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Statehouse News, October 8, 2014

October 8, 2014

Protecting Seniors, Children and Vulnerable Iowans
Weight Limit Lifted on Roads for Iowa Farmers
Funding Available for Organic Certification
Do Not Call Registry and Robocalls
Healthy Behaviors Mailing Sent to Health & Wellness Plan Members
State Seeks Feedback on Criminal and Juvenile Justice

Protecting Seniors, Children and Vulnerable Iowans

Iowa’s older population is expected to grow significantly over the next decade. In the next three years alone, Iowa’s over 60 year old population is set to increase by 2.6% in Iowa for a total of nearly 637,500 Iowans.

In an effort to protect seniors, Iowa has begun to implement new elder abuse laws. Prior to this year, Iowa didn’t have any specific elder abuse law. We need to work together to continue to protect seniors from fraud and financial exploitation. The Legislature should also take additional steps to crack down on neglect and abuse of Iowa seniors.

Iowans with disabilities, mental health needs, or chronic health conditions also deserve access to quality, affordable care regardless of where they live in Iowa. We need to finish the redesign of Iowa’s mental health system to improve access and affordability. We also need to remove the strain on many seniors and disabled Iowans by providing more access to services in their home instead of being sent to a more expensive care facility.

After many years of work done by the Legislature to improve the health of children in Iowa, the work is finally paying off. Iowa is ranked first in the nation for children’s health by the Kids Count project by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. But the work is not over; we need to continue our efforts to guarantee every Iowa child has access to quality, affordable health care.

Weight Limit Lifted on Roads for Iowa Farmers

As of October 1, 2014, Iowa farmers have 60 days to transport overweight loads of soybeans, corn, hay, straw, silage, and stover. The proclamation is meant to aid farmers in hauling their harvest in an efficient and effective manner.

The proclamation allows vehicles to haul harvest up to 90,000 pounds gross weight without a permit. Loads may be transported on all highways in Iowa, excluding the interstate system. They must also not exceed the legal maximum axle weight limit of 20,000 pounds.

The proclamation expires after November 29, 2014.

Funding Available for Organic Certification

Iowa’s Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced that $501,500 in cost share money is available to help farmers with organic certification expenses. The deadline to apply for the assistance is November 3, 2014.

The organic certification cost share program is part of the 2014 Farm Bill and is intended to assist organic producers and handlers by offsetting costs associated with organic certification. Applicants are eligible for 75% reimbursement of eligible certification-related costs paid between October 1, 2013, and September 30, 2014. Additional funds will be allocated for the subsequent years covered by the Farm Bill.

Application forms can be downloaded from the department’s website: http://www.iowaagriculture.gov/AgDiversification/organicCostShare.asp. If you are unable to download the forms, a copy can be mailed to you by contacting Tammy Stotts at 515-281-7657 or tammy.stotts@iowaagriculture.gov.

Iowa has approximately 800 certified organic operations and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship certifies about 400 of those farms. The funding is part of the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, which distributed $11.5 million to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. Territories. Only five states were awarded more funding than Iowa’s $501,500 allocation.

Do Not Call Registry and Robocalls

It’s frustrating when you continually receive robocalls or automated calls, even after you have registered your phone number with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “Do Not Call Registry.” Attorney General Miller recently released information about a couple of options for Iowans, which can be found at http://www.state.ia.us/government/ag/consumer_advisories/telephone/Robocalls.html.

First, if you haven’t already registered your phone number (either landline or cell numbers) at https://www.donotcall.gov/ or calling 1-888-382-1222, you should do so. There are exceptions under federal law as to when telemarketers aren’t subject to the rules and regulations, including tax-exempt and non-profit entities; businesses contacting you regarding an existing debt; political campaigns; and marketers that you have conducted business with in the past 18 months.

If you answer one of these robocalls, never give out information to verify to the caller who you are or any other personal or financial information. If you think that the caller is violating the “Do Not Call” law, you have the option of writing down the time, date, and caller ID information (if it’s available) and a summary of the call or saving any recorded message and reporting that information to the Do Not Call registry. More information about the registry and what steps Iowans can take can be found in the information produced by the Attorney General.

Healthy Behaviors Mailing Sent to Health & Wellness Plan Members

The Iowa Department of Human Services is beginning to send out mailers to members of the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan (IHAWP) that have not completed either or both of the healthy behavior requirements to avoid paying a premium in 2015. As part of the IHAWP, members were not charged a monthly premium during the first year of the program. In order to avoid a premium for the subsequent years, a member has to complete a health risk assessment (HRA) and a wellness exam.

The folded mailers are customized based on which activity the member has completed. If the member has completed a wellness exam, but not the HRA, the mailing encourages completion of the HRA (and vice versa). The mailings will be sent to members who will owe a premium in their second year of enrollment if the activities are not completed. Members who will not owe a premium and will be excluded from the upcoming mailing are: Wellness Plan members with income below 50% of the Federal Poverty Level, medically exempt members, and members that are American Indian or Alaskan Native. Also excluded from the mailing are members who have already completed both healthy behaviors.

For more information or questions call Iowa Medicaid Member Services at 1-800-338-8366 or visit http://www.iahealthlink.gov.

State Seeks Feedback on Criminal and Juvenile Justice

The Iowa Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning Advisory Council (CJJP) is seeking input on determining long-range goals for Iowa’s justice system. The council is working on the 20 year justice plan for the state and citizens are asked for their ideas or issues that should be addressed in the criminal and juvenile justice systems.

CJJP is within the Iowa Department of Human Rights and is tasked with identifying and analyzing the operation and impact of the state’s criminal and juvenile justice policy.

A public hearing is scheduled for October 14th from 6-8 pm at the DMACC Center for Career & Professional Development (Southridge Mall), Room 20A, 1111 E. Army Post Road, Des Moines.

Individuals may also participate in the meeting by webinar at https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/86939467. Individuals will have to register at the link before the meeting and will then receive a confirmation email with information on joining and participating in the webinar.

Comments may also be submitted in writing, postmarked by October 14th, by sending comments to the Iowa Department of Human Rights, CJJP Advisory Council, 321 E. 12th St., Des Moines, IA 50319. Email comments may be sent to dhr.cjjp@iowa.gov.

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Hanson Runs for Rep-Election

Hanson Runs for Re-Election

Hanson & Gaskill Release 2015 Plan to Build a Strong Middle Class

Ottumwa, Iowa – State Representatives Mary Gaskill of Ottumwa and Curt Hanson of Fairfield outlined their agenda to grow Iowa’s middle class and re-vitalize rural Iowa during the 2015 legislative session. The Democrats’ plan focuses on five major areas – boosting the middle class; building Iowa’s skilled workforce; re-vitalizing rural Iowa; preserving Iowa’s land and water; and protecting seniors, vulnerable Iowans and children.

“House Democrats will work together to improve the lives of regular people and build a strong middle class,” said Gaskill, who serves as an assistance minority leader in the Iowa House. “Our plan provides more economic security to working families and will create more opportunities for people by growing our economy and expanding efforts to grow our skilled workforce.”

Other ideas to grow the middle class include: expanding job training opportunities for workers to upgrade their skills; targeting state incentives to small businesses and entrepreneurs; making child care more affordable; and giving Iowa companies first crack at state contracts to create jobs here in Iowa, not overseas.

“Over the last 50 years, many rural communities have experienced a significant decline in population.  House Democrats will partner with rural communities to capitalize on their own unique strengths to create good jobs and improve their quality of life,” added Hanson.  “We will also boost our efforts in renewable energy to add more value to the crops of our farmers, create good jobs, and keep our air and water clean.”

The plan to re-vitalize rural Iowa also includes expanding broadband and wi-fi to more communities and small businesses, supporting 1st time farmers, and guaranteeing students and workers in rural areas have access to quality education and job training.

“Our plan will make sure no Iowan is left behind. We will protect our seniors from abuse and neglect and guarantee Iowans with disabilities, mental health needs, or chronic health conditions have access to quality, affordable care regardless of where they live in Iowa,” said Gaskill.

More details and information on the Democrats’ plan to build a strong middle class are available at www.iowahouse.org.

“When House Democrats are in the majority, the middle class and regular Iowans will always be our top priority, not special interests or ideological agendas.  We will work together to make sure the State Capitol doesn’t turn into Washington, D.C. because Iowans deserve better,” concluded Hanson.

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Statehouse News, September 24, 2014

September 24, 2014

Re-Vitalizing Rural Iowa
Iowa's Community Colleges Provides Good Economic Return
Help for First Time Farmers
High School Students Encouraged to Apply to be Legislative Pages
Crime Victim Assistance Division Receives Praise from House Oversight Committee
Cannabidiol Committee Makes Recommendations to Take Next Steps
Individual Disaster Assistance Available
Updates with the Iowa Department of Transportation
University of Iowa Opens Diabetes Research Center

Re-Vitalizing Rural Iowa

Over the last 50 years, many rural communities have experienced a significant decline in population. We all must work together to re-populate rural Iowa and capitalize on the strengths of rural communities to create good jobs and improve the quality of life.

Statistics show that students with access to broadband in their homes are 6-8% more likely to graduate. Expanding access to broadband and Wi-Fi for homes, schools, and businesses in under-served and un-served areas may not only be beneficial to students but also expand access to quality health care.

With rural Iowa facing a shortage of physicians and other health care professionals, many Iowans have difficulty accessing specialty care. More steps need to be taken to increase access to health care for rural Iowans directly or through technology.

Other ways to strengthen our rural areas include: ensuring 1st time farmers have the resources and support to be successful; making sure rural communities under 20,000 people get their share of state resources and have access to education and job training so every child has the opportunity to learn; repairing Iowa’s crumbling infrastructure, including roads and bridges; and encouraging more production and consumption of locally grown foods.

Iowa's Community Colleges Provides Good Economic Return

A new report shows community college career and technical education programs provide a good economic return for Iowans earning a degree. The "Iowa Community Colleges Education Outcomes Report" links employment and wage information with students who earned diplomas, certificates and associate degrees from Iowa’s community colleges from the 2010 to the 2012 fiscal years.

Among the report’s findings:

  • An overwhelming majority of community college students found employment within a year of graduation. For example, 99% of students who received an Associate of Applied Science in nursing were employed within a year and earned a median annual wage of $44,000.
  • The vast majority of Iowa community college students stayed in Iowa the first year after graduation (86%). More than half continued their education at an Iowa college, while more than 34% joined the workforce.
  • The two-year completion rate was 57% for students in diploma programs and 62% for students in certificate programs.

There are 123 community college campuses or centers around the state where Iowans can access education or job training. They work with local businesses to find out the skills employers need and then help train workers to fill those job openings. Community colleges have also partnered with over 200 local high schools so students can access training and skills before they graduate from high school.

Help for First Time Farmers

Iowans wanting to get into agriculture must overcome numerous hurdles. In order to keep Iowa’s agricultural economy strong, we must ensure that first time farmers have the resources and support they need to be successful.

In 2013, Iowa had 88,500 farms averaging 346 acres. According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, the trend is that Iowa is losing farms while the size in acres is steadily increasing.

According to Iowa’s Beginning Farmer Center, the average age of farmers has been increasing and now two-thirds of Iowa farmers are over 50. They note this increase is a result of minimal incentives to encourage young farmers to enter into the profession and reluctance on the part of existing farmers to retire.

Also, high land prices are an issue for beginning farmers and those wanting to expand. The Beginning Farmer Center notes that the percent of farmland owned by people over the age of 65 is increasing and will likely continue to do so.

The Iowa Beginning Farmer Center is a joint effort of the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and ISU Extension and Outreach, which deliver the Center’s programs and activities. Created in 1994 by the Iowa Legislature, the goal of the center is to provide resources to our next generation of farmers.

High School Students Encouraged to Apply to be Legislative Pages

The Iowa Legislature is looking for high school students to learn more about the legislative process by applying to serve as a Legislative Page in the Iowa House of Representatives for the 2015 Legislative Session.

Legislative Pages provide invaluable assistance to representatives and staff by running errands, delivering messages, and distributing bills and amendments. Pages also “staff” committee meetings and help the chairperson by handing out materials during the meetings. Pages will work with staff and representatives in the Iowa State Capitol building.

The Iowa House Chief Clerk’s office will be accepting applications until Friday, October 3, 2014. Guidelines to the program:

  • Must be 16 years of age by January 12, 2015
  • Work hours are Monday 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; normally no work on Fridays
  • Some nights will be later when the Legislature adjourns after 4:45 p.m.
  • Applications are accepted for the Senate, House, or Legislative Services Agency
  • Uniforms are provided
  • Living arrangements are unsupervised and must be found on your own
  • Students are responsible for transportation to and from the State Capitol
  • This is a paid position. Some excused absences may be permitted
  • Student is expected to be able to handle any school responsibilities
  • Parental permission is required to participate in this program

Applications must be filled out at https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/lsaReports/pageInfo/PageApplication.pdf and returned to the Iowa House at Chief Clerk’s Office, Iowa House of Representatives, Statehouse, Des Moines, IA 50319. For more information call (515) 281-5383 or email megan.van.wyk@legis.iowa.gov.

Crime Victim Assistance Division Receives Praise from House Oversight Committee

The House Government Oversight Committee met to hear from the Crime Victim Assistance Division (CVAD) of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. At the meeting, representatives from CVAD discussed how their division oversees both state and federal grants that are awarded to social service programs. And specifically, social service programs that provide services to victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse as well as prevention.

These programs must apply to CVAD for the grant money and then the programs are reimbursed on a monthly basis. Beginning with fiscal year 2015 (July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015) CVAD is requiring the programs to use uniform reimbursement forms, receive prior authorization from both their supervisor/director and CVAD for out-of-state travel, and reimburse only at the state mileage rate. Because each program is autonomous from CVAD, they each have their own board of directors which provides oversight to their program and makes decisions regarding policies such as travel and pay for each employee.

Members of the House Oversight Committee responded favorably after learning of the new requirements that began with FY 2015, and congratulated CVAD for their successful transition to a regionalization approach in providing services. CVAD reported that with this new regionalization model, plus the increased funding in state aid, they have been able to fund 130 additional advocates across the state. This new approach is able to provide mobile advocacy and wrap-around services for victims. More sexual assault victims are receiving services because the programs are in key entry points such as college campuses.

Cannabidiol Committee Makes Recommendations to Take Next Steps

On September 11, the Legislature’s Cannabidiol Implementation Study Committee met and heard testimony from state agencies regarding the adoption and implementation of administrative rules, and from medical professionals and family members of patients with intractable epilepsy. The charge of the committee was to monitor the implementation of the legislation, consider whether the new law is helping the people that it is supposed to be helping, and review the University of Iowa’s research study.

The legislation that passed into law, Senate File 2630, decriminalized the possession of cannabidiol oil that contains up to 3% of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) for patients that have been diagnosed with intractable epilepsy, and their caregivers. These persons are limited to no more than 32 ounces of the cannabidiol (CBD) in their possession and they must, in coordination with an Iowa neurologist, apply to the Department of Public Health for approval to receive a CBD registration card. This CBD card will be printed by the Department of Transportation.

The Departments of Public Health and Transportation (DPH and DOT) testified that they are in the process of finalizing administrative rules which lay out the details regarding how a patient or their caregiver(s) can apply to DPH for the CBD card. The DPH testified that January 30, 2015, is a likely date as to when the departments will be ready to issue cards, but DPH stated they will be accepting applications before that date.

Family members of patients with intractable epilepsy testified that while Iowa’s legislation decriminalized the possession of the medicine, it didn’t address how patients would be able to obtain the medicine. According to information from the Epilepsy Foundation, 34 states have passed some form of medical cannabis legislation, but only Oregon allows for out-of-state residents to legally access the CBD. This creates a severe hardship for patients, who under Iowa law, would be allowed to possess the CBD. Medical professionals testified that it is hard to speak about dosage amounts because the CBD would need to come from a regulated producer that has also undergone doubleblind testing. Numerous caregivers and concerned citizens asked that the Legislature consider taking the next step and provide oversight for the growth and distribution of CBD.

The committee members voted to reclassify marijuana from a schedule I to a schedule II controlled substance. This reclassification would recognize that it has some medicinal value. The members also voted to have the Legislature further investigate the concerns regarding access, standardization, and legalization of CBD, as well as to develop a regulated program to produce, process, and dispense CBD without being taxed.

Individual Disaster Assistance Available

Recently, more counties were declared disaster areas due to storms earlier this month. The declaration makes residents affected by the storms within the affected counties eligible for state assistance.

Below is a list of most recent eligible counties and the dates that the applications for reimbursement are due.

  • Clarke County - Application deadline October 13
  • Union County - Application deadline October 31
  • Adair, Guthrie, Ringgold and Warren Counties - Application deadline November 3
  • Appanoose and Madison Counties – Application deadline November 6

Iowa’s Individual Assistance (IA) Program provides up to $5,000 in reimbursements for damage incurred for families whose income is at or below twice the federal poverty level. Grants are available for home or car repairs, replacement of clothing or food, and for the expense of temporary housing. Original receipts are required for those seeking reimbursement for actual expenses related to storm recovery. The program is administered by the Iowa Department of Human Services.

People can get the applications by visiting http://dhs.iowa.gov/disaster-assistance-programs, or calling 1-866-434-4692, Monday through Friday 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Completed applications should be returned to the local Community Action Association, http://www.iowacommunityaction.org/community_resources/index.cfm.

In addition, if you are in need of disaster crisis counseling, please call the Iowa Concern Hotline at 800-447-1985 and find more information here: http://dhs.iowa.gov/disaster-assistance-programs. The hotline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Updates with the Iowa Department of Transportation

Thanks to the Iowa Legislature’s increase in funding for recreational trails, the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) Commission is recommending $5.5 million in grants be awarded to 12 recreational trail projects throughout Iowa. One project will connect 200 miles of trails and completes a trail system that runs from Iowa City to Cedar Falls.

Other trail projects recommended include a trail in the Jewell and Ellsworth area, a trail from Pikes Peak Road to Guttenberg on the Mississippi River Trail, and money to restore the SW Fifth Jackson Street Bridge in Des Moines. The 12 projects will be voted for approval at the October meeting of the Transportation Commission.

Also at the September meeting, the Commission approved $4.6 million for the State Aviation Program. This includes projects at 21 airports throughout Iowa that provides funding for safety, planning, and airport development projects.

For commuters in the Iowa City to Cedar Rapids Corridor area, the DOT is looking for input. As part of a study to examine commuting throughout Linn, Johnson, Benton, Washington, Iowa, Jones, and Cedar Counties, the DOT is asking Iowans how far they commute to work, about their concerns with parking or fuel costs, and opinions on a service between the two cities. To complete the survey, go to http://smgs.us/3jt5, which will be open through October 12. The Iowa Commuter Transportation Study was a request by the Iowa Legislature.

University of Iowa Opens Diabetes Research Center

The University of Iowa has opened a cutting edge research center focused on diabetes. Housed in the new Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building, the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research is poised to be on the forefront of diabetes research and to make significant advances in diabetes research in the next decade.

The center has assembled a dream team of diverse and talented scientists to work at the center. Their current research includes a study of a new hormone called FGF-21, which may be more potent than insulin in terms of improving blood glucose and metabolism. Also, it is known that one of the problems with diabetes is that the liver overproduces glucose. Through their studies, doctors at the center have identified a new protein in the liver that regulates that process.

According to the center's director, Dr. E Dale Abel, one in 12 Americans has diabetes, and one in five Americans is at high-risk of contracting diabetes. He says it is estimated that if trends continue in the next 20 years, 50 to 60 million people in America will develop diabetes or nearly one-third of the US population. The Iowa Department of Public Health has reported more cases of diabetes have been diagnosed in the state in recent years, mirroring national trends; the rate of diagnosed diabetes cases among adults in Iowa has doubled since 1991.

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Statehouse News, September 10, 2014

September 10, 2014

Boosting Iowa’s Middle Class
Nation’s First Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Opens in Iowa
Iowans Reminded to be Cautious of School Buses
Tips for Monitoring Your Credit and Debit Card Accounts
National Lifeline Awareness Week and Phone Assistance
State Public Defender Lauds Legislative Changes
Webinars on Affordable Care Act for Small Business Owners

Boosting Iowa’s Middle Class

The foundation of our economy is rooted in the strength of the middle class. The last decade has been especially tough for the middle class with stagnant wages that have not kept pace with rising costs. We need to grow our economy, create new jobs, and make sure young people aren’t forced to leave Iowa to pay off student debt or find a good job. One of the keys to a growing the middle class is affordable, quality child care. Eleven percent of a family’s annual income is spent on childcare costs, just over $9,000 a year. Currently, 42,300 children from low-income families qualify for child care assistance. With many two-parent working families in Iowa, we need to expand childcare assistance to more families and make sure child care isn’t a barrier for parents who need to gain new skills to land a job that pays better wages.

Over the last 30 years, the minimum wage has failed to keep up with the struggles many middle class families face. Raising the minimum wage in Iowa will not only give those families a boost but will inject new money into Iowa’s economy. Since 58% of minimum wage workers are women, it is also a step forward in guaranteeing that women earn equal pay for equal work.

Other initiatives to ensure Iowa’s middle class can thrive include targeting state incentives to encourage more investment in small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs; making sure Iowa companies get first crack at state contracts to create jobs here, not overseas; providing tax incentives so more young Iowans can save money for a down payment on their first home; and cracking down on corporations that fail to pay workers while protecting small businesses from unfair competition.

Nation’s First Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Opens in Iowa

On September 3rd, Iowa became home to the nation’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant, which uses corn waste as a feedstock. Once operating at full capacity, the biorefinery in Emmetsburg, Iowa will produce 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year – enough to avoid approximately 210,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

The facility is called Project LIBERTY. It was developed with the support of approximately $100 million in investments and research from the U.S. Department of Energy. The facilities use biochemical conversion technologies such as yeast and enzymes to convert cellulosic biomass into transportation fuels.

A statement from the department says Project LIBERTY will produce cellulosic ethanol from corncobs, leaves, husks, and corn stalk harvested by local farmers located within a 30 to 40 mile radius of the plant. It also produces enough energy to power the entire facility as well as POET-DSM’s co-located existing corn ethanol plant. This is enough to power about 70,000 American homes for a year.

Iowans Reminded to be Cautious of School Buses

Now that school has officially opened in all districts across the state, the Department of Education is reminding both drivers and students to be safe around school buses. It is important that Iowa drivers to be vigilant in watching students heading to and from the buses and students to be cautious as they approach a school bus.

Here are some reminders for drivers:

  • When the bus’s yellow flashers turn on, that signifies that it is preparing to have child get on or off the bus. All vehicles behind the bus must come to a complete stop.
  • If you are approaching a bus from the opposite direction, slow your speed to 20 mph when the bus turns on its yellow flashers.
  • On a two-lane road, traffic in both directions must come to a full stop when the lights are flashing red.
  • On a four-lane road, traffic moving in the opposite direction must slow down and proceed with caution when either red or yellow flashers are present.
  • Stop your vehicle at least 15 feet from the bus.
  • Remain stopped until the flashing lights are turned off and the stop arm is pulled back in.
  • Failure to comply could result in a fine of $250 plus court costs.
Here are reminders for students:

  • Stop and look both ways before crossing a street.
  • Make sure you’re bus driver can see you when you are crossing in front of the bus. If you cannot see the driver, the driver cannot see you.
  • Never cross behind the bus.
  • When getting on or off the bus, never cross the street until the bus driver signals it’s OK to cross.
  • If you drop something near the bus, do not pick it up. Instead, tell the bus driver what you dropped, and let the driver instruct you on what to do.

Tips for Monitoring Your Credit and Debit Card Accounts

The Attorney General is reminding Iowans to take extra precautions in monitoring their credit and debit cards in light of the announcement from Home Depot that they are trying to confirm as to whether a breach of customer information has taken place. Below are tips that persons can take whether they shopped at Home Depot in the past six months or not.

No matter whether you shopped at Home Depot or not, it is advised that you always review your card statements to verify the charges on your card. If you think that you might be affected by a security breach, you should change your PIN number on your debit card; it’s an easy proactive measure. Ordering a copy of your credit report from one of three major credit bureaus, listed below, and reviewing that report is another step that you can take. Everyone is entitled to one free report per year, and if you should find unauthorized activity, it should be reported.

The three major credit bureaus are:

  • Equifax: Phone: 1-(800) 525-6285; Address: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
  • Experian: Phone: 1-(888) 397-3742; Address: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
  • TransUnion: Phone: (800) 680-7289; Address: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790 Fullerton, CA 92834-6790.

National Lifeline Awareness Week and Phone Assistance

September 8-14 has been designated as National Lifeline Awareness Week and the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) would like to remind Iowans of the qualifications for the federal Lifeline telephone assistance program. This program provides a monthly reduction of $9.25 on the telephone bill for customers that meet a certain income threshold.

A monthly reduction of $9.25 is provided on a telephone bill for customers that have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or participates in or is eligible for certain public assistance programs to receive this basic telephone service discount. Customers can use the monthly reduction on either a wireline or wireless phone, but it is limited to one reduction per household. If there are households that are currently receiving assistance for more than one telephone, the household must de-enroll from all but one telephone service provider.

Information about the program and an application can be found at http://www.state.ia.us/government/com/util/forms/CustServ/LifelineInfo&Form.pdf. You can also contact your local telecommunications provider to see if they participate, or the IUB at 1-877-565-4450.

State Public Defender Lauds Legislative Changes

State Public Defender Sam Langholz terminated the contracts of eight attorneys included in a report released this week by the state auditor indicating improper billing practices. The improper practices led the legislature to take action this session to change the process for attorneys to submit claims to the state public defender.

The legislature this year made it easier for the state public to share information to investigate fraud and other criminal activity for attorneys submitting claims to the office.

Langholz said, “This thorough report supports the conclusions of our internal review that led me to cancel the indigent defense contracts of eight of the attorneys included in the report. It also supports the proactive changes that we have already implemented to detect and prevent further improper billing by indigent defense contract attorneys.”

In addition to these legislative changes, the state public defender has changed the administrative rules for contract attorneys to create additional safeguards, such as requiring itemized reimbursements from these attorneys working with the office. The state public defender will also move to an online claim system.

Webinars on Affordable Care Act for Small Business Owners

The Small Business Association (SBA) and the Small Business Majority are hosting free webinars regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The webinar will focus on what the new healthcare law, means for small businesses. It will focus on both federal and state provisions to help local small business owners understand how the law will affect them. Topics being discussed include:

  • Small business tax credits (available to businesses and tax-exempt non-profits) – who’s eligible for them and how to claim them.
  • Marketplace updates.
  • Shared responsibility.
  • Cost containment.
  • Tools and resources available for small businesses interested in learning more about the law.

The webinars occur every Thursday at 1:00 pm CST from the months of September to October. These webinars will also be held in Spanish, which will be held every other Tuesday at 3:00 pm CST through the rest of the year. Webinar dates and links can be found at http://www.sba.gov/healthcare. If you cannot make the webinars, visit https://www.healthcare.gov/small-businesses to find out more information about the requirements of businesses and the ACA.

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Statehouse News, August 25, 2014

August 25, 2014

Education Key to Growing Skilled Workforce
Iowa Businesses to Save $108 Million Next Year
Iowa Public Television Proposes Going 24-7
Iowa Corn Checkoff Task Force
Long-Term Disaster Recovery Task Force
2014 Iowa Hunting Seasons Announced

Education Key to Growing Skilled Workforce

The future of Iowa’s economy depends on a highly skilled workforce that is ready to compete with workers from around the globe. Iowa can compete and win in this global economy as long as we invest in education and job training to build our skilled workforce.

Iowa is facing a skilled workforce shortage. Over 56% of the jobs in Iowa require more than a high school diploma, but only 33% of our workforce has this skill set right now. That means Iowa needs to expand job training opportunities for workers to upgrade their skills and make sure Iowa students are getting the right skills to close the skills gap.

To give Iowa students a head start, Iowa must create new partnerships between high schools, community colleges, and local businesses to create hands-on learning opportunities to better prepare students for future jobs and keep them in Iowa. Expanding tuition grants for students will also give more Iowans an opportunity to attend an Iowa community college to help develop the skills needed to land a good job.

The Legislature should also freeze tuition again next year at state universities and expanding grants to students attending private college so higher education is affordable and accessible to all Iowans.

Iowa’s skilled worker shortage problem won’t be fixed overnight, but it’s something that requires immediate action by the Legislature. If employers can’t find qualified workers here in Iowa, they’ll go somewhere else and Iowans will be left with fewer opportunities.

Iowa Businesses to Save $108 Million Next Year

Iowa businesses will save $108 million next year through lower unemployment insurance taxes. According to Iowa Workforce Development, the average unemployment insurance tax rate will drop from 1.6% to 1.2% in 2015, which is the lowest rate in 12 years.

Iowa Workforce Development determines the appropriate tax table based on wages and unemployment benefit claims. If costs are low and financial reserves high, then rates stay low. If costs increase and reserves are depleted, then rates will go up.

The rate for non-construction employers will be 1% next year, which is the lowest rate allowed under federal law. The tax rate paid by the business is determined by the amount of layoffs the business has experienced. However, many businesses pay no unemployment insurance tax.

Iowa Public Television Proposes Going 24-7

Iowa Public Television (IPTV) boasts 1.5 million viewers each week, with 260,000 children being among them. Many of those viewers have contacted IPTV and requested that IPTV be available for late night viewing, and due to the Warning Alert and Response Network Act passed by Congress, they may get their wish.

Due to safety issues identified after 9/11, the Act directs the Federal Communication Commission to adopt rules requiring public TV stations to install equipment with geo-targeted emergency alerts. IPTV has already received a grant to purchase generators to make this possible, and now the IPTV board has approved a proposal to seek increased funding in their budget from the Iowa Legislature for the project.

The $182,000 budget proposal approved by the board reflects the cost of utilities to keep the signal up 24 hours, seven days a week. There would be no additional staff needed since it would be fully automated, and there would be less stress on the transmitters and equipment if they remained in operation all the time.

IPTV provides 600 hours of locally produced programs every year. Other budget proposals include an allocation for the production of a program that would tell stories of Iowa history. The board also approved proposals for an increased amount to cover their national dues and other capital equipment expenditures. The budget requests will now go before the Governor as he considers his proposed budget for next year.

Iowa Corn Checkoff Task Force

The Iowa Legislature passed a law this year authorizing Iowa’s current 1¢ corn checkoff to increase over time, to a maximum of 3¢ per bushel after September 1, 2019. The checkoff would only increase if the Iowa Corn Promotion Board requests a vote of corn growers in a referendum election run by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

The legislation also created an Iowa Corn Checkoff Task Force to study the development and implementation of a system that allows producers to cast mail ballots during a special referendum and provide an increase in refund awareness with first purchasers of corn.

The task force has been meeting the past couple of months and discussing ways to increase voter participation in any future corn checkoff referendums.

Suggestions to date include moving the checkoff referendum to winter months (i.e. January or February) when farmers are not in the fields and extending the time frame for when farmers are allowed to vote by an absentee ballot (from 30 days to 60 days). Additional awareness through signs and publicity should also be provided to local grain elevators to ensure that corn producers know when there is a checkoff election and what their checkoff dollars support.

Through Iowa law, the corn checkoff is collected when farmers sell their corn. It is then remitted to the Iowa Corn Promotion Board that uses the money to develop and defend markets, fund research, and provide education about corn and corn products. Checkoff dollars are fully refundable if requested by farmers.

The final task force report with its findings and recommendations will be submitted to the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture by September 1, 2014.

Long-Term Disaster Recovery Task Force

Last week was the first meeting for the Long-Term Disaster Recovery Task Force, initiated by the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The goal of the task force is to coordinate efforts of state, federal, and local agencies in the areas of housing, transportation, flood risk management, and utilities for the communities that have experienced disasters this past summer. Director of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Mark Schouten, stated that in many ways the recovery process is just as important as the response.

Each of these work groups will focus on creating answers to questions such as how the disasters affect the community and what is the right way to do recovery, in order to develop a recovery plan that can be replicated for future disasters.

County Disaster Declaration Update

Crawford and Shelby counties were recently added to the list of August 5 counties granted a federal Public Assistance Disaster Declaration. This is separate from the state Individual Assistance Program, which is a grant program that is available to residents with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level, or a maximum annual income of $39,580, for a family of three. Grants are available for home or car repairs, replacement of clothing or food, and for the expense of temporary housing. Original receipts are required for those seeking reimbursement for actual expenses related to storm recovery.

A list of eligible counties and the dates that the applications for reimbursement are due can be found at http://dhs.iowa.gov/disaster-assistance-programs. Persons can get applications at that website or by calling 1-866-434-4692, Monday through Friday 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Completed applications should be returned to the local Community Action Association, http://www.iowacommunityaction.org/community_resources/index.cfm. In addition, if you are in need of disaster crisis counseling, please call the Iowa Concern Hotline at 800-447-1985 and find more information here: http://dhs.iowa.gov/disaster-assistance-programs.

2014 Iowa Hunting Seasons Announced

The 2014 hunting and trapping seasons have been set and a few changes will affect Iowa hunters.

Deer hunting season kicks off on September 20 with youth and disabled hunter seasons through October 5. The January anterless deer season was eliminated and the number of tags available for anterless deer have been reduced, Iowans now have the opportunity to use crossbows during the late muzzleloader season. For a list of deer hunting seasons, see the list or go visit http://www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/DeerHunting.aspx.

Youth: September 20 - October 5
Disabled Hunter: September 20 - October 5
Archery: October 1 - December 5
December 22 - January 10
Early Muzzleloader: October 11 - 19
Late Muzzleloader: December 22 - January 10
First Shotgun: December 6 - 10
Second Shotgun: December 13 - 21
Nonresident Holiday: December 24 - January 2

August is National Tree Stand Safety Month and the Iowa DNR is recommending to Iowa hunters to use caution and take safety measures when using tree stands. Recommendations include wearing a harness, checking the stability of a tree stand before entering, hunt with another or let others know where you will be, and carry a communication device. For additional tips, visit http://tmastands.com/_safety.html.

For a list of the other hunting seasons in a printable version, visit the following site:http://www.iowadnr.gov/portals/idnr/uploads/Hunting/huntingregs_card.pdf. Here you will find a list of the 2014-2015 hunting seasons and bag limits. Lastly, waterfowl season dates have been approved and can be found at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/MigratoryGameBirds.aspx.

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Statehouse News, August 13, 2014

August 13, 2014

Iowa Students Back in the Classroom
Auditor Gives State Budget Good Marks
Grout Museum Honors Vietnam Veterans
Medical Cannabidiol Proposed Rules & Public Hearing
Iowa Lottery Has Strong Year
USDA Releases 2014 Farm Land and Expenditures Statistics

Iowa Students Back in the Classroom

Over the next three weeks, over 500,000 Iowa children will head back to the classroom for another school year.

Many of those students will benefit from action taken by the Iowa Legislature over the last several years to boost student achievement and make sure students graduate with the skills to continue their education after high school and land a good job.

One of the key improvements this year is better literacy screening. The goal is to identify students who are reading behind grade level and then provide more intensive support to help them succeed. A few of the other highlights this year include:

  • 39 school districts will roll out plans for their compensation systems with increased teacher salaries and collaboration. The systems will expand to all school districts in the next two years.
  • Schools have the option of counting their school days by days or hours, and many have switched to hours for more flexibility in offering instruction.
  • Area Education Agencies and the Iowa Reading Research Center will collaborate in providing teachers with reading professional development. Dyslexia is now defined in Iowa law.
  • Uniform procedures are available for transferring foster care students in receiving class credit.
  • A school district's ability to establish a whole grade sharing agreement with another district is extended until 2019.
  • Districts are able to agree to share program positions with less red tape from the state.
  • A person issued a coaching authorization now falls under laws to prevent sexual exploitation by a school employee.
  • Funding is expanded for online learning with 42 additional courses being offered this year through Iowa Learning Online.

Higher Education

Most of Iowa's colleges and universities will also start by the end of this month. Students attending a Regent university will, for the second year in a row, benefit from a tuition freeze. That freeze was approved by legislators again this year in an effort to keep college more affordable for all Iowa families.

Another 95,000 Iowans will be attending one of Iowa’s 15 community colleges this fall. Those students can take advantage of expanded job training and financial assistance to start a new career.

Auditor Gives State Budget Good Marks

Last week, State Auditor Mary Mosiman completed her evaluation of the state budget for fiscal year 2015. The Auditor had positive comments for the Legislature’s and Governor’s fiscal restraint that has led to full reserve funds at $696 million and a surplus of $735 million. The final budget approved this year spends $6.98 billion from the state general fund, is balanced, and leaves an ending balance of $735 million.

The main critique of the budget from the Auditor is greater transparency by reducing the amount of shifting of expenditures and revenues from the general fund to other funds. The Auditor estimates there are $340 million in shifts that will occur in fiscal year 2015 that make it more difficult for the public to make accurate comparisons from one fiscal year or the next.

The Auditor raised concerns about laws that have multi-year accelerating financial commitments, such as the property tax reform law and the education reform laws that exceed $150 million in fiscal year 2015 and will increase in the future years. The Auditor noted that State officials must ensure the State maintains adequate resources to meet these commitments.

While the State’s spending limitation laws allows 99% of the available general fund revenues to be expended, the state will spend only 90.5% of the available revenues leaving the strong surplus of $735 million. With the state’s savings accounts full at $696 million, these fiscally responsible budgeting practices are designed to make it possible for the Legislature to fulfill its commitment to commercial property tax relief, education reform, and other key priorities for many years to come.

Grout Museum Honors Vietnam Veterans

A two-year long project to honor veterans killed in Vietnam is almost complete.

In 2012, Tom Brickman, a local Vietnam veteran, and his family began collecting photos of all 853 Iowa veterans killed in Vietnam. Recently, Mr. Brickman compiled all the photos he was collecting and turned them over to the Grout Museum in Waterloo.

The Grout Museum and the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans museums will display the photos in a permanent exhibit. A permanent kiosk containing interactive photos and stories of the fallen will be added to the Vietnam area of the Sullivan Museum. In addition, the photos will be used as part of a special 50th anniversary commemorative exhibit in Waterloo starting next summer, and at a proposed Education Center at the Wall in Washington, D.C.

This project is supported by the Iowa Legislature. This year, the Legislature appropriated $500,000 for the Grout Museum for the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum oral history collection in Waterloo. The museum is participating in the U.S. Vietnam War Commemoration scheduled for 2015-2017.

The funding will be used to develop a virtual wall honoring Iowans that died, or are still listed as POW/MIA. The virtual wall will be hosted on a website, Faces to Go With Names: Iowa’s Fallen Vietnam Soldiers. A separate interactive exhibit including images and video will feature the role of the helicopter in Vietnam.

More information on the photos that have been compiled can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/FacesToGoWithNamesIowasFallenVietnamSoldiers. In addition, the following website provides more information about the Grout Museum and the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans museums: http://www.groutmuseumdistrict.org.

Medical Cannabidiol Proposed Rules & Public Hearing

The Department of Public Health has published their proposed administrative rules to implement the bipartisan Medical Cannabidiol Act and set their date for a public hearing on those proposed rules. This law authorizes parents of children with intractable epilepsy suffering from constant seizures to use medical cannabis oil that contains up to 3% of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the main component of marijuana.

The proposed rules spell out the procedures to follow for a person to receive authorization from the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Transportation to receive a “Cannabidiol Act Registration Card” and they are published on page 165 of the August 6th Administrative Rules Bulletin, https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/aco/bulletin/08-06-2014.pdf">https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/aco/bulletin/08-06-2014.pdf.

The DPH will be holding a public hearing on August 26, from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm, where persons can present their views, written or orally, on these proposed rules. The hearing will also be held over the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) at six sites which are listed below. If you prefer to access via a conference call, you can dial 1-866-685-1580 and use the pass code: 5152814355.

Ottumwa Regional Health Center
1001 E. Pennsylvania
Ottumwa

Iowa Western Community College - 1
2700 College Road
Council Bluffs

Davenport Public Library
321 Main
Davenport

North Iowa Area Community College - 4
500 College Driver
Mason City

Sioux City Public Library
529 Pierce Street
Sioux City

Lucas State Office Building
Sixth Floor
321 E. 12th Street
Des Moines

Iowa Lottery Has Strong Year

Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich announced the lottery’s 2014 fiscal year results in annual sales, proceeds to state causes, and prizes to players all ranked among the top 4 in the lottery’s 29-year history.

The preliminary figures released show that 2014 lottery sales totaled more than $314 million, marking the third year in a row that the total has topped the $300 million mark. Proceeds to state causes totaled nearly $74 million, the fourth-highest amount for the lottery since its start in 1985. Prizes to lottery players totaled $186.9 million, the second-highest total in the lottery’s history.

The lottery’s overall results for the year were down from its 2013 record. The Iowa Lottery noted that two big factors came into play that affected sales, Mother Nature and cyclical Powerball jackpots. The past winter weather definitely impacted lottery sales. Also, the lottery’s FY 13 results were buoyed by strong Powerball sales, with the game’s jackpot topping the $300 million mark on four different occasions during the year.

Since the lottery’s start in 1985, its players have won more than $3.3 billion in prizes and the lottery has raised more than $1.5 billion for the state programs that benefit all Iowans. Lottery proceeds in Iowa provide support for veterans and their families through the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund and help a variety of significant projects through the state’s general fund.

USDA Releases 2014 Farm Land and Expenditures Statistics

Iowa’s farm real estate value, a measurement of the value of all land and buildings on farms, averaged $8,500 per acre in 2014, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. This is up $800 per acre or 10 percent higher than last year’s level. Cropland value increased 9 percent from last year to $8,750 per acre. Pastureland, at $3,400 per acre, increased 6 percent from a year ago.

Cropland cash rent paid to Iowa landlords in 2014 averaged $260 per acre. Non irrigated cropland rent averaged $260 per acre, up $5.00 from a year earlier. Irrigated cropland rent averaged $255 per acre, an increase of $10 from last year. Pasture rented for cash, which averaged $50 per acre, is up $1 from the previous year.

According to the latest USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Farm Production Expenditures Annual Summary report, Iowa farm production expenditures totaled $29.8 billion in 2013. This is 2.9 percent above the 2012 total expenditures.

  • Feed expense, which rose 2.2 percent to $5.05 billion, represented the largest single production expense for Iowa farmers in 2013, accounting for 16.9 percent of the total.
  • Livestock and poultry purchase expense was the second largest expense, totaling $4.53 billion and 15.2 percent of the total. This is up 13.5 percent from 2012.
  • Rent expense rose 4.3 percent to $4.11 billion, and accounted for 13.8 percent of the total.
  • The largest percentage increases were for miscellaneous capital expenses (up 20 percent), livestock and poultry purchases, and fuels (up 10.8 percent).

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July 30, 2014 Newsletter

July 30, 2014

Keeping Iowa’s Water Clean
Iowa Leads Nation with Healthiest Children
Propane Shortage Possible in 2015
Renewing your Driver’s License or REAL ID in Iowa
Counties Awarded Presidential Disaster Declaration & State Disaster Assistance
July Ranks as One of Coolest and Driest

Keeping Iowa’s Water Clean

This summer, thousands of Iowans will be swimming, fishing, and boating in and on our lakes and rivers. Those recreational opportunities are even better with clean water.

Over the past two years, the Legislature has provided millions of dollars to help improve Iowa’s water quality through the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The strategy was prepared by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. More information can be found at http://www.nutrientstrategy.iastate.edu/.

As of last week, in less than five business days, the $1.4 million in cost share funds made available statewide by IDALS to help farmers install new nutrient reduction practices have been obligated. The practices that were eligible for this funding were cover crops, no-till or strip till, or using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer.

These Iowa farmers also committed to match the state’s investment for a total of $2.8 million in new water quality practices. Last year, the available funding was committed in 12 days, which shows that Iowans want to have clean water.

IDALS received applications covering 59,883 acres from 597 different farmers seeking to participate in the program. That includes 54,679 acres of cover crops, 2,531 acres of nitrification inhibitor, 1,656 acres of no-till and 1,015 acres of strip-till. Farmers in 90 of 100 Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the state received funding.

The Legislature appropriated this funding for these grants. Unfortunately, Governor Branstad vetoed the additional $10 million the Legislature provided for grants to Iowans to improve Iowa’s water quality. Even Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said through a statement that he was very disappointed by the Governor’s decision to veto the money, calling it a lost opportunity to do even more to build on the exciting momentum we are seeing around the Iowa water quality initiative.

Other water quality programs funded by the Legislature include the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program, volunteer water quality initiatives, lakes restoration, water quality monitoring stations, wetland incentives, water protection programs, conservation reserve program, closing agricultural drainage wells, and farm demonstrations to prove the effectiveness of emerging practices in agronomy that protect water resources and provide other environmental benefits.

Iowa Leads Nation with Healthiest Children

After many years of work by the Legislature to improve the health of children in Iowa, the work is finally paying off. According to new report, Iowa is ranked first in the nation for children’s health.

Iowa moved up in all of the health domain indicators from 2013 due to fewer low-birth weight babies, fewer children without health insurance, fewer child and teen deaths, and a decrease in the rate of teens abusing alcohol or drugs. In part, this is due to Iowa’s medical and dental insurance program for low-income children.

All of Iowa’s rankings were in the top 10, except the education domain. For that the report focused on the following indicators: children not attending preschool, fourth graders not proficient in reading, eighth graders not proficient in math, and high school students not graduating on time. Iowa has improved in all of these categories since the last time they were counted.

The rating comes from the Kids Count project by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a non-partisan philanthropy. The Kids Count project uses an index of 16 indicators. The 2014 report ranks states on overall child well-being and in four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Combining all the indicators, Iowa ranks third nationally, which an increase from seventh in 2013.

Propane Shortage Possible in 2015

Iowa officials are urging consumers to finalize their contracts and fill their propane tanks before the cold weather arrives. With the potential for inventory shortages and the modification of a key supply pipeline, it is important for consumers to think ahead.

During the past winter, propane prices skyrocketed from $1.40 to nearly $5 per gallon. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) also saw a decrease in funding, from $5.1 billion in fiscal year 2010 to $3.4 billion in fiscal year 2014. Consequently, the average award for consumers dropped from $600 to $400.

Although the Iowa Legislature passed an additional $2 million appropriation to the LIHEAP program, that bill was vetoed by the Governor.

Renewing your Driver’s License or REAL ID in Iowa

For the past year, Iowa drivers have been able to renew their driver’s license or non-operator ID cards online. In order to renew your license online, persons should go to the Iowa Department of Transportation’s (DOT) website, www.iowadot.gov. This website also allows Iowans to change their address, sign up for an email reminder to renew their license, as well as view what requirements are needed to get a license reinstated. Online renewal can only take place every other renewal time. In between online renewals, persons must go into an issuance site.

To renew your license online, persons must be between the ages of 18 and 69 and you may be unable to renew online if your license had previously been expired or you have certain restrictions.

As a reminder for those obtaining a driver’s license or non-operator’s ID for the first time or needing one marked as REAL ID compliant, the following documents will be needed:

• A document to identify your date of birth, identity, and citizenship status. This may be a valid and current U.S. passport, a certified copy of a birth certificate, a certificate of naturalization or citizenship, or other legal documentation stating your lawful status.
• A document that contains your full name and social security number. Other than a social security card, this may be a W-2 form or pay stub.
• Two documents that contain your Iowa residency and residential address. If you are under 18, a parent or guardian must sign a Parent’s Witten Consent form to document your residency.
• You must surrender your current driver’s license or non-operator ID, whether issued by Iowa or another state.
• For more information on the documents that qualify, go to https://forms.iowadot.gov/FormsMgt/External/431053.pdf.

Once you have presented your documents to the Iowa DOT and received approval, you will receive a temporary card until your actual card is mailed to you within 30 days of application and approval.

As of January 15, 2013, the Iowa DOT began issuing REAL ID cards, which meet federal guidelines for identification cards used for official federal purposes. The REAL ID cards are only different from a standard Iowa license by a star verification mark on the front of the card. The REAL ID cards do not contain any technology that allows for tracking of the user and the REAL ID Act did not establish national data base of identification information.

A standard Iowa license can be used for driving and voting. The REAL ID is needed to board a commercial aircraft, access a federal building that requires identification, or to enter a nuclear power plant. A U.S. passport or other federal identification is also sufficient in those instances.

For questions about the REAL ID, persons may call 800-532-1121 or submit questions at https://secure.iowadot.gov/ods_contact.aspx.

Counties Awarded Presidential Disaster Declaration & State Disaster Assistance

Forty counties are now eligible for Iowa’s Individual Assistance Program, including most recently Louisa County, and 26 counties have been approved by President Obama for a Presidential Disaster Declaration. The Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department is continuing to assess damage in other counties that have been affected by severe weather, so it is possible that more counties will receive disaster declarations in the future.

Individual Assistance Deadlines for 40 Counties

Below is a list of eligible counties and the dates that the applications for reimbursement are due. Persons can get the applications by visiting http://dhs.iowa.gov/disaster-assistance-programs, or call 1-866-434-4692, Monday through Friday 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Completed applications should be returned to the local Community Action Association, http://www.iowacommunityaction.org/community_resources/index.cfm. In addition, if you are in need of disaster crisis counseling, please call the Iowa Concern Hotline at 800-447-1985 and find more information here: http://dhs.iowa.gov/disaster-assistance-programs.

    August 8 - Kossuth and Hancock.
    August 11 - Buena Vista, Cherokee, Franklin, Lyon, Palo Alto, Plymouth, and Sioux.
    August 14 - Adair and Guthrie.
    August 15 - Black Hawk, Cedar, Iowa, Jackson, Johnson, Muscatine, Jones, and Linn.
    August 18 - Clay, Calhoun, Clinton, Emmet, Hamilton, Hardin, Lee, and Marshall.
    August 22 - Scott and Shelby.
    August 25 - Tama.
    September 1 - Chickasaw, Benton, and Des Moines.
    September 8 - Louisa.

Presidential Disaster Declaration for Public Assistance

On July 14th, the Governor sent a letter requesting a Presidential Disaster Declaration for 26 counties with damage caused by severe storms and flooding that occurred June 14 - 23. This declaration was granted under the public assistance program which will provide aid to public entities and certain non-profits for certain emergency services and the repair or replacement of damaged facilities.

The counties under this declaration are: : Allamakee, Buchanan, Buena Vista, Butler, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, Fayette, Franklin, Hancock, Humboldt, Ida, Kossuth, Lyon, Osceola, Palo Alto, Plymouth, Pocahontas, Sac, Sioux, Winnebago, Winneshiek, Woodbury, and Wright.

This declaration also included funding for hazard mitigation for the entire state, which will be used to minimize the impact of future disasters by taking steps to strengthen existing infrastructure.

July Ranks as One of Coolest and Driest

The Department of Natural Resources says that the unusually cool and dry last couple of weeks across the state mean that this July will likely rank as one of the 10 coolest Julys on record. The average statewide precipitation was also less than half of the normal for the month.

Across the state, all but the extreme southeast corner of the state is still drought free. In October 2013, nearly the entirety of the state was in some level of drought. After a wet June, stream flows across the state are approaching normal levels. Groundwater levels are generally higher than this time last year.

Average rainfall for the year to date is actually above average. The National Weather Service has predicted normal precipitation through early September. A complete review of Iowa’s water resource trends can be found at http://www.iowadnr.gov/watersummaryupdate.

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July 16, 2014 Newsletter

by by Curt

July 16, 2014

Skills Training Available to Iowans
Disaster Assistance Available in 39 Counties
Cultural Affairs Seeks Input from Iowans
Iowa Health Link and the Health and Wellness Plan
Iowa Public Information Board Seeking Public Comments
Work Begins on School Performance Rankings
Water Quality Grants Available to Iowa Farmers
State Revenues Fall Short of Expectations
June Rains Ranked 4th Wettest Month in 141 Years
Tree Grants Available from the DNR
Iowa Flood Center Active in Monitoring Floods

Skills Training Available to Iowans

Iowans looking to develop skills or a technical trade have additional opportunities after actions taken by the Iowa Legislature. The new opportunities are designed to address Iowa’s skilled worker shortage by streamlining the Iowa Jobs Training Program and expanding access to apprenticeship training throughout the state.

A new Apprenticeship Training program will receive $3 million annually to train Iowans in a trade or skill. Previously, apprenticeship sponsors were paid using a formula based on students starting the program. The Legislature altered the formula so that it is based on students finishing apprenticeship programs, which encourages apprenticeship programs to increase retention and completion rates.

The Jobs Training Program will receive $3 million annually to be distributed to each of Iowa’s 15 community colleges to work with local business to train workers for jobs in key shortage areas in each community.

According to Iowa Workforce Development, 50% of jobs in Iowa are middle-skill jobs, which require more than a high school diploma such as an associate’s degree, a training certificate, or an apprenticeship but not a four year degree. Currently, only 33% of Iowans meet these requirements.

Thirty-eight percent, the largest percentage of Iowa workers, are considered low skill workers, which are those with a high school diploma or below. However, low skilled positions only make up just 18% of Iowa jobs.

For information on job training or apprenticeships, visit http://www.iowaworkforce.com/apprenticeship/individuals.htm or contact your local community college.

Disaster Assistance Available in 39 Counties

Severe weather over the last month has led the state to activate Iowa’s Individual Assistance Program to help citizens in 39 counties.

The Iowa Individual Assistance Program provides grants of up to $5,000 for households with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level, or a maximum annual income of $39,580, for a family of three. Grants are available for home or car repairs, replacement of clothing or food, and for the expense of temporary housing. Original receipts are required for those seeking reimbursement for actual expenses related to storm recovery.

Below is a list of eligible counties and the dates that the applications for reimbursement are due. Persons can get the applications by visiting http://dhs.iowa.gov/disaster-assistance-programs, or call 1-866-434-4692, Monday through Friday 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Completed applications should be returned to the local Community Action Association, www.iowacommunityaction.org/community_resources/index.cfm. In addition, if you are in need of disaster crisis counseling, please call the Iowa Concern Hotline at 800-447-1985 and find more information here: http://dhs.iowa.gov/disaster-assistance-programs.

July 28 - Cass, Decatur, Harrison, Montgomery, Pottawattamie, and Ringgold.
August 8 - Kossuth and Hancock.
August 11 - Buena Vista, Cherokee, Franklin, Lyon, Palo Alto, Plymouth, and Sioux.
August 14 - Adair and Guthrie.
August 15 - Black Hawk, Cedar, Iowa, Jackson, Johnson, Muscatine, Jones, and Linn.
August 18 - Clay, Calhoun, Clinton, Emmet, Hamilton, Hardin, Lee, and Marshall.
August 22 - Scott and Shelby.
August 25 - Tama.
September 1 - Chickasaw, Benton, and Des Moines.

State and Federal Disaster Declarations

Many more than those 39 counties have been eligible to receive state assistance, which means that state agencies have been asked to assist with things such as clean up, sand bagging, and general resource support.

The Governor has signed a letter requesting a Presidential Disaster Declaration for 26 counties as a result of the damage that occurred June 14 - 23. The 26 counties in this letter of request are: Allamakee, Buchanan, Buena Vista, Butler, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, Fayette, Franklin, Hancock, Humboldt, Ida, Kossuth, Lyon, Osceola, Palo Alto, Plymouth, Pocahontas, Sac, Sioux, Winnebago, Winneshiek, Woodbury, and Wright. If granted, communities affected by these storms would be eligible to receive more financial assistance for infrastructure needs.

Cultural Affairs Seeks Input from Iowans

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs will be hosting “Community Conversations” statewide to allow Iowans to voice their ideas to help shape the future in arts, history and culture in Iowa. The meetings will serve as a platform to the help with the revitalization of the State Historical Building.

The Department of Cultural Affairs consists of the State Historical Society of Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council and Produce Iowa, the state film office. These offices play an important part in the economic health of the state. Thriving arts and cultural sectors improve the quality of life in Iowa communities, which attracts people and businesses.

The DCA Community Conversations are scheduled for the following communities:

Fairfield
Thursday, July 17
10:30am – 12:00pm
Fairfield Arts and Convention Center

Quad Cities
Thursday, July 17
5:00pm – 7:00pm
Figge Art Museum
Davenport

Waterloo
Tuesday, July 22
3:00pm – 5:00pm
Sullivan Brothers Iowa
Veterans Museum, Grout Museum District

Marshalltown
Wednesday, July 23
9:00am – 11:00am
Marshalltown Public Library

Grinnell
Wednesday, July 23
3:00pm – 5:00pm
Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College

Iowa City & Coralville
Thursday, July 24
9:00am – 11:00am
Coralville Public Library

Cedar Rapids
Thursday, July 24
5:00pm – 7:00pm
National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library

Muscatine
Friday, July 25
9:00am – 11:00am
Muscatine Art Center

Osceola
Monday, July 28
10:00am – 12:00pm
Clarke County Economic Development Corporation

Red Oak
Monday, July 28
3:00pm – 5:00pm
Wilson Performing Arts Center

Council Bluffs
Tuesday, July 29
8:00am – 10:00am
Western Historic Trails Center

Elk Horn
Tuesday, July 29
12:00pm – 1:30pm
Museum of Danish America

Sioux City
Tuesday, July 29
4:00pm – 6:00pm
Sioux City Public Museum

Orange City
Wednesday, July 30
9:00am – 10:30am
Northwestern College

Des Moines
Thursday, July 31
5:00pm – 7:00pm
State Historical
Building of Iowa

For more information visit: www.culturalaffairs.org.

Iowa Health Link and the Health and Wellness Plan

Members and potential members now can learn more about the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan and the incentives available for participating in the Healthy Behaviors Program. The Iowa Department of Human Services established a new website with the information, www.iahealthlink.gov.

Members are encouraged to take advantage of the Healthy Behaviors Program. Its preventive services of the Healthy Behaviors Program can lead to better health outcomes and lower overall health care costs. The IA Health Link website makes it easy for members to get all the information they need to complete healthy behaviors.

Under the Healthy Behaviors Program, members who complete a health risk assessment and undergo a physical exam will not be charged a monthly premium for the following year. The program will eventually offer members a range of financially-based incentives beyond the waiver of monthly contributions. And, providers can gain enhanced reimbursement for each member completing wellness activities.

More than 110,000 Iowans have signed up for the bipartisan-approved Iowa Health and Wellness Plan which launched January 1, 2014. The program provides comprehensive health care coverage to uninsured Iowans ages 19-64 with incomes up to and including 133% of the Federal Poverty Level, or about $15,500 for an individual.

Iowa Health and Wellness Plan benefits include:

• Members can pay a contribution of $5 to $10 per month, or have their premiums waived by participating in healthy behaviors.
• Access to a statewide network of providers, allowing members to find a doctor close to home.
• Choice in who delivers care from thousands of participating providers.
• Enrollment open year-round, and no cap on the number of eligible Iowans who can sign up.

For more information on the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan and Healthy Behaviors visit www.iahealthlink.gov or www.dhs.iowa.gov.

Iowa Public Information Board Seeking Public Comments

At their July 10th meeting, members of the Iowa Public Information Board gave initial approval of proposed law changes they would like to see adopted by the 2015 Legislature.

These proposals are currently in “draft” form. The board is now seeking comments from the public. The board will take all comments into consideration at a later meeting before their draft proposals get submitted as proposed legislation to the Legislature.

The board would like to start a dialogue on these issues. The proposed legislation is based on the following three issues:

    1. Advisory Committees. Advisory committees would be subject to the same open meetings law and court interpretations as any other governmental body. If you make a recommendation, then you are covered and are subject to open meetings.

    2. 24 Hour Public Notice. Reasonable notice shall include advising the news media who have filed a request for notice with the governmental body and posting the notice on a bulletin board or other prominent place which is easily “and continuously” accessible to the public. If the governmental body has a website, notice of the meeting shall also be posted within the same time frame.

    3. Peace Officers’ Investigative Reports. Peace officers’ investigative reports, except where disclosure is authorized elsewhere in this Code, shall be confidential. However, the date, time, specific location, and immediate facts and circumstances surrounding a crime or incident shall not be kept confidential, except in those unusual circumstances that are spelled out in the proposed legislation. The board would also like to hear from the public about when a police report would be open to the public.

The proposed language can be found on the board’s website at: https://www.ipib.iowa.gov/v. The board is requesting written comments by July 31 and will be proposing public meeting dates in early August. Please check back to the website for the dates and places of these public meetings when they get scheduled.

Work Begins on School Performance Rankings

The Education Reform bill of 2013 (HF 215), required the Department of Education (DE) to develop a ranking system of Iowa schools based on performance. A committee was set up to study the issue, and they have issued their required report on what the school performance rankings will include. Although the legislation allowed for other factors to be considered, the committee decided to not add any additional items at this time to the required list.

The overall school performance rankings will include items from the following:

• Student proficiency
• Academic growth
• Graduation rates
• Attendance rates
• Parent involvement engagement and satisfaction
• Employee turnover
• Community activities and involvement
• Closing the GAP Score
• College readiness rates

The report says that there is no evidence that these rankings used in other states, as a standalone education reform initiative, are effective. To make a ranking system useful, it must include professional development on the effective use of the data, along with supports and technical assistance in a school’s area of need. The goal of the rankings would be to identify districts whose data indicate that a school improvement visit is needed and to determine the frequency and intensity of support required.

Although the effective date of implementation of the system is not specified in the legislation, the department was required to study the measure and release their report before the plan implemented. They will now proceed with the implementation, but the system and implementation could be revised by the Legislature during the 2015 session.

• Start implementation October 2014 through June 2015
• Professional development off the system would be from June – August 2015
• September 2015 the scores would be released to School Districts
• October 2015 the scores would be released to the public

Water Quality Grants Available to Iowa Farmers

To help farmers install new nutrient reduction practices, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced that $1.4 million in cost share assistance is available for cover crops, no-till/strip till, or nitrification inhibitor when applying fertilizer.

This is for farmers who have not used these practices in the past. Any farmer not already utilizing these practices can apply for this assistance. Farmers are only eligible for cost share on up to 160 acres. Farmers can immediately start submitting applications through their local Soil and Water Conservation District office.

The cost share rate for farmers planting cover crops is $25 per acre and for farmers trying no-till or strip till is $10 per acre. Farmers using a nitrapyrin nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer can receive $3 per acre.

Farmers that have already used these practices on their farm and are ineligible for this funding are still encouraged to visit their local Soil and Water Conservation District office to discuss other cost share funding that may be available.

The department received $4.4 million for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative from the Legislature in fiscal year 2015. Last year, in just two weeks, over 1,000 farmers signed up for cost share funding to help implement new nutrient reduction practices on 100,000 acres. The state provided $2.8 million in cost share funding was available to help farmers try a water quality practice for the first time and Iowa farmers provided at least another $2.8 million to support these water quality practices.

State Revenues Fall Short of Expectations

On June 30th, the state concluded the fiscal year 2014 budget year, and it appears that state revenues came in below what was expected by the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC). The REC had estimated that general fund revenues would decline from $6.652 billion to $6.476 billion, a drop of 2.6% or $176 million. The preliminary estimates have net revenues at $6.294 billion, a drop of 5.4% or $358 million.

While the decline is significant, Iowa is in strong fiscal shape to deal with the decline. The State has $679 million in surplus revenues carried over from the previous year, and $650 million in our reserve funds, so the budget will be balanced. In fact, after spending $6.492 billion in fiscal year 2014, the state will likely still have an ending balance of $478 million.

There were a number of factors contributing to the revenue decline. Fiscal year 2013 was an unusually good performing year, because many taxpayers were anticipating federal taxes would go up in calendar year 2013. This resulted in fiscal year 2013 revenue estimates to exceed expectations by $212 million as revenues grew by more than $450 million. The federal tax law changes were resolved early in calendar year 2013 and were not a factor with fiscal year 2014 revenue collections.

State legislative law changes resulted in a $250 million decline in tax revenues, $184 million due to general fund revenues being shifted to other non-general fund accounts ($118 million in cigarette and tobacco revenues to the Health Care Trust Fund and $66 million to the Skilled Worker & Job Creation Fund). Other reductions include tax cuts for earned income tax credits ($30 million), Internal Revenue Code updates ($35 million), and other minor tax credit enhancements.

Despite the expected temporary down turn in state revenues, Iowa’s economy as a whole continues to show strength as employment levels continue to grow. Iowa’s nonfarm employment, through the end of May, was up 28,000 compared to the same period last year. The current 12-month average reading is now 1,539,800, resulting in an annual average Iowa nonfarm employment level that is now 13,400 jobs above the October 2008 peak, before the last recession.

The State is currently in the process of closing the books on fiscal year 2014, which should be complete in October, so these preliminary figures could change until the work is final.

June Rains Ranked 4th Wettest Month in 141 Years

The Department of Natural Resources is reporting that Iowa’s June rainfalls ranked fourth wettest month in 141 years. The June statewide average rainfall was almost 10 inches. The rains brought precipitation during the first half of 2014 to above normal levels for the state.

The most recent Drought Monitor shows over 98 percent of the state without any drought conditions, and the small area that is indicated is only shown as abnormally dry. It was one year ago when the state last saw this level of drought-free conditions. Hopefully the state will experience normal rainfall for the balance of this summer and drought-free conditions will remain.

Also, for the first time in over two years, shallow groundwater conditions are shown as normal across the entire state. Stream flows are high across nearly all of the state, but continue to drop slowly as excess water moves downstream.

For a more thorough review of Iowa’s water resource trends, go to http://www.iowadnr.gov/watersummaryupdate. The report is prepared by the technical staff from the Iowa DNR, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering and the U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department.

Tree Grants Available from the DNR

Two state programs are offering tree grants to communities to help with tree care, inventory, and pest management and provide hands on opportunities for kids to plant trees in their communities.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will accept 10 communities this year, and 10 communities next year, to provide training on identification, health, inventory, planting and maintenance, benefits of urban trees, and community outreach. Each community will receive a completed street tree inventory, canopy cover analysis, and an urban tree plan.

Grant applications and instructions can be found at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Environment/Forestry/UrbanForestry.aspx. Applications are due by September 1.

The second program, Trees For Kids, will pay up to $5,000 in tree and mulch costs to provide educational tree planting demonstrations for adults and youth. The program is designed to provide educational opportunities to Iowa youth by planting trees on school grounds and in other public places. Additional information and grant applications can be found at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Environment/Forestry/UrbanForestry.aspx.

Iowa Flood Center Active in Monitoring Floods

The Iowa Flood Center (IFC) at the University of Iowa is actively engaged in flood projects in several Iowa communities and employs several graduate and undergraduate students participating in flood-related research. IFC researchers have designed a cost-efficient sensor network to better monitor stream flow in the state, and are working on a large project to develop new floodplain maps for 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Iowans are now able to better prepare for, predict and monitor potential flooding thanks to the IFC. Created by the Legislature after the 2008 flood, they have developed maps so residents in some cities – Ames, Cedar Rapids, Charles City, Des Moines, Elkader, Iowa City, Hills, Mason City, Spencer and Waterloo – can access a map on their website displaying how neighborhoods will be impacted at various flood stages: http://ifis.iowafloodcenter.org/ifis/main/?v=b.

The Legislature fully funded the center for the current fiscal year which is in the middle of a four year Iowa Floodplain Mapping Project. When complete, the project will map all streams draining one square mile or more in the 85 counties designated as federal disaster areas following the 2008 flood.

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Week 16 End of Session Newsletter

by Curt Hanson

Week 14 at the Statehouse

by Curt Hanson
The passage of budget bills that will enable the state to pay its bills and employees was the focus of legislation this week. The Legislature made significant progress in moving several budget bills to conference committee. When the bills are sent to conference committee the House and the Senate have exhausted their efforts to amend bills, that each chamber has passed in different forms. The conference committees will meet to resolve their differences to produce a compromise bill that will pass both chambers in identical form.

The Legislature has the entire state budget yet to be approved for fiscal year 2015, but the budget work must be done before the new fiscal year begins on July 1, to avoid a state government shut-down. The House and Senate work with the Governor to reach a compromise. There are currently three budget bills in conference committee, the Justice Systems Budget, Infrastructure Budget, and the Education Budget. Two budget bills are headed to the Governor’s desk, the Judicial Branch Budget and the Transportation Budget. The Administration and Regulation Budget will likely be headed to the Governor’s desk after the Senate considers the compromise amendment approved by the House. Of the remaining budget bills, the Senate has some additional work to do on the Health and Human Services, Economic Development, One-Time Spending and Agriculture and Natural Resources budgets. The House will debate the Standings budget bill next week, as well as consider any changes to the bills considered by the Senate.

Many of us are concerned with the recent Supreme Court 5-2 decision that overturned the conviction of Patrick Ryan Nicoletto, a Davis County girls’ basketball coach. He was charged and convicted of sexual exploitation. However, the court recently ruled that he could not be held to the same standards of a licensed teacher since he was a part-time coach and did not hold a license to teach. Since individual bills may no longer be considered I have asked leadership to move forward in solving this problem. I have been assured a bill sponsored by leadership will soon be brought forth. Upon passage, the bill should correct this loophole, allowing for conviction and punishment in similar future cases. I have asked that this law become effective upon enactment, covering spring and summer school activities.

The recent media exposure of the dismissal of meritorious employees and the payment of public funds, in an attempt to keep those dismissals from the public eye, has raised concern. In a response to concerns expressed by people attending last week’s forums, I have introduced a House Resolution that calls for an independent counsel to be named to investigate the allegations. The counsel retained must have the confidence of the public in seeking out the misuse and abuse of power by state administrators and elected officials on both sides of the political aisle.

I seek what I believe the people I represent seek, a fair and open investigation by an independent legal counsel of great respect; a person without a political agenda! The whole truth and nothing but the truth should be the charge of any legal counsel and let the political chips fall where they may.

Knoxville Sprint Car racing fans will be interested in a bill (HF 2464) that will, if passed, allow the upgrade of facilities at Knoxville. Racing fans and others are aware of the growing international attraction to the Knoxville Nationals Sprint Car event held every August. People and competitors from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and England travel to Knoxville, Iowa for this race, which has been deemed the most prestigious and largest sprint car race in the world.

On April 22, at 6:30 PM and April 25, at 8:30 PM, many of you may wish to watch the IPTV documentary, Journey to Statuary Hall. The documentary is about how Dr. Borlaug came to be selected as a notable Iowan. Dr. Norman Borlaug is an Iowa native from Cresco, Iowa. He was a biologist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate and is often referred to as “The Father of the Green Revolution” or “The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives.” Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, making him one of only seven who have accomplished this great task. The documentary also includes information about the artist and the steps necessary to make a sculpture suitable for display. His statue, by Benjamin Victor, is now one of two statues of famous Iowans on display in Statuary Hall, located in our nation’s capital.

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Week 13 at the Statehouse

by Curt Hanson
In the closing weeks of this legislative session, the budget is the focus of our attention. Of the eleven budgets we must approve, three were passed last week and the transportation budget was approved this week.

However, much of this week’s media attention has been on the secret payments made to employees who have been terminated for what some think are political purposes. Since we seem to be in the darkness of partial information and misinformation, public confidence and trust of Iowa government have been eroded. I agree with Governor Branstad that the firing of Mike Carroll, the Director of Administrative Services, was necessary.

The appointment of a special investigator is the next logical step in this search for truth. Therefore, I have called for the appointment of an investigator skilled in such violations of law. The people of Iowa deserve an unbiased and full investigation of the charges that hush money was paid to dismiss employees for political reasons.

In the Iowa House we passed House File 2462, dealing with secret settlements. I voted in favor of this bill, but I do not think the bill goes far enough. I voted for an amendment to include the Governor’s executive order 85 (prohibiting secret agreements) in the bill’s language. This amendment was not included, another reason why I think the appointment of a special investigator is necessary.

The House amended the Senate social host bill (adults allowing underage consumption of alcohol on private property). This bill will be sent back to the Senate for what we hope is final approval. I was assured by the floor manager of the bill we passed that it will not diminish or replace the Jefferson County Social Host Ordinance. Jefferson County and a number of other local government bodies have already adopted such an ordinance. If the Senate agrees with the House amendments, the bill will be sent to the Governor.

Solar energy was on display this week at the Capitol. Solar panels and mounting equipment for the panels were featured. Solar installations all over Iowa are becoming commonplace because people are saving money with their investment in alternative energy. Display boards showcased Iowa solar parks which allow people in apartments or homes to place their solar panels in a remote location while benefiting from the power and savings generated by their panels. I was impressed by the number of Iowans employed in the manufacture and installation of both solar and wind generation equipment. The industry is expanding to meet the needs of Iowans.

Discussion of the health and human services budget started this week . This budget provides funding for Departments of Aging, Human Resources, Public Health, Veterans Affairs, and the Veterans Home. The budget proposed by the House Republicans totals about $1.85 billion and is about $1 million below the Governor’s recommendation. One of the many important amendments to be considered will be the proper funding of Medicaid patients entering our local hospitals. Without proper reimbursement adjustments, the losses our hospitals now experience when serving Medicaid patients may become a major financial problem.

The Iowa DNR confirmed the first case of Chronic Wasting Disease in a wild deer in Allamakee County (the northeastern most county in Iowa). The DNR is now investigating the report so they can accurately prevent the spread of CWD. Prior to this specific detection of CWD in Iowa, it had only been detected in all bordering states.

The Iowa House passed a bi-partisan bill this week to improve the state’s crumbling roads and bridges. The transportation budget bill, Senate File 2130, also addresses the problem of distracted driving in Iowa. The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) will be required to establish educational programs to raise public awareness of the dangers and consequences of distracted driving. In 2012, there was an estimated 421,000 motor vehicle crashes that involved a distracted driver, compared to 387,000 in 2011, a 9% increase.

Under the proposed budget, DOT will receive over $358 million from the road use tax fund and primary road fund for their operations, highway maintenance and construction, and capital projects next year, which is $5.4 million more than the current fiscal year. The passage of this transportation budget does not directly address the increased maintenance needs of our county roads and bridges. The adequate funding of the county road structure will only be addressed when the combined leadership of the Senate, House and the Governor choose to move this need forward, in my opinion. With adjournment just days away, I do not expect any action that will address these needs this year.

The House and Senate have both approved a bill to help stop human trafficking in Iowa by adopting new penalties for traffickers and protections for victims. Often the victims are underage women found to be vulnerable and easily coerced by predators.

The Governor signed a bill to help teachers recognize signs of dyslexia in their students. This is but one example of the efforts we are working on to improve the reading skills of children.

I hope you are able to enjoy a safe Easter holiday with your family.

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Week 12 at the Statehouse

by Curt Hanson
Budget bills were a big part of debate at the Capitol this week. We passed three (Justice Systems, Economic Development, and Agriculture and Natural Resources) of the eleven budget bills necessary before we may adjourn. The funding of agriculture, education and human services are but some of the important budget areas we must address before adjournment. People have wide agreement that the services funded by these budgets are important for Iowans. The challenge is to find the balance of improving the quality of life in Iowa, while meeting the competition of a world market.

Often our views are shaped by today’s electronic media, which is very different from the print media many of us read in the past. When I view this new media, now joined by computer blogs, I am reminded of President John F. Kennedy who said, “In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

The Economic Development Budget (HF 2460) passed on a 97-2 vote and includes funds for the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Department of Economic Development, Workforce Development and the Regents Economic Development activities. I was disappointed that an amendment calling for an investigation of noncash or check payment of wages was defeated. I do not think an employee should have to pay to get paid!

The Justice Systems Budget (HF 2450) passed on a 52-47 vote. A wide range of justice related departments are included in this budget including the funding of the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Corrections. I favor increased funding for our state troopers and this budget includes that funding. However, this budget does not include funding to increase the number of prison guards. Correctional officers (prison guards) tell us that our prisons are understaffed and the guards feel the understaffing has reached very dangerous levels. It is common sense that when you place more criminals in prison more guards are needed. I voted against this bill because I think we can develop a better budget that will reduce the risk of a prison incident.

Finally, the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget (HF 2458) passed the House on a 71-27 vote. This bill had many amendments which attempted to improve this bill. I feel this bill underfunds our farmers in their efforts to improve soil and water quality. The REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection) fund, a widely popular fund in both the Ag and Urban Communities, received a status quo funding in this budget. When looking at the details of this budget I found that money is removed from REAP to fund others areas. This “scooping of funds” means the real available funding is less than last year.

I received many emails sharing concern about the transparency or lack of transparency in this bill. I did not feel the language offered was a good balance between the public right to knowledge and the protection of important business information. I will continue to look for improved language that accomplishes the goal of improving water quality while not being overly restrictive of the important research coming from the Water Quality Initiative. I am concerned secrecy in Iowa’s government is becoming commonplace.

Amendment after amendment, that offered greater opportunity for our agriculture community to proceed with soil and water cost share programs, fell by the wayside in this debate. During the debate, it was pointed out that this year our farmers are in a favorable financial position to utilize many of these programs that offer taxpayers a great return on their funding. Should a possible commodity market decline occur, many of our producers may be in a less favorable position to take advantage of cost share programs designed to improve soil and water quality.

I have written about the concerns I share with many in our area about the possible spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). CWD is a contagious, infectious, always fatal disease found in deer and is now confined to a hunting preserve located near Drakesville and several other Iowa sites. These preserves are now under quarantine. However, a recent court appeal brings the continuation of the quarantine into question. Many are concerned that should CWD spread, there will be destructive economic impact on areas in Iowa that are considered premier deer hunting spots. Will hunters wish to hunt sick deer? I offered a bipartisan amendment to a bill, endorsed by members of both parties in our area. This amendment offered clear and concise language allowing the continuation of the quarantine. The majority speaker ruled the amendment non-germane by saying that just because the amendment is relevant does not mean it is germane. In short, the amendment was thrown out and no vote was taken on the containment of CWD.

Even though there were many good provisions, I feel the overall bill falls short of what Iowans expect. Therefore, I voted against final passage of the bill. It is expected that the Senate will rewrite this budget and we will again debate their version upon its return to the House.

I was pleased to see so many visitors at the Capitol this week. The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association hosted a lunch in the Capitol, and I was able to meet with Leonard Harris, Dan Delany, and Sparky Wellman who represented the Cattlemen’s Association of our area. Students, faculty, and trustees from the Indian Hills Community College also visited the Capitol and co-hosted a breakfast. Community Colleges are an important part of the education of our youth and the advanced training necessary for many to gain new skills needed for today’s job market. The University of Iowa highlighted programs available on their campus on Wednesday. I was pleased to welcome Melanie Roth, a Fairfield resident, now attending the Dental College at the University of Iowa, to the Capitol.

I continue to read reports of Iowa economic optimism, including increased job opportunities. As the weather improves the construction industry will again be full of activity with associated job opportunities.

I will hold the last public forums of this legislative session on Saturday, April 12th. I hope you will be able to join me at the Village Cup and Cakes in Keosauqua at 9:00 AM or the Rancho Centinela in Bloomfield at 12:00 PM to share your ideas and concerns.

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