Legislative Session in Review
Senate stays focused in 2012
Prepared by the Senate Democratic Staff (PDF)
Balancing the budget without raising taxes.
Iowa is expected to have a budget surplus of about $258 million when the current budget year ends on June 30. We also have $617.1 million in our reserve funds, the largest amount in state history. On top of that, we’re putting $60 million into the newly created Taxpayer Trust Fund.
Education and job training for a strong Iowa future.
- Reducing Iowa’s skilled worker shortage with $15 million in worker training to help Iowans qualify for skilled job openings at local businesses. Business leaders say this is the number one thing we can do to boost Iowa’s economy. (SF 2321, Education Budget)
- Keeping tuition affordable at our community colleges, state universities and private colleges so all Iowa families have the educational opportunities that lead to great jobs. (SF 2321, Education Budget)
- Providing $4.7 million for STEM—intensified science, technology, engineering and math education that helps build a high-quality Iowa workforce. (SF 2321, Education Budget)
- Ensuring Iowa kids are good readers by keeping class sizes small in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. Smaller classes give young students the one-on-one time they need with their teachers. A new statewide Iowa reading research center will spread the best practices for teaching reading. (HF 2465, Standings)
- Continuing our commitment to strong local schools by raising academic standards, increasing teacher and administrator effectiveness, and implementing innovation that improves learning. This is a good first step on education reform, a multi-year effort to enhance educational opportunities for all Iowa students. (SF 2284, Education Reform)
- Competency-based education that allows students to learn and complete courses at their own pace
- Small class sizes in early grades so teachers can spot issues and bring students up to speed faster
- Developing online teaching and learning as a tool for students in their local schools
- Creating higher requirements for students entering the teaching profession
- Increasing teacher collaboration and coaching so teachers can help each other improve
- Establishing annual teacher peer reviews and administrator evaluations
- Having school administers focus more on improving teaching rather than non-educational duties
- Investing in education, research and training facilities that prepare a highly skilled workforce (SF 2316, Infrastructure Budget):
- Community College ACE (Accelerated Career Education) Infrastructure, $6 million
- Community College Maintenance, $5 million
- Regents Tuition Replacement, $25.1 million
- Regents Fire & Safety/ADA Compliance, $2 million
- U of I Dental Building, $10.25 million
- ISU Ag/Biosystems Engineering Complex, $19.05 million
- UNI Bartlett Hall Renovations, $7.78 million
- ISU Research Park, $1 million
The Senate also approved important investments in student achievement that were not taken up by the House.
- Providing a 4 percent increase in basic state support for local schools for the 2013-2014 school year. These funds would be used for textbooks, heating bills, technology and other necessities required for students and teachers to be successful. SF 2114 passed Senate on party-line vote.
- Establishing a pilot program to promote excellence in the teaching profession by providing yearly peer coaching stipends for teachers who volunteer for the program. School districts would assign peer coaches to teachers in need of additional guidance. Part of the Senate’s original Education Reform proposal, which passed Senate on party-line vote.
Stimulating economic growth.
- Extending Iowa’s commercial and industrial highway network of interconnected roads that provides long-distance route continuity. In order to improve the flow of commerce, make travel more convenient and safe, and better connect parts of Iowa and the Midwest, a major portion of Iowa’s annual road construction budget is targeted for the commercial and industrial highway network. (SF 2153)
- Expanding opportunities for local auto dealers by allowing them to offer vehicles for sale at fairs, shows and other exhibitions. (SF 2249)
- Providing tax credits for the construction and installation of solar energy systems and geothermal heat pumps to jumpstart new Iowa energy industries. (SF 2342)
- Boosting Iowa’s ag economy with year-round farmers’ markets, so Iowans can purchase nutritious, locally grown food throughout the year. (HF 2092)
- Keeping businesses in our local communities through Employee Stock Ownership Plans by allowing employers to easily sell their business to employees and earn a capital gains tax deduction. (HF 2465, Standings)
- Helping businesses create jobs through targeted incentives and supporting efforts by Iowa’s state universities to work with businesses on technology commercialization, marketing, entrepreneurship and technical assistance. (HF 2337, Economic Development Budget; HF 2473)
- Continuing a break at the pump for consumers who buy ethanol-blended fuel by extending the tax break for one year. (HF 2472)
- Providing incentives for a world-class baseball tournament and training complex to locate in Iowa. This project is projected to create hundreds of jobs and bring thousands of sports fans to our state each year. (SF 2239)
The Senate also gave bipartisan approval to several job creation initiatives that the House did not take up:
- Ensuring more publicly funded projects in Iowa use American-made goods, such as steel, iron and other materials, before turning to foreign imports when fixing Iowa’s roads, bridges, schools, water and sewage systems, and other public infrastructure. SF 2287 passed Senate 37-13.
- Giving Iowa businesses seeking to sell products and services to the state the chance to match competing out-of-state bids for projects under $500,000, provided the Iowa firm is within 5 percent or $10,000 of the lowest bidder. SF 2302 passed Senate 35-15.
- Leveling the playing field for Iowa’s Main Street businesses by implementing a sales tax on Internet purchases so that large, out-of-state companies pay the same amount of sales tax as small businesses in our communities. SF 2330 passed Senate 48-0.
- Providing $10 million in tax credits to help communities clean-up and revitalize their business districts and industrial parks. SF 2339 passed Senate 49-0.
- Cutting taxes for more than 260,000 Iowa households, including the families of 37 percent of Iowa’s children by increasing the state Earned Income Tax Credit. It’s one of the most effective anti-poverty programs in the nation, one that also boosts the economy when working families spend those dollars locally on such necessities as food, gas, car repairs and medical bills. SF 2161 passed Senate 48-0.
- Increasing tax credits available for wind energy projects, and reserving some for small producers who install a wind energy system of up to 100 kilowatts in wind innovation zones. SF 2326 passed Senate 41-9.
Ensuring government is accountable to Iowans.
- Protecting students’ pocketbooks by ensuring they get a minimum tuition refund if they withdraw from a for-profit school. (SF 2267)
- Requiring an ongoing, comprehensive review of all state department rules to eliminate those that are outdated, redundant, inconsistent or incompatible. (HF 2465, Standings)
- Giving Iowans better access to government information and public records by creating the Iowa Public Information Board to address and resolve complaints. (SF 430)
- Requiring funders of automated “robo-calls” to identify themselves, thereby increasing transparency and accountability in Iowa campaign spending (SF 2236), and ensuring that campaigns are run fairly (SF 2313).
- Calling on Congress to regulate and restrict unlimited corporate campaign contributions that drown out the voices of living, breathing Americans. (SR 113)
- Improving TIF (tax incremental financing) laws to increase accountability and transparency, while continuing this effective local economic development tool. (HF 2460)
- Creating a searchable online database of the state budget so that Iowans can see how their tax dollars are invested. (SF 2316, Infrastructure Budget)
VETO – Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed an effort to make state government more user-friendly and save millions in taxpayer dollars.
- Improving efficiency in how the state uses technology and space, and modernizing the way state government operates. SF 2338 passed Democratic Senate and Republican House.
- Offering greater convenience to Iowans and saving $1 million in tax dollars by offering online driver’s license renewal. SF 2338 passed Democratic Senate and Republican House.
Improving health care for all Iowans.
- Reforming Iowa’s mental health system so that all Iowans get high-quality services regardless of where they live. Regional management will save money, eliminate administrative duplication and offer consistency in both rural and urban counties. (SF 2315)
- Ensuring top-quality products and services for Iowans in need of prosthetics and orthotics, including combat soldiers returning from war, by establishing statewide standards for orthotists, prosthetists and pedorthists. (SF 364)
- Ensuring a patient’s treatment preferences are respected by translating them into a medical order that may be relied upon by healthcare providers. (HF 2165).
- Attracting more doctors to rural Iowa by providing partial loan repayment for medical students who agree to practice in underserved areas of the state. (HF 2458)
- Making improvements to Iowa’s nursing homes to ensure they are safe. (SF 2316, Infrastructure Budget)
- Helping seniors live independently and safely by providing greater access to community-based services and reducing unnecessary dependence on institutional care. (SF2336, HHS Budget)
- Helping Iowans quit smoking, ensuring low-income Iowans have access to key preventive health screenings and supporting health care services and programs that will make Iowa the Healthiest State in the Nation. (SF2336, HHS Budget)
- Funding programs that help ensure all Iowans get the mental health care they need. (SF2336, HHS Budget)
The Senate also approved valuable health care initiatives that were not taken up by the House.
- Requiring that group health insurance plans for small businesses and public employees cover therapy for children with autism. SF 2128 Passed Senate 43-7.
- Establishing a comprehensive statewide strategy to help people with Alzheimer’s and their families by broadening awareness of the disease, collecting data and expanding access to quality services. SF 2270 Passed Senate 44-6.
- Creating a certification system and professional career pathway for Iowa’s 76,000 direct care workers to ensure quality services and health care for Iowans living in nursing homes, long term care centers or group homes. SF 2298 Passed Senate on party-line vote.
Maintaining safe communities.
- Toughening the penalty for domestic abuse by including strangulation or choking, an intentional act that often indicates more deadly domestic assaults in the future. (SF 93)
- Ensuring safety for corrections workers, prisoners and the public by maintaining adequate staffing at prisons and community-based corrections facilities across the state. (HF 2335, Justice System Budget)
- Increasing funding for Iowa’s troopers to keep our roadways safe. (HF 2335, Justice System Budget)
- Increasing fines and penalties for drivers who violate school bus laws. A study will also be conducted on how to best increase school bus safety for children. (SF 2218)
- Making school buses safer by requiring criminal background checks for all school bus drivers. School districts are required to pay for the background check at time of employment. (SF 2221)
- Providing a nonrefundable individual income tax credit of $50 to certified volunteer emergency medical services personnel or volunteer firefighters who meet minimum training standards. (SF 2322)
- Maintaining 911 emergency services by enhancing technology to ensure timely, high-quality responses. (SF 2332).
- Stiffening penalties for drivers who fail to move over and slow down for vehicles with flashing lights responding to roadside emergencies. Fines are increased, and license suspension is mandatory if a violation causes damage to the property of another person, bodily injury to another person or death. (HF 2228)
- Preventing child abuse by enacting recommendations from the Iowa Child Sexual Abuse Taskforce on better training for doctors, teachers, social workers, police officers and others who are mandatory child abuse reporters. (SF 2225)
- Requiring school districts to report misconduct by educators, administrators or other licensed personnel to the Board of Educational Examiners. Misconduct may include romantic or other inappropriate relationships with students, falsifying grades, test scores and other official information, or using public property or funds for personal use. (HF 2383)
- Cracking down on scrap metal theft, a serious threat to public safety that creates fire hazards and other dangers. Scrap metal dealers must now keep a record of their scrap metal purchases, including the name, address and place of business of every person who sells them scrap metal. (HF 2399)
- Banning dangerous “designer drugs,” including K2 and bath salts, which frequently send users to the emergency room with ill effects. (SF 2343)
- Improving communications and efficiency among our public safety agencies (SF 2316, Infrastructure Budget):
- DOC – Iowa Corrections Offender Network: $500,000
- DOC – Radio Communications: $3.5 million
- DHR – CJIS: $1.7 million
- DPS – Radio Upgrade $2.5 million
The Senate approved several additional measures on bipartisan votes to make Iowa communities safer but the House did not take them up.
- Helping victims of identity theft by providing a “passport” to use as proof to law enforcement and creditors that someone has stolen their identity. Victims can receive reimbursement for expenses, such as traveling to and from the courthouse to attend trial or missing work because of criminal proceedings related to the case. SF 2111 Passed Senate 50-0.
- Helping senior citizens who’ve been cheated by making them eligible for reimbursement for expenses, such as traveling to and from the courthouse to attend trial or missing work because of criminal proceedings related to the case. SF 2111 Passed Senate 50-0.
- Helping close the “justice gap” for Iowans who were abused as kids by extending the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges and civil suits. SF 2295 Passed Senate 49-0.
- Establishing a Public Safety Training Trust Fund to support statewide programs and facilities for police, fire and other public safety personnel (including volunteers) to improve training and reduce the burden on property taxes. This effort is supported by the Iowa Association of Professional Fire Chiefs, Iowa Firefighters Association, Iowa Professional Firefighters, and Iowa Fire Chiefs Association. SF 2335 passed Senate 35-13.
Honoring our veterans and service members.
- Ensuring returning National Guard soldiers get promised college tuition assistance by investing in the Iowa National Guard tuition assistance program. (SF 2321)
- Expanding eligibility for the Iowa National Guard Civil Relief Act by reducing the required days of active duty from 90 to 30. This means that our active duty soldiers won’t have to worry about lease termination, eviction, or the disconnection of gas, electric and other services. (SF 2097)
- Allowing Iowa military veterans to request that their veteran status be noted on their Iowa driver’s license or non-operator’s identification card. The license or card will have the word “VETERAN” prominently on its face. This will make applying for veterans benefits more straightforward. (SF 2112)
- Clarifying requirements for the State’s Injured Veterans Grant program. A veteran must be seriously injured or very seriously injured, as defined by the U.S. Department of Defense. (SF 2244)
- Establishing our state’s first “Post-Traumatic Stress and Dual Diagnosis Center” at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown to provide long-term care to Iowans suffering from combat-related post-traumatic stress and substance abuse. (SF 2245)
- Allowing veterans to purchase an interment space for themselves and their spouse, if space is available, and allowing the surviving spouse to purchase space in the cemetery where the veteran is interred. (HF 2264)
- Allowing the Veterans Trust Fund to provide loans to help build the Iowa Veterans Cemetery. The money will be paid back by federal grants, and the trust fund will not decrease. (HF 2402)
- Helping returning veterans get jobs by allowing the Iowa Department of Transportation to waive the driving skills test for a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) if a service member can prove related active-duty training. The applicant must still pass a knowledge skills test and have a safe driving record. (HF 2403)
- Making it easier for a veteran to receive a six-month extension of their Iowa driver’s license. The bill declares that a Department of Defense common access card is proof of current service, and a certificate of release from active duty is satisfactory evidence of previous service and honorable discharge. (HF 2404)
- Allowing additional funds to be used immediately to take care of veterans in need of assistance through the Veterans Trust Fund, and providing additional money so that more eligible veterans receive the help they need for such things as dental, vision and hearing care, or emergency home or vehicle repair. (HF 2466)
- Providing $1.6 million for veterans’ home-buying assistance. (SF2336, HHS Budget)
- Infrastructure Budget, SF 2316:
- EDA - Ft. Des Moines (Veterans) Museum Renovations, $100,000
- DPD – Capital Projects: $5.2 million total, including $2 million for facility maintenance at armories, $2.1 million for statewide modernization agenda at Dubuque and Council Bluffs readiness centers, $610,000 for improvements at Camp Dodge, and $500,000 for renovation of the Joint Forces Headquarters building
- IVH – Boiler Replacement $975,919
- DCA – Grout Museum District Oral History Exhibit: $150,000 for FY 2013, $129,450 for FY 2014
Enhancing Iowa’s quality of life.
- Protecting Iowans and reputable businesses from “stormchasers,” scammers who follow natural disasters from state to state and take advantage of victims through high-pressure tactics, bogus endorsements and false promises to repair or replace exterior damage on homes. Contractors are banned from offering customers “rebates” on their insurance deductibles, acting as adjustors or intermediaries between the customer and the insurance company, and making face-to-face misrepresentations that can be difficult for the consumers to prove. (SF 466)
- Promoting hunting and fishing by lowering the cost and increasing convenience. Iowans will be able to purchase a three-year hunting license, a three-year fishing license or combination hunting and fishing license. Anglers can also pay $10 for a third fishing line. In addition, the existing wildlife habitat fee is wrapped into the cost of a hunting license that requires the purchase of the wildlife habitat fee. (SF 2317)
- Protecting consumers and businesses by ensuring subcontractors get paid for their work and homeowners are not charged double if a general contractor fails to pay a subcontractor. A State Construction Registry will be created to serve as a state-wide repository for pre-lien notices and mechanics’ liens. (HF 675)
- Supporting local food production and distribution, which benefits Iowa farmers by helping them market their goods to Iowa schools and food retailers. (HF 2336, Ag & Natural Resources Budget)
- Helping disabled farmers continue farming by supporting the Farmers with Disabilities program, which helps with modifications that allow them to continue to operate their farm equipment. (HF 2336, Ag & Natural Resources Budget)
- Improving water quality and protecting our water supply by providing $1 million for watershed improvement projects organized by local organizations through the Watershed Improvement Review Board. (HF 2465, Standings)
- Closing 18 agricultural drainage wells that allow pollution into our groundwater and aquifers. (HF 2336, Ag & Natural Resources Budget)
- Maintaining our state’s nationally recognized court system, which provides efficient, high-quality services to Iowans. (HF 2338, Judicial Branch Budget)
- Increasing recreational opportunities for Iowa snowmobilers by improving and expanding trails. (HF 2467)
- Extending the requirement that banks and other entities foreclosing on homes inform homeowners that they can receive mortgage mediation assistance from the Attorney General’s office. This requirement has helped thousands of Iowans keep their homes. (HF 2335, Justice System Budget)
- Providing safe, stable homes for children and families at risk by supporting adoption, foster care, childcare and other key services. (SF2336, HHS Budget)
- Helping Iowans hit hardest by the recession with support for health care providers who work with low-income Iowans and programs that help families achieve self-sufficiency. (SF2336, HHS Budget)
- Infrastructure Budget, SF 2316:
- Great Places Infrastructure Grants: $1.0 million for FY13
- Historical Building Renovation: $1.45 million for FY13, and $1 million for FY14
- CAT Grants $5 million in FY13 & FY14
- Regional Sports Authorities:$500,000
- Camp Sunnyside Cabin/Kitchen Renovations: $125,000
- Lake Restoration: $6 million
- Lake Delhi Dam Reconstruction: $2.5 million in FY13 and FY14
- State Park Infrastructure: $5 million
- Water Trails & Low Head Dam Grants: $1 million
- State Fair – Cultural Center Renovation $250,000 in FY13 & FY14
- County Fairs: $1.06 million
- DOT: $3 million for recreational trails
The Senate also approved measures to enhance Iowa’s quality of life that were not taken up by House.
- Creating a state emergency food program by providing tax credits to food producers that donate produce to Iowa food banks or other Iowa emergency food organizations. SF 2327 Passed Senate 48-0.
VETO – Unfortunately, the Governor nixed help for Iowans hardest hit by the recession when he item-vetoed support for Iowa food banks in the HHS Budget. SF2336, passed Democratic Senate and Republican House.
Stopping Bad Ideas
Some of the best news of the 2012 session was that several bad Republican proposals were stopped because of opposition by Iowans across the state and by Democrats in the Legislature. A short list of those dead bills includes:
- HF 2245 would have ended 40 years of letting schools know how much they will received in state funds two years in advance.
- SF 2187 would have eliminated collective bargaining rights of public employees in Iowa.
- SF 2241 would have abolished the Iowa Department of Education and the State Board of Education.
- S-5203 by Senator Chelgren would have required drug testing in order to be eligible for the Family Investment program (Amendments to the HHS bill)
- S-5204 by Senator Chelgren would have allowed a non-custodial parent to demand the custodial parent be drug tested in child support payment arrangement situations (Amendments to the HHS bill)
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