the Democrat-controlled Iowa Senate. With the new Senate Republican majority, it is rewarding to vote for Iowa solutions to issues facing our neighbors, families, and friends across the state.
Budgets Signal the End of Session
Senate Republicans intend to conclude the legislative session this week. The main item that must be addressed prior to adjournment is the state budget. This budget spends nearly $7.245 billion of Iowa tax dollars, a decrease of approximately $14 million over the revised budget for this year. Each dollar the state spends is one earned by Iowans from their work to provide for their families. Senate Republicans use those tax dollars carefully and are determined to be conservative and judicious with each dollar, and that is shown in the budget we passed.
We are committed to making state government smaller and smarter. Every budget line item has a special interest group that advocated and secured that funding. Consequently, when Senate Republicans move legislation that reduces the size and scope of state government, the special interest aligned with that spending opposes that decision. Those groups utilize rhetoric with as much hyperbole as possible in an attempt to frighten Iowans into believing a disastrous scenario is just around the corner.
Iowans know better and Senate Republicans have resisted these antics to provide a fiscally responsible budget. Many state programs do good work but some are duplicative, others are unnecessary, and in some areas funds can be used more effectively and efficiently in other places. Iowa tax dollars are not something to be treated cavalierly. Rather they should be used carefully and cautiously in order to lower the tax burden on Iowans, improve career opportunities for Iowans, and develop an environment that rewards investment.
The 2017 Legislative Session
This session was a big one, not just for Senate Republicans, but for our constituents and all Iowans who wanted to see results. We were not elected for more of the same. We were elected to make big changes and bold decisions.
We were able to bring a number of bills to the floor for debate that had never been previously discussed. These include our overhaul of laws regarding the Second Amendment in Iowa, voter ID and life.
Our focus this session has continually been economic growth and development. We worked to pass several of the priorities we set out the first week of session, including requiring jobs impact statements for administrative rule changes, and legislation to help our small businesses and job creators. We passed Senate Joint Resolution 9, allowing the people of Iowa to vote on putting a 99 percent expenditure limit amendment to the Iowa Constitution. This would provide confidence to Iowa families and job creators that the state will live within its means in the same way they must live within their means.
We made a series of changes to regulations in this state, with the goal of allowing our job creators to spend less time fending off frivolous lawsuits and focus on expanding their businesses in our communities.
This year we were able to pass on-time supplemental state aid for our schools, setting budgets early and allowing school districts more time and predictability to plan their school year budgets. We passed collective bargaining reform, allowing school boards and administrators to reward good teachers and get rid of bad teachers.
We also passed a bill Senate Republicans had been pushing for years – transportation equity for our rural school districts. This bill is important to many rural districts across the state as they seek to provide the best education to their students regardless of where they live in Iowa.
We passed bills to give more local control to these school boards and how they spend their money.
Senate Republicans passed common-sense laws supported by a majority of Iowans, such as one of the largest gun bills in recent history, expanding the rights of every gun owner across the state. We were also able to require a government-issued identification in order to participate in one of the most important things you can do as a citizen – casting your vote.
This session was a productive one for the people of Iowa. I appreciate all the emails, phone calls and messages this session. In the coming months, please continue to contact me with your questions, concerns and any problems you are having. It is an honor to serve as your state senator.
It is an Honor to be your Senator!