Sen. Jason Schultz

 

Sen. Jason Schultz

The Schultz Perspective by Senator Jason Schultz

Friday, April 2, 2021

Each year one of the most common complaints I receive is from constituents who believe someone is receiving welfare benefits who shouldn’t be getting them.  I haven’t heard many say the program should be ended, but everyone says the program should accurately identify those who are eligible.

For the fourth year in a row, I have filed my welfare eligibility verification bill.  This bill didn’t move far the first year.  I learned a lot about the programs and the solutions that were available to fix them.  I have now run the bill successfully out of the Senate for the second year in a row. Senate File 389 is a bill that first sets up an asset test for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – also known as food stamps.  Currently, our state is using what is known as ‘Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility’ to make it easier to get onto SNAP.  Thirty-nine states and Washington D.C. use this system.  It is used by states to allow people who have too many assets or make too much money to get onto SNAP because they qualify for another program with higher limits.  This artificially balloons the roles of eligible Americans on food stamps by an estimated five million people.  I can’t find an estimate for Iowa alone.  SF 389 would move Iowa back to the federal income limits for this program.

Additionally, SF 389 directs the Iowa Department of Human Services to begin to develop a real-time eligibility program to verify the eligibility of those seeking assistance or annual renewals of program eligibility for all welfare programs.  Real-time verification checks are a commonly used technology used in our state government by Iowa Workforce Development in unemployment claims and by the Dept. of Transportation to hire seasonal help.  It is commonly used in the private sector for digital cash transactions and credit cards.

Used for Iowa assistance programs, real-time verification would eliminate fraud by confirming the previous asset test for SNAP.  This system will lock in the identity of the applicant. It would verify state residence so people couldn’t claim assistance in two states at once.  It would confirm employment status.  Many other criteria can be verified in seconds.  This is currently being done manually by income maintenance workers with DHS over the year.

Better yet, this type of system will help the applicant.  To prove their status, they have to bring paper documents to DHS and have them checked.  A real-time system would have the ability to check the status of an applicant almost instantly and relieve the Iowan from having to bring documents each year to prove themselves.  Once implemented, the real-time vendor could run a large list of program recipients under annual review and return a report to DHS listing those who had red flags pop up and need manual verification.  The gain in efficiency is enormous.

Estimates of cost savings are hard to come by, as some money is federal and some state.  Also, historical data on fraud and duplication is also rare.  Very few states have really dug down to see how much waste there is in our assistance programs.  But our Legislative Services Agency has offered a guess.  The first year of start-up costs add up to over $5 million, mostly federal dollars. But once the system is in place, the estimated savings are over $47 million federal dollars and over $11 million in state tax dollars.

The House hasn’t shown any interest in taking up SF 389.  I started working on this bill four years ago, just before Iowa received a nearly $2 million fine for our high error rate in SNAP payments.  You would think that fine would make this bill an easy victory for Iowa taxpayers.  So far the Iowa House of Representatives isn’t sold.

 

The Schultz Perspective by Senator Jason Schultz

Friday, March 26, 2021

The year 2020 will be remembered by most of us for the rest of our lives.  A questionable presidential campaign and election season gave many doubts about our national electoral process.  Covid-19 escaped Wuhan, China and spread around the globe.  The national debt skyrocketed in response to the pandemic, which continues climbing to this day.

But the most disturbing memories for me were the months and months of riots and conflict in several of our large cities across the nation.  Even Iowa experienced the pain of seeing riots at the Capitol and in other areas of Des Moines.  The only thing standing between the rioters and major property damage to malls, houses, and our state Capitol was a thin blue line of law enforcement officers.

City police, sheriff’s deputies, and state troopers all took part in stopping those who went beyond protesting and began threatening property damage, theft, and violence in each of these events.  It was again made clear to me that the men and women who serve in our law enforcement agencies deserve the best legal support we can give them.

This session the Iowa Senate passed bills to support those who are put in dangerous situations, often without warning, and who must make split-second decisions that may be reviewed for years.  SF 479 would deny state funding to cities that defund their police. This bill provides justifications for one-time expenditures, decreases in population, or other possible routine reductions in a law enforcement budget. Left-leaning, progressive cities have learned the hard way that trading cops for counselors in violent situations only leads to more violent crime.

Another bill, SF 476 codified a concept known as qualified immunity. This concept, initially established by the US Supreme Court, gives law enforcement officers certain legal protections as they work in completely uncontrolled and frequently dangerous environments. It does not give them total immunity to act with disregard for the law or behave in a punitive manner.

Finally, SF 534 addressed the violent riots in Iowa last year and in several other parts of the country. This bill covers a number of problems uncovered in last year’s riots. One specific issue this bill addressed was criminalizing the act of purposefully shining a laser pointer into the eyes of law enforcement officers, potentially seriously damaging their eyesight. This bill does not impede anyone’s First Amendment right to protest, but it does protect innocent Iowans whose lives, homes, or businesses are threatened or destroyed by rioters.

Supporting our law enforcement is crucial to keeping our communities safe and ensuring they can do their jobs to the best of their ability. These bills protect Iowans exercising their First Amendment right to protest, Iowa law enforcement officers doing jobs, and the community from property destruction.

 

The Schultz Perspective by Senator Jason Schultz

Thursday, March 18, 2021

One of the most important priorities I deal with as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee is to provide a level playing field in Iowa and then get out of the way of competitors.  This philosophy is never so clear as to when I review the situation between Iowa banks and credit unions.  These two entities compete for Iowans’ deposits, loans, and financial service needs.  I just said they compete, but they aren’t supposed to compete.  They are different entities intended to serve different populations.

We all understand our banks are for-profit corporations.  They may be privately owned or publicly traded with stockholders.  We all know they offer interest rates for savings to attract dollars, then loan those dollars at a higher interest rate for profit.  They provide various financial services and, along with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., let you sleep at night not wondering if your money will be burned up or stolen.  Banks pay income tax on that profit just like Iowans and other private businesses.

Credit unions are a not-for-profit entity.  They were originally created long ago and chartered to serve a very specific, under-served population who couldn’t get service from a normal bank.  It may be an employee group or a specific geographical area.  Credit unions offered basic financial services similar to banks, such as savings and checking accounts and personal loans.  Because they were chartered to go and serve where banks wouldn’t go, they were given income-tax-free status, with the intent that profits were returned to credit union members through higher savings interest or lower loan rates.  This worked for a long time.

Decades later, it has become clear that credit unions are no longer bound to serve a certain population or geographic area.  They have broken out of their original charters and continually file to expand their reach and allowed services.  The problem is that they are still not taxed on their profit.  This tax inequity is going to tip the board more and more toward the credit unions over time.  In the last few years, the Iowa Senate passed a bill to tax banks and credit unions equally.  The House wouldn’t take it up.

This year I filed a bill to ban credit unions from purchasing banks.  It is currently illegal to sell a bank unless the action is approved by the Iowa Banking Superintendent.  Last year Green State Credit Union purchased First American Bank with its seven branches.  The banking superintendent was not notified and the transaction kept secret until it was too late to stop the sale and customers would have been hurt by reversing the sale.

Here’s the problem and why the credit unions have the advantage: When credit unions look to purchase a bank, they are using untaxed profits to buy the bank and, after acquiring the bank, will not pay taxes on the new profits.  This makes their return on investment artificially high.  When a bank looks to buy a competing bank, it must use after-tax profits.  They start with a 20-40% handicap.  Then, if they are successful, they must pay that same income tax on the new profits from the newly purchased business.  Their return on investment is naturally lower than a credit union’s, meaning they will not be able to compete over the long run.

I have no problem with credit unions doing what they were designed to do.  But among the largest several credit unions in Iowa, that is no longer the case.  Level the playing field and get out of the way: that’s what Senate File 530, a bill I filed this year, is designed to do.

 

The Schultz Perspective by Senator Jason Schultz

Thursday, March 11, 2021

For almost 50 years the US Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade has divided this country over the issue of abortion.  Questions and debate rage over abortion, but the decision itself creates its own questions.  The issue of abortion goes back beyond the founding of America.  But for the first time abortion was found to be included in the U.S. Constitution despite not being mentioned even once.  This is part of why the division is so deep.

In 2018 the Iowa Supreme Court issued a similar but even more far-reaching decision.  In an opinion that could not point to one reference to abortion in the Iowa Constitution, the majority opinion discovered a new right that implies any late-term abortion or even taxpayer funding of abortion could be read into Iowa’s founding document.

Recently I chaired Senate Joint Resolution 2 in subcommittee and in the full State Government Committee.  This proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution reads as such: “Protection of life. To defend the dignity of all human life, and to protect mothers and unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the day of birth, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution shall not be construed to recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.”

The majority decision was made to look even more hollow and fabricated when it was pointed out that members of our first legislature who helped write and sign the Iowa Constitution filed pro-life bills restricting abortion just two years later.

It must be pointed out that we have a far different makeup of our Iowa Supreme Court these days.  Through multiple retirements and an unfortunate passing, we now have a court of justices who were selected for their commitment to uphold the Constitution as written and to recognize the intent of the writers as best they can.  I thank Governor Reynolds for appointing originalist justices to our state Supreme Court.

I have often referred to this proposed amendment as the amendment that doesn’t change anything.  By that, I point out that the Iowa Constitution doesn’t take a position on abortion as written in 1857, and by adopting this amendment it still won’t.  With the amendment, activist justices in the future will not be able to create new ideas in a document that is 164 years old.  The issue of abortion will reside with the people of Iowa, and their legislature.

Some may be disappointed, but the amendment language does not ban, limit, or restrict abortion in any way.  It only establishes what Iowa has known since 1857.  That the word or intent of abortion is not in our state constitution.  If SJR 2 passes both chambers, it will have to be passed in the next Legislature after the 2022 elections.  If it passes both chambers again, it will be ready for Iowans to decide on the 2024 General Election ballot.

 

The Schultz Perspective by Senator Jason Schultz

Friday, March 5, 2021

Among the priorities of the 2021 legislative session is addressing broadband internet quality across Iowa.  It was really driven home during the last year of working from home, online learning, quarantining at home, and a general increase in technology use that internet has become a necessary infrastructure issue, not a luxury.  To complicate the issue, Iowa ranges from growing metropolitan centers to rural gravel roads with homes sometimes a mile apart.

First, it should be noted that many areas have faster, better internet services than we think.  I have had to ask the family to stop using our home Wi-Fi when I would attend an online video/audio meeting.  My video feed would almost make it, but the screen would freeze for seconds at a time, and once in a while the program would lock up completely.  Recently, I learned I was subscribed to an old internet plan, my Windstream service had already been updated years earlier, and all I had to do was subscribe to the modern plan, which doesn’t cost much more.  It pays to check for updates from your other monthly providers such as phone service, satellite radio or satellite TV.  Service packages change as technology gets better, often to the customers’ benefit.  We really need to know how good of internet we have before we look for other answers.  For those across Iowa who use Windstream, the number to see if they can upgrade their service is 800-345-3874.

But that won’t help if you live in a place where the equipment, fiber optic cable, or wireless tower don’t serve your area.  In those cases, the governor has made it a priority to work to get every Iowan connected.  She has introduced a bill to create a three-tiered program to help internet providers reach Iowans with low or no internet service.  The most assistance goes to providers installing internet infrastructure in the least served areas and lower amounts to those who already serve areas with decent internet.  One of her points is to make sure the rural/urban divide does not grow.

I believe the states who first get statewide reliable internet capable of high volume use will benefit economically.  Our own businesses and residents will be set to compete globally from their own hometowns.  I am especially thinking of keeping our best and brightest here in Iowa after college or when they start a family.  Businesses from out of state may see our pro-business climate an improving tax code but may need better broadband service to justify moving to Iowa.  The need for better and faster broadband coverage will only grow.

It has been a pleasure working with the governor’s staff and House members on the same project.  We will be working through the session on this and other bills to update Iowa’s technology in order to compete and win in a digital world that will only get more digital.

 

The Schultz Perspective by Senator Jason Schultz

Friday, January 19, 2021

Each year the funding of our K-12 education system is one of the first large appropriations of the session.  We do this so that local school boards and administrators can start their own budgeting process.  This year the normally complex funding formula gets outright complicated.  Education leaders in the Senate, House and the governor’s office worked their way through the process.  They found a way to fund education, protect the taxpayer, and make sure promised funding will be delivered.

The Covid-19 virus, now with Great Britain, South African, and Brazilian variants, caused disruptions in school operations that saved dollars in some areas and cost tax dollars in other areas.  From a statewide perspective, Iowa schools had net savings from school closures in the spring. In addition, federal dollars to help schools handle the Covid situation were received.  In this environment, schools are asking for a 4% increase in funding.

It has been agreed between the Senate and the House to increase funding in a targeted way.

  • Sets FY 22 SSA at 2.4% and the assumed additional $15 million AEA reduction done in standings for an increase of $15.7 million
  • Provides an additional $10 per pupil equity to continue working towards district cost per pupil and state cost per pupil equity for an increase of $5.8 million
  • Provides the additional money to buy everyone down to the statewide average on transportation which is estimated to be $767,847
  • Provides one-time additional funding of $60 per pupil for districts offering qualified instruction in the 2020-2021 school year for an increase of $27.2 million
  • Total increase of $49.4 million

One large difficulty is the fluctuation of student attendance this year. Data from the Iowa Department of Education shows that Iowa’s enrollment declined by nearly 6,000 students for the 2020-2021 school year compared to the year prior. This situation can be handled, and due to careful budgeting practices, Iowa is in a very good position to be flexible in dealing with the unpredictable number of students.  If they return to the classroom next year, Iowa taxpayers could be on the hook for over $100 million in new spending even if we set SSA at 0%. If this happens, we will almost certainly overspend and we do not want to be caught by surprise.

As you can see, Covid-19 has created an unpredictable and variable environment in school funding.  Our best course of action is to continue responsible budgeting so we can react in a strong manner when surprises pop up.  Iowa, from Governor Reynolds on down, has handled Covid better on balance than almost every other state.  We will come out of this stronger than the states who over-reacted and threw money at the uncertainties of Covid.

 

The Schultz Perspective by Senator Jason Schultz

Friday, January 12, 2021

The legislative season is through our second week.  One strategy to handle a large number of bills is to move the easiest first.  This week we moved Senate Joint Resolution 1 out of subcommittee.  This is a proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution.  It reads:

“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.”

Iowa is one of only six states to not have recognized protection of the right to keep and bear arms in its constitution.  This fixes the oversight as well as modernizes the language from that used in the Constitution of the United States.  Somehow, over the years many court decisions have ignored the “shall not be infringed” language of the original 2nd Amendment.  The proposed Iowa amendment declares that attempts to regulate guns be reviewed under strict scrutiny.  This is the highest standard of judicial review, and is how 1st amendment cases are reviewed.  I believe your right to keep and bear arms is equal to your right to free speech, assembly and religion.  In fact, the 2nd amendment guards the 1st amendment.  All rights should be considered under the same standard.

The subcommittee was predictable in that of the three-person subcommittee, the two Republicans supported the measure. The lone Democrat declined to sign the report approving passage.  Those who testified and opposed passage presented similar arguments.  The common reason to oppose SJR 1 was that it would make it harder to pass gun control measures in the future. I agreed with them on this point – the whole reason to approve the amendment was to make it harder to ban guns and impose draconian regulations on gun owners.

The important point to remember about our US and Iowa constitutions is that they bind government and protect the rights of citizens.  The new presidential administration has made it clear that it intends to severely limit if not destroy our right to keep and bear arms.  If there is a successful effort to ignore or remove the 2nd Amendment, the states will be the final rampart of freedom.  We will need these protections in Iowa to protect us from the runaway federal government.  If we someday lose Republican control in Des Moines, the Iowa Constitution can guard against future governors and legislatures.  This effort will be joined by a bill I am working on to not allow state dollars to be used to assist in the enforcement of future federal gun control laws or executive orders.  The goal is to have laws consistent with the Constitution, all working in conjunction to protect our rights.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to serve as your senator.  If you have comments or question, email [email protected].

The Schultz Perspective by Senator Jason Schultz

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Monday, January 11 was the first day of Iowa’s legislative session. This session is scheduled to last 110 days which leads to the final day being April 30. Due to Covid, this session will be like no other. In order to meet constitutional requirements and pass a budget, we must gavel in the second Monday of January.

Several changes in how we do business have been made. The Capitol is open to the public. There is no mask mandate but masks and face shields are suggested. There are masks and face shields available to those who wish to wear them. You are encouraged to bring your own. The first day of session saw most people wearing masks, many without, and only a couple of face shields. The public will have their temperatures checked at the security screening points.

Guided tours of the Capitol are canceled Monday through Thursday while we are working. Friday and Saturday will offer a limited tour.  We will not be able to take constituents up into the main dome this session. Finally, rooms in the Capitol will not be available for public groups to reserve for events such as legislative receptions or lunches. This was a disappointment for me, as I schedule and facilitate the weekly legislative Bible study on Thursday mornings. For this session, I will gather with interested senators to continue the forty-year tradition to study the Word and pray for our state.

In the chamber, we will see the media move off the floor and up into a reserved section of the gallery overlooking us. Subcommittees are going to be the largest change. We will have subcommittees by video conferencing. Our young pages are being trained to operate the audio and video equipment to provide a more stable and prepared experience and to save time. This will be a good experience for our high school pages and will make them more a part of the daily workings of the Senate. I welcome that. Legislators and staff may be in the same room or separate rooms based on distancing considerations or preference.

Full committee meetings will happen in the Senate chamber to provide enough room, with senators sitting and speaking from their desks. In both committee meetings and full senate debate, senators must be physically present in order to vote. We are not doing virtual voting or debate.

This session will be a challenge for many, but I am confident the Iowa Senate with a Republican majority will deal with the challenges and finish with a conservative budget and policies that will make Iowa stronger going through the pandemic and for years after.

If you need to contact me, email jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov or call the switchboard at 515-281-3371.

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