Category Archives: View Point
This week the conference committee meeting on the bills setting Supplemental State Aid (SSA) for K-12 schools came to an agreement. This committee consists of an even number of Democrats and Republicans with members from both chambers. The Senate had passed a 4% increase for SSA, and the House had passed 2%. The final agreement was for an increase of 2.25%. This comes to an overall increase of $153.8 million for our K-12 schools. The 2% increase previously passed by the House was based on the December fiscal year 2017 Revenue Estimate. The March fiscal year 2017 Revenue Estimate was slightly higher than our preliminary budget targets, allowing this increase to 2.25%. K-12 funding represents 43% of the total state budget, yet this $153.8 million represents 87% of the “new money” that we have in our budget over last year. This is the sixth year in a row that schools have received a funding increase, totaling $660 million. More importantly, schools have been able to depend on that funding from the General Fund. When the Democrats controlled both chambers and the governor’s office they had made an ugly habit of passing SSA increases they had no intention of following through with from the General Fund. Those shortfalls then fell on the backs of property taxpayers who were forced to pick up the tab. Clearly the Iowa House has put our K-12 schools first when it comes to funding in all respects.
The debate on the floor of the House showed that the Democrats in the legislature still cling to the idea of a 4% increase for our schools. However, they have not articulated any plan of where the additional $72 million would come from. House Republicans remain committed to living within our means by not spending more than we take in. The floor debate also contained claims of teacher lay-offs as a result of this 2.25% funding increase. Those words rang hollow given the facts. The number of full time teachers in Iowa classrooms has increased by 809 since Republicans gained the majority in the House. That growth is outpacing growth in student enrollment.
Now that the March Revenue Estimating Conference is behind us, the House and Senate are working on joint budget targets for each of the budget bills.
Other Bills of Note
House File 2279 – this bill makes it legal for Iowans to possess noise suppressors for firearms. The Senate returned the bill to the House this week with a minor change. The House concurred with the amendment, sending the bill to the governor.
House File 2357 – this is a bill that I floor managed that directs the DNR to set turtle seasons and bag limits. It has been signed by the governor. This is a step forward in protecting our native species from the high demand from the Asian markets for turtle meat. It will also encourage a shift to farm raised turtles to fulfill this market demand.
Please note that the Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce Legislative Forum previously scheduled for April 8 has been cancelled.
A representative from Senator Ernst’s office will be available at the times and places below to answer your questions and help with problems involving issues like Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits or military affairs, passports, immigration issues, and other federal programs
Wednesday, April 6, 2016, 11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Traer Public Library and Cultural Center
531 2nd Street, Traer, IA
Friday, April 1, 2016, 9:00-10:00 AM
Marshall County Courthouse
Meeting Room 2
1 E. Main Street, Marshalltown, IA
I would love to have you come down to the Capitol any Monday through Thursday to visit, discuss your concerns with me, and take a tour of this beautiful building. It is one of Iowa’s treasures.
As always, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 641-750-3594.
By Rox Laird, retired editorial writer for the Des Moines Register and a member of the Iowa Newspaper Association’s Government Relations Committee and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.
Iowans will see a lot of discussion in the news media and among First Amendment advocates during the March 13-19 Sunshine Week about the vital importance of open government in a free and democratic society.
Sunshine Week is, in fact, an opportunity for everyone to be reminded about why open government is important to their own lives and to their communities.
Every Iowan has a right to read government documents, such as budgets, court records, proposed legislation and municipal ordinances. You have the right to attend meetings of government bodies, from the Iowa Legislature to your local school board, county board of supervisors and city council.
As we celebrate Sunshine Week this year, there is reason for optimism as well as pessimism that these rights are respected.
On the optimistic side, there is a remarkable display of disapproval for government dominated by “establishment insiders” unresponsive to American voters. That suggests public support for a government that is accessible to the people, a government that conducts public business in public and does not hide public information from the public.
That is a lesson elected officials and government bureaucrats should take from the 2016 election. Just ask Hillary Clinton, who has had to apologize repeatedly for setting up a private computer server to handle her official State Department email. Or, ask Donald Trump, who is under pressure to release his income-tax returns.
Yet, there is reason for pessimism. Look no further than the Iowa General Assembly, which is moving with a full head of steam toward closing public access to county gun permit records. While some gun owners may have privacy concerns, the public has a right and a need to know who county sheriffs are granting the privilege of carrying a weapon.
Also, Iowa law-enforcement groups urged the Legislature to shield vast quantities of body-camera videos showing police encounters with the public. Lawmakers wisely postponed action on the subject, awaiting recommendations from a study committee. Statewide standards must be set for how and when law-enforcement agencies film encounters with the public, but the people must be able to witness what happens in such encounters, and not just selective video clips that serve the interest of law enforcement..
It must be said that public officials in Iowa understand the need for open government. And most sincerely want to do the right thing. There are exceptions, however, when officials believe the narrow interest of their jobs outweighs the broader public interest in openness.
An example of public officials choosing confidentiality over transparency made the news recently at the University of Iowa, which refuses to release a survey conducted by a private consultant at public expense to gather public opinion about the state university.
Examples can be found in every county in Iowa, however.
When Iowans believe they are wrongly denied access to government documents and meetings, they have a place to turn for help: The Iowa Public Information Board created by the Iowa Legislature fields hundreds of complaints and questions every year. While the vast majority are resolved informally, the nine-member board has the authority to enforce Iowa’s open-meetings and open-records statutes. (For more information, go to ipib.iowa.gov.)
Another source of information about public access to government records and meetings is the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. The Iowa FOI Council is a coalition of journalists, librarians, lawyers, educators and other Iowans devoted to open government. (For more information, go to ifoic.org.)
The best advocates for opening the windows and doors of state and local government to the disinfecting power of sunshine are the people of Iowa. They are most effective when they show up at meetings of local school boards or city councils, when they demand access to public documents and when they demand that public officials do their work in the open.
That’s why Sunshine Week is all about them – the people of Iowa – and their right to know about their government.
By Rep. Dean Fisher
Over the next few weeks and months there will be lots of discussion on the budget, and no doubt lots of media coverage. I feel it is important to make sure my constituents understand the issues fully, instead of just being fed the sound bites that often dominate the media coverage.
One area of concern is protecting our cash reserves and economic emergency fund from being appropriated for ongoing expenses. These funds contain $718 million, three-fourths of that is for managing cash flow, and one-fourth of that is for when cash is needed immediately for emergencies, such as natural disasters or economic emergencies. It is tempting for some legislators to want to look to these funds when revenue is not growing as fast as they would like. However, tapping into these funds creates serious trouble in the following years. First, those reserve funds are not a source of revenue, they are “savings.” Because state law requires the reserve fund to be replenished, a scenario where the amount taken one year results in the need to double that amount the next. Please rest assured that I will not support these kinds of budgetary shenanigans.
Safe At Home Act
The Safe At Home act that I sponsored last year has been implemented and participants were able to register for the program as of January 1st. Safe At Home creates an address confidentiality program within the Secretary of State office for victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, stalking, human trafficking and child sexual abuse crimes. To date, 14 participants have signed up, and we expect that number to continue to climb. I have filed a bill to revise the Safe At Home Act that seeks to restrict when a court can order the program participant to disclose their physical address. It also specifies that persons in other states who are participants in address confidentiality programs will receive the same protections in Iowa courts. This is in response to an actual case where an ex-husband used the court to obtain the victim’s new address in another state she had fled to and resumed harassing her in that state.
I would love to have you come down to the Capitol any Monday through Thursday to visit, discuss your concerns with me, and take a tour of this beautiful building. It is one of Iowa’s treasures. We can even arrange a tour for you up to the capitol cupola on top of the dome!
As always, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or 641-750-3594.
By Traci Bruckner, Center for Rural Affairs
Crop insurance is an important and necessary component of an effective farm safety net. However, it is a very complex program that will work more effectively with much-needed, commonsense reforms.
Under current law, we are subsidizing crop insurance at an average rate of 62% on every acre without limit regardless of farm size or wealth. We have an issue with that. Our tax dollars – the public trust – subsidize the largest operators no matter how big they get.
To be certain, crop insurance is a valuable and necessary tool for farmers. Fundamentally, we believe in government helping family-scale farmers manage risk. But, we think there ought to be a limit.
One federal study points to a single farming corporation that insured crops across eight counties and raked in $1.3 million in taxpayer subsidies in just one year. In turn, the largest and wealthiest farms use their premium subsidies to bid land away from smaller farmers and beginning farmers.
We are working to develop policy reforms that cap subsidies, create opportunity for beginners and diversified farmers, and link meaningful stewardship practices to enrollment in the program. The nation’s largest farms must carry their fair share of the cost of doing business, like any other economic sector.
This will be a tough fight. We don’t expect to win easily. But for over 42 years we’ve been fighting for family farmers and ranchers. We’re not backing down when it comes to crop insurance reform.