Freedom Watch 5/2/19
A legislative update from Representative Steven Holt
End of Session Report
The 2019 session of the 88th General Assembly ended on Saturday, April 27th in the late afternoon. The session ended six days early, saving Iowa taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and demonstrating once again why Iowa is consistently ranked as one of the best managed states in the nation. Our reserve and emergency funds are full, the budget is balanced, and we are predicted to have almost $300 million left in the checkbook, as the result of a carefully constructed conservative budget offered by the Governor and supported with only a few changes by the Legislature. Only 97.4% of ongoing revenue is spent in this budget, in contrast to years past in which state government spent up to the legal limit of 99%. In this end of session report I will highlight some of the major accomplishments of the 2019 session.
- Empowering Rural Iowa – Numerous pieces of legislation were advanced to help grow rural Iowa. Empower Rural Iowa legislation will help expand broadband to underserved areas and provide additional funding to help address the housing shortage through the Workforce Housing Tax Incentive Program; Future Ready Iowa was fully funded and will help education come together with local employers to provide the skilled workforce we need to grow; and community colleges received a $6 million increase in funding, which is of great importance because the data shows that most graduates of community colleges stay in Iowa. Lt. Governor Gregg continues to lead a task force that will find new ways to make rural Iowa stronger.
- Education – K12 Education received a $90 million increase in funding in the first 30 days of session, bringing the total investment in schools to $3.3 billion for the 2019-20 school year; the SAVE Penny was modified and extended to provide funding for critical school infrastructure while also increasing property tax relief to 30%; and additional funding was provided to address the transportation cost disparity between districts.
- Public Safety – Our State Troopers received an increase to put more troopers on the road; our judicial system received additional funding; and plans are moving forward to build a new Law Enforcement Academy on Camp Dodge.
- Property Tax Relief & Transparency – To provide property taxpayers with more truth in taxation, House Republicans worked hard this session to bring more transparency to the local budgeting process that sets property tax. Additionally, House Republicans delivered $5.784 billion in property tax relief to Iowans by extending the SAVE penny through 2051 with an increased property tax relief component of 30%, a significant increase in relief compared to the current law.
- Child Care Affordability – House Republicans doubled the income eligibility limit and expanded the Child Care Tax Credit to more families. This tax credit is targeted to middle class families to lower their tax burden and provide more opportunity for Iowans to join the workforce and grow our economy.
- Children’s Mental Health – This session, legislators continued to build on the work done last year and made mental health a priority by focusing its attention on developing the framework of a children’s mental health system. This bipartisan plan ensures that in the future parents have a dedicated, local resource to turn to when they need to find mental health treatment for their child. We also gave more flexibility to mental health regions in the management of their resources. While this effort is needed, the ultimate answer in this area is to rebuild our families through the values rooted in faith. Only in this way can we make our families stronger, reduce substance abuse, broken homes and ultimately the need for mental health services.
- Medicaid Sustainability – House Republicans continue to closely monitor Iowa’s managed care program to ensure that patients get the services they need, and providers are paid for their work in a timely manner. Included in the HHS budget is additional funding to right-size the program with rates based on 3 years of experience as well as a number of provisions that streamline the claims process and hold MCOs accountable to members and providers. We will continue to work to make this system better for both providers and patients.
- Prescription Drug Transparency – House Republicans addressed the high cost of prescription drugs by requiring more transparency from Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) in Iowa. Much more needs to be done to bring down the cost of prescription drugs, particularly on the federal level.
- Rural Health Care – Additional funding was passed for Iowa’s 82 rural hospitals. These hospitals provide 24/7 access to care and are a major economic driver in Iowa’s rural communities. They must be supported.
- Ag Protection – Agriculture is the backbone of our economy and that makes Iowa a potential target for bioterrorism and corporate espionage. In order to protect against these attacks, legislation was passed which is narrowly tailored to protect Iowa agriculture from bioterrorism and corporate or foreign espionage.
- Guardianship/Conservatorship Code Changes – A key Judiciary priority, these changes will help better protect the most vulnerable among us.
- Stopping Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Providers – Several Years ago, Republicans created an Iowa Family Planning Program and turned down federal dollars in order to stop taxpayer money going to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. There was only one source of taxpayer funding still flowing to Planned Parenthood in Iowa, for the teaching of sex-education classes in a few Iowa school districts. Going forward, those sex education classes will not be taught by abortion providers in Iowa, as there are a myriad of other groups capable of teaching these classes that do not perform abortions.
- Stopping Taxpayer Funding of Gender Reassignment Surgeries – Years ago under Democrat control, Gender Identity was placed in Iowa code as a “protected class.” Because of this, the Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled that absent further guidance in code, Iowa taxpayers would have to foot the bill for Gender Reassignment Surgery for Medicaid patients. The cost of these surgeries varies from $10,000 to over $100,000 and it was reported that hundreds of people were now awaiting these procedures at taxpayer expense. Republicans do not believe that taxpayers should pay for these surgeries, so we passed language in the Health & Human Services Budget to stop it.
- Judicial Nomination Reform – A key priority of mine this legislative session, changes to our nominating process were made that will give the Governor one additional selection, subject to Senate appointment, to the State Nominating Commission. This will increase the voice of the people, through their elected Governor, in the process. It will also give the Governor, be they Republican or Democrat, more say in the three nominees that are submitted for consideration. This is appropriate, given the huge responsibility placed on the Governor by the Constitution for selection of Supreme Court Justices. Additional changes include creating a two-year term for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to allow for more input by the Justices on the Court as to who their leadership will be, and changes to streamline the nominating process and use new technology to encourage more rural participation.
- 2nd Amendment Rights in the Iowa Constitution – Republicans began the process to amend the Iowa Constitution to recognize the right to keep and bear arms as a fundamental right. This must pass the 89th General Assembly before ultimately going before the voters in 2022.
While many other important pieces of legislation passed, I believe this list highlights most of the important things done on behalf of Iowans in the 2019 legislative session. I will be door-knocking the district in late summer and fall, as well as attending county fairs, church picnics and other community events, in the hope of seeing and hearing from as many folks in the district as I can.
Thank you for the honor to serve as your State Representative. You can call me at 712-269-4042 or email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freedom Watch 4/18/19
A legislative update from Representative Steven Holt
The End is Near?
The Iowa House & Senate are rapidly moving toward adjournment, with budgets passing and key legislation moving. By law our session lasts for 110 days, which would mean our final day should be no later than May 3rd. I believe we are on track to finish by that date or sooner, but surprises are always possible in the final days. In this week’s newsletter I will provide an update on efforts to complete our work on time, as well as the status of legislation I have discussed in previous newsletters.
- Guardianship/Conservatorship Legislation – Based on a 2 ½ year study on ways to make our laws better in protecting the most vulnerable among us, this legislation is headed to the Governor for signature.
- Female Genital Mutilation – This horrific assault on women, acceptable in other cultures but not in keeping with our values, must be criminalized in Iowa. As more immigrants from countries where this is acceptable come to Iowa, we must ensure that young women are protected from this sexual assault. One of my highest priorities as Judiciary Chair, this legislation is headed to the Governor for signature.
- Massage Sex Parlors – Legislation designed to give law enforcement more tools in fighting massage parlors that are fronts for sex trafficking and prostitution passed the House this week.
- Threat of Targeted Attack – This legislation ensures law enforcement has the tools necessary to prosecute those who would threaten violence on public places, such as our schools. This was another priority for me as Chair of Judiciary and is headed to the Senate for consideration.
- Greater Penalties for Drunk Drivers – This legislation clarifies that a person convicted of three or more OWIs can be charged as a habitual offender and face stiffer penalties. This legislation was necessary following an Iowa Supreme Court decision that undermined previous practice for third offense OWI.
- Protecting Seniors & Vulnerable Iowans – Several pieces of legislation have passed the House to protect seniors and vulnerable Iowans in a number of ways, to include: updating mandatory reporter laws; ensuring a person can be found guilty of dependent adult abuse even if they did not personally profit from the abuse; and establishing accountability for an individual who intentionally degrades, humiliates or harms the dignity of a dependent adult.
- Protecting Liberty on College Campuses – A key priority for me, this legislation was signed by the Governor and is now law. It ensures that free speech and right of association are protected on college campuses for all, including faith-based groups that face increasing discrimination in our schools and on our college campuses.
- Budgets – Responsible budgets that will result in an ending balance of almost $300 million are moving forward. The Governor’s proposed budget is the most prudent and responsible spending proposal I have seen in my time in Des Moines. The Legislature can legally spend up to 99% of revenue and normally we spend close to that amount to fund Iowa’s priorities, but our Governor submitted a budget that spends a little over 97%, allowing flexibility to provide funding for flood recovery efforts, while still maintaining a healthy ending balance and meeting our priorities.
- Growing Rural Iowa – Many pieces of legislation have passed to help grow rural Iowa, including additional funding to help address the housing shortage; funding for Future Ready Iowa to help create the skilled workforce needed to grow our economy; increased funding for community colleges, since the data clearly shows that most students who go to our community colleges stay in Iowa while most who go to regent universities leave our state; and the Empower Rural Iowa Act that would provide over $6.2 million in additional funding for the Workforce Housing Tax Incentive Program.
Still to be Done –
- Property Tax Reform – I outlined this legislation in last week’s newsletter. We must get property taxes under control and bring transparency and truth to this issue. I hope that with a few adjustments we can get this done.
- Judicial Nomination Reform – This important legislation would bring voice to the people as opposed to a tiny group of lawyers, restore the merit system that in many cases has become a popularity contest under the current system, and help restore the Judiciary’s appropriate role in our government, which is to interpret as opposed to legislating. We are continuing to discuss the way in which judges are appointed to the bench and how it can be improved.
- Animal Cruelty Laws – The House unanimously passed legislation to make our weak animal cruelty laws stronger, but the Senate has yet to act.
- Dilapidated Building Removal – This legislation would help communities deal with dilapidated, unoccupied buildings. It passed out of Ways & Means Committee this week.
- Bottle Bill – Senators Segebart, Schultz and I have worked on this issue for several years. We have been unable to forge a consensus, but we continue to work to increase the money received by recyclers so they can be profitable again. Many forces oppose this effort, but we will continue to work to get this done.
- Protecting the Unborn – As long as 12 unborn babies per day are aborted in Iowa, this will be a priority for me. We are working to perfect the language for an abortion neutrality amendment to the Iowa Constitution, in light of the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down our heartbeat law and three-day waiting period. Unborn lives matter.
I am honored to serve as your State Representative. You can call me at 712-269-4042 or email me at email@example.com.
Freedom Watch 4/4/19
A legislative update from Representative Steven Holt
Good Legislation Won & Lost
For the first time in several years, I did not write a newsletter last week, mostly due to an intense schedule that included doing all I could to get important legislation to the finish line before time ran out. With the 2nd funnel deadline on 4/4/19, policy bills the House received from the Senate that have not passed committee will be dead. As Chair of Judiciary, the busiest committee in the Iowa House, I did my best to ensure that all worthy legislation passed committee and has a chance for passage on the floor. In this week’s newsletter, I will highlight some important legislation that passed in the last few weeks, and some that unfortunately did not.
Important Legislation Passed:
* HF737 Animal Cruelty – Iowa has some of the weakest animal cruelty laws in the nation, and this legislation to make our laws stronger was a Judiciary bill that passed unanimously in the House and now awaits action in the Senate. It makes it easier to prosecute animal abuse offenses but does not in any way advance a radical agenda granting human rights to animals, or impact agriculture negatively. It does help protect our pets from inexcusable cruelty and inhumane treatment. It could also be an indirect benefit in preventing child abuse, since I suspect that someone willing to beat a dog to death with a baseball bat would also likely have a propensity to abuse children and humans as well.
* HF637 Misconduct of School Employees – This legislation requires a school district to report information to educational examiners within 30 days of alleged misconduct of school employees being reported to the school district. This legislation is in response to a past incident of misconduct by a teacher in the state that was not reported in a timely manner and will help protect our children.
* Guardianship/Conservatorship Changes – This Judiciary Committee initiative is the result of a 2 ½ year study that recommended changes to our code that would improve oversight and competence in guardianship & conservatorship cases. This passed the House with bi-partisan support and is now awaiting action in the Senate.
* HF732 Cannabidiol Changes – Several years ago, in response to requests from Iowans with certain medical conditions, the Legislature approved a Cannabidiol Board and the prescribing of cannabidiol products (oil from marijuana) for certain medical conditions. We required that the THC content (the ingredient that creates a high) be less than 3%. I was deeply concerned about the slippery slope we were creating with the original legislation and the lack of traditional medical protocols, but with the creation of the board I was hopeful it would be managed with care and prudence, and I supported it because it was clear that not to do so would result in something far worse being passed. Last week we passed legislation based on what we believed to be recommendations of the medical board, to change the THC % requirement to grams, while setting a maximum gram limit in a 90-day period. The legislation also prevents dispensary shopping, and so it was my belief that in many ways this would tighten what we previously passed. Once we passed the legislation, a member of the Board who is a neurologist resigned, stating that she believed the THC level we set was dangerously high. I am continuing to evaluate and investigate this, given that we believed the changes being made were recommended by the board. If this is not resolved with certainty and clarity, I will encourage the Governor to veto this bill if it arrives at her desk. I continue to believe that the establishment of this system for distribution outside the normal medical protocols is ill-advised. Given the fact that the FDA has approved cannabidiol oil for certain medical conditions, having followed normal medical and research protocols, I hope my next vote on this issue is to end the program.
Not Passed but Should Have:
* HF697 Donor Privacy – This legislation that I worked hard to get to the floor would have protected the political speech, right of association, and right to privacy across the political spectrum for those who contribute and support 501(c) entities. It protected these liberties without regard to political ideology, which is why it was supported by organizations on all sides of the political spectrum. Many House Democrats supported it; however, they were unable to control a few of their members who killed this legislation that was endorsed and wanted by many of their supporters. I will continue to work to protect these precious liberties and get this legislation passed and signed into law.
* SF523 Nonconsensual Death or Harm to Unborn Children – This legislation would have increased the penalties for harm done to an unborn child against a mother’s will. It would have increased penalties for the death of an unborn child in instances such as an attack on an expectant mother, harm done as a result of drunk driving and other actions that result in harm to a child against the mother’s will. This was not an abortion bill, but the debate became about abortion when the Senate changed the term “pregnancy” to “unborn person.” This legislation did not break new ground: 19 states use the term “unborn child” in their fetal homicide protections; 38 states have laws protecting unborn children from wrongful death; and at least 29 states protect unborn children from conception to birth as this proposal would have done. Unfortunately, with the threat of an abortion battle on the floor, combined with having received the bill from the Senate with only one Judiciary committee meeting left before the funnel deadline, I was unable to get the support necessary to pass the bill. I regret that I was not able to get this done and will try again next year. Unborn lives matter and I will continue to do all I can to defend our precious unborn children.
I have shared updates on social media regarding the flood response in Iowa. If I can be of any assistance in this area, please call me.
Budget debates have begun as we move into the final weeks of the 2019 session, and I will highlight these in future newsletters.
I am honored to serve as your State Representative. You can call me at 712-269-4042 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Freedom Watch 3/14/19
A legislative update from Representative Steven Holt
Victories for Liberty & Schools
Funding for school infrastructure. Protecting Iowa Agriculture. Defending 2nd Amendment Freedoms. Restoring free speech on college campuses. Week 9 in the Iowa House was one in which legislation of profound importance was advanced for the betterment of Iowa and the protection of liberty.
SAVE – On Wednesday, the House passed an extension of the SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) penny until 2050. SAVE provides vital funding for school infrastructure that would otherwise come from property tax increases. We modified current policy so that a higher percentage will go to property tax relief and tightened the requirements for how the money can be used, helping to ensure wise use of taxpayer money. We also modified current provisions so that SAVE funding can also be used for school security, and career academies to help address worker shortages in rural Iowa.
Protecting Iowa Agriculture – SF519 was passed by the House and signed into law by the Governor this week. This legislation protects Iowa’s agricultural industry from foreign agents or extreme environmental activists who wish to do harm. It specifically would penalize an individual that uses deception to gain access to agriculture production facilities with the intent to cause physical or economic harm.
2nd Amendment – House Republicans took the first step this week to ensure that Iowan’s 2nd Amendment freedoms are enshrined in the Iowa Constitution for future generations. Iowa is one of only 6 states that does not have 2nd Amendment rights in the state constitution. This must change. The resolution must pass through one more General Assembly and will then be on the ballot in 2022 for the people to decide.
The proposed amendment states:
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”
Free Speech on College Campuses – We have all heard the horror stories about the assault on free speech on college campuses. Universities in Iowa have created free speech zones, suggesting that other places on campus students can be muzzled and not allowed to express their views. Christian groups at Iowa universities have been discriminated against, and policies have been unequally applied to thought that is not in vogue with pop culture. With the passage of this legislation, we are making it crystal clear: we will not tolerate discrimination against unpopular speech on our college campuses. The United States of America is, and must always be, a free speech zone and this includes college campuses.
A consequential week in the Iowa House, highlighted by legislation to protect freedom and support our schools.
I am honored to serve as your State Representative. You can call me at 712-269-4042, or email me at email@example.com
Freedom Watch 2/21/19
Judicial Reform Advances & Budgets Proposed
Week 6 in the Iowa House was highlighted by committee passage of an amended version of judicial nomination reform and by the announcement of a responsible budget proposal by House Republicans that follows our budget principles, balances the budget and leaves a healthy ending balance.
I have spoken in several newsletters about the need for judicial nomination reform to better reflect the voice of the people. I have also said that we were listening to voters and those involved in the process to see if we could improve the proposed legislation. As a result of the input I received, I offered an amendment on the judicial nomination reform bill, HSB110. This amendment, which addresses many of the concerns I have heard, was approved by the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
The amended bill leaves the current election process in place for district commissions. It provides that the Chair of the district commissions will no longer be the senior judge in the district, but instead allows each individual commission to appoint their own chairs. This will address the issue of undue pressure felt by attorneys on the commissions when the senior judge they must argue cases in front of is the Chair. The amendment keeps the things that do work in the district commission process while making adjustments to those things that clearly could be better.
In evaluating the current system, we found that there are no consistent standards or rules governing the 14 different district commissions, so our legislation would require the state commission to establish rules for all the 14 district commissions. This will help ensure that the merit system of selection is protected.
On the state commission level, our original proposals remain in place. HSB 110 would require the elected representatives from both parties in the House and Senate to appoint the state commissioners currently selected by a tiny group of lawyers. In past newsletters I have addressed the low attorney voter turnout on the district level. The state level attorney voter participation is not any better. In 2019, only 25% of eligible attorneys bothered to vote in the state commission elections. In 2017 it was even worse, with only 9% of the attorneys bothering to vote. This is not representative of the people of Iowa. We believe that the model we propose to adopt in Iowa, currently used with some variations in 7 other states, is a better model. We believe this can be proven with data, since several of the judiciaries in these states rank higher than Iowa. HSB110, as amended, was approved by the Judiciary Committee and is now eligible for floor debate in the Iowa House.
This week, House Republicans announced targets for the FY20 budget. The House budget plan for FY2020 spends $7.668 billion, accounting for 97.45% of on-going revenue. This is well under the 99% level that could be spent by law and reflects our priority to wisely use taxpayer money and work for more efficient government in Iowa.
The House Republican budget plan increases spending by .63% compared to the adjusted FY2019 budget. Additionally, the budget fills all reserve accounts to the statutory requirements and leaves a healthy ending balance of $298.6 million.
The House has offered a conservative, responsible budget plan that funds our priorities, limits spending, and puts taxpayers first. This budget plan also allows us to invest in key priorities like education, career training, community colleges, health care, and public safety. It is also in keeping with House Republican budget principles: 1) We will not spend more than ongoing revenue; 2) We will not use one time money, such as the ending balance, to fund ongoing expenses; 3) We will not intentionally underfund programs; and 4) We will return unused money to the taxpayer through the taxpayer trust fund.
I am honored to serve as your state representative. You can call me at 712-269-4042 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Freedom Watch 2/14/19
The Case for Judicial Reform
The current system used in Iowa to place judges and justices on the bench is a merit-based system commonly referred to as the “Missouri Plan.” Under this system, Iowa has 14 district court commissions and a state commission. These commissions select nominees to submit to the Governor to fill judicial vacancies. For the Supreme Court, 3 nominees are given to the Governor; for district court vacancies, 2 nominees are advanced. The Governor must select one of these nominees within 30 days of receiving it. If the Governor does not make the selection within 30 days, the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court makes the selection.
This system has been in place since the early 1960s, when this model became popular in a number of states. Prior to this system, Iowa placed judges on the bench by direct election. Direct election of judges fell out of favor as ethical issues related to judges having to fund raise and then hear cases in which donors to their campaigns were involved, began to arise.
The individuals on the commissions that make the recommendations to the Governor are selected for the commissions using a system in which the Governor chooses half, which must then be approved by a super-majority in the Senate, and by half being elected by attorney members of the bar in Iowa.
When the Missouri Plan was debated in 1962, there was concern that such a system would give too much power to “elite lawyers,” since attorneys would be electing other attorneys to these commissions with no oversight or accountability to the people. In fact, in order to get it passed, an escape clause was placed into law that required the plan to be used until 1973, but could be changed by the Legislature after that.
Several states that have used the Missouri Plan are now debating changes. Tennessee has totally moved away from this plan, and even Missouri is considering changes. The legislation being considered in Iowa would give more voice to the people through their elected officials, regardless of political party.
Why is change necessary? In the current system, attorneys are electing other attorneys with no oversight or accountability to the people. It has also become clear that very few attorneys are participating in the process. In 2018, over 7,000 lawyer members of the bar were eligible to vote for commissioners. Only 18.45% of attorneys eligible to vote actually voted and participated in the process. This means that less than .05% of the people of Iowa, those being attorneys, had a voice in this part of the process.
The concerns about the current system do not stem from a specific case or court action, but rather from a belief that a tiny number of lawyers electing other lawyers to these commissions without oversight is inappropriate and does not represent the voice of the people.
Elected representatives of the people, from both political parties, accountable to the voters every 2 or 4 years, should appoint members to these commissions, not a tiny group of attorneys. This gives greater voice to the people through their elected representatives and provides a measure of oversight that is non-existent in the present system, in which a few attorneys are electing other attorneys with no additional approval process for oversight. Contrast this with the Governor’s appointees, which in the present system must be approved by the Senate
The deciding vote and chair of these commissions is currently the senior judge or justice, and they are voting on who will join them on the court. This process should also be changed, because this creates the opportunity for undue influence by the judge or justice over other members of the commissions. When the judge or justice is removed from the process and the Chair is appointed by other means, this lessens the possibility of inappropriate influence over attorneys who must argue cases before these judges and justices.
One of the arguments being made by attorneys who will lose a small measure of power should these changes be implemented, is that we are “politicizing” the process. Anyone who has observed or is involved with judicial selection knows it is already highly politicized. Case in point: in 2011, 3 justices had to be replaced on the Supreme Court. 9 nominees were advanced to Governor Branstad. Only one female was advanced; a liberal law professor who had never practiced law in Iowa and had been admitted to the bar on the day of her nomination. This is inexplicable, given that there were highly capable female judges serving throughout Iowa’s court system at the time. Apparently, they were not advanced for purely political reasons, as those in the system attempted to force the Governor’s hand in the selection process.
The merit system is not changed in our proposals and attorneys remain a key part of the process. Our bill requires that at least half of the commissioners must be attorneys, they just don’t get to vote one another on to the commissions, with only a tiny number of attorneys bothering to even participate in the process.
HSB 110 is a work in progress, and changes will no doubt be made as the committee process reveals ways it can be approved. The heart of this legislation is to give greater voice to the people through the elected representatives of both political parties.
The changes to the judicial nomination process being considered in HSB110 would result in greater transparency, greater accountability to the citizens of our state, improves the integrity of the system through a more public process, removes the potential of undue influence or pressure resulting from a Judge or Justice being Chair of a commission, all while maintaining a strong attorney presence and the merit system of selection. Our system works best when the power resides with the people, as envisioned by our Founders. HSB110 would return a measure of power to the people in the selection of judges and justices.
I am honored to serve as your State Representative. You can call me at 712-269-4042 or email me at email@example.com.
Holt Supports $90 Million Funding Increase for Iowa Schools
February 11, 2019
This evening, Rep. Steve Holt (R-Denison) voted to provide Iowa school districts with an additional $89.3 million in new funding for the 2019-20 school year. The legislation passed included a significant increase in general state aid as well as $7.8 million in targeted funding for rural schools to reduce disproportionally high transportation costs and $2.9 million in funding to reduce a long-standing inequity in the school funding formula by $5 per student.
In total, the funding package passed by the House will bring state investment in K-12 education to more than $3.3 billion annually, an increase of $865 million since the 2011-12 school year. Over that same time, 3,100 new teachers have been hired to staff Iowa classrooms and the student-teacher ratio has decreased every year even while enrollment has grown.
School districts in House District 18 will receive an additional $935,686 in transportation funding for the 2019-20 school year.
“This K-12 funding package clearly demonstrates our commitment to Iowa schools,” said Holt. “I will continue to make our local schools a priority and will look for additional ways we improve the educational experience for Iowa’s kids.”
Freedom Watch 2/7/19
Education, Reform & the Right of Free Speech
As week 4 of the 2019 legislative session comes to an end, I can report that the House and Senate have reached agreement on a K-12 education funding package. HSB110, which would reform the judicial nominating process, passed sub-committee; HJR 3, which proposes to amend the Iowa Constitution by establishing 2nd Amendment rights also moved forward; and budget hearings continued as we work to make wise use of taxpayer money while meeting Iowa’s priorities. I have also assigned an important bill to sub-committee that seeks to protect one of our most sacred rights.
The funding package agreed to for K-12 education includes $89.3 million in new funding. $7.8 million is proposed to help reduce transportation costs for rural schools so more money can be kept in the classroom. We have also agreed to $2.9 million to reduce a cost per pupil gap that has existed in the school formula since the 1970s. House Republicans have continued to make funding for K-12 schools a top priority, with an increase of over $765 million since 2011. Funding for schools has increased at nearly triple the rate of inflation, and we have passed reforms to give increased flexibility to our school districts. Education funding will top $3.3 billion in FY20. I believe we must continue to find ways to improve education that have nothing to do with funding. We must continue to give more control of our schools to our local school boards and teachers and get government off their backs. Good citizenship and education begin in the home and must be continued in the classroom, as students learn American exceptionalism and the STEM skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow.
As Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, I advanced HSB 110, which seeks to reform the judicial nomination process. Currently, commissions select nominees for District & Supreme Court vacancies and present them to the Governor, who must select from the commission’s recommendations. Half of the members of the commissions that make these recommendations are appointed by the Governor and must be approved by a super-majority of the Senate. The other half are selected by members of the bar, who elect other members of the bar with no additional oversight.
The goal is to bring more accountability to Iowa’s merit-based judicial selection process by placing the authority to select commissioners with the elected representatives of the people, from both political parties, as opposed to lawyers selecting other lawyers, with no oversight or accountability.
Attorneys would continue to be a vital part of the process, but they would no longer select one another for commissions without oversight. Why is this change important? Because it gives voice to the people through their elected representatives. The process for selection of judges and justices will always be political, because that is how our system works. Lawyers have political beliefs, belong to political parties and no doubt vote for commissioners based on those beliefs. With this understanding the question becomes which method of selection for commissioners gives voice to the people? Unelected and unaccountable attorneys, or elected representatives of the people? I believe the voice of the people would be much greater were the selections to the commissions made by those elected by the people, and accountable to them every election cycle. This legislation will no doubt be amended and improved as it goes through the committee process and is a work in progress. I welcome your thoughts and perspective.
HJR3 recognizes 2nd Amendment rights by amending the Iowa Constitution. It must pass two General Assemblies before going before the people for the final decision. Iowa is one of only six states that does not have this sacred right enshrined in their constitutions, and Republicans believe this must be rectified as soon as possible.
Budget hearings have begun, as we seek to drill down and find ways to create efficiencies and save money. Today the Justice Systems Appropriations Committee I serve on heard from Attorney General Tom Miller. I have asked his office to provide me with detailed analysis on how much taxpayer money is being spent on the myriad of lawsuits he has joined with other states that do not always seem to represent Iowa’s best interests. Instead, these lawsuits often seem to be politically motivated, and Iowans’ hard-earned money should not be wasted in this way.
Finally, I have been made aware of accounts from students that free speech is under assault on college campuses in Iowa. I intend to meet with these students and hear their first-hand accounts. Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee will consider legislation to address this issue.
I am honored to serve as your State Representative. You can call me at 712-269-4042 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freedom Watch 1/24/19
Contests, Unborn Children & Education
Week 3 in the Iowa House was highlighted by a decision in the contested election for House District 55, intense Judiciary Committee work and discussion on K-12 education funding. On a personal level, I contemplated the horror of New York and Virginia’s effort to legalize abortion all the way until birth and beyond.
The Election Contest Committee, of which I was Chair, reviewed the facts in the election contest and the arguments and evidence presented by both attorneys. At issue was whether to count 29 absentee ballots that were received after Election Day in the House District 55 election. The Republican, Michael Bergan, won the election against Democrat Kayla Koether by 9 votes. The contestant, Kayla Koether, believed the 29 late-arriving absentee ballots should be opened and counted. A careful study of the law and the facts in the case led the majority of the committee to conclude that the ballots did not meet the legal requirement to be counted, because they lacked a postmark or Intelligent Mail barcode, as is required in Iowa code 53.17. This requirement is important in determining that the ballots were placed in the mail prior to election day. To count these ballots would mean we were treating them differently than over 1,000 other absentee ballots across the state that were lawfully rejected because they did not meet the legal requirements. The full House voted to approve the Committee report and reject the contest, bringing the issue to an end.
In Judiciary we are moving forward on updates to Conservatorship and Guardianship laws; possible revisions to pet animal cruelty laws; criminal justice reforms; and discussions on the Governor’s initiative to restore felony voting rights once the debt to society has been paid. I am also continuing to work on what I regard as one of our highest priorities this year: Judicial nomination reform that will give more voice to the people through their elected representatives, while providing judicial nominees that understand the role of the judiciary in interpreting the law as opposed to legislating from the bench. For those who value our representative democracy and the unique role each branch of government plays, this issue is critical.
I continue to work with other House members to find ways to protect our unborn children. It is horrifying to see states moving to legalize abortion all the way up until birth, or even contemplating cutting the spinal cord during birth. This is pure evil. It is also another compelling reason to ensure we have a judicial system that interprets the law without regard to political agendas. Unborn lives matter and we must continue to stand up and protect them. The soul of our state and nation are at stake, as well as 12 children on average per day in Iowa lost forever to abortion.
2nd Amendment protections are also in work. Legislation protecting gun rights will likely move through the Public Safety Committee, and I am working with Rep. Windschitl and others to get this done.
Funding K-12 education is always an early priority in the House and this year is no exception. We have enacted numerous changes in the last several years to give greater flexibility to our schools in how they spend their funds, and we are hearing from superintendents that these changes have been a great help to them. This week it was reported that Iowa once again leads the nation in high school graduation rates, but much more needs to be done in ensuring we are fostering citizenship, patriotism and proficiency in skills that will meet the workforce needs of our state. We expect to set funding levels soon, while continuing to look for innovative ways to help districts stretch their dollars further.
Freedom Watch 1/25/19
Judiciary Priorities & Reform
Week 2 in the Iowa House was busy and productive. As Chair of the Judiciary Committee, I am focused on legislation that has begun moving through the committee process. I am also working on Judicial Nomination Reform, the importance of which was brought into sharp focus recently with ethical questions as to how our court system is operating, amid increasing judicial activism from the bench.
Legislation has begun moving through the committee process. The Judiciary Committee has many pieces of legislation to consider, and I will review each to determine if it is needed, if it respects the constitutional liberties of our citizens, and if it is an appropriate use of government authority. Government cannot and should not attempt to solve every problem, but where appropriate, government should act to protect our citizens and advance liberty. Some of my top priorities: strengthening child sexual abuse laws; reforms to our Conservatorship and Guardianship laws; revisions to pet animal cruelty laws; criminal justice reforms; the Governor’s initiative to restore felony voting rights once the debt to society has been paid; advancing the resolution to recognize 2nd Amendment rights in the Iowa Constitution; and protection of the unborn. Also, at the top of the list is judicial nomination reform.
As I write this newsletter, Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano, for a second time, struck down portions of the Voter ID law the Legislature passed in 2017. This legislation made it easy to vote but harder to cheat, and the changes were carefully constructed to pass constitutional muster. House Democrats opposed our efforts, and Judge Romano is married to the Director of the House Democrat Caucus staff. I believe she should have recused herself from hearing this case based on a clear conflict of interest. This is only the latest in a growing list of concerns as to the conduct of some in our Judiciary.
Many consider the Judicial branch’s decision to extend commission member’s service by six months to allow them to select Supreme Court nominees for the current vacancy resulting from Justice Daryl Hecht’s retirement, to be unlawful. A 2008 state law requires three of these members to leave in January when their terms expired. The court used a different section of law to justify what appears to be a decision based on political expediency and their desire to have a particular form of judicial philosophy on the bench.
Republicans believe that judges are constitutionally obligated to interpret the law as written, as opposed to predisposing an outcome and then crafting a path to achieve a desired result. This is the conflict between interpretation vs. judicial activism. Often, what cannot be achieved the proper way in our representative democracy, which is through our elected representatives, is achieved through the court system and judicial activism, also known as “legislating from the bench.” Judicial activism subverts the democratic process, effectively transferring authority from elected officials to judges on the bench.
The current system used to appoint individuals to the commissions that provide nominees to the Governor for judicial and Supreme Court vacancies enables the Bar Association to place members on these commissions without any oversight or approval by the elected representatives of the people. Contrast this with the Governor’s selections for these commissions. They must be approved by a super-majority in the Senate. This is not a criticism of the Bar; it is a criticism of the system currently used.
I will work to establish a process that gives more voice to the people and provides candidates to the Governor that reflect her judicial philosophy of interpretation, not judicial activism. The process should provide nominees that reflect a governor’s judicial philosophy, be they Republican or Democrat. We will consider a number of options as we work to give more voice to the people in this process, through their elected representatives.
Upcoming Legislative Forums:
- 1/26/19 10am Logan – Logan Community Center
- 2/9/19 10am Denison – Cronks Café
- 2/16/19 10am Harlan – 1901 Hawkeye Ave
Freedom Watch 1/14/19
The 88th General Assembly Begins
The 88th General Assembly convened January 14th at 10 a.m. As I write this newsletter, I have just taken the Oath of Office. Raising my right hand, placing my left hand on the Bible, and pledging to defend the U.S. and Iowa Constitutions is just as profoundly meaningful for me today as it was when I first took a similar oath 43 years ago in first joining the U.S. Marine Corps. Thank you for the honor of serving.
I have been in Des Moines since January 8th holding meetings on important issues and challenges as I prepare to assume the responsibilities as House Judiciary Chair. I want to speak with you today about what the priorities for 2019 will be for the House Republican caucus, as well as what my priorities will be as House Judiciary Chair.
The priorities of the House Republican caucus were arrived at through meetings with constituents, door knocking and talking with our friends and neighbors, combined with our own personal sense of what needs to get done. The priorities of the House Republican caucus for 2019 look like this: monitoring and continued improvement of Medicaid Managed Care; Medicaid Reform to improve the level of care, reduce fraud and ensure financial sustainability going forward; continued improvements in our mental health programs, including children’s mental health; extending the SAVE program for our schools; funding Future Ready Iowa to help build the skilled workforce we need to grow rural Iowa; continued efforts, as we did last year, to find ways on the state level to improve access and affordability to healthcare as we wait for the federal government to address this issue in the appropriate way; proper funding for K-12 education and our community colleges; and as always for House Republicans, a balanced sustainable budget that does not waste taxpayer money and promotes smaller, smarter government.
My priorities as the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee include: advancing the resolution recognizing the right to keep and bear arms in the Iowa Constitution; removing the statute of limitations for sexual abuse crimes against children; a close look at our whistleblower protections to see if they need to be strengthened; exploring the possibility of expanding the prisoner built housing program to help with the housing shortage in our district and in much of rural Iowa; what measures we might take to protect unborn life as we monitor pending Iowa Supreme Court rulings on the heartbeat bill that protected life once a heartbeat is detected; and finally judicial nomination reform.
The current system of judicial nomination that provides the Governor with the nominees that she must choose from for District Court and Supreme Court vacancies does not always produce candidates that reflect the judicial philosophy of interpretation as opposed to judicial activism. I will review options that would give more voice to the people through their elected representatives in the selection of District Court and Supreme Court justices.
This morning I arrived early at the State Capitol. The sun was only just beginning to rise, and our beautiful Capitol building was bathed in the new LED lighting system that was recently installed. I was struck by how truly blessed we are as Americans and as Iowans. Our beautiful Capitol, standing as a testament to our commitment to freedom and liberty. I was also struck by how truly blessed I am with the honor of walking in this building and serving as your elected representative. I am deeply grateful.
You can call me at 712-269-4042 or email me at email@example.com.