Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Newsletter for the Final Week
Last Thursday May 24, 2021 at approximately 11:30 PM the Legislative Session ended at the Capitol. The term for ending the session is called Sine Die, which in Latin means to adjourn for the last time. The session was interesting to say the least. There were dramatic changes made in tax policy this past session. The Legislature and Governor also made a big change in Broadband Funding as well as Child Care. I will give some of the highlights of the session as I see them.
Broadband is one of the important pillars to strengthening rural Iowa’s vitality. Broadband service is necessary for growth of new and existing businesses, big and small. As more jobs can be done from home, it is possible to work for companies that have headquarters in any of our 50 states. But these jobs require fast and dependable internet capability. Iowa has some catching up to do so we can compete with other states, especially in our rural areas. The Legislature has put $100 million into broadband investment for next year and then looking at the needs from year to year from that point on.
In past years you have heard me speak about the Childcare Cliff, where a low-income Iowan would lose all childcare benefits if he/she took a small raise. A parent could lose up to $1500 a month in benefits by accepting $100 a month extra in pay. It penalized Iowans for working harder, it penalized a person for trying to be more successful. This bill that was passed, creates stair steps out of the program by decreasing benefits as income rises, instead of cutting off benefits completely. This is an important piece of the puzzle to incentivize Iowans who want to work.
The fiscal year budget for this coming year starts on July 1, 2021, and ends on June 30th, 2022. The agreement between the House and Senate calls for $8.118 billion in spending. I am glad that we were able to raise the funding for Justice Systems by $35 million. This important appropriation will help fund family courts, which have been successful in reducing recidivism. It will also fund equipment for Highway Patrol and the hiring of more personnel, and Department of Corrections to hire more personnel as well.
The final Appropriations Bill also raises Community College funding by $6 million, nursing home funding by $20 million, and Home and Community Based Services by $11M.
Tax Omnibus Bill
The Tax Bill that was passed out the House and Senate is the most dramatic tax bill that we have passed since I took office in 2015. It has many moving parts and so here we go:
• Childcare tax credit expansion
• Repeal of income tax on any COVID related grants state or federal
• State inheritance tax will be proportionately phased out over the next 4 years
• Bonus depreciation change allows for immediate deduction of capital assets (Coupling with IRS)
• Elimination of the mental health property tax levy being accessed at the County level
• Elimination of the property tax backfill on commercial property over 5 or 8 years.
The state will be funding the mental health services phased in over the next two fiscal years. I’ve always felt that funding mental health through property taxes is unfair. General fund appropriation makes more sense. I believe that Iowa may be the only state to fund it through property taxes.
The part I like the least about the new tax bill is the elimination of the commercial and industrial property tax backfill. I’ve fought against this because I know that it creates more pressure on our municipalities. I do believe that we have approached this responsibly enough to ease that pressure. The phase out will not begin until next fiscal year (2023) and then will take place over 5 or 8 years, depending on growth in property tax valuation compared to statewide growth.
The bill that didn’t pass (Bottle Bill)
I am very disappointed to report that the Bottle Bill did not pass again this year. I have stated publicly and at the Capitol that we have to get another penny to the Redemption Centers. Without bringing the centers up to 2 cents per can or bottle the whole system will eventually implode from within. The problem is that a lot of people have different ideas on how to address the issue, but they aren’t able to agree on the details to get a bill written.
Special Session for Redistricting
In Iowa, we use the US Census numbers to determine how to assign the Congressional maps and also state House and Senate Districts. Iowa’s system to draw the maps is done by the Legislative Services Agency (LSA). The LSA is a non-partisan agency that works at the Capitol. When they draw the map to determine the new districts, we as a legislature vote on the map as written. If the map is not approved a second map is drawn. If the second map is not approved the third drawing becomes the final and official map. This process is usually taken care while we are in session, but was pushed back this year because Census numbers are late due to COVID. We will most likely need to go back in August for a special session to vote on the new district maps as drawn. Iowa’s system is considered one of the best in the nation. It does not allow for gerrymandering by the party that is in power.
This year has been a little different at the Capitol as we were trying our best to work around the restrictions of COVID-19, but we got through it with flying colors! I want to thank the constituents of District 12 for the amazing honor of being your voice at the Iowa Capitol for the last 7 years!!
Monday, May 10, 2021
News from Week 17 – 2021 Legislative Session
Almost all policy bills have gone through the House and Senate at this time and so now we are in talks with the House, Senate and the Governor for the budget and tax bills to end the session. There is no agreement yet, but we continue to make progress. A couple of areas in our budget that have been underfunded in past years have been Judicial, Corrections, and Public Safety. The House budget takes that into account and we believe It is time for us to bring funding up to acceptable levels.
Affordable Housing Assistance Program
Three housing programs focused on low and moderate-income Iowans are currently taking applications for funding. The programs are funded through the Federal Community Development Block Grant.
The owner-occupied rehabilitation program is focused on three areas of improvement: energy efficiency, exterior improvements, and the removal of architectural barriers to allow aging in the home. The maximum award amount is $24,999 per unit.
The homebuyer assistance program provides down payment and closing cost assistance. This program will also be capped at $24,999.
There is also an upper-story housing conversion program. This program offers financial assistance for converting downtown building space into new residential units. The maximum award under this program is $500,000.
Biofuel Standards Bill
The Governor’s Biofuel Standards Bill is getting a lot of conversation in the Iowa House. The bill sets biofuel standards in place that will increase use of corn and soybeans in biodiesel as well as ethanol blends in our gasoline. The additional need for corn and soybeans would be helpful to the state economy and I would be happy to support the bill, however, there is a problem. It mandates point of sale gas stations, and convenience stores to change their storage and dispensing infrastructure which may become quite costly and have a negative financial impact.
If there is a way to create greater demand for corn and soy I am all for it, but I will not be able to support this until we can figure out a way to eliminate the mandate on point of sale businesses. I’m optimistic that all the parties can come together soon and work out a plan that works out for both sides.
I am disappointed to say that Bottle Bill legislation failed to progress again this year. This has been discussed at the state capitol since I’ve been elected. Redemption centers need to be reimbursed another penny on can and bottle collection because without the extra penny, they will soon be gone. I believe that the system will implode from within soon if we don’t do something. I have been very vocal at the capitol this year telling colleagues that we must get this done, we can’t expect our redemption centers to do it for less than cost.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
News from Week 15 – 2021 Legislative Session
Iowa has fully vaccinated nearly one million people again COVID-19. It’s welcome news for restaurants that are seeing more customers return. However, getting restaurant staff to also return is providing to be a challenge. According to the Iowa Restaurant Association, the biggest challenge for the industry right now is finding employees again.
Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association, said some establishments have had to hold off on fully reopening or even close back down because they are so understaffed. The Iowa Restaurant Association said the problem is twofold. When restaurants closed down early in the pandemic, many works took their skills and moved to or other industries, while others took unemployment benefits.
When you are eating at a restaurant, remember that they might be a bit understaffed and please be patient as they get back to normal.
First results of the 2020 census were released Monday and confirmed a dramatic shift in population, with major growth in the sunbelt states. Despite the trend, Iowa’s population grew 4.8% in the past decade from 3,046,355 million to 3,192,406 million according to the census bureau. Iowa represents almost 1 percent of the nation’s population. These numbers are good for Iowa, as we were able to keep all 4 of our congressional seats. It is important for the Census Bureau to release this official information as soon as possible, as Iowa will need to start the redistricting process and the Legislative Services Agency can re-draw district maps.
States that have gained at least one seat are Florida, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon. Seven states lost a seat California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Opioid Deaths in Iowa Increase
Opioid-related deaths increased by 35% in 2020, following national trends. Iowa reported 212 opioid-related deaths last year compared to 157 in 2019. The State and Federal officials say factors related to the pandemic likely contributed, including isolation and reduced access to health care services.
Bill and Budget Status
Most of the policy bills have been acted upon at this time. We are in budget negotiations with the Senate and the Governor at this time. Passing an 8-billion-dollar State spending plan can become complicated when there are three branches that need to come to an agreement, House, Senate and Governor. Every Representative and Senator wants to represent their district as well as possible, so it takes a lot of compromise to get a budget bill passed. Our official last day is supposed to be this Friday, but I am sure that we will be going at least a week or two late.
As time runs short, leading up to adjournment, the chances of a bottle bill being passed this year are less certain. I am finding this frustrating because redemption centers are taxed to run an industry with no profit margin. Iowans have overwhelmingly have supported a bottle bill in the past, but if we do not find a way to reimburse the redemption centers an extra penny per can or bottle, I am afraid we will see the system implode. I have told leadership that I would support any bill that would provide an extra penny to them. I am certain that more redemption centers will close in the next year if we don’t do something now. I am doing everything I can to persuade both the House and the Senate that we need to move on this issue this year.
Monday, April 12, 2021
News from Week 13 – 2021 Legislative Session
Every 10 years, Iowa’s House and Senate districts are rearranged based on population shifts. As populations trend in and out of different areas, the redistricting attempts to divide the population of Iowa and do its best to have each of the 100 Representatives, representing an equal number of constituents. This happens in all 50 states, every 10 years as we get new census numbers. Iowa’s redistricting process is considered to be one of the best in the nation. Our system relies on the Legislative Services Agency (LSA), a non-partisan group, to draw the maps. This prevents gerrymandering from taking place. Gerrymandering is when the party in power is allowed to set the maps to optimize their ability to win more seats. Normally we would have our census numbers in by now and would vote on one of three possible LSA maps. However, due to COVID, these numbers won’t be out till September. Iowa’s Constitution requires the Iowa Supreme Court to take over if the legislature fails to approve new legislate district maps by September 1st.
Last week the Iowa Senate passed a bill that would change the source of mental health funding in Iowa. The bill would shift funding from county property taxes to a state-funded system. The bill is headed to the Iowa House. I am in support of the idea, however, I want to make sure that we don’t diminish other state funds that go to counties, in order to fund mental health.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reports that 773,000 Iowans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This is great news for the Iowa economy and hopefully, small business owners will be seeing more customers return.
Iowa Bio-Fuel Standards Bill
There is a lot of discussion at the State Capitol regarding HF 859 and SF 549. A bill that would mandate E15 standards. These bills are intended to put more E15 on the market, which is helpful to Iowa’s farmers and will increase commodity prices for corn. The bill also limits the amount of E0 fuel, by making it less available to purchase. E0 fuel contains zero Ethanol. I am ideologically in favor of this bill, but it has flaws. The bill calls for a mandate on service stations to make E15 available, which will have a monetary effect. This is an unfunded mandate, which could be disastrous to a small family-owned station. I believe that making E0 hard to purchase is a mistake as well, many consumers have types of machinery that run better without Ethanol. The law also requires the E0 to be high octane, which will be costlier to the consumer. There is an amendment that takes away the mandate and will make E0 available to the consumer, with these changes, I would support the bill.
Monday, March 29, 2021
News from Week 11 – 2021 Legislative Session
Award Made to Classroom Clinic in Carroll
The Iowa Economic Development Authority Board made an award to Classroom Clinic at its meeting on March 19. Classroom Clinic in Carroll offers school-based telehealth services to rural school districts. It offers an innovative solution for rural mental health services, which in turn could improve academic achievement, higher graduation rates and advancement to postsecondary education. The platform allows telehealth providers to effectively connect with schools, students and families to deliver the care they need. The company was awarded a $25,000 Proof of Commercial Relevance (POCR) loan for market analysis and IP development and evaluation.
Iowa is considered a leader in both laws and regulations by the insurance industry. The state is at the forefront of adopting model laws and regulations. Because of this, there are over 200 insurers domiciled in Iowa and over 1300 non-domestic admitted insurance carriers in the state. This week the House of Representatives passed several bills impacting the insurance industry.
HF 839 – Creates a framework and liability protections for financial advisors to report suspected financial exploitation of eligible adults. The Iowa Insurance Division is tasked with investigating these reports to ascertain the validity of the concerns and take further action as appropriate.
HF 583 – Creates a framework for offering private flood insurance in Iowa. Federal changes have created an opening where private flood insurance could be less expensive for consumers than options offered through the federal government. Iowa is a leader in the insurance industry and this legislation is important for the state to retain its leadership role in the country.
The insurance industry has a positive economic impact for Iowa. There are over 46,000 industry professionals, favorable tax rates. We are the number one state for insurance as a percentage of GDP, leading all other states, including Connecticut.
Iowa’s Broadband Expansion
Recently the IT committee heard a presentation from Connected Nation who holds the contract for creating the map of broadband service in Iowa. The OCIO uses this map to identify which areas of the state that lack broadband internet service. Connected Nation has also overlaid a map of the state with FCC data and information from internet providers in the state identifying where they offer service.
An interactive GIS map can be viewed at https://connectednation.org/
The Iowa House realizes that broadband is a large economic driver for rural Iowa. I would support all efforts to expand broadband. I believe that we should support the Governor’s request as closely as possible. She has requested $150 million per year for the next three years to support this project.
Felon Voter Bill
Last week, the Iowa House passed a bill to allow felons to get their voting rights back under certain circumstances. Felons convicted of murders, rape and child molestation will not receive voting rights. Other felons of lesser offenses will be able to receive voting rights, but victim restitution would be required first. Iowa is one of a few states that do not have automatic reinstatement for lesser offenses. This bill allows for a constitutional amendment which means it will need to be passed in the House again, two years from now, and approved by the citizens of Iowa in the next general election.
Iowa Likely to Extend Tax Return Due Date
The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced last week that the federal income tax filing due date for individuals will be automatically extended from April 15, 2021, to May 17, 2021. The IRS will be providing formal guidance soon. Individual taxpayers can also postpone federal income tax payments for the 2020 tax year due on April 15, 2021, to May 17, 2021, without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount owed.
Additionally, the Iowa Department of Revenue is likely to extend its income tax filing deadline again this year as a result of the pandemic. Iowa’s state income tax filing deadline is traditionally April 30. Iowa Department of Revenue has publicly confirmed that the state is likely to change that date but is waiting on more details from the IRS before finalizing its decision. Stay tuned to the Department’s website for details forthcoming.
Monday, March 22, 2021
News from Week 10 – 2021 Legislative Session
Regents Hiring Growing Much Faster Than Enrollment
As the Legislative calendar turns to the budget season, a number of details making up the state budget are getting a closer examination. One of those is the number of employees that the state funds through its budget. State employees are counted based on full-time equivalents so that two half-time positions equal 1.0 FTE.
The state government has shown a reduction of Full-time Equivalent (FTE) employees of 22,568 in 2011 to 20,089 in 2020. While the Board of Regents FTEs has grown from 27,601 in 2011 to 35,104 in 2020. So the question is, has the enrollment of the schools and the growth rate of employees moved in unison? The answer is no. The rate of growth of FTEs in regents is nine times the growth rate of enrollment.
The appropriations committee is looking into this issue to find out the reason why there is such a significant difference in growth rates. Regents still charged students and parents full price for an abridged college experience in 2020/2021. Are the additional funds being requested from the state in Fiscal Year 2022 intended to improve the student experience, to reduce student costs, or are they intended to hire more FTE’s?
Revenue Estimating Conference (REC)
Last Friday, March 19th, the three-member REC held their March meeting. This meeting gave the panel the opportunity to revise the estimates for the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 and the next FY 2022. For 2021, the REC raised its projections for state revenue from its December estimate from $7.96 billion to $8.07 billion, an increase of $109.6 million. This represents a 1.9% increase from 2020 to 2021. For FY 2022, the REC is now projecting the state revenue to be $8.38 billion, a growth of 3.8%. In terms of dollars, this figure would be a growth of $306.7 million from FY 2021 to FY 2022. For FY 2023, the panel is predicting a growth rate of 4.5% or $8.76 billion.
The growth rate could be attributed to good commodity prices and increased revenue from gaming by $5.1 million for FY 2021 and FY 2022. The profits from gaming are invested into the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIF). This fund is used for the building and maintaining of natural resource projects and for the new construction and maintenance of state buildings, such as the new Veterinary School building at Iowa State University in Ames.
Iowa’s Unemployment Rate Drops Again
Iowa’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 3.5 percent from the revised December rate of 3.7 percent. The state’s jobless rate was 2.8 percent one year ago. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent in January. Since last year at this time, Iowa has grown its workforce by 45,400, this is a positive sign that more Iowans are headed back into the workforce.
Monday, March 15, 2021
News from Week 9 – 2021 Legislative Session
Vaccine updates and 2-1-1
Last week, the Governor announced another expansion of eligible populations to receive the vaccine to those with pre-existing conditions. This week, the Iowa Department of Public Health announced a new website – Vaccinate.Iowa.gov – to provide additional resources to eligible Iowans seeking the COVID-19 vaccine. This website provides information about vaccine providers based on your zip code, vaccine priority populations and eligibility, resources for Iowans age 65 and older, and answers to frequently asked questions.
The state is also partnering with 211 to provide a dedicated team of vaccine navigators who will schedule appointments for Iowans age 65 and older. If you have any questions, please dial 2-1-1 on your phone.
Iowa continues to vaccinate at record rates with 916,360 doses already being administered as of Wednesday. To put this in context, over the last year, 368,636 Iowans have tested positive for COVID. The great work quickly vaccinating vulnerable Iowans shows in the dashboard information on coronavirus.iowa.gov with significantly decreased hospitalizations.
Iowa Ranks #1 in Opportunity
On March Tuesday, March 9, “U.S. News and World Report” released a rankings report stating that Iowa is ranked #1 in opportunity across the United States. Sara Clark, managing editor to U.S. News stated “Iowa ranks No. 1 in the opportunity category largely on the strength of its performance in two of the opportunity subcategories—affordability (at No. 4) and economic opportunity (at No. 12). The state’s housing affordability is No. 1 in the country, and the state has the third-lowest level of food insecurity, according to our rankings data.” Eight of the top ten states in the opportunity category are fellow midwestern states: Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. Across all categories, Iowa ranks 12th in the nation. Other categories include healthcare, education, economy, infrastructure, fiscal stability, crimes and corrections, and natural environment. Time and time again Iowa has ranked high in reports and rankings which continues to prove that with strong leadership, Iowa has and will stay on the right path.
Transportation First Funnel Survivors
HF 655 – Agricultural Animal Transportation – This bill creates a criminal offense of interference with the transportation of an agricultural animal if the person interferes with the motor vehicle transporting the animal or interferes with the agricultural animal itself.
HF 521 – CDL Skills Testing – This bill allows the DOT or a county that is providing the driving skills test for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to charge $25 for each of the three component tests. Counties are allowed to retain these fees if they are administering the test. Currently, counties only retain $7 for the issuance of a CDL and do not receive anything extra if they are also administering the driving skills test. This bill was drafted based on a legislatively required CDL Skills Test Study Report in 2019.
SF 230 – Salvage Title – This bill increases the threshold for a vehicle to be considered salvaged from 50% to 70% of the fair market value of the vehicle.
Help to Child Care Centers
Lack of child care has been a problem in Iowa for some time now. We have worked on policies throughout this session that will address this issue. A significant amount of money has been made available through Future Ready Iowa. Congratulations to child care centers in District 12 who received money to help them build new centers or renovate their current center to add more child care slots. Breda Day Care Center will receive $91,340 to increase capacity and add 26 child care slots. Lil’ Wildcat Education Center in Glidden received $175,076 from DHS and $500,000 in IEDA awards, to build a new center which will result in 71 child care slots. Little Hawks Child Care Center in Manilla will receive $300,000 through IEDA and $101,240 through DHS to, this funding will go towards procurement of items that will be used on a day-to-day basis when the childcare center is operating.
Monday, March 8, 2021
News from Week 8 – 2021 Legislative Session
First Funnel Survivors
HSB 228 – This bill puts Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) under greater scrutiny. Our local pharmacies join pharmacy benefit manager networks because these PBMs control the market. The PBMs have purchased insurance companies as well as setting up their own pharmacies. This has caused a monopoly where they control the market and oftentimes, treat their member pharmacies unfairly. I have been working on this issue for the past three years, getting reforms passed in bi-partisan fashion in the Iowa House, but with very little Senate support. This year, I am very optimistic that we can get something passed in both the House and the Senate.
HF 392 – Hands-Free Driving – The bill prohibits the use of an electronic device while driving. The bill requires the use of a warning, rather than a schedule fine, until January 1, 2022. Following that date, the fine is $100.
HF 494 – Left Lane – This bill will impose a $135 fine on drivers who camp out in the left lane, making no attempt to pass the vehicle in the right lane, thus backing up traffic. I am sure that most of us have experienced this while traveling on the interstate.
HF 706 – Telehealth Payment Parity – This bill requires health insurers to reimburse for services provided through telehealth at the same rate as services provided in person. With the shortage of specialists in rural Iowa, this bill allows patients to have access to those doctors that they might not have had before.
HF 304 – Personal Delivery Devices – This bill creates a framework for operation of personal delivery devices. In this context, a personal delivery device is a robot-like device that carries a delivery directly to a purchaser’s home. This is primarily an Amazon initiative. These devices move slowly and are programmed to be able to clear crosswalks by recognizing traffic signals and will primarily use sidewalks for delivery. It does allow for local jurisdictions to restrict the operation of these devices. This bill passed the House with one dissenting vote, and that was me. I feel that companies like Amazon are a threat to rural businesses. I understand that there is nothing we can do to restrict the free market, however, in my opinion, voting for this is just an example of another nail in the coffin of small-town Iowa.
HF 259 – Microchipping – This bill prohibits employers from demanding or incentivizing the micro-chipping of employees.
HF 283 – Urine Trouble – This bill makes it a crime to submit synthetic urine or another person’s urine during a drug test to an employer.
HF 310 – Gay and Trans Panic Defense – This prohibits someone from using a person’s sexual orientation as a defense for homicide or assault. There have recently been defendants in other states who have used this as a defense for murdering or assaulting a person for their sexual orientation and in a few cases, they were acquitted of all charges. This bill recognizes that there is no excuse for murdering another human being.
HSB 252 – Bottle Bill – This bill would allow redemption centers and retailers to work on a contractual arrangement where the redemption center will accept the 5-cent beverage containers and receive one penny, as in the past, or change the amount that the redemption center will receive. I am not a fan of this bill at this time, because I am not sure the retailer would negotiate in goodwill. My preference is just to give the redemption center a total of a 2-cent reimbursement.
Monday, March 1, 2021
News from Week 7 – 2021 Legislative Session
Election Integrity Law
During the pandemic and as more and more Iowans are voting by absentee ballots, it is important that the accuracy and validity of each absentee ballot are secured. This bill increases the amount of reporting on absentee ballot requests received, absentee ballots sent, and completed absentee ballots received by all county auditors and the Secretary of State to be published daily once ballots are mailed. Additionally, each county auditor’s office will have a secure drop box that will be emptied and recorded at least 4 times a day. The drop boxes will be on county property, video surveillance to monitor all activity at the dropbox, the drop boxes shall be securely fastened to a stationary surface, and be locked with a tamper-evident seal.
The bill also changes the period for early absentee voting, early satellite voting, and early in-person voting to 20 days before election day, giving Iowans 21 days to be able to cast their ballots in elections. With that change, Iowa will still have a longer early voting period than 26 other states. Additionally, the bill will conform poll closing times to 8 p.m. for all elections/previously some elections had a close of 9 p.m. while others had 8 p.m. Even while closing polls at 8 p.m., Iowa’s polls will stay open later than the national average of 7:30 p.m.
With these changes, it is important to think of potential voters who can’t leave work to go vote. Current law entitles voters who cannot get 3 consecutive hours off work to vote, excused time off work without penalty to vote. This bill will lower that time, so if a worker cannot get 2 consecutive hours to vote, they would be entitled to excused time off work to vote.
To ensure uniformity throughout Iowa, this bill will apply in law that only absentee ballots received by the county auditor before 8 p.m. on election night will be counted. This will not affect military absentee ballots, anyone overseas, or who participates in the Secretary of State’s Safe at Home program.
Iowa’s Scenic Byways
This week, the House passed House File 486, which provides the option to Iowans when renewing their title registration to donate $1 or more to the Scenic Byways Enhancement Fund. Iowa has 14 scenic byways that currently receive $500,000 annually through the Transportation Commission for corridor management, signs, and marketing.
The Iowa DOT and Iowa Tourism Office recently announced a free digital passport to discover Iowa’s scenic byways and more than 100 unique attractions, shops, and restaurants along the way. Travelers can sign up for the free digital passport at explore.traveliowa.com/byways with an email address or by scanning a QR code from posters at locations included on the passport.
The passport includes discounts and prizes with each check-in on the passport earning travelers one entry into a monthly drawing for a prize package valued at about $200. Prize packages include an overnight stay, gift certificates, and more.
Participating businesses along the byways will offer deals and discounts exclusively for pass holders. Each deal redemption also earns an entry into the monthly drawing through the end of 2021.
Tourism in Iowa generates nearly $9 billion in expenditures and $517.5 million in state taxes while employing over 70,000 people statewide. Now more than ever, it is important to support Iowa’s local business, and check out Iowa’s scenic byways is a great way to do that!
This week should be busy with Thursday the 4th of March marking the end of the first funnel. If bills are not voted out of committee by Thursday, they will not continue on this session. One bill that needs to still go through the State Government committee is the Bottle Bill. If we don’t find a way to increase the per can reimbursement, I’m concerned that the system will break down.
Monday, February 22, 2021
News from Week 6 – 2021 Legislative Session
As Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, I have been thinking of ways that will help CDL testing become more available for individuals and businesses that rely on CDL’s for their employees. Commercial drivers play an essential role in delivering necessary supplies, driving school busses, and supporting our local communities. About 10 percent of all Iowa license holders have a CDL, but oftentimes have long wait times and difficulty accessing testing locations near their work.
In 2019, the legislature directed the Iowa DOT to conduct a study on access to the driving skills test for CDLs and asked the DOT to evaluate testing options to increase access. The report can be found at https://www.legis.iowa.gov/
Based on this report, the House Transportation Committee drafted House File 521 and passed it out of committee recently with strong bipartisan support. Currently, there are 16 Iowa DOT locations, 12 county treasurer locations, and 15 third-party locations. This bill would allow the tester to retain all fees for each 30-90-minute testing slot.
This legislation allows the DOT or a county that is providing the driving skills test for a CDL to charge $25 for each of the three component tests (pre-trip vehicle inspection, basic vehicle control skills, and on-road driving skills test). Currently, counties providing this testing do not receive any extra funds, leaving little incentive to maintain testing or expand testing to additional areas of the state. The entity, whether DOT or county, will still maintain the fees that come with the issuance of the actual license.
The bill is now up for consideration in the House Ways and Means Committee.
EMS Workers and Programs
This week the House Ways and Means Committee passed two EMS bills with unanimous support. There is currently a tax credit of $100 for volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel as well as reserve peace officers. House File 144 increases that credit to $200 starting with tax years beginning on or after January of this year.
Extra Funding to Schools for COVID Costs
Last Thursday, I voted in support of HF532, which gives 27 million dollars in extra funds to schools to help cover COVID costs. HF 532 will be based on the amount of days the schools spent in-person this fall. This bill was crafted with the understanding that schools incurred increased costs for in-person learning during the pandemic such as PPE, cleaning supplies and more substitute teachers. Studies have made clear that having our kids in school is the best learning environment for the majority of students in Iowa. This money will help provide relief for those extra costs.
Monday, February 12, 2021
News from Week 5 – 2021 Legislative Session
Recruitment for Medical Personnel in Small-Town Iowa
The State is working on ways to recruit medical students to small-town Iowa. HSB 168 focuses on the initial medical school training, by requiring the University of Iowa medical and dental schools to have 75% of their admitted students be from the state of Iowa. Iowans know that if a medical student or resident has a connection to the state and then is able to complete their training here while in the mid-’20s and 30’s it is more likely they set roots, start their family, stay and practice in Iowa. Post-graduation, HF 270 requires the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to offer a medical residency audition rotation and interview to those with an Iowa connection. SF 129 also passed the House committee, to expand access to the Rural Iowa Primary Loan Repayment Program by allowing OB/GYNs to participate in the program.
Rural Iowa Broadband
The Legislature is requesting $150 million from the budget over the next three years to expand broadband is rural Iowa. This is a significant amount of the money but is signifies the importance of having fast, available broadband in rural Iowa. This is probably the most important economic tool that we can use to maintain our rural populations.
Child Care Legislation
This week, The Iowa House passed six pieces of legislation to address Iowa’s child care shortage from multiple angles.
HF 230 – Increases the income threshold for the Child Care Tax Credit from $45,000 to $90,000.
HF 370 – Creates an incentive for employers to provide child care for their employees by providing a tax credit up to $150,000.
HF 260 – Allows individuals providing child care in their homes to take care of 6 or fewer children, an increase from 5 or fewer.
HF 292 – Raises Iowa’s child care rates to the 50th percentile according to the Market Rate Survey.
HF 302 – Creates an “off-ramp” from Child Care Assistance program so parents can continue to grow in their career without losing their child care assistance entirely, all at once.
HF 301 – Creates a fund to provide child care workforce grants on a dollar-for-dollar matching basis from communities. These programs will help move child care providers up the pay scale and the education pathway.
These bills will try to help alleviate the high cost of child care that affect middle-class families, which is an economic development issue. Without some type of financial relief, it becomes non-beneficial for both parents to work outside the home even though they may want to.
Monday, February 8, 2021
News from Week 4 – 2021 Legislative Session
Free Speech on College Campuses
This week the Government Oversight heard from representatives from the Regents about issues surrounding Free Speech taking place on their campuses. There has been a pattern of Free Speech suppression often targeted at Conservative students. A school’s role is to educate, not indoctrinate students into a certain political ideology. An issue took place recently at the University of Iowa, School of Dentistry, where the Dean threatened a student with expulsion after the student complained that his right to Free Speech was abridged.
At Iowa State University, an assistant English Professor, put in her syllabus, a threat to any student with a dismissal of the class, who chose to write about topics opposing Black Lives Matter, Gay Marriage, Abortion and other social issues. ISU president, Dr. Wintersteen, described this as an egregious error in regards to Free Speech. The professor was consulted and apologized to the class and the syllabus was changed. Over time it seems that student’s First Amendment rights only applied to those who agreed with the Liberal point of view. I appreciate that Dr. Wintersteen took this issue seriously.
Mental Health Progress
Over the last three years, the Legislature has passed bipartisan mental health reform which created the first-ever children’s mental health system. It takes time to develop new mental health services and great progress has been made over the last few years. One of the most important parts of expanding mental health treatment is ensuring there are a proper amount of mental health providers throughout the State.
Progress has been made in the area of Assertive Community Treatment Services (ACT), which serve individuals in their own communities at all hours and days, preventing crisis. There were 6 teams in 2016 and now they are up to 14. ACT teams are made up of professionals that provide interdisciplinary, individualized treatment and support for those with a serious and persistent mental illness. This will relieve pressure placed on in-patient psychiatric beds and ensure that patients are put in the proper setting. This will also decrease law enforcement will spend transporting patients and waiting in emergency rooms.
This week, the state launched updates to Iowa’s coronavirus dashboard to include information on COVID-19 vaccine administration and locations eligible Iowans can receive the vaccine. With the quick work vaccinating nursing homes and health care workers, Iowa is already expanding eligible populations. Those that are 65 years and older can contact their county public health department and utilize the dashboard to find vaccine providers in their county, which is found at https://coronavirus.iowa.gov/
Monday, February 1, 2021
News from Week 3 – 2021 Legislative Session
House File 103 – In-Person Learning
HF 103 passed on the House floor last Thursday. This bill states that schools must provide in-person learning as an option for parents that prefer this option, however, it does not eliminate on-line learning or hybrid options. The CDC published a report stating that there is very little evidence exists that schools contribute to the spread of Covid-19. Cases among school-aged children in Iowa have remained low. Transmission among students in Iowa schools is rare and infections most often occur between family members in the same households. I appreciate that all of the schools in this district have done a great job of keeping kids in the classroom. Teachers are now eligible for COVID vaccination as of Feb. 1st.
There are multiple House Study Bills and House Files in Committees right now that are dealing with the high cost of child care. Unfortunately, 81 Child Care Centers and 41 Child Care Development Homes have closed since March making it even more difficult for parents to find affordable child care for their family.
Income eligibility for the Child Care Tax Credit. This bill addresses the child care cliff effect which gradually increases cost-sharing for families as their income increases. Sometimes, working moms and dads will pass up raises or promotions due to the all or nothing effect when it comes to receiving child care benefits. This bill will incentivize them to accept higher wages because it will only affect benefits on a sliding scale instead of a cliff effect.
Another bill that will increase access to child care, particularly in rural areas, is allowing non-registered child care homes to increase by one school-aged child. Other efforts include tax incentives for developing new child care facilities. The lack of affordable child care in Iowa is hindering our ability to grow the economy. I believe that the state’s efforts to alleviate these problems will get more people into the workforce, which is especially needed in rural Iowa.
ESAs and Vouchers
House Study Bill 159 passed the Senate floor last week. There are many parts to this bill, all that favor private education. The voucher program that is in this bill, creates concern for me, even though it does not affect area schools in my district. It only affects schools that are identified for comprehensive support and improvement by federal guidelines. My concern is that if it were enacted in this area, public schools might be harmed by dilution of funds due to student transfers to private schools. The bill also quadruples the tax credit for tuition and textbooks for parents, which I am in favor of.
Monday, January 25, 2021
News from Week 2 – 2021 Legislative Session
Since I’ve been elected it is commonly known that the Bottle Bill in lowa needs to be updated. The most glaring problem is that the penny going to redemption centers is not enough for them to make a profit. It is recognized that grocery and convenience stores do not want to take the empty cans and bottles back. This is understandable seeing how those empties are usually unsanitary and don’t belong in a place that sells food. The best solution, I believe, is to find a way for redemption centers to receive 2 cents per bottle or can. This isn’t as simple as it sounds but we are working on it. I am hopeful that a bill can be passed this year that will remedy this situation.
Getting a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in Iowa is difficult. Western Iowa is becoming a CDL desert. It is a time-consuming process, that involves three different tests. First there is a written test, second there is an inspection test, and third is a driving test. One must pass all three of these in order to receive a CDL. Considering the shortage of CDL testing sites it is often times necessary to drive long distances to get tested. I am introducing a study bill in the Transportation Committee that raises the rate of getting a CDL to $75.00. This allows the counties the ability to take on the responsibility of CDL testing and retain enough to break even on cost. This will begin the conversation about CDL deserts in order to provide more testing sites to Iowans.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
News from Week 1 – 2021 Legislative Session
I want to thank my constituents for putting your trust in me for two more years to represent the House of Representatives in this great state of Iowa. I also want to thank all of my friends for your concern before, during and after open-heart surgery. My surgery was October 30th and I feel 100% recovered and feel better than I have in a long time. After what I have been through, my only advice would be to listen to your body, if you are experiencing chest pains, take it seriously and don’t take your health for granted.
Governor Reynold’s Condition of the State Speech
On Tuesday night, Jan. 12th, Governor Reynold’s spoke about her plan for state spending for the next Fiscal Year, 2022. Her plan proposes to spend $8.11 billion from the general fund, which is an increase of 3.7% from the FY 2021 budget. It spends 98.31% of the ongoing revenue.
Her major announcement was her proposal to commit $450 million over the next three years on broadband throughout the state. This is very encouraging for rural Iowa because broadband is vitally important for rural businesses, farmers and families.
Another major piece of her budget proposal addresses mental health. Under her budget plan, the state would provide $15 million in FY2022 and $30 million in FY2023 to expand access and implement service expansions.
In FY2022 the state will spend $1.48 billion from the general fund on the Medicaid program and health and wellness program. The Governor’s budget for next year will provide a $10 million increase for nursing home services, $8 million for home and community-based services and $3.9 million for psychiatric mental institutes for children.
Iowa’s K-12 would receive $26.3 million in additional money during FY2022. She has recommended a $5.2 million increase for community colleges. Her budget would also provide an additional $10 million to college student aid commission to fund the Last-Dollar Scholarship program. This program provides funding for certificates that lead to skilled, high demand jobs. These are high paying occupations in high demand throughout the state.
Last week, the House Human Resources Committee had a presentation from the Iowa Dept. of Public Health on the future status of the COVID-19 vaccine in Iowa. Based on CDC guidelines, Iowa has prioritized residents of long-term care facilities and health care workers in the Phase 1A distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
As of Monday, Jan. 11th, there have been 96,686 doses administered in Iowa. The Governor has the expectation that all long-term residents and staff will be vaccinated before the end of January. IDPH announced that the expansion into the 1B populations will begin around the beginning of February. The expansion of other populations will depend on the allocation of more vaccines from the CDC.
To keep track of Iowa’s allocation, check the CDC Tracker.
Iowa House of Representatives
Address: State Capitol, Des Moines, IA 50319
Phone: 515–281-3221; Home: 712-830-1844
Committees: Appropriations, Commerce, Human Resources, Transportation