Senator Jack Whitver: Lawmakers act to protect students

As legislation is contemplated in the Capitol, situations often arise around Iowa requiring lawmakers to evaluate current state law. In fact, many laws we pass are the result of one specific incident. Sometimes this is a good thing, however in some cases it becomes reactionary, which can result in creating bad laws.

Under Iowa law, the age of consent for intimate relationships is 16 years old. However, there are extra protections in place when a teacher has an inappropriate relationship with a student. This means that even if a student is over the age of consent, a teacher is prevented from having a sexual relationship with a student. This prevents teachers and coaches from using their position of power to exploit young students. Most people assumed coaches were subject to this same law, protecting students against sexual exploitation from adult coaches.

A recent case ruled upon by the Iowa Supreme Court caused us to re-evaluate our laws concerning sexual exploitation of a child. A 36-year-old high school basketball coach in southern Iowa was charged with having an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old student over the course of several months.

On April 11, the Iowa Supreme Court threw out a conviction of the coach in question for exploiting a student. Their ruling said although the 36-year-old man was a coach, he was not covered under the sexual exploitation laws in Iowa. They said because he was only a coach, and not a licensed teacher, he did not fall under the current sexual exploitation law.

Because of the ruling, the coach lost his job at the school, but faced no criminal charges for having a relationship with a student 20 years his junior.

After the decision came out earlier this month, the legislature acted quickly, and diligently to address the situation. I believe coaches should be prevented from having a sexual relationship with a student and I supported HF 2474, which makes coaches subject to the same law as teachers. While 99 percent of coaches in Iowa are great community leaders, we unfortunately see too many situations where teachers and coaches exploit young students. This is a common sense solution to address a legal loophole created by the Supreme Court case in southern Iowa.

Senator Jerry Behn: Budget Bills Reveal Fundamental Differences

The 2014 Legislative session is drawing to a close. The state budget continues to consume the bulk of our time. How the state spends its money always has been a point of contention between Republicans and Democrats. This often results in the budget bills being negotiated in conference committee because the parties have fundamental differences on how state money should be allocated. We believe state money belongs to the Iowa taxpayer. Therefore, it should be spent thoughtfully and any excess amount of revenue should be returned to them.

On the contrary, some would prefer to spend any excess money to grow the footprint of government. This is not only irresponsible, it is unsustainable.  We work diligently to put forth budgetary practices which help create a legacy of opportunity for our children and grandchildren.

Senate Democrats and House Republicans reached joint budget targets several weeks ago, but in many cases the line items differ significantly. Senate Republicans have stressed it is important for government to explore efficiencies and shrink the scope of government.

We will continue to push for a budget that spends less than we take in on an ongoing basis, doesn’t purposefully underfund programs to balance the budget, doesn’t spend one-time money for ongoing programs and returns money to Iowa taxpayers.

We will continue to advocate for sound budgetary practices and the fiscal management Iowans expect from their legislators.

Senator Dix: Senate Democrats fail to fully address transparency

DES MOINES – Senate Democrats spent all April talking about the importance of state government being fully transparent, but when it came time to govern today their actions revealed a different story, Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix said.

“This bill fails to require full transparency. There is one glaring omission.  It fails to disclose reasons for the termination of state employees,” said Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock. “Iowa taxpayers shoulder the whole bill for government and they deserve the whole story.

“Senate Republicans offered to collaborate in a bipartisan manner to create legislation to provide transparency and protect all Iowa workers. Senate Republicans asked repeatedly to work with Senate Democrats to reach consensus to fix to a problem we both agree exists. However, Democrats set their sights on serving their union bosses instead of their real bosses, the Iowa taxpayers.”

Governing is not about words; it is about actions, Dix said.

“The Iowa House acted swiftly and demonstrated a commitment to true transparency by passing bipartisan legislation that was never called up in the Iowa Senate,” Dix said. “Senate Republicans were committed to creating true transparency and shedding light on what happens in state government. Unfortunately, Iowans had the lights turned out on them today with this bill passed by Senate Democrats.”

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Senator Charles Scheider: Budget Bills Under Consideration

The 2014 legislative session is beginning to wind down. Most of the legislation we’ve been working on recently consists of appropriations bills.  There are several appropriations bills that the legislature and governor need to agree on to pass a budget:  Administration and Regulations; Agriculture and Natural Resources; Education; Economic Development; Health and Human Services; Judicial Branch; Justice Systems; Infrastructure; Transportation; and Standing Appropriations.

The budget process itself lasts through much of the legislative session.  Traditionally, voting on these appropriations bills signals the end of a Legislative session.  The budget process lasts through much of the session. This year, the process was tweaked to move things along faster than in past sessions. House Republicans and Senate Democrats sat down together and worked on a joint budget target of $6.972 billion, which was presented several weeks ago.

As we comb through these bills, I’ll stay focused on sound budgeting principles.  I’ll insist on spending less than we take in and on not using one-time sources of revenue to pay for recurring expenses.  I’ll focus on aligning spending with our priorities.  I’ll push to keep staffing levels in line with what’s necessary to get the job done.  I’ll remember that I’m accountable to you, and that you’re entrusting me to make sound decisions about how to spend your tax dollars.

Senator Jerry Behn: Be safe: Road construction nears

After a brutal long, cold winter, many of us are eager to return to the outdoors. This means walkers and bicyclists have taken to Iowa’s streets.

Iowa motorists need to be aware of bicyclist and pedestrians, as well as the start of construction season. As many of you know, road construction season across Iowa occurs during the day and night.  Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) workers will be rebuilding or improving our roadways, fixing bridges and maintaining pavement that has potholes from Iowa’s rough winter weather.

During the course of construction season, the Iowa DOT could have hundreds of work zones all across the state.   A recent video posted by Des Moines area television stations show exactly what happens when motorists do not pay attention to their surroundings. After an Iowa State Trooper pulled a vehicle over along the side of the road, the dashboard camera shows a pick-up truck flying through the air between the squad car and vehicle involved in the traffic stop. The accident is a result of a pick-up getting hit from behind because the motorist did not slow down or drive cautiously past the trooper along the side of the road. Though no one was seriously injured, the potentially life-threatening accident demonstrates how motorists must pay close attention to their surroundings at all times during the warm weather months.

Driving through construction zones, motorists must obey posted speed limits and other signs in the work area.  Drivers also should be aware that traffic fines for moving violations are at least double in those work zones.

Under law, the penalties for speeding in a work zone are:

• $150 for up to 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.

• $300 for speeds from 11 through 20 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.

• $500 for speeds from 21 through 25 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.

• $1,000 for speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.

The DOT maintains a variety of ways to track road construction across the state.  On its website, www.511ia.org there is a plethora of information regarding roads, construction site locations, and the pace at which traffic around those sites is moving.   If drivers need more information they can call 511 or 1-800-288-1047.  Motorists also can sign up for Twitter and mobile phone updates.

Senator Anderson: April – Autism Awareness Month

April is National Autism Awareness month.  Autism impacts over 6,500 Iowans, with 600 children born with the disorder each year. Twenty-nine states have passed legislation regarding coverage of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

Iowa passed an insurance mandate five years ago, but it only applies to the Iowa State Employees’ self-funded insurance plan. At the time of passage, there was concern of the impact and the inflation on insurance costs.  Data collected over the past five years has pegged the cost at $.53 per member per month, or about $6.00 a year.

In 2012, I and my Senate colleagues championed SF 2128 which would have given all Iowans access to ABA service passing the Senate 43-7. I continue to look for ways, legislative and otherwise, to support families living with Autism.

Senator Randy Feenstra: Pork Spending Continues

Each year, the last week of session sees pork spending bills get passed and it always frustrates me because I don’t support this type of tax payer spending and it always goes to Des Moines and a few other larger cities. Below is some of the egregious spending that was approved.

  • $250,000 for renovating an old bank building downtown Des Moines
  • $7.8 million for walking / biking trail projects in Cedar Rapids and Bellevue
  • $1,000,000 for a parking lot at a Des Moines Baseball Stadium
  • $150,000 for a transit study in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City
  • $500,000 for a walking trail bridge in Des Moines

 

Senator Whitver: Iowa’s Reserve Accounts Strong

The tremendous turnaround in the financial strength of Iowa has been well documented over the past few years. A huge budget shortfall in 2011 turned into a huge surplus through three years of sound budgeting principles and tough decisions.

Currently, Iowa has approximately $697 million in our ending balance. Some people refer to this as a “surplus,” but I view it more like a savings account. This is not money that we have leftover each year; rather, it is accumulated over the last three years cumulatively.

 There are several different options I feel are best when discussing what to do with this $697 million. One option is to return it to Iowa taxpayers, something I’ve voted to do several times. A second viable option is to use the money to pay down some of Iowa’s debt. Last year, we paid off over $100 million of state debt, primarily from Governor Culver’s I-Jobs program and state debt from the Honey Creek resort in southern Iowa. By paying down this debt, we are able to save millions of dollars in interest.

The third option I like is to save the money for a rainy day, an option I find very popular among constituents I’ve spoken with. The state currently has two reserve accounts per the state code. We have the cash reserve account, which by law must contain 7.5% of our state budget, currently approximately $523 million. We also have an economic emergency account, which must contain 2.5% of our state budget, or about $174 million. In total, Iowa keeps 10% of its state budget in reserve accounts. These accounts are extremely important to ensure that the state is able to meet its financial commitments during tough economic times and other unforeseen struggles.

After many discussions with constituents who favor saving this money for our “rainy day” fund, I began researching how our reserve accounts compare with other states. Alaska, Wyoming and West Virginia ranked as the top three, but I found that Iowa’s reserves rank eighth in the nation.

 The turnaround over the last three years has been dramatic, and it is thanks to tough decisions made by the legislature. Having extra money in our reserves helps strengthen our economic outlook, and I am very encouraged by the progress that has been made.

Senator Anderson: Senate could address gift certificate changes

The Senate is considering a bill relating to gift certificates. Currently, gift certificates that go unredeemed for three years are treated as “unclaimed property.”  The issuer must report it to the state treasurer’s office, attempt to contact the owner and then surrender it to the treasurer.

The bill was amended during the committee process and would extend to five years the period required for any gift certificate to be subject to abandonment procedures, including reporting to the State Treasurer’s office.  It would also exempt from abandonment any merchandise-only gift certificate that does not contain an expiration date or a provision for the deduction of service fees with the lapse of time.  A gift certificate of that kind would continue in effect and be redeemable indefinitely.

Business owners recognize gift certificates as a useful retailing device, but the current reporting and abandonment rules impose burdens on retailers unwarranted by the dollar value of the gift certificates in question.  This is especially the case for small retailers. Eliminating the abandonment rule is a balanced way to alleviate the burden because it would allow indefinite redemption by a customer.

What other states are doing with gift cards/certificates: South Dakota – law was recently changed that retailers no longer pay unclaimed funds to the state as gift cards do not expire. Nebraska – if the gift certificate does not have a fee or expiration date there is no requirement to submit unclaimed funds to state. Minnesota – gift cards do not expire, no requirement to submit unclaimed funds to state.

Senator Guth: We must keep our fiscal house in order

The 2014 Legislative session is winding down, but there are several key issues to discuss before adjourning. One of those is voting on the individual budget bills. Several weeks ago, the House and Senate offered joint budget targets. The proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget is an increase of 7.4 percent over the FY2014 budget, more than double the historic revenue growth of 3.6 percent. I find that kind of increase very troubling.

The Administration and Regulations subcommittee, where I am Senate ranking member, should have voted on our budget this week. The joint leadership had agreed to a status quo budget prior to our last meeting. In that final meeting, Democrats decided they wanted to spend some Iowa tax dollars on a Federal program to help low income families with home heating costs. Perhaps it makes some people feel good, but it certainly was not part of our budget thought process. This prompted the House members to declare this was not the agreed on in the budget and they adjourned. The Senate half of the committee then dropped that amendment since they knew it had no chance of passing in the House. Since that time, Democrats have offered various amendments that spend a little more here and a little more there. One such amendment would give $50,000 to the Public Information Board for furniture and printing costs. The Public Information Board consists of 2 attorneys and a secretary. Fifty thousand dollars seems a bit much for desks and computers for 3 people.  This kind of game-playing just prolongs the process.

As we work our way through a number of minor bills during the final weeks, it becomes very apparent that some legislators desire government oversight in more and more areas of our lives. I maintain in most cases the government that governs least governs best. The complicated bullying bill we passed out of the Senate over a week ago could have been easily replaced with the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Teaching it from the Book it comes from would go a long ways toward making our world more responsible and kind.

I am in complete agreement with Ronald Reagan when he said, “I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.” It’s great to visit with many of you this week and a privilege to serve District 4. Feel free to contact me at dennis.guth@legis.iowa.gov or call me at 641-430-0424. Be sure to catch me at these forums: Winnebago-Worth April 4 (times/places tba) and Estherville April 5 at Sleep Inn at 10 a.m.