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Rep. Brian Best (Iowa House District 12)

Rep. Brian Best

Monday, April 18, 2022

News from Week 14 – 2022 Legislative Session

Budget Bills Languish in Senate as Final Days of the 2022 Session Approaches
With less than one week until the scheduled adjournment of this year’s legislative session, the biggest part of annual session remains in limbo – the budget.  The House completed action on the Health & Human Services and Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund budgets last week.  All nine budget bills drafted by the House budget subcommittees now reside in the Senate Appropriations Committee, awaiting further action.
Senate Republicans have yet to publicly release their spending plans for the year.  The Governor released her budget in January and House Republicans have approved our plan and sent those priorities to the Senate.  The Senate has a number of bills that fiscal impacts on the budget but it remains unclear if any of those bills are funded inside the Senate Republican’s overall budget.  How the Senate funds these priorities has yet to be disclosed.
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Passing Improvements to the Bottle Bill System
The current bottle deposit and redemption system has become outdated. One primary issue is the lack of redemption centers and viable and convenient options for redeeming cans and bottles. Many of the parties on all sides of the issue are ignoring the law without any consequences. Significant work was done last year that makes changes to the system. That work continued this year and this week the House passed a bottle bill reform measure that makes the bottle deposit and redemption system one that works for today’s consumers.

Senate File 2378 takes many positive steps towards improving the current system. It increases the handling fee for redemption centers and retailers to take empty containers to three cents per container. It also gives retailers the ability to opt out of taking empty containers back if they meet one of the following criteria:

1) retailer has a food establishment license and has a certified food protection manager on site,
2) retailer has an agreement with a mobile redemption system, or
3) the retailer is within the radius of a redemption center based on the convenience standard for their county.

House Republicans also worked to ensure a number of consumer protections were included in the bill. These include ensuring the convenience standard (required radius for redemption center based on a county’s population) remains the law, encouraging additional redemption centers and retailers to take back empty containers by increasing the handling fee to three cents per container, and added enforcement mechanisms to ensure the law is enforced.

Senate File 2378 as amended, also enhances enforcement by strengthening fines and enabling the DNR and attorney general to work together to ensure all stakeholders – retailers, distributors, redemption centers, and recyclers are following the law. Finally, establishes a legislative review committee that will meet ahead of the 2026 legislative session to review how the law is working and report back to the legislature its findings and recommendations.

The current bottle deposit and redemption system has not been updated in over 40 years. These are positive changes for all Iowans that ensure consumers can conveniently redeem their empty containers. This will now be sent back to the Senate, I am hoping they will take this bill up and pass it.

State Patrol Cracking Down on Drugged Driving
“If you feel different, you drive different” that’s the message the Iowa State Patrol wants you to remember. Medication, alcohol, and illegal drugs can all impact how a person drives that’s why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau are working with state and local law enforcement officers to stop impaired driving.

April 20th is often referred to as a marijuana holiday so the State Patrol and others will be increasing enforcement to keep everyone safe.  Beginning April 19th through April 22, the Iowa State Patrol and other law enforcement departments will have extra officers out to combat impaired driving. While some may think driving after using marijuana isn’t a big deal, the statistics show otherwise. From 2009 to 2018 the number of drivers killed in crashes who tested positive for marijuana nearly doubled. In 2018, 46% of drivers killed in crashes who were tested, were found to have drugs in their system.

If you are impaired, in any way, plan on having a safe ride. The Department of Public Safety offers these tips to help keep everyone safe:
•    If you have used an impairing substance such as marijuana, do not drive. Passengers should never ride with an impaired driver. If you think a driver may be impaired, do not get in the car.
•    If you are drug-impaired, pass the keys to a sober driver who can safely drive to the destination. It is never okay to drive while impaired by any substance.
•    Do you have a friend who is about to drive while impaired by drugs? Take the keys away and arrange to get them home safely. Don’t worry about offending someone — they’ll thank you later.

IowaWORKS Now Offering New Tech Training Opportunity for Dislocated Workers
Dislocated workers across Iowa now have access to a new career pathway in a high-demand field. IowaWORKS, in conjunction with JobWorks Education and Training Systems, are partnering to offer the TechWorks training program to create an accelerated pathway toward a career in information technology.

The 12-week course is designed to be flexible and will primarily target Iowans who have lost employment through no fault of their own due to the impact of the pandemic. Participants will take part in virtual training leading to two valuable IT training certificates (A+ Certification and IT Fundamental Certification) that will help support a new career in IT.

“Our state can’t afford to leave any workers on the sidelines, so we’re thrilled to begin offering this unique pathway to bring more Iowans into high-demand fields,” said Beth Townsend, Director of Iowa Workforce Development. “It’s no secret that IT professionals are a highly sought-after talent base. This program helps give dislocated workers a skillset and a quick turnaround into a promising career.”
Each program participant will receive a laptop at no cost to them, and those who complete the full course will get to keep their equipment. IowaWORKS career planners will help guide participants through the course and ensure they have the support necessary to be job-ready. Iowa currently has more than 2,500 IT-related job openings.

New cohorts for the program will begin each month. For more information on how to get enrolled in the program, reach out to your local IowaWORKS office or contact Jama Robinson at jama.robinson@iwd.iowa.gov or 319-365-9474 ext 31202.

Representative Brian Best

Monday, April 4, 2022

News from Week 12 – 2022 Legislative Session

IDALS Takes Additional Steps to Protect Poultry Flocks
On Wednesday, March 23, 2022, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) issued a press release which announced an order cancelling all live bird exhibitions at fairs and other gatherings of birds due to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).  The order also prohibits live birds from being sold or transferred at livestock auction markets, swap meets and exotic sales. IDALS’ order begins immediately and is effective for a minimum of 30 days, and until 30 days has passed without a confirmation of a new infection of HPAI in domestic poultry in the state of Iowa. Iowa currently has more than six million birds impacted by HPAI across five commercial and backyard poultry flocks.

IDALS is asking flock owners to prevent contact between their birds and wild birds.  Biosecurity resources and best practices are available at iowaagriculture.gov/biosecurity.  If producers suspect signs of HPAI in their flocks, they should contact their veterinarian immediately.  Possible cases should also be reported to the Iowa Department of Agriculture at (515) 281-5305.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the recent HPAI detections in birds do not present an immediate public health concern.  No human cases of these avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States.  It remains safe to eat poultry products.  As a reminder, the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 ˚F kills bacteria and viruses.  The Iowa Poultry Association recommended that bird exhibitions be cancelled in Iowa due to avian influenza. Iowa leads the nation in egg production and ranks seventh in turkey production. For updates on this developing situation, please visit https://iowaagriculture.gov/animal-industry-bureau/avian-influenza.  For information on Governor’s disaster proclamations for HPAI, visit https://governor.iowa.gov/newsroom.

Education Budget
This week, House passed an education budget that appropriates $1,004,141,874 in General Fund dollars for the Department for the Blind, the College Student Aid Commission, the Department of Education, Community Colleges, Vocational Rehabilitation, Iowa Public Television, and the Board of Regents. Within the bill, there are many increases in funding.
Department for the Blind

  • $113,000 increase for the Department for the Blind

College Student Aid Commission

  • College Student Aid Commission Administration = $60,000 increase
  • All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship Program = $129,000 increase
  • Teach Iowa Scholar = $250,000 increase
  • Rural Primary Care Loan Repayment Program = $2.3 million increase
  • Healthcare Loan Repayment Program = $750,000 increase
  • Rural Veterinarian Loan Repayment Program = $300,000
  • Iowa Tuition Grant = $1.2 million increase
  • Iowa Tuition Grant (For-profit) = $44,000 increase
  • Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Program Scholarship = $200,000
  • Mental Health Practitioner Loan Repayment Program = $1.5 million
  • Iowa Workforce Grant and Incentive Program = $12 million
  • FAFSA assistance with the ICAN = $120,000

Department of Education

  • Early Childhood Iowa = $200,000 increase
  • iJAG (Jobs for America’s Grads) = $3.5 million increase
  • Children’s Mental Health Training = $200,000 increase
  • Best Buddies Iowa = $10,000 increase
  • Therapeutic Classroom Incentive Fund = $42,000 increase

Community Colleges

  • $6.5 million increase for the Community Colleges

Vocational Rehabilitation

  • $120,000 increase for Vocational Rehabilitation

Board of Regents

  • $500,000 for the University of Iowa Family Practice Program
  • $150,000 to Iowa State University for the Cooperative Extension Office
  • $270,000 increase for the Iowa School for the Deaf
  • $114,000 increase for services for Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School
  • $300,000 for the University of Northern Iowa Degree Attainment program
  • $905,000 for the Iowa State University Cybersecurity Simulator

One program in particular that should be highlighted is the new Iowa Workforce Grant and Incentive Program. This is a program focused on addressing Iowa’s workforce shortage problem. This program appropriates $6 million in scholarships to those students attending one of the Regents institutions who are in teacher preparatory programs and $6 million in scholarships to those students who are in majors that align with Iowa’s high-demand jobs. In order to be eligible, students must complete the FAFSA, be a resident of Iowa, and be enrolled in either a teacher preparatory program or a program that was jointly approved by the College Student Aid Commission and Iowa Workforce Development. Students will be able to access the money in their third and fourth years of college. Upon graduation, if the student is working as either a teacher or has a high-demand job, they will receive a bonus payment after staying one year in Iowa. Students can receive up to $5000 per year, or $2500 per semester. This is a great way to partner with the Regent Universities, Iowa Workforce Development, and students across Iowa to help solve workforce shortages.

Cybersecurity
2021 set records new records for data breaches, by the end of September 2021, the number of breaches already exceeded the number of breaches in all of 2020. Industries targeted included manufacturing, utilities, healthcare, financial services, and government. These breaches impacted millions of people.
All session, the Information Technology committee has been learning and gathering information on cybersecurity risks. The Committee has heard from cybersecurity experts and even a first-hand account of a major cyber-attack at DMACC. One of the proposals to arise from these conversations is the creation of a cybersecurity simulation training center at Iowa State University.  The proposal has support in the Iowa House but has encountered issues in the Iowa Senate.
This cybersecurity simulation training center (CySim) will conduct and sponsor research and activities that enable businesses, teams, and others to practice of strategies to counter and mitigate cyber threats and attacks. It will be available to businesses, state agencies, political subdivisions, as well as students and educators. CySim will be capable of conducting cybersecurity training exercises, developing case studies, providing at setting for Student events and competitions, providing training exercises for educators, and coordinating cybersecurity workforce development. There is a significant need for cyber security awareness and defenses at all levels of government, business, and for everyone. The CySim can be a tool to ensure people are prepared for when they are attacked.

Iowa Labor Market Quick Stats
Unemployment and labor issues are a topic in Iowa, and across the nation. To get a picture of what that looks like, here are some snap shots of what’s going on in the labor market. The unemployment rate for February 2022 in Iowa was 3.5%, which ranks Iowa as tied for 20th in the United States. The overall unemployment rate for the U.S. was 3.8%. The labor force participation rate in February 2022 in Iowa was 67%, which ranks Iowa 8th in the U.S. The U.S. labor force participation rate was 62.3%.

In February, Iowa had 1,626,800 employed, 59,400 unemployed, for a total labor force of 1,686,200. Iowa is up 5,800 jobs from one month ago, and up 38,500 jobs from one year ago. Since March, 2020 there were 169,800 jobs lost. There have been 148,300 jobs recovered since April, 2020 for a total net loss of 21,500 jobs.

Industries with the largest change from the previous month are Leisure and Hospitality up 2,100 jobs and Professional and Business services up 1,700 jobs. Iowa’s top five industry sectors by employment are manufacturing, health care and social assistance, retail trade, educational services, and accommodations and food services. Current job openings in Iowa are 86,920. Employers with the most posted openings are Unity Point Health, the University of Iowa, Kwik Trip, Inc, the University of Iowa (import), the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, Care Initiatives, McDonalds Corporation, MCI, Securitas Security Services USA, Inc, and O’Reilly Auto Parts.

Iowa’s unemployment and labor force participation rate continues to stay above the national average with our jobs continuing to grow. We remain focused on getting more Iowans either back into the workforce, or give them the skills to move right into these much needed job areas.

I will be attending a forum on Saturday, April 9th in Glidden at the Library at 10am.

Representative Brian Best

 

Monday, March 21, 2022

News from Week 10 – 2022 Legislative Session

I have officially filed, and am on the ballot to represent the new Iowa House District 11. If you live within those district lines I hope to earn your support and vote. See the new District 11 map here: https://gis.legis.iowa.gov/Plan2/IndivDist/Plan2House_11.pdf

This week was also the final date for Senate bills and joint resolutions to be reported out of House and House bills and joint resolutions out of Senate committees. Next week we (House) will only consider Senate bills, joint resolutions, and unfinished business and they will do the same with ours.

A chunk of bi-partisan bills also passed in the House, including the Cybersecurity bill which was run out of the IT committee which establishes consumers rights over their personal data, including the ability to see what data a company has collected about them. Additionally, it would give consumers the right to delete any personal data they have provided the company. It also would set parameters on how companies can handle and use the data they collect on consumers and sets penalties for businesses that violate the law and consumers privacy.

We also passed three pieces of legislation to increase Iowans’ access to mental health care. House File 2529 appropriates funding for 12 new psychiatric residencies at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). The residencies will prioritize Iowans in the application process. House File 2549 establishes a mental health practitioner loan repayment program for Iowans that agree to practice in Iowa for at least five years. House File 2546 requires Iowa Medicaid to establish a rate for psychiatric intensive care in Iowa. This will ensure that the health care professionals providing care for the most difficult mental health patients are being compensated appropriately.

The State Government Committee passed legislation to provide protections for landowners negotiating with CO2 pipeline projects in Iowa. The current language states that pipelines cannot seek or use eminent domain before March 1, 2023. At this time, the Legislature will be back in session and prepared to take further action if necessary. The goal is to allow landowners and pipeline builders to negotiate on a level playing field, without the threat of eminent domain being abused. Private property rights work both ways – for landowners who want to do business with pipelines and for those that don’t. We believe this compromise respects the rights of both sides.

Recently, House File 2527 moved out of House Economic Growth Committee. This bill is the Governor’s workforce bill and includes many provisions related to Iowa veterans. The goal of this bill is to make Iowa the best place for veterans to live and work following their service. The bill includes the following: Professional licensing of military spouses – Division IV requires licensing boards to establish a procedure to expedite the licensing of a person married to an active-duty member of the military. Professional licensing fees – Division IV waives the licensing fees for veterans that have at least a 25% service-connected disability. EMS Certificate – Division V waives the examination fee for veterans taking the emergency medical care provider exam. Fishing and Hunting Licenses – Division VI allows all Iowa veterans to have a lifetime hunting and fishing license. Disabled veterans’ licenses – Division VII prohibits the DOT from charging fees for driver’s and motorcycle licenses to veterans with a 100% service-connected disability. Military Service Property Tax – under current law, veterans are entitled to a property tax exemption of $2,778 in taxable value or $1,852 for other honorably discharged veterans. Division VIII increases the exemption amount to $2,500.

What bills are alive at the Iowa Statehouse:
Cutting Unemployment Benefits: Iowa would go from offering 26 weeks of unemployment benefits to 16 weeks, under this bill. Workers would also be required to take lower-paying jobs sooner, or risk losing their benefits. And the bill would cap damages in medical malpractice and truck-driving lawsuits. House File 2279/Senate File 2275.

Daylight Savings Time: We are considering a bill that would establish daylight saving time as the official time in the state year-round. It would only take effect if the federal government passes legislation allowing states to shift to year-round daylight saving time. House File 2331.

Free Exercise of Religion: This proposal would specify that governments cannot treat religious conduct “more restrictively than any secular conduct of reasonably comparable risk.” House File 2437/Senate File 2284.

Representative Brian Best

Monday, March 7, 2022

News from Week 8 — 2022 Legislative Session

Monthly State Revenue Growth Comes Back to Earth in February
For the first eight months of Fiscal Year 2022, state revenue has grown by 1.9 percent.  This is slightly below the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) projection of 3.0 percent growth. Personal income tax payments from wage withholding and estimated payments have both risen in Fiscal Year 2022. For the fiscal year, sales and use tax payments have been 11.5 percent higher than Fiscal Year 2021.  That remains more than double the growth projected by the REC.

February is one of the smaller months for corporate income tax collections, which was proven true once again by this year’s receipts.  Corporate tax payments were down $14.7 million for the month.  For the year, these payments are still running behind the REC’s projection.

One interesting figure remains the amount of school infrastructure payments.  Through February, these payments to districts are 15 percent higher than where they were in Fiscal Year 2021.  The REC forecast was for growth of just 6.5 percent.  Since these payments are tied to sales tax collections, it would appear to be confirmation that the Iowa consumer is still very willing to spend money.

House Republicans Prioritize Child Care for Working Families
Recently, the Governor’s Child Care Task Force released its report of recommendations to improve access to child care in Iowa. Based on the report, the Governor announced the following actions in her condition of the state address:

  • $200 million for funding stabilization grants for daycares
  • $10 million in additional funding for the Child Care Challenge Grant Program
  • Implementation of a child care management system – this website will enable daycares to collectively share administrative functions, group purchasing, and professional development.
  • Create a “Best Place for Working Parents” designation – the state will recognize employers to go above and beyond to accommodate their employees with children.
  • $100,000 for grants to integrate child care with preschool

Additionally, this week the House passed two bills off the floor based on the report to improve access to child care for working families. Many of these recommendations look to provide flexibilities to parents and providers that reduce regulations and align Iowa’s child care regulations with the majority of other states.

HF 2198 allows 16 and 17-year-olds to provide child care in a center for school-aged children without supervision. 16-year-olds are able to be lifeguards and CNAs, but were unable to work in a child care center without direct supervision from an adult.

HF 2127 allows parents to pay the difference between Child Care Assistance rates and rates charged to families who do not receive assistance. The task force report states that by not allowing this flexibility, there “can be a disincentive for child care providers to accept children receiving CCA.”

Additionally, last year the governor signed legislation to address the cliff effect in child care assistance, double the income eligibility for the child care tax credit for families, increase child care assistance rates by $13.4 million, and expand options for families through non-registered homes.

Tax Cuts for Every Single Iowan
This week House File 2317 was signed into law. It is largest tax cut ever passed in Iowa. Who does the bill help? Everyone!

Retired Farmer Lease Income Exclusion
Provides that a retired farmer’s income from rental of their property is exempt from tax. The farmer must be 55/farmed for at least 10 years. If the farmer choses this exemption, they are not eligible for the capital gains exclusion. This change begins tax year 2023.
Who does this help?
Farmers do not always have access to traditional retirement vehicles and accounts. They have been investing their entire lives in their “retirement account”—their land! This exclusion will allow a farmer to rent their land to the next generation and not pay taxes on that “retirement” income.

Individual Income Tax Rates—Tax Years 2023-2025
Provides for a flat tax of 3.9 percent on all taxable income. It will lower every year with the goal for it to be down to 3.9 percent by tax year 2026.
Who does this help?
This provision helps the single mom with two kids and Iowa taxable income of $25,000. That mom would pay $714 in Iowa taxes under our current law but will only pay $521 in 2026 because of this bill. That is a 27 percent reduction in her taxes.
This provision also helps the family of four with two working parents who have Iowa taxable income of $50,000. That family would pay $1,918 under our current law, but have that number cut to $1,520 because of this tax cut. That’s more than a 20 percent tax cut for that middle-class, working family.

Retirement Income Exemption
Currently, Iowa Code provides for an income tax exclusion for the first $6,000 of retirement income. This provides that all retirement income would be excluded from tax. The change begins in tax year 2023.
Who does this help?
Retired teachers, nurses, and police officers. Any kind of qualified retirement plan would be tax free. This includes IPERS, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs, etc. We want people who grew up, worked, and raised families in Iowa to keep Iowa as their home in their golden years. This provision will make that dream a reality.
So, who does House File 2317 help? Everyone who pays taxes in Iowa. Those Iowans making less than $10,000 will see no change, as they don’t pay any taxes and the tax code already benefits them. With House File 2317, not one person sees their taxes go up. The average tax cut for a taxpayer will be over $1,000. That is a real cut that puts more money in the pockets of hard-working Iowans and more money in Iowa’s economy.

Thank you for the honor of being your state representative.  Have a great week!

Brian Best

Monday, February 21, 2022

 

News from Week 6 – 2022 Legislative Session

Funnel Week
Every year the Iowa legislature has two funnel weeks throughout the session. This simply means that there are two deadlines in each session to keep the legislature on task and remain focused on priority items. In order for bills to survive the session and still be eligible for consideration, they must pass through committee by February 18th. Otherwise, the bill is considered dead for the session and it usually is not picked up until the following year. While this deadline applies to the majority of the bills in the Iowa legislature, it does not apply to spending bills or tax bills as those are considered funnel proof. The next funnel week will be March 18th which is similar, but in order for bills to remain eligible, they must be approved by a committee in both chambers.

Bottle Bill
HSB 709 – The current bottle deposit and redemption system is not working well.  Significant work was done last year that would make changes to the system.  HSB 709 is a starting point to continue the work with all of the stakeholders to make the bottle bill system one that works for consumers. I am in favor of any bill that puts an extra penny toward redemption centers. We need to try our hardest to keep them in business.

4% Flat Tax
On Wednesday we approved HF 2317 which implements a 4% flat tax for all Iowans. The current tax rates will be responsibly ratcheted down over the next four years until everyone is at the 4% income tax rate. Additionally, Iowans are 55 and over, beginning in 2023, will no longer be taxed on retirement income earned from Individual Retirement Account (IRA) distributions, pensions or annuities. Tax cuts reward work and reward saving.

Protecting Iowa Property from the Communist People’s Republic of China
Currently, the State of Iowa restricts the ability for nonresident aliens and foreign entities from acquiring or owning agricultural land in Iowa. However, we have seen in recent years the rise in aggressive acquisitions by Chinese businesses, companies owned by Chinese citizens, and governments of the People’s Republic of China.

In the past years, the United States has allowed China to steal our technology and take advantage of their slave labor to sell products in America.  Our big tech companies, Nike, and the NBA have railed against American injustices while looking the other way from the horrible human rights atrocities in China.  They are all about human rights until it affects their pocketbook.

The fact is that China’s government is not our friend.  They do not wish for peaceful coexistence.  They would like nothing more than to end Democracy in the world and our way of life.  For that reason, I wrote a bill that says that Chinese government or military entities are not allowed to buy Iowa land or property.  Below is an explanation of the bill that I wrote.

HF 2311 expands the prohibition beyond just agricultural land to extend to all real property, which includes the land, everything permanently attached to the land, and all of the rights of ownership from nonresident Chinese persons and Chinese government and business entities. The bill would require a county recorder to report a violation of this bill to the attorney general. Upon receipt of a report from a county recorder, the Attorney General shall initiate an action in the district court of any county in which the land is located. If the court finds that the land in question has been acquired in violation of the bill, the court shall revert the land back to the state.

Monday, February 14, 2022

News from Week 5 – 2022 Legislative Session

Supporting K-12 Education
This week, the Iowa House passed a bill to set the percent growth for Supplemental State Aid for K-12 schools at 2.5%. This equates to a $159 million in new money for K-12 public schools. The State Cost Per Pupil amount increases from $7,234 to $7,412, an $186 increase per student. Our plan also includes an additional $5 SCPP increase, as well as a transportation equity piece to help rural schools with their transportation costs.
On top of that money, the House also passed a bill appropriating an additional $19.2 million for schools to help pay for para-educators, substitute teachers, bus drivers and support staff and any other expenses that have increased due to high inflation. K-12 education funding has increased by almost a billion new dollars over the last 10 years.

Protecting Girls Sports
This week, new legislation was introduced to address the issue of transgender athletes playing girls’ sports in Iowa.  This is an issue that members in every district are hearing from Iowans about. Iowans have been asking us to take action to protect girls’ athletics and sports organizations and school districts have been asking for guidance from the state on this issue.
Under this bill, only athletes assigned as female on their birth certificate are allowed to participate in school-sponsored girls’ athletics. Girls deserve equal opportunity in athletics and to compete on a level playing field. The purpose of this legislation is to protect girls’ opportunity to participate in sports and gain all of the important life skills that come with that experience. Under this bill, every athlete has an equal opportunity to play sports. It does not tell any child that they can’t participate in sports. It simply says they must participate in the sport under the gender on their birth certificate.

COVID-19 Disaster Proclamations to Officially End
Senate File 160 – Requires schools to offer in-person classes five days a week to all families.  The bill did not prohibit online classes but ensured everyone has access to in-person education.
Senate File 847 – This bill prohibited schools from requiring masks on children in schools, or colleges. While some of the law is being litigated in court, we are hopeful there will be a ruling that gives parents the rights to decide if their child wears a mask or not.

Unemployment System Needs to Become a Re-Employment System
Iowa has a workforce shortage. Legislators hear it from every part of the state and across several sectors. Right now, the top job opening is registered nurses. There are 5,415 advertised openings across Iowa. The second job opening is heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers at 1,055. Iowans see companies looking at ways to make their openings look appealing by offering bonuses, higher pay, benefits, etc.

Beginning in January, Iowa Workforce Development launched a Reemployment Case Management (RCM) system. The new program offers extensive job search assistance to newly unemployed Iowans with the goal of getting them back to work more quickly. The RCM program has been specifically tailored to Iowa’s unemployment process based on proven national models. Its intention is to provide enhanced services so claimants can more quickly discover the best possible pathway toward a new job and minimize the amount of time spent receiving unemployment benefits.

Governor Reynolds and IWD Director Beth Townsend announced the Reemployment Case Management (RCM) program in October as part of a series of steps to address Iowa’s urgent need for more workers in the economy. When fully implemented, the RCM program will include 18 new Career Planners who are assigned to meet individually with Iowans seeking reemployment beginning with the first week of their unemployment claims.

The Career Planners will work to directly connect unemployment claimants with training and educational opportunities in high-demand careers. They will be assisted by new technology that’s being added to Iowa’s existing IowaWORKS system, thereby making it easier to match an unemployment claimant’s work history with the skills in demand by Iowa companies with open jobs.
Some other top job openings in Iowa include:
Customer Service Representatives – 957
Retail Salespersons and Supervisors – 1432
Restaurants (supervisors, cooks, service workers) – 1177
Therapists (occupational and physical) – 1121
Janitors and House Cleaners – 950
Security Guards – 601
Speech-Language Pathologists – 491

Statewide Mental Health Efforts See Progress
Recently, the House Human Resources Committee had a presentation from the Department of Human Services on the implementation of mental health legislation. Over the last five years, the legislature has passed bipartisan mental health reform, created the state’s first-ever children’s mental health system, expanded telehealth access, created a long-term sustainable funding stream to the Mental Health and Disability Services and provided significant funds to mental health providers through Medicaid. These bills have been consistently regarded by mental health advocates as the most significant steps forward Iowa has ever taken to increase access to mental health services statewide.
Once all of these services are up and running, they will relieve the pressure placed on inpatient psychiatric beds, serve mental health patients in the proper setting, decrease the time law enforcement will spend transporting patients and waiting in Emergency Rooms, but most importantly, these services will treat Iowans with mental illness like any other health condition.

Monday, February 7, 2022

News from Week 4 – 2022 Legislative Session

Cyber Security
This week the Information Technology committee heard from Rob Densen, president of DMACC, on the major cyber-attack against the institution in early June of last year. Densen described how an alert from their threat management software turned into a rollercoaster over the next days and weeks. Fortunately, DMACC was able to respond quickly to the ransomware attack including responding in real-time to intrusions.
Ultimately DMACC was able to identify exactly what files were compromised and was able to rebuild their entire network from the ground up through their backup systems. Several things were learned to prevent future cyber breaches that were shared with the committee. These include:

  • Know your insurance company and their number on speed dial – in an attack, every second counts
  • Have redundancy and backup systems
  • Use encryption
  • Limit user access to the network
  • Regularly schedule and perform “table top” exercises of a cybersecurity breach
  • Keep an expert on retainer
  • Have regular briefings with your internal IT response team
  • Train people to identify risky security actions – even things as simple as email phishing attempts
  • Have and test your disaster recovery plan

The Information Technology committee is continuing to look at the issues of cybersecurity and identify ways to help the state defend against cyber-attacks.

Veteran’s Affairs
Recently the House Veterans Affairs Committee heard presentations from the Iowa Veterans Affairs Commission, the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs and Iowa Veterans Service Officers. These presentations highlighted the important benefits Iowa’s veterans have access to. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are 206,430 veterans in Iowa.

To get to know your local county veterans’ affairs officials as they can help assist veterans with access to services. Find them at the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs website: https://va.iowa.gov/counties.

State Revenue Up in January
State tax revenue rose significantly in January, as sales tax collections continue to outpace projections and lead the revenue growth.  For the month, state revenue rose 53.8 percent when compared to January 2021.
For the year, General Fund receipts are up seven percent.  That is four percent higher than what the Revenue Estimating Conference had projected at its December meeting.  Conventional wisdom would say that state revenue will not finish at that lofty growth level, as personal income tax payments will be affected by another round of rate reductions from the 2018 tax cut.  But conventional wisdom may not have factored in the Iowa consumer.

Sales tax revenue for the month was up $71.1 million, or 27.3 percent.  For the year, sales and use tax collections are up 14.3 percent, which well ahead of the 5.2 percent projected by the REC.  Sales and use tax continue to power state tax collections, in spite of continued supply-chain issues. State revenue is growing!

Iowa Ethanol
On February 2nd the Iowa House passed the first bill of the legislative session, House File 2128, which is Governor Reynolds’ Biofuel Access bill. This piece of legislation supports Iowa’s renewable fuel industry and provides Iowan’s choices when they fill up their vehicles at local gas stations. Supporting Iowa’s renewable fuel industry is a top priority this session for Governor Reynolds, which she addressed specifically in her condition of the state address at the beginning of session, stating: “Everyone knows that renewable fuel is important to Iowa. But D.C. is losing sight of its importance to the country.”

The bill we passed off the floor was over a year in the making. The Governor has been working with state legislators and industry leaders to formulate a plan to increase access to higher-ethanol blends at the pump. After much dialogue with many interested parties, in-depth negotiations, and a great deal of compromise, HF 2128 passed with wide bipartisan support on a vote of 82-10

My colleagues and I heard from many of our rural gas stations this week before considering this bill on the floor. Small town convenience stores are a critical pillar of support to rural communities across the state. They often act as a grocery store, a restaurant, a coffee shop, and a general store all in one. Rural Iowa would not be what it is without the support these businesses provide to their local communities. We recognize this and worked diligently to craft this legislation in a way that would allow such businesses to continue to thrive.

Addressing the Teacher Shortage
We are facing a workforce shortage in our state and nowhere is that truer than in our schools.  We hear from school districts across the state that teachers are stretched thin, subs are hard to find, and bus drivers and other support staff can be even more difficult to find.  There‘s no one solution to this issue, we need to tackle it from multiple angles.  In addition to increasing SSA funding, which will likely be a big topic of next week, the House has introduced legislation to make it easier for Iowans to become teachers and substitute teachers, while maintaining the level of quality Iowa students deserve.

  • HSB 632 and HF 2085 create new, alternative licensures for teachers. Both bills are aimed at making it easier for Iowans who have spent some time working in another field to become teachers.
  • HF 2081 eliminates exams teachers have to take between graduation and certification.
  • HF 2083 expands the Iowa Scholar Program to expand eligibility for teachers who apply for the grants.
  • HF 2158 allows student teachers to also serve as substitute teachers.

Unemployment Reform
We’re facing a workforce shortage in Iowa and across the country. Any and every idea needs to be on the table to address this crisis and help return workers to the workforce as quickly as possible. HSB 631 will help do that through a number of reasonable reforms to Iowa’s unemployment insurance system. As Governor Reynolds said, the unemployment safety net has become more of a hammock. We need to ensure that government is not incentivizing Iowans to remain out of work, but instead incentivizing folks to return to the workforce as quickly as possible.

Monday, January 24, 2022

News from Week 2 – 2022 Legislative Session

Empower Rural Iowa Initiative
Governor Reynolds and the Iowa Economic Development Authority announced more than $500,000 in grant funding that will be awarded to rural communities throughout the state, which allows them to expand broadband access and create affordable housing options.  The Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative developed the following grant programs:

  • The Rural Innovation Grant program supports creative, nontraditional ideas to overcome rural community development challenges, such as workforce development and housing shortages.
  • The Rural Housing Assessment Grant program supports efforts to expand access to quality housing tailored to communities.
  • The Rural Return Grant program supports creative programming that attracts new residents to move and/or work in rural communities. The Rural Child Care Market Study Grant program supports the use of data and analysis by rural communities, in partnership with First Children’s Finance, to determine the specific needs and solutions for their area.

The cities of Red Oak, Albia, Ocheyedan, Emmetsburg, Columbus Junction, Ashton, Sibley, Wapello, Keota, and Buffalo received Rural Housing Assessment grants and will be working with Iowa State University Office of Extension and Outreach to undergo a facilitated readiness assessment and implementation process. The cities of Keosauqua, Emmetsburg, Lee County, Clarinda, Grinnell, Forest City, and Wayne County received Rural Child Care Market Study grants and will be working with First Children’s Finance to undergo a data and analysis study.

Child Care for Working Families
Based on the report to improve access to child care for working families, the following bills were brought forward three bills this week.
HSB 510 allows child care providers to accept additional money from families participating in the state child care assistance program. Current law does not allow those families to pay the difference between the CCA reimbursement rate and the rate the provider typically charges, even if the family agrees to pay the additional fee. This bill would help providers make additional money by allowing them to collect more money from the families who can afford it.

HSB 539 is aimed at addressing the staff shortage in the child care industry. It allows folks of 16 years of age working or volunteering at a child care facility to provide child care without additional supervision.

HSB 511 changes the ratio of staff to children at a child care center. It would allow one worker to be able to watch eight 2-year-olds instead of 6 and allow one worker to watch ten 3-year-olds instead of eight. These changes bring Iowa in line with the majority of other states. This bill will help address the staffing shortages that many child care facilities face. Additionally, it will create more child care slots for additional families.

Last year, a legislative package was brought forward to increase child care workforce, increase provider rates to maintain existing child care facilities, provide incentives to develop new child care facilities, and support hard-working families afford the high cost of child care.
The following bills went into effect on July 1, 2021:

  • Fixing the “Cliff Effect” – House File 302 establishes a state funded off-ramp program from Child Care Assistance (CCA) that will gradually increase cost-sharing from families as they increase their income. This bill removes the ceiling on Iowan’s ability to be successful.
  • Child Care Tax Credits – Doubles the income eligibility for the child care tax credit from families making up to $45,000 to $90,000.
  • Child Care Provider Rate Increases – House File 891 increases rates to child care providers accepting Child Care Assistance children by $13.4 million statewide. This bill specifically increases the payment to 50% of the most recent market rate survey.
  • Rural Child Care – House File 260 allows nonregistered child care homes to increase by one school-aged child (from up to 5 kids, to up to 6).

Details on the Governor’s Tax Proposal

  1. Sale of Certain Qualified Stock (Net capital Gain Exclusion) – This provides an employee-owner one lifetime election to exclude from income tax their net capital gains from the sale or exchange of capital stock (ESOPs).
  2. Retired Farmer Lease Income Exclusion – This provides that a retired farmer’s income from rental of their property is exempt from tax. The farmer must be 55 and farmed for at least 10 years.
  3. Retired Farmer Capital Gain Exclusion – This provides a single lifetime exclusion of capital gain on the sale of a retired farmer’s land or livestock.
  4. Individual Income Tax Rates (years 2023-2025) – This strikes the tax brackets and rates that would go into effect in tax year 2023 and reduces them further in tax year 2023-2025.
  5. Individual Income Tax (Flat Rate) – This provides for a flat tax of 4.0 percent on all taxable income. This begins in tax year 2026.
  6. Corporate Income Tax Rates (Adjustments) – This provides for the corporate tax rates to be reduced based on a revue trigger.  It provides that in a year where corporate tax revenue exceed $700 million, the excess is used to reduce the corporate rates the following year.
  7. Corporate Income Tax (Flat Rate) – This provides that when the corporate rates are reduces to ta point where all rates equal 5.5 percent, the corporate tax rate is codified at a flat 5.5 percent.
  8. Retirement Income – Currently, Iowa Code provides for an income tax exclusion for the first $6000 of retirement income.  This provides that all retirement income would be excluded from tax.

Iowa Fun Fact
The insurance industry has a positive economic impact for Iowa.  There are over 46,000 industry professionals and Iowa maintains favorable tax rates.  We are the number one state for insurance as percentage of GDP, leading all other states, including Connecticut.

 

Monday, January 17, 2022

News from Week 1 – 2022 Legislative Session

State of the State
Monday, January 10th was the first day of the 2022 Legislative Session. Our first week was a time for the Governor to speak about the condition of the State and set her priorities for Iowa.  One of those priorities includes tax relief for Iowa taxpayers. She would like to cut income tax to 4% across the board for all Iowans. Iowa has one of the most well-managed budgets in the country, we have a one billion dollar surplus on top of having all of the required savings accounts full. It is time that find a way to start giving money back to the Iowa taxpayers. She would like to exempt Iowans age 55 and older from state tax on retirement income earned from IRA distributions, pensions and annuities. She would also exempt retired Iowa farmers 55 and older, who farmed for at least 10 years, from paying tax on cash rent or farm crop shares. The goal of cutting taxes to a flat 4% tax would be fully implemented by 2026.
As of today, Iowa’s economy has 64,000 unemployed Iowans, but there are 110,000 unfilled jobs. Governor Reynolds’ has committed to a broad plan that will address workforce shortages.  She has a goal of getting our unemployed trained to fill those positions that are open. We will also be taking on the issues of housing and childcare shortages. We worked on child care last year by issuing grants to help with expansion and new construction of child care programs throughout the state.

State of the Judiciary
We also heard from Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen. She spoke about efforts that the Iowa Court System has put forth in the area of family and juvenile courts. These courts involve a judge working with families when a minor is in a position where they may be taken from their family due to behavioral issues that lead to illegal activity. In these cases, the judge will work with other entities, such as law enforcement, mental health counselor, educators, etc. to work as a team to ensure the child stays with the family. This has proven to be the most successful way of reducing the rate of offenses, allowing the child to become a better citizen. Overall, I believe that Iowa’s Judicial System does an excellent job. It was nice to see Judge Gina Badding, who is on the Iowa Court of Appeals, and Judge Matthew McDermott, who sits on the Iowa Supreme Court, both of which are from the Carroll area.

Committee Assignments
Committees that I am involved with this year are Labor, Commerce, and Agriculture.  I am the Chair of the Transportation Committee as well.  I enjoy being the Chair of a committee that is bipartisan on most of the issues. I am hoping to get a hands-free bill passed this year, to make Iowa roads safer.  There is no doubt that there have been many lives lost from cell phone distractions.

Redistricting
With the new census, came redistricting, which means my district will be changing slightly beginning in 2023.  In 2023, if elected, I will no longer represent Crawford Country but will be representing Carroll and Audubon, much of Shelby, and a small portion of Pottawattamie Counties. I have already announced my plan to run for re-election in 2023 for this new House District 11.

There will be a forum this coming Saturday, the 22nd, at New Hope Village in Carroll at 10 a.m.  Thank you all for the great honor of representing you in the Iowa Legislature!

Representative Brian Best

STATE REPRESENTATIVE
District 12
Statehouse: (515) 281-3221
Email: brian.best@legis.iowa.gov
P.O. Box 450
Glidden, Iowa 51443
Home: (712) 830-1844
COMMITTEES: Agriculture, Commerce,
Labor, Transportation (Chair)

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
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.

Childcare
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.

Appropriations
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!!
Brian Best

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.

Bottle Bill
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 Restaurants       
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.

Census Data
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.

Bottle Bill
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

Redistricting
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.

Mental Health
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.

COVID
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.

Insurance Legislation
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/iowa/interactivemap. Viewers can filter the state based on technologies and/or speeds available to see what is available around the state down to individual addresses. Technologies include fiber, cable, DSL, and fixed wireless options. Speed tiers include the FCC minimum of 25/3 and step up to 1000/1000 speeds.
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!

Funnel Week
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

CDL Testing
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/docs/publications/DF/1126118.pdf.

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.

COVID Vaccines
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/pages/vaccineinformation#VaccineProviders. Teachers and first responders are also eligible in the current phase.

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.

Childcare
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

Bottle Bill:
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.

CDLs:
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.

COVID-19 Vaccinations
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.

In service,

Brian Best
Iowa House of Representatives
State Representative
Address: State Capitol, Des Moines, IA 50319
Phone: 515–281-3221; Home: 712-830-1844

E-Mail: brian.best@legis.iowa.gov

Committees: Appropriations, Commerce, Human Resources, Transportation

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